Thursday, October 30, 2008

los encargados del futuro!

Hi, everyone! Just a quick update from the Peace Corps IT Encarcados del Futuro youth conference! It's been a lot of fun. I'm having a great time hanging out with my fellow volunteers, and I'm happy that my joven has made friends and gotten to participate in this experience. Going to camps and workshops and things is a lot less common for Dominican kids than it is for American ones, so I'm really excited that Peace Corps gives these kinds of opportunities.

Anyway--I'm going to go hang out with people, but I will leave you with my joven's video. It's a nice look at my town, and he and his friends worked really hard on it. I'm really proud of it--I didn't help them at all, this is all their work and it's well done. It is in Spanish, but it has minimal text and a lot of nice pictures. Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2008

another weekend in paradise

Buenos dias!

I hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty decent, although Friday there was a 24-hour apagon (power outage), leaving my laptop long dead by the time I hoped to watch a movie after dinner. But I’m just going to count my blessings, since at least the freaky power-flux thing that briefly happened around 9pm didn’t fry any of my electronics, although I was terrified that it had until the power came back Saturday morning for me to test things out. It was probably just the neighbors trying to get their DeLorean powered up.

Saturday morning I went to teach my English class, though only one student arrived and he adamantly did not want to have class if no one else was there. That’s fine, kid, but you should know that people pay a lot of money for one-on-one foreign language tutors in Nueva York. I spent the rest of the morning charging my cell phone at the school (because I was afraid the power at my house was still experiencing disturbance), reading, and observing preparations for this afternoon’s graduation ceremony.

(There’s been a flurry of phone calls amongst my fellow education volunteers and I about why are they having a graduation ceremony right now? They had one this summer, presumably for those who finished at the end of the school year. The fall semester is still in session, so these couldn’t be kids who are graduating at the middle of the year—unless they’re having the ceremony early? Arianna asked her Dominican friend and got the information “It’s for last year,” but couldn’t get any followup.)

Anyway, my school—which is in a fairly well-off Dominican town—had a pretty nice graduation ceremony. I wish I’d have had my camera to take pictures, but I lent it to the joven I’m taking to the IT youth conference (on which more later). They held it on the covered outdoor basketball court—the audience sat in the bleachers and the graduating students sat on plastic chairs (covered with white cloth & with big yellow bows tied around them) on the court. There was also a wedding-looking, white-draped, flower-laden mesa de honor (table of honor), where the principal, a few chosen teachers, and the official from the local Secretary of Education office sat. ALSO the ceremony started with a performance by a marching band (note: the school itself does not having a marching band; this was a group of adults and I do not know where they came from) and some colorguard-esque (but without flags) marching performance by some of the younger kids.

I can’t tell you how the ceremony concluded, because it was long and I got bored and took a phone call and then just left about two hours in. (Hey—lots of parents were excusing themselves to go get ice cream in the middle of the ceremony, so I don’t think leaving for a phone call is beyond the pale.)

Yesterday was filled with good intentions and not that much productivity—I meant to go to church, but didn’t quite get myself out of bed in time. I meant to mop my floor, but… that didn’t quite happen. I meant to go visit my crazy dona friend, but… never ended up leaving the house. I did, however, watch a lot of old West Wing episodes, so not a complete loss.

My biggest problem right now is that visiting people is still an obligation for me, not something I look forward to. It’s stressful to sit around and make small talk in Spanish, and I don’t really have people here I consider close friends. I know people like it when I visit them, and I know it’s a good way for me to practice my Spanish, but it basically feels like a chore, rather than a relaxing social activity. Once I actually start talking to people it’s not that bad, but it takes a lot of time to convince myself to get out of the house and over to visit someone. Anyway, so this makes me kind of a hermit. I just have to keep taking things paso a paso (step by step), I suppose!

On my agenda for today: at 2:30 I’m meeting with M., the student I’m taking to the Peace Corps IT Youth Conference, which is this Wednesday through Friday. Basically, all the IT volunteers get together and bring an interested student or two from their community, and the jovenes get to meet other jovenes and they go to a bunch of workshops about things like Photoshop and web design. It’s by nerds, for nerds. Also, there’s a video competition, so all the kids have to make a video about their communities to submit. M. and I have scheduled a bunch of meetings to work on our video, but he has only attended one of them. Hopefully he will attend this one, since the video is due in two days.

After that, I’m teaching English from 6-8. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll have a fair amount of luz tonight, because teaching by the light of cell phones is really a sub-par method.

Friday, October 24, 2008

don´t curse the darkness, light a candle... er... open your cell phone

This season’s Gringo Grita is, mas o menos, completed, and I’ve been back in my site for a few days now. I hurried back on Monday to make sure I was there in time for my 6pm English class—which, of course, no one attended. Oh well. It is nice to be back, though. I’m glad I had the excuse to be away for so long. I was definitely getting a little disenchanted, but after 9 days away I’m feeling much happier and saner here. I was particularly glad that upon my return, my nun greeted me with “Te echamos de menos!” (We missed you!) instead of the common Dominicanism “Tu estabas perdida!” (You were lost!) They both mean basically the same thing, but to Americans (at least among me and my circle of friends) it is way more annoying to hear “you were lost!” than “we missed you!”

Being away gave me a chance to put all the stuff that was annoying me about my site in perspective. Like: yes, it’s annoying that my town watches me like paparazzi on Brangelina, but they do it out of affection. I need to step back and take some things less personally—advice we’ve been given since day one at Entrena, but advice that’s decidedly tricky to actually follow. I mean, interpersonal relationships are one of my biggest stressors, how am I supposed to take those less personally? I guess the thing isn’t exactly to take them less personally, but to correctly interpret the cultural signifiers present in every interaction, which can be exhausting. (This exhaustion has actually been helpful in my quest to overcome my American sense of productivity. It’s hard to get too worked up about only working a few hours a day when you’re sleeping ten hours a night and maybe throwing a nap in there too.)

So it’s good to be back. And! Last night I had a pretty successful English class, after 3 weeks (granted, including one week where I was perdida) of trying to get them off the ground. The illiterate student left, but two new students came, bringing me up to three, all of whom seem interested and dedicated. Dedicated enough to stick around for the whole class, although the power was out for about half of it. I asked if they wanted to go home, but instead they used their cell phones to light up their handouts and we kept on going in the dark.

Friday, October 17, 2008

a few highlights

  • On Tuesday we exited the office after a long day of work, only to have the night watchman tell us Alla hay un carro en fuego!. Joel and I looked at each other and said, "Um, did he just tell us there's a car on fire?" The watchman confirmed, and further clarified that it was the white one across the street. We headed over to watch the car burn for awhile, then stepped back when the fire truck arrived. It did not smell pleasant.
  • Later, we went to the American Sports Bar, an establishment favored by Peace Corps volunteers for its proximity to the PC Office, its low prices, and large number of televisions showing American sports. We discovered that it has been decorated for Halloween, a holiday which is not tradionally celebrated by the DR. The American Sports Bar is apparently overcompensating, and it was just... absurdly decorated. Orange and black balloons, spiders & bats hanging down every 6 inches, giant inflatable pumpkins, cats, and spiders... and this is all in a kind of seedy bar with its own betting parlor. In the Dominican Republic.
  • Wednesday, I splurged at the grocery store on some Double-Stuf Oreos. Somehow the six of us devoured the entire package in a couple hours, despite repeated protestations that "I'm not even hungry, they're just so creamy!"
  • Overheard when Joel was talking on the phone to his family: "We're really busy... we get here around 9am, take lunch around 1pm, then an ice cream break around 4..." (It is true that we are busy. But it is also true that we aim for a daily ice cream break, thus making this more awesome than the average 9-5 [or 9-8].)
  • Friday was Joel's birthday, so we went out for Italian food and gelato. We started talking about the newest Batman movie, Dark Knight. If you haven't seen this film, you need to know that Batman speaks with a weird low, growly voice, and the Joker has scars around his mouth that he continually licks. So as we were eating our gelato, I started being Batman and Joel started being Joker:
    Joel: (Licks lips)
    Me: (Growly Batman voice) Do you... do you want some gelato?
    Joel: (Licks lips)
    Me: It looks like you want some gelato. Here... we can share.
    Then the next day at the office we started using the Batman voice (being the only girl left in the office, my Batman voice is less impressive than Joel and Bobby's, but I try), especially to make the most mundane requests or statements.
    Joel (normal voice): Hey, how do I change this to black and white?
    Me (Batman voice): Click Image, Mode, Grayscale.

    Joel (Batman voice): I need to find a good image of Hannah Montana for this article.
    I literally laughed until I cried about three times.

So we've been having some good times as we work our 10 hours a day on the Grita. It's a lot of work, which is a nice change from being in my site. Plus there is the sense of bonding and shared delusionality from being in the same office with a group of people for this long. We're hoping to finish up tomorrow and get back to site. (Bobby, as editor-in-chief, has to stick around until it's completely finished, but by Monday we should be done enough that the rest of us can go home.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Oh my goodness, one more thing I have to share... a girl just came in to show off the PCDR Obama supporter T-shirt she's working on making, and they say OBAMANOS 2008: Ya tu sabes.

This is basically the most hilarious thing I've seen all day... "Obamanos" being a play on "Vamanos," (the Spanish "v" is pronounced more like "b," so "vamanos" is usually said more like "bamanos") Spanish for "Let's go," and "Ya tu sabes" being a really common Dominicanism that literally means "you already know" and is kind of just something you say when you assume the other person agrees with you.

Seriously... Obamanos. Hysterical.

Okay, I'm out.

que lo que?

Greetings from the Gringo Grita office (aka the PC library), where 7 intrepid volunteers are slaving away to produce PCDR's trimestral publication. A few highlights:

  • Joel: Does anyone know how to make an eñe (ñ) on this computer?
    Evan: N... just hit N really hard.
  • Evan (knowing of my hatred for avocados): I think we should run an ad for avocados. Renata can write that.
    Me: Or I could... kill you with an avocado. I'm just going to smash it in your face. Until you die.
    Evan: That could be one of their selling points!
  • (All of us, drunk on Internet, have become obsessed with the Genius Toolbar for iTunes, which creates playlists it thinks you will like.)
    Me: I LOVE this song! God, Genius is amazing.
    Evan: That's why they named it after me.
  • Then there was the 5-minute-long discussion about Kelis's song "Milkshake," specifically pondering what, exactly, "milkshake" refers to.

Anyway, probably most of our antics aren't nearly as funny to anyone who wasn't there for it, so I'll stop the list. But we're having a good time--definitely the best time I've ever had while spending like 8 hours on an Excel spreadsheet. I've been compiling and analyzing the anonymous close-of-service surveys from volunteers who are leaving the country soon. Here are some stats: 18% of this volunteer class butchered an animal in their site; 80% are going to grad school; 44% fell in love with a Dominican and 54% had sex with a Dominican.

Per usual for trips to the capital, I'm eating a lot of delicious food, although I'm burning some of it off from GG dance parties (por ejemplo, to Kelis's "Milkshake.")

Thursday, October 9, 2008

News in Brief

Oh, hello there. It’s been awhile since my last missive, I suppose, so here’s a brief update of my doings:

  • In an attempt to break my “I’m not doing anything worthwhile” funk, I took a little trip to Santiago to stay at the HUB, the world’s most glorious hostel, with some of my most glorious friends. We ate some glorious food (Pizza, eggrolls, ice cream) and saw a not-that-glorious movie (Tropic Thunder—the theatre’s air conditioning was pretty glorious, though). Unfortunately, I got some kind of glorious food poisoning from some of the glorious food and was pretty sick for awhile.
  • Upon my return to site, I was still pretty sick, so this week found me sleeping 12+ hours a day, living on Saltine crackers and making my last gallon of bottled water last for like three days because I couldn’t deal with the thought of carrying a 5-gallon bottle back to my house. (Note: I have new water now, and I’ve graduated back up to foods like couscous and homemade hummus.)
  • I also somewhat pitifully continued my attempts to start English classes. Again, no one has attended my 4-6pm class (which I specifically added because a couple kids’ parents told me 8pm was too late for the ninos to walk back home), but I have a couple students for my 6-8pm class. It’s really not as much fun as my Saturday morning class, though… on Monday my students were: one 30-something woman who already knew a little English and was really motivated to learn, and one 10-year-old boy who is being forced to take this class by his mom, does not really want to learn English, and is illiterate in Spanish, let alone English. You can’t really play many games with two students, especially when one of the students will just give you a blank look until the other student supplies the answer for him. I don’t really want to just give up on the illiterate student, but I think he needs to get a handle on Spanish before he tackles English. On Wednesday, the illiterate boy returned with his older sister, and my original other student couldn’t make it. (She told me she probably wouldn’t be able to attend every class, since she has 2 kids.) I did a repeat of the first class, and the new student picked up the material much faster than the kid who had already had it once. Vamos a ver.. it’s not like in the US where, in theory, I could tell the boy’s parents “Hey, you know, your son is illiterate, maybe you should get some extra help for him,” because… there isn’t really any extra help. A fairly large number of illiterate kids make it through the Dominican school system. (Of course, some illiterate ones make it through the American school system, too.) And I don’t really feel remotely qualified to teach Spanish literacy… I can barely teach English and I’m fluent in that! I know my friend Stephanie has been teaching a 20-year-old Dominican friend of hers how to read, but her friend is motivated. I don’t think this kid really wants to learn how to read, which makes it trickier. If he keeps showing up to English class I’ll have to do something…

    In summary, my new batch English classes—which my project partner, school principal, and assorted people in the street have assured me that are oh-so-important to the community—have, after 3 weeks of putting up posters, telling people in the street, telling people who show up at my house asking about class, and asking English teachers in the school to tell their students about them, attracted a total of 3 students, one of whom is illiterate. This in addition to my Saturday English classes, which have 10 students on paper, and around 4 students on Saturday mornings.

  • Meanwhile, on the front of my computer lab (aka my actual Peace Corps project), a couple weeks ago I was told that we had received new batteries for our backup system and that we could start using the lab normally again. I even grudgingly got permission to start working on a school newspaper (the nun told me it would be better if I waited until we got our SECOND computer lab, which the Secretary of Education is supposedly going to give us this year, but since we both know that will probably never happen she said I could try to start now). I was also asked to update the anti-virus software, which I am happy to do. Except that when I tried to get into the lab to do so, I was told that we could still only use the lab when there is electricity because the new batteries haven’t actually been installed yet.

  • Apologies for this long, boring explanation of why I can’t do anything in my site.
  • Since your tax dollars are paying for me to be here, I feel I owe you all an explanation of why I am mainly sitting around my house watching Arrested Development and The Office on my computer.
  • I also spend a lot of time sleeping.
  • But you can’t say I didn’t try.
  • Most of the other PCVs have assured me that no one is very productive their first year in site so I shouldn’t worry about this.
  • It’s still kind of worrying.
  • Anyway, next week I’m going to the capital to work on the Gringo Grita (the PCDR magazine). One of the staff members dropped out of Peace Corps and I got asked to replace him. So, hell, I’m not doing anything in my site, I might as well work on some sort of IT project that might benefit somebody. Also, I will be in the capital receiving per diem, which will allow me to eat falafel and pizza.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

minor victories

This is a little blog entry dedicated to all the small victories that help me get through my days here. Some days it’s tempting to get frustrated about little things like how my computer lab still may or may not be working, how again no one showed up for my English class (although after I gave up and left the school, a man at the colmado asked me when I was starting my English classes… I said Today, an hour ago, but no one came, and he said Oh I wanted to come, but I forgot), or how yesterday I waited two hours to talk to the nun about various projects I want to start and then she rescheduled for Wednesday.

… But instead of dwelling on those things, dwelling on my fears that I am not motivated enough to do this, that my town is not motivated enough to participate in my development projects, that I am wasting my and everyone else’s time, that maybe I am just not the right kind of person for the Peace Corps, (okay, maybe I’m dwelling a little), I’m going to focus on SMALL VICTORIES. Such as:
  • Yesterday, while I was visiting the home of a woman who uses my visits as family therapy sessions and who reads aloud to me health articles about things like “The Uses of Broccoli” and “Fiber: Why It’s Important,” a woman who had previously (somewhat condescendingly) offered me Spanish lessons in exchange for English lessons, told me, “You don’t need Spanish lessons, you know a lot of Spanish! I thought you knew less.”
  • I have scheduled a meeting for this afternoon with M., the student I’m taking to the Peace Corps ENCARGADOS DEL FUTURO youth technology conference, so we can talk about the video project we’re supposed to prepare for the conference. (I’m counting having it scheduled as a small victory although the meeting hasn’t happened yet and he may or may not show up; he’s a pretty good, reliable kid [which is why he gets to go to the conference with me], but still, it might rain or something.) Note: M. did, in fact, show up. Hooray!
  • This weekend, a couple of very cool Youth volunteer trainees came to visit me. (As part of training, trainees go to visit volunteers to see what life is like. The visit is supposed to come earlier in training, and it’s supposed to be a 4-day visit, and they’re supposed to visit volunteers of the same sector, but this group’s training has gotten all messed up by the hurricanes, so they just got sent out for a short visit to whatever volunteers happen to be closest to their community-based training site.) It was a lot of fun to show off my town, and they were appreciative of both my awesome Disney Channel posters and my stash of American food.
  • Last night I did a bunch of dishes that I’d been lazily leaving in the sink all day in the hopes that running water would come back. It didn’t, so I filled up my sink with a bucket and cleaned them right up.
  • I fixed my greca coffee maker so it doesn’t leak out the middle when I pour it anymore!
  • I just beat Burger Shop, this addictive Diner Dash-esque game I downloaded! Um, it gets pretty hard at the end, when there’s all kinds of sauces and really complicated sandwiches to make… and it was very vital for my development work. True story.

PS: Devon, I would love any and all gossipy magazines, regardless of date. Thank you x 1000!