Monday, December 29, 2008

send me a text message!

Hey guess what, you can send me a text message on the Internet! For free!

Just go here. (It's in Spanish but I'll talk you through it.) Then, above the picture of the cell phone where it says "Envia mensajes del texto Numero" put in my number: 8097236552. Type your message in the phone window, then hit the green checkmark. Then when the popup window opens, type in the number it shows and hit "Enviar."

Make sure to sign your name at the bottom because otherwise it will be anonymous and I will not know whose text message brightened my day!

Vignettes from Reid's Visit

I. The Case of the Lost Luggage
(All loosely translated from Spanish)
American Airlines Customer Service (AACS): Please hold.
Me: (Holds.)
AACS: Hello, how can we help you?
Me: Hi, I’m calling about a lost suitcase. You’ve been telling me it will get delivered for the last two days and it’s still not here.
AACS: Let me just check my computer system for an unnecessarily long time… oh, we can’t deliver that suitcase! You have to come back to the airport [a $30US taxi ride from central Santo Domingo] and get it.
Me: Seriously what.
AACS: Yes, you have to come identify it in person. We have it right there at the airport.
Me: You seriously can’t deliver it like you’ve been telling me the last two days?
AACS: Nope. Have a good day!


Me: Hi, I’m calling to check on a missing suitcase. Do I seriously have to come to the airport and get it? Someone told me that earlier this morning but I was wondering if maybe you could deliver it anyway.
AACS: Oh no, ma’am, you have to come to the airport and get it.
Me: Eff.


(At the airport)
Me: Hi, we’re here to get a lost suitcase.
American Airlines Guy: Come with me to our lost suitcase office. (Leads Reid & I on a hike around the airport, eventually ending in a small hangar behind the main building.)
Me: Here’s the tag.
AAG: That should be in this section.
Reid: It’s not here.
(We examine every suitcase in the hangar, determining that none of them are Reid’s.)
Me: (Muttered) If they’re delivering it to the airport I am seriously going to kill someone.
AAG: Well, I’m sure we have your suitcase somewhere! Let’s just go to our other office.
(We follow him on another airport trek.)
AAG2: Let me just flip through a giant binder of luggage information. Please wait while the three other guys who work in this office stare at you…. Hmm…. There sure is a lot of information in this binder… let me make a phone call…hmm… oh, your suitcase is being delivered to your hotel today! It should be there in ten minutes.
Me: Really. (Long glare)

But hey, at least they did eventually deliver it, and in one piece!

II. The Christmas Party
(Reid & I have foolishly arrived at the school Christmas party in my town at 10am, exactly on time. The Nun and two other teachers are setting up tables in the gym. It is otherwise empty. Once more, loosely translated from Spanish.)
Me: Hi, Nun! This is my brother, Reid.
Nun: Hello, Reid, nice to meet you.
Reid: Hola.
Me: Um, do you want help setting up?
Nun: Oh, no. I know I said the party started at 10am but people will come later. Why don’t you two just sit down over there?
Me & Reid: (Sit down over there; wait for an hour during which one other person arrives).
Me: Let’s run back to my house and get some bug spray. (We do so, and also watch an episode of Arrested Development on my computer. We return to the party half an hour later, which now has at least a handful of people, all of whom wish to practice their English on Reid, who answers the questions “What your name?” “How are you?” and “Do you like Dominican Republic?” many, many times.)

III. The Rafting Trip
(Reid & I are waiting to go on a white-water rafting drip in Jarabacoa. Our trip includes free breakfast, which we are eating. Well, I am.)
Me: You’re not hungry, Reid?
Reid: I feel kind of sick.
Me: Oh, why didn’t you say so earlier? Do you still want to go?
Reid: I think I just need some water, maybe…
Me: Do you want some Pepto Bismol or anything?
Reid: (Abruptly stands up and pukes in the bushes) I feel better now.

(We go rafting, which is fun and exciting, although the experience is slightly marred by our obnoxious German guide, who kept pulling bullshit like getting us to paddle our raft in a circle, or steering us backwards under waterfalls. Also, I was sitting directly in front of him and he kept dripping water down the back of my neck. Afterwards, on the open-air truck ride back, Reid threw up again. That evening, I started down my own journey through Vomitland, making for a super-fun few days of vacation.)

Bonus from during the rafting trip:

(We are pulling up on shore for a mid-trip snack.)
Me: (Steps out of boat, promptly trips over a rock and scrapes my elbow wicked bad)

(Conversation repeated many, many times thereafter)
Other Rafter: Wow, your elbow’s bleeding a lot! Did you fall out in one of the rapids?
Me: Umm, no, I just tripped over a rock during our snack break.

IV. Christmas Vignettes

(We spent Christmas at my friend Keane’s house with some other volunteers. Keane made Indian food for us and we hung out, ate, and played Scrabble and charades. We didn’t have a tree, although I did bring some Christmas lights and haphazardly strew them on the floor. It was a pretty awesome Christmas.)

Jo: Where’s the nearest vet?
Carly: There must be some in the capital.
Me: Lissette would know.
Jo: Aww, this joke never works with Peace Corps volunteers, you’re all so helpful. Ask me why I need a vet!
Carly: Why do you need a vet?
Jo: (strikes muscle pose) Cuz these pythons are SICK!
Me: … well, I’m glad your cat’s okay.

(We are playing charades.)
Me: (Mimes “book,” “two words.”)
Keane: The Secret!!*
Me: (Nods, sits down.)
Evan: You guys spend too much time together.

*A self-help book, that we and some other PC friends are obsessed with making fun of, and of which certain other PC volunteers are devotees.

Carly: It’s baby Jesus’ birthday!!
Evan: When is adolescent Jesus’ birthday?

Jo: Evan, how do you spell Chanukah?
Evan: There’s no right way… it’s transliterated from Hebrew so it doesn’t really matter.
Jo: I mean, is there a c? Is there one k or two?
Evan: Seriously, there’s no right way. Any of those is fine.
Jo: Okay, how do YOU spell Chanukah?
Evan: It really doesn’t matter.
Jo: What about C-h-a-n-u-k-u-a-h?
Evan: Well, I wouldn’t put a u at the end.
Jo: I thought you just said there was no right way!!
Evan: Yeah… but there are some wrong ways.

V. Public Transportation
(Reid & I are waiting for a guagua to leave Keane’s site to head back to the capital. An old man has approached Reid seeking money. He speaks English, although with a speech impediment.)
Man: My name is Miguel, do not forget my name!
Reid: Okay.
Miguel: What’s your name?
Reid: Um… Reid.
Miguel: This street is called Enriquillo! That street is called Duarte! That other street is Bolivar! Give me five pesos!
Reid: Um, I don’t have any money.
Me: (Returns to conversation)
Miguel: My name is Miguel, what’s your name?
Me: Renata.
Miguel: Do you know about God?
Me: Yes.
Miguel: Are you two married?
Reid: No, we’re brother and sister.
Miguel: You’re brother and sister? You look very different. You’re tall, you’re short; you’re skinny, you’re fat; you’re white, you’re dark… very different.
Me: Well, we’re all God’s children.
Miguel: That’s true! That’s true! How did you know that?
Me: (Smiles)
Miguel: That hill is called Loma Verde!
Me: (Smiles)
Miguel: Goodbye! God bless you!
Me: Same to you.
Miguel: (Leaves)
Reid: … that was hilarious. I can’t believe you said that.
Me: Ohh, I tell that to guys on the street every day.

travel itinerary

How to plan a Deluxe Dream Caribbean Vacation (Peace Corps style):

Dec 13: Reid arrives finally, at midnight, two hours late. We search for a food place that will still be open and find a gourmet 24-hour hot dog stand, then go back to our hotel, a classy establishment that runs $US30 a night for a room with 2 beds, a standing fan, and hot water (sometimes).

Dec 14: We begin harassing AA about Reid’s luggage. In the afternoon, we go to the Zona Colonial and visit the Artisan’s Fair and take a quick walking tour of some of the older buildings. We spend the evening eating sushi (after a painful 10-minute ordeal of plascing the order by phone) and playing Scrabble with some friends at the picnic table in front of the hotel. The night watchman brings us an extension cord so we can plug in my laptop to play music (and use the Scrabble Word Checker program I downloaded). You couldn’t get better service at the Hilton. (Or can you?? Maybe at the Hilton they have a fulltime employee who just walks around with an actual Scrabble dictionary.)

Dec 15: We continue seeking our luggage and talk about maybe visiting a museum, only to learn that everything is closed on Monday. We consider hiring a private cat burglar to help us break into one, but tnstead, we get lunch at the American Embassy cafeteria (super classy, plus you can get lunch for under $150 pesos) and relax in the posh Peace Corps volunteer lounge, which includes a couch, some chairs, cable TV, wireless Internet (sometimes), and air conditioning (sometimes).

Dec 16: We continue seeking our luggage and visit the Museo del Arte Moderno, which turns out to contain a whole lot of art. Plus, we get Italian food at a very nice restaurant that is on the upper echelons of affordability for Peace Corps volunteers (at around $300 pesos/$10US per plate).

Dec 17: We call our driver so we can make stupid pointless trip to the airport in search of luggage, finally receive the final suitcase, and return home by first-class air-conditioned bus to my charmingly rustic cottage, where I teach Reid how to get water from the cistern and bucket-flush a toilet. We set up his bed on the finest air mattress I own which turns out to still be leaking so we also set up the second-finest air mattress I own. (Which I guess is now the finest, since it doesn’t leak.)

Dec 18: I take Reid to visit a few families in my town, thus giving him an opportunity to sit on nicer furniture than my own plastic chairs. I also use my home entertainment center (aka laptop) to get him hooked on the TV show Heroes, while we have electricity, which is sometimes.

Dec 19: I take Reid to the school Christmas party where we partake in finely catered Dominican food and dance music. Later, we also continue watching Heroes.

Dec 20: We continue relaxing around my private all-inclusive compound (it includes all the limes you can pick off my tree, of which Reid, perhaps fearing scurvy, eats many) and finish up Heroes, only to begin Firefly.

Dec 21: We go whitewater rafting in Jarabacoa and get sick. We lay around my house, slavishly attended by our personal butler. (Okay, our personal butler is just me sucking it up and going to the colmado next door to buy Gatorade and saltine crackers.)

Dec 22: We spend the morning and afternoon still being sick, then muster up the strength to go to the Museo Folklorico in Santiago—it is so important to absorb culture when one travels, you know. We also visit La Sirena, a glamorous large all-purpose store where all the most important people buy their groceries and flip-flops, and buy some peanut butter. Plus we celebrate not throwing up anymore by visiting the 5-star Italian establishment Pizza Hut.

Dec 23: Another trip into Santiago, this time to the Centro Leon art museum. Centro Leon is seriously classly, possessing both elevators AND a working escalator. Plus they have really nice bathrooms, with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. Also, their cafeteria has Portobello mushroom sandwiches. Truly a must-visit stop on any swank Caribbean vacation.

Dec 24: A quick trip to the capital to drop off stuff at PC office, then a guagua ride to Keane’s site, a scenic suburb… er… slum (slumburb?) of Santo Domingo, where we eat approximately seven thousand pounds of delicious Indian food and have a rad time celebrating the alleged birthday of Jesus in the traditional manner: through dance parties and board games.

Dec 25: Another fun-filled day at Casa de Keane, eating cold Indian leftovers and watching movies. There is brief talk of going hiking in the nearby mountains, but we are visited by torrential Caribbean rainshowers all day. We drink the red wine we bought in the capital, which was carefully-chosen by my wine butler for its desirable qualities of costing under $300 pesos and having a picture of a cat on the label.

Dec 26: We leave Keane’s and head for the capital, where we pretty much just eat pizza, do laundry at the PC office, and hang around the Pen, the hotel favored by PC volunteers due to its low price and proximity to the PC office. I mean… due to its award-winning customer service.

Dec 27: A trip to the Zona Colonial, including the Alcazar de Colon (the mansion built by Diego Columbus; it’s nearly as nice as the accommodations to which we’ve become accustomed) and the Amber Museum, plus some shopping. We also attempted to go see the movie El Dia La Tierra Se Detuvo (The Day the Earth Stood Still), only to discover—after already having bought tickets and sitting through a long, dialogue-free mountain-climbing scene—that it has been dubbed into Spanish. I hadn’t even thought to ask when we bought tickets, since seriously every movie here gets shown in English with subtitles, except for cartoons. Boooo.

Dec 28: We return to the Zona Colonial for some more brief souvenir shopping, then visit the Parque Mirador del Sur, which Lonely Planet bizarrely described as being “riddled with large limestone caves” including a huge cave containing a restaurant. We walked over 10 kilometers (I know, it has kilometer markings) and did not see any caves, nor did we find the Cave Restaurant (the Cavearaunt, as we took to calling it) despite asking various park employees/passersby, all of whom assured us the mysterious Cavearaunt was nearby. We ended up calling a taxi to take us to another restaurant, randomly chosen from Lonely Planet, which turned out to be closed. Then we got rice & beans & French fries from a stand on the Malecon, and it was awesome.

Dec 29: Breakfast at the Embassy, then a taxi out to the airport for Reid’s flight home (first-class, of course. Well, the one above steerage, anyway). I hop on my bus back north.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

feliz navidad!

Hola everyone! Just wishing you all a merry Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, et al, from the DR! Reid & I are spending the holiday with some Peace Corps friends. Later I'll update you guys on our adventures (which include an obnoxious German rafting guide, crowded public transportation, and copious amounts of vomit), but for now I'll just say: happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

checking in

Reid has arrived safely and we've been having a pretty low-key weekend in the capital--mostly hanging out with other Peace Corps volunteers (including a visit to a friend in the hospital--not a stop included on most Caribbean vacations). We were planning to go back to my site today but American Airlines has revised their claim that Reid's lost suitcase would be delivered "early this morning" to a claim that it will be delivered "sometime before 10pm." So. Hopefully it will get here in enough time for us to still be able to leave today, but we might end up sticking around another night to wait for it. This afternoon we're now going to try to hit up the Museo del Arte Moderno. We wanted to go yesterday, but it turns out all the museums in the city are closed on Monday. Who knew? We did spend some time at the Artisan Fair, which was really cool. It's organized every year by some Peace Corps volunteers and their local artisan groups, as well as some non-Peace Corps-related artisans, and they just sell tons of cool art. I bought some ceramic leaf earrings and a polished coconut shell necklace for myself, plus some gifts (which I won't describe, so as not to ruin their surprisingness)!

Anyway, I'm going to cut this short and head out for some more sightseeing (si Dios quiere), but I will leave you guys with a few recent photo uploads. As always, the full set is at my Flickr.

Sunset at Playa Miches.

My plate at Thanksgiving! Yum.

Karina & I at Thanksgiving.

Some Scrabblefriends!

Further parasite-related postscript: seriously, I'm fine. Everyone here gets parasites sooner or later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

postscript on the best weightloss plan ever

It's called a parasite!

I took some Paramox though and now I'm better!

Around the World (Without Leaving Santo Domingo)

Hola & bonjour! This past week I’ve been back in the capital for an inservice language training, to brush up & improve my Spanish skills now that I’ve been out using them for awhile. It’s been fun and helpful overall, although six hours a day of language training gets to be a little draining. This afternoon, for example, we spent almost two hours rehashing por vs. para. (Spanish has two words for the English word “for,” and also both words have other meanings, like “through” and “by.” In some cases the distinction is more clearcut, like “por” is used to express definite amounts of time. So “for an hour” is “por una hora.” (“Para” can also express time in some cases, like “Yo voy para 9,” is roughly “I’ll go around 9.” It’s less commonly used, though.) In other cases it’s a little fuzzier. For the English “I did this for you,” “por” is “for” if it is something that was done because of something or someone, but “para” is “for” if it just means, well, for. Um. Anyway, it’s confusing, and most non-fluent Spanish speakers, myself included, tend to just use “para” anywhere you would use “for” in English.”

… ay, mi madre.

Anyway, we’ve had our training every day until 3pm and then have been having fun reunions within our PC group. On Tuesday we took an excursion to the Acropolis Center, aka “Land of Rich White Dominicans,” aka “Seriously, Are We In America?” I bought a CINNABON! Others bought iced mochas and TGI Friday’s burgers. It had escalators, which I haven’t seen since I left the airport. (No wait, the mall in Santiago has an escalator too but it’s been broken every time I’ve gone there.) It was basically amazing.

We also saw the movie Max Payne, which was pretty terrible, although we had fun laughing at unintentionally humorous scenes. The best part of the whole movie was when one character said, “She’s a bitch,” and the subtitle, instead of saying “Ella es una zorra”* said “Ella es una basura,” which means, “She is a garbage.” And in Spanish it’s just as weird sounding to say “a garbage” (instead of “the garbage,” or “a piece of garbage,” or whatever.) Also, a garbage does not mean a bitch. So we’ve incorporated that into our slang in both English and Spanish. I encourage you to do the same: next time someone cuts you off in traffic, shake your fist and yell, “You are such a garbage!” I’m sure it will make you feel better.

*"Zorro" means fox, "zorra" is a female fox. Or a bitch. Also, this is what was used for bitch at other points in the movie, thus making this instance of "una basura" even funnier.

This afternoon we went to Carrefour, the Dominican branch of the French version of Wal-Mart. We bought Brie cheese and baguettes and it was impossibly blissful. Then we went to the colmado and played Travel Scrabble, which I brought with me this week and have been happily spreading as an alternative to dominoes. (Not that I don’t like dominoes, but why play that when you could be playing Scrabble?)

Tomorrow is our last day of training, and we’re planning to spend the afternoon at the Embassy pool. It should be amazing. Who knew being in the Peace Corps could be so posh?

On Saturday, my brother Reid is arriving for a visit, which should be great! (And not only because he’s bringing a suitcase full of American snacks.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

world aids day

Support World AIDS Day

So I didn't get to Internet yesterday, on actual World AIDS Day, but I just thought I'd mention it anyway. Here in PCDR AIDS awareness & prevention are some of our goals, but it's not quite the priority I'm sure it is in African PC nations. AIDS is definitely a bigger problem here than it is in the US*, but nothing like in Africa. The highest incidences of AIDS in the DR are among sex workers in tourist towns, so... watch out for that if you come visit me.

*Here, 1.1% of the population has AIDS. In the US, it's about .3%. In Nigeria, it's 3.1%.

Anyway, so I know you can get AIDS awareness T-shirts at The Gap these days, but I thought I'd chime in too cuz it's my blog and I'll tell you to use a condom if I want to, tell you to use a condom if I want tooooo.

Why No One North of the Mason-Dixon Line Will Ever Take Me Seriously Again

Since coming to the DR, I’ve had to adapt to a lot of things. I used to think that the maximum occupancy of a Toyota Corolla was 5; I now know that it is 7 adults plus a few children. I used to think it was rude to show up at people’s houses unannounced and expect coffee; I now know that it’s more rude not to. For that matter, I used to think that coffee should be served in roughly 6-8 ounce portions; I now know that you really only need about a shot glass of coffee (with at least a tablespoon of sugar). I used to think it was perfectly fine to leave my house when it was raining; I now know that passing through the rain will ruin my pelo bueno and give me a potentially-fatal case of la gripe.

Perhaps most critically, I used to think that a 75-degree Fahrenheit day was a warm and pleasant temperature. Now, however, having adapted myself to 80 and 90 degree days, I know that this is in fact terribly cold and I don’t really understand how people get by on such days without sweaters. I am not joking. The other day it dropped down to 68 and I was wearing jeans, socks, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a hooded sweater (with the hood up), and I was huddled in bed freezing. Of course, my bed has only a sheet, no blanket, because I didn’t expect to need a blanket here in the Caribbean. And judging by my old standards of temperature, I still probably don’t need one. But my internal thermometer has adjusted, and while I can now withstand 90+ heat much better than I used to, I can’t deal with anything below 75. Basically: I have become a reptile. If you need me, I will be sunning myself on a rock (unless it’s raining, in which case I will be inside, protecting my hair and shivering).

dia de los pavos (turkey day)

Happy Thanksgiving (now belated)! Hope everyone had a great day of food, friends, and family. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you did not spend your Thanksgiving poolside the way I did… suckas. (Granted, it rained all afternoon so I didn’t swim much, but it was still a pleasant location.)

The PCDR Thanksgiving committee spent a long time organizing our festivities, which took place at a country club in the capital and involved enough American Thanksgiving-style food for 100+ people, a dominoes tournament, a dance contest, and a talent show. It also involved a fair amount of drinking, so by the time the talent show rolled around…well, let’s just say it was an entertaining event. The country club’s restaurant waiter also put on an awesome show every time someone tried to cut through the restaurant (which was open air and poolside) between the pool and the locker room (which, being in the DR, was disappointingly cold water-only, despite being in a pretty nice club). Some friends and I spent a couple hours sitting at one of the tables, playing travel Scrabble and watching the poor dude flip out and explain, in an increasingly put-upon fashion, that it was forbidden to walk through the restaurant without a shirt on. A lot of the other volunteers were resentful of this Shirt Nazi, although I’m pretty confident that behind this waiter must have some even more forceful manager who terrorized the waiter in the same way that the waiter terrorized the post-pool volunteers…there’s no way anyone cares that much about restaurant dress codes without some kind of outside coercion.

Anyway, dress code aside, it was a little strange to have our fun, giant meal and know that soon we would return to our little towns in this little impoverished nation. Of course, it’s true that in America we have our family feasts within miles of people who don’t know where their next meal will come from, but here in the DR the disparity is more obvious. Our country director led a Thanksgiving toast: That one day everyone in the world may enjoy what we have now. It’s just something to keep in mind, I suppose. It’s nice to take time out to be thankful, but it’s hard to think about the fact that the things we’re grateful for often come at the expense of the developing world. (NOTE: sorry to be a big Debbie Downer. I promise not to even talk about the meat industry ;) ) I guess what I’d really like to promote is a more active Giving of Thanks; not only should we acknowledge what we have to be grateful for, but we should all do more to see that everyone has something for which to be grateful. Also, I don’t think that this should be limited to the last Thursday of November. Anyway, I sense that by now many people still reading this are tired of my hippie shit, so I’ll cut this short. … In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make?? (That was encore hippie shit, in case you weren’t tired of it yet.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

a few notes on mail

Hello, all! First of all, thank you so much to all who have sent me letters, cards, and care packages! I can’t even tell you how exciting and meaningful it is to get mail down here.

Second of all, let me say that I think some of you have sent me things that I have not received. The Dominican mail system is slow and somewhat unreliable, so it’s possible that these things will reach me eventually, but for the record: if I have not specifically thanked you for a letter or package, I have not received it yet.

Here are a few more tips I’ve gleaned about handling the Dominican mail system:

  • Things in large manila envelopes tend to have better luck than smaller cards. Even if you’re sending a small card, please consider sticking it in a manila envelope. The postage cost will go up a little bit, but it seems like it will be much more likely to reach me.
  • Make sure you have the address right:
    Renata S., PCV (Use my whole last name, I just don’t want to put it on my blog)
    451 Avenida Bolivar
    Apartado Postal 1412
    Santo Domingo
    Dominican Republic
  • If you are sending a package (thanks!!), try for a padded envelope rather than a box. Also, on the customs form say that you are sending me “religious materials.”
  • For letters or packages, it seems to help if you make it look like you actually are sending me some sort of religious materials. Try drawing crosses or writing “Que vaya con Dios,” something like that.
  • This should be obvious, but—don’t send me money! It’ll get stolen.

Also, here my top 5 most-desired things in care packages (just in time for Christmas ;)):
1. Soy nuts! Delicious, crunchy sources of protein and fiber; completely unavailable in the DR.
2. Dried fruit/trail mix. Again—not available here. Nuts you can get (although they are very expensive), but not dried fruit.
3. Non-perishable, vegetarian box dinners—things like Annie’s pasta, Tasty Bite Indian dinners, and Thai Kitchen boxes (check the labels on those please, not all the Thai Kitchen stuff is vegetarian but a lot of it is). Nothing microwaveable though, it has to have a stovetop cooking option.
4. Chocolate, particularly individually-wrapped items (fun size candy bars, etc—they hold up better to this climate) and particularly peanut butter/chocolate combinations or dark chocolate items. But whatever, really, beggars (and Peace Corps volunteers) can’t be choosy!
5. Magazines. I’m partial to celebrity gossip and commie pinko political magazines, but really anything in English is great.

BUT SERIOUSLY I’m super excited to receive anything in the mail, and I promise to return the favor with postcards of my beautiful, impoverished republic.

Also, for those of you looking to support my community with school supplies or whatever—honestly, right now it is best if you don’t send me things to distribute here. Peace Corps tries very hard to get our sites to view us as human resources, not as sources of handouts. So instead, support the volunteer who is trying to teach them English! Also, I usually do share my candy with my classes. (Alternate suggestion: donate some money to Oxfam, they are my favorite charity and they do great things where they are most needed.) Also, later on in my project it’s possible I will write up a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) grant, which is basically where I beg for money from friends, family, and local (meaning Illinois, not the DR) organizations to support a project and you guys give it to Peace Corps and then they give it to me. Rest assured I will let you all know if I start something that needs PCPP support and will happily accept your donations then :) (Check out the PC donors page if you are interested in this project.)

Anyway, thanks, guys! You are rad, and sorry if the Dominican mail system lost something you sent me.

pretty good day

Hmm, now it’s 8pm, which I’ve (somewhat arbitrarily) decided is too late to visit people. I’ve been putting off visiting this woman in my neighborhood for like… a month now? I’ve visited her a few times, and she’s always very happy to see me, but it’s also always fairly unpleasant. HERE’S WHY: she ostensibly invited me over so she could practice her English with me, but instead she likes to nitpick my Spanish (which, though imperfect, is much better than her English). This is annoying (I know I should just accept and grow from the criticism, but I am frankly not yet a big enough person to do this and not be annoyed), but much more uncomfortable is the way my visits always turn into family therapy sessions, in which she tells me everything that is wrong with her 11-year-old son—while the kid sits across the table from us! I try to stick up for him—I don’t know him that well, but I figure with a mom like that his self-esteem could probably use a hit regardless—but my attempts are always shot down by mom. Still, though, I should visit her and keep working on the kid’s self esteem, and also to stave off guilt trips when I see the woman around town.

Well. Another day, I guess.

But! I will not let this failure detract from my other successes of today!


  • This morning I did laundry a mano! Lots of it! Here is how I do laundry when possible: I take it to the Peace Corps office and do it in the American-style washers and dryers there. However, this is complicated because: it’s tricky to travel with large amounts of clothing, it’s expensive to travel to and stay overnight in the capital, and the high demand on the Peace Corps laundry machines means it’s improbable to get all one’s laundry done in one day. So I can only do laundry there when I’m already planning to travel to the capital for some reason, and also when I’m not planning to be there at a time when lots of other volunteers will be there. When too long goes between acceptable trips to Santo Domingo, then I get out my washtub and my bucket and do my laundry in the shower. I use fresca lavanda (fresh lavender) scented laundry detergent, and white vinegar in the rinse water, and a little scrubby brush which I use (with limited success) on stains. Then I hang everything up on the network of wires that looms over my paved-over backyard. Today I was forced even to wash my jeans, which I strongly resist washing by hand because they are so hard to wring out by hand and they take so long to dry and they can go so long without being washed. Today my jeans smelled really bad. But no longer!
  • Plus I washed my bathmat, which is even more of a pain to wash than my jeans!
  • Also, I finally put some oil on the padlock I use to close my gate at night. For the last, oh, two weeks, it’s been too rusty (or something?? What am I, a lock scientist?) to shut, so I’ve just been putting it over my gate latch and swiveling it so it looks closed. This has, in fact, prevented any break-ins, although this could also just be due to the fact that I live in a very safe neighborhood and also my house is about 6 inches away from my neighbors’ houses. Still, though, now I can actually lock it again.
  • I went to the far-away grocery store (it’s like a 20 minute walk… but that is far-away when it’s 85 degrees out, okay) and bought wheat bread, canned mushrooms, and a tomato! Hooray!
  • I took out the trash today. When I first moved here, Thursday was trash pickup day, but lately they’ve just been picking it up on random days. This morning I noticed that some of my neighbors had put out their trash so I thought maybe… but the trash is still there. Whatever, it’ll get picked up eventually?
  • I swept off my porch! My porch accumulates trash at a rapid rate because Dominicans tend to be severe litterbugs and cough drop wrappers and chip bags constantly fly around this country in a whirlwind of non-biodegradable tidbits. For this reason, most doñas sweep their porches at least once a day. I’m not a very good doña so I shoot for like once a week. Whateverrrr.
  • I did all my dishes from dinner before the power went out! I hate doing dishes in the dark.
  • I wrote up this blog entry. (This I’m doing in the dark, but it’s cool cuz the laptop has 2 hours of battery left.)

So yeah, pretty good day!

my weekend in the wild wild east

This past weekend, Karina and I embarked on a trip out east to visit our old host families from our CBT (community based training, you may or may not recall) days. It’s about a six-hour trip, and the second main leg is in a small, cramped guagua (as opposed to the air conditioned, Greyhound-style bus of the first leg). Actually the trip had five legs: a carro publico from my town to La Vega, a bus from La Vega to the capital, another carro publico from the bus stop to the Peace Corps office, a taxi shared with Karina from the office to another bus stop, and finally the small guagua to our final destination. (FYI: Peace Corps frowns on us giving out the names of PC sites online, hence the vagueness. The reason is so that terrorists don’t find out where volunteers live and, you know, terrorize them? Which is a little dumb since any terrorist would just have to ask around for Donde la americana vive and would not even have to bother with my blog, but whatever I don’t want to get in trouble from any PC PTB who happen to stumble across the Paz Dispenser.)

So anyway! After this long journey (sustained by care package jellybeans and attempts to read People magazines on the bumpy ride), we arrived in our old neighborhood and were welcomed by our doñas. I discovered that I’d come on the oldest daughter’s birthday, although in typical Dominican fashion the family wasn’t doing anything to celebrate it. (Quinceañeros, 15-year-old birthdays, get a party if the family can afford it. Otherwise, the kid might get their favorite food for dinner, but tends to be about it.) I gave out a few gifts to all the kids—candy taken from my care packages, plus a coloring book and a deck of Uno cards, with which I was promptly induced to play. Luckily, I haven’t played too much Uno since I finished living with my training host families, so I’m pretty over my Uno burnout.

I also met their new kitten, who the family keeps tied to a pole on the patio with a short length of string. This is one of the more pathetic sights I’ve seen in this country—people here do generally keep their dogs tied up, but I’ve never seen a cat tied up before! And this one is so teeny, and on such a short string, and it desperately would like off of its string… oh, it broke my heart. (Also sad: the fact that Americans probably spend about as much on pet food as the average lower-class Dominican family spends on human food. But seriously the kitten is cuter.)

Other than the birthday and the kitten, it was a pretty standard weekend with them—I went to church, hung out with the kids, and ate doña food. The latter was an excellent reminder of why I love living on my own so much—she was the best cook of any of my host families, and I still had to cope with things like her having forgotten about my vegetarianness and giving me weird fish, cold rice, gross hot milk, and nasty gluey oatmeal. (Look, I lived with it and tried to keep a positive attitude about it for six months, but I might as well say, cultural sensitivity be damned: a lot of Dominican food sucks!)

Karina & I parted ways with our host families Sunday afternoon and caught a guagua to our friend Stephanie’s site, about an hour further east of our CBT site. The road from the capital to our CBT site is not in the best condition, but it is at least paved. Further east, no such luck! I don’t tend towards carsickness, but that was definitely a nausea-inducing ride. The pain was relived, however, by the fact that Stephanie lives about ten minutes from the beach, where we spent the afternoon relajando and getting to know some of the other volunteers in the area. (Her town has FOUR volunteers, although one of them is officially finished with Peace Corps as of this month and is sticking around to work for an NGO.)

Afterwards, we continued hanging out and also met some of the people who are there doing marine research for Columbia University. (Seriously, Stephanie has soo many people to speak English with! I’m jealous.) It was a fun night, but our 6:30 am guagua ride back was somewhat less fun, and just as nausea-inducing as the ride in. Ah well, vale la pena (worth the trouble)!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

awkward in any language

Well, I didn’t get to post my last entry in La Vega as planned, since the power went out at the Internet center just as I got settled at a computer. We all glanced around, waiting to see if an inversor was going to kick in, but the lab encargada made a throat-cutting hand gesture, understandable in any language, and we all grumpily filed out of the center.

Aside from that, though, it was a pretty successful trip. I went to the post office, where how much it costs to send a letter to the US depends mainly on what size the envelope appears to be, what the clerk’s friend thinks it should cost, and how successfully I am able to make the case that “Siempre cuesta veinte pesos!” (It’s always 20 pesos! Which is clearly not true, as evidenced by the fact that I have to bargain over postage every time. But it is frequently 20 pesos, and I believe it should always be 20 pesos, coño.) Arianna and I had some delicious lunch at our favorite restaurant, and received the best piropo ever: some guy yelled “Americanas!!” at us, which we ignored. Then he followed it up with an excited “Ganó Obama!” (Obama won!) By this point we’d already gone past him, so we couldn’t really acknowledge it, but it was a welcome change from the usual “Americana, te quiero, tu eres preciosa, que linda…”

I had a good weekend after that, too. Everyone showed up for English class on Saturday morning, despite the two-week break. I’ve been following a basic English syllabus that Peace Corps gave us, complete with handouts. This week the theme was hotels & restaurants, and I spent way too long trying to define “concierge” in Spanish. I mean, let’s be real, I barely know what a concierge does in English. I ended up telling the kids something like, “He is someone who works only in expensive hotels. He can help you make a reservation at a nice restaurant, or… find a theatre.” Then the students asked, “Is he a receptionist? Is he a waiter?” “No… those are different people. His job is only to help people find things.” “Is he a tour guide?” “No… he helps people, but he doesn’t leave the hotel.” (Meanwhile, the only time I’ve ever stayed in a hotel nice enough to have a concierge was in Chicago, where I shared it with about 10 other people after a Tori Amos concert, and I had to ask the concierge how to get to the aquarium using public transportation.) We finally decided that there isn’t a Spanish word for concierge, the kids wrote down “guide who doesn’t leave the hotel” on their vocab sheets, and I mentally shook my fist at whoever put “concierge” on the Peace Corps basic English syllabus.

Another exciting adventure in beginner’s Spanish happened when I visited my host family and we talked a little bit about the election…

Doña: It’s strange that a black man won!
Me: But it’s exciting! Barack Obama is from my state, Illinois!
Don: But his father is African.
Me: Yes, but Obama was the senator from Illinois.
Don: He is African, but also American?
Me: Yes, exactly.
Don: (Recalling an earlier conversation we’d had about Americans, when I said my family was originally German but we were still Americans, and how all Americans are from somewhere else except the Native Americans) All Americans are from somewhere else.
Me: Except the Native Americans.
Don: The Indians!
Me: Yes, the Indians.
Host sister: Is it true that the government gave land to the Indians?
Me: Ummm… well… it’s complicated. The government stole land from the Indians… well first of all, there are many groups of Indians, and each one has different… agreements… with the government… and sometimes the government… doesn’t do what it says it will do.
Don: It doesn’t comply with its treaties?
Me: Yes, exactly. Anyway, so some groups of Indians got pieces of land from the government where they can live. But it isn’t enough.

… Anyway, it went on in that awkward fashion for awhile. Later, I talked to my friend Keane about how I felt bad being unable to fully explain the situation, and also how I wanted to make it clear that while my government had done this, it wasn’t something I supported. He told me I shouldn’t worry about it too much, since their government did the same thing to the Haitians. Oh, what a world.

The only other thing I have to report is that we’ve been having tons of electricity here lately! The power will go off and then come back 20 minutes later, instead of 3 hours later! We’re having at least 16 hours a day of power. It’s so weird. The tradeoff—since every silver lining must have its cloud--is that we haven’t really had running water for about a week now. I’m doing fine, since I have a cistern—and we must be getting occasional running water, since the cistern has refilled at least once this week. My neighbors with their working tinacos are doing fine, but since I haven’t been able to refill my tinaco (I don’t have a pump, so I can only fill it when there’s running water and I physically turn the knob), I’ve been making do with buckets. It’s a pretty good workout—if we keep being low on agua de la calle (“water from the street,” which is what we call running water. The first time I mentioned “water from the street” to my mom, she thought I was drinking out of a gutter or something), I’m going to have really buff arms.

dia de elecciones!

Felictaciones a presidente-electivo Obama! (Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure “presidente-electivo” is not actual Spanish for “President elect,” but I do what I want.)

For what it’s worth, Dominicans are generally pretty excited about the US election results, as are Dominican PCVs. The election night party in Santiago was a blast, although I’m feeling a touch of campo guilt for being out of site for the conference AND Halloween AND the election… but, again, I do what I want. Accompanied by intermittent feelings of guilt. (This is standard operating procedure for PCVs, who tend to feel that the more time you spend in your site the more productive you are, regardless of what you’re actually missing out on by being out of site. Peace Corps is a really weird job.)

I haven’t done too much during my time back in site… yesterday turned out to be a school holiday, which also meant that only one student showed up to my English class yesterday. Also, the school building was locked, so we had class for a while just sitting on the curb. In the dark. (If more students had showed up, I probably would have just moved the class to my house, but since it was just the one [male] student, I didn’t want to appear remotely inappropriate.)

However, upon return to my town, my joven asked me to help him form a youth computer group! This was something I’d been meaning to do eventually, like when my school has working computers again, but he proposed having meetings at the town’s other computer center (which is like, across the street from the school), which has a working inversor. The other center’s proprietor is apparently down with this, so I’m going rogue and branching out from my school. (It’s not really going rogue; Peaee Corps supports working with whatever’s available. I just think it sounds a little sexier if I say I’m going rogue, Sarah Palin style.)

So anyway, not much news to report here. Today I’m meeting up with Arianna in La Vega (out of site again! Ack!) for lunch, fast Internet, and fancy groceries (yogurt, tortillas, olive oil). This weekend I’ve got my English class, and I’m planning to andar a bit and visit some people in the neighborhood, since I have been so perdida. Just another glamorous weekend in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer!

Me, Karina, and Justin sporting our snazzy Obamanos shirts.

Monday, November 3, 2008

happy day of witchcraft!

That's what the Dominican phrase for Halloween translates as literally, "Day of Witchcraft." Of course, they don't really need a phrase for it since Dominicans don't celebrate Halloween. This made it all the weirder when a group of PCVs went dancing in Santiago on Halloween and found one Dominican dude with a Little Red Riding Hood costume. I'm also pretty sure Dominicans don't have Little Red Riding Hood... maybe this guy was just visiting from Nueva York.

Anyway, it was a fun Halloween! We started off by eating candy out of everyone's care packages, then got yummy Chinese food, then went on a small Halloween parade. And by "parade" I mean we walked a giant circle around downtown Santiago trying to find a club where we could dance, yet wouldn't have to pay a cover charge. (Hello, Volunteers here.) We finally found a place and danced a few bachatas until the music inexplicably changed to techno. We somewhat awkwardly carried on dancing. It was a good night, though not particualrly Halloween-ish (minus Little Red Riding Hood).

Saturday we lounged around for most of the day, then headed out to Karina's site where we made chili and watched the bootleg of High School Musical 3 I bought outside the grocery store. Now I'm back in site, though I'm returning to Santiago tomorrow for an Election Day party! Obamanos!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

los encargados del futuro!

Hi, everyone! Just a quick update from the Peace Corps IT Encarcados del Futuro youth conference! It's been a lot of fun. I'm having a great time hanging out with my fellow volunteers, and I'm happy that my joven has made friends and gotten to participate in this experience. Going to camps and workshops and things is a lot less common for Dominican kids than it is for American ones, so I'm really excited that Peace Corps gives these kinds of opportunities.

Anyway--I'm going to go hang out with people, but I will leave you with my joven's video. It's a nice look at my town, and he and his friends worked really hard on it. I'm really proud of it--I didn't help them at all, this is all their work and it's well done. It is in Spanish, but it has minimal text and a lot of nice pictures. Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2008

another weekend in paradise

Buenos dias!

I hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty decent, although Friday there was a 24-hour apagon (power outage), leaving my laptop long dead by the time I hoped to watch a movie after dinner. But I’m just going to count my blessings, since at least the freaky power-flux thing that briefly happened around 9pm didn’t fry any of my electronics, although I was terrified that it had until the power came back Saturday morning for me to test things out. It was probably just the neighbors trying to get their DeLorean powered up.

Saturday morning I went to teach my English class, though only one student arrived and he adamantly did not want to have class if no one else was there. That’s fine, kid, but you should know that people pay a lot of money for one-on-one foreign language tutors in Nueva York. I spent the rest of the morning charging my cell phone at the school (because I was afraid the power at my house was still experiencing disturbance), reading, and observing preparations for this afternoon’s graduation ceremony.

(There’s been a flurry of phone calls amongst my fellow education volunteers and I about why are they having a graduation ceremony right now? They had one this summer, presumably for those who finished at the end of the school year. The fall semester is still in session, so these couldn’t be kids who are graduating at the middle of the year—unless they’re having the ceremony early? Arianna asked her Dominican friend and got the information “It’s for last year,” but couldn’t get any followup.)

Anyway, my school—which is in a fairly well-off Dominican town—had a pretty nice graduation ceremony. I wish I’d have had my camera to take pictures, but I lent it to the joven I’m taking to the IT youth conference (on which more later). They held it on the covered outdoor basketball court—the audience sat in the bleachers and the graduating students sat on plastic chairs (covered with white cloth & with big yellow bows tied around them) on the court. There was also a wedding-looking, white-draped, flower-laden mesa de honor (table of honor), where the principal, a few chosen teachers, and the official from the local Secretary of Education office sat. ALSO the ceremony started with a performance by a marching band (note: the school itself does not having a marching band; this was a group of adults and I do not know where they came from) and some colorguard-esque (but without flags) marching performance by some of the younger kids.

I can’t tell you how the ceremony concluded, because it was long and I got bored and took a phone call and then just left about two hours in. (Hey—lots of parents were excusing themselves to go get ice cream in the middle of the ceremony, so I don’t think leaving for a phone call is beyond the pale.)

Yesterday was filled with good intentions and not that much productivity—I meant to go to church, but didn’t quite get myself out of bed in time. I meant to mop my floor, but… that didn’t quite happen. I meant to go visit my crazy dona friend, but… never ended up leaving the house. I did, however, watch a lot of old West Wing episodes, so not a complete loss.

My biggest problem right now is that visiting people is still an obligation for me, not something I look forward to. It’s stressful to sit around and make small talk in Spanish, and I don’t really have people here I consider close friends. I know people like it when I visit them, and I know it’s a good way for me to practice my Spanish, but it basically feels like a chore, rather than a relaxing social activity. Once I actually start talking to people it’s not that bad, but it takes a lot of time to convince myself to get out of the house and over to visit someone. Anyway, so this makes me kind of a hermit. I just have to keep taking things paso a paso (step by step), I suppose!

On my agenda for today: at 2:30 I’m meeting with M., the student I’m taking to the Peace Corps IT Youth Conference, which is this Wednesday through Friday. Basically, all the IT volunteers get together and bring an interested student or two from their community, and the jovenes get to meet other jovenes and they go to a bunch of workshops about things like Photoshop and web design. It’s by nerds, for nerds. Also, there’s a video competition, so all the kids have to make a video about their communities to submit. M. and I have scheduled a bunch of meetings to work on our video, but he has only attended one of them. Hopefully he will attend this one, since the video is due in two days.

After that, I’m teaching English from 6-8. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll have a fair amount of luz tonight, because teaching by the light of cell phones is really a sub-par method.

Friday, October 24, 2008

don´t curse the darkness, light a candle... er... open your cell phone

This season’s Gringo Grita is, mas o menos, completed, and I’ve been back in my site for a few days now. I hurried back on Monday to make sure I was there in time for my 6pm English class—which, of course, no one attended. Oh well. It is nice to be back, though. I’m glad I had the excuse to be away for so long. I was definitely getting a little disenchanted, but after 9 days away I’m feeling much happier and saner here. I was particularly glad that upon my return, my nun greeted me with “Te echamos de menos!” (We missed you!) instead of the common Dominicanism “Tu estabas perdida!” (You were lost!) They both mean basically the same thing, but to Americans (at least among me and my circle of friends) it is way more annoying to hear “you were lost!” than “we missed you!”

Being away gave me a chance to put all the stuff that was annoying me about my site in perspective. Like: yes, it’s annoying that my town watches me like paparazzi on Brangelina, but they do it out of affection. I need to step back and take some things less personally—advice we’ve been given since day one at Entrena, but advice that’s decidedly tricky to actually follow. I mean, interpersonal relationships are one of my biggest stressors, how am I supposed to take those less personally? I guess the thing isn’t exactly to take them less personally, but to correctly interpret the cultural signifiers present in every interaction, which can be exhausting. (This exhaustion has actually been helpful in my quest to overcome my American sense of productivity. It’s hard to get too worked up about only working a few hours a day when you’re sleeping ten hours a night and maybe throwing a nap in there too.)

So it’s good to be back. And! Last night I had a pretty successful English class, after 3 weeks (granted, including one week where I was perdida) of trying to get them off the ground. The illiterate student left, but two new students came, bringing me up to three, all of whom seem interested and dedicated. Dedicated enough to stick around for the whole class, although the power was out for about half of it. I asked if they wanted to go home, but instead they used their cell phones to light up their handouts and we kept on going in the dark.

Friday, October 17, 2008

a few highlights

  • On Tuesday we exited the office after a long day of work, only to have the night watchman tell us Alla hay un carro en fuego!. Joel and I looked at each other and said, "Um, did he just tell us there's a car on fire?" The watchman confirmed, and further clarified that it was the white one across the street. We headed over to watch the car burn for awhile, then stepped back when the fire truck arrived. It did not smell pleasant.
  • Later, we went to the American Sports Bar, an establishment favored by Peace Corps volunteers for its proximity to the PC Office, its low prices, and large number of televisions showing American sports. We discovered that it has been decorated for Halloween, a holiday which is not tradionally celebrated by the DR. The American Sports Bar is apparently overcompensating, and it was just... absurdly decorated. Orange and black balloons, spiders & bats hanging down every 6 inches, giant inflatable pumpkins, cats, and spiders... and this is all in a kind of seedy bar with its own betting parlor. In the Dominican Republic.
  • Wednesday, I splurged at the grocery store on some Double-Stuf Oreos. Somehow the six of us devoured the entire package in a couple hours, despite repeated protestations that "I'm not even hungry, they're just so creamy!"
  • Overheard when Joel was talking on the phone to his family: "We're really busy... we get here around 9am, take lunch around 1pm, then an ice cream break around 4..." (It is true that we are busy. But it is also true that we aim for a daily ice cream break, thus making this more awesome than the average 9-5 [or 9-8].)
  • Friday was Joel's birthday, so we went out for Italian food and gelato. We started talking about the newest Batman movie, Dark Knight. If you haven't seen this film, you need to know that Batman speaks with a weird low, growly voice, and the Joker has scars around his mouth that he continually licks. So as we were eating our gelato, I started being Batman and Joel started being Joker:
    Joel: (Licks lips)
    Me: (Growly Batman voice) Do you... do you want some gelato?
    Joel: (Licks lips)
    Me: It looks like you want some gelato. Here... we can share.
    Then the next day at the office we started using the Batman voice (being the only girl left in the office, my Batman voice is less impressive than Joel and Bobby's, but I try), especially to make the most mundane requests or statements.
    Joel (normal voice): Hey, how do I change this to black and white?
    Me (Batman voice): Click Image, Mode, Grayscale.

    Joel (Batman voice): I need to find a good image of Hannah Montana for this article.
    I literally laughed until I cried about three times.

So we've been having some good times as we work our 10 hours a day on the Grita. It's a lot of work, which is a nice change from being in my site. Plus there is the sense of bonding and shared delusionality from being in the same office with a group of people for this long. We're hoping to finish up tomorrow and get back to site. (Bobby, as editor-in-chief, has to stick around until it's completely finished, but by Monday we should be done enough that the rest of us can go home.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Oh my goodness, one more thing I have to share... a girl just came in to show off the PCDR Obama supporter T-shirt she's working on making, and they say OBAMANOS 2008: Ya tu sabes.

This is basically the most hilarious thing I've seen all day... "Obamanos" being a play on "Vamanos," (the Spanish "v" is pronounced more like "b," so "vamanos" is usually said more like "bamanos") Spanish for "Let's go," and "Ya tu sabes" being a really common Dominicanism that literally means "you already know" and is kind of just something you say when you assume the other person agrees with you.

Seriously... Obamanos. Hysterical.

Okay, I'm out.

que lo que?

Greetings from the Gringo Grita office (aka the PC library), where 7 intrepid volunteers are slaving away to produce PCDR's trimestral publication. A few highlights:

  • Joel: Does anyone know how to make an eñe (ñ) on this computer?
    Evan: N... just hit N really hard.
  • Evan (knowing of my hatred for avocados): I think we should run an ad for avocados. Renata can write that.
    Me: Or I could... kill you with an avocado. I'm just going to smash it in your face. Until you die.
    Evan: That could be one of their selling points!
  • (All of us, drunk on Internet, have become obsessed with the Genius Toolbar for iTunes, which creates playlists it thinks you will like.)
    Me: I LOVE this song! God, Genius is amazing.
    Evan: That's why they named it after me.
  • Then there was the 5-minute-long discussion about Kelis's song "Milkshake," specifically pondering what, exactly, "milkshake" refers to.

Anyway, probably most of our antics aren't nearly as funny to anyone who wasn't there for it, so I'll stop the list. But we're having a good time--definitely the best time I've ever had while spending like 8 hours on an Excel spreadsheet. I've been compiling and analyzing the anonymous close-of-service surveys from volunteers who are leaving the country soon. Here are some stats: 18% of this volunteer class butchered an animal in their site; 80% are going to grad school; 44% fell in love with a Dominican and 54% had sex with a Dominican.

Per usual for trips to the capital, I'm eating a lot of delicious food, although I'm burning some of it off from GG dance parties (por ejemplo, to Kelis's "Milkshake.")

Thursday, October 9, 2008

News in Brief

Oh, hello there. It’s been awhile since my last missive, I suppose, so here’s a brief update of my doings:

  • In an attempt to break my “I’m not doing anything worthwhile” funk, I took a little trip to Santiago to stay at the HUB, the world’s most glorious hostel, with some of my most glorious friends. We ate some glorious food (Pizza, eggrolls, ice cream) and saw a not-that-glorious movie (Tropic Thunder—the theatre’s air conditioning was pretty glorious, though). Unfortunately, I got some kind of glorious food poisoning from some of the glorious food and was pretty sick for awhile.
  • Upon my return to site, I was still pretty sick, so this week found me sleeping 12+ hours a day, living on Saltine crackers and making my last gallon of bottled water last for like three days because I couldn’t deal with the thought of carrying a 5-gallon bottle back to my house. (Note: I have new water now, and I’ve graduated back up to foods like couscous and homemade hummus.)
  • I also somewhat pitifully continued my attempts to start English classes. Again, no one has attended my 4-6pm class (which I specifically added because a couple kids’ parents told me 8pm was too late for the ninos to walk back home), but I have a couple students for my 6-8pm class. It’s really not as much fun as my Saturday morning class, though… on Monday my students were: one 30-something woman who already knew a little English and was really motivated to learn, and one 10-year-old boy who is being forced to take this class by his mom, does not really want to learn English, and is illiterate in Spanish, let alone English. You can’t really play many games with two students, especially when one of the students will just give you a blank look until the other student supplies the answer for him. I don’t really want to just give up on the illiterate student, but I think he needs to get a handle on Spanish before he tackles English. On Wednesday, the illiterate boy returned with his older sister, and my original other student couldn’t make it. (She told me she probably wouldn’t be able to attend every class, since she has 2 kids.) I did a repeat of the first class, and the new student picked up the material much faster than the kid who had already had it once. Vamos a ver.. it’s not like in the US where, in theory, I could tell the boy’s parents “Hey, you know, your son is illiterate, maybe you should get some extra help for him,” because… there isn’t really any extra help. A fairly large number of illiterate kids make it through the Dominican school system. (Of course, some illiterate ones make it through the American school system, too.) And I don’t really feel remotely qualified to teach Spanish literacy… I can barely teach English and I’m fluent in that! I know my friend Stephanie has been teaching a 20-year-old Dominican friend of hers how to read, but her friend is motivated. I don’t think this kid really wants to learn how to read, which makes it trickier. If he keeps showing up to English class I’ll have to do something…

    In summary, my new batch English classes—which my project partner, school principal, and assorted people in the street have assured me that are oh-so-important to the community—have, after 3 weeks of putting up posters, telling people in the street, telling people who show up at my house asking about class, and asking English teachers in the school to tell their students about them, attracted a total of 3 students, one of whom is illiterate. This in addition to my Saturday English classes, which have 10 students on paper, and around 4 students on Saturday mornings.

  • Meanwhile, on the front of my computer lab (aka my actual Peace Corps project), a couple weeks ago I was told that we had received new batteries for our backup system and that we could start using the lab normally again. I even grudgingly got permission to start working on a school newspaper (the nun told me it would be better if I waited until we got our SECOND computer lab, which the Secretary of Education is supposedly going to give us this year, but since we both know that will probably never happen she said I could try to start now). I was also asked to update the anti-virus software, which I am happy to do. Except that when I tried to get into the lab to do so, I was told that we could still only use the lab when there is electricity because the new batteries haven’t actually been installed yet.

  • Apologies for this long, boring explanation of why I can’t do anything in my site.
  • Since your tax dollars are paying for me to be here, I feel I owe you all an explanation of why I am mainly sitting around my house watching Arrested Development and The Office on my computer.
  • I also spend a lot of time sleeping.
  • But you can’t say I didn’t try.
  • Most of the other PCVs have assured me that no one is very productive their first year in site so I shouldn’t worry about this.
  • It’s still kind of worrying.
  • Anyway, next week I’m going to the capital to work on the Gringo Grita (the PCDR magazine). One of the staff members dropped out of Peace Corps and I got asked to replace him. So, hell, I’m not doing anything in my site, I might as well work on some sort of IT project that might benefit somebody. Also, I will be in the capital receiving per diem, which will allow me to eat falafel and pizza.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

minor victories

This is a little blog entry dedicated to all the small victories that help me get through my days here. Some days it’s tempting to get frustrated about little things like how my computer lab still may or may not be working, how again no one showed up for my English class (although after I gave up and left the school, a man at the colmado asked me when I was starting my English classes… I said Today, an hour ago, but no one came, and he said Oh I wanted to come, but I forgot), or how yesterday I waited two hours to talk to the nun about various projects I want to start and then she rescheduled for Wednesday.

… But instead of dwelling on those things, dwelling on my fears that I am not motivated enough to do this, that my town is not motivated enough to participate in my development projects, that I am wasting my and everyone else’s time, that maybe I am just not the right kind of person for the Peace Corps, (okay, maybe I’m dwelling a little), I’m going to focus on SMALL VICTORIES. Such as:
  • Yesterday, while I was visiting the home of a woman who uses my visits as family therapy sessions and who reads aloud to me health articles about things like “The Uses of Broccoli” and “Fiber: Why It’s Important,” a woman who had previously (somewhat condescendingly) offered me Spanish lessons in exchange for English lessons, told me, “You don’t need Spanish lessons, you know a lot of Spanish! I thought you knew less.”
  • I have scheduled a meeting for this afternoon with M., the student I’m taking to the Peace Corps ENCARGADOS DEL FUTURO youth technology conference, so we can talk about the video project we’re supposed to prepare for the conference. (I’m counting having it scheduled as a small victory although the meeting hasn’t happened yet and he may or may not show up; he’s a pretty good, reliable kid [which is why he gets to go to the conference with me], but still, it might rain or something.) Note: M. did, in fact, show up. Hooray!
  • This weekend, a couple of very cool Youth volunteer trainees came to visit me. (As part of training, trainees go to visit volunteers to see what life is like. The visit is supposed to come earlier in training, and it’s supposed to be a 4-day visit, and they’re supposed to visit volunteers of the same sector, but this group’s training has gotten all messed up by the hurricanes, so they just got sent out for a short visit to whatever volunteers happen to be closest to their community-based training site.) It was a lot of fun to show off my town, and they were appreciative of both my awesome Disney Channel posters and my stash of American food.
  • Last night I did a bunch of dishes that I’d been lazily leaving in the sink all day in the hopes that running water would come back. It didn’t, so I filled up my sink with a bucket and cleaned them right up.
  • I fixed my greca coffee maker so it doesn’t leak out the middle when I pour it anymore!
  • I just beat Burger Shop, this addictive Diner Dash-esque game I downloaded! Um, it gets pretty hard at the end, when there’s all kinds of sauces and really complicated sandwiches to make… and it was very vital for my development work. True story.

PS: Devon, I would love any and all gossipy magazines, regardless of date. Thank you x 1000!

Friday, September 26, 2008

raindrops keep fallin' on my head

It’s 5:15pm on Thursday, and my projected attendance for my 6pm English class (meant to be the first of a new session) has suddenly dropped to zero. Why? Because it just started pouring rain. It’s been raining all week, but today was bright and clear enough that I felt secure in hanging some sheets outside to air. My Monday evening English class was also thwarted by the rain. Dominicans simply don’t like to leave the house when it is raining—your hair gets wet, you will get sick if you get rained on (apparently), and, well, no one likes the rain.

But no matter; how can I be down when I have such beautiful toenails? I posted a picture on Wednesday but didn’t give the full story. Here is the full story: manicures are very popular among Dominican women, particularly elaborate manicures that are not quite in line with North American beauty standards. In fact, a North American woman might label Dominican nails as “trashy-looking,” if she were a judgmental and culturally insensitive North American woman. So, on my mom’s last full day in the DR, we decided to go get our nails done, so she could bring a little bit of the DR home with her. My mom doesn’t really speak Spanish, and I’ve never had my nails professionally done, so we were a little out of our depth. Still, my mom made it known that she wanted her nails done (no acrylics) in the “mas bonita” way. She chose hot pink for the base color and then let the manicurist go wild, which entailed white, yellow, green, and silver swirly patterns. (I used to assume Dominican manicures entailed airbrush, but they are actually apparently done freehand.)

I, on the other hand, opted for a pedicure, since my fingernails are fairly destroyed and not really worth painting. Since toenails offer a smaller canvas, my nails are slightly less ridiculous than my mom’s. The four small toes are just French manicured, with a stripe of hot pink and a stripe of glittery silver. The big toes are a little fancier, with a pink and silver striped V design. Tasteful.

It’s 5:45 now, and the rain has slowed to a drizzle. I’m taking my umbrella and setting out for the school, on the offhand chance that anyone will show up. Probably they won’t, though—just because the rain has paused doesn’t mean it won’t start again, and then they will have to walk home in the rain (or ride a moto home in the rain—which may be a partial cause of the rain-phobia here, since motorcycles are much more prevalent than cars, and riding motorcycles in the rain admittedly does suck).

Update: It is now 7pm. No one attended my English class, although it did not actually rain between 6 and 7.

Of course, it is possible that no one would have attended my class even if it hadn’t been raining, HOWEVER I get stopped in the street all the time (and also people show up at my house) to ask about English class, and when will I teach English class, and how much does English class cost, and where will English class take place, and I provide all of these answers even though these answers are also available on any of the posters I have scattered about town. I have even pasted star stickers on these posters, and I know that people have been looking at these posters because they have also peeled all the star stickers off my posters.

Oh well, I’ll put up more posters (I have a package of 700 star stickers and I will not be thwarted) and try my classes again next week. Hopefully the weather (and/or Dios) will cooperate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

unas fotos

Hey all! I delivered my mom to the airport in the rain this morning, leaving me alone in the capital with my cold... and my wireless Internet. I stole some photos of my mom's camera and uploaded them my Flickr, hooray! PLUS she left me her old camera, so I should be able to take some more of my own photos now. Anyway, here are a few highlights:

My grandpa & I outside our hotel in Santo Domingo.

My grandpa & I outside the cathedral in SD.

My grandpa & I outside my house!

The Monument to the Restoration in Santiago.

Rawr, me and a dino with teeth made of amber!

Me & mom on the cable car in Puerto Plata.

The beach in Puerto Plata. IT'S NOT THAT GREAT.

Check out my fridge!!!

Mr. Toots.

Scenic Jarabacoa.

My classy Dominican pedicure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

this is mostly about shopping

My mom’s whirlwind tour of the DR is drawing to a close soon, but I think she’ll be going back to the USA with a much better idea of what the DR is like than, say, your average all-inclusive resort visitor. Granted, we did have 2 days in the tourist magnet town of Puerto Plata, but we were there in the off-season, and we stayed at a $30/night hotel, rather than a resort. It was a pretty nice place—air conditioning AND hot running water (although you had to flip a switch 10 minutes before you wanted to use hot water)!—but it was on the edge of town on a very poorly-paved road, including a completely unnecessary speed bump, which made every cab ride into the city center an adventure!

We spent about an hour in total at the beach, which was fine, since my mom’s not that into beaches, and Puerto Plata wasn’t really up to my Caribbean beach snob standards. Our favorite thing was probably the cable car ride to the top of Mount Isabela, which was fun and provided a beautiful view of the city and the sea. PLUS there was a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on the top, which I posed with for a photo (coming soon to a Facebook profile near you). The mountaintop also housed several desperate souvenir stores, whose owners followed us around shouting increasingly lower prices at us. Prices, for the most part, on kitsch that not even my mom wanted to buy, although she did finally snag a mahogany rooster at half the original price.

Her best purchase, however, was in down off the mountain. It is a framed tarantula with an utterly hilarious English text box pasted beneath it. As a special treat for you all, I am going to transcribe the spider box for you (entire box sic):


Night living animal with 8 legs, 8 eyes, and 4 lungs, a 2 parts head, thorax and abdomen which contains the majority of the organs. Can’t hear or see good, depends on special hears to detect movements. The animal is one of the biggest, aggressivest and voracioust and can be 28 cm. long. The female, bigger, eats easy the male during propagation and also her creatures when she is hungry. When feeling in danger they emit a whistle and stand up their rear legs. To defend they use their toxic hairs on the abdomen, throwed by the rear legs, which are very painful especially when they use their fearsome canine toots to inject the not human mortal but very toxic poison. They feed them with insects, small lizards, rats, birds, etc. The male lives 3 or 6 years and the females 6 to 14 years, and pairs from 50 to 700 creatures every 3 or 4 month. Lives in South America.

NOTE: Microsoft Word spellcheck had way fewer problems with the above text than you might imagine.

Mom (looking over my shoulder as I type): That’s a long blog!
Me: Like half of it is the spider thing.
Mom: Please, show a little respect: “Mr. Toots,” not “the spider.”

Another note on souvenir shopping: I realized that in my last blog entry I talked a lot about my new larimar earrings, but MAYBE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LARIMAR IS. I will tell you what larimar is: it is a semiprecious stone found only in the DR! It is blue and it was discovered by a Dominican dude and his Peace Corps volunteer partner in the 1970s. It was named after the Dominican guy’s daughter, Larisa, and the sea (el mar). It is kind of a big deal here, since it is endemic and all.

Anyway, after our triumphant departure from Puerto Plata, content in our knowledge that we had purchased the greatest things possible for purchasing, we returned to the capital, since I had committed myself to attend a website committee meeting. Rather than wait around the Peace Corps office all afternoon, Mom set off on a solo adventure to La Sirena, the Dominican Wal-Mart. She returned safely a few hours later, though apparently only after her cab driver stopped to ask five different people where the Peace Corps office was, and I found her sitting on the PC porch completely surrounded by La Sirena bags. You can take the mom away from the minivan, but you can’t take the minivan mentality out of the mom, I guess.

We spent the weekend mainly in my site, though with an exciting shopping excursion to La Vega. Here are some of the things my mom has purchased for my house, insisting that they will improve my quality of life:
  • A refrigerator
  • A trashcan
  • A table
  • A silverware organizer
  • A bathmat
  • A 6-cup greca coffeemaker (This makes about 2 American cups)
  • A lime squeezer
  • A pink vase
  • Pink artificial flowers

Of these I am most excited about MY REFRIGERATOR! Here is a list of things that I have already purchased and can store in MY REFRIGERATOR:
  • Ketchup
  • Ranch dressing
  • Strawberry jelly
  • Milk
  • Salsa
  • Water (I mean I already had water, but now I can drink cold water!!)

HAVING A REFRIGERATOR IS SO AWESOME. Granted, it is a baby refrigerator and it is nearly at its maximum capacity with only condiments, but it is still so awesome.

Today we took another trip into La Vega to have lunch with my friend Arianna, which was super fun! We decided to go to this vegetarian restaurant we’d been to one other time, but the only time we’d been there we had been personally taken there by a nice vegetarian Dominican woman we met, and we wrote down the address but didn’t really know how to get there. So we decided to take a taxi there, but the taxi driver also didn’t really know how to get there, so he consulted many, many people. We got there eventually and had a delicious lunch, hooray!

Tomorrow we’re planning a day trip to Jarabacoa, aka the Dominican Alps. I don’t really know why they call it the Dominican Alps. I mean there’s mountains there, but… they’re not that Alps-ish. Not that I’ve been to the Alps to compare, but… I’m pretty sure they’re not very Alps-ish.

Whew, I guess that’s about all I have to say for now! I stole a bunch of my mom’s photos, so I’ll try to post those sometime.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

my life as a tour guide

Hola! Long-ish time, no blog—but then, my blog’s biggest reader (aka Mom) has been with me the last week, so I trust that my updates haven’t been too missed. She and my grandfather flew into the capital last Tuesday and we’ve been on a fast-paced tour of the DR for the last week. The first few days were spent in the capital. We hit up the Botanical Gardens, which was a big hit with my gardening relatives. Then we did a mini tour of the Zona Colonial, where we bargained souvenir dominos and I gave a shoddy tour of historic buildings (“This is where Diego Colon lived, he was Christopher Columbus’s son, I’m pretty sure… maybe brother… umm… that’s a palm tree…”). We also went to the Hard Rock Café, a wonderfully kitschy establishment that happens to be slightly out of my Peace Corps price range. Pretty much every other meal involved some PCV-favored restaurant, with the end result that neither of my guests ate any Dominican cuisine until 3 days later, back in my site. Secondary result: I probably gained back about half the weight I’ve lost since I got in country. Yum!

Upon returning to my site, we spent the afternoon unpacking the FOUR suitcases of treasures my mom and grandpa bought me (their own personal items were limited to carry-ons). So many wonderful things: Tasty Bite instant Indian food, dark chocolate (thanks, Aunt Harriet!), battery-powered fans, Dr. Bronner’s soap, a new Nalgene bottle (my last having been tragically forgotten on a guagua last month), books from practically every This American Life correspondent, and, best of all, a shiny new MacBook, on which I am currently typing this. Ohhh it is such a lovely new computer and now I can watch DVDs in my house and download podcasts at the Peace Corps office and write up blog entries whenever the hell I want! Hooray! (Thanks again, Opa!!)

The next morning, we set off on a day trip to Santiago. We ended up eating lunch at Pollos Victorina (the Dominican version of KFC), since I wasn’t familiar enough with downtown Santiago to find a more delicious place promptly. Then we went to the Centro Leon, an art museum/cigar factory. Mom had really wanted to see a cigar factory, so we spent most of our time there. We got a tour from a very knowledgeable English-speaking guide (thus saving me from awkward attempts at translating phrases like “The tobacco is grown in Connecticut and aged for eight years”) and my mom and grandpa bought some nice cigars (supposedly—none of us smoke so we didn’t really know what we were looking for) for gifts. This particular factory—La Aurora—has been operating in the DR since 1903. Again, I can’t vouch for the cigars, but their employees are very nice.

We also went to La Sirena (the Dominican version of Wal-Mart), where my relatives stocked up on Brugal rum for gifts and assorted housewares for me. They found it objectionable that I had been living without things like bathroom mirrors and cutting boards…you know how Americans are ;)

We spent the weekend in my site, where mom and grandpa were assistants in my English class. My students particularly admired mom’s enthusiasm for charades. I also took them to meet the nuns, who gave us oatmeal & orange juice (it’s a Dominican thing, it tastes kind of like a creamsicle but not really) and enjoyed my mom’s broken but whole-hearted attempts at Spanish speaking. The family also liked the Sunday church service, somewhat to their surprise. (“Good singing, and the priest seemed like a really good speaker even though I didn’t understand 99% of what he was saying.” What more can you ask for?)

On Monday we returned to the capital and did some laundry and some eating. My grandpa and mom went to bed early, since we had to leave at 4am to get my grandfather to the airport on time. I foolishly stayed out until 1:30am with some Peace Corps friends, but one of them is leaving the country soon and I wanted to see her. (And, of course, make sure that she saw High School Musical before getting back to the US.) Thus, Tuesday found me a bit sleepy, but it also found mom and I on a 4-hour bus ride to Puerto Plata, so I got in a good nap. Upon arrival to PP, we checked into our hotel, turned on the AC, and collapsed onto our beds. Well, we stayed awake long enough to watch Over the Hedge (in English!) on TV.

This morning we set off on an ill-fated excursion for breakfast at a nearby guidebook-recommended place, which turned out to have closed down due to the death of its former owner. We found a substitute breakfast place which fueled us for a morning of shopping, the majority of which was spent at a large larimar and amber jewelry store. It was an interesting place, since it had a jewelry factory on site. Thus, when my mom found a ring she liked that was too small, they simply took it back and expanded it at no additional cost. When I wanted a small pair of earrings and my mom wanted a small pair of earrings as a gift, they took a large pair of earrings (with two dangling jewels per ear) and divided it into two pairs of earrings (at the same price as the one original pair of earrings). Very nice.

I also used my improved Spanish to shoo away souvenir salesmen with a disdainful “No soy turista, yo vivo en La Vega. Dejame en paz.” (I’m not a tourist, I live in La Vega. Leave me alone.) It sounds harsh, but anything nicer gets you a stalker for a block or so.

After lunch at a delicious place catering to expats (they had lemon meringue pie!!), we took a look at the local beach, which my mom thought was gorgeous. I, however, have become kind of a beach snob after six months in this country and was not that impressed. (“Needs more palm trees… and the sand could be whiter.”) Still, it’s a pretty beach…. I guess. (I will post pictures of this later and you will likely all hate me for my attitude re: this beach.)

Then we came back for a well-earned nap, from which we are just now rousing ourselves. Soon we will set out for dinner, and, perhaps, a movie at the local theatre. Such a decadent life I’m leading these two weeks of visitors!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

weathering the weather

Hurricane Ike still has yet to really show its face around here, although the wind picked up a bit about half an hour ago. The weather-witches at the National Hurricane Center say it should cause some rain here tonight, but that's about it. The storm is still aways out into the ocean and it's not expected to hit the DR directly. As a precaution, PC consolidated the volunteers in the northern two regions of the country, but not my region (which is pretty much the middle of the country). So right now all my friends to the north are having fun in a hotel in Santiago while I'm still standfasted in site. In summary: wah, I'm not sufficiently threatened by Hurricane Ike to get consolidated!

Anyway, although it hasn't rained in my site since Tuesday, school has been closed all week because of the possibility of hurricane. The Dominican school system has one of the lowest numbers of days in session of any school system in the world, and it's partly due to this tendency to cancel school at the drop of a hat (or single raindrop). Ah well, such is life! And I did at least get four kids to show up to my English class this morning. (Four of eight... which isn't that impressive, but it's also how many showed up last Saturday, pre-hurricane threat.)

I've been monitoring the storms as best I can, since my mom and grandfather are due to visit me on Tuesday. It seems like Ike will be out of the picture and Josephine won't have arrived yet, so their flight should be fine (si Dios quiere). In the meantime, I'm just going to keep on keeping on in my site. I did my laundry yesterday and I just picked up a new 5-gallon jug of drinking water, so I should be set for Ike's worst (which isn't projected to be terribly bad).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

wild weather

So, hurricane season is in full effect here in the DR! Gustav has passed us (though I hear it's roughing up the Southern US pretty bad) but Tropical Storms Hanna and Ike are on their way.

Right now everything is pretty calm in my site. Yesterday was pretty rainy, but nothing like the rivers-in-the-streets rainy like Gustav last week. They closed school today because of the (potential) rain, but today has been hot and dry, to the severe annoyance of the nun (aka my school principal).

I also heard from the PC emergency coordinator that we might get consolidated tomorrow! Consolidation is the second level of PC-preparedness; the first one (which we're currently on) is standfast, meaning stay where you are. Consolidation involves pulling everyone out of their sites to a hotel in a safe city. PCVs kind of hope for this to happen--I mean, if we're going to get rained on, it might as well be in a hotel on PC's dollar/peso! (The third level of emergency preparedness, which has never happened in the DR, is complete evacuation of the country.)

Anyway, I guess the powers that be will decide by 4pm tomorrow if we're consolidating or not. With hurricanes, they decide well before they're actually supposed to hit, so that we can get our travelling out of the way before it gets bad. I'll keep you guys posted, but what I'm trying to say is: don't worry about me! The PC takes way better care of people in hurricanes than, say, FEMA.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

I got back to site Wednesday night—thankfully too late to attend the local Catholic youth group meeting. (I’ve been an honorary member of this youth group ever since I came here on my first site visit, and I appreciate the attempt to integrate me into the community and the kindness of the Catholic youth. However, their meetings are inevitably way too long and too boring. Right now I’m working on scheduling some English classes for the same time as their meetings.)

Anyway, so I’m back in site. My house seems lonelier without Keith and without my desk. You may recall how excited I was to discover that the previous occupants of my house left an old desk in my house. This desk significantly boosted the amount of furniture I owned, and kept many of my possessions off of the floor. But last Saturday my landlord rolled up without warning to reclaim my desk. Fortunately, each of my bedrooms has a set of drawers built into the wall, so I moved most of my desk’s former contents to the second bedroom’s drawers. I’ve also taken to referring to my second bedroom as the “library,” which is pretty grandiose considering it has maybe 20 books in it. But it has zero beds in it, so library is more accurate than bedroom. I also refer to the covered parking spot-area as my “garage.”

Luckily, the 2 plastic chairs that I left out in my yard (which contains no grass) were right where I left them, completely unscathed by the storm. (Very lucky, since my plastic lawn chairs are also my entire set of living room furniture.) In fact, my town looks basically untouched by the hurricane. Arianna, my neighbor about an hour to the east, said it didn’t stop raining in her town for two days, and I’ve heard from friends in the southwest that the roads in and out of their towns are completely flooded out.

Now that I’m back in site after a few weeks of jet-setting, I’m working on scheduling my activities for the next few months. I’m hoping to start my Escojo mi Vida (a youth group focused on healthy decision-making, especially regarding HIV/AIDS), another English class, a web design class, a computer club, a Girl Scout troop, and a school newspaper…si Dios quiere, of course.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

gustav all-clear

We get to go back to site today! It's stopped raining (and as hot as ever) in the capital. I have no idea how my site fared, but I think things should be OK--the worst of the storm passed over the southwest, and I'm in the northern-central region. Plus, my neighborhood now has paved roads (impressive, I know) so those should be in decent shape.

We've been having fun being standfasted in the capital, since we get a per diem of 550 pesos (~$15 US). Last night we went out to a French bistro that some of the older volunteers knew about and I got a delcious spinach & ricotta crepe. (As always, the best part of being out of site is the food!)

I'll let you guys know how things are at my site once I get a chance, but for now rest assured that I am well-fed and reasonably dry. (I did get my flip-flop swept away from my foot in a particularly flooded spot of street last night, but my friend Dave nobly chased it down for me.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

continuing to weather now-hurricane gustav

It's pretty wet here, but we're hanging in.

I forgot to put my plastic chairs inside my house before I left and now I am afraid that they will have been swept away by a flood. Please, keep my plastic chairs in your prayers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

bring it on, tropical storm gustav

Hey blog. Right now Keith is at the airport waiting to get home... the Internet says his flight is delayed, what with the tropical storm and all, so I don't know when he'll get to leave. Sigh!

But we had a really great week while he was here. My Peace Corps friends Anne and Tim got married on Tuesday, so we hung around for the reception, which was really cute. The PC office staff got together and got a little cake for them and some sparkling cider, and there were some really cute toasts.

Then we headed off on a 5-hour bus ride to Sosua, a beach town on the northern coast of the DR. The beaches were beautiful, although we were unpleasantly surprised by how aggressive the souvenir shop guys were--almost all of them spoke English, or at least enough to say "You are shopping? Come to my store!" And if we told them we'd come back later, they're remember it and harrass us on the way back. But still, the beaches were gorgeous (I'll post pictures when Keith sends them my way, since I'm still sans-camera) and I didn't even get sunburned, thanks to vigorous--some might say obsessively so-- application of sunblock.

We also visited the Jewish Community Museum of Sosua, which was small but interesting. It completely covered up the fact that Trujillo was a terrible dictator, but what can you expect? And it is true that, for whatever reason, he did help save some Jewish refugees, which is undeniably a good thing to do.

Anyway, after some fun, sun, and World War II history, we returned to my site for a few days. I introduced Keith around my town, where he was told both that he looked like my brother and that he looked fatter in photos than in real life (which I guess is nicer to hear than the opposite). He also helped me teach my English class, since he is an excellent speaker of English.

Then we went back to the capital where I gave him a quick tour of the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo, aka "Here are some old buildings and I don't really remember what they were for but they look pretty, right?" We got rained on a little during the tour, a prelude to today's tropical storm. Keith's flight was delayed (though I see now that it has left, whew), and I've been put on Standfast by Peace Corps, which just means that I can't travel until we get cleared by the PC higher-ups. This is pretty much fine with me, since now I'm getting per diem to stay in the capital and hang out with some of my also-stranded friends. It is raining a lot, though. Basically everything is fine here for now. The storm might get upgraded to a hurricane and then vamos a ver... (You can track Gustav on the NOAA website, if you're so inclined.) Peace Corps volunteers kind of secretly hope for hurricanes, because then we get consolidated to a safe city and PC pays for us to stay in a nice hotel! But they're also terribly destructive to the people we're working with, so we don't really hope that hard. Because we are not horrible people.