Friday, November 21, 2008

my weekend in the wild wild east

This past weekend, Karina and I embarked on a trip out east to visit our old host families from our CBT (community based training, you may or may not recall) days. It’s about a six-hour trip, and the second main leg is in a small, cramped guagua (as opposed to the air conditioned, Greyhound-style bus of the first leg). Actually the trip had five legs: a carro publico from my town to La Vega, a bus from La Vega to the capital, another carro publico from the bus stop to the Peace Corps office, a taxi shared with Karina from the office to another bus stop, and finally the small guagua to our final destination. (FYI: Peace Corps frowns on us giving out the names of PC sites online, hence the vagueness. The reason is so that terrorists don’t find out where volunteers live and, you know, terrorize them? Which is a little dumb since any terrorist would just have to ask around for Donde la americana vive and would not even have to bother with my blog, but whatever I don’t want to get in trouble from any PC PTB who happen to stumble across the Paz Dispenser.)

So anyway! After this long journey (sustained by care package jellybeans and attempts to read People magazines on the bumpy ride), we arrived in our old neighborhood and were welcomed by our doñas. I discovered that I’d come on the oldest daughter’s birthday, although in typical Dominican fashion the family wasn’t doing anything to celebrate it. (Quinceañeros, 15-year-old birthdays, get a party if the family can afford it. Otherwise, the kid might get their favorite food for dinner, but tends to be about it.) I gave out a few gifts to all the kids—candy taken from my care packages, plus a coloring book and a deck of Uno cards, with which I was promptly induced to play. Luckily, I haven’t played too much Uno since I finished living with my training host families, so I’m pretty over my Uno burnout.

I also met their new kitten, who the family keeps tied to a pole on the patio with a short length of string. This is one of the more pathetic sights I’ve seen in this country—people here do generally keep their dogs tied up, but I’ve never seen a cat tied up before! And this one is so teeny, and on such a short string, and it desperately would like off of its string… oh, it broke my heart. (Also sad: the fact that Americans probably spend about as much on pet food as the average lower-class Dominican family spends on human food. But seriously the kitten is cuter.)

Other than the birthday and the kitten, it was a pretty standard weekend with them—I went to church, hung out with the kids, and ate doña food. The latter was an excellent reminder of why I love living on my own so much—she was the best cook of any of my host families, and I still had to cope with things like her having forgotten about my vegetarianness and giving me weird fish, cold rice, gross hot milk, and nasty gluey oatmeal. (Look, I lived with it and tried to keep a positive attitude about it for six months, but I might as well say, cultural sensitivity be damned: a lot of Dominican food sucks!)

Karina & I parted ways with our host families Sunday afternoon and caught a guagua to our friend Stephanie’s site, about an hour further east of our CBT site. The road from the capital to our CBT site is not in the best condition, but it is at least paved. Further east, no such luck! I don’t tend towards carsickness, but that was definitely a nausea-inducing ride. The pain was relived, however, by the fact that Stephanie lives about ten minutes from the beach, where we spent the afternoon relajando and getting to know some of the other volunteers in the area. (Her town has FOUR volunteers, although one of them is officially finished with Peace Corps as of this month and is sticking around to work for an NGO.)

Afterwards, we continued hanging out and also met some of the people who are there doing marine research for Columbia University. (Seriously, Stephanie has soo many people to speak English with! I’m jealous.) It was a fun night, but our 6:30 am guagua ride back was somewhat less fun, and just as nausea-inducing as the ride in. Ah well, vale la pena (worth the trouble)!

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