Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Las Piezas

Three months ago, when people asked me if we were going to bring Olivia to Charles' peace corps campo (village), I always said no.  In my mind it was too remote and too far.  As the weeks turned into months, I started getting more comfortable with the idea and when Charles told me he was heading up for the weekend I made a last second decision to go with Olivia.  I did not have time to share the idea with anyone which was probably a good thing since I could have been easily talked out of it.
Casita de Carlito - 2001 to 2003 Cuerpo de Paz
Every time I visit Las Piezas I am surprised how remote the campo feels, even though it's only a 45-minute drive from the nearby city of Nagua.  Maybe it's because the road is horrible, maybe it's because the communities you pass on the way do not yet have indoor plumbing, whatever the reason - you are always aware that you are visiting a way of life that is far removed from the life we left in Vermont.
Don Juan and Dona Maria's Home

As we climbed the steep mountain road to the campo, many people came out of their houses to welcome us and to gush over the smiling rubia (blonde) in our backseat.  Everyone we saw greeted us with warm handshakes and hugs and blessing of "Que Dios lo bendiga" (god bless you) for Olivia.  By the time we reached Don Juan and Dona Maria's house it was late afternoon and many of the children had started to surround our truck to play with Olivia.  We spent the next 5 hours visiting with families up and down the mountain and offering small regalos (gifts) of chocolate, coffee, and dulces to the families. 
Kerchner Artisan Chocolate tasting in Las Piezas

While visiting with the families we received updates on who had left the campo for the city, who had gotten married, and who was sick or had passed.  In return they all asked about our families in the states and were amused to hear that the scrappy, campo dog that once dug up a pig - is still alive and living in Boston with my in-laws (our dog Piper was raised in Las Piezas before Charles brought her to the US in 2003).
Visiting the families house by house is something I have become accustomed to over the years.  At first, I didn't understand why we had to walk to each one individually, and why we all just could not meet at a general location, but then I started to understand.  It is a courtesy to visit their houses, and they in return offer you something to eat or drink.  While some of the families may have more than others, it is their culture to offer you whatever they have.  I find this to be one of the sweetest gestures.  I've never experienced it anywhere else, even in the capital.  Over the course of 5 hours I had 5 cups of coffee, bread, soup, oranges, lemons, some type of super sweet juice, and habichuelas con dulce (sweet beans - an Easter treat in this country).  Needless to say, we overdid it with the coffee, and I was not a fan of the beans, but it was the hospitality that was so endearing.
After spending the night in nearby Nagua (I wasn't comfortable with Liv staying overnight in the campo - maybe overprotective, but that's me), we went back to Las Piezas the following day for some lunch, dominos, and hanging out under the mango tree.  We also got to see the school that recently installed 2 toilets (with plumbing).  They were so excited to show these to us and it is definitely a sign of progress for the community.  All in all I'm glad I relaxed a bit and was able to show Liv the campo and vice versa.  It was an experience that we will be sure to share with her for years to come, the only sad part is Olivia will only remember the visit in photos since she is so young.


  1. Jess,
    This is such a nice write-up!
    Well done!!
    I am so happy that Olivia got to visit the campo
    and visa versa.
    Crazy to think what has happened over the past 9 years to you, Charles and the campo!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. These pictures along with your words bring back some incredible memories Jess. It was such an amazing experience to be able to visit Charles in the DR during his peace corp days and to spend time in Las Piezas. Truly an experience I will never forget. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Oh my, I recognize some of the faces. Good ole Donna Marie! Wow, and i can remember that sweet, ass-kickin' coffee! Muy dulce!!!

    What a delight to return and visit. I am sure the folks were so excited to see you all. They probably were wondering why and how you only have one kid after 10 years of being together!

    Please, please , write and share more. Jess, you are a great writer!

    Love, beth