Those stupid picture frames.

Shouting, “Hey driver, let me out here!” I walked confidently down the aisle, corralling my comrades along the way. The picture frames for the Dominican communities who host us that I had carry-on imported from Athens, Georgia held their ground in the bus’s narrow overhead storage.

It took two days for my error to announce itself. When I realized what I had done I sought out some internet to find the small bus company’s phone number. Let us never forget the wonder of Google. Number in hand I called Aetra Bus of Santo Domingo. They gave me a number to call in Santiago. Against a pessimist’s odds, the cordial folks in Santiago had our frames. No, they couldn’t send them to me in Bonao but they could send them to Piedra Blanca, which was just about 30 miles down the highway.

On a Thursday afternoon, I headed down to the highway to wait for a passing van, the whirlwind of our program fading away behind me.  Facing north, I waited for a gua-gua to pull over and take me south. Within ten minutes, one such civilian soldier of the country’s informal public transport army screeched to a halt ten paces to my right. The grandiose arm gestures of the animated cobrador encouraged my paced toward the open door. A cobrador collects passenger payment, helps them squeeze into unlikely spaces and hangs out the open door announcing the final destination to largely disinterested bystanders along the highway. As I approached him, I realized that it was Domingo, who often beckons us from across the street to show us the wood stove candy factory behind his house and stuff our pockets with sweets as we leave.

Domingo’s son, Edydeyson, emerged smiling at me from under his baseball cap, hopping down into the dust. He had just finished practice, explained his Dad, and was pitching a 75 but needed to pitch an 82.  Drawn up and in to the gua-gua’s sticky embrace, I greeted the aged couple in the back and slid into one of the many open seats as we, this new momentary family of circumstance, barreled down the highway toward Piedra Blanca.

As we pulled into the Piedra Blanca stop, a faded bright yellow concrete structure with an open front, a spotty Caribbean rain found its rhythm above us. Domingo’s many warnings about the suddenly risen torrent of water along the curb found it’s way to the athlete in me. An easeful hop saw me across the water and propelled me towards shelter. Once inside, the frames were quickly located, thanks were given and a plastic bag happily embarking on it’s ninth life as an umbrella found it’s way over the top of the frames. My frames and I headed toward the street, pausing when confronted with the downpour.

“You better just wait ’til this water slows,” said a gentle, indifferent voice from behind. I turned and almost automatically desisted, in part because I didn’t want to ride back wet, and in part because I had learned that stubborness in a place that doesn’t readily respond to personal will is a futile waste of effort. But soon my inbred restlessness won out and I headed out into the rain to flag down a van headed back in the other direction. 

I found ready refuge with a small group of wet, chatty street vendors under a tarp strung between two structures. On the left, a shack or shed of some sort, silent under the steady rain. On the right, a wooden stand no bigger than a carnival booth, with a one-sided glass cover containing mounting piles of fried plantains, chicken, salami. From the corner, the accidental master of all things fried, relying heavily on the stool beneath him and the wall behind him, gazed through the street vendors’ conversation while tending to his sizzling pots by ear, sight being now unnecessary. 

United by the wait, I, the vendors who hawk their wares to passing vans and buses, and the gentleman manning the fritura, began our gentle social sway. Two of the vendors, swimming the familiar detached strokes of debate, highlighted best selling techniques for their dulce de leche and candied peanut and sesame bars. My focus, easily detaching from this language on loan to me, slipped out into the street, lazing between the constant rain, and finally latching onto the light swooning heart of a distant bachata.

“Here comes one, you’re going to get your ride right now,” said a delighted voice. “Put those over your head,” said another man, pointing at the frames. “No,” said an older gentleman who had shown up while my mind was out under the rain. “Take my cap, you can send it back from the van,” he said pushing it firmly onto my head. I hunched down a bit under my friend’s cap, nestled the frames under my arm and headed toward the van’s open door.

Miles passed and soon enough the bakery with the fancy bathrooms appeared outside the window letting me know that it was almost time to get off.  “Driver, let me off at the Los Mangos stop pleeease!”

Following a confident swerve and firm braking, the door slid open and my feet hit the ground.  Resituating my bag of frames for the short walk home I heard something fall to the ground. Looking down, a smile spread through my heart and took hold of my mouth. Down at my feet, a peanut candy bar—the type commonly sold by the country’s many street vendors.

Under the tarp, between a shed and a stand, bound together by an assertive rain, on of my comrades-in-waiting had silently sent me off into my new present with anonymous gift.

peanut candy bar

Crowdfunding Cucuyo: 2013 Edition

Friends, Cucuyo is born of love and feeds on passion. We are an entirely volunteer-run organization (sadly, are small staff has day jobs that aren’t this). We need everyone’s help in funding this thing so that we can get back to designing a meaningful, fruitful experience for our youth. If you, a good friend, or beloved family member has benefited from international exchange, make it happen for another lucky young person.

donate fundlyA donation to Cucuyo makes an excellent holiday gift. A donation in honor of your daughter who studied Spanish in Ecuador or your friend Amy who rocked Peace Corps when she turned 50 is a great way to say, I know your experience was essential to who you are. On top of that, following the program, you will also receive a tangible gift from us that corresponds to the many giving levels detailed below. And because Cucuyo is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, you, the donor, will be rewarded with a little bit of tax relief come 2013.

Our funding campaign is being hosted by Fundly (similar to indie go-go if you are familiar with that platform).Head over to our campaign to:

  • Donate quickly and securely online
  • Read about Cucuyo’s history and purpose
  • Watch a brief video about the wildly wonderful Cucuyo experience
  • See what your donation buys for Cucuyo Youth
  • See what your donation buys for you!
  • Learn about the 2013 program Spanish on Stage
  • Help us invite others to see that the value that Cucuyo adds is worth a few of their dollars

fundly email   fundly email 2

Why We Need Your Help

Our U.S. teen participants cover their own program costs, but we rely on people like you who think this is a groovy idea to supply the rest (workshop expenses, class materials, in-country transportation, scholarships, etc.). Since 2009, more than 200 Dominican youth have participated free of charge, and we have been able to cover some of the other program costs thanks to past donors, a hard-working board, and an all-time best volunteer staff. We have seen first hand the benefits of affordable, cross-cultural arts programming for teens all over the world. Mutual cultural understanding between our youth is worth funding. Help us make it happen today and tomorrow.

High Five for That!

Your donation is 100% tax deductible; Cucuyo is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit. After donating, you will receive an email receipt from Fundly that you can print and submit with your taxes.

In addition, we’d like to offer some tokens of our gratitude to you, the donor, as follows:

  • $25: a chuckle by means of a Dominican postcard containing a joke or riddle from a youth participant
  • $50: a 8 x 10 color print from the 2013 program
  • $75: a Dominican postcard bearing a joke or riddle, an 8 x 10 color print from the 2013 program, and an original illustration
  • $100: two original 5 x 7 illustrations from our talented Media Manager, Bianca Bidiuc + one pound of artisan Dominican coffee roasted by Dallis Brothers in New York
  • $250: two bags of Dominican organic ground cacao (cocoa powder) from La Red Cacao Cooperative + a dedication on our website
  • $500: DVD of the 2013 final performance + autographed script from all the teen actors + a dedication on our website
  • $1,000: a handwritten note from your scholarship recipient + a DVD of the 2013 final performance + an 8 x 10 color print of your choosing from the 2013 program + a dedication on our website
  • $2,500: Everything you see on this page (chuckle in a postcard, color program prints, original illustrations, Dominican coffee, Dominican cacao, DVD of final performance, autographed script, handwritten note from recipient, dedication on our website) + a pretty darn good feeling in your heart

We thank you for any donation. A little goes a long way when there are creative, resourceful minds at work.

Visit us at

B-Ball Y’all: Cucuyo Seeks Coach for 2013

Cucuyo is a nonprofit organization that brings American and Dominican youth together for an arts and language summer program in Bonao, Dominican Republic.

Basketball Tournament in La Ceiba
2012 Basketball Tournament in Bonao

Why are we looking for a basketball coach, you ask?

In addition to our theatre workshops this year, we’d like to offer three weeks of basketball training to kids, teens, and adults. Basketball is hugely popular in Bonao; every year the community hosts a tournament with local teams that attracts hundreds of spectators. And even in the hottest mid-day sun, teens and adults come to the community club every day to play basketball—but none of them has ever had access to formal coaching.

We’re looking for a coach to work with three age groups and lead them through drills, court strategies, and other exercises. We want someone who can teach them to be team players and how to improve their skills. This is a meaningful way to make a difference in the lives of youth and adults in this small, underserved community, pick up some Spanish, and earn valuable experience coaching abroad.

Cucuyo will pay all expenses, including food, lodging, and in-country transportation, EXCEPT airfare to the Dominican Republic. (There is a chance we can pay or subsidize part of this too, but we won’t be certain until early 2013.) Workshops are 5 days a week Monday through Friday and will include a mini-tournament that the coach is free to plan as they wish. Included in the trip is a surprise weekend excursion that involves delicious food and a relaxing trip to the beach.

If interested, please email your CV and a brief description of your interest in the position to Spanish is not a requirement, but some functional knowledge is a big plus.

Deadline to apply: January 15, 2013
Dates of program: June 29-July 18, 2013
Questions? Sure! Email or see for more information.

Learning to Hustle Less & Be More

Though Cucuyo did not put on a program this year, Cucuyo volunteers Bianca and Laura traveled to Dominican Republic to visit with all of our Dominican participants in Bonao.

Part One: Los Frios

My boyfriend/husband Byron owns a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic, specifically in Los Frios, the community where he served as a Peace Corp Volunteer many years ago. I had been before but it’s the kind of place where it just gets sweeter with every visit. From the capital, I and a dear friend Bianca met up with Byron and grabbed a 6:30 a.m. three hour Caribe Tours bus to San Juan de la Maguana. There, over huevo frito and yuca, we caught up with San Juan resident Carmela which is always fun because she’s a perfect specimen of what it means to straddle cultures. Carmela’s mother is a conference interpreter turned cake-maker who I had the honor of conversing/throwing millions of questions at during my last trip to the DR. And her father is a Dominican from Puerto Plata. She is adamantly Dominican.

When we arrived to the market at 11:30 to catch the next leg of our transport, the camion—which usually leaves at 12—had already left. So Bianca and I wandered off to buy mangos and guineo while we waited for plan B to make it’s way to us.

Plan B was a guagua (small bus in DR Spanish) to Arroyo Cano where we waited on a corner for 4 slow hours to creep by. During that time we peered at a newborn and mused over the life of the 17-year-old mute new mom. We ate tostones with agrio. We talked about the new president and found out we were sitting in his hometown. We watched motor bikes hum by. We got up and walked to the corner when we couldn’t sit any longer. We watched time elapse.

The camion arrived and we climbed into it’s open bed, strapped our bags to the back of the cab and settled into our favorite grip and riding stance. It would be a two hour ride with about fifteen other nice folks up the mountain and through the potholes thanks the Japanese’s ingenuity. The new mom and baby sat in the cab in the front.

That evening we arrived to Los Frios, where the sun is the main source of light, and the most important innovation in most people’s lifetime was the coming of the aqueduct and running water. It’s easy to walk slow in Los Frios. Working comes naturally and not working does too. We spent two days up in a place where the clouds are as likely to be above you as below.

Finca La Paz’s Farm Manager Antonio taken by Byron Holcomb

As an interpreter, Los Frios is a gold mine. Los Frios is a day in day out vocabulary workshop in campo-speak and other strange-isms. A everyday interaction between two Los Frieños would go something like this:

Middle-aged incredibly strong man 1: Homb’e, ¿cómo tu ‘ta?
Middle-aged man 2 in rocking chair: Entre lo’ do’
1: Ha visto mi montura hoy?
2: No lo he vido hoy
1: Hay que dir pa’ el conuco de mi compai

First one to decipher that gets a free gallon of aceite and an 125-pound sack of arroz.

Part Two: Cucuyo & Bonao

Cucuyo is the youth cultural exchange through the arts non-profit that I direct. It’s entirely volunteer run (including me as well) and it operates in the summer. This year we didn’t do any full out programs because of how much was going on in my life—job change, wedding, moving apartments, looking at master’s degrees, etc. We did however want to go visit and do some planning for the future. Continuity is important to me and I also wanted to see if I could tease out the current needs and desires of the Dominican youth that participate with us.

In addition to our aim to have some conversations about the future, Board Member and last year’s Documentarian and Interpreter Bianca made plans to put on a brief three-day workshop on leadership and effective community activism—one of her specialties she’s been developing during this past year with her work at Sustainable Food Center in Austin, TX. This she delivered with beautiful competence complete with an ice cream party and certificates for the 22 youth who participated. The youth latched on to the material easily and honored us with their openness and willingness to share the collective pains in their community.

Community Activism workshop in La Ceiba taken by Bianca Bidiuc

So, while no less important than our previous years’ operations, the workload was significantly less. This left us with significant time to do the hardest work of all—not working.

In the space between running and rest is where all the magic happens.  I always knew this on some level, but this year’s gift was that this teaching crystallized into a precious clarity. As I slowed down to meet all of our Dominican friends in their space, in their context, the rate at which our gnarled connection became muscled and tight accelerated. From there, it loosened into an easy swing. There was where Bianca and I found a vision for a simpler, cleanly-structured, repeatable, sustainable program based on workload sharing and the principle of doing a few things well rather than many mediocre things.

More details on our newest ideas to come. And in honor of this year’s experience, they will be released at a Dominican pace.

Bonao is my community. It’s yours too. If Cucuyo pretends to achieve anything, it would be a shot at providing an experiential opportunity in interconnectedness. It’s amongst the unfamiliar that all the familiarities stand up and shout their names.