February 17, 2014

A Sister's Eye

Riding in the back of a pick-up truck
Woot, woot! Hey everybody! My name is Kelly and I will be taking over Susan’s blog for this post.  I am Susan’s sister, and as you may be aware, got the chance to spend two weeks with her over winter break.  The whole family travelled around the country the first week, but it was just Susan and I on our own for the second week.  Susan and I had a lot of fun and a few adventures in our week together.  She asked me to write this post to maybe shed light on things that I found interesting that she might have skipped over in her enthusiasm to talk about her project and such.

First off, toilets.  If you follow the Sochi Olympics you might have heard about how they make you throw your toilet paper in the trash instead of flushing it down the toilet.  In the D.R., this is standard.  Even at the swanky resort we stayed at in Punta Cana, signs were posted asking you to not flush the toilet paper.  Simply put, the sewer system in the Dominican Republic cannot handle supporting people flushing their toilet paper.   It’s hard to grasp when you live in a place where automatic flushing toilets are the norm nowadays. 

Note shower head and faucet do not work
Part two of my experience in as it relates to toilets is what is known as “bucket flushing”.  As you may be aware, Susan has no running water.  She does have a toilet however.  How does this work you ask?  Why by bucket flushing of course!  To bucket flush you fill a small bucket, think the size of a small sandcastle bucket, with water that had either been collected the last time it rained, or had already been used in the sink.  I will explain that later.  You stand a foot or so away from the toilet and throw the water with some force into the toilet bowl to basically force most of the old water and such down the pipe.  Bucket flushing is never one hundred percent successful.  You only do it when you do a “number two” so the water is always sort of dirty.  Secondly, it can take a couple of tries to get everything down; sometimes you don’t throw the water hard enough.  Now, about that old water from the sink I mentioned earlier.  Susan has this smart little set up so that any water that goes down the sink drain, whether from washing your hands or brushing your teeth, gets stored in a container which you then use to fill up your little bucket to “flush”.  It’s a great way to recycle and reuse water, a valuable resource in Susan’s community.   It does however leave her bathroom with an odd sort of minty smell though. 

Now enough about bathrooms, let’s look at other interesting things about Susan’s house.  She has no doors except for those leading outside.  Her bedroom, bathroom, and living room areas are all separated by curtains in the doorways.  I guess they allow for better ventilation?  She also has no oven.  In fact, no one in the D.R. really has an oven.  Gas is super expensive and it is hot already there so ovens just don’t make sense.  Instead people cook either on the stove, so there are lots of fried foods, or they will cook outside in plaster type of oven, heated by a charcoal fire.  In an odd way, it made me think of how people must have cooked before stoves and ovens even existed.  The little rooms these fires were in were blistering hot and smoky. 
Plaster based stove with charcoal for fuel
There is no way I could spend more than five minutes in them, let alone all day like most women.  Also washing dishes is a pain when you are trying to conserve water.  Obviously to make sure everything is sanitary, you have to use some of the filtered rain water, of which limited supply exists, so you try and be very careful and maximize the area cleaned per cup of water.  It makes it very apparent just how nice running water truly is. 

Making bracelets by candle light

The people in Susan’s community are awesome.  The kids are of course very friendly and a lot like kids back here in the States.  I taught a bunch of them how to make simple friendship bracelets with some embroidery floss our mom sent in a care package before.  It was incredible to see how some kids picked the skill up in now time at all while others, like Susan, seemed to struggle a bit more.  Overall the week with Susan was great and totally worth giving up all my downtime between semesters.  I even lost weight by eating the Susan diet of eggs, toast, and jam!

February 7, 2014

Literacy in the D.R.

When I received my invitation to serve in the D.R. I initially thought I was going to be teaching English. It took me a second read-through to realize that the literacy Peace Corps wanted me to help improve was Spanish not English. Others are often confused as well, when I say I am helping to improve literacy rates in the D.R. they assume I mean English literacy. It is such a simple assumption to make, of course a country so close to the States and dependent on tourism would consider English literacy a top priority. It shocks us, fortunate enough to have grown up with the U.S. Public School System, that a nation so close and intertwined with our own could have so many difficulties educating its youth.

Basic literacy in the D.R. is a huge problem, currently the D.R.'s literacy rate is 133 out of 205 countries (from the CIA Work Factbook). What does that number represent?

It represents nine year-old kids in the second grade who can't write their names. It represents the two shift school day, which means students have class for three to four hours a day. It represents the lack of textbooks and workbooks in the classroom (forget computers). It represents the poor pay and poor training of teachers. It represents the days of school lost because rain has made the dirt road too muddy.

The number 133 and all it represents, makes me feel like, at times, the work I am doing is a drop in the bucket. But there are moments that warm my heart, that let me know that my work is important to those I reach. Like when my students smile when they read a word on their own, or when a teacher arranges for students to come to both sessions of school.

I always knew that teachers had a tough and under-appreciated job, but I never realized how hard they have to work until I started working alongside them. If you are a teacher you have my utmost respect. Thank-you for all the work that you do.

Now onto random, non-sentimental thoughts:

  • My grant (that I originally submitted in September) has been funded! I now have a whole $5,000 to put to use. Hopefully the news will get my library committee energized enough to begin building repairs.
  • There was a nation wide commercial strike. All businesses were supposed to be closed for two days to protest rising costs and a potential tax increase. Samaná didn't take things too seriously, most corner stores were open the whole time and nothing closed on the second day.
  • School is tiring me out! I want to be in bed by 10pm at the latest.
  • Last time I was in town the power was out aka no internet fun for me. The town of Samaná is supposed to have power 24/7 but like everything in the D.R. it is not a guarantee.
  • Someone from Majorca asked if I was from Spain. I felt great, until that evening when my project partner gave me a book on Spanish grammar.
  • Things I can't find in town: pot holder, can opener, wine opener, large bowls (for mixing and popcorn), and grape jam (I can find orange, pineapple,  guayaba etc).
  • My 10 year-old neighbor said I was her best friend! So exciting because I think of her as my best friend too. We read and play a lot together, including making karaoke videos to Prince Royce songs. |'ll eventually have good enough internet and post a video of the two of us singing into hairbrushes.