Friday, June 27, 2008

The Best and Worst of Dominican Food

The best:
- Fried plantains. The plaintain—a big, unripe banana—is a staple of Dominican food. It’s not that remarkable of a food, but it is delicious fried. Kind of like home-fried potatoes, but with a richer, earthier taste. Yum.

- Tostones. These are plantains that are fried, taken out of the oil and mashed with a fork, then fried again. Seriously, Dominicans know how to fry shit up.

- Skim Ice. These are definitely the best possible use of a 5-peso coin. They’re just popsicles in a plastic tube, but they are way, way better than American plastic-tube popsicles. They have a better texture and a stronger flavor, and they come in awesome flavors like passionfruit and guava. Plus, guys stand on the road and sell them to you through the windows of hot, crowded guaguas, which makes them taste even better.

- Yogen-Früz. I believe I have blogged about Yogen-Früz before, but it is worth mentioning again. Yogen- Früz is kind of like Cold Stone Creamery, but with frozen yogurt and fresh fruit. And they blend it more thoroughly so it’s a soft-serve-smoothy type thing. And it is delicious. I do not know where Yogen-Früz came from, or why it has an umlaut in its name, but I am very happy it has arrived in the DR.

- Fresh fruit. It’s mango season, and I’ve been eating, on average, two fresh, delicious mangoes every day. Plus there’s pineapple, papaya, watermelon…mmm. Weirdly, my Dona likes to sprinkle raisins on top of sliced mangoes, but this is fine.

The worst:
- Boiled plantains. Mushy and flavourless. I don’t understand why Dominicans do this to plantains when they could just fry them.

- Spaghetti. I remember the first time I was offered spaghetti here. I was so excited to have something besides rice and beans. Oh, how innocent I was then, how little I knew of the horrors of Dominican spaghetti. First of all, it’s always overcooked and mushy and oily. Second of all, they don’t put any veggies or anything in the sauce, it’s just plain tomato sauce. Third, and worst of all, they do put condensed milk in the sauce. The result is a horribly mushy, squishy, flavourless, terrible food product.

- Seriously, Dominican spaghetti is so bad it deserves to be on this list twice.

- Mondongo. I haven’t actually eaten this—my vegetarian card gets me a pass—but I have been offered it and smelled it. It’s a traditional Dominican dish made out of cow intestines. Grosssssss.

- Powdered milk. It is gross and lumpy and my Dona gives it to me boiling hot to put over cereal.

- Rice and beans. This is actually okay—although the beans are always on the salty side—but I am absurdly tired of eating them every day. I’ve been too spoiled by the variety of my hippie American diet.

PS: Del, about the guy with the machine gun guarding the yogurt--dudes with machine guns are pretty common here. You usually see at least one sitting on a lawn chair in front of a bank, for example. So I think this guy was just the grocery store's standard guart with machine gun who happened to be hanging out in front of the dairy cooler, not that he was particularly guarding the yogurt at gunpoint.

Also, a note about roosters--my friend Trina got a care package with about 20 pairs of earplugs. She gave me a pair on Sunday and my life has been REVOLUTIONIZED by them. I sleep through the night now! I no longer spend abnormal lengths of time fantasizing about killing roosters! It is so awesome.

A Day at the Beach

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to go on a paseo—trip—to Sosua Beach with the other teachers from my school. I received information about this trip Tuesday afternoon, as apparently everyone assumed I already knew about it. My nun told me to get there between 6 and 6:15am the next morning. Like the foolish, foolish gringa that I am, I got there at 6:05am. I think we finally left around 7:30, and arrived at around 11am.

We promptly began bargaining for deck chair rental—the nun refused to pay more than 50 pesos and the first deck chair rental guy refused to rent for less than 60. After about 5 minutes of heated debate, we went further down the beach and found someone who was happy to rent our group chairs for 50 pesos each. During the bargaining process, the nun used the line “We’re not TOURISTS;” repeatedly and disdainfully. I will definitely have to remember that one next time I try to bargain somewhere. Not that anyone will believe me.

Anyway, we settled into our deck chairs, which were awesome. It was the least sandy I’ve ever gotten at the beach. The beach at Sosua was definitely more touristy than Esmeralda and Nagua, the other two Dominican beaches I’ve been to thus far. The whole beach was lined with resorts, and there were tons of little restaurants and souvenir shops right on the sand. Plus, of course, the for-rent deck chairs. But since it was a summer Wednesday, there weren’t too many gringos in sight.

For awhile I lounged on my deck chair and read, which bewildered my co-workers—people here don’t really read for fun. I thought maybe teachers would, but apparently not. Then I went out into the water with some of the teachers. Mostly they were just standing around in the shallow water, but a couple of them broke away to swim out farther. I went, too. I wasn’t really paying attention—I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I was pretty blind—but apparently I went out further than the others. When I came back, everyone freaked out about what a good swimmer I was and how far I went. Now, I would say the last time I spent any length of time swimming was in middle school, before I quit swim lessons. I know how to swim, but I’m definitely not Olympic caliber. But, most Dominicans don’t know how to swim at all. I know, I know, you’d think living on an island, you’d get around to learning at some point…but you’d be wrong.

Then we went back on shore to eat the lunch we’d brought, which turned out to be boiled plantains and chicken. (So for me, just boiled plantains.) I hate to sound like I didn’t appreciate my free lunch, but, well, I didn’t appreciate my free lunch. Luckily, I’d also packed my own saltine crackers and raisins and was pretty well set.

Afterwards, I took a nice nap and went out for another swim. I set off by myself to some freakishly-far off point and was approached by another swimmer, who asked if I spoke Spanish. “More or less,” I said, and he pointed out that I was swimming on top of a coral reef, which, not wearing goggles or glasses, I had utterly failed to notice. Granted, we’re not talking about the Great Barrier Reef or anything, but it was still pretty awesome. The other swimmer lent me his snorkel and I paddled around for a little bit, checking out some small bright-blue fish and some little brown sea urchins. That was about all the reef had to offer, but I was impressed. I gave the guy his snorkel back and he asked me if I knew what an “erisco” was. I did not, so he swam down and came back with one in his hand for me. It turned out to be a sea urchin. I held the one he’d brought up for me. They wouldn’t make the most exciting pet ever, but it was interesting to flip it over and watch its little sucker-mouth go. I set it back down in the reef and me and the swimmer guy (and later, his friend) hung out on the reef and talked for awhile. The reef was tall enough that we could stand on top of it and have our heads above water, although with the tide it was hard to stay standing on such an uneven surface. Just was I was about to head back to shore, a wave knocked me down into the reef and my foot made contact with an erisco. Ouch!

I swum back to shore uneventfully and called the Peace Corps medical office. Or actually, I called some other volunteer, who told me that her number seems to have been listed in place of the Peace Corps medical office’s number somewhere, since she gets this a lot. So next, I called my friend Arianna, reasoning that she’s from Florida, so she’d probably know what to do in case of sea urchin attack. Or, barring that, would probably be able to tell me he actual medical office number. She told me the ends of the quills would work their way out of my foot on their own, and that they weren’t poisonous. (We briefly debated whether there might be poisonous sea urchins here, but decided that if there were, our alarmist training nurse would have told us about them a couple dozen times.) Then she told me to make the stinging stop I could either put vinegar on it or pee on it. At first I was sceptical about the latter advice, but then remembered that our aforementioned alarmist training nurse had advised urine for jellyfish stings so I figured it was legit. Not having access to vinegar, I paid 10 pesos to rent a shower stall and self-medicated my foot. It promptly felt much better. Hooray!

By the time I was finished with that ordeal, we were packing up for the bus trip back home. The next day, all the teachers gossiped about what a good swimmer I am. One of them told me I swam “like an airplane.” I think those usually sink in water, but oh well. It was nice to be the center of attention for some reason other than not speaking Spanish fluently or having pretty hair.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Useful Dominican Spanish Words and Phrases

"Se fue la luz": the power went out. (Lit: the light left.) The DR has a severe energy shortage and la luz se fue many times per day. Some places only have a few hours of luz a day.

"Inversor": inverter. This is what well-off Dominicans rely on when the luz se fue. It´s an uninterrupted power supply that charges a series of car batteries when there is power and uses those batteries to provide electricity to the house when there isn´t.

"Alla": there, America. When someone refers to "alla" with no other description, it means America. Most Dominicans have a father, brother, or cousin who is currently working "alla," generally Nueva York.

"Nueva York": New York, America. Dominicans believe that New York and America are interchangeable. I have a very hard time explaining to people that yes, I am from the USA, but no, I am not from New York. I have pulled out a map and showed them how New York is only one small corner of my country. It does not go over well.

"Ay, que calor!": Wow, it´s hot. In casual conversation, Dominicans throw out this phrase like punctuation. It is always true.

"Estas sudando": You´re sweating. This is something Dominicans frequently feel the need to point out to me. I´ve compared notes with other volunteers and found this to be true across the board. Dominicans, although they frequently comment on the heat, generally do not actually sweat. We Americans, however, sweat with great profundity. And, just in case we hadn´t noticed, Dominicans will helpfully point our sweat out to us with this useful phrase.

"Si Dios quiere": If God wills it. You may recall this phrase making previous appearances in this blog; it´s a key Dominican phrase. People use it to politely avoid meetings, to express hope about the success of projects they are unwilling to work on, and to instill fear into Americans who casually say things like "See you later!"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

the sound of (relative) silence

The Pension Quisqueya (aka the Pen), where most PCVs stay in the capital, is not nearly as nice or homey as the HUB in Santiago. It doesn't have cute inspirational quotes on the walls, it doesn't have a kitchen, it doesn't have a friendly lending library. But it does have one key advantage over the HUB, as well as over my site: the Pen is out of range of roosters.

Before I came here, I never realized how much terribly loud roosters are. In popular culture, they are portrayed as friendly, charming alarm clocks; a "cock-a-doodle-doo" at dawn and you're good to go. This is a completely inaccurate portrayal of roosters. Their cry is more like "EHHHH EHHH EHHHHHH" and it has more than a passing auditory resemblance to terrified screaming. Their cries are loud, unbelievably loud for such a small animal. Their cries cut right through headphones. And, worst of all, their cries are not limited to dawn. Their cries start up around 2am and last well through the morning.

Since roosters run around everywhere here, Dominicans are all used to these sounds and think nothing of them. They do not understand why I wake up at 2am every day, or why I have severe trouble falling asleep again when such cacophany is present.

I am still a vegetarian here, but now I fantasize about killing roosters. In my fantasies, I kill them with an axe, swiftly and cleanly. I know that in reality if I attempted such a thing, the roosters would undoubtedly evade me with ease, and the axe would be much heavier and harder to manage than it is in my fantasy. I know that I would be horribly disgusted if I actually beheaded even a single rooster. I know that my neighbors would be very angry with me if I killed all their roosters.

Nonetheless, I run through this fantasy every night when I wake up to rooster cries. Occasionally, I attempt to construct an alternate fantasy, one where I am soundproofing my room; this is less satisfying.

But this weekend in Santo Domingo, I am offered a brief respite from my enemies, the roosters, and this alone makes my 2-hour trip worthwile.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

getting spoiled in santo domingo

Hello from a 23-year-old! I'm ringing in my new year in the nice, air-conditioned Peace Corps computer lab. I've actually used the Internet so much the last few days that I don't really have anything to do, but it's free and fast so I can't stay away. At least not until we leave to get PIZZA HUT for lunch.

This morning we walked over to the grocery store and got doughnuts and yogurt for breakfast. (Whenever I leave my site, this turns into a food blog... I can't help it! I'm so excited to eat non-Dominican food of any sort!)

Last night, following a delicious dinner of falafel, we met up with a few older volunteers and went out dancing. I don't think I've blogged yet about the "car wash" phenomenon. Here, places called "car washes" (in English, not like a "lavaderia de carros") are car washes during the day and open air dance places at night. Sometimes, they are not even car washes during the day, they are just called car washes. Anyhow, we went to a car wash and bachata-ed it up. It's nice going out with a group of Americans. Sketchy Dominican guys tend to get intimidated by the group and are less likely to be, well, sketchy.

Today, as I mentioned, we're planning on getting pizza, and I think some of us are going to try to see Prince Caspian. Basically, we're pretending we're in America this weekend. It's pretty rad.

Thanks for the birthday wishes, all!

Friday, June 20, 2008

happy day-before-birthday to me!

Hi everyone! Just a quick check-in from the free Internet at the Peace Corps office to say that my birthday soiree was delightful. All my favorite PC people came for a yummy lunch at the Embassy (I had spinach ravioli, a fruit salad, and a cold Coke Zero) and a relaxing swim in the pool. Followed by a nice, hot shower. Life is good. The only tragedy is that I forgot to bring the little paper umbrellas I bought in La Vega. Oh well, they'll spice up the next PCV gathering.

Then we all came back to the PC office and shared the bounty of our received care packages; Asahi got about 20 pounds of chocolate and Karina got a People magazine. (I demanded that she read aloud the story about Miley Cyrus's photo shoot scandal. Also, an interview with Pete Wentz.) Now we're regrouping before dinner at the falafel restaurant.

I feel a little bad being out of my site for 2 weekends in a row, but last weekend was WITH people from my site, so it doesn't really count. Plus, it's my birthday so I can do whatever I want.

Also, I picked up an ESL resource book at the library, so this was a completely necessary trip, as I'm starting teaching my English classes next weekend.

Regrettably, Keane forgot to return my camera cord, so I probably won't be uploading any new photos until August. I still look pretty much the same, just a little thinner, a little tanner, and a little older.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Weekend with the Catholic Youth Group: A True Life Adventure Story

So, on Thursday afternoon my nun asks me if I want to go to a camp this weekend with the church youth group. I say yes, because, hey, I like camping and I like hanging out with youths and most of all I like weekends where I´m not hanging around my town bored to tears. She directs me to talk to one of the girls in the group for details. The girl is not very forthcoming, but I am able to extract a few things—meeting at 2:30 on Friday, should bring a swimsuit and walking shoes… I can do these things, no problem.

So at 2:20 I show up at the designated spot with my carefully stuffed backpack and my full Nalgene for the ride. I´m the only one there, but I remember—I´m in the DR, no one is ever early for things! I wait until about 3 and then I start to get a little panicky. Where is everyone? Did I misunderstand where we were supposed to meet? Did they already leave without me? (Looking back, I see now how quaintly American such fears are, but at the time it was a concern.) I walk down the block to the school and drop in the nun´s office to ask her if she knows where the group is meeting. She reconfirms the place where I had been, but tells me to check the church too if no one is there. So I head over to the church, and no one is there. By the time I get back over to the other church building, around 3:15 or so, a few kids with duffel bags are there. I was in the right place all along, just foolishly early according to the Dominican operating procedure.

Eventually, everyone shows up and we pile ourselves and our belongings into the back of a big truck. (I´m not exactly sure what kind of truck this was… bigger than a pickup truck, smaller than a semi, but with a big open bed in the back, where we all were). It´s a pleasant hour-long ride to the campsite, which turns out to be part of a monastery in the mountains. The main monastery building was beautiful; ours was decrepit and musty. But hey, it was only a weekend. The rest of the day passed pretty uneventfully. We unpacked, ate dinner (where I blew most of the kids´ minds by politely declining fried salami), and had a little prayer meeting.

The next day, things got interesting. We got up and had hot chocolate and dinner rolls for breakfast. Then the kids asked if I wanted to go on the hike with them. I said sure, thinking, “Hey, I like hiking, and this is only scheduled to be from 8:30 to noon, how bad can it be?” They all seemed pleasantly surprised that I wanted to go and all asked if I was SURE. I again said yes, figuring myself to be in at least as good of shape as some of these kids and knowing I´d survived some tough hikes before. Plus, all the kids were only bringing one small container of water and one packet of Saltine crackers. Also, they kept referring to the hike as a loma, “hill.” Again: how bad could it be?

The answer, it turns out, is pretty bad. Although it had been cool when we left, it soon heated up. We definitely did not have enough water, and I had brought an extra bottle compared to what the kids had. The hill was very steep, at least a 45 degree angle incline almost the whole way up. I personally would not have called it a “loma,” more like a “MONTAÑA ENORME.” Most of the young muchachos bounded up the hill with confidence, but I ended up with the slow group, gradually trudging our way up the hill. After about 2 and a half hours of hard uphill climbing, we got to the top of the hill. I was thirsty, exhausted, and drenched in sweat. We stopped to admire the view and I congratulated myself on making it to the top. Then, one of the kids said, “Well, let´s get going to the top of the second hill.” Excuse me? SECOND hill?

But, not wanting the kids to think I was a big American cupcake, I kept plodding my way up the second hill. It was even harder going—steeper and rougher than the first. In several places we had to climb up on all fours. Two hours later we made it to the top, passing on our way several members of the fast group who were already on their way back town.

At the top of the second hill, it turns out, there lived a man in a little cabin with some sort of radio tower. I was unable to fully understand what he does there. He gave us all water from his well, and I mentally debated drinking it, remembering all the horror stories about Dominican water the Peace Corps medical officer had told us—if I drank it, I would probably get amoebas or parasites from the unclean water, and if I didn´t, I would probably pass out from dehydration on the way back down. I quickly gave into my thirst and drank about a gallon of Dominican well water. (Thus far, no ill effects! Either I dodged the bullet or some parasites are just biding their time somewhere in my system... vamos a ver.)

We spent some time at the top just resting and admiring the view, which was admittedly even prettier than the view from the top of the first hill. We were also waiting for one of the girls in our group to feel better; she had fainted near the top and been carried the rest of the way up. (Not too surprising, considering the lack of food and water involved with this strenuous hike.) After an hour she was still more or less unconscious and one of the guys in the group used the mountain man´s radio tower to call the Cruz Roja (Red Cross). We were assured that the Cruz Roja would arrive to help us very quickly. I was dubious; nothing ever happens quickly in this country, and besides, they still had 2 gigantic hills to climb.

Eventually, the mountain man advised us to build a stretcher and start carrying the girl back down towards the Cruz Roja people. The boys in the group got to work finding appropriate pieces of wood and then lashed a cut-up rice sack to them. It looked very dubious to me and I didn´t see how on earth anyone was going to be able to make it down that narrow, steep, uneven path carrying a stretcher. I kept my doubts to myself, however.

The six of us started down the path: one unconscious, four carrying the stretcher, and me carrying the unwieldy and useless first aid kit. (Seriously, it was really heavy and it didn´t even have any Band-Aids or antibiotic cream. Instead it had a huge box of tongue depressors, a bottle of cough syrup, a bunch of rubber gloves, some cough drops, and some Pepto-Bismol.) I lucked out with the first aid kid assignment, but it was still tricky working my way down the slope with one hand free. At first I didn´t have any free hands because I was also carrying the fainted girl´s plastic water bottle. I was extremely reluctant to litter, although it was clear that many, many people before me had had no such reluctance. However, it didn´t take me too long to decide to further desecrate the mountain trail rather than continue hiking down with both hands full.

We didn´t get too far before the carriers decided the stretcher was too unwieldy. They abandoned it and continued trying to carry the girl down in a variety of positions. Not too much further on, it started to rain, and the group decided to stop and wait for help. They sent one of the guys down the mountain to tell the others about what had happened and to see if the Cruz Roja was on its way. Some more time passed and the group decided to send me down too, reasoning that the group at the bottom still didn´t know what had happened. This made no sense to me, since no matter what that first guy would still make it there before I did, but I was anxious to get down off the mountain myself, so I went.

The rain had picked up, and what was already a steep, difficult path quickly became a treacherous mudslide of doom. I could only take about three steps without falling on my butt. I tried going down backwards on all fours and just ended up awkwardly sliding down on my knees. I gave into the path of least resistance and ended up sliding down most of the second hill on my butt, bruising myself and cutting up my hands in the process. During one of my attempts to travel upright, I fell and twisted my ankle. Nothing too severe, but painful. Around that point I gave into my urge to sob hysterically and continued sliding down a mountain on my butt, in the rain, weeping. Pretty much the most pathetic thing ever.

I eventually did make it down, and I had passed a couple Cruz Roja guys on my way down. I still wasn´t really sure how they were going to get the fainted girl back down—the path was only going to get worse as the rain continued. However, at that point my more pressing problem was “What am I going to do with these clothes?!” I was so incredibly filthy, just utterly caked in mud. I ended up leaving my pants and shoes outside on the porch and taking a painful, yet satisfying shower. The next day I went down to try to clean my clothing in the river. I got the worst of the mud out and was content, setting my clothes out to dry on a rock. However, the group´s resident Dona, one of the kid´s mom, noticed my clothing and was dissatisfied. She took my clothing and began pummeling it against a big rock. I could not believe how clean she got everything! Plus, now my jeans have that trendy “distressed” look that you usually have to pay extra for.

Anyway, they did eventually get the girl down and took her to the hospital. She was fine and they took her back to the campsite the same night, gracias a Dios.

The rest of the trip passed relatively uneventfully, although my incredibly sore muscles and hands made (and continue to make) such activities as walking, sitting, and holding things unpleasant tasks. All in all, though, I survived my weekend and I´m glad I went. However, the next time a bunch of Dominican kids try to get me to go on a hike, I´m definitely going to insist on a few more details.

Monday, June 9, 2008

greetings from the dentist's office

Fun fact: touch-typing blows Dominicans´ minds. The students in the lab basically think that I am a witch because I can type so fast without looking at the keyboard. It draws a crowd. I try to hype the new software I´ve installed, telling them that if they practice using TypingMaster 2000 they, too, can type with mystical speed, but so far it hasn´t caught on yet.

I´m hoping to go use the Internet today after I leave the lab. The Internet center only has 4 computers so it can be a little hard to get a spot. It´s basically my town´s Studio 54. (Exciting note! The Internet cafe's inversor--backup power supply--was broken and the power was out, so I decided to act on a tip one of the nuns had given me and see if I could find the other Internet center that apparently opened up. I got thrown because I thought it was BY the dentist's office, but it turns out it IS the dentist's office. I mean, it used to be the dentist's office--there aren't drills or anything here now--but they haven't changed the sign. This new place, despite the lack of advertising, is nicer and faster than the old one! Hurrah!)

I had a pretty mild weekend; I spent a lot of it at the school observing the community technology classes. I´ve been asked to go help teach, but this is hard, since the teacher herself does not teach. The students are meant to work out of a book of exercises, but roughly half of them spend their time playing Solitaire. The teacher walks up and down the aisles, carefully watching them play Solitaire. Since she doesn´t see fit to tell them to stop, I definitely don´t feel like it´s my place to do so. But since they´re not actually doing any work, they don´t need any help. They´ve got Solitaire pretty under control.

Saturday night I ate dinner at the convent. The nuns gave me a peanut butter sandwich and I was so happy! Peanut butter, the staple of poor American vegetarians (and children) costs like $6 a jar here. Then I came home and dramatically broke my host family´s refrigerator.

I opened it to get some water and the entire door fell off. Then the freezer door fell off, too. I awkwardly tried to hold everything up until my host sister came to help. We ended up getting everything propped back into place and leaned a ladder against the fridge to keep it shut. Unfortunately, my Don was still away on the couples retreat, so we just had to leave the refridgerator shut until he came back--no cold drinks, dairy products, or fruit for 24 hours. Fortunately, when he came back he was able to fix it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

what happens in la vega, stays in la vega

Just kidding, why would I keep a blog if I wanted to keep anything about my life private?

Arianna and I have had an awesome time in La Vega today. I´m using Internet for the second time!! So decadent. We spent the morning shopping around. I purchased: one new pair of headphones (the left ear on my old ones died, making them very unsuccessful at blocking out rooster noises), a small mirror, Off! Deep Woods, mini-packets of Kleenex (easier to carry around than a roll of toilet paper, which is necessary since most public bathrooms do not provide such luxuries), a bag of chocolate covered raisins, and a Tupperware (to keep ants out of my chocolate covered raisins).

Then, while browsing a shoe store we befriended a vegetarian Dominican who recommended a restaurant to us. Then, when we asked for directions, she just took us there on her way home from the store. So nice! And the food was delicious. Although let´s face it, these days I´m thrilled with pretty much everything that isn´t rice or beans.

This weekend my don and dona are going to a couples retreat (let´s hear some sitcom audience-style OOOOHs), so I´ll be pretty much on my own this weekend. This is fine, because it means I can prepare my own meals. Ones which contain neither rice nor beans.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

are you there, blog? it´s me, renata

Hi everyone! I´ve had a bit of a cold lately, but today I took some Sudafed, which I don´t usually do, and now I feel GREAT. I wonder why I never used to take Sudafed? Now I think I´m going to take some EVERY DAY. (Just kidding, don´t worry, I´m not on the path to cold medicine-addiction… yet.) Seriously though, so awesome. And trust me, I´m going to need this Sudafed buzz to get me through tonight´s youth group meeting… I´ve taken to attending the Catholic youth group meetings every Wednesday, to get some street cred with the community and get to some some of the kids, and let me tell you, these meetings are unbelievably terrible and boring. Part of it, I´m sure, is that my level of Spanish only allows me to follow roughly 75% of the goings-on. Part of it is also that they routinely insist on spending 2 and a half hours on roughly 30 minutes of material. Well, 45 minutes of material if you count the prayers. But, like I said, I´m building some community confianza, and they´ve tempted me with their vague offer to let me go on trips with them. My biggest fear is that I will be asked to lead a prayer at one meeting. I discussed this with my PCV friend Keane, a fellow Godless-heathen infiltrating a Catholic youth group, and we brainstormed possible prayers… “Dear God, all of these people seem to believe in you, so…” “Dear Invisible Señor…” (PS no offense, Christians! Also please no one tell my town´s priest about my blog, okay?)

Anyhow, I´m writing this here in my school lab, anxiously awaiting Friday, when I go into La Vega to run some errands. I´ve been broke since Santiago, but now there´s more money in my Peace Corps account. I just need to go to a city with a bank to get it. Luckily, I don´t really need money—I´ve already paid my host family for the month, which covers my room and board, and I don´t have any transportation costs in my site, since I can walk everywhere. Pretty much all I need my spending money for is snacks and Internet. However, snacks and Internet happen to be two of my favorite things, so I´ll be happy when they are accessible again.

This week so far has been, well, kind of boring. The kids at school are having exams, so I can´t really observe classes. I´ve been installing some educational programs on the computers in the lab and trying to get teachers to do the survey I printed off. I also completed the thrilling task of updating all the anti-virus software on all the computers. (It is perhaps a sign of the current boredom of my life that I actually did find this process thrilling. I found deep satisfaction in deleting all of those dang viruses. Some of these computers had SEVENTY viruses on them. But now they don´t. Take that, viruses!)

I´ve also started planning my English classes and my technology summer day camp, so I´m getting excited about those. It turns out that my Peace Corps document kit has a pretty good English as a Foreign Language syllabus, so I´m going to adapt that. And my technology summer camp is going to be three weeks in July, with activities in the computer lab as well as good old outdoor games. Plus, a bunch of kids signed up for it, despite the doubts of my nun. According to her, there´s also a summer daycamp run by the mayor, one that offers free T-shirts. Apparently, as alluring as free T-shirts are, there are also plenty of children attracted by computers (and the American). Of course, we´ll see how many kids actually show up regularly, but I´m optimistic.

I´ve also been busy planning my birthday party. This year it´s going to be a highly classy affair, to be held at the United States Embassy. It´s not as impressive as it sounds, since the Embassy pool and cafeteria are open to all Peace Corps volunteers (and, I believe, all US citizens), but it should still be a lot of fun. The Embassy pool is very nice, and the Embassy pool house has hot showers. Perfecto. Plus, anytime a group of Peace Corps volunteers get together, it´s pretty much bound to be a good time, with Spanglish and “So, guess what my Doña did…” aplenty.