Boiled Bananas and Other Nonsense

Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Apr 06, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Friday, May 12, 2006

Hi All!
Well, I have survived five days in my new site so I thought it was time to give an update on my life here in the DR. On Friday, May 5 we had our "swearing in" ceremony where we officially assumed the duties of Peace Corps volunteers. On Friday night we went out to dinner and then went to a club in the Zona Colonial, the old part of downtown Santo Domingo, where we danced until the wee hours of the morning. The Zona Colonial is really cool, with outdoor restaurants and bars and clubs. It isn't too realistic to go there on a Peace Corps volunteer's budget, but it was nice for a night. Saturday was spent in recovery, and then on Sunday we spent the day at the beach relaxing. Then Monday, it was off to our sites! I haven't actually done too much since I have gotten here. I have three months to do a community diagnostic, in which I have to interview at least 100 households and put together a presentation of the challenges and resources of the commnity. Everyone in my community is clamoring for English classes, and although that isn't my project area I have decided to consent to win the goodwill of the community. I decided to give English classes twice a week to 15 or 20 youths, who in exchange will help me with my interviews for the diagnostic. That way, we both get something out of the deal and everyone goes home happy.
So, to explain that title of my entry . . . I realized that I have neglected to explain the culinary delights of the dominican republic, so I thought it would make an amusing addition to my blog. Food is an important part of my life, as anyone who knows me at all could tell you, so here it is. The main staple of the Dominican diet is "viveres," a class of food that includes lots of starches. For example: potatoes, a kind of light yellow sweet potato called batata, auyama (a kind of squash), bananas, plantains, and yucca. A lot of campo Dominicans will eat viveres for breakfast and dinner, but for the uninitiated they take some getting used to. A strange thing is that they eat the bananas and plantains totally green and unripe, and then boil them up before serving them with friend onions and fried salami or fried eggs. When I first arrived here I was totally anti-viveres, but I have to say I am coming around. Lunch is usually rice and beans and some kind of meat (chicken, goat, or pork) and perhaps some vegetables. My host family eats pretty well and I get somewhat of a variety of veggies, which is certainly not the case in a lot of Dominican households. Overall I eat enough to keep me from going hungry, but there is little to no variety in the diet. Bread here is somewhat like a glorified hotdog bun and goes stale within a day of purchase, but I do like it dipped in hot chocolate for breakfast. My new family has given me two of the most interesting culinary experiences I have had in the country. One day, my host sister was cooking pork for lunch and I couldn't help but think that the house smelled like s**t. I didn't say anything but when I sat down for lunch, along with the pork I was served with a bowl of mondongo, a sort of soup made from pig intestines. Now, the logical explanation for the poop smell had been revealed - I was just served a big bowl of it with my lunch! I took a tiny spoonful but then I had to admit that I didn't like it, and gave the rest of the bowl away. The other interesting dish I have tried is chicharrones. Now, if you have ever tried fried pork rinds in the US you will have some idea of what I am referring to, but words cannot fully describe the experience of eating fried pig fat, and pig skin WITH THE HAIR STILL ON IT!! Yes, I ate pig hair. I guess all meat is some animal part if you think about it, but something about seeing the hair still on the pig skin really put me over the edge. I can't complain, since I am eating better than a lot of other volunteers and most Dominicans, but it takes some getting used to. A favorite pasttime among volunteers is sitting around and talking about all of the foods we would eat if we were at home. So the next time you sit down to Ben and Jerry's ice cream, Puccini's campfire pizza, a hamburger, a caesar salad, or a glass of Pinot Noir, think of me, a thousand miles away, eating boiled bananas and dreaming about the food you have in front of you. So on that note I am going to end this. I have a new Verizon phone but it is old (it belongeed to a former volunteer) and the antenna doesn't go up so I can't pick up what little Verizon signal there is in my site. The next time I go to the capital I will change it again for another one, so stay tuned for my third new phone number!
Take care of yourselves. I miss you!

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