COS Survey

The time has almost come. Tank build, check. Pumphouse, check (mostly). Water inauguration next weekend!!! Here is a copy of my “COS Survey” (Closing of Service Survey) that I submitted for our bi-annual newsletter/yearbook of sorts about a month ago. Apologies in advance for repeat stories!


Name:                         Joshua Kennedy
DR apodos:      La mona, Josué, José, el gigante, el Español
Site location:   Las Barreras, Los Ríos, Baoruco, Middle of Nowhere
Program:         AT (Appropriate Technologies)

Project assignment:
Build a sustainable, pristine, water system for a beautiful, cooperative and supportive community. Also train already-existing, strong, willing water committee to take over project.

Project reality:
Step 1: Convince everyone that what they really need is water, not electricity or a road that’s useable.
Step 2: Focus the design around an untested, unproven pump that doesn’t exist (yet) in this country.
Step 3: Convince everyone that yes, water will magically pump uphill without using electricity or gasoline.
Step 4: Look for a large sum of money (uhh where?)
Step 5: Wait for said sum of money to actually show up.
Step 6: Wait some more. “Any day now, I promise.” Start a Superman boys group.
Step 7: Wait some more. Empty promises. Build 50 latrines.
Step 8: 10 months later, money shows up. Now I can finally see if this thing actually works…
Step 9: Build. Hope people show up to work. Community meeting. Organize. Threaten. Repeat.
Step 10: Finish? Extention? Hopefully not option B!

Most useful thing brought into country:
Spanish. Guitar. Leatherman. Jenga. Love of camping. Love for kids. Faith in God.

Least useful thing brought into country:
Stubbornness. Love for spicy/flavorful food. “Business casual” clothing (c’mon Peace Corps).

Best “I-know-I’m-in-the-Peace-Corps-now” moment:
It was probably my first month in site. To get down to the pueblo I had to walk 45 minutes to la parada, wait 1-2 hours for the Daihatsu truck to leave and take a nice 3 hour truck ride down a horrible, bumpy “road”. And there was only one truck a day. Pain in the butt. Anyway, I am always one of the first ones on  and generally grab a decent seat on the edge of the truck-bed near the front. This day was no different. Unfortunately, the entire loma was going down to the pueblo this day. And they were selling all of their possessions or something, because each person had like 5 sacks of crap with them too. All said and done, by the time the truck had traveled the first 3 miles down the road, there were at least 40 sacks and 30 people on the back of this truck. I had been squished up against the front railing with my legs hanging off the side of the truck to optimize space. People toward the back were precariously bouncing around while holding belongings above them or over the edge. As we began to pass through the last town before our major descent, I was thinking “there is no way we could possibly fit any more people/sacks in this truck”. 15 minutes later, I found myself sitting on top of the truck’s cab, having my legs squished horribly by some old woman’s behind, holding a 1 year old Haitian baby. There was literally nowhere else for this baby to sit. Not one of the now 40 people had a free lap or 5 inches of space to spare for the little guy. Peace Corps.

I knew I was Dominican when:
My natural response when surprised became “diache”. OR, how I kept scrunching my nose at people when I was home for Christmas; they were very confused.

Funniest experience in country:
Pasa, but not the raisin kind. So. My host dad and I walked to my friend Rudie’s site, which is located yonder from mine, and decided to stop at the colmado on the way home. We buy the normal things to account for every healthy human being’s balanced diet – eggs, rice, tomato paste, sugar and sazon. But, as you are now thinking, one thing is missing: pasta. My host dad doesn’t really think we need anything else, but I know better, so I ask the owner if he has any pasta, since I don’t see it behind the counter. The owner looks at me with his face kinda messed up and I know something is up. A great misunderstanding has come upon us, and so it begins… He says “eh?” I say “pasta”. He says “como qué, de qué tipo?” I say “para comer”. Now my host dad chimes in – it appears that with their teamwork I might finally accomplish my task. “Pasta de dientes!” he says. Still a little ways to go, I tell myself. “No no, es duro y parece así” (I stick my finger in the shape of macaroni). This is clearly not working. “Ahh! Pasas?” Raisins. He grabs a few boxes. I am tempted to just take the boxes of raisins, but I decide to persist. “No no, se hierve y se come con aceite o salsa” – I am basically teaching the man to be a chef now. Finally, several minutes later, after dancing like a monkey and performing a few magic tricks I hear the magical words I have been waiting for: “Wait. You don’t mean ‘espaguetti’, do you?” ‘Espaguetti!’ Duh. Apparently the word pasta only means “paste” in this country. We celebrated, we laughed, we cried. It was as if we understood each other for the first time. I, being flabbergasted by the whole ordeal, proceeded to ask the store owner if spaghetti, macaroni and all other types of noodly goodness that exists in this country are really not called ‘pasta’. “No,” he said at first, but then he turned all pensive and suddenly changed his mind. “No, not pasta, its ‘pasa’”. ‘Pasa.’ A poorly pronounced version of ‘pasta’. Great.

Most memorable illness or injury:
Was rounding a nice gravel-coated curve in the road on my bike and the back tire abruptly slid out from beneath me. One moment I was happily enjoying the ride, the next my chin/face decided to become close friends with a very large rock conveniently placed in the middle of the road. I must thank whoever so opportunely placed the rock there… I rushed to the loma health clinic, got my chin stitched back together (about 15 in all), was taken 2 hours down to the nearest pueblo, was taken to the capital in a shoddy ambulance (broke down 3 times), and discovered I had a minor skull fracture. I was fine though. The worst part was being in the hospital and later realizing that several of my teeth are now crooked (and 2 were chipped). Stupid rock.

Most Dominican habit you’ll take home with you:
Sitting with other people, not talking and not feeling uncomfortable. Nose scrunch?

Most beautiful place in country:
The Salto de Aguas Blancas in El Convento, Constanza. View from the top of the loma behind my house. Bahía de las Águilas.

Most creative way you killed time in your site:
Painted dots on the kids’ foreheads and had them perform a bollywood film.

What Spanish word or phrase have you made up during your service and what does it mean?:
Trancoline. Think of the song: “Trampo trampo trampoline, trampoline, trampoline.” Then think about dominating someone in dominoes. And replacing the lyrics with the new word. Oh, also: Bacalazo.

How have you changed during your service?
More introverted / able to be alone. More independent in my faith in God. I’ve learned to truly appreciate Papa John’s. I can more fully appreciate the value of community. I am quicker to yell at people for being completely useless. I think I am more decisive. I love my family, my friends and my girlfriend bunches more. I am less quick on the puns (so sad).

If your service were a book, what would its title be?
Mountain man. Transformation from grizzly beard to girly hair.

What books/podcasts did you read/listen to during your service that you’d like to recommend to other Volunteers?:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (I know, but still). Life Together by Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Holy Bible by God. Malcolm Gladwell books.

What are you glad you did here?:
Live campo life. Interact with Haitians / learn a little more Hatian Creole. Have boys groups/Superman. Essentially camp for two years while living in the middle of nowhere. Backpack from Ocoa to Constanza. Spend a lot of time with Rudie and Carrie. Keep my girlfriend back home.

What do you wish you had done here?:
Made more Haitian friends. Explored more. Taken my community to the beach. Learned to dance better.

What will you miss six months from now?:
Complete freedom. No accountability whatsoever. Being real poor. My Dominican family. The muchachos. The volunteers. FRUIT. Jugo. The music. Spanish. The weather.

What won’t you miss six months from now?:
Complete freedom. No accountability whatsoever. Being real poor. Being so far away from everyone I love. Trying to get people to pay water quotas.

What’s next?:
Living in San Fran. Being close to my girlfriend. Grad school for Civil and Environmental Engineering at California Berkeley?

Big plans for your readjustment allowance?:
Bike. Motorcycle? Camping gear? Traveling around the states in the summer.

Advice to a new Volunteer:
Don’t worry, be happy. Don’t fret about your project site; give yourself plenty of time to adjust and you’ll feel at home in no time. Be open to difficult circumstances; its amazing what us volunteers can handle. Don’t be afraid to speak honestly and tell that doña that you don’t want to eat what she is offering you. Create a tight community for yourself, be it with Dominicans or volunteers.

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Weighed down

The last few months have been both agonizing and passing too quickly.  Project status/progress has been looming and weighing me down as I not only try to finish the physical project but try to leave with confidence that community members will be capable of the necessary duties once I am gone. So much responsibility ends up on my shoulders, I feel like I’m getting old and tired trying to manage it all. In a way I am tired – I’ve been working hard for two years to create behavior change and alter people’s point of view. These things are much bigger than the actual water or latrine project in construction. If the people of Barreras begin to understand the importance of community collaboration, begin to have hope for change and have higher expectations for their community; this would be a huge success.

Meanwhile, I am obliged to continue construction, because my time is coming to a close (too soon!!). I took a break after two weeks of both success and frustration to go hiking and find some peace and quiet in the central mountains of the DR. Three of us spent three nights climbing mountains, camping, eating food and sitting by the campfire. It was amazing what some peace can do for the soul. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the project, stressing about what is left to do, and the soon approaching end date for it all. Hiking was a beautiful distraction, and I have a renewed sense of hope for the next few weeks of work in my community. We will be starting construction on a 4000 gallon water tank on Monday, followed up by the construction of the pumphouse, valve boxes and household water spigots. A lot of work, and I have to get it all done by May 30!! My hope is to get 95% done by May 25 so that we can have our water inauguration, with drums (sticks), pork, dancing and all. It would be an amazing way to end my service, assuming everything goes as planned (does it ever?).

I remember there being times when time wouldn’t go by fast enough, and now I find I’m trying to slow it down. At least to an extent. It’s a constant battle between the present and the future. I am SO VERY excited to come home, see old friends and family and relax. BUT, I can’t let my mind go there, because I have to keep my mind on the task at hand in order to have a chance to get things accomplished this month. I find myself constantly wishing that I had another 3 months to finish, but I know that my time is done here and that my place is back home come June. I can’t wait to see all of the beautiful faces back in Seattle, enjoy the perfect summer that is defined by the NW, and be with my beautiful girlfriend in the bay area come the fall.

I’m realizing that the time to say goodbye is now starting. I’m with my old host family in Manabao, and I know that I will not see them again before I head out. It will be the first in a long list of goodbyes, so I better start getting used to it. It doesn’t feel too real yet, but I know it will in time.

Please pray for my health in my last month, along with project success and community motivation. Specifically pray for this week of work with the tank that everything goes well!! Love you all as always.

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Barreras Water Project

Here are some pictures of the project up to this point! Sorry for any repeats from previous posts!

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Primera Lluvia del Año

The first rain of the year. That was today, January 25. 40 days without rain. Like Noah but opposite. And like Jesus if the rain was food. Everyone was happy: their upcoming pea harvest and newly planted bean plants needed the rain. “Thank God for the rain.” “This will nestle everything in.” “I’m going to save a bucket of this water because it gives special remedies.” Right. Everyone was happy except for Yani’s family. Her husband past away just two nights ago. I don’t usually get too sentimental – or maybe I do and don’t realize it – but I was really struck and saddened by his passing. I didn’t know Mintel or his family extraordinarily well, but I always saw them around, stopped by his home whenever I was in the area, and I knew that he was probably one of the two poorest families in Las Barreras. They are a Haitian family living on “rented” land, meaning that they work the land and give half of their crop earnings to the owner. Pretty raw deal in my eyes.

So I went to the “reso” tonight, a funeral gathering of sorts at Mintel’s house, and it was a very interesting experience. I arrived to find Yani in her thatch-roof and woven wood home sitting with her youngest son, Ibena. She seemed very grateful to see me and invited me to sit. A bunch of Dominican neighbors had gathered and were outside near the fire. As I sat we exchanged a few words in Haitian Kreyol / Spanish about how horrible her husband’s death was and how he had been in bed for 15 days with a fever. They never thought he’d just die like that, but on the day they finally sent him down the mountain to the doctor he passed away. She was then talking about how he hadn’t eaten for 5 days before he died, and that since he wasn’t eating she wouldn’t either. Therefore, it’d been 8 days since Yani had eaten a meal. She looked thin. Her devotion to her husband was moving, and it deepened as she crawled onto her bed and started wailing and crying out his name. Her 7 year old son, Ibena, soon started crying too and I was swept with emotion and the desire to wrap him up in my arms and comfort him. Soon a few friends told her she shouldn’t wail like that and then took her son on her lap and they cried together. Death is a horrible, horrible thing. Especially for this family. Throughout the whole ordeal I gazed around their home and took an inventory of what I saw. Clothing, a large stick bed, a homemade horse seat, some tin cans, a bucket of water and some trinkets. Everything that Mintel, Yani and her four children owned couldn’t have been worth more than $50. After all the crying and comforting her son all Yani could say to me through her tears was that she didn’t even have coffee for all the guests. Wow, really? I think we might have some bigger things to think about here: how are we going to find food for tomorrow? Should we go back to Haiti to be with our family? But no, the coffee is what matters.

At a “reso”, the family is generally responsible for feeding and entertaining the guests. This seems real backwards to me, but I think it is an effort to enforce the distraction coping mechanism. At this point I left the house and sat around the fire with 15 community members who were laughing and chatting casually. I guess that is just how these things go. Death is not as huge of a thing here I don’t think. After hearing about Mintel , several people, including my host dad, simply said “well, I guess it was his time” or “what’s done is done”. What I got from the community was the basic sense that “well, he’s dead, nothing we can really do now.”

Please pray for Yani and her children. And I want to thank God for the blessings he has given me in my life, and thank you all for the blessings you are to me as well. My family, my beautiful girlfriend, my wonderfully caring friends, my life.

God bless.

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Its not glamorous. Its not easy. Its been a mix of willingness, struggle, success and begrudging success, but so far we have almost 2 km of trench dug. A backhoe is currently working on adding 2.5 km to the mix for a total of 4.5 km or 2.7 miles of trench. Soon we will be 2/3 done with trenching! Exciting.

More news to come about Christmas, New Years and a long vacation. But just know that I am very thankful for everyone I got to see and share time with and that I had an amazing time. Great to be back and working hard, though I do miss fudge and pie every day…

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Playing Sticks

So the whole community got together on Saturday to listen to people play sticks.

This is how it went down… project partner says to community: “Hey guys, we’re going to have a Social Night on Saturday to talk about our field trip, eat food and play some sticks.” People oblige and forget all about it. I head up to my site and am told everything is ready – just need to go buy some food, get everything organized and make sure everyone knows what is going on. Right, so I have to do EVERYTHING. Fine. I’ve done it before and I guess I’ll do it again. Thus, I spent my Friday and Saturday rounding people up, frantically getting lists of materials that we needed and basically we just threw it all together Saturday night as people were showing up. Chaos. Disorganization. In the dark for the first hour. Fine. Then sticks were played, and all was well.

Amongst the chaos there were a few moments of joy and enlightenment, though. I threw together all of the pictures from the field trip to Los Naranjales from last Tuesday, along with various pictures with the community over the last 18 months (including the Santa photos) and showed them with the projector. It was amazing how the chaos turned to calm as the community stood bedazzled by the fancy technology and a glimpse into our past. They especially loved the candid pictures I’ve taken of random community members with funny faces or in their underwear. They were “unhappy” afterward but I couldn’t help myself, it was pretty funny. After enjoying 20 minutes of showing pictures in a pitch dark wooden shack of a schoolhouse packed with 100+ people, we entered chaos once again. The purpose of the event was to share what we learned and saw in the field trip with the rest of the community. Unfortunately, everyone had stick playing on their mind which is equivalent to ADHD times 100. We had a few people stand up and talk about the experience, which most people couldn’t hear, but what I could hear was very exciting and struck me to my bones. I heard a people who had a new sense of vision, who were starting to catch a glimpse of what it would take to make Las Barreras a place where people could live and be happy. I heard people who spend their entire lives working for themselves to earn a few bucks talking about unity and collaboration. It was pretty special.

Then the stick players came. And they played sticks. “Tocar palos” is what the community calls it. I’d call it playing drums… you might too. Its a bit more than that though. There is some strange ritual around playing sticks here in the DR. In order for the woman to loan us her “sticks” (drums), we had to light her a candle, heat up the drums before playing them, and turn in a bottle of rum to her when we finished. All part of the religious ritual that the woman is part of. And then the sticks start playing. Three men tie the drums to their waist, all with the same rope, vowing not to stop playing until some ambiguous time when they can stop. Other join in by chanting and making up words to the drum beat, while the majority joins in by dancing. They call it “dancing sticks”. For example, they might ask you: “do you know how to dance sticks?” I say, “no”, but I can make it up. And so I did. Its actually really fun, because its just a 1-2 beat, and it seems like you can do pretty much whatever you want. No rules. I saw one younger guy doing some sort of chicken dance, while another 20 year old guy stomped around like a crazy man. It was hilarious.

We ate foot. The stick playing ended all too soon (in my opinion). We drank tea. And the people went home around 1 AM. Success. Chaos, but success. Hopefully we’ll have another one when we finish the water system.

Much love.

P.S. I played hopscotch with some girls yesterday and fell flat on my face on my very first turn. Like literally sprawled out laying on the ground. I ended up winning though.

P.P.S Happy Thanksgiving!

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When Waiting turns to Wielding

Our ideas and dreams create these goals in our minds. Often I find myself thinking about it; imagining what life could be 5 or 10 years down the road. How exciting it might be for life to change drastically for the better; joy and love and success. While this is extremely relevant to myself, especially as I am applying to grad school and looking to the future (!?!?), I am going to draw the focus more towards my village for now. Las Barreras. I got here in full understanding that I would build a water system that brought water to a bunch of poor people that had some dire need for it. That was exciting. I loved the idea of using my civil engineering background and experience to help real people with real needs. That was the dream. That was the goal.

Here is the reality: I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for 20 months. Still no water system. No picturesque photos of children sticking their faces in newly installed tap stands. No statistics showing the decrease of waterborne illnesses due to the water system. Not yet.

We are on our way though; as of three weeks ago we received a butt load (yeah, lots) of money from Rotary International! Woo! But let’s rewind first…

Waiting. This had become my life; this was my new official Peace Corps title as far as I was concerned. I was redefining the job title: Waiter. This is how it happened: Peace Corps told me that my main project was supposed to be a water system. I did a “community diagnostic” and found out that people not only wanted water, but also wanted a laundry list of basically every human need… including: latrines, water, electricity, an accessible road, a health clinic, a better house, more food, and a way to make more money. So since water was on the list and it was my “specialty” of sorts I went for that first. Yada yada yada, I filled out a bunch of grants and the one that was supported/approved was the Rotary International Matching Grant. Hooray! Well, not yet…

After working through the onerous pile of paperwork and coming out the other side alive I thought we were home free. But that is when it began. The waiting… April turned to May turned to June… I was expecting the money no later than June, but lack of experience with the Rotary grant process on my part and the host club’s part ended up causing complications. Essentially from May on we were waiting on a bank account to be opened in order to receive all the funds. Now those of you that know me could guess that waiting is not one of my favorite things in this world. More of a bing bang boom get it done so we can move on kinda person. Thus frustration started to rise. Luckily for me some other volunteers gave me the idea to start youth groups and look into doing a latrine project (which, thanks to God and your support we are almost finished with). But essentially I spent a small amount of time finishing up design details and budgets and a LOT of time being frustrated.

So, what happens when you’re convinced that the key to the preverbal closed door is lost forever, just to see it fall off its hinges all at once without warning? The continual promises and endless changing timeframes had put me into a state of coma. Bursting out of that wasn’t easy, and I’ve had to play a lot of catch up for the last few weeks. Organizing work brigades, contacting hardware stores and suppliers, coordinating with the host Rotary Club. All of this after spending 6+ months trying to convince the community that, yes, the project was still actually going to happen. It’s been busy. And tough. Transition is a hard thing, and now we have to move the people (including myself) from dreaming to realizing. Turning designs into tube orders and plumbing pieces, etc. It’s all very exciting but still surreal at the same time.

So to bring things back full loop, this is what we are presently working on for the water project: the community started trenching last week, finishing its first full 5 day work week last Friday with a 500 ft section of trench, 2.5 ft deep for the main line. The community was incredibly cooperative forming the work parties and very excited to get things started, so I hope things continue this smoothly. I have been busy getting price quotes for (1) 1300 PVC tubes needed for the whole system and (2) PVC plumbing, metal tubes, valves and other specialty pieces. I just spent the last 2 days running around the capital getting quotes from all the respectable hardware stores I can find. Additionally, I am coordinating with Alfonso, the local mayor, to get a hold of a backhoe to dig approximately 1.5 miles of trench along the main road. This would save us more than 2 months of work and thus make it at least feasible to finish before I have to leave in May. Pray that that works out.

Apart from the water stuff the community has actually been involved in a few additional other exciting activities lately. As I believe I mentioned in an earlier post, the community has been presented with the opportunity to work towards building a micro-hydroelectric system in the area with the support of an organization called PPS-SGP. They are part of the UNDP and have a bunch of projects like this in the country, focusing especially on renewable energy and the environment. With their financial help we were able to take a group of 40 people from Las Barreras and the surrounding communities to do an exchange with a community that recently finished their micro-hydro project. This was last Tuesday and it was AMAZING. The community was super pumped to learn more about how the fancy hydropower stuff works, and were even more excited to hear the community’s story of development from the local villagers. From what I gathered, this community was in even worse condition than Las Barreras 10-15 years ago. The land was completely deforested and so degraded that it produced no harvest. The people lived very isolated and lived very simply. NOW, there is an electrical network, there are complex irrigation schemes feeding neatly organized orchards of avocados, there are massive tracts of land planted with pine and other trees, there is a water system, and people make 10-50 times more money than they did before. Wow. That is what people from my village said. They were all talking about how we could become something like this in Barreras.

All this is to say that my dream is changing. I know that I’ve always envisioned more than just a water system for Barreras. But now I am beginning to see how all the different puzzle pieces might make a picture even more beautiful than the one that I was imagining. And I think the building blocks are in place. Reforestation. It has not been until recently that I have begun to see the dangers of deforestation and the incredible benefits of reforestation. Trees = water, better soil, less erosion = better harvests = less dangerous landslides = water project = electricity. Maybe I’m just becoming a big hippie or something but it’s starting to make sense to me. Luckily we have a reforestation project happening concurrently with the water project, supported by the Ministry of Environment and the Bank of Germany.

Please pray that the people in Las Barreras continue to have hope and a vision for the future that shows them that their dreams ARE possible. Also pray for my future as I consider what the heck I’m going to do when I’m done here. I think that might be part of my next post. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I don’t take so long again…

The crew that came from Barreras and the surrounding communities. Got them pumped up

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