Greetings from Los Angeles. No really, the barrio (neighborhood) where I am living in the capital is called Los Angeles. I arrived to the city with about 40 environment and ICT volunteers last Thursday evening, and Friday we all settled in various barrios with local families. My family consists of my dona (house mom), don, dog (Snupi), and parrot (yes, it speaks spanish). Our neighborhood is in no way affluent, but I won the lottery because we have running water, a car, and even internet in my house. In three more weeks I will move in with another family more in the country so I am sure my crash course in bucket showers will arrive soon enough!
Week one has been a whirlwind for sure, but not overwhelming or stressful. The Peace Corps staff here is all about love and support- as long as we are here to work and do good things, they are here to back the volunteers up. The country director (who is amazing!) actually told us he loved us the first night and all the volunteers we meet emphasize that we are all a family. Between all this, the lessons on culture and logistics, and affection from my host family- I would expect to feel annoyed and coddled. I have felt a little over-protected from time to time, but I have to admit that after traveling alone for awhile the structure and group identification is kind of nice!
So what is my life like day-to-day? Training starts at the ENTRENA/Cuerpo de Paz center in a nearby barrio about 6 days a week at 8am. Besides 3 or so hours of Spanish class, other lessons vary and include meetings with current volunteers and project staff, cultural aspects, local dances (muy etretenido!), and policies. The crime and sexual harassment class wasn’t very fun, but I think the malaria, dengue, and giardia will encourage the most paranoia. I have never been so cautious about what I eat and drink- ignorance really is bliss and I miss those days! Speaking of giardia, the food here is pretty awesome, and my dona is an excellent chef. Lots of fried and mashed plantains, chicken, beans, rice, fruit… and all in mass quantities. If I don’t clean my plate I clearly must have hated whatever it was I did not finish, even though nobody else in the house is served nearly as much food. This was the biggest complaint from all the volunteers, so clearly life is not too rough! Simultaneously maybe the best and worst thing I have eaten was a type of tamale, made with plantain instead of maiz. That was the good part. The bad part was the mayo, katsup, olive loaf and cheese on top. But por que??!!
I like Dominicans a lot so far, and I guess the cultural aspect that sticks out the most is that these people are BLUNT. People refer to friends, family, and strangers as ‘the ugly/fat/skinny one. I was watching TV with my family last night and my dad said that one of the mujeres was a ‘linda fea,’ i.e. ugly on the inside, pretty on the outside. He then told me I was a ‘linda-linda,’ then when I laughed he said, “Bueno, realmente eres linda al dentro, y bonita afuera. No muy bonita, pero (ehhh) bonita.” Basically, he said I was very pretty on the inside, and well, okay on the outside. Here, that isn’t an insult, they just tell it like it is- and at least he didn’t call me ugly!
That will have to do for now…I may be missing out on some ‘ocho loco’ or hott telenovela action.