Busy first half of the day today. My group did a reforestation activity that departed from Amber Cove at 8:00 a.m., so I bounced out of bed at 6:00 to get ready, eat breakfast, and check up on a couple of things before getting on the bus. Impressively, everyone made it on the bus with time to spare even though several of us went to something called the “Bravissimo experience” last night and had quite a late evening. Those who did not have the Bravissimo experience attended the welcome party in Amber Cove instead. Well worth the price of admission ($0) to see an incredibly cute and talented kids’ drumline trained by a professional percussionist whose goal is to give kids in under-resourced neighborhoods access to music education and even the prospect of making money from music. The show also featured Dominican dancers and costumed carnival performers. I took some videos during the show but my camera’s memory card malfunctioned and I had to reformat it. Fortunately I got a couple of still images off before that happened; here they are!
So we all arrived in top form (or similar) for reforestation this morning. We drove about 30-45 minutes to reach the site, including a restroom stop in someone’s home. Where I come from it is not usual to have strangers parading through your house to use the loo, but in Puerto Plata, especially in the more remote neighborhood we were passing through, it’s easy to see why it’s necessary. No McDonald’s in sight; very few gas stations; and porta potties on site would be logistically if not financially prohibitive. To be honest, although I felt awkward being there, I was pleased to get a look into what seems to have been a working-class rural home. The house had a corrugated roof, concrete floors, and curtains instead of doors dividing the rooms. In the large back yard were ducks and chickens and two outdoor wood-burning stoves for cooking (although there was also a small range inside the house, as well as a television and a wi-fi router). The bathrooms were tiled and obviously there was running water–but you can’t put toilet paper down the toilets here and a couple of people had done so. I hope we did not back up this nice lady’s toilet. Her in-laws lived in another house at the back of the property. The houses are a little dark and bare, but airy. We had to pass through the owner’s (one of the facilitators told us that people own their homes/properties) bedroom to get to the bathroom and I noticed that there was almost no furniture and no closets. These neighborhoods are hard to characterize; they seem permanent, but unfinished. Nothing is rickety but also nothing is shiny or new. And it seems normal to, for instance, sell snacks and sodas off your front porch, or operate a café from a tiny building with a counter out the front and nothing else. I can’t quite imagine living there. I think I’d make a lot of silly mistakes because things are different from what I’m used to. On the other hand, there are no obnoxious neighborhood associations telling you you can’t have a clothesline—we saw clothes drying outside every house.
The reforestation was challenging physical work, but fun: we were up in the hills with a nice breeze to break up the heat, and everyone chatted and had a good time as we worked. It was toughest for the workers who were using pickaxes to dig the holes for us to put the seedlings into. We could plant faster than they could dig because the soil was clay (very much like Georgia soil, but black instead of red) with lots of grass and thus hard to break up. Nevertheless, we persisted, taking a break halfway through for juice and granola bars. An official from the environment ministry was there to thank us for our work and explain why it was important, which was gratifying. The area we were in had lots of eucalyptus trees, which use a lot of resources without being good for much (no koalas here to eat them), so the idea is to plant mahogany and thus make better use of the land, decrease erosion (the area has lots of streams that feed a river), and improve the air quality. Though I have to say I thought the air was wonderful already!
We got back to Amber Cove tired and hungry but happy and I repaired to my cabin for a nap after eating some lunch. Dinner with my lovely cohort tonight and then a big day tomorrow: concrete floors in the morning, Caribbean Culture tour in the afternoon. Time is flying but the longer we are here the more the students seem to understand what we’re up to and get into the enjoyment as well as the personal growth of the experience.