Friday, May 30, 2008

a hard week´s weekend

Incidentally, I learned that the Spanish version of "A Hard Day´s Night" is basically like "Oh, a night like such a day!" which really does not have the same ring.

Anyway, I hitched a ride into La Vega on one of my family´s many church visits to use the cheaper and faster Internet available here. They are slightly disappointed that I am not actually going to church with them, but it is their own fault for telling me that this superior Internet existed a mere two blocks from their church.

This week has been a little stressful, but today there was an end of school party for the teachers that was fun. I spent a lot of it playing catch with my project partner´s 5-year-old daughter, but I was also coerced into dancing merengue with one of the other teachers. Then, when my host dad got home two hours later, he told me he´d heard that I dance merengue really well. Oh how the chisme (gossip) travels!

Other than today´s exciting Internet trip (and merengue excursion) I´m planning to lay pretty low this weekend.

Monday, May 26, 2008

indiana jones & the air conditioned mall

Greetings from another oh-so-busy day at the Centro de Fe y Alegria! I´ve been here for 2 hours and so far the most productive thing I´ve done was eat a piece of cake. It was pretty good cake, though. As far as I can tell, there were no first period classes today, since all the teachers were in the teacher´s lounge frantically filling out their grade books. Second period, the students all showed up wearing suits (instead of the uniform of khakis and a blue polo shirt, or en espanol, polo che azul) and with cakes and cups of soda. Why? I could not begin to tell you. I guess it is some sort of pre-finals celebration, or perhaps another Dominican holiday which no one has explained to me.

Now the kids are continuing to eat cake in the classroom, but my project partner and I have moved to the computer lab. She continues to fill out grades and I, clearly, have begun to write up a blog post. I asked her if I could do anything to help, and she said ¨Not now, but soon.¨ She´s still grading away, so we´ll see.

For now, I´ll blog about my awesome weekend! Friday, Arianna and I met up in La Vega to take a bus to Santiago, the DR´s second-largest city, together. She had arrived at the bus station a little before me, and when I went to buy my ticket the woman at the counter asked if I was meeting another young woman here and pointed out Arianna. Yes, thank you, we gringas do travel together. When we got into Santiago we weren´t really sure where we were going. We had some loose directions to our hostel; we had to find a hospital across the street from a mall and cut through the hospital parking garage. We looked at our map and thought we´d figured it out, but we found the wrong hospital. After consulting several passersby, we ended up in a carro publico, even more crowded than usual since Arianna and I shared the front seat along with our two backpacks (and she had brought a big hiking pack). But we eventually made it and immediately fell in love with our hostel, the Hub. It´s run by a couple of expats, more or less not-for-profit. They have reduced rates for Peace Corps volunteers, and it´s adorable. There are cute quotes painted on all the walls, the living room has homemade cushions made out of bandanas, there´s a little lending library, and a full kitchen available to use. The proprietors were out camping this weekend, so they just told us the keycode to get in and asked us to leave our money in manilla envelopes when we left and to please not leave a mess.

After dropping our stuff off at the Hub, we headed back out to the mall to soak in a bit of consumerism. We ate at Pizza Hut, reveled in the air conditioning, and looked at a bunch of stores that were way out of our Peace Corps price range. Eventually the rest of our group joined us and we headed out to a grocery store in search of food that was neither rice nor beans. We ended up with an enormous quantity of chips, candy, and ice cream, which we happily devoured while listening to music and speaking to each other in English. Stephanie attempted to make use of the kitchen by baking a rum cake, only to discover that the oven was out of gas. Undaunted, she took her raw cake over to the neighbors to see if she could use their oven. She could, and the cake was delicious. I also used my culinary expertise to improvise a dip out of plain yogurt and chive flavor cream cheese. The best part was that to get the plain yogurt at the grocery store, we had to have an impassive-looking man holding a very large machine gun open the dairy case. And then we had to have him open the other dairy case when we couldn´t find plain yogurt. Please sir, may we have some yogurt? Also, please don´t shoot.

On Saturday morning, Asahi arrived on the first bus in and adorably slipped fresh flowers on everyone´s pillows. I was already up, so together we cut up fresh fruit and made pancakes and coffee. We all had a lazy morning eating breakfast (including the rest of the previous night´s ice cream) and then set off to attempt to meet up with Chris´s youth group, our ostensible reason for going to Santiago. We took 2 guaguas in opposite directions, consulted a lot of passersby, and eventually gave up on finding the group. They weren´t doing anything interesting anyway, just hanging out with the other youth group on the outskirts of Santiago.

Instead, we got some delicious Mexican food for lunch and shelled out $150 pesos to see Indiana Jones y el Reino de la Calavera Cristal. (Here is my one-word review of that movie: WHAT.) Afterwards, I headed back to my site. Regrettably, I left too late and ended up bankrupting myself, since by the time I got back to La Vega, the carro publicos had stopped running and I had to take a private taxi home. (At a cost of $300 pesos—about $10 US—instead of $30 pesos, about $1 US.) Oh well, it was a good weekend and I get my next Peace Corps stipend in a week.

On Sunday, I went with my family to a big Mother´s Day family reunion/party at some kind of pool somewhere near Bonao, further south. It was a very… Dominican place. In the US, if it had been in the condition that it was, they would have closed it for renovations. Here, they happily continued to rent it out for private functions although the main building was very under construction. The pool was interesting; it wasn´t chlorinated, and as far as I could tell it was just river water. There was a small canal on each end of the pool and the water came in from one and eventually flowed back out through the other end, forming a little waterfall as it rejoined a river.

There was also a beach volleyball court (1/3 sand, 1/3 gravel, 1/3 grass) and an outdoor billiards table. It was a pretty fun day. At first I felt awkward because my host family just abandoned me to the crowd and didn´t really introduce me to anyone. And also apparently no one else in the family knew that they had an American host daughter, because when I tried to introduce myself to people they were pretty bewildered.

Eventually, I fell in with a gang of bossy kindergarten-ish kids and had a lot of fun with them for most of the day. Then I went home and nursed my knees—the one I scraped last week and the one I scraped when a five-year-old girl tackled me to the cement bottom of the pool.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

updated tps report

Greetings, all!

First, a clarification about my address: still the same ´ol Santo Domingo address, and will be for the duration. My town doesn´t have a post office, so I can´t get mail here; I´ll just have to pick it up whenever I go back to the capital. (And, unfortunately, it´s going to be a pain to send mail to you guys. Sorry! I´ll do my best.) You can, however, put PCV after my name instead of PCT, since I officially passed training. I´ll also take this opportunity to subtly remind you that I have slightly updated my care package wish list and that my birthday is less than a month away. Just sayin´!

Anyway, life here continues on. I´ve been installing some new programs on computers in the lab and attempting to update anti-virus software. Also, yesterday I spent most of my morning calling every PCV I could think of to track down the Peace Corps´s Windows key, when it turned it that I actually already had it on one of my CDs. My job is kind of Office Space-esque, to be honest. I´ve also attempted to form a committee for my community diagnostic. So far I have two teenage girls, both of whom think I am pretty dumb. Whatever, muchachas, just because I tried to schedule a meeting for June ¨Ten and four¨ instead of ¨Fourteen¨ doesn´t mean I don´t know how to do a community diagnostic. Actually I don´t really know how to do a community diagnostic, but neither do they, and I have some handouts.

On Sunday I attended Catholic mass with the nuns, to the general approval of many old Catholic ladies. On Sunday I also tripped over a rock on the sidewalk and fell literally facefirst, scraping my forehead a little bit and my knee a lot. This frightened the nuns, who thought I had fainted. I didn´t know the Spanish word for clumsy so I had to explain, ¨No, I didn´t faint, I´m just not very graceful.¨

In my free time I´ve been doing a lot more yoga (despite my skinned knee, possibly the most severely painful yet lame-sounding injury there is), reading a lot, getting really good at Race 21 (the card game installed on my cell phone), and walking around—when the temperature dips below 90, anyway. Tomorrow is another Dominican holiday so I´ll be doing a whole lot of those things.

On Friday, I´m heading into Santiago for the first time. One of the other volunteers is having a big meeting with his Escojo group (Escojo is short for Escojo Mi Vida, I Choose My Life. It´s a Peace Corps initiated youth group based on teaching youth how to make healthy decisions, particularly regarding sexual health) and a bunch of us are coming to observe. Also, word on the street is that Santiago has a really awesome hostel that often has hot running water and also has a lending library. Plus, it´ll be great to see other PCVs again.

Hope all is well with all of you!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

pa´lante que vamos

Well, I survived Dominican elections! Current President Leonel Fernandez was re-elected, as expected. Things were pretty mild here in my town; people were definitely out and about yesterday but nothing extreme.

I´ve been trying my best to kill time this 4 1/2 day weekend. I´d really just like to start my project, but since no one else in the country works around election time, I can´t either. I´ve done my best to adjust to the Dominican custom of just dropping by people´s houses unannounced and hanging out for hours, but it´s a little awkward for Americans to partake in.

I´ve also read my way through two books in the last week; a little worrying, since I only have 7 books to last me until I can get back to the Peace Corps lending library. Additionally, I have set a new high score on Race 21, the game that came with my cell phone.

I´ve also continued my small talk efforts with my host family, but they don´t talk to me very much. They have, however, prayed for my ¨heart to be opened.¨ They seem a little friendlier since Wednesday, when I explained to them that I do not work for the Catholic Church, but rather for the US Government. Overall, it´s another slightly awkward living arrangement, but they´re nice enough and soon I hope to be very busy with my project.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

vamos pa´lante?

Hello, hello!

I´ve been settling in at my site the last few days. Things are going pretty well; getting used to the new awkwardness of living with a different family, getting used to hanging around the school here (I still don´t know most of the teacher´s names but they mostly know mine), and getting used to having much more limited Internet access (alas!) My computer lab lacks Internet, although the encargada is theoretically interested in maybe trying to get Internet someday, si Dios quiere. The only Internet café I´ve found so far (there is a storefront labelled Centro de Internet elsewhere in town, but it is a completely empty room) is terribly slow and has unpredictable hours. Still, better than nothing, which is what a lot of the Environment volunteers have in terms of technology.

The biggest news around these parts, aside from the new gringa in town, is the election on the 16th. Dominicans tend to get way more excited about politics than Americans. Then again, maybe Americans would get more excited if our politicians had parades where they threw whole salamis at the crowd, as would-be Dominican president Amable Aristy does. People here are known to paint their entire houses the colors of their political party, or to paste a giant portrait of their candidate of choice on the roof.

On the other hand, Americans would probably become even less engaged with politics if American candidates adopted the habit of paying giant speaker trucks to drive around towns blaring their message. Current President Leonel Fernandez even has his own specially-written hiphop theme song featuring his campaign slogan, ¨Pa´lante, Presidente!¨ (A slangy way to say, ¨Forward, President!¨)

Anyway, supposedly President Fernandez is pretty much a shoo-in for reelection, which is handy, since in the DR changes in office tend to have weird repercussions in social programs. And since technology in schools is one of Leonel´s pet projects, a new President could possibly be bad news for me and my fellow ICT volunteers. Not that our labs would be closed down, or anything, but I have a feeling that the already-slow centralized computer repair program would take a hit.

Speaking of slow, I´ve been installing Microsoft Encarta on another computer here in the lab for almost two hours now and it´s still not done. Goodness me. Luckily, I´ve learned the art of computer cloning, so instead of installing Encarta on all 20 computers (a full 40-hour work week), I´ll install it—and my other shiny new programs—on this one computer and then copy this hard drive to all the other hard drives.

(Alternately, I´ll goof up the cable order and copy the bad hard drive onto the good hard drive and have to start over again, so, keep your fingers crossed for me!)

Friday, May 9, 2008

in the peace corps for real!

Yes, it's true, I survived the Peace Corps graduation ceremony. My speech went well and seemed pretty well-liked, so, yay! Plus we got sweet Peace Corps tie tacks, so that's worth it.

Since then we've been sucking all we can out of the capital. Last night we all went out to a discoteca/car wash (a common multi-use space here) and today we went to a pool party at the Ambassador's house. It was pretty amazing, and the poolhouse had hot showers! And now we're sharing our swanky Marriott room, complete with air conditioning and hot showers! So spoiled.

Anyway, I'm sharing this computer with others so I'll keep this short, but basically life is good and tomorrow I'm returning to my site!

Oh, and I lent my camera cord to a friend who inadvertently left it in some unaccessible lugagge, so I won't be able to share any new photos until I get that back.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

fotos, la grippe, and brief fame

Hello, hello! I'm back in the capital after my site visit. Yesterday was Dominican Labor Day, which I celebrated by hanging out at a colmado with my companeros and drinking juice. (Not a euphemism, for the record. A bunch of us are getting over a mild bout of "the grippe" [Dominican for any sort of cold/flu illness, in my case a cold], so we really were just drinking juice.)

I also uploaded some photos of my site. As always, the whole set is on my Flickr, but here are a few highlights.

Here's my school!

And my computer lab!

Here's my host family, minus one of the older sisters who is away at university.

A view of La Vega. My region is a valley between two mountain ranges. It's pretty!

And finally, a note on my brief fame--on Thursday we're having our swearing-in ceremony, to commemorate the end of training and the beginning of our stint as actual, real-deal volunteers. Some people from the US Embassy will be there, as well as some Dominican officials. Our group had to elect someone to give a speech at swearing-in, and we picked, um, me. The speech has to be in Spanish, which I am un chin (a little) nervous about, so I'll let you all know how it goes.

Anyway, after Thursday's graduation, we have a big party at the Embassy on Friday and on Saturday we're all shipping out to our sites for the duration!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

my new hobbies

1. Hoarding cough drops. As a sign of welcome, a handful of kids have presented me with single Halls cough drops. It´s not because I seem sick, it´s because here in the DR Halls cough drops are sold individually and consumed like candy. They are technically fruit flavored, but they are definitely the mentholated kind, and to my American taste buds they are not that desirable. I am, however, hoarding them for the eventuality that I come down with a cough.

2. Getting lost. My barrio is not very big at all and I only live three blocks from the school. Nonetheless, I seem to rediscover new, and significantly longer, routes to school all the time. Word of this has spread and once I arrive at school, I am generally not permitted to walk home alone.

3. Providing endless answers to the five questions all students know how to ask in English: What´s your name? What's your full name? Where are you from? Where do you live? and What is your father? The last one is kind of deep; what, indeed, IS my father? I also receive bonus ¨Weird American¨ points when I tell them that my middle name is Kay, since to a Spanish speaker, Kay = Que = What?. My middle name is What. I also spend a lot of time explaining that, haha, no, I´m not an engineer, I studied English in school. I´ve also started lying and telling people that I am a teacher, because otherwise I feel desperately underqualified for this job. I am still pretty underqualified for this job, but at least calling myself a teacher gives me some sort of street cred.

4. Frowning at mosquitos. They are too abundant and too speedy for me to make much of a dent in their population via swatting, but I give them all stern looks as they steal my blood and possibly give me the gift of dengue fever. Hopefully they feel chagrined.

5. Listening to kind of creepy Christian radio talk shows. This is less a hobby and more an enforced act, given the frequency and volume with which my host family plays such programs in our house. The hymns are pretty, at least.

Friday, May 2, 2008

greetings from the center of faith and happiness

That´s what the school I´m assigned to work with is called, El Centro de Fe y Alegria. This is my third day here in my project site, and it´s pretty nice! It´s a high school with about 1000 students. The lab has 20ish computers, all of which work--pretty novel. There´s also a laptop and a projector, which are pretty prized commodities in Dominican labs. Regrettably, there is not Internet and thus far the only Internet cafe I´ve found in town is pretty slow. I guess that´s what I get for moving to a developing nation or whatever.

Project Partner Day--where all the new PCTs meet up with our project partners for the first time--was interesting. At first we were all milling around, waiting to be introduced to our partners, and idly speculating about the nun in the group of project partners. It turns out that I am working with the nun, and she is rad. She´s the principal of the school (it´s a public school, not a Catholic one) and is really on top of things and really supportive of me. My other project partner is the lab encargada (basically the boss of the lab) and she´s great too. My lab is already in good shape compared to what I´ve been trained to expect: it´s in good working order, it has working inversors (battery backups for the frequent power outages), it has classes for the community up and running... so my partner informed me that I don´t really have much to do with the lab, but could I teach English classes? I said sure, and the next thing I knew I was being taken from classroom to classroom and having it announced that I would soon be teaching English classes on nights and weekends, and they would be very inexpensive. Granted, I´m not really supposed to be doing anything in my first three months here except work on a community diagnostic project (more on that later, probably), and I am definitely supposed to be helping in the lab in some capacity, but I´m sure I can teach English too. I have, however, been warned that every community will beg for English classes and immediately lose interest after a few weeks, so we´ll see how that goes.

My new host family is nice. They´re vegetarian too, which is pretty rare and really nice! Regrettably, they also all abstain from coffee. They are heavily Adventista, which is one of the minority religions here. This is a source of conflict for my nun, who apologized profusely for the fact that I had to live with a family who wasn´t ¨Catholic like me.¨ Eh... whatever. It is also a source of conflict in that they apparently go to church for 12 hours a day on Saturday.... they leave at 9am and come back at 9pm. I´m committed to observing computer classes tomorrow so I won´t be able to experience that endless church session, but I feel I´ll eventually find myself without an excuse.

I´ll try to post some pictures when I can, si Dios quiere! (Si Dios quiere means, if God wills it. It´s kind of a Dominican catchphrase for uncertainty and/or getting out of stuff. ¨Sure, I´ll come to the meeting, si Dios quiere...¨)

Internet here is pretty slow and I´ve been pretty busy, so apologies if I´m even later than usual in returning email.