A bulldozer, a dozen chickens and a miracle in the jungle


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Editor's note: In observance of Peace Corps Week, Joe Zuiker of Honolulu recalls his service in the Peace Corps in 1965-67 in Santiago de la Cruz, a village in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, four miles from the Haitian border.

Stop crying about your investments, mine aren't doing much better. But speaking of your investments, this week is Peace Corps Week. The Peace Corps is one of your best tax investments and a real mini-miracle machine.

The Peace Corps is about a kid from Chicago with a political science degree who is asked to promote community development projects in rural villages. It's about his limited language skills and the unfinished, unlit farmhouse he shared with a variety of insects and rodents.

It's about months of stomach disorders and eventually visits to a nearby village that was cut off from the highway by three miles of road that resembled a cow path. The path was so eroded even the mules did not want to use it to bring out pregnant women when their labor pains began.

The Peace Corps is about talking to those villagers so much that they actually began to dream of a real road for the village. And it's about the cow path remaining unchanged for more months as that kid from Chicago lay in bed at night with nagging fears that he was nothing more than a false prophet beaten down by a cow path.

And one day it's about bringing his moped to a halt in utter disbelief as he saw a bulldozer a few hundred yards away from the entrance to the cow path. And it's about the operator telling him that his bulldozer will be in that field doing absolutely nothing until the government gets gas money to move it.

The Peace Corps is about climbing up a steep hillside with lungs aching to tell the village elder that some gods in heaven dropped a bulldozer into the village's lap if only he will immediately visit multiple government offices and plead for the village's use of the bulldozer.

The Peace Corps is the joy of actually getting permission to use the bulldozer and then the mad scramble to find a way to feed the bulldozer just for one day. And the Peace Corps is about ending up that night alone, exhausted and freezing in a dollar-a-night flophouse while waiting for the boss to return to his office and then successfully begging him to bend some rules to feed the bulldozer.

And the Peace Corps is about the insane pleasure of seeing that big brute of a bulldozer get cranked up and begin pointing a fresh roadway in the direction of the village.

And it's a bout the exhaustion that crept in at the end of the day when the young Peace Corps worker learned that his friends could use the bulldozer a second day if he got on his moped and headed into the cold night air for another 40-kilometer visit to the boss' office for more begging for fuel. And many years later the Peace Corps will be about the smile on his face as he remembers that he made that same long journey for 13 straight nights so his friends could take full advantage of that bulldozer so it could turn the cow path into a decent-looking road.

Long after that bulldozer moves away from the village, the Peace Corps is about that young man and his friends burying drain pipes under the road and picking apart hillsides of rock to cover the newborn road with paper-thin layers of gravel.

And for sure the Peace Corps is about a 65-year-old guy going back to that roadway some 40 years later to again join his remaining village friends in tears and laughter under the shade of a big tree while eating the obligatory freshly butchered chicken dinner made in his honor as their guest and friend.

Most of all the Peace Corps is about the joy of walking with friends back to the spot where he shared so many hot afternoons painting the roadway with sweat and proclaiming village progress through community action. And, in the end, the Peace Corps is about traveling along that still-existing roadway and seeing those darn cement culverts continuing to protect the road. Now that is a mini-miracle.


Joseph Zuiker is a Honolulu workers compensation attorney and still uses his Spanish-language skills in his work.