April 20, 2015

Pajama Party

As one last shebang with my girls youth group, Chicas Brillantes, I invited all the girls to my house for a sleepover. 15 came over to dance, paint nails, and make bracelets. Thankfully only 10 girls slept over. They stayed up chatting until past 2am and were all up again at 7am. I had flashbacks to when my friends and I would decide to bake cakes at 4am and stay up for the sunrise. My apologies to all the parents who I prevented from getting sleep! 

The best way to summarize the night is with the pictures the girls took. Enjoy:
1. Group Shot!

2. We Made Tea!

3. I Got a Make-Over!

4. A giant Bug Attacked!

5. Random Screaming of Excitement

6. I Got a New Hair-Do!

7. Jumping on the Bed!

8. Toothpaste Attack!

9. Romeo Joins the Fun!

10. They Cleaned My House!

*Not pictured is when the girls broke my speakers or when I stepped in broken glass. It is a miracle no one was injured, physically or mentally, during the night.

April 14, 2015

Close of Service Survey

A rite of passage for every Volunteer about to leave the Peace Corps D.R. is to complete an exit survey for the unofficial magazine the Gringo Grita. I have worked on the Gringo Grita for the past two years, and so it was a bitter-sweet moment when I submitted my own survey to the magazine. You can read my submission below (Warning it is filled with Spanglish.):

Name: Susan Stine
D.R. apodos: Susi, Profe, Fea (only used by my 10 year-old BFF).
Site location: A campo with views of the Bay of Samaná.
Program: EDU
View of the Samana bay from my site
Project assignment: Build a library.
The library full of students
Project reality: Built said library. While waiting for construction permits and políticos to keep their promises I taught kids their vowels, partnered with a técnico to present Escojo Enseñar, and ran Chicas Brillantes, Me Toca a Mi, Chicos Superman, and English clubs.
Most useful thing brought into country: My ability to sleep no matter how loud the colmados blast bachata. Runner up would be my incredible immune system, which has prevented me from getting diarrhea, parasites, and amebas.
Least useful thing brought into country:  Concealer. I tried to use it for Swear-In and I looked like a ghost. Freckles and concealer do not mix.
Best "I-know-I'm-in-Peace-Corps-now" moment:  On my first day in my community my 13 year-old host sister took me around to visit our neighbors. While visiting one neighbor she informed me that she was sick and had to go to the capital the next day for treatment. I asked her what was wrong but instead of responding with words she unbuttoned her blouse to show me a two square inch open wound just above her left nipple. She then threw some brown sugar on the wound and buttoned her blouse back-up. I looked over at my host-sister and was relieved to see she was also in shock about what just happened. I knew everything was going to be OK that night when I called my parents and they were not shocked by my neighbor’s actions but instead explained that brown sugar is good for keeping wounds clean. Oh, and in case you are worried, my neighbor is still alive and healthy.
Nana cleaning out my water tank
I felt most integrated into Dominican culture when: I mandared kids to get the inside of my 150 gallon tínaco with bleach and clean out all the mud and dead insects. Meanwhile I blasted Romeo Santos and watched. Also once during a medical mission I took my shoe off to threaten a bunch on children. It had the desired affect of getting them to run away screaming, but for the record if I tried to pull a stunt like that in my community the kids would all call my bluff and laugh-in my face.
Nana lecturing me during Monopoly
Funniest experience in country: Playing Monopoly with my sister, Kelly, and my 10 year-old BFF, Nana. Nana got mad at Kelly and I for our ruthless, American, capitalist ways and proceeded to lecture us about how we were not in America but in the D.R. and therefore had to play Monopoly like Dominicans.
I will also always have fond memories of re-hashing NYE 2013 with Amanda in the waves at Playa Grande. That’s when our friendship went to the next level.
Most memorable illness or injury: Following the 2013 holidays I went into an emotional slump: my family had left, it was rainy, and I felt like I had achieved next to nothing after my first 9 months in site. I tried to distract myself by reading Orange is the New Black but instead I wrote up a list of all the ways Peace Corps is like prison. (FYI Piper Kerman would not have survived PC.) When I shared my list with Sara Conners she bluntly told me, “Peace Corps is going to be a long f**king time if you think of it in those terms.” That’s when I realized I had a problem and with the help of family and friends, and starting to find some success in site I was able to get out of my slump. But it isn’t so easy for everyone. I encourage anyone reading this who is unhappy to talk to someone about what is making you feel that way. It doesn’t have to be a PCMO, but if the person you talk with says you should seek professional advice heed their help. Peace Corps isn’t about who suffers the most. It is about helping others, and if you are in a bad place mentally you won’t be able to do your job or enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Tough to beat this kind of view
Most Dominican habit you’ll take home with you: Wearing brightly - some might say garishly - colored clothing.
Most beautiful place in country:  My community and the view from the back of a pick-up truck.
Most creative way you killed time in site: Sewing opaque curtains so the tigueres couldn’t stare at me, along with other home improvement endeavors aided greatly by my hot glue gun.
Best transportation story: Once in the capital I had the honor of going out dancing with Brendan, Connor, and Andy. As the only girl in the group I got to dance the night away. However, the next morning I quickly learned there are consequences to going out with just boys. I was so exhausted that I was positive I was not going to be able to walk from the Bella to the office with my bultos. Thankfully, while buying Gatorade at the nearby colmado I was able to introduce myself to some policemen who had a car. They kindly gave me and the other girl PCVs a bola to the office. The boys had to walk.
What Spanish word or phrase have you made up during your service and what does it mean?: I haven’t made up any words but I really wish Dominicans used the Chilean pronunciation of WiFi, turning those English i’s into Spanish ones.
How have you changed during your service?: I have a lot more freckles. I am much more willing to share. I am less judgmental. I have adopted a sense of Dominican over-confidence in my abilities and my beauty (Thanks piropos!). My stress levels are way lower and the bar for me to become stressed is much higher. I now know I could adopt a child and love it as my own. I consider myself a dancer. I am more focused on doing things that make me happy. I am happier.
If your service were a book, what would its title be?: Letting Things Slide
What books did you read, tv shows did you watch, and/or podcasts did you listen to that you would recommend?: I LOVE podcasts. They make cleaning the house an enjoyable event. Here are some that don’t get enough PCV love: The Bugle, Global News, Fresh Air, Planet Money, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, and Welcome to Night Vale. Read In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Álvarez and then ask older Dominicans about what life was life under Trujillo. I also recommend you do not read The Time Traveler’s Wife nor Orange is the New Black, especially if you are the type of person prone to getting emotionally involved when they read a book, like I am.
I'll miss the lizards
What are you glad you did here?:  Everything. I am glad I tried new projects even when they failed, adopted my dog and cat, took evening walks with my dog and used the time to check-in with fellow PCVs, visited my host-family daily, became BFFs with a 10 year-old, started a Chicas Brillantes club, followed the education sector framework on my own terms, and said, “Yes.” to working on the VAC and the Gringo Grita.
What do you wish you had done here?: I wish I had been able to work more closely with the teachers in my community’s school, painted a mural at my library, and climbed Pico Duarte.
What will you miss six months from now?: The lizards, my neighbors, playing with Nana, hearing the rain as it travels across the valley to my home, listening to grasshoppers as I drift off to sleep, being within walking distance of beautiful views of the Samaná Bay, making my own schedule, being able to go to the beach whenever I want, the flota, randomly receiving fresh food and drink from neighbors, the creative piropos, running in shorts and a t-shirt all year round, and not having to pick-up my dog’s poop.
The weather is always right for running...and beers
What won't you miss six months from now?: Being seen as a foreigner/an outsider/a minority, lack of cell service, having to walk all around town to find a place with internet, washing dishes and clothes without running water, and always having to be alert for dogs and cats sneaking into my house to steal food.
What's next?:  A European adventure with my siblings, learning how to ride a motorcycle, finding a place to dance bachata, getting my freckles checked-out by a dermatologist and eventually a job too.
Big plans for your readjustment allowance?: A blow-out trip across Europe with my sister and brother. Eight countries in three weeks.
Advice to a new volunteer: Always wear your helmet! Don’t get kicked out for stupid reason! It doesn’t matter who is driving the motorcycle, there will always be someone on the road drinking and driving who is liable crash into you. Be safe! Remember to be patient but proactive. For example: Wait the extra hour for a meeting to start but before the next meeting remind everyone individually about the actual start time of the meeting. Also, the squeaky wheel gets the grease! If you have a problem don’t grouch about it – tell someone! PC staff are at the office to help you, but they can’t do much if they don’t know you need help.
Algo más?: 517-13-01 it has been a blast. You all have expanded my horizons in so many ways, thanks. I look forward to SnapChatting with you all in America.
Gringo Grita want to know, would you rather spend the rest of your life in the D.R. without ever being able to go to the beach, or live in America but the electricity is permanently out in your apartment?: Not even a hard choice. As a Jersey Girl I can't live without the beach! Plus, while I love the D.R., I can't imagine living in the D.R. for the rest of my life. I don't even think living in the U.S. without electricity would be too bad because I would have no shame in charging everything at my job or the Starbucks down the street. Even buying groceries on a daily basis wouldn't be too bad because I would be doing so in America.
Grita Award: Most likely to start a fight club in her library.
1st week in D.R.

April 6, 2015

Sweet Beans

My host mom making Habichuelas
La pascua, Easter, is not a big holiday in the DR. Easter, for Dominicans, is the day you drive home after spending a long weekend with family in the countryside or at the beach. Viernes Santo, Good Friday, is the Holy Day of importance for Dominicans. 

The week of Viernes Santo is known as Semana Santa, Holy Week. Schools are closed starting the previous Friday and many offices close mid-week to give employees a nice long weekend. Dominicans spend much of their time off making and eating Habichuelas con Dulce, Sweet Beans.

Habichuelas con Dulce is a traditional Dominican dish that is only made during Semana Santa. To do otherwise would just be weird. It would be like making your family’s traditional Christmas cookies in July. It just isn’t done. The dish is like a soup, made from liquified red beans, with bits of batata, a type of sweet potato, balls of flour, raisins, milk, lots of sugar, and an assortment of spices.  Since Habichuelas are only made once a year, Dominicans make a lot. My host mom made at least three large batches during the week. Habichuelas are traditionally shared with family and neighbors, again just like christmas cookies. Last week we even got the mayor to meet with us after we promised him Habichuelas

Good Friday is the typical day when neighbors share Habichuelas. I, however, was not interested in competing against my neighbors in the who has the best Habichuelas competition, mainly because I would loose. Instead I made fudge to give out to my neighbors and invited kids over to enjoy the American tradition of dying Easter eggs.

Neighbors showing off their eggs
The kids had a blast dying the eggs, once they wrapped their heads around the idea that people dye eggs. I was reminded of my childhood when some of the kids learned the hard way that putting an egg in all the colors turns it brown - I warned them. Luckily each kid got two eggs. I was slightly disappointed not to see the kids make any voo-doo style eggs. But that is probably just a Stine family tradition. 

Next year will be my first Easter in America in four years. I am excited to celebrate with my family, but I know it won’t be complete without a serving of Habichuelas con Dulce.