August 29, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Moving Out

My New Home
I have never liked background noises. When I was a kid I would ask my parents to turn down the music down in the car, and I would get in fights with my sister as to whether or not we should have the radio on while we worked on our homework. This inherent dislike of background noises has made my life in the Dominican Republic, at times, difficult. People here like noise.  Music blares so loud it sets off car alarms. You can always tell when the electricity returns because immediately you hear the sounds of televisions and radios coming back to life. During training in Santo Domingo I would wake up at 6am to the sound of mass thundering through the speakers at my host-family's home.  While living in Monte Plata I would fall asleep to the sounds of the telenovela unfolding on the television of my neighbors. Being able to sleep despite all the noise has been one of my saving graces. Unlike other Volunteers I don't wake up in the night to barking dogs or crowing roosters (it is a major fallacy that they only crow at dawn). Still, while I am awake the noises Dominicans don't even notice can drive me up the wall.

I am therefore super excited to move out of my host family's house and into one with me, myself, and I. Sure, I will still be able to hear my neighbor's TVs and radios but at least in my house I will not have a television on maximum volume all day long, no matter if someone is watching it or not.

Here are some other reasons why my move-out day couldn't come soon enough:

  • I won't have to listen to children fighting. I will still have to deal with it but I can kick the kids out of my house. Do you remember how you acted with your siblings and cousins between the ages of 8 and 15? There is guaranteed to be crying when all of my host-mom's grandchildren are at the house. I am also looking forward to not hearing arguments between kids and adults as often. There is so much sass in this country.
  • I will have a private space bigger than a small dorm room.
    I'm looking forward to not calling this home.
  • I won't smell the smoke the outdoor kitchen in my room or on my clothes. It never ceases to freak me out when I am on my computer and I begin to smell smoke.
  • I won't be walking in on people going to the bathroom. Seriously people there is a door, close it. Or at least say something as I am walking in!
  • People will not walk in on me in the bathroom - the door cannot be locked. Thank God there are curtains in front of the toilet and the shower.
  • I won't have to strategize when I will use the bathroom or uncomfortably wait until it is unoccupied.
  • I will always have toilet paper. I keep toilet paper in my room but sometimes you don't realize there isn't any toilet paper in the bathroom until it is too late.
  • I will be able to cook for myself. Since moving to my site I have gained some weight, I attribute most of it to the food I have been eating for the last three months: carbohydrate, oil, and sugar heavy foods served in large quantities. I am hoping that now that I have full control over my diet I will be able to quickly loose the extra pounds - tight jeans in a hot country are not comfortable. Also, I am glad I will no longer feel like I am treating my host family like restaurant staff.
  • I will have pets! My host family has dogs and cats but it wasn't the same as having my own pets. In part because Dominicans don't tend treat animals the same way we mostly do in the States. For example, aside from the occasional table scraps my host-family does not feed their two cats because the cats are expected to hunt down pesky mice for their dinner. Also, none of the animals are treated for fleas so they all have them. This means that nobody wants to pet them, let alone cuddle with them - including me.
  • My new kitten! I told my host-mom I wanted a kitten and two hours later she comes in the house holding a sack with a kitten inside. The poor baby was so weak from hunger that the first few days he didn't even meow. He also has a big wound on his head but it is already starting to heal. I have decided to call him Pato, which means duck in Spanish, because he is my ugly duckling. 
Reasons I am sad to move out:
  • My host-family has a generator, a luxury I won't have in my new home. Instead, I will be using my flashlight and headlamp more often. The DR has an electricity problem, in almost every community there are daily power cuts. My community is lucky because we have an electricity schedule, dawn to noon then back at 6ish until midnight. But sometimes things happen, like when a transistor blew up down the street, and we went without power for a day.
  • I won't have the security of always having someone in the house. There has been a rash of burglaries at Volunteers homes so I am going to have to be on alert and maybe have someone house-sit when I am out.  I am also crossing my fingers that tigueres (Don Juan wannabes) won't be emboldened by my solo status to come knocking on my door.

Despite the decrease in security, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I am very much looking forward to Sunday when my move-out will be complete. Remember to come and visit!

One last thing, for those of you who have commented on my blog, sorry for not responding. I can't see to figure out how to post my own comments - sad I know. Thank you for all your kind words and support!

August 23, 2013

Time to get Crakin'

"Your community has worked hard; go big on the budget, and submit the grant by the end of the month and you should have the money in your account by October. I see a library inauguration in your community's near-future."

     Clearly impressed by the presentation my community partner and I gave about our project this past week, my boss has green-lighted us to apply for a Peace Corps grant (funded by USAID) for upwards of $5,000 to support our library project. We now have two weeks to get everything together for the grant. This includes: 1. Tracking down all the key partners in the project, including the Governor of Samaná and the Mayor of Santa Barbara (the principal town in the region) 2. Talking with Volunteers who have built technology centers. 3. Planning a budget . 4. Determining our goals and objectives for the library. 5. Figuring-out how we will monitor and evaluate the success of said goals and objectives. 6. Responding to questions about why we deserve the grant. I am getting antsy just thinking about it all. Oh, and I will be also moving out into my own house on September first. More on that later.

     My community has, thankfully, made our task for the next two week a little easier. Part of the grant application requires that communities explain how they plan to contribute an additional 25% of funds to the project. In my case, the community has already fundraised 30% ($1,500) of the maximum amount we can apply for, and that is excluding the voluntary labor that will be used during construction of the building. It is because of the effort my community has already put into the development of a local library that my boss is permitting me to submit a grant so early in my service. It is all very exciting and I am confident we will be able to get everything together in time, but I do not doubt there will be some surprises popping up over the next two weeks.

     The conference where my community partner and I presented our library project was my 3-month in service training a.k.a. 3-month IST. At the conference all the Volunteers from my sector, education, who have been in country for 3 months presented a diagnostic analysis of their community. The purpose of a Volunteer's first 3 months at site is to get to know the community better and in doing so create a concise overview of the community. You can check out my presentation and expanded written report here. Sorry it is all in Spanish.

     After our presentations we spent the conference planning out what we will be working on in our sites over the next year. In my case this includes: building a library, literacy tutoring, a reading club, girls and boys clubs, an environment club, 3 English classes, an adult literacy class, teacher training, starting a pre-school, an after-school study hall, and computer classes. It is a lot, but we have already started some projects, hopefully that will make starting the others easier. The last three projects (pre-k, study hall, and computer classes) will only start after the library is up and running, which - fingers crossed - will happen before January.

     The conference lasted almost an entire week. It was great to spend time with other Volunteers for an extended period of time. The main topic of discussion over the week was moving out of our host families houses. Who had already moved, who is about to move, how much people are paying in rent, if the house have a zinc or cement roof, etc. As I mentioned earlier, my move-out day is quickly approaching. I am still negotiating with the land lady how much rent I will pay but it will be under $4,000 pesos or $100. For that $100 I will be getting a cement house with a cement roof, bars on the windows, a porch, a kitchen, a living room, an indoor bathroom (!), a bedroom, a mudroom, and a tiny room whose use I have yet to determine. Electricity is included and but I will have to collect rainwater or purchase it. I will  have neighbors in the house located on my roof. I don't like to call it the second floor because the house was built separately from my own; it reminds me of the house in the Wizard of Oz, whisked up in the tornado and then plopped down somewhere else. Next week I will be going to the city of Nagua with my host-mom to purchase all of the essential things I will need for my house. It should be an adventure.

Other things going on in my site:
  • My neighbor Ossidy has determined that we are boyfriend and girlfriend. He even told his mom about us. He is four years-old.
    My New Boyfriend
  • My host family suspects there may be a snake in the house so my host-mom had her grandson search the rafters for the intruder. No snakes were found.
  • Searching for Snakes
  • A cycling race passed through my community! It was very surreal for me because every summer my family watches the Tour-de-France, a 3-week cycling race in France. Sometimes my sister and I spend our entire mornings being couch potatoes watching a stage of the race from start to finnish, about four hours. Last summer we even got to see in race in person. However, this year I barely kept up with the race at all; there isn't even a sports section in the local news broadcast. Anyway, seeing the cyclists ride right in front of my house was a surprise. Cycling isn't a popular sport here so my neighbors didn't know how to react to the cyclists, they just stared. I quickly taught them how to cheer on the riders with shouts of "Keep going!", "Go, go, go!" "You can do it!", and of course "WHHHOOOOOO." After that we all started to have a good time, and I think the cyclists where even surprised to find some fans.
    View of the race from my house

August 15, 2013

Water - It's Essential for Life

"If your community gets water by the time you leave in two years that would be cause for celebration."

That was the response of a Peace Corps staff member when I told her that Dominican officials announced plans to bring running water to my community. The government officials say the work will begin by the end of August and be done in three months. Like my Peace Corps counterpart, I am doubtful that the project will be completed on time. My thinking is, "If it is as easy as the government makes it out to be, why haven't they done the job already?" Well, the government has tried to bring water to my community in the past. Unfortunately the engineer mysteriously disappeared and so water never reached the pipes. Those pipes were then destroyed three years ago when the main, and only, road in my community was paved. Perhaps in some ways it was a good thing that the engineer ran-off; I can say from personal experience that living without running water after having become accustomed to its convenience is at times frustrating, and I frequently reminisce about how much easier running water makes daily life.

My community's number one goal for years has been to get running water. A man was killed by police during a protest in 2011 (Read the full novela here). Running water is a serious issue. And I don't mean potable water you can get out of your kitchen sink (potable water doesn't even exist in the DR). Nor am I referring to water that comes out of the kitchen sink. One Volunteer said upon hearing news of the project, "Aw man, showers. I love showers. You should get some of those." Residents of my community are not expecting to receive indoor plumbing. That would be like successfully crossing the universe when the plan was to only land on the moon. All my neighbors want is to have a faucet in front of their houses that they can use to fill buckets with water, which they can then take into the house to wash dishes, clean floors, cook, and bathe. Residents would even settle for having faucets on only one side of the road, because it would still be a whole lot easier than what they, what we, have to do now.

Until Thursday there had not been a decent rainstorm since tropical storm Chantal, July 9th. Once everyone used up the rain water they collected, people began to send their kids to fetch water from nearish wells and springs (10 to 30 minutes away). Some families even take a donkeys and horses to the water sources and load the beasts burden with jugs of water (my host-family's donkey is often used for such tasks). On Wednesday my host-mom and her granddaughter went to a spring to do laundry. Luckily, for me, it rained the next day so this weekend I got to use the semi-automatic (ie. labor intensive) washing machine at home.

Other things:
  • I got to meet a Canadian, who owns a farm in my community. She has a whale watching business and wants to organize school trips with me for this winter when humpback whales migrate to the bay of Samaná to give birth. She also runs a dog rescue program - very much needed here. When I visited her home there were 16 dogs running around. I want to adopt one of them but there were so many to choose from I couldn't make up my mind! You can check out all the adorable puppies on their Facebook page Samaná Dogs.
  • Wednesday was my last day of summer school. We had a party and the kids were well behaved. Still, I was disappointed not as many kids came as I expected. Who doesn't want to come to a party?!
  • This week I started teaching English to adults (16yrs+). There were over 30 people in attendance so we are splitting the class into two. I am lucky that my project partners are in the classes. They were able to help maintain order with some of the youth.
  • BINGO is a universally popular game. No matter the culture or age, everybody wants to shout BINGO...and get a mint.
  • A third Volunteer from my training group has been struck down with dengue  (a mosquito transmitted virus). The good news is that he is already on his way to recovery. The bad news is that all three Volunteers became ill in the capital, which is where I am this week for my community diagnostic presentation.
  • Another Volunteer from my training group was sent back to the States, hopefully temporarily, to receive medical treatment (it's called a med-evac in Peace Corps lingo). Please keep her in your prayers.
  • I attended a teacher training session this Thursday. Some of the highlights: I arrived first, early, and was rewarded with having to wait around for over an hour to start the session as teachers straggled into the school. One teacher did not recognize a large hand-turn pencil sharpener, the type you can find in almost every classroom in the States. The teachers all agreed that pencil sharpeners would be useful to have in the classroom as students often use razor blades to sharpen their pencils.
  • I received my first card! And it wasn't from my family - such slackers. Thanks to the friends who sent it and the goodies that accompanied it. The anti-itch cream has sadly come in handy this week. I also received a card today from another friend in Russia - she mailed it in April but it got here! You can send me snail mail too! My address is here.

August 2, 2013

Thanksgiving - It's Only 4 Months Away!

"If you are going to be visiting the States in the next few months consider bringing back a can of cranberries or pumpkin."

That was part of an email I received from Peace Corps in May asking Volunteers to bring back essential foodstuffs for Thanksgiving. Yes, Thanksgiving is a BIG deal for Peace Corps Dominican Republic. Every year there is a big celebration in Santo Domingo on Turkey Day for all Volunteers and the staff that supports us.

I am very grateful that I will be able to attend such a fun event this year as holidays are always the toughest days for me to be away from home. When I studied abroad in Chile, Thanksgiving Day was the day I felt the most homesick - I couldn't stop looking on FaceBook at all the delicious food and fun get-togethers my friends and family were having Stateside. Likewise, this past Easter was a depressing day for me here in the DR. My host family did nothing special to celebrate, we didn't even go to Church - it was raining after all. Meanwhile, back at home I knew my family was dying Easter eggs and hunting for plastic eggs full of candy in the backyard.

The Thanksgiving day of fun is a way for us to forget that we are far away from many of our loved ones, and remember we have so much to be thankful, including the friends and family we have found on this tropical island. However, there is a price to be paid for keeping the holiday blues at bay. I will now turn it over to the Thanksgiving Executive Committee:
Everyone can agree that Thanksgiving is a particularly special time of the year. It’s when you get together with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company and reflect on everything you are thankful for.  Here in the Dominican Republic, Peace Corps Volunteers in particular have a lot to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving is one of Peace Corps Dominican Republic’s greatest traditions and this year we are hoping to make it better than ever. It is really the only event of the year when we can all come together from around the country as a big family. Over 200 Dominicans, Volunteers, and Staff are expected to celebrate this holiday and we want to ensure everyone can spend time celebrating with their Peace Corps family without worrying about cutting corners or sacrificing on essential Thanksgiving traditions due to lack of funding.

Here in the DR, Thanksgiving starts bright and early with a 5k Turkey Trot and a morning filled with football, basketball, and other sports. The hotel where we celebrate has a pool where Volunteers can work up an appetite worthy of Thanksgiving before the big meal. Dinner includes all the classics – turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and desserts galore. Baking teams tasked with creating all the traditional desserts stay with host families in the capital before the big day turning out enough Pecan, Pumpkin, and Apple pies to satisfy everyone. After gorging on all the tastes of America, Volunteers participate in the famous talent show and the day culminates with an all-night dance party.

The truth is that putting on this event is not cheap and the event is entirely volunteer supported. We do not receive any funding from PCDR. Volunteers pay nearly 10% of their always thinly stretched monthly living allowance for a ticket.  On top of the ticket cost, volunteers also pay for their transportation, lodging, and food (besides Thanksgiving dinner!). As with everywhere, prices have gone up and we are trying our hardest to keep our ticket prices the same. This year we’re turning to loved ones and family to ask for your support. Donations as small as $15 or $20 can make a big impact on our budget !

 Thanks to friends and family who donated to Thanksgiving 2012, we were able to provide the following services to volunteers:

·            Shuttle bus from sports events to the hotel where Thanksgiving dinner was served, allowing volunteers to enjoy the entire day’s events

·            Our favorite desserts! Including brownies and 3 kinds of pie - pumpkin, pecan and apple :)

·            Extra transportation costs for our dedicated baking teams

 Planning such a large-scale event like this begins months before November 28th and includes baking and cooking teams, sports organizers, talent show hosts, ticket sellers, and many more PCVs who volunteer their time before the event to make it great – but we need your help! Consider donating what you can to help ensure that your Peace Corps Volunteer gets to really enjoy one of our best American traditions.


The Thanksgiving Executive Committee 2013

You can donate here: