Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ideas and Concerns

What do you think could be done to better conditions in Las Terrenas?
Simply write your comments in response to this post. Thank you!

The Best Three Kings Present for Las Terrenas

Three Kings is a traditional Catholic celebration the night of January 5th. That's the night when presents are left under the Christmas tree for children.
The gift of protecting our beaches.

Putting an end to the destruction of wetlands.

Ending the depradation of Coson.

Stopping the contamination in creeks and rivers.

Better management of solid waste.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Down by the Riverside

©2008 by José Bourget

I live in the multicultural community of Las Terrenas, in the northeastern side of the Dominican Republic. Estimated at 20,000 people, the town's population comprises a variety of ethnicities and a rich display of national origins. In addition to Dominicans, large groups include Haitians, French, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Spanish and Canadians. In addition, there are Austrians, Russians, Cubans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Yugoslavians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Belgians, Dutch, USians and at least 10 other nationalities.

One of the many comments and questions I hear frequently has to do with understanding "the way of Dominicans." "Why do they do that?" "Why can't they do it this way or another?" "I can't understand these people", along with other affirming and not so affirming comments.

I believe that the road to understanding starts with listening, and not always with our ears.
Years ago I heard the story from a friend about a visiting foreign woman who came to their village to help them at school. The village had invited this volunteer through one of the volunteer/intern programs available and after a long flight all the way from Wisconsin, or Ohio, can't remember where, how she settled in the village and was helping school kids and women with various academic things.

Over time she settled well and was doing a lot of good, but there was something that bugged her constantly. She could not understand why, when the women went down to the river to wash their clothes, they would spend sooooo much time "doing nothing." What she meant, I was told, was that she would not understand why they would spend the entire morning washing 10-15 pieces of clothing, when, in fact, it could have been done in an hour or less. "Why waste so much time?", she had asked.

This situation--frustration--on her part continued for long, until weeks down her service she lost her cool at a women's meeting and she blasted them away, accusing them of not doing enough for themselves, and wasting so much time twice a week down by the river taking all morning to wash a load that could be taken care of in an hour. She pointed out how those extra hours could be spent, how much more they could do in their schooling and in other village chores, and she told them too that if they wanted to live healthier, better lives it would come as the result of hard work, not wasting away their hours by the river. Boy, did she tell them!!!

As you might have guessed, this situation made a lot of people uncomfortable. It was days before an older woman came to visit the volunteer in her house, and over tea and much beating about the bushes, the woman started to say something about her laundry chores by the river this morning. She shared how one of the women took time to explain about her son away in the military and the many things he was learning, living and working at another place with people who spoke another language and ate different things. She said something about another woman, working on a daughter's hair, because she was getting ready to get married, and how she was telling her about household chores, how to deal with a husband, about preparing for child-bearing and the like. There was a significant amount of time spent talking about the village chief, on taking a younger wife 20 yrs. younger, and how the other three wives felt. They were talking about their crops and how they needed to get ready to send it to the larger village down the road where they could get more and sell it all.

And she mentioned a few other things. Then the woman left.

The volunteer could not understand everything right away, but there was a not so certain feeling growing from within, like an accelerated pregnancy of reason and emotion, twins in battle, until some time later he felt like giving birth to a whole new set of understandings, emotions and feelings.

She came to realize that the women did not go to the river just to wash clothes. Yes, they could have done the washing in an hour, but that time at the river was a time for mothers to be with daughters, guiding them into new areas of their lives and being a somewhat public conversation it was a way of empowering all of the other women to also take responsibility for the welfare of the growing young women in their midst.

It was also time for important information to be shared about village affairs, meetings, businesses, relationships, problems, health concerns and even major decisions that even their husbands would not even realize were taking place.

There were lots of decisions taking place, lots of underground action, lots of caring, listening, and sharing. In fact, the whole life of the village depended on those morning-long laundry sessions. Doing laundry was, in fact, an overt activity that protected a lot of covert activity going on--lives were changed, decisions were made, transactions took place, compromises were reached, and the constant, constant sharing of information, ideas, concerns, advice and wisdom.

This new understanding made her into a better person. As a result, she started going down to the river to do her laundry with the women. The rest is history you yourself can make up.
Things tend to make more sense in their own context. Imposing a different context unto a local situation will run counter to the reality of the behavior observed.

For us in Las Terrenas it would be important to reflect in the story above. Some reflection questions might well be:
a) What’s my place by the riverside of Las Terrenas?
b) Is your world big enough to incorporate other ways of meaning and understanding reality, or is your cultural center so strong that the only thing you can see is how poorly other people go about their way of making sense of the world?
c) Is it possible to partially or totally abandon one’s secure place away from the “river” in order to incorporate other ways of being?
d) What’s needed to take the jump and come down to talk to, listen to, and view the local people of Las Terrenas, the Dominicans, as they truly are?