Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hello, everyone! I’ve been having a great week here. My new host family continues to be amazing—for example, today I woke up to a gigantic fresh fruit salad, coffee, and a pleasant conversation during which my tenuous grasp on the Spanish language was never insulted. Mmm.

Training has been going pretty well. Some of the computer skills classes are a little bit boring, although a few companeras and I have been keeping them interesting by resorting to grade-school-style note passing. (Look, if our trainer is going to spend 3 hours on a Friday afternoon talking about basic functions of Microsoft Word, I’m going to start playing MASH. That’s just the way it goes.) My Spanish class continues to be great. Plus, the Dona who hosts our class always gives us good snacks.

Last night most of our group went out to El Seibo’s hotspot, the Discoteca WOW. It was interesting, although I think I have some more permanent hearing loss. More people were dancing in the street outside the Discoteca than actually inside it, and we eventually trickled outside too. It was (slightly) quieter there and cooler, too. One of the highlights of the night was seeing a guy wearing a pink T-shirt with sequins on it, a black cowboy hat, and a giant belt buckle depicting a gun covered in sequins. He was by far the classiest individual I have encountered here in the DR.

Also, the Internet cafes here are fast enough that I have been able to upload some photos, hooray! Here are a few highlights:

My old host sister, mom, and me.

Diego "Brother of Christopher" Columbus's home in Santo Domingo. (Christopher's home is no longer standing. Probably it looked a lot like Diego's.)

PC group photo in front of an old church whose name I forget!

Arianna and I at the beach!

My two new host brothers and one of my new host sisters, hanging out on the roof of our house.

Hope all is well with all of you! Keep in touch, homeslices. Oh, and on that note: in case you didn’t know, I am no longer using my email address. Please email me at sanckenr at gmail dot com!

Friday, March 28, 2008

care package how tos!

Hi everyone!

Some very nice people have inquired about sending me care packages. If anyone would like to (no pressure), here are some tips:

  • Use a padded envelope, not a box. Envelopes are apparently less likely to be stolen.

  • Do not send anything too expensive, because the Dominican mail system is pretty unreliable and it could get lost.
  • On the customs form, delcare it as a gift with a value of $0.
  • Don't send anything via FedEx or DHL because I will have to pay an outrageous amount of tax on it.
  • Some things that I like and are hard to get here: chocolate (especially dark chocolate! or chocolate-peanut butter anything), other American candy (I especially like Mike & Ikes and Jelly Bellies), granola bars, dried fruit/fruit leather, almonds or other non-peanut nuts, soy nuts, Gatorade mix, lip balm, lotion, art/craft supplies (colored pens, construction paper, lanyard string, etc), mini-packets of Kleenex, unscented Playtex tampons, pictures of Zac Efron, other trashy celebrity gossip items, boxes of non-perishable, non-microwaveable vegetarian food (Annie's pasta, Tasty Bite Indian dinners, some of the Thai Kitchen dinners, etc.), burned CDs or DVDs of movies or TV shows, and the like. Of course, I´ll take whatever you want to send :)
  • Muchas gracias, amigos! Oh, and my address is posted here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

una familia mejor!

Hola, hola! Greetings from El Seibo, a medium-small town in the east of the DR. Today is only our second day of CBT, but so far I’m having a great time here. My new host family is amazing. They are all (here I have a Don, a Dona, and three siblings: a 12-year-old brother, an 11-year-old sister, and a 9-year-old brother) very nice to me and very patient with my Spanish, and the kids are both hilarious and well-behaved. The kids also all say “Oh my God” in English to express frustration and it cracks me up every time. My oldest younger brother, Michael, is basically the best kid in the entire country. He told me that anytime I don't know a Spanish word, he will explain it to me, and he takes this duty very seriously.

Also, my Dona is an awesome cook and thus far has not served me any secret meat. Also, she makes me really good hot chocolate. And fresh juice. And oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins. And fried platanos. Basically, I never want to leave this host family.

Anyway, since it’s only the second day I don’t have too much else to report, but I’m highly optimistic about the next month. Besides my great family, the town itself is also lovely. Yesterday we went on a scavenger hunt to get to know the town. It’s small enough to feel safe and easy to navigate, but it’s big enough to have several restaurants/bars (including the WOW Discoteca/Restaurante, which looks fabulously cheesy and which I can’t wait to visit) and stores and stuff. Plus, there is a Helados Bon, so I can get more Yogen Fruz!

The landscape here is different and beautiful—mountains and palm trees in the same vista. Also, there’s apparently a lovely river on the edge of town. A few of my friends went down to it on their scavenger hunt and showed me pictures; I’ll have to check it out for myself when I get more free time.

Later today we’ll start our mini-internships with one of the town’s five computer labs, which should be exciting. We’re also continuing our Spanish classes, although we’ve reorganized after the move in towns. Now my class is me, Karina, and Arianna, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Also, I have attained the prestigious level of Intermediate Mid, the bare minimum Peace Corps requires its volunteers to attain before they swear in! Basically, now I can stop learning. OK, not really.

My only concern right now is that my skin seems to be falling off. At first it was just nasty peeling from the sunburn I got on my shoulders last weekend, but now it’s starting on my legs, which weren’t even burned. It doesn’t hurt, and there’s perfectly good new skin underneath, but it’s still weird. Possibly I’m getting in touch with my inner snake?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

feliz pascua!

Hola a todos! Hope you are all having a happy Easter! Here in the DR, the whole week leading up to Easter is a holiday, “Semana Santa,” or “Holy Week.” It especially starts heating up Thursday afternoon, when all businesses close down, but kids get the whole week off of school. Also, most kids tend to take the weeks before and after Semana Santa off, too.

There’s no Easter Bunny here,; the only Easter celebrations are religious. However, a lot of people use their long weekend to visit family or go to the beach. My host family is staying here. I believe we’re going to a church service this afternoon, but I’m never really in the loop about our family activities, I just follow along when one of my sisters yells my name. On Friday morning I followed thousands of people in a caminante, which is a Good Friday cross-carrying procession. Pretty much the whole neighborhood turned out for this four-hour, slow-moving stroll throughout the streets, headed up by a group of people carrying a giant 15-foot long cross with a dangerous-looking barbed wire circle on top. Also, every fifteen minutes or so—guided by some cue that I never really picked up on—everyone stopped, knelt, and made a cross on the ground with their thumb.

Yesterday, some fellow PCTs and I took advantage of the relative quiet of the city for a trip downtown. We visited the Museo de Ambar (Amber Museum), which was small but interesting. Did you know that Jurassic Park was filmed (partly) in the DR? I did not!

We also followed a tip from an older PCV and found an awesome falafel restaurant downtown. Eating falafel and hummus after weeks of cold rice and vegetables was pretty much the most delicious thing in the entire world. I was also introduced to the world of Yogen Fruz, my new favorite frozen treat. It’s kind of a combination of Cold Stone Creamery and a Blizzard. You get to pick three fruits or toppings, and then the toppings and some vanilla frozen yogurt get run through a blender/soft serve machine, and it comes back out as a custom-flavored frozen yogurt. I had strawberry, cherry, and Oreo and I would heartily endorse this combination. Afterwards, we walked along the Malecon (a long beachfront walk). It was an excellent day, which I particularly enjoyed after a few particularly stressful days with my host family.

Although I’m very grateful to my host family for having me, I’ve also been having some minor difficulties with them. In general, I feel as though I’m coming along pretty well with the language. On Wednesday we had our 3-week language test, and I was told that I reached the level of Intermediate Mid, which is the level PC requires all volunteers to reach by the end of training. I find that I can talk pretty well with most Dominicans I encounter, and I can get along pretty well in society (I can buy groceries, get around on public transportation, get directions, etc.). However, my Dona is very hard for me to communicate with—when I don’t understand her, she repeats the same thing louder once, then gets frustrated and gives up. I’m sure it’s hard to have someone live with you who doesn’t understand you very well, but for me it’s intensely frustrating to live with someone who makes little effort to help me understand them.

But tomorrow morning I’m moving to a new community, so hopefully I’ll be better able to communicate with my new family! We’ve concluded our first stage of training, and now our group is splitting up and moving on to Community Based Training (CBT). My group, Information Communication Technology, is moving to a medium-sized town in the eastern part of the country, where we’ll start getting training more specific to our project areas. We’ll continue our language training and start learning more technology-specific vocabulary, and we’re going to have mini internships with one of the town’s computer centers. I’m definitely excited to start getting some training that will help prepare me for my project, and although I’ll miss a lot of people from the Environment group, it’ll be nice to get closer to the people in the ICT group.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

a day at the beach

Hello, everyone! I´ve returned from my volunteer visit and I just posted two blog entries that I wrote last week but forgot to put on my thumb drive. I also want to write a new blog entry about my trip to the beach! Helen, the volunteer we visited, invited Arianna and I to go to the beach with her. The catch was that it was the high school senior class trip. I know a lot of you reading this have worked with kids at camps and/or schools, so I´m going to try to describe this trip in as much detail as possible so you can understand what a logistic nightmare it was.

For starters, here´s what the trip definitely did not have:
- permission slips
- emergency contact info
- a first aid kit
- any sort of advance idea of how many kids would be coming
- a low student/chaperone ratio

So, Helen told us that the trip was supposed to leave at 5:30, which really meant 6:30 en la hora dominicana. Sure enough, we got there around 6:10 and everyone was just crowded around. At around 6:30 they started boarding the bus. There was one school bus for over 100 students. Since school buses usually hold like... 40 people, this was a stretch even for Dominican standards. After about an hour of trying desperately to cram 100 people on the bus, the teachers (I think there were 2 on the trip, plus Helen) gave up and called for another bus, which arrived after another 45 minutes or so. Our 5:30am field trip finally hit the road a little before 8am.

Once the bus took off, the driver immediately started playing merengue at volume 11--so loud it was completely distorted, and it was literally rattling the floor of the bus. Arianna and I were in the very front row and I´m sure we suffered some minor permanent hearing loss from the trip.

It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the beach (in Nagua) and we stopped at a town about half an hour away to buy lunch/snacks. Everyone jumped off the bus and hung around for awhile, then filed back on the buses, which immediately departed. No headcount, not even a perfunctory "Is everyone here?" I´m pretty sure no one was left behind, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

I forgot to mention that all the students were passing around bottles of rum and beer on the bus. Granted, the drinking age here is 18, so most of the kids were probably able to drink legally. And the teachers who were grabbing swigs off the bottles were definitely legal. But to the prudish gringas, this seemed a tad inappropriate.

But once we got there, the beach was absolutely gorgeous. White sand, palm trees, blue water... imagine the Caribbean and that is what Nagua looks like. I´ll post pictures when I find a suitable internet connection!

los piropos

In the DR—and most, if not all, Latin American countries—“los piropos” are very common on the street. “Piropo” means “compliment,” but they’re really more like catcalls. For us Americans, it’s a big cultural change—we tend to find them annoying or even offensive, while most Dominican women would find it almost offensive not to receive piropos when she walked down the street.

In one of our Entrena classes on Dominican culture, we got a handout of some common piropos. Some of them are pretty funny, like “Pareces un Volkswagen, con el motor atras,”—“You look like a Volkwagen, with the motor in back,”or “Cuantas curves y yo sin frenas”—“Such curves and me without brakes.” But I have yet to hear anything like that. Mostly I get pretty mild things like “Que linda”—“how pretty!” or “Gringa bonita”—“beautiful gringa!”

Yesterday, though, Karina and I were sharing a beer at a table outside the local supercolmado, and being stationary in a public place like that exposed us to more piropos than usual. One guy kept it up for a couple minutes straight. We ignored him (standard piropo procedure) until finally Karina yelled back “No podemos entendar,” “We can’t understand you!” Another offered to “teach the Americans something about the Dominican Republic,” to which I replied (to Karina only), “We have Entrena for that!” Our favorite piropo of the afternoon, however, was “Dos americanas afuera!”—“Two Americans outside!” Like, yes, thank God, they finally let us out of our crate!

I should add, in case anyone is concerned—“piropos” don’t generally have bad intentions, or even romantic intentions. Most guys don’t yell piropos in an actual attempt to get a date (or more), but just to show off in front of other guys or just in a culturally-accepted way to acknowledge a woman’s presence. “Piropos vulgares” are considered inappropriate, and I have yet to hear any. I have, however, received my first marriage proposal (I declined). We´ve all been warned to expect many proposals from Dominicans seeking US citizenship, or maybe just a cute Americana.

five senses dominicanas

Sight: The Dominican Republic is a very beautiful country, with gorgeous tropical foliage and beaches to die for. The Entrena center where I attend classes every day is beautifully landscaped, with banana trees, well-manicured hedges, and giant pink flowers everywhere. However, the Dominican Republic is also a country with a severe waste management problem. I have yet to see a trashcan in this country. In my house, there is a trashbag tied to the counter in the kitchen and a small wastebasket in the bathroom, but it’s unheard of to have a garbage can on a street corner, and Dominicans think nothing of simply throwing garbage into the streets. There is apparently some sort of waste management system, meaning that every once in awhile I see someone picking up trash off the streets, but there’s not the kind of organized trash pickup we have in the US.

Smell: See also: lack of waste management in the Dominican Republic. Gross. However, there is also often the smell of delicious food cooking, or the fragrance of tropical flowers.

Taste: When I began applying for the Peace Corps, I was prepared to compromise my vegetarianism, knowing that some cultures simply do not understand the concept. For me, the Peace Corps experience was more important than not eating meat, especially since meat in other countries often comes from your neighbor’s chicken coop rather than a giant factory farm. However, PC told us that in the DR it was possible to maintain a vegetarian diet, and this has held true, although when I first told my Dona I was vegetarian she said, “Oh, OK,” and then asked me if I ate salami or hot dogs. But when I told her no, she came up with hard-boiled eggs and salad, and she’s been great about working around my diet. Last week I spoke to another vegetarian volunteer who has been in-country for about a year, and she told me that all three of her host families had been very accommodating towards her diet, and she found that after she lived with them, her families began to eat more vegetables, too. Vegetables are not a very common part of the Dominican diet for the most part—the basic dietary staples are meat (mostly chicken or fish), plantains, potatoes, and rice. But my Dona gives me okra, carrots, yucca, eggplant, cucumbers, and potatoes. (Although somehow she cooks the potatoes so that they turn pink and look exactly like ham?? It’s kind of unsettling but they taste just like normal potatoes.) Also, I’ve been comparing notes with other PCTs and apparently it’s not just my family; a lot of Dominicans are crazy about saltine crackers. I also get rice and beans pretty often, which is one of my favorites. Breakfast most days is cornflakes & milk, plus café con leche. (Dominican café con leche is made roughly according to the following ratio: one fourth coffee, one fourth sugar, and one half milk. It’s very, very sweet and not very coffee-y.)

There’s also tons of great tropical fruit available here in the DR, but again, it’s not a big part of most Dominican diets. At Entrena they give us fruit for lunch a lot, because they are familiar with the peculiar American tendency towards fruit-eating, but I don’t get it very often at home. The other day, though, I got fresh pineapple and papaya for dinner (along with some saltines), and it was amazing. Plus, both times so far that I’ve visited Karina’s house, her Dona has given me delicious homemade pineapple juice. Mmmm!

I’ve also discovered las galletas Dino, dinosaur cookies. They are the Dominican equivalent of Oreos; they’re not quite as chocolatey as Oreos, but they do have completely adorable smiling dinosaurs stamped on them.

Sound: Santo Domingo is LOUD. There are always tons of things going on: motorcycles zooming past, roosters crowing, dogs barking, sirens going, the telanovela in the living room, your neighbor playing merengue music at volume 11, and your neighbors yelling a conversation over the merengue. Since I can barely understand Dominican Spanish in ideal circumstances, you can imagine how hard it is for me to understand people trying to talk to me while we’re watching TV, the dog is barking, and someone is playing loud music in the next room. Almost impossible! I’ve adapted to the noisiness for the most part, although I still wake up every day around 4am when those darn roosters start crowing.

Touch: Dominicans in general need much less personal space than the average American. I’ve mentioned before how in carro publicos, seven adults fit in a five-passenger Toyota Corrolla. I’ve also seen up to four people on one motorcycle. Plus, it’s always in the 80s here… so people are often pretty sweaty. However, I’ve already adapted pretty well to the level of closeness, and carro publicos no longer seem that strange to me. The first time I rode in one I didn’t understand how it was physically possible to fit so many people in there, but now I know that it can and will be done!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

we´ve been andaring all over the place

I´ve had more Internet access since coming to visit our volunteer (Helen) than I have the whole time I´ve been at Entrena. Plus, I haven´t had any digestive issues since moving away from my dona´s cooking. A girl could get spoiled!

Our visit has been really great on a lot of levels. It´s been really cool and reassuring to see Helen give classes, and even to help lead a game with one class. After 2 weeks of training, it´s wonderful to have a more concrete idea of what my own service will be like--though of course, every site is different, with its own challenges and perks. We´ve also been hanging out with Sarah, the other volunteer in town. She´s a more recent volunteer who just moved out from her last host family, and we got to observe one of her English classes.

It´s been a lot of fun talking to Helen and Sarah. Arianna and I are both already starting to pick up PCDR Spanglish, and it´s nice to have people who understand when you say things like ¨We were andaring,¨ (walking) rather than struggling to communicate with our host families. (I mean, my Spanish is definitely improving, but it´s still hard.)

Ariannna and I have also both been enjoying the slight change in diet here. We´ve eaten tons of fruit (you can buy unbelievably delicious fresh fruit here for very cheap, and yet Dominicans hardly ever eat it. And they will frequently insist on boiling their bananas.) Plus, peanut butter! And grilled cheese sandwiches WITH TOMATOES! (Like I said--spoiled.)

I´m still nervous about getting my placement site and integrating with my community, but I feel more confident and excited about it. Plus, Helen told us that most IT volunteers get sites with pretty frequent running water! I´m also looking forward to starting our community-based training (CBT) next week and getting some more hands-on training.

Oh, and another cool thing Helen has shown us has been all her back issues of the Gringo Grita, the PCDR publication. It´s written and edited by current volunteers, and it´s really funny and inspirational. Reading the highs (and oft-hilarious lows)) of other volunteers was awesome. Hopefully soon I will have my own stories in the vein of ¨So then I grabbed my machete and matared that tarantula!¨

Tomorrow we´re going on a trip to Nagua beach with some high school students, then returning to the capital for one more week of classes at Entrena. I will continue to buscar a way to upload some photos. It might be easier at our CBT site, I´m not sure.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend! I have running water and Internet, so I definitely am.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

hola de la vega!

Hello! Arianna and I have successfully made it to our volunteer visit site in the province of La Vega (in the center of the country). We had a few rough spots, like when I tried to buy my bus ticket, I said I needed a ticket to La Vega and asked if the ticket vendor could give change from a 1000 peso bill. This is a big deal here in the DR, most stores refuse to change a 500 peso bill if you´re spending less than say, 450 pesos. But I figured the bus station was a good place to break it, and I was right. The guy gave me a bunch of change and started printing a ticket. But then he did not give me that ticket and stared at me. Eventually, he revealed that he had simply given me 1000 pesos worth of change, and had not taken any money to pay for my ticket. What? Who does that?

But anyway, I figured it out and gave some money back to him and got on the bus. We had somesort of vague directions, which involved getting off the bus before the main destination and taking a carro publico for a while. But we missed our bus stop (there aren´t really organized bus stops here for the most part, you have to recognize where you´re going and ask to be let off, which we didn´t). I went up to try to ask the driver for help and ended up getting advice from the entire front half of the bus, especially two very nice ladies who personally ushered us off the bus and found a carro for us--they said that if they negotiated the car price it would be much cheaper than if us extranjeras did it.

Then, in our carro, we had trouble describing exactly where we were supposed to get off, and had to do an exciting U-turn. In the final leg of our trip, the next car driver had no idea where we were going (we knew the address and that it was near the school) and kept yelling questions regarding our destination at passerby. Once again, we went past our actual destination and had to turn around. But now we´re here! Our volunteer is on duty in the computer lab for another half hour, so we´re waiting around and using some Interwebs.

I´m excited to get to see what it´s like being a volunteer in the field, and to have sometimeout of Santo Domingo. And a li´l break from my host sisters, who are adorable, but whose thirst for games of Uno is unquenchable.

Elizabeth: Bien, muy cerca (close)! It´d be more like, Todos los dias, mi dona me da galletas desaltina con el desayuno.

Everyone: thanks for your supportive emails/comments! It´s nice to stay in touch with everyone!

Monday, March 10, 2008

se me olvide!

Hello everyone! So this weekend I wrote two different blog entries on my laptop with the intent to post them when I got Internet. But here I am at the telecentro with my flash drive, only to discover that I never transferred them off my laptop onto the flash drive. Doh! So I´ll try to go back and post those later.

I still haven´t found a good place to upload photos, the Internet at this cafe is too slow & unreliable for successful uploads.

In short, life is still pretty good here. This Saturday was very exciting, we had a fascinating tour of the Ciudad Colonial, the oldest part of Santo Domingo. It was led by Lynn Guitar, one of the foremost professors of Dominican history, and she was great. Afterwards some of us went to the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful. Apparently they are the fourth most important botanical gardens in the world. I´m not exactly sure how they order these things, but it was definitely very large and very full of plants. It was a really nice respite from the busy, loud city for awhile.

On Thursday, another PCT and I will be embarking on a trip to visit a volunteer in the field until Sunday, and after that we really only have one more week here in Santo Domingo. I´m excited to start CBT, but it´ll be weird to have to get the hang of a new place again. At least our CBT site is smaller than Santo Domingo, so it will hopefully be easier... plus, my Spanish will be mejor!

My current low point is that I´m pretty gross and sweaty and our shower bucket has been empty since yesterday afternoon... hope we get our running water back soon or I´m going to smell awful!

Friday, March 7, 2008

fin de semanas... por fin

Hola! I´m back in the telecentro (Internet cafe) with Karina. I have my thumbdrive and am trying to upload some photos, but the Internet connection keeps timing out, so we´ll see if I have any success or not.

This week has been eventful... we´ve been practicing public transportation a lot and I feel a lot more comfortable with the guaguas and carro publicos. Tomorrow we have to get to downtown Santo Domingo on our own (well, without PC staff help). We´re going on a tour of the Ciudad Colonial (Colonial City) led by a noted professor of Dominican history. I´m looking forward to it!

This afternoon, we practiced getting to a bus station to travel outside of the city, because on Thursday we´re all leaving to visit different volunteers in the field. I really appreciate that they have us interact so much with experienced volunteers during training; it´s very hopeful. If they can get this far in 6 months, there´s hope for me too!

I also feel like in a week I´ve made a lot of progress with the language. I definitely still have trouble communicating, but it´s easier for me to understand the Dominican accent and I´ve picked up a lot of useful vocab. Por ejemplo, "puente," bridge--los puentes are good landmarks for knowing (and being able to describe) where to get off the bus. Also, "galletas de saltina," or saltine crackers, as in, "Every day my dona gives me galletas de saltina with breakfast."

Well, I think Karina and I are about ready to leave to visit some other PCTs para una cerveza at the colmado! I hope everyone else is having as pleasant of a Friday afternoon as I am!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

ha ganado barack obama?

Hola guys! I just posted two previously-written blog entries, but here´s a quick update about right now. I´m in an Internet cafe in my barrio with my friend Karina, who is my closest PC "neighbor," a few blocks away. First we stopped at her host family house and had juice. It´s kind of like a gradeschool playdate.

The big news at Entrena today is the election at home. We´re all big Obama supporters, but the PC likes us to keep our political opinions to ourselves when among Dominicans. So when someone asks me what I think about the US elections, I say, "Ahh, me gustan todos los candidatos!"

Tomorrow hopefully we´ll have word about today´s primaries. In addition to talking about Obama, we´ll be taking a big excursion to downtown Santo Domingo and visiting the Museo Duarte, the PC office, the PC clinic, and eating at a restaurant. Very exciting!

Oh, and I also have a ton of pictures but I haven´t uploaded any yet. Perhaps tomorrow?


Hola! I’m writing this on my laptop in my bedroom at my host family’s house; word on the street is that there’s wireless internet accessible from our training center. If that’s true, I’ll be able to post this tomorrow morning! If not… well, you won’t read this until later!

Anyway, here’s what’s happened since my last update (which I wasn’t able to post until just now): I’ve moved in with my host family and have gone to several days of training at the Peace Corps Entrena center. My thoughts about the PC staff here in the DR were 100% accurate: they are an amazingly supportive, competent group of people. I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to do this without their help.

It’s still pretty hard even with their help. The first night with my host family (which includes: my Dona [mother], my 12-year-old brother, my 7-year-old sister, my 5-year-old brother, and a Don [father] who is apparently working in Spain until December), I could barely communicate with them, because the Dominican accent is different and they speak very fast. I’d been home barely an hour when my Dona managed to make me understand that I needed to brush my hair because we were attending a funeral (that of her husband’s cousin, I think?). The funeral itself was interesting… I think it was Catholic, though it’s hard to say, since it was in Dominican Spanish, and I don’t know that much about Catholic funerals anyway.

At any rate, there was a lot of joyful singing, very different from any American funeral I’ve attended.

Later that night, I broke my bed as I was getting ready to sleep.

Basically, a totally awesome and reassuring first night with my family.

But it has gotten much better since then. I’ve taught everyone how to play Uno, which is a big hit. Luckily, I’m a big fan of Uno myself, so I don’t mind the endless demands to jugar Uno. Curiously, apparently when Spanish-speaking people only have one card left, they say “Una,” not “uno,” because “una” refers to the card, or “la carta” and the endings have to agree.

When I’m not playing Uno, I’m usually being taken around the neighborhood and briefly introduced to people whose names I immediately forget. However, I did meet several friend’s of my Dona who told me, “Oh, it must be so hard for you to understand your Dona! She talks so fast!!” That’s right, my Dona talks fast by Dominican standards. But I’ve managed to get her to slow down pretty regularly, and my blank looks are a good reminder when she reverts to her normal pace.

My family is described as Dominican lower middle class. My Dona runs a beauty salon out of her front room. Other than the front room, our house has a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. I have the smaller bedroom, and the other one holds all four family members and serves as a common room. I feel greedy for getting my own room, but the Peace Corps does pay the family a stipend and requires that I get my own space. And anyway, we’ve all been reassured that we shouldn’t feel bad if others are sharing a room, because the Dominican sense of personal space and privacy is very different from ours. This has certainly proven true. Our families are given training in how to deal with Americans (just as we’re getting training on how to live with Dominicans) and in theory know that we like to keep hold of our personal possessions. In practice, however, as soon as I unzipped my suitcase, my new brothers and sisters were all over my stuff. They particularly like my computer; I showed them how to play Snood, the only game I have on here. They don’t understand it, but they love that they can click the mouse and make something happen on the screen.

Anyway, another notable feature of my house is that it has a backup generator for when the power goes out. Which it does nearly every day, for at least a few hours at a time. I’m not exactly clear on what can and can’t run off the generator, but it’s enough to at least keep the fans going, as well as the TV. My family has a cable package that includes a lot of familiar channels—Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and TBS, to name a few—all dubbed into Spanish. It’s a bit of a culture shock in and of itself to hear Spongebob Squarepants (Bob Esponja) with a deep, Spanish-speaking voice.

Another unreliable service here is the water. All families keep a 5-gallon bucket of water in the shower, along with a smaller bucket for scooping. This way, if the water isn’t currently running, you can still take a bucket shower. I’ve gotten pretty good at the art of the bucket shower, if I do say so myself.

This is getting long, so I’ll just throw out one more adventure—transportation in the city. The state-run buses are few and far between, so most people get around by private carro publicos and guaguas. Carro publicos are shared taxis. A typical carro publico would be a Toyota Corrolla with 7 people inside it, four in the backseat and three in the front (including the driver). Riding in a carro publico is a good way to become very, very close friends with someone. The guaguas, on the other hand, are private minibuses. They’re about the size of an average 15-passenger van, but here they hold more like 40 passengers. Another excellent way to make close friends! Today my friend Karina, who lives with a host family a few blocks away from me, and I, successfully made our way home from Entrena by foot and carro publico without help from our Donas. Hooray! This afternoon we also took a guagua trip downtown and back, guided by a PC staff member. We’re going to keep practicing public transportation this week until Saturday morning, when we’re expected to make our way downtown without help. I’m un poco nerviosa about this prospect, but thus far no PC trainees have become permanently lost in downtown Santo Domingo, so I guess I won’t be the first.

Peace Corps training so far is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also very fun and exciting. I’m looking forward to becoming better at communicating and functioning in society, and between the other PCTs, the PC staff, and my host family, I have a great support network here. I’ve got water in my shower bucket and arroz y avichuelas for my lunch, so what more could I ask for?