Friday, September 3, 2010

it's over!

It occurs to me that I should update this to let everyone know that I'm done with the Peace Corps. My close-of-service date was May 7, and I flew home that day!

I thought about trying to document my readjustment and reverse culture shock, but, well, I didn't.

I doubt I'll update this blog again, but I'll leave it up for those who are curious about Peace Corps or who just want to look at pictures of my cat. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The big excitement of the barrio was the recent arrival of pavement! Yes, the Callejón de la Loma, home to a few thousand people and roughly the same number of motorcycles, has been paved. Well... kind of. They did about half of the streets. Maybe a third. And then the giant trucks and workers and piles of gravel just disappeared one day, as suddenly as they had arrived.

One afternoon, I took a class of kids out with my camera to document the event. Here are a few of the photos they took:




(This one isn't really related to the paving, but I think it's a cool photo. Check out the large version! This restaurant has been abandoned and decaying for a while now, but you can still read the menu on the wall.)

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of my favorite aspect of the newly-paved roads: rollerblades! Literally the day after the streets were paved, kids of all ages started scooting around the neighborhood on rollerblades. Where did all the rollerblades come from? I have never seen them in a store here. Did everyone just have rollerblades saved in their closet, waiting for the day when the asphalt would arrive? Amazing!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thoughts on Global Injustice: My Kitty is Pretty

Hello, blog! It has been awhile since I posted anything here. Here's a piece I wrote for the Gringo Grita, our Peace Corps magazine.


When people disparage this fine publication, they often say, “The Grita is just full of articles about people’s cats and stuff.” This is confusing, as in the past two years the Grita has only published one article about someone’s cat. (It was Joanna Carman’s cat.) A few more dog stories have been featured, but still, the average number of pet-related articles per issue is very low. Too low, I believe. To correct that, I am going to tell you about my cat, Duarte.

Duarte is, objectively speaking, the cutest kitten ever. He is small and fuzzy and has adorable white boots on his feet. He is very clever and has very sharp claws, which he likes to use to scale my back. (I never climbed Pico Duarte, but I have been summitted by Duarte many times.) I found Duarte sitting on the edge of the main road of my barrio. He was ridiculously tiny and diseased looking, but I picked him up and took him with me. My mom was visiting at the time, and she took him into Sosua to see the vet, who said he was about three weeks old--far too young to be separated from his mother. (You may have met Duarte at Thanksgiving. You may have inquired about my "pet rat." Please know that I have not forgiven anyone for slandering baby Duarte in that fashion.) My mom and I nursed Duarte back to health and now he is a happy, healthy, not-even-remotely-ratlike kitten.

Having Duartecito in my life has made me a much happier person. It’s hard to stay down when a cute little cat is rolling around on you and purring. However, he has also made me contemplate animal rights and human rights. Although I love animals, I do believe in an abstract way that human lives are more important than animal lives. And in an abstract way, I don’t think humans and animals have to compete. But here, in a very concrete way, I have taken an abandoned animal into my home and spent thousands of pesos on him. Duarte is only six months old and has been to the vet four times. He has all of his necessary vaccines. I buy fancy cat food to make sure he’s properly nourished. Duarte, one might say, has a better life than some of the kids in my barrio. My mom even sent him a care package with some light-up cat toys that any muchacho would likely enjoy.

I know that as volunteers we don’t have a lot of income. But I didn’t hesitate before taking out money from my American savings account to get medical care for my cat. Taking care of Duarte has only driven home to me how privileged I am. And it raises again the question I’ve faced throughout my two years here: what can I do? I can’t take every campo kid into the doctor. I can tell people about medical missions, and I can translate for them. I can buy cat food for one small cat, and I can help sort food donations for earthquake relief. But I can’t give every Dominican the same standard of life that Duarte and I have. This is extremely depressing—and it’s exactly the reason why I need a feline companion to cheer me up.

I think having Duarte is a good reminder of one of the reasons I came to the DR in the first place: to come see poverty up close and personal. If someone asked you to donate $30 to the Humane Society, you'd probably say no, thinking, "Gosh, it's a good cause, but I'll donate when I get back to the US and have a real job," and forget about it. But if someone asked you to pay $1000 pesos to get your own pet vaccinated so you can take him back to the US, well, you'd do it, if you're anything like me. And if someone asked you to donate money to UNICEF to "save the children," it would be pretty easy to justify not donating money. What children? Why do they need money? I could use that money to purchase things that I need, like Hello Kitty accessories. But when it's your own cute neighbor children drinking contaminated tap water, it's a lot harder to be indifferent. Our experiences here, in addition to the tangible benefits we're providing to community members (including stray animals), are giving us all a better understanding of our own privileges as citizens of a developed nation and of what poverty really means. It doesn't necessarily mean naked babies from Save the Children commercials, but it might mean not having access to medical care for your children, let alone your cat.

Although I am conscious of this disparity, I am still attached to my cat. I asked Duarte what he thought about this kind of global injustice. He said, "Meow." I suppose that's as good of an answer as any.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

charming anecdotes

  • There are some students and professors visiting from a college in Canada. On Friday, I led two students and one professor on a small trip to a neighboring town vis public transportation. The price for the bus is 35 pesos (about $1 US). Upon exiting the bus, I handed the driver exactly enough pesos for four passengers. He looked shocked and handed the pesos back. "I can't take your pesos," he said. "You're in the mafia!"
    "What?" I said.
    "Mafia," he said. "I need dollars from you. Twenty dollars. Each."
    "I'm not in the mafia. I'm a teacher. I live here, and I don't have any dollars. You have to take these pesos."
    "No, no. Too dangerous. I need dollars."
    "Don't try to trick me! I know it costs 35 pesos. I live here."
    "I wouldn't try to trick you! I would be in trouble with God if I did that. Twenty dollars."
    I ended up just shoving the pesos at him and walking away briskly. But seriously, if he thought we were in the mafia, shouldn't we have gotten to ride for free? Lest I send my mafia henchmen out after the bus driver? I mean, really.
  • In English class yesterday, the kids were filling out a sheet about their preferences. A twelve-year-old girl showed me the sentence, "My favorite movie is Yanblo Bandan" and asked me if it was right. It took me a second to figure it out, but then I helped her write "My favorite movie is Jean-Claude Van Damme." (I didn't even want to get into explaining that Jean-Claude Van Damme is not, strictly speaking, a movie.)
  • When I ask a question, my youngest computer class has a tendency to just repeat things they remember from previous classes, regardless of whether or not their answers actually make any sense. Our class has pretty much focused on three things to date: the proper use of Google, Wikipedia, and capital letters. A few examples, translated from Spanish:
    "So, who can tell me what Google does?"
    "Press the shift key at the same time as a letter?"

    "OK, what is Google?"

    "When do we need to use a capital letter?"


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

cute kid story

It seems like I spend too much time on this blog talking about "development" and "poverty" on this blog. Whatever, that stuff is boringgg.

So here's a story from this class this morning. I was co-teaching a class of rambunctious 9-to-11-year-old kids. And Dominican ideas about classroom management are different from American ideas about classroom management, so basically Dominican kids tend not to learn about things like "raise your hand," "line up," "don't yell," "don't yell the teacher's name while she's talking to another student right next to you," and "seriously stop yelling at me." Thus, at DREAM we spend a lot of time trying to get the kids to settle down so we can maybe, like, teach something?

This morning, I decided to try a little yoga. I taught the kids a few basic poses like mountain pose (basically just standing still), tree pose (standing with one foot on your knee and your hands touching over your head), and a modified version of warrior II pose (standing with feet far apart and arms stretched out to the side).

And then I learned that my Spanish has progressed to the point where I can do some BS meditation guidance-type stuff. ("Close your eyes... we're in a forest... we can feel the warm sun on our skins, helping us grow... helping us grow to be tall, strong, trees... we are quiet and peaceful...")

It was moderately successful, although I had to banish little David to the back corner of the forest because "It is QUIET in the forest! No one in the forest should be talking!" After class, all the kids lined up and were starting to get a little restless as we waited for the next classroom to be ready. I started asking them to do yoga poses in line. Mountain and tree were fine, but when I asked for fake warrior pose, there was trouble. One of the first few kids in line somehow fell over backwards and knocked over the entire line of warrior-ing children, like little yoga dominos. No one was hurt; everyone was delighted. It was probably their favorite part of yoga class.

FACT: this entry would be better if I had a photo--or better, a video-- of children falling down.
FACT: it's an imperfect world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

a day in the life!

I just posted a day in my life in photos! Check it out, if you are so inclined.

Monday, March 1, 2010

mi fin de semana chulo

Oh, hello there! I haven’t been blogging much of late. I suppose since I’ve gotten Internet in my apartment, I’ve been updating Facebook and the like much more often. Mainly I have been up to The Usual: teaching classes, hanging out at the beach, and keeping up with the demands of the cutest and most ferocious kitten on the North Coast.

This weekend was a little more eventful, though! On Friday, we had the day off at DREAM. I spent the morning giving a workshop to some Dominican pre-school teachers who got some subsidized laptops. Most of them had very little experience with computers and were sooo excited to get laptops. I was nearly as excited to have the afternoon off and visit friends at their friend’s swank condo. They had fast Internet and cable TV, so we spent nine hours watching the Olympics and reading Wikipedia articles about winter Olympic events. Curling raised many questions, all of which we were happily able to answer, thanks to the power of the Internet. By the end of the women's curling gold medal match, we were all rooting for Canada, half in-love with Canada's skip, and tossing around curling lingo like we were actually Canadian. ("Wow, I thought she was going to burn that stone, but it's in the house!")

Saturday--February 27--marked the DR's Independence Day! We made a day trip down to La Vega to celebrate in style at the country's largest Carnaval. I wrote about this in more detail last year, but it was fun to see all the elaborate costumes. Less fun: constant fear of getting hit in the butt. I only got one hard hit and few playful taps, but still: ouch! On the way home, we stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Santiago and I made an excellent discovery: Dominican KFC has biscuits! Legit biscuits! I haven't eaten a biscuit in months and months, and it was delicious.

Sunday morning I got up and went surfing with a few friends, but the waves were too big and crowded with real surfers for the likes of me, and I got out after about 45 minutes. I am pretty sure that I have maintained the exact same skill level (extremely low) since I started surfing in August. Whatever. I'm definitely not going pro any time soon, but it's still fun. And something I definitely won't be able to do once I return to the landlocked states, so I need to aprovecharlo (take advantage of it)!