‘Water’s Out for the Summer’ by PCV Courtney Nelson
This summer my small border community in the Dominican Republic had the pleasure of hosting 16 students and their three chaperones from Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisconsin for a week while we worked to build a basketball court. This group surpassed my expectations in every way, and their work ethic, charisma, and willingness to go with the flow made this project 1000 times easier to manage. Their great attitudes and some quick-thinking Dominicans actually helped us to avert a crisis: we had no running water during their visit. We had nothing to wash away the caked on dust, cement, and mud that would layer on as we worked all day, every single day, in the beating Dominican sun.
I am the local Peace Corps Volunteer, so I was also the de facto bridge between the community and the American volunteers. I was both excited and worried to have such a large group of Americans coming to visit. I wanted to make sure that the Americans had a good time; they had been fundraising since January and were now coming to help build the basketball court that they had helped pay for. However, I also wanted to make sure that Los Miche, this community that had become my home the last two years, was respected, valued, and represented well during their visit.
My community is not located in a large city, but sits about 15 minutes outside a small town along the border with Haiti. It is in one of the poorest areas in the country so it lacks some necessary infrastructure when it comes to water. There’s no reliable schedule for when we will have running water. Sometimes we will go days without, and the locals will tell you that the Sun is definitely Caribbean (re: hot as hell). Most days that’s fine; I have potable water to drink, and I’m used to conserving water while bathing. But this time, we hadn’t had water for a couple days, and someone had told me that dique (dee-kay, supposedly) something in the water line was broken, and we wouldn’t have water until it was fixed. This could take a couple days or a couple weeks, depending on how diligently the workers worked and how serious the problem was. Perfect. Great timing. Welcome to Los Miche.
The church where the group was staying had a cistern, which held a good amount of water, but bathing 19 Americans every day would have depleted that store almost completely. I desperately went around to all the houses that I knew had some kind of water storage system (usually a large tank on top of the house) and asked if they would be willing to have some American strangers bathe in their houses for the week. The responses I received were less than enthusiastic, but most of them said that if they had water to share, they would help. I was also ready to risk my landlady’s wrath and offer the tank of water we shared as well. Problem-solved…more or less.
The first work day started off a little bit slow, didn’t really go as planned, and was a bit chaotic (so basically a normal work day in Los Miche), but in the end we were able to make some headway preparing the court and got ourselves dirty and thoroughly soaked with sweat. They all deserved a nice, long shower, but we still didn’t have water. Gracias a Dios, the group of CFK volunteers and their chaperones were good sports. When one of the Dominicans suggested that we go to the canal, which dique had a lot of water and dique was only a 15 minute walk (rule #1: don’t trust Dominican time estimates…ever) the CFK group was down to try.
When we arrived at the canal, the group agreed the walk was definitely worth it. Not only did they get to see a different, more rural side of the community, hang out with some cool Dominicans, and try some delicious limoncillos, the water was cold, and there was just enough space for Americans and Dominicans to wash off the dust that had accumulated during the day’s work.
Going to the water became our after-work reward, and the part that most of the group, Dominicans and Americans, looked forward to at the end of the day. If we finished work at the court with enough time to make it there and back before dark, we made our way to the canal. It turned out to be an extra 15-minute walk past the canal, a total of about 40 minutes if you’re counting. However, it was a nice change. There was a deep end where we were able to jump off some boulders, and there was space so that the Dominicans could show off and build a human tower with Adonis’s little 10-year old brother at the top. They were definitely pulling out all the stops trying to impress the visitors.
On the Americans’ last full day in Los Miche, when by some miracle we had finished pouring the court the day before, the volunteers and the Dominicans were exhausted, but excited to have one last compartir (hang out) before the Americans left. And where did everyone want to go? To the river of course! This time, gracias a Dios, we didn’t have to walk, and we rented a small bus to take us and some new Dominican friends. We got there early enough to be some of the first people there, but that changed pretty quickly, as it felt like all of Los Miche had decided to come celebrate the beautiful, sunny day with the Americans. We chatted by the waterfalls, threw ourselves off the edge into the cool water below, and ate some delicious asopao—it was an afternoon bien jevi (heh-vee, cool).
Dominicans will always tell you that “si no te desesperas” (don’t be impatient), y “confias en Dios” (trust in God!), “todo saldrá bien” (everything will be fine). And while I absolutely hate it when they tell me this, especially when I’m stressing out, this time they turned out to be right. The water situation worked itself out for the better of the group and the better of the trip. Every time we went to the water, despite not having a language in common, Dominicans and Americans were enjoying each other’s company, playing, and learning from each other. If we had had water, and the group had instead stayed at the church every afternoon and taken bucket baths, the compartir-ing (sharing time) that is so essential to Dominican culture and relationship-building would not have happened. And so, we built a court. But the experiences of both groups during this process is what really gives the court its life. It’s become a reminder of the things that we can achieve when we put our differences aside and work together, and of the memories that these two groups now share. Esperamos que vuelvan pronto a Los Miche. We hope that y’all will come back soon!
“The Courts for Kids trip to Dominican Republic was a life changing experience that I was happy to attend. Amongst all the hard work and heat the whole group bonded with each other and the locals. I was really surprised by how nice and welcoming everyone was.” – Courtney
“Even though we were only at los Miches for 5 days, some of the friendships formed are as strong as the friendships I have with people I have known for years. It was hard to say goodbye, knowing I may never see them again.” -Izzy
“In 5 short days, I made a connection with a young man who was my age. We talked for a long time and the last night we sat together and talked about what the future held for each of us. We still talk on social media and he’s a true friend who I appreciate. He had nothing and I had more yet at the end of the day, it was a bond between two humans who were just trying to do right by God.” – Bryan
“My favorite memory of the trip was the last day. Seeing the court completely finished made all of our hard work totally worth it. I loved seeing how happy and grateful everyone was.” – Allison
“When I got to the Dominican Republic, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t think the locals would be willing to talk to us. I was so pleasantly surprised when we got to the church the first day, and there were locals waiting outside the bus to greet us. I was shocked that they stayed up that late just to meet us. The hospitality shown by the locals was immeasurable. They surpassed all expectations I had previously had.” – Tess