June 28, 2015

Hasta Luego D.R.

Saying goodbye to my community was a tearful, stressful, and fun affair. My departure from the Dominican Republic had been built up by my neighbors for months. I was constantly asked why I was leaving and if I would please stay just one more year. Luckily, once they realized they couldn't convince me to stay, my neighbors decided to channel their energy into throwing two big good-bye parties.

There is no such thing as a full vehicle in the D.R.
The first party was a trip to the beach. My neighbors rented un safari (a flatbed truck with benches and a roof typically used to shuttle tourists on excursion tours) and we jammed out to dembow and bachata all the way to the beach. Once at the beach I was treated to all the spaghetti and fried chicken I could eat - Dominican beach staples. The highlight of the trip was watching a pair of pre-teen boys from my community play in the ocean for the first time in their lives. Their faces expressed so much joy.

My house cleaning saviors
The second good-bye party was held the following week - the night before I left the D.R. In the interim week I did some serious house cleaning, giving away and selling everything that couldn't fit in my backpack and two suitcases. Luckily some of my younger neighbors pitched in to help me organize everything I had collected over the past two years. Still, my house was a chaotic scene the last few days as up to twenty neighbors at a time perused my things. At one point one of my neighbors even took a swig out of a bottle of rum I had in my kitchen. When I called her out on it she asked, "Well, there is only a little bit left, so can I finish it?" Seeing little point in arguing I let her finish off the bottle. Most of my neighbors were not so egregious, many picked out items they could give to family members rather than for themselves. The only other fighting that occurred was over my collection of photos. Everyone wanted a picture of me, and if not me a member of my family, and if not a member of my family an American. So to all my American friends, it is possible that a picture of you is now displayed proudly in a Dominican home.

Receiving an award from the community
My good-bye party was held at the library and just like at the inauguration, so many people showed up to see me off that the crowd spilled outside. The tears started almost as soon as the event with my project partner, Clariza, begging that someone else continue with the introductions because she was about to cry. I managed to hold myself together until my host-mom sang. Words cannot express the love I hold for her, and that became very apparent as I could barley speak through my tears when I thanked her for everything she and the rest of the community did to make me feel welcomed and loved.

The following morning my host mom stopped by to say goodbye one last time. She even brought me a cup of hot chocolate. I then traveled three hours to the capital where I boarded a plane to the U.S. with both Romeo and Pato, yep, I brought my dog and cat back to America.

Enjoying couches and air conditioning in America
We have now been in America over a month and all of us have been readjusting well. Romeo loves going on walks free of the fear of street dogs attacking us, Pato enjoys lying on carpets, and I finally got my first smart phone. I keep in touch with my neighbors via social media and phone calls. Still I can't help but feel like I am missing out on so much. I miss chatting away with neighbors over coffee and reading books with the kids. However, I am confident that my community's prospects are only going to continue to grow. Just as I was leaving a new volunteer arrived to continue work in the community. I am excited to see what she and the community accomplish over the next two years. I plan on visiting within the next year so if anyone has any Spanish books they would like to donate please send them my way ;).

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.

March 31, 2015

The Little Things

Whenever I talk to someone about my life in the D.R. the big changes in my life always come up, like speaking Spanish, the heat, and living without running water. However there are many small differences in my life in the D.R. vs America that never get mentioned because people don’t even think to ask; I didn’t think about how my life would change in so many small ways before I left. 

Here are some examples of the little things I miss from home:

Carpets - I once visited a volunteer who had a mosque in his community. When we visited the mosque he told me, “Remember what this carpet feels like because you will never feel carpet again in this country.” He was right. I do not know any Dominicans who have carpeting in their homes. Most Dominicans have cement or tile floors; an initiative of health volunteers is to upgrade homes with dirt floors to cement. I can only guess the reason behind the lack of carpeting is due to the cost and that in order to clean carpets you need to use a vacuum, which are also absent from the island. Plus, lying on a cool cement floor during the summer is downright refreshing. 

Instead of pennies I get cough drops
Vacuums - Brooms and mops are the common cleaning instruments on the island. Although a vacuum is more efficient than a broom, a broom is much cheaper and does not require electricity. As I have previously mentioned, electricity is in short supply on the island. Nobody wants to wait around for the power to come back on to clean up a mess.

Paying with “large” bills - Whenever I go back to America, I have to re-adjust to the idea that I can pay for a $1 item with a $20 bill and not get flack for it from the cashier. At the colmados, corner stores, in my community I never bring anything higher than a $100 peso bill ($2.27 dollars), and even then I sometimes get change in candy (equal to one or two pesos depending on the brand).

Cash-Back - I had forgotten cash-back existed until I was in America on vacation. I became overly excited when the cash-back option appeared as I swiped my debit-card at Target. I took money out just for the novelty of it - and I forgot that Americans barely even use cash-back because you can pay for everything on your card.

My host family's couch is not suitable for napping
Couches - Oh how I wish I could stretch-out on a nice comfy couch at the end of a long day. Instead I just have plastic chairs. Some Dominicans have couches but they tend to be more wood than cushion. Plastic chairs reign supreme in the D.R. Anywhere you go you will see Dominicans sitting in the shade by their houses watching people pass on the road. In the summer that’s about all anyone can do during the heat of the day. Add some mangoes to the mix and you have a perfect summer afternoon.

Electricians - I have not had electricity in my bedroom since December 6, 2014. I have asked the neighborhood handy-man to come by and fix it multiple times but to no avail. I really wish there was a phone book with a list of electricians I could call. I have come to accept that I probably will not have electricity in my bedroom for the rest of my service, which is ending in a mere 36 days!

March 2, 2015

Pick-up lines and Poetry - One and the Same

Piropos (catcalls) are a national past time for Dominicans of all ages, both male and female. Dominican men consider it their duty to compliment women they pass them on the sidewalk or as they cruise by on their motorcycle. Likewise Dominican women expect to receive remarks from men as they walk down the street and will often assume they don’t look good if they don’t hear any comments. In short, piropos are not considered insulting, they are a way of recognizing the beauty of the female form. And so it came to be that the boys in my community recited “poems” a.k.a. cheesy pick-up lines to me in front of a large crowd at my surprise birthday party. I loved every second of it - yet another sign I may have become too integrated into Dominican culture.

Below are all the poems the boys recited, plus a few PG-13 ones that they shared with me later when I asked them for more examples. All the piropos are first in Spanish so you can see the rhyme in each one, and then translated into English. Enjoy!
  • Si yo fuera mexicano te cantaría una canción pero como soy dominicano te llevo en mi corazón - If I were Mexican I would sing you a song but as I am Dominican I will carry you in my heart
  • En la naturaleza no hay más bella que ti - In nature there is nothing more beautiful than you
  • La rosa en agua dura siete días pero mi amor por ti dura para siempre - The rose in water lasts seven days but my love for you lasts forever
  • Si quieres saber cuanto te quiero, cuenta las estrellas que hay en el cielo - If you want to know how much I love you, count the stars that are in the heavens
  • Una paleron* con su espada conquistó una nación y tú con tu mirada conquistaste mi corazón - It took an assassin with his sword to conquer a nation and you with your look conquered my heart. *Refers to the assassins used by Dominican dictator Trujillo to eliminate political rivals.

Receiving a piropo from Joan at my birthday party.
Dominicans culture places an importance on God - even in piropos.
  • Si fuera Dios te llevaría a la gloria pero como soy Joan, te llevo en mi memoria -If I were God I would take you to heaven, but as I am Joan, I will carry you in my memory
  • Si amas a Jesus que murió por tanta gente porque no me amas a mi que muero para ti solamente - If you love God who died for so many people why don’t you love me, who would die only for you
  • Si amor es un pecado dile a Dios que yo peque y seguía pecando porque siempre te amaré - If love is a sin, tell God that have sinned and will continue to sin because I will always love you
  • No tengo alas para ir al cielo pero si tengo palabras para decirte te quiero - I do not have wings to go to heaven but I do have the words to tell you I love you

The following were not recited at my party because they were a bit more explicit. However, this first one would just be insulting as I am neither a liar nor a traitor:
  • Los ojos azules mentirosos, los ojos verdes traicioneros, los negro y marrones los verdaderos - Blue eyes are liars, green eyes are traitors, black and broth are the truth. 
  • Quisiera ser un mosquito para entrar en tu mosquitero y decirte al oído lo mucho que te quiero - I wish I was a mosquito so that I could enter your mosquito net and tell you in your ear how much I love you
  • Pan es pan, casabe es casabe, tenemos un amor y nadie lo sabe - Bread is bread, and casabe is casabe, we are in love and no one knows
  • No me tires piedrecita que me puede lastimar. Tira a me un besito que me puede enamorar. - Don’t throw at me a stone that could hurt me. Throw me a kiss that I can love.
  • Anoche soné contigo, sonaba que me besaba y de tan bueno que estaba anda me caí de la cama - Last night I dreamed of you, I dreamed that you kissed me and it was so good that I fell from the bed
  • Cinco sentimientos tenemos, cinco sentimientos perdemos cuando nos enamorarnos - Five senses we have, five senses we loose when we are in love

Not surprisingly for an island nation, the ocean is another big piropo theme:
  • Fui al mar a ver si te olvidaba y las olas me dijeron no la olvide que ella te ama - I went to the ocean to see if I could forget you and the waves told me not to forget that you love me.
  • Quisiera ser el mar y tu la roca para seguir las olas y besar tu linda boca - I wish I was the sea and you a rock so that I could follow the waves and kiss your pretty mouth
  • Me gusta las olas cuando chocan de la roca, me gustan tus labios cuando chocan de mi boca - I like when the waves crash on the rock, I like your lips when they crash into my mouth

Lastly, a warning on respectability:

  • Me gusta las mariposas que van rosa en rosa pero no me gusta las chicas que van boca en boca - I like the butterflies that go from rose to rose but I don’t like the girls who go from mouth to mouth.

February 20, 2015

The Long Goodbye

Goodbyes can be awkward and emotional. Which is why I am not enjoying my current long and strung-out goodbye with the Dominican Republic. 

Leaving the U.S. for the D.R. was relatively easy. I was excited for a new adventure and I knew I would only be gone two years. Leaving the D.R. has been completely different. While I am excited to start the next chapter in my life, I am leaving behind not just a job, but a community. I have no idea when I will have the chance to visit the D.R., and since my community doesn’t have cell phone service (let alone internet), keeping in touch with my host family and friends is going to be a challenge. My neighbors have also realized that our relationship is about to change, and they can’t help but remind me constantly that I will be leaving them soon.

The goodbye started in November when my neighbors started to ask how much longer I would be living in the D.R. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I still have seven months left.” But worry they did. In December my host mom cried as I said goodbye before I headed home for a two week vacation. Kids have written me letters asking me not to leave and have also threatened to steal my suitcases. My project partners have asked me on several occasions to stay another year. To everyone who asks me to stay, I politely explain that while I love them all, I miss my family and my country, and that I want to live in a modern city. 
Some of the kids have gotten possessive of my stuff.

Yet, while I have tried to make the decision to leave seem like an easy one, the decision to leave was a hard choice to make. I seriously considered staying on the island for another year, but in the end America won. There is still a small part of me that wants to stay, so every time a student asks me to stay it is like a little knife it pricking my heart. In my dreams I take all my neighbors to America with me and spend all my time watching them experience luxuries we take for granted, like movie theaters, hot running water, dish washers, elevators, amusement parks, etc.

Something I am still trying to figure-out is what am I going to do with all the stuff I have accumulated over the past two years? My neighbors would like me to give everything I have to them. Even before people began to ask when I was leaving, they would tell me things like, “Susi, I like your shirt. Give it to me when you leave.” Now that my departure is only a few months away these requests have become more frequent. My 10 year-old BFF has threatened to kill me if I don’t give her my plastic storage container. I don’t mind giving my things away, but I am concerned that there will be hurt feelings if people don’t get what they want. As of now, my plan is to wait until the day before I leave to give things out that way I only have to deal with angry neighbors for one day.
My neighbors want my cat too - but he is coming with me!

As for what is next for me after Peace Corps, well I don’t have that figured out either. However, if I have learned one thing from Peace Corps it is not to stress. I know everything will work out for me, I just have to be patient. While I wait for my life to sort it self out my siblings and I are planning a trip across Europe to coincide with the end of my service and my sister’s graduation from college. Our tentative route is: Barcelona, Nice, Milan, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Athens, and Istanbul. If you have any recommendations or tips for our grand european sojourn be sure to let one of us know!