Monday, April 28, 2008

my future has been revealed to me...

... and I'll be living in the Cibao, the central region of the country! My site is near most of my friends and relatively close to Santiago, the country's other large city. It is apparently a cooler city than Santo Domingo, although I can't personally vouch for it.

Tomorrow I leave for a weeklong visit, where I'll meet my future longterm host family as well as my project partners. I'm pretty excited! I'll post more when I can. For now I just know barebones... the location, as well as the fact that my pueblo is about 30,000 people and the lab I'll be working at is in a high school with about 1000 students. It has 20 working computers, but no Internet. I've also received my cell phone! If you want my number, you can email me or ask my mom. It's free for me to receive calls, so habla conmigo (talk to me)!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

living it up in los angeles

Greetings from Los Angeles, my new barrio (neighborhood)! My computer is sadly still broken, likely for the duration, so I'm still blogging on the fly here. Hopefully the quality of posts doesn't suffer too badly.

Anyway, as I mentioned in brief, my new Dona is great and I'm very happy I was able to move. The residents of my new house are my Dona, her dog Snoopy, her bird Cucca, and myself. Her older (20ish) son visits often, as do an indistinct stream of nieces, sisters-in-law, and other friends and relatives. At night it's so quiet that I no longer need to listen to Soothing Rain Sounds on my iPod to fall asleep. I do have running water less often than I did in El Seibo, but I'm fine with that... observe a conversation I had with some companeros the other day:

Me: I'm actually pretty happy to be back to bucket baths, I started to feel like I was wasting so much water when I was taking running water showers.
Ben: I know! I've started turning off the water whenever I'm not actually rinsing soap off myself.
Karina: I do the same thing!
Me: Me too!
Ben: Are we going to do that when we get back to the US?
Me: I was thinking about that, but then I remembered how long it used to take to get the water to the right temperature... remember that?
All: (Silent contemplation of warm showers)

Another drastic change since I've arrived in the DR is the amount of sugar I like in my coffee. In the US, I never added sugar to my coffee, only a little cream sometimes. Here, everyone drinks their coffee without cream, but with a roughly 1:1 coffee:sugar ratio. At first I didn't like it that much, but I quickly got used to it, since that is how coffee is delivered to you. But I had a rough wakeup call here, since my Dona gave me a cup of coffee and a sugar bowl. I assumed the coffee already had sugar in it, and the sugar bowl was for supplemental sugar, since that's pretty common here. But no: the coffee was BLACK! I almost gagged on my first sip; I can't believe I used to drink coffee with no sugar. I was further horrified to actually see how much sugar I had to add to get my coffee to taste "right" now. It's, um, a lot.

In other exciting news, today Karina and I journeyed over to Carrefour, a giant Wal-Martesque store. It pretty much blew our minds; we spent about 5 minutes asking each other, "Um, where ARE we?" There were American products galore, including a food court with Burger King and Pizza Hut! Also Yogen Fruz, the greatest frozen treat in the DR or anywhere. I bought some new shampoo and conditioner and a three-pack of dark chocolate bars! Mostly we walked around glorying in things like Tide and soy milk.

Oh, and yesterday, Arianna, Asahi, Keane, Sarah, and Carlos went into the city to try to eat falafel... tragically, the falafel restaurant was inexplicably closed. A dude hanging outside the falafel place helpfully tried to lead us to the "Restaurante Americano," seeing as how we're American and all. We rejected it, since it was a bit out of our PC price range. Next we tried to eat at a vegetarian restaurant Asahi had visited earlier, but it, too, was mysteriously closed. On the next corner we ran into some other PCVs and asked them for restaurant advice. They suggested either the US Embassy cafeteria (as PCVs we're entitled to use all Embassy facilities) or an Indian restaurant a few blocks away. We tried the Embassy but it, too was closed, although slightly less mysteriously--the guard told us it was closed on Saturdays for cleaning. Since the fourth time's the charm, we tried the Indian restaurant and it was... open! And relatively cheap and tasty! Afterwards, we got Yogen Fruz!! My strawberry-kiwi-Oreo blend was good, but Sarah's papaya-cherry was the most delicious. Mmm, Yogen Fruz. Full and happy, we strolled over to the annual Feria del Libros (Book Fair), but didn't stay too long because it was wicked hot and the books were generally out of our price range. Still, though, a good day.

Anyway, I suppose that's about all from me! I'll post when I find out about my future site tomorrow... I can't wait! It's worse than Christmas Eve!

Oh also, I uploaded some more photos! Just a few random ones, but here are a few highlights.

I tried really hard to take a good picture of cute baby chicks, but they're skittish.

Group photo of all the ICT volunteers, aka mis companeros.

Stephanie, Arianna, Karina and I in the back of a rather nice guagua.

Friday, April 25, 2008

news in brief

Whew! I'm back in Santo Domingo, after an exciting trip back to Entrena which involved waiting 20 minutes for our taxi to get its battery jumped and me getting a ride from Ann's boyfriend, after initially blowing him off as a sketchy tigre. From Entrena I got a ride to my new host family, in the barrio of Los Angeles. My new Dona seems amazing; she's super nice and has hosted 15 volunteers before me, three of whom were vegetarians. Basically, she's been hooking the food up pretty hard so far and she has yet to belittle me!! Super bien!

Today we had some nonsense orientation with the two governmental organizations we're paired with. We got some super cool fanny packs, though! Also, good snacks. Also, afterwards we went to the PC office and raided the volunteer lending library, so now I have a good-sized stack of books to keep me going through the first three months at my site.

Tomorrow some of us are going into the city to get some FALAFEL. I can't wait! And on Monday we find out our project sites, and on Tuesday we get to go visit them. Have a good weekend everyone, and I'll keep you all posted when I have more information!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

so, um, what exactly are you going to be doing?

I realized that I´ve been blogging more about the day-to-day details of my life and less about the big Peace Corps picture. Of course, the details are important, but I know there are also some people who don´t really know what I´m here to do. (Warning: this post may require you to consult the PC acronym post.) So: I am here to work with Information Communication Technology in Education. ICT in Education has three PC-mandated goals: improve community access to computers, work with ICT teachers, and work with youth.

Meaning: I will be assigned to a computer lab in a town. I will work with the lab´s staff to teach my own classes, as well as to offer some training to the teachers there. (You may recall my earlier post about the current status of education in the DR; most teachers have been trained to teach only by the "rote memorization" method, so American interactive teaching methodologies--things like actually asking the students questions or having them apply any critical thining skills whatsoever--are pretty exciting.) I`m also supposed to work with youth; most volunteers start some sort of youth computer club. Also, I should help make sure the lab is running itself to be sustainable... help them advertise to the community, make sure they are charging enough to pay their bills but not so much that they are inaccessible to the community. Plus, computer maintainence tends to fall to PCVs.

Also, PCVs are encouraged to have a secondary project (or two) of their choosing. Youth groups are a popular option. PC has curricula for two youth groups, Brigada Verde (Green Brigade) and Escojo Mi Vida (I Choose my Life). Brigada Verde is an environmental group and Escojo is a sexual health (HIV prevention, STIs, making healthy choices, etc). PCVs also do things like teach English classes at community centers, help open libraries, or start community newsletters. I personally hope to start an Escojo group, and I want to start a Girl Scout troupe if I can, and I want to teach English classes, and maybe help start a library... well, let´s just say I`ll be keeping myself busy!

And, of course, the other goals of PC are to learn about Dominican culture and be an ambassador of American culture. (Basically, I will be playing Hannah Montana`s music for as many Dominican children as possible.) Also, I´m supposed to share Dominican culture with other Americans. Hence, the blog!

As for what I`ve been doing here in CBT: I´ve been having Spanish class three or four times a week. My class is awesome; it consists of Karina, Arianna, and myself, and it`s taught by Claribel, who is rad. Yesterday in class we spent like twenty minutes discussing the plot of the movie Ice Princess (Princesa de Hielo). We also like to chismear (gossip) about other PCTs. We also have technical sessions on things like Norton Ghost (spooky!) and hardware maintainence, leading youth groups, creating lesson plans, and forming effective committees. The third component of training is our practium, where we visit a computer lab in town and observe and teach classes. Last week we taught our first class on Microsoft Word, and tomorrow we´re teaching about how to create folders and delete files. It´s going to be a thrill a minute!

Outside of class, I mostly sit on other PCTs` porches and talk or else play Uno with my host family. It`s a pretty sweet lifestyle.

I`m definitely sad to be leaving El Seibo so soon, but I`m very excited (and pretty nervous!) to get my final project site. Word on the street is that of the 15 ICT sites, two are near the border, two are in the north on the coast, and the other 11 are relatively close together in the central region. Pretty much everyone (myself included) is hoping to be one of the 11 who are close together, although the outliers will still probably be close to volunteers from other groups. I`ll let yàll know when I know!

Monday, April 21, 2008

un dia casi perfecto

Hello all! Here is a brief scene which is, I think, illustrative of the ups and downs I experienced yesterday.

(The scene: Arianna, Karina, Keane, Carlos and I are sitting in the back of Ann's pickup truck. We are on our way back from Playa Esmerelda, where we spent the afternoon. It has begun to rain approximately halfway through our two-hour trip home. I have pulled my white towel over my head in an attempt to stay drier and warmer.)

Me: I´m Norton Ghost!!*
Arianna: Dude, are you version 9.3??
All: (Laugh deliriously)

* Norton Ghost is a program we just learned how to use to clone computer hard drives.

Basically, we´re all nerds. And we all got severely rained upon yesterday. Before that, we´d had a good time at the beach, although it wasn´t quite as perfect as our last trip to the playa. For starters, the weather wasn´t quite as gorgeous, and we were much more troubled by insects than our last trip. Also, we started off the day with a longish amount of time at Justin´s host brother´s ranch, where some of us rode horses and some of us sat on the porch and played domninos and Scrabble. (Aside: I won a game of Spanish language Scrabble against 2 native speakers! Yo soy awesome! Admittedly, the game was abandoned halfway through, so I am not sure how I would have fared in the intense endgame of Spanish Scrabble. Still, I´m counting the win.)

And now, a bit of tragic news: my beloved 5-year-old iBook appears to have left me :( Specifically, the display seems to have died. I suspected it wasn´t going to make it for two more years, but I was hoping to get a little bit longer out of it. Oh well. Pretty soon I´ll be working in a computer lab all day, so I suppose I won´t really need my own computer. However, this does impact my previous strategy of writing up blog entries, saving them to my thumb drive, and uploading them at the Internet cafe, so as to have to spend less time & money at the Internet cafe. Harrumph.

Also, a brief note about my upcoming schedule: On Thursday, we leave El Seibo and return to Santo Domingo for a teeny bit more training. On Monday the 28th, we find out our permanent project sites! On Tuesday, we leave to visit our project sites through Sunday. Then we return to Santo Domingo for a little more training and on May 8, we have our final graduation ceremony. On May 9, we move to our final project sites for good! Everyone is super excited to find out our project sites, although we´re all a little bummed to be separated from each other. However, apparently most of the ICT sites are close together, so hopefully it will be pretty easy to visit each other. I´ll definitely let everyone know when I know more about my site!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

pcdr acronyms

Simply FYI, here’s a small guide to the numerous governmental acronyms that have begun to pepper my speech:

PC: Peace Corps (not Politically Correct)
PCT: Peace Corps Trainee (that’s me!)
PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer (that’s me after May 8!)
RPCV: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (that’s me in 2010!)
COS: Close of Service (I´ll be a COS-ing volunteer before I become a RPCV)
PCVL: Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (a 3rd or 4th-year volunteer who, well, leads the other volunteers)
DR: Dominican Republic
RD: Republica Dominicana (en espanol)
ICT: Information & Communication Technology (my program)

dominican mysteries

Life here is still going pretty splendidly, but I do have a few cultural mysteries for you all to ponder:

1.) Juan Pablo Duarte’s hairstyle. J-Pabs Duarte is basically the Dominican George Washington. He’s a cool dude, but he is always, always portrayed as having this totally awesome flippy-do hairstyle. I have no idea how he managed to maintain such a hairstyle, or, if he did not, in fact, maintain such a hairstyle, why he is always portrayed with it.

Seriously, how?

2.) Why in the world do Dominican men think that hissing at women is a good way to attract favorable attention?

3.) Dominican taste in food tends heavily towards the sweet. I’ve been served Kool-Aid with (completely unnecessary) extra sugar more times than I can count, and every morning my coffee has a thick crust of sugar at the bottom. And yet there is hardly any chocolate here. It’s good, guys! And it’s sweet! (Dark chocolate is too much to hope for here, regrettably.)

4.) When someone is walking on a road, and a motorcycle comes along, and there is nothing else on the road, only a person and a motorcycle, why does the motorcyclist have to swerve closer to the person? Further evidence needed on the subject of whether this happens to everyone, or only Americans.

5.) Baby chicks: how are they so cute?

6.) This one is only valid in my house: why is there always pee on the toilet seat?? I exaggerate; not always, only about 90% of the time is there pee on the toilet seat. Granted, there are 3 males in the house, but I would think at the very least the Don should be able to aim. The 12 and 9-year-old boys don’t really have much of an excuse in my book.

Bonus solved mystery: Saltine crackers. I used to wonder why everyone here loves plain saltine crackers so much. I mean, they’re just saltine crackers, they’re nothing special. But now I know that, in fact, Americans severely undervalue saltine crackers. They are a pretty delightful—and cheap—snack. Please, friends, reconsider the saltine cracker.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

covered in bees!

The Peace Corps asks, “Life is calling. How far will you go?” and apparently I will go into a tree covered with bees.

I’ll explain. Sunday morning, my fellow ICT PCTs and I went to the next town over to attend a round table discussion at “Geek Weekend,” a meetup of all ICT volunteers. It was interesting, although a lot of us were still pretty tired from Saturday night. Afterwards, we ate lunch and went to the river for the rest of the afternoon. A few other Dominicans were swimming nearby, and some of them were climbing up on a fallen tree that slanted across the river and jumping down into the water. Some of the guys from our group joined in, and eventually a few of the girls. My friend Cecelia reported that it was really hard to climb up there, but the jump was fun.

So I decided to try it too, after announcing that I felt self-conscious about my “extreme lack of pants.” (I was swimming in a T-shirt and underwear because I’d been wearing jeans, while others had shorts or sarongs that were better suited to the water.) Naturally, as I climbed my fellow PCTs showered me with supportive comments like “Don’t worry, it’s easy as long as you’re wearing pants!” and “Where are your glasses, Renata? Did you leave them in your pants??” Thus, my already-slow tree climbing was further delayed by frequent incapacitating fits of laughter, interspersed with me melodramatically announcing that I was going to “drown and die.”

After I had made it nearly to the jumping-off point, I thought I put my hand on a stinging nettle or some kind of sharp plant. But no, it was a pile of bees. Everyone else had missed the bees because they weren’t utilizing my smooth, “cling pitifully to the bottom of the tree,” climbing technique.

I started shrieking “Ahhhh! Bees!” and slowly climbing back down the tree. The others yelled at me to jump into the water, but I didn’t think I was far enough over the water to make it. At any rate, the bees pretty much left me alone after I started my descent.

Once I got back down on the bank, Arianna asked me if I got stung, to which I responded, “Um, that’s why I was yelling, ‘Ahhhh! Bees!’” The final damage was five stings, one on my left hand, three on my right hand, and one on my right wrist. Luckily, Stephanie had some Benadryl in her bag, so I don’t think they swelled up nearly as badly as they would have otherwise. My right hand was still pretty much out of commission for the rest of the day, and it was a little sore yesterday, but now I’m as good as new.

Of course, when I came home and showed my Dona, she told me, “Oh, those aren’t bee stings, they’re wasp stings!” I was impressed with her ability to differentiate insect stings until she added, “Because bee stings kill you!” (I do think they were probably wasps because they were gigantic, but it’s easier to yell “Bees!” in a panicked tone than “Wasps!”)

Hopefully, this will be my most dramatic blog entry for awhile, since for the rest of the week we’re just having classes, not aquatic excursions.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

unas fotos

Yay, I got to upload another batch of photos! They're all in my Flickr, but here are a few highlights.

Here's the outside of my house here. One day I came home and discovered that the bottom story had been converted to a police station.

Playa Esmerelda, aka the most gorgeous beach I've ever seen.

Me, Arianna, Claribel, and Karina, aka the best Spanish class ever! (Claribel is our profesora.)

My friend Keane risking life and limb to shake down some coconuts.

My Dominican Republic's Next Top Model pose!

un dia perfecto

Hello! It’s been a bit longer than usual between updates—I’ve been relatively busy and yet not doing anything particularly interesting. We have class from roughly 8am to 6pm everyday (with a 2 hour lunch break) and when I get home I usually play a lot of Uno with my host siblings and go to bed early. Once in awhile I reconvene with other PCTs to watch episodes of the Office or just hang out. For the most part, it’s good times, but perhaps not the most interesting blog material.

A lot of our classes have been, well, less than illuminating. Luckily, I’ve got some good PCT friends here who make excellent flow-chart-drawing companions.

Plus, whenever we get too down about having a 4-hour Excel session on a Saturday morning, we can just think about last Sunday when we all went to Playa Esmerelda, a gorgeous beach a few hours away. It was essentially a perfect day. Playa Esmerelda was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, even moreso than the beach at Nagua. Plus, our group was the only people there. The weather was great—warm and sunny, but not too hot—and I applied enough sunblock to prevent sunburn. And when we were thirsty, Keane climbed a palm tree and provided agua de coco for everyone. Even the slightly-perilous ride there in the back of Ann’s pickup truck was fun, in a roller coaster-esque fashion.

Hopefully I’ll be able to upload pictures soon, because it was an amazing day.

It wasn’t quite as exciting as Playa Esmerelda, but teaching my first Spanish-language computer class was the other high point of the week. My companeros Stephanie, Carlos and I gave a good class. Our trainer Ann described it as “freaking awesome,” which was nice J We taught the class how to save and open (guardar y abrir) Word documents, as well as how to copy, cut, and paste (copiar, cortar, y pegar). The kids had fun with the activities we planned, they understood our Spanish, and I believe they also learned how to save, open, copy, cut, and paste. Super bien!

This weekend we have another technical session on Saturday and on Sunday we’re going to a meetup of all the ICT volunteers. Also, possibly we’re going caving? I’m a bit unclear on the details, but it should be interesting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

me duelen las piernas

This weekend, my Dona and I both suffered pain in our lower extremities; she had a sore foot and I have sore thighs. Here, for your edification, are two vignettes regarding our pain.

1.) It is a hard life I lead here in the Dominican Republic, and each day I am forced to spend hours in rocking chairs, whether in my own house or visiting others. I believe I have over-extended my thigh muscles by excessive rocking chair rocking. It sounds ridiculous, but I am reasonably certain that the source of my pain is, in fact, the copious number of hours I spend per day vigorously rocking in a rocking chair. Please feel free to laugh, but keep in mind that it hurts really, really bad and also that yesterday I fell down while walking twice, because it’s really hard to walk with stiff thigh muscles. (It doesn’t help that the Dominican road-repair budget is, I believe, $3 a year.) After some deep stretches and swimming today, my legs are feeling better, but still sore. For now, I’ve stopped rocking cold turkey, but I hope to work my way back up to some quality rocking time soon.

2.) My Dona is, as I have mentioned, an excellent cook. And Dominican culture is very open to visitors and guests for dinner. So, thus far I’ve had 3 friends over for dinner, and on Friday my friends Asahi and Keane came over and were chilling with my host brother Michael and I. Michael took a deep liking to my friends and invited them over for dinner the next day. I tried to postpone the invitation, knowing that I had had a friend over for dinner the previous day and not wanting to abuse my Dona’s hospitality. Michael, however, insisted that Asahi and Keane come for dinner the next night, and that his mother would not mind more dinner guests at all because she is always happy to share her food. Since Michael actually lives here, I acquiesced. The next morning at breakfast, I told my Dona that Michael had invited my friends over for dinner, and would that be okay? She said of course, no problem. However, that afternoon she asked if my friends could come over another night, because her foot hurt. I of course that that was perfectly fine and that I was sorry her foot hurt. She went on to say that she believed her foot hurt because it was so cold yesterday (it rained and dipped down to maybe 70 degrees) and that a “short walk” would help it. She asked me to accompany her. I was planning to meet my friend Cecilia in half an hour, but I figured a short walk with a sore-footed woman would probably have me back in time. Wrong! We went on an hour-long, fairly vigorous hike across a field, up a couple steep hills, and over a few creeks (one of which involved a flying leap to cross). Hmm.

I eventually reunited with my friends and told them my story, and now we’ve all adopted “My foot hurts” as an excuse to get out of anything we don’t want to do. I urge you all to try it out in your own lives! I would give you some tips, but my foot hurts.

Friday, April 4, 2008

small pleasures

- 1 peso stamps. Last week, a fellow PCT went to the post office, only to be told that they only had 1 peso stamps (it costs 20 pesos to send a letter to the US) until next week. She opted to wait, so as not to fill up her entire letter with stamps. This week, I went to the post office and was told that they only have 1 peso stamps, and won’t get any more stamps until they use up all the 1 peso stamps. So I asked if it would be okay to put the stamps on the back of my envelope. He said yes, tore off a giant square of stamps, splashed them with a cup of water, and thwacked them onto the back of my letter. Only then did I get a good look at the 1 peso stamps. They say, “Drug addiction is dangerous,” and depict a man, unconscious or perhaps dead, with a syringe and a pile of pills next to him. They are the most hilarious stamps I have ever seen, and I am thrilled to send out correspondence featuring twenty of these jewels.
- Baby chicks. Many more people here than in Santo Domingo seem to have chickens, and that means more baby chickens! It makes me so happy to see teeny baby chicks rummaging through the trash in the ditches on my way back from school.
- Hojuelitas. This snack is manufactured by Frito-Lay but inexplicably costs half the price of other Frito-Lay products available here, like Doritos and Ruffles. A Hojuelita is kind of like a combination between a Frito and a puffy Cheeto. A Hojuelita is delicious.
- Las Cronicas de Spiderwick. My host family here gets cable, and the kids watch the Disney Channel all the time. This means that I see a commercial for Las Cronicas de Spiderwick roughly 20 times/hour. The best part is the way the announcer pronounces “Spiderwick” as “Spiderweeeek.” I also enjoy watching other kids shows in Spanish, but the highlight is definitely “Spiderweeeek.”
- The Food Dome. Every morning my Dona makes me breakfast and puts it on the table shielded by a large screen dome, in order to protect my fruit salad from the moscas (flies). There is something peculiarly futuristic about this food dome, and I look forward to its presence on the table every morning. My old Dona just used a plate to cover food with, but the food dome is far superior.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

education, dominican style

Hello! I`m waiting to observe a class on Microsoft Word. We thought it was supposed to start at 2, but now it is 3, perhaps. My guess is it will be more like 3:15.

This is something we´ve been learning about the Dominican education system: people generally have low expectations of their teachers. Classes start late, end early, and usually have a long break in the middle. The average Dominican child spends 2.5 hours in class per day.

The average Dominican teacher teaches by writing notes on a chalkboard (or reading them aloud) and having the students copy them down, word for word, into a notebook.

But, as our ebullient technical trainer Ann tells us, "Education is a great field in the DR, because there´s lots for us to do!"

We´ve been learning a lot of helpful teaching methods and a bit less about computer skills.

It seems like the class is actually maybe starting now, so I´ll cut this short.