After five days at a mountain resort, lounging by the pool, the whole group split up into smaller groups to spend time living the less luxurious lifestyle of the majority of Dominicans. My campo, El Callejon, is a farming community about 15 minutes away from the coast, the polar opposite of the all-inclusive luxury resorts that line the beaches of the DR. I stayed with a couple in their 50’s, who spoke a variety of Dominican Spanish far more accented than I had been accustomed to. While many people experienced a drastic change in living conditions-many people in the campo live in wooden slat houses with corrugated tin roofs-my house was similar to my homestay in Jarabacoa and for five days I settled in. The greenness of the countryside and cool, humid nights reminded me so much of Indiana, which was quite comforting.
My professor, Christine, has lived in the Dominican Republic for 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree from IU, and the people of El Callejon are her surrogate family. Everyone in the community is related in some fashion, and everywhere we went all we had to do was mention the name Christine and we were welcomed with open arms. Life is slow in the campo and we spent a good portion of the time walking up and down the one paved road that cuts through the community and connects it to the rest of the country. We saw fresh cheese being made; milk and salt boiled until thick and then needed until it is the consistency of mozzarella. Freshly made hot cheese was one of the many firsts in the campo. We walked a couple miles up the road to visit a young girl of 16 who is 7 months pregnant. Her husband prepared coconuts for us freshly felled from one of the innumerable coconut trees that forest the island. We were also offered limoncitas, a sour fruit with a large seed surrounded by a slimy layer to suck on and always got stuck between my teeth. Many poorer Dominicans can’t afford much more than rice and beans, so fruit off the trees is an important supplement to their diet.
We visited a beautiful beach in Cabrera and spent an afternoon in Nagua, a large city to the east where I bought supplies for the first nutrition program I planned on doing for my internship. The program was one of the most rewarding parts of my time in the DR so far. Nutrition education, if taught, is a foreign subject to many Dominicans. The program was only about two hours, and we taught 12 kids about the food groups and made crafts, something they don’t often do due to the lack of resources in the schools. They made edible fruit art at the end and were completely ravenous for the pineapple, papaya, and banana. Most of the kids rarely get fruits and vegetables in their diet, so hopefully I’ve planted somewhat of an understanding of the importance of a balanced diet.
Returning to Jarabacoa made me feel how comfortable I’ve grown in this city. I know the streets, how to avoid getting run over by a motoconcho, and where the best ice cream shop is. I live with a great family; they cook and clean for me every day and presented me with a miniature cake and Presidente, the favorite Dominican beer, for my 22nd birthday. It’s cooled off here, the ambient 88 degree days and nights have cooled down with the rain and my Spanish is slowly improving. Research has started. I’m investigating the link between lifestyle and chronic disease and plan on traveling to an area near the Haitian border tomorrow to do some research. I know this program is going to be over before I know it, so I’m just going to enjoy my time as much as I can. I may have to return to finish my internship, but it won’t be with the same group of people. We’ve packed more into these 2 months than I ever thought possible. Take care and I hope the summer is going well…