October 25, 2013


 I am starting to get into a routine at my site. Literacy classes in the morning and afternoon, English classes in the evening, club meetings on Saturday. It is all very hum drum. So for this post I just have a list of some of my thoughts and things I have learned of late:

When I give someone my cellphone number I have to say it in Spanish, I get the numbers mixed-up if I try and say it in English.
My rock collecting buddies

Cruise ships have started to arrive in Samaná. The ships sit out in the bay, and from far off they make it look like new islands have sprouted up. They bring a lot of tourists into town, it changes the whole dynamic of the place. When I see the tourists I am reminded how much I stick out.

In order to get building materials to the library we need to widen the bridge across a huge gutter. Our solution is to fill the gutter, temporarily, with rocks. The process has been going slowly, so this week I went out with some neighborhood boys to collect rocks in wheelbarrows. I am sure I was quite a sight on the side of the road, just doing my best to keep up the notion that Americans are an odd bunch

I am at the point with my Spanish that I understand everything a comedian is saying up until the punchline.

There are mongooses in the D.R. They were brought over from India to get rid of snakes, Dominicans hate snakes, but that didn't work. Now they are dangerous rabies carriers. They have been known to kill small children. You don't want to mess with mongooses.

When I walk Romeo (my dog) people always give us a wide birth because here people only walk their dogs on leashes if they can't be trusted to run around without biting someone.

Even though it is still super hot here it is now starting to get darker earlier in the day. During the summer it got dark around 8pm but by "winter" it will be dark at 6pm. I don't like walking around much when its dark because the street isn't well lit enough to see people on the other side of the road, so I am not pleased with this new development.
Pato-1 Mosquito Net-0

I am a minor celebrity in my community. Everyone knows my name and even some people who drive through my community frequently. I do not know everyone's names which makes my notoriety a bit creepy at times. Still, it has its benefits. I am always being given food, and sometimes I am offered rides as I walk along the road. One time I even got to ride in an air-conditioned car, such luxury!
Pato likes to sleep on my bed. This is what happens when he tries to get on my bed when my mosquito net is tucked in.

A few months back I mentioned that there were government plans to bring water to my community and that potentially I could have running water by the new year. Unfortunately, that won't be happening. Turns out that government official who made the announcement was really the ex-governor, and the current governor nor the water ministry know anything about the program. No one in my community has heard anything about the project since it was announced, leaving everyone here a little more jaded about the the government and politicians.

Christmas decorations are up in my community and there are stores in town already selling decorations, even some very sad looking artificial trees.

I enjoyed being in the D.R. while the government was shut-down because I didn't have to hear all the talking-heads, but I wasn't able to avoid it's impact. I am due to receive funding from USAID by the end of the month for my community's library, however, due to the shut-downeverything is backed-up in the government, so I have no idea when I will receive my grant money. In the case of Peace Corps, 90% of U.S. staff were out of work while the government was closed. That means that applications for grants could not be processed, nor could new volunteer paperwork be reviewed, nor could a whole bunch of other Peace Corps programs operate. The effects of the government shut-down are going to be long lasting, hopefully we won't have to go through another one come January.

My medicine to prevent me from catching Malaria, Aralen, tastes horrible so I have taken to eating it with peanut butter. I am reminded every time that my mom uses the same technique to give our dogs medicine, but hey, it gets the job done.

October 12, 2013

Translation - It's more than just words

Having fun waiting for the last patient of the day
After work on a boat
"Susan, can you tell me why most women in the D.R. shave their pubic hair?"

That was a question posed to me by a member of a medical mission working the the hospital of Samaná this week. I served as both a language and cultural translator for the American medical staff and their Dominican patients throughout the week.

While I was at the hospital I primarily translated for patients before and after  surgery. This included explaining what the doctors would do during surgery, how to take the pain medicine, etc. Most of the surgeries were hysterectomies, gallbladder removals, and hernia repairs. The team did about 40 operations between Monday and Thursday. In a typical week at the hospital there are 5 operations.

There was also a dental team, a clinic (which saw 550 people), and two orthopedic doctors who gave out prosthetic legs and hands. The orthopedic doctors explained that many Dominicans lack limbs because when they get into a serious accident it is easier for both the doctor and patient to just chop away the damaged limb rather than try and save it. In the U.S. we have access to physical therapy but only the rich have access to such resources here.

Throughout the week the medical mission staff also asked me a lot of questions about D.R. culture and life. I was very happy to answer all of their questions. Some of the staff have been participating in this mission for over 10 years but there is so much about this country that they don't know because they can't speak the language and spend most of their inside the hospital working to improve the lives of Dominicans.

Some of the doctors came and visited my site for about an hour after work one day. They typically are in the hospital all week and do a few touristy things in the evening but they don't get the chance to see how the people they are helping live. They got a kick out of everything including the mosquito net above my bed. One doctor asked, "What is that net above your bed?" When I explained it was to keep the creepy crawlies away they all started snapping photos.

Volunteers always say that medical missions are an awesome experience and I now understand why. Reasons: 1. You get to speak in English with Americans 2. Everyone is impressed with your Spanish skills and the fact that you are working in the DR for two years, while they only come for a week once a year. 3. The medical mission teams are very generous and grateful, so they will include you in fun touristy activities, and give you supplies they didn't use to give out in your community.

In my case the generosity meant that I got to go out for dinner in Samaná and I was snuck into the restaurant at the all inclusive resort in town. I also got to go on an awesome boat ride to an island in the Bay of Samaná where we went swimming and then got to dance on the boat ride back to port. They also let me shower at the hotel twice! That was very nice as we haven't had a lot of rain in my site recently. And they gave me shoes, clothing, and shampoo to give out to people in my community. The mission will be back next year and they promised to bring books for my library too.

I had a blast with all of the medical mission staff and I cannot wait to work with them again next year. If you are in the medical profession I highly recommend you try a medical mission yourself. I can guarantee it will be a life-changing experience for you and the patients you serve.

The answer to the question at the start of this post: Most women do shave their pubic hair because they think it is hygienic. However, that same notion does not apply to leg hair. Therefore, there are many Dominican women with hairy legs who get Brazilians. A little topsy turvy from how we do things in the States, but that's just another example of cultural differences.

October 4, 2013

Death of an Animal

In one day both my cat and dog escaped from my house, and I saw a dog die.

Romeo now and a month after he was rescued
Now some readers are probably thinking, "Wait, hold-up, you have a dog?" The answer is yes. His name is Romeo (named after the famous Bachatero Romeo Sanchez), and he comes from a farm in my community that raises rescued dogs. The owner of the farm, a Canadian, thought Romeo would be perfect for me because he is afraid of Dominicans. He prefers people with white skin, yep, my dog is a racist. He was found as a puppy abandoned by the side of the road, with a bad case of mange that left him hairless, hence his dislike for Dominicans.

Romeo on the porch before he escaped.
Anyway, back to the story. On Tuesday Romeo and Pato (my cat) both escaped. Pato escaped first, through the back door while I was just about to close it. He can be such a sneaky little bugger. He came back around 11pm and was very hungry. Meanwhile, Romeo escaped while I was visiting a neighbor. I left him on my porch since he doesn't like being in the house alone, and he repaid me by jumping out of the porch via the side that only has chicken wire instead of metal bars. Another neighbor came running to tell me, and said he went running in the direction of the farm where he grew up. I went straight to the farm and when I called his name he came bounding out of the forest covered in burrs.

As we walked back home a dog crossed the street to bother Romeo. I threw some rocks in its general direction so it would leave us alone, and as it recrossed the street a truck came speeding by and hit the dog. The dog, which was probably only 25 lb., went flying up into the air and landed in the middle of the street, dead. I just stood there in shock and watched a man walk into the street and drag the dog to the other side. Everyone tells me that it wasn't my fault the dog died, including the owner, but I felt terrible afterward and I fear it could happen again as I walk Romeo.

The incident made me very upset about Dominican culture. No one ties up their dogs here, and everyone can tell you a story about a dog of theirs that was killed by a car; another dog died just last week. When I saw the dog die, I didn't hear any screams or cries or shouts, but I did see some people laugh. It makes me sad to think about how no one cares enough to protect their animals and that the cycle is going to continue. As with many aspects of life here in the D.R. the best thing I can do is lead by example.