Tuesday, March 4, 2008


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?

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