So I have not been writing for some time, December was a crazy month and I spend the first weeks of January travelling.
Actually I went back to where I first got involved with development issues: the Dominican Republic, more specifically El Pozo in the Maria Trinidad Sanchez province.
As a student over 30 years ago in 1983 with a colleague we did research in this village, looking into how women without access to land shaped their livelihoods in this rural, rice-growing area. We found that they had three basic strategies depending on their age and family composition: they would either marry someone with land or an income, work as a day-labourer in rice cultivation or earn their money washing clothes. The options – husbands, rice ears, or soap bubbles – translate into a Spanish alliteration: Esposos, Espigas o Espuma de Jabon, which made for a good title of our paper. We also found that women involved in rice cultivation had different preferences regarding for example rice varieties, reflecting their specific circumstances. The fact that gender was an issue in rice cultivation was somewhat of a revelation to the male technicians and scientists involved. But that was 1983. Fortunately nowadays gender issues are less easily overlooked in agriculture.
Later in 1987 I went back and lived in Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR, for two years. This was our first visit since the early nineties and it was great to get a glimpse of the Dominican Republic today. In terms of infrastructure – roads, schools, clinics – there has been a dramatic change. The merengue is blasting from every speaker as always, tourism is doing well, manufacturing less so. The political culture seems very similar to what we saw twenty years back: elected governments, freedom of press but still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the quality of political decision-making and (financial) transparency. Campaigns for the 2016 Presidential elections are in full swing 18 months ahead of the elections. And the relations with neighbouring Haiti are – as usual – tense at all imaginable levels.
But alas, holidays are over and it is time to go back to work. I started this year as Chair of Peace Brigades International – Netherlands. More about that in my next post.