fathom Journey - Day 5 - Dominican Republic

Okay, so...up early again, wolf down a couple bites of breakfast and jump on the bus.

THIS is what I came here for. Yesterday was spent pouring concrete floors. Talk about Impact! All of the activities have been good. But, just the way I'm wired I guess, the nebulous and entirely intellectual understanding of how increasing production in a paper recycling operation, or the clear but future and global (rather than personal to any one person) benefits of restoring the decimated forests are all well and good but they don't really grab me by the gut and the heart.

But meeting this family - mom, 14 year old daughter and two boys 10 and 7 if I recall correctly - and putting in a floor so these lovely children don't have to live in dirt and mud...that's real, that's now, that's (pardon the pun) CONCRETE. And here's the thing: I understand poverty has many causes. Some imposed on people by outside powers. Some boil down to bad life choices. But in no case is a kid responsible for their circumstances of their birth. Whether their parents are victims of volunteers, no one asked them. So, in my mind, it's just never not a good idea to help a child. And these three kids were just incredibly sweet.

So it was really a life changing (as well as a leg cramping back aching) day. I've poured plenty of concrete in my life, but where I'm from we have mixing machines. and work at ground level and/our make ramps so the concrete can be brought in by the wheelbarrow full. Or, on a job this big, you call in the Red E Mix truck and he just pumps in the product. Where we were, trucks can't get. and the houses are 10 feet apart. and the dirt floors are built up several feet. So, it's all about mixing small batches on the ground and making a bucket brigade to carry the concrete in a one gallon bucket at a time. Like the folks at the reforestating project, I think the IDDI facilitators were really surprised how many of us showed up to work. They kept talking and hinting around at what we were going to do. Finally some of us just grabbed a wheelbarrow and some shovels and started shoveling. And mixing. and filling buckets. and dumping them in. and in about 3 hours we were done.

And then the most amazing thing:

So, yeah...I came back to the ship tired, sore and joyful. Because I really KNOW I helped some random family improve their lives. Also really grateful - to be able to do something for others. to be blessed by being born in better circumstances than a large part of humanity. and to fathom for the opportunity to flex my gratitude muscles.

Then...back to the ship and another wonderful dinner at Ocean Grill, etc. I could go in to detail about the dinner and the party I stumbled in to later, but honestly...I want to just leave it here, and bask in the glow.

I'm not even going to hustle you to book a journey. But I do believe if you try to live any kind of other-centered life - fathom journeys might be exactly the trip you've been looking for.

So...manana we'll be heading back to Miami.


fathom Journey, Day 4 - Dominican Republic

Wednesday was my day for RePapel, a women's cooperative enterprise recycling paper, which is turned in to stationery, greeting cards, etc.  RePapel naw has 4 locations around the island, starting from one in Santo Domingo back in 1999 or so.  They are tyring to open them in strategic locations around the country, so that women who are in need of employment can stay close to their children rather than commute for hours.  Important in a country where gender roles (and the idea that women first and foremost are responsible for child-rearing) are still pretty sharply defined.  Welcome to the U.S., circa 1940.

Upon arrival we were introduced to the women who work there.  They all gave their story, briefly.  I noted a couple of them, single mothers, talking around the basic issue no one wants to really talk about, which is that Puerto Plata is a sex tourism capital, and that many of these women, if not for RePapel and similar enterprises would have no other choice than prostitution.  I have to say, as a libertarian, I am not in the belief that prostitution should necesarily be illegal...when a woman chooses it.  But, as in many impoverished countries, in the DR there is an element of coercion, or maybe duress is a better word.  Women are denied the education to hold down good jobs, there are few jobs available, and there is no social safety net for women whose husbands die or leave them, etc.  "Sell yourself or starve" is not really a choice.  So, if nothing else, the idea that fathom and IDDI and RePapel might save a woman from that choice makes my day of paper making, hot glue burns and needle stick injuries worth it.
The first part of the day was spent learning and doing the entire process, from shredding waste paper (seperating out the clean white from printed), to blending it in to a pulp, dipping screened trays in to the pulp (with a little jute fiber added to strengthen the paper), draining them, rolling the resultant paper to get most of the water out, and then drying the sheets before cutting.  Personally I loved making paper.  I might try it at home.  The other part of the day...not my thing.  The women also do a variety of artsy-craftsy things like making bead jewelry, coasters and candles...all of which required me to either burn, cut or stick myself with sewing needles.  But paper making?  Cool.  No sharps, no hots.
The whole day was fun though, as it's a very casual atmosphere, with ladies randomly breaking in to song and eager to show the old white guy how to get a giant thread through the eye of a tiny needle.
After we finished that up, and got back to the ship, I decided it was time for an adventure.  So I walked out to the main highway, thinking to catch a bus in to Puerto Plata.  Amber Cove is what it is, and not my kind of place.  Just too artificial.  Anyway, on my way to the bus stop, I was accosted by a moto-taxi driver.  There had been much discussion of how crazy the Dominicans drive/ride.  So, HELL YES!!!  I hopped on back and, for $25 got a ride and a guide for the next few hours.  He took me to La Fortaleza (the fort protecting Spanish ships in the harbor back in the 16th century.  Then along the Malecon to a seafood restaurant right where the local fishermen keep their boats on the beach.  I enjoyed a fried Dorado with red beans and rice, and some interesting local company...including a German and Canadian couple who met here 35 years ago, married and have been here ever since.  They were a hoot.  Then over to a cigar store to buy some handmade cigars, and finally to the Church of San Felipe.  The current structure is relatively new, but there has been a church on that site since 1612.  Earthquakes and storms have destroyed 3, and the current one was built just in the last century.
So, after that little sojourn it was back to the ship to do some laundry (I am consuming clothes at a terrifying rate doing hard work in hot humid weather), eating again, trying to get a decent wifi connection (the ships wifi has issues.  It's sporadically fine, followed by inexplicable death-to-all-connection episodes).  Finally, around 5 I decided to rest for a few minutes before getting ready for dinner at 7.  I woke up at 7:30.
So, I didn't make it to dinner til about 8:15ish.  Which was actually a great boon.  When I entered the Ocean Grill, I saw one of my co-workers the last two days dining alone.  The lovely Gretchen from San Francisco.  She was just starting her appetizer and invited me over to join her.  So we ate, exchanged life stories, talked Cuban politics and Dominican economics and travel and Design Thinking.  She is actually one of the people who put together the Curiousity Advantage workshop I enjoyed so much.  For dinner I started with the Ananas (Shrimp/pineapple/avocado with a rum sauce), moved to the black bean soup and, as I had promised Emil and myself...the Chivo Guisado (stewed goat).  Gretchen had the lobster.  I am saving that for the last night, as it does look delish.
I am not a big fan of goat, having only ever had it spit-roasted Texas/Mexico style.  In a guisado it's a whole different animal, so to speak.  The spices, the marinating all day, etc, takes the edge off the gamy/oily thing I didn't like about goat meat.  And for desert, she had the bread pudding while I had the rice pudding.  Both looked great, mine tasted great. ;)
After dinner, I thought to write for a while, but got frustrated trying to upload stuff, so about 10pm  i went up on deck for a smoke break and walked in to a party.  Some of the folks that were supposed to be leaving to go home had a flight cancellation and came back, quite a few of the Impact Guides seemed to be up and partying.  And a poker game was happening in one corner.  Somehow my quick smoked turned in to 2.5 hours, and at some time after midnight I finally made it back home to more frustration with wifi, when I finally gave up and went to bed, as my alarm was set for 6am.  Again.
Tomorrw I'll be putting a concrete floor in some family's home.  Which sounds like exactly what I was looking for when I booked this interesting journey.
So, HASTA MANANA mi amigos!

fathom Journey - Day 3, pt II

So, I told you I'd be back with details...and it's taken me this long.  Sorry.
I was lite on details about dinner...which is good, because it deserves it's own blog post.  I am seriously loving the Ocean Grill.  Last nights dinner started with a mahi ceviche that was terrific.  Less lime, and more spice (including a touch of tomato as well), but with mango for a sweet touch...I would say SUBLIME, but it would sound to contrived.  Oops.
After that I had the Mofongo.  Interesting.  Unlike anything I've ever heard called mofongo.  It had all the ingredients, but in little deep fried balls, like croquets.  Emil explained it was all about presentation.  Which I can see.  Whether you are in the Puerto Rico camp or the Dominican Republic camp on who invented the stuff, in either place it is delicious, but not real pretty.  And this is his solution to making it pretty, while preserving the basic flavor.
For the entre I had the Bistec Cubano.  Your basic steak served on a red chili sauce, with a couple fried plaintain slices and some yuca fries that were excellent.  It wasn't til the second or third bite that the dusting of cayenne really came thru, elevating the humble and basically insipid yuca to new heights of flavorosityness.  ( that's probably not a word, but it should be.)
 For desert I chose what was called a creme brule, but based on  a traditional Cuban corn custard.  I have to say, I am still deciding whether I liked it or not.  It was interesting, not too sweet, but not savory, and a texture thicker than creme brule should be.  The corn was a bit overpowering, though, and I am not sure where corn fits in the basic dessert flavor profile.  So, yeah...not bad, but not sure I would order it again.
After dinner, I was totally shot and went to bed and didn't move until 6am, when I got up to do it all again.
And that, mes amies, is a story for a different day...though it shall probably be delivered soon, as this afternoon I took an inadvertent power nap, and am wide awake...so just hold on, I may have DAY 4 coming soon to a laptop or mobile device NEAR YOU!!!