Feliz Navidad! I just got back from the holiday party for Peace Corps volunteers and staff in the capital. Romeo, our director, had the party as he does every year on the top floor of his apartment complex in downtown Santo Domingo overlooking the city. It was a very beautiful spot for the holiday gathering. To start off the night we read together “The night before Christmas,” but in Spanglish. It started with “It was the night before Christmas and all through the casa…” mixing up Spanish and English phrases to complete the poem, a nice was to share some Christmas spirit.
Many volunteers are going home for the holidays and its hard not to be a little jealous. Christmas in the campo is not exactly what it is back home. What it sounds like is that the main celebration is the night before Christmas, la noche buena. We will be having a dinner together, probably killing either a pig or goat beforehand and then enjoying some cervezas and rum together. Gifts are not exchanged and Christmas lights and Christmas trees are hard to come by.
So like the title of this blog states, I am 80 interviews into my diagnostic study of the community Casa Colorada. I will probably be doing about 20 more to complete all the houses in the area. The minimum amount of interviews is 80 but it has been a personal goal to interview every house in my community so that I have officially shaken everyone’s hand and they all know who I am and why I am here.
Through out this first 80, the interview format that I was originally using has changed a bit. A handful of the original questions that I was really excited about have turned out not to make cultural sense to the people here, so I have had to stop asking them. One of the best examples of this is the question “Me puede explicar un ejemplo de una comida saludable?” Can you give me an example of a healthy food? To myself, and the grand majority of people I know, health and food choice is inter-related and important. Here however, in rural Dominican Republic, health and choosing food do not have similar definitions or a connection. From what I have gathered, people eat what they can, what is available, what is growing in their backyard. Food choice as we know it is not a reality here.
After I asked this question, each family would look at me with a confused face. To help, I would ask further, “What is a food that gives you energy? A food that is good for yourself and your family? A food that makes your body strong?” …. STILL more blank expressions. The woman assisting me with the interviews would then translate this question to “What food do you like the most?” To me this was not at all a translation for an example of a healthy food but I just smiled and listened for the answer. I will get back to you with the actual statistic but my estimation is that 90% said arroz, habitúelas, y carne, also known as la bandera (the national flag in English, which is what they call their usual meal consisting of rice beans and meat). After about 20 interviews like this I had to give up on this question.
I remember in training when I was struggling with Spanish, I would sit and talk to children and ask them simple questions. What is your favorite color? How many siblings do you have? What is your favorite food? With the later the answer was always a matter-of-fact response: “arroz, habitúelas, y carne.” Other options and the ability to choose are foreign. One of my jobs is going to be teaching nutrition classes and trying my best to show the people of my community the connection between food and health and to slowly try and improve their diet. From what I have seen so far though this part is may be more complicated than I originally thought it would be.