What a day…

3 11 2010

After spending a lot of time away from my site (medical mission, parental visit, cholera consolidation), I have been trying to get back in the swing of things.  Today was nothing short of full swing.

6:45am I woke up this morning a little drowsy from a moto-bike adventure to Jarabacoa the night before to check out Halloween festivities (lackluster but a fun (and cold) night). I dragged myself out of bed (11pm was wayyy past my bedtime), ate some vegemite and butter on my home-made (delicious) integral bread, and packed for a day’s worth of activities I headed down the hill wondering if my newest group of volleyball trainees remembered that we planned practice.

As it turns out, they did, and when I got to the lab to grab the volleyballs I saw that people had taken the three best over the course of the last few days.  While we sorted this out the boys in middle school started putting up the net and playing and I noticed some unpleasant expressions a few teachers’ faces.  This led to a backasswards indirect convo lasting about 15 min too long in which I was told not to hold practice at school.  Training would have told me to apologize and leave it at that.  Instead, I played back and said I understood but it was such a shame seeing as how i work all day at the school I am going to just have to tell the girls they can’t play volleyball.   2 can play the backasswards communication game, I am not proud, but it felt good!

Seeing as the month of November has me in my site pretty much never, I decided to start cholera charlas right away, but wanted to check out our campo-clinic to see what they had going first.  I took Randi/Miguelito/my dog, Osito, along to stretch his legs as we made our way there while it began to rain.   At the clinic I tied the dog up and calmed the fears of the visitors who were sure their aqueroso evil dirty dog was going to eat them.  After chatting with the doctor and confirming that no, they have no medicine for cholera, and no, they are not planning any communication, I headed back to the school to begin student workshops. If I don’t say so myself, I give one hott Cholera charla- I mean, talking about poop to 14 year olds is an easy win, but I’ll take it!

1:30pm.              After a quick trip to my doña’s for lunch and a shower, during which I spent half the time helping my friend in mourning try to connect to the internet to talk to his girlfriend, I went to the lab early to continue helping this friend on a different computer, prepare announcements for the next set of classes, photocopy and create cholera informational handouts, and prepare the class for a day of final exams.  I had to also convince one more parent to let another volunteer take her daughter on an exchange this weekend as I was no longer able to take them b.c of rescheduling due to our Cholera meeting in the capital.

Over the next 4 hours I gave 4 more Cholera charlas, gave 2 computer classes final exams, made new arrangements for volleyball practices for my girls, and after convincing the parents to let their girls go with another volunteer, found out that my weekend trip was cancelled due to the tropical storm so I could take the girls in the end anyways.  Productivity in the face of inefficiency and poor communication!

6:30pm Classes are winding down finally, and as I am going back and forth to the gate letting in and out every student (b/c the school director wants me to play after hours gate keeper to keep those Manabao rebel-rousers at bay) the town mayor/one of my students insists on buying me some jugo and talk to me for way too long about how teachers need to make kids pick out trash.  Meanwhile, my friend Miguelito comes back in to continue his quest for a skype connection to his American girlfriend.  This jugo and trash discussion turns into a dinner invite and extra chocolate milk which in the end isn’t a half-bad deal.  In the lab, I go around putting finished exams on my USB and turning computers off b/c after 2+months of class, too many people still just turn off the monitor and leave.

Around 8:30pm, after finally getting Skype functional on one of my ghetto computers, I check my email quickly and see that we are being called to the capital to wait out the tropical storm.  Normally, I would be pretty pumped about a free trip and hotel stay in the capital, except that this means I am going to have to postpone the end of my computer classes, reschedule for the 2nd time a town meeting for a potential aqueduct project, and potentially cancel on my girls’ trip for the 2nd time as well.  At this point, all I could do is laugh, and with that I made my way to the mayor’s house for some mashed green banana.

9:30pm i have finally made it home, and am trying to decide between the swings of awesomeness and suckiness where today in the end really lies.  I mean, I managed a pretty solid community education about Cholera, started winding down my first round of computer classes, had 100% attendance for volleyball practice, at a delicious dinner and scored confianza time with the mayor, and got my friend connected online.  However, I also got rained on, kicked out of vball practices at school, asked to do a million and one favors for friends and students beginning with ‘Jenny! Ven Aca, Jenny, Jenny!”, and my plans thrown around by peace corps without the decency for them to even get my phone number right to call me.  (As far as they know, I never have internet or access to the peace corps network so really, I can just not go to the capital and they can’t say boo.)  Dinner ended with some dominican wine, so I was leaning towards good on my way up the hill.  Even with the electricity out when I got home I was staying positive.  Then the electricity came back, even better!  I was decidedly positive, until I found a ginormous cockroach on my toothbrush.

Come to think of it, maybe I should have included this scenario in ‘how bacteria from poop can end up in your mouth’ part of the cholera charla…


Why my community kind of rocks

1 09 2010

A few weeks ago there was a horrible motorcycle-car crash in our one-road town, leaving the 20 year old brother of my host sister-in-law nearly dead.   He broke both his legs, one in two places and a rib.  They rushed him to the nearest reputable hospital, about an hour and a half away, half of which down rough mountain roads.  He has been in the ‘intensive care’ ever since, has undergone 3 surgeries, but somehow is recovering incredibly fast.  My host sister, Patricia, and her family are by no means well-off, so a hospital that will probably be around $100,000RD ($3000US) is just devastating.  In two weeks, the family and community has rallied and raised I think over $50,000RD.  One weekend we did a ‘Peaje,’ blocking the street with a rope and making people give us at least $5RD to pass.  They were there all day, and raised over $20,000RD from rich weekenders who visit our area and our own community members.  $20,000RD is a ton of money here, and I can’t say I see an equivalent happening in the US.

Saturday, we put on a fiesta, and I am not sure of the final count but it raged for over 8 hours so I think the family made out well!  The next morning, hang-overs and all, Patricia’s family and close friends, and me as the gringa made a surprise visit to Dahyam in the hospital for his birthday.  Transport was provided in the form of a agriculture truck in which we all piled.  We shared snacks, refreshments, and sweat bouncing down the mountain and on to La Vega where we surprised Dayham in intensive care with a big cake and about 30 people.  (Dominican families are large!).  Sure, Dominican hospitals are scarily mal-equipped, some Dominican lady angry at the presence of our large group near her sick mother made a huge Dominican-like scene far larger than our giant but respectful group, and one of our pick-ups broke down 3 times trying to make it back up the mountain; but in the end I am above all impressed by the love and initiative of the family and support of the community.

As volunteers, we rag on the culture a lot venting our frustrations, but the reaction of my community to this tragic accident speaks hugely for the people here and I thought I should share (maybe mostly to remind myself of the positive when de vez en cuando frustrations make me feel otherwise about my community and the country ;)).

DR Ridiculous Medical/Health Beliefs

19 08 2010

Ö      If you have a bad cut, you should pour gasoline and drinking alcohol on it to clean it.

Ö      If you have diahrea, go for it with the coffee, whole milk smoothies, and fried _____- but whatever you do, don’t eat a potato.

Ö      For sprains and sore muscles, apply heat.

Ö      Whenever possible, injections are always more effective than a pill.

Ö      If you get your hair wet in the rain, you will catch a cold.

Ö      The river either cures you or makes you sick (depending on who you ask it’s one or the other, or both).

Ö      Drinking too much water makes you fat.

Ö      Yuca is a vegetable, and a protein, and should be eaten every day of your life.

Ö      Green bananas don’t have calories and are preferable in taste to mature (yellow) bananas.

Highlights of July 2010

16 07 2010

Accidentally getting my hair BRAIDED

I thought I was getting french-braid pigtails from my hair stylist neighbor (bonding), and instead she full out braided my hair.  A super nice gesture on her part, but Dios Mio!  The next day I was running, practicing volleyball, and romping in the river so without too much of a stretch, I ruined my hair and sweat enough to reasonably take out the braids… Jesus.  But don’t worry, I snuck into my room to snap some fotos of my post-op shock… enjoy!

Crab hunting and river romping with my brothers

I have two host brother on vacation from university in the capital here over the summer, and it makes life way fun.  When I am not in the lab or volleyball court, I am pretty much at home or exploring rivers/crab hunting with my host brothers.  I let them be the ones to stick their arms under rocks and get pinched by the crabs, and I just follow along on the hikes and wait for the next good spot to jump off rocks.  They take care to make sure I don’t get myself tangled in any barbed wire fences, and always jump first so I don’t kill myself on the rocks, and I am getting to see a lot of this area I would never find on my own! Win-win-win!

These aren’t standard female activities in the DR, but I guess trail running I did training for the half marathon gave me a lot of, well,  street cred if you will- they say, ‘ella se defiende,’ ‘ella sabe,’ y ‘ella es atleta, lo hace ella.’ Then, I get home and my 3 year old ‘son’ calls me, ‘PARIGUAYA!’ (dork)


Started with just me out there a few days a week with the boys, now i have 2-3 hour morning practices with kids, and tons of people come out to play in the afternoons.  Some days I spend 5+ hours in the volleyball court.  I have won over the family dog, so now Cacayito (for chocolate, not shit) is our unofficial mascot and follows us to the court in the mornings.  He isn’t convinced yet though he wants to go running with me.

We held a men’s and women’s team touranment Saturday afternoon with the kids and community members lining our sidelines cheering ridiculously enthusiastically.  Now we are trying to organize a women’s team to compete as well.  We may form a volleyball committee, to make rules for when kids vs adults play in the afternoon and get sindicate support for transport to compete.

The only downside is that children follow me everywhere now.  See the photo evidence for my case in point.

Computer Lab

Oh, the triumphs and troughs.  I turned in a solicit to the Ministry of Education for a new inverter and batteries (so we can use the lab in the morning when we don’t have electricity) without much hope of a rapid, if any response.  2 weeks later I was about to jump in the shower to get to the lab for my first teacher training class, when Ministry workers pulled up to my house.  They had come up to Manabao with the inverter and batteries, and had found me by asking where the American Peace Corps worker lived.  Of course they didn’t think to call and give me a heads up, but I was not complaining!  It was my moment of personal glory, and I am glad I soaked it up because two hours later when only 2 professors showed up to my class and the inverter shut down the power to the lab when the electricity came on in the town, I was back in the trough.  Such is life in the lab, and between trying to fix and update computers, train youth and teachers, and organize a business out of the mess, I have t o take everything well in stride.  Very official Ministry employees.

Cuerpo de…Deporte?

11 06 2010

I guess I would say I am more or less still settling in just fine here in Manabao.  Most days i have been getting up, maybe going on a run, and working on teacher training materials in the morning.  In the afternoon when there is luz I go to the school and work in the computer lab before heading to the volleyball court if its not pouring rain.  At home at night I read a lot, entertain my ‘son’ (host nephew with green eyes), drink some ginger tea and usually hit the hay about 9:30 or 10.  Some days I help pick yam, banana, tomatoe, limes, yuca, ect from nearby ‘conuco’ land- it really entertains my family that I like to do this!

As far as long term planning/life goes, I have had mediocre luck with getting teacher training going.  Classes were supposed to end the first week in June, but then it turns out that primary school is still going to class through maybe June 18th (incredibly, noboday knows for sure).  Other teachers are also still extremely busy preparing students for national tests, and many are still attending ‘clinica’ until God knows when.  Its all very confusing, and in the end we have pushed back training until July.  The most success I have had is with the youth, and I already have a group interested in being the community encargados, and we are going to start training this summer.  My other project of girls’ volleyball is also hitting some speed bumps, due to the fact that it rains just about every afternoon.  Since the girls are still going to class , we can only play in the afternoon.  I still play all the time with the boys, but since the girls don’t traditionally just head over to the ‘cancha’ to play sports, it is hard to organize.   Hopefully at least in the fall we can get something formal going!

Sometimes I still get kind of bored/stir crazy in the day-to-day, but I almost feel as if thing are getting hectic logistically speaking.  I am now set to do a course to become a reef check certifying instructor June 24-27, run the half marathon on the 27th that night, then do my 3rd dive that week on the 28th to practice as an instructor.  Then, I have a few days before heading out to an undetermined spot to celebrate July 4th.  I should start teacher training July 6th, then, July 8-10 I am going to teach my first reef check course in Miches….yikes!  So basically, once a week I try to be super efficient online and on the phone wtih peace corps folks, because what i can accomplish in my site is limited to limited electricity, limited time/motivation of teachers and students, zero internet/claro phone service, and lots of rain.

In my final bit of random news, I may have accidentally landed myself a personal running coach in Manabao.  Leave it to me to find the one Dominican runner, happening to live in my tiny mountain town.  It is like a mini-empire running club, only this 50(ish) man speaks Spanish and wears a yellow mesh tank that would get him which would not be socially appropriate anywhere outside of Baker Beach.  (This is not strange at all here, couldn’t be more strange than a dominican person running!)  Anyways, he is pretty hard core, runs races all the time around here, and used to train a group of youth to compete before the local government ran out of money to cover transport.  Between diving, Pico Duarte, running, and volleyball, If all else fails, I can safely say I should be seeing an active 3 years of service!

Week 1 as a real-life PCV

29 05 2010

I have been in my new site now for about 1 week.  (1 week down, about 103 to go!) Ha, but overall, I think it is going quite well.  Most mornings, I have been getting up to go running, which serves two purposes.  One, it helps me see more people in the community and ‘be seen’ (as weird as that sounds, its important).   It is also pretty key since I signed up to run a half marathon in the capital at the end of the month- yikes!   I come back and have breakfast with my dona, which is usually quite solid though I am still trying to convince her that I actually do like my coffee without any sugar whatsoever. Amargit0!  She serves it to me that way for a couple days, then slowly starts adding more and more sugar thinking I don’t notice, until I find some way to subtly call her out and the game starts over…  It is somewhat exhausting having to settle in with the 3rd family in 3 months, but this family is great and my dona is a total character and very awesome.  We have lots of cross cultural discussions about things like food, religion (I pretend to be a God-fearing Christian here), and whether all Americans sleep with ‘novios’ (awkward…), and last night we played hand games (think Ms. Mary Mack).

When I need a break from the lady chatter and gossip, I chill on the porch with my host dad.  He is an ex-guide for Pico Duarte and is very chill.  We watched a lightning storm and drank ginger tea on the porch the other night and it was one of my favorite hours in this country.  Then I went to sleep and he started snoring super loud and he was no longer my favorite.

Other than family bonding, I have been going to the school every afternoon to get to know the teachers and appear to be doing something useful.  I am hoping to do teacher training in the computer lab this summer.  I will also be doing a diagnostic (basically, community interviews), and hopefully getting involved in some of the projects already up and running with other volunteers.  There is a really good men’s vball team here that I played with one afternoon, and I am working on getting some girls organized to get a team going for them.

I spend a good portion of some days feeling really awkward trying to keep up with big gossip sessions/remember people’s names and I do have moments (okay, sometimes many continuous moments) where I question how the hell i am going to live in this random place for 2 years.  However, overall, I have to say it is all going smoothly, and I am feeling very okay just going with it and taking it a day at a time.

Time Flies…

1 05 2010

It seems like yesterday that I left for CBT thinking how long 5 weeks would be, but i think I have had a good 5 month’s worth of life.  I learned a lot, but not nearly enough.  I am still pretty ICT illiterate, but I think I understand my project a lot more and am just a lot more accustomed to life here.  Mostly, I learned about 5 peso masitas and made-to-order empanadas- dangerous.  I also learned that going out dancing here is way too fun, and makes it very hard to survive on the equivalent of $1US/day!

El Seibo was awesome, and after living there for a bit I would be okay with a larger pueblo than I originally thought.  I am definitely ready for the next step though, walking 4-6km in the raging heat every day to two sets of 3 hour classes got old.  Unfortunately, Peace Corps is holding out on that last vital piece of information- where I will be living for 2 years!  They told us yesterday over pizza and doughnuts (yeaaaa Americaaa) with which institution we would be working.  For some people, this says a lot.  For instance, there are 4 literacy volunteers and two people working with a dental clinic (oddly enough).  I will be working in a school, which tells me nothing other than I will probably be spending a large amount of time fundraising and avoiding getting roped into teaching full-time.  The plus side to this is that it is a very independent project, and I will have the opportunity to hopefully create a sustainable lab (technologically and financially speaking).  If only I had any skill with computers….

Basically, yesterday was awesome not because of anything to do with my project, but because I got the McD’s Flurry I had been craving for 5 weeks and my first two swims at the US Embassy.  AKA America Day, and I have never felt so patriotic 🙂

The environment group gets back today and that is super exciiting b/c it has been 5 weeks since we have seen them- plus we have two birthdays, but it is not as if we even needed that excuse to celebrate!  Monday we find out our sites, and Tuesday we meet our project partners for our site and take off that same day through Sunday.  Wednesday we swear in as volunteers, and by Friday we will be fully moved to our new sites.

But for now, I am going to take it easy at the rio…