Friday, August 29, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

I got back to site Wednesday night—thankfully too late to attend the local Catholic youth group meeting. (I’ve been an honorary member of this youth group ever since I came here on my first site visit, and I appreciate the attempt to integrate me into the community and the kindness of the Catholic youth. However, their meetings are inevitably way too long and too boring. Right now I’m working on scheduling some English classes for the same time as their meetings.)

Anyway, so I’m back in site. My house seems lonelier without Keith and without my desk. You may recall how excited I was to discover that the previous occupants of my house left an old desk in my house. This desk significantly boosted the amount of furniture I owned, and kept many of my possessions off of the floor. But last Saturday my landlord rolled up without warning to reclaim my desk. Fortunately, each of my bedrooms has a set of drawers built into the wall, so I moved most of my desk’s former contents to the second bedroom’s drawers. I’ve also taken to referring to my second bedroom as the “library,” which is pretty grandiose considering it has maybe 20 books in it. But it has zero beds in it, so library is more accurate than bedroom. I also refer to the covered parking spot-area as my “garage.”

Luckily, the 2 plastic chairs that I left out in my yard (which contains no grass) were right where I left them, completely unscathed by the storm. (Very lucky, since my plastic lawn chairs are also my entire set of living room furniture.) In fact, my town looks basically untouched by the hurricane. Arianna, my neighbor about an hour to the east, said it didn’t stop raining in her town for two days, and I’ve heard from friends in the southwest that the roads in and out of their towns are completely flooded out.

Now that I’m back in site after a few weeks of jet-setting, I’m working on scheduling my activities for the next few months. I’m hoping to start my Escojo mi Vida (a youth group focused on healthy decision-making, especially regarding HIV/AIDS), another English class, a web design class, a computer club, a Girl Scout troop, and a school newspaper…si Dios quiere, of course.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

gustav all-clear

We get to go back to site today! It's stopped raining (and as hot as ever) in the capital. I have no idea how my site fared, but I think things should be OK--the worst of the storm passed over the southwest, and I'm in the northern-central region. Plus, my neighborhood now has paved roads (impressive, I know) so those should be in decent shape.

We've been having fun being standfasted in the capital, since we get a per diem of 550 pesos (~$15 US). Last night we went out to a French bistro that some of the older volunteers knew about and I got a delcious spinach & ricotta crepe. (As always, the best part of being out of site is the food!)

I'll let you guys know how things are at my site once I get a chance, but for now rest assured that I am well-fed and reasonably dry. (I did get my flip-flop swept away from my foot in a particularly flooded spot of street last night, but my friend Dave nobly chased it down for me.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

continuing to weather now-hurricane gustav

It's pretty wet here, but we're hanging in.

I forgot to put my plastic chairs inside my house before I left and now I am afraid that they will have been swept away by a flood. Please, keep my plastic chairs in your prayers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

bring it on, tropical storm gustav

Hey blog. Right now Keith is at the airport waiting to get home... the Internet says his flight is delayed, what with the tropical storm and all, so I don't know when he'll get to leave. Sigh!

But we had a really great week while he was here. My Peace Corps friends Anne and Tim got married on Tuesday, so we hung around for the reception, which was really cute. The PC office staff got together and got a little cake for them and some sparkling cider, and there were some really cute toasts.

Then we headed off on a 5-hour bus ride to Sosua, a beach town on the northern coast of the DR. The beaches were beautiful, although we were unpleasantly surprised by how aggressive the souvenir shop guys were--almost all of them spoke English, or at least enough to say "You are shopping? Come to my store!" And if we told them we'd come back later, they're remember it and harrass us on the way back. But still, the beaches were gorgeous (I'll post pictures when Keith sends them my way, since I'm still sans-camera) and I didn't even get sunburned, thanks to vigorous--some might say obsessively so-- application of sunblock.

We also visited the Jewish Community Museum of Sosua, which was small but interesting. It completely covered up the fact that Trujillo was a terrible dictator, but what can you expect? And it is true that, for whatever reason, he did help save some Jewish refugees, which is undeniably a good thing to do.

Anyway, after some fun, sun, and World War II history, we returned to my site for a few days. I introduced Keith around my town, where he was told both that he looked like my brother and that he looked fatter in photos than in real life (which I guess is nicer to hear than the opposite). He also helped me teach my English class, since he is an excellent speaker of English.

Then we went back to the capital where I gave him a quick tour of the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo, aka "Here are some old buildings and I don't really remember what they were for but they look pretty, right?" We got rained on a little during the tour, a prelude to today's tropical storm. Keith's flight was delayed (though I see now that it has left, whew), and I've been put on Standfast by Peace Corps, which just means that I can't travel until we get cleared by the PC higher-ups. This is pretty much fine with me, since now I'm getting per diem to stay in the capital and hang out with some of my also-stranded friends. It is raining a lot, though. Basically everything is fine here for now. The storm might get upgraded to a hurricane and then vamos a ver... (You can track Gustav on the NOAA website, if you're so inclined.) Peace Corps volunteers kind of secretly hope for hurricanes, because then we get consolidated to a safe city and PC pays for us to stay in a nice hotel! But they're also terribly destructive to the people we're working with, so we don't really hope that hard. Because we are not horrible people.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

i survived tropical storm fay

Just FYI. It was just a lot of rain. It's supposedly passed us over now.

That is all.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the Road Again

After a few pretty uneventful days back in my site, tomorrow morning I’m heading out for the capital. It’s Peace Corps Committee Weekend, where everyone gets together for a little bit of committee meetings and a lot of hanging out. I’m on the website committee and the IT committee, because in the Peace Corps I’m still a nerrrrrd.

After committee weekend, I’m picking Keith up at the airport on Monday :) We’re going to Sosua for a few days, then back to my site. Sosua’s a beach town up north. It’s also where long-term dictator Trujillo sent a small group of European Jewish refugees during World War II. (This was less a humanitarian gesture on his part and more an attempt to distract international attention from his own slaughter of Haitians, but still, good news for a few Jews.) Most of the refugees didn’t stick around the DR after the war, but there are a few in Sosua, and there’s a Museum of the Sosua Jewish Community, which you can bet this historical tourist will be visiting. And I suppose we’ll probably go to the beach. In the name of history, of course.

By the way, it might SEEM like I’m not doing any work, but actually I’ll be working strenuously on Peace Corps’s Third Goal, which is to share knowledge of your host country culture with other Americans.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Living la vida solita

I’m back from the 3-month IST, wiser and fatter from the constant stream of workshops and cookies. Now I’m living the good life in my own house! Of course, I still don’t have a working stove or refrigerator, so I’ve been living on raw vegetables and fruit and peanut butter sandwiches. It’s still really satisfying to prepare my own meals, though. And I’m getting the stove situation remedied soon—I have the stove, the tank, and today I ventured to the hardware store to buy the things I need to connect the stove to the tank. My previous excursions to the hardware store have been a little awkward, since I barely know what to do in English-speaking hardware stores, and here I find myself doing things like attempting to describe a showerhead (“I need something for my shower… right now the water just comes out of the wall… but there should be something else there… you know… a thing…”) or asking for a lock and getting a doorknob. But today I wrote down exactly what my host dad told me to buy and handed over my sheet of paper. All that’s left is to go get the gas tank filled, and then actually connect it to the stove. Luckily, I’ve enlisted my former host dad to help me with these two steps, because left to my own devices I would probably explode my house.

Not having a fridge isn’t that big of a deal thanks to the colmado system. A lot of people here don’t have refrigerators, so at a colmado you can buy a single piece of cheese, or a fourth of an onion, or basically whatever quantity you want of whatever food staple you want. You can also buy individual bread rolls, but I don’t like colmado bread very much so I sprang for a whole loaf of wheat bread at the fancy supermercado. Now I’m in a race against time to eat as much bread as possible by myself before it gets stale or moldy. I also had to eat a whole pineapple in one day so it wouldn’t spoil. It was delicious, but now the corners of my mouth hurt. Que pena sobre la piña! (What a shame about the pineapple.)

Tonight I’ve scored a dinner invitation from one of the school secretaries, who lives across the street from me. She knows I’m vegetarian and asked if “fried onions and cheese” would be okay for dinner. Um, yes please.

Update: Thanks to my former host dad, my estufa is now up and running! Bonus: my kitchen remains un-exploded. This morning I made coffee Dominican-style for the first time, and it was delicious. Dominicans use something called a Greca to make coffee. Since this means “Greek,” I’m assuming that this is also how Greek people make coffee, but I am pretty ignorant about Greek coffee so I can’t confirm that. Basically, it’s a metal pitcher, and you put water in a little compartment at the bottom, and then over that is a little strainer compartment that you fill with coffee grounds, and then over that is an empty compartment. Then you put it on to boil, and as it boils the water goes up over the coffee grounds and TRANSFORMS INTO COFFEE. Dominicans only drink about a fourth of a cup of coffee at a time, known as a “cafecito.” I have a three-cup Greco, but this morning I drank it all for myself. It still wasn’t as big as an American cup of coffee.

Friday, August 8, 2008

hello from in-service training!

The fun never stops at the Education IST!

It actually has been a pretty good time, if only because it's been awesome seeing everyone. The first day we presented our community diagnostics--pretty much everyone's lab has problems with their battery backup inversores and with unmotivated project partners. Yesterday we had a Photoshop session. Below I'm sharing my glorious creations... I'm now a master. We've also had sessions about planning our projects for the next 2 years (our project partners were supposed to be there for that part, but 1/3 of us, myself included, were solo), hardware maintanence, and grant writing.

In our free time we've been composing limericks, catching up, eating a lot of cookies, and watching movies (including the self-help video The Secret, which was probably the funniest movie I've ever seen).

Anyway, I'll leave you with my Photoshop masterpieces, starring some of my PCV/model friends:

Friday, August 1, 2008

I Get By With a Little Help From my Friends

Hello, all! I haven’t had too many blog-worthy adventures at my site lately, although I am preparing to move into my house soon. So I thought I’d take a moment to blog about some of my fellow volunteers, my wonderful network of friends who are like Army buddies, except we don’t kill people. Instead we call each other up in tears because our committee meetings got cancelled again, in laughter because we’ve shit our pants (according to the close-of-service surveys, this happens to something like 90% of volunteers… the combination of sketchy food and sketchy access to the bathroom leads to a number of unfortunate accidents), or in desperation because we need to know the Spanish word for “Q-tip.”

I’ve definitely mentioned them by name, and posted many pictures of them, but I’ll give you a little introduction to all of my nearest and dearest, from the Peace Corps DR class 08-01. (We’re the first class of volunteers from 2008. The second class arrives August 21st, meaning my group will officially no longer be the baby volunteers!)

There are 36 of us—36 of us came into country together and we’re all still here, which is somewhat remarkable. Usually by this point at least a couple volunteers have dropped out, but we all seem to be going strong. My class of volunteers consists of 15 ICT (Information Communication Technology) volunteers, myself included; 2 Special Education volunteers (the special education program is being phased out); and 19 Community Environmental Development volunteers. (In the DR, Education and Environment volunteers arrive in February, and Youth, Health, and Community Economic Development volunteers arrive in August.)

My friends and fellow volunteers include:

Karina, a fellow ICT volunteer. Her father is a development worker and her mother is an international schoolteacher, so Karina grew up in Uganda, Cypress, Jordan, and at least one other country I’m forgetting. She was my closest neighbor in Santo Domingo, at least until I moved away from my emotionally abusive doña, and she is hilarious. She is also a champion player of Race 21, an inspiration to us all with a score of over 12,000. (My best is 10,500.)

Arianna, also ICT, is from Florida but moved to LA after college, where she experienced all the glamour of Hollywood while working as a production assistant to a variety of shows, notably Supernanny. (Supernanny, apparently, is an unpleasant woman who refers to herself in the third person when she wants something.) Arianna is my closest PC neighbor and we meet up in La Vega fairly often to use fast Internet and complain. Arianna’s Spanish skills jump up a notch when she is angry and needs to tell someone off, particularly if they have been attempting to rip us off.

Stephanie, also ICT, is from Iowa and knows where Grinnell is. In college she studied veterinary science and art history and Islamic culture and Latino literature, and when she graduated she started her own florist business. She is also an excellent seamstress and has fixed nearly everyone’s clothing here. Stephanie is a volunteer who is most frank about bodily functions, which says something because we all talk a lot about them.

Asahi, also ICT, is from Hawaii by way of Japan. She is smart and blunt and knows how to make hats out of palm leaves. She used to be a social worker, and she also used to work at Disney World, where she was alternately Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, and I think also Chip and Dale. Did you know that to be Mickey or Minnie, you have to be under 5 feet tall? And to be Tinkerbell you have to weigh in between something like 93 and 97 pounds. Apparently if you are too light, you won’t fly right on the wire. But if you are too heavy, you will break the wire. For this reason, Disney World employs many Tinkerbells, in the event that some of them gain or lose weight. I talk to Asahi about things besides Disney employee trivia, but for now I’m just sharing the Disney trivia.

Keane, also ICT; is from Hawaii by way of India. After college, he made his living as a jazz guitarist/social activist, while studying Brazilian jujitsu on the side. Somehow, he is the head of our Peace Corps modeling ring. His shiny, lustrous hair makes him the best fake model and attracts the envy of Dominicans everywhere. Awhile ago I told Keane that I didn’t really think we’d be friends when we first met because he was always all, “Blah blah blah, global development is serious business.” And he said, “Well, it is!” And then we pretended to be sorority girls.

Trisha, also ICT (aka Pa-TREE-cee-ah, Dominican style), is from Kansas and used to be a social worker. Like most of us ICT volunteers, she doesn’t really know why she was placed to work with computers. She knows that the secret to happiness is making fun of The Secret.

Justin, also ICT, is from California and he is the only one of us to have a degree in computer science. Despite this degree, before Peace Corps he was making a living as an aikido instructor. Thus, he knows more about both computers and ass-kicking than the rest of us do. He is the official paparazzi of the group and has been known to take hundreds of photos in a single night out.

Ben, also ICT, is from Ohio and has a degree in electrical engineering. The rest of us suspect that this makes him more knowledgeable about computers than we are, but he denies it. Ben’s time in the DR has rapidly transformed him into a dominos shark, and he no longer has enough patience to play with lowly domino novices.

Tim Beard, a special ed volunteer, is from New York and has a beard. This has earned him the creative nickname “Tim Beard,” or occasionally “Beard Tim.” Tim Beard enjoys wearing Birkenstocks, tie-dye Grateful Dead shirts, and his beard. Last week Tim Beard had a small spot of benign skin cancer removed from his beard. He was concerned that the doctors would make him shave off his beard; they did not. Tim Beard is engaged to another volunteer, Anne.

Anne is an environment volunteer from Colorado. She is engaged to Tim Beard, but is planning to keep her own name to avoid becoming “Anne Beard.” Once she was describing her high school to a group of us, and someone said “I wish I had gone to your high school!” and Anne said, “I went to Columbine High School,” and Keane said “This is the most improbable conversation I’ve ever heard.”

Chris, an environment volunteer, is from Oregon. During staging we did an exercise where we had to write 5 words to describe ourselves and everyone else did adjectives and Chris picked nouns, earning him the nickname “Snow,” which was one of his nouns. (Chris likes snowboarding, which there’s not a lot of here.) He is a SCIENTIST who worked on curing diseases and making ink before he came here. Chris was in my Spanish class in Santo Domingo and once described baptism as “bañando con Jesús,” “bathing with Jesus.”

Jen, aka JT, is an environment volunteer from New Mexico. This confuses Dominicans, who believe that she is from Mexico. She has alarmingly blue eyes. At present I cannot think of any charming anecdotes about JT, but know that she is hilarious.

Jenna, an environment volunteer, is from Pennsylvania. She was a model before Peace Corps, and still dresses like one, to the amusement of all. She still gets down and makes compost piles with the rest of the environment volunteers, but she does it with style. Jenna does not like to watch the show America’s Next Top Model because “all those girls whine like being a model is so hard. It’s the easiest job ever, you just sit around and usually you get to keep the clothes.”

Joel, an environment volunteer, is from Pennsylvania. He is a former college football player and fratboy and, contrary to stereotype, is one of the most friendly and likeable people I’ve ever met. He was a camp counselor during college, and we like to talk about how awesome being a camp counselor is. Joel and Jenna both have weirdly intriguing Pennsylvania accents. I didn’t used to think of Pennsylvania as having its own accent, but this sample size of two proves that there is one.

There are more awesome PCVS, of course, but I’ve probably gone on long enough about my new friends, the ones who are here with me trying to stay sane while creating some sort of sustainable development in a country that often seemss only half-interested in developing itself.