Thursday, March 26, 2009

living "comfortably"

Since I wrote my last entry about how I’ve adapted to living here, I’ve been thinking about my lifestyle. I wrote that I live “comfortably” on my US$300 a month, which is true. But I think maybe I should take this opportunity to say a little more about how I actually live here, if only to keep everyone from getting too jealous of me.

First of all, my house. It’s undeniably sweet, especially by Peace Corps standards: three bedrooms, indoor bathroom, kitchen sink, tin roof AND ceilings (a lot of people have a tin roof but no ceiling, so there’s like a gap between the roof and the wall and birds get in), tile floors (some people only have cement, or dirt), and a big cistern in the backyard.

But there are downsides, of course. For starters, on my Peace Corps stipend, the only furniture I have is plastic lawn furniture. This is fine—my tables and chairs meet my basic furniture needs, and they are easy to move and clean. Still, when I go visit people and sit on their padded couches, I do feel the occasional pang of longing. Then there are my electricity and water situations, which are sporadic. I generally get luz a few hours on, a few hours off throughout the day, which is really only annoying when the few hours off end up being 6-9pm. The water is more of a problem, since my town only has running water a few days a week (and then only when there is also electricity, since the pump that distributes water to houses is electric). I’m pretty set, since as I mentioned I have a big cistern, so I can fill buckets and drag them inside, but it’s definitely way nicer to have running water, let me assure you.

Then there’s something I never really considered before, but: glass windows and window screens are both super useful for keeping out dirt and insects. I have neither; instead, my windows are covered with metal slats called persianas, which are either open—thus letting in sunlight, breezes, dust, and mosquitoes—or closed, keeping everything out (kinda). As such, my house requires more sweeping and dusting than I am actually willing to do. Also, there are more mosquitoes than I would prefer to have. I sleep under a mosquito net, though usually one or two get in there with me.

There’s also the food situation, which for me actually isn’t that big of a problem, thanks to the huge influx of nonperishable groceries (and candy) my parents brought me, plus the lovely care packages I get from lovely people like you. But basically: Dominican food (and thus Dominican grocery stores) lacks variety.

Anyway, I’m writing this up not to complain—after all, I signed on for this, and frankly I was expecting worse. So I guess I’m blogging about my vida a) again, so you guys know not to be too jealous of my lovely, lazy Peace Corps existence and b) so you guys know: living in a developing country—not that bad. (Depending on the country. And the region of the country.) And maybe c), so that you guys don’t take your electricity and water for granted (but also so you know that it’s not actually that hard to live without it, at least not all the time).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a return to normalcy

Whew! I’m getting settled back into my site after being MIA for so long (2 weeks gallivanting about with mom & dad; 1 week working on the Gringo Grita in the capital, 1 weekend barricaded in my house recovering from Grita and not socializing with everyone).

I just hosted a new volunteer for four days, which was a ton of fun. (As part of training, the new PC trainees go out to visit a volunteer in their site to get an idea of what the experience is really like). Having my visitor was a lot of fun, both because she was a super cool girl (who requested to watch High School Musical her first night here, yessss) and because all her questions were like a flashback to my early days (yes, the arrival of a new batch of IT volunteers means that I’ve been here for a whole year! Ay, Dios santissimo!)

For example:

Q. Wow, your house is huge! Do all IT volunteers have houses like this?
A. Yes, basically. We’re the swankiest of PC volunteers… we all tend to be placed in pretty well-off areas, so these are the kinds of houses available. So we really are living like our neighbors, which is a Peace Corps objective….it’s just that are neighbors are way better off than in the average Peace Corps site.

Q. So how much work do you do in an average week?
A. Like… six hours. I mean, I try to plan more activities… and also I sort of count every time I have to speak Spanish to someone as doing work, which raises the amount of work I do…

Q. What do you do in an average day?
A. Well, I get up whenever I feel like it, usually around 9… I make coffee and hang out and read or watch a TV show on my computer, then maybe I go run errands or go hang out at the teachers’ lounge at school… I don’t really have any work to do at the school, but they get mad at me if I don’t just go hang out there at least a few times a week… then I come home, make lunch, clean up, hang out more… lately in the afternoons I’ve been trying to fix the computers at the other computer center, if I feel like it, and then sometime at night I have English class if anyone shows up, which a lot of times they don’t. Then maybe I go visit a doña, or maybe I just go home and watch a movie or read until I go to bed. ….it used to drive me crazy that I had so much free time, and I felt really guilty about it, but now I basically just think it’s awesome. I’m reading so many books and catching up on tons of TV shows I didn’t have time to watch in the States.

Q. Are they really strict about the 2 vacation days a month thing?
A. Pfffft.

Q. OK, I thought so, because like, how do they even know what I’m doing in my site?
A. Exactly.

I hope this doesn’t make it sound like Peace Corps volunteers are lazy. Well, I guess maybe we are, a little. But it’s a learned laziness; a response to the general community apathy we encounter in response to our projects. It’s either embrace the free time, go crazy, or quit the Peace Corps. Insanity sounds unpleasant, and we hear jobs are hard to come by in Nueva York these days, so we’re all staying put in the county where we’re guaranteed $300 a month (and can live comfortably off of it).

Friday, March 13, 2009

the all-inclusive diaries

(This is a piece I wrote for the Gringo Grita about our all-inclusive experience. It's targeted at PCVs so it might be a little heavy on the Spanglish and PC in-jokes, sorry.)

The All-Inclusive Diaries

Monday, February 23, 2009

Despite universally agreeing upon the fact that we are “not really Resort People,” given that my mom found a $50 per person rate online, my visiting parents and I depart for a four-night stay at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Plata.

3:00pm: We reach the turnoff for Playa Dorada and realize that we have lost the printed-off email confirmation for our resort. My mom remembers that it is called “Something Village.”

3:30pm: After stopping at the Caribbean Village Resort, the Caribbean Occidental Village, and the Wyndham Viva (because, maybe?), we successfully check into the Puerto Plata Village and receive our blinding neon yellow bracelets, the caste mark of the rich white tourist.

After entering our room for the first time, I set my suitcase down, step outside, and immediately realize that I have locked our only key inside the room.

3:40pm: I sheepishly return to our room escorted by a security guard with the master key. He opens the room and I retrieve the key, which I will wear on a lanyard around my neck for the rest of the week to avoid future such incidents.

My mom and I change into our swimsuits and head to the poolside bar, where we both get fruity pink drinks.

4:10pm: My mom and I get second fruity pink drinks. I get a stomachache and have to go lie down. My mom makes fun of my low alcohol tolerance. Doesn’t she know I am a mujer seria?

We head off to the all-inclusive buffet dinner. I survey the buffet’s myriad meaty options and have the following exchange with one of the waiters:
““Um, what food is vegetarian?”

“The vegetables.”

I eat a plate of vegetables (and chocolate cake) and drink water. My mom points out that I could just pick the chunks of meat out of the beans and eat them. I decline.

We return to our room, watch CSI, and enjoy the air conditioning and hot showers. After a couple hours, rather than check out the undoubtedly lame hotel discoteca, I lamely go to bed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I wake up disoriented. Where am I? (The Something Village.) Why is it so dark in here? (Curtains!) Why is it so cold in here? (Air conditioning!) What time is it? (7am. Try to keep up, here.)

9:00am: My parents and I head over to the breakfast buffet. I eat four different kinds of bread, although one of them is gross and I only eat one bite before discreetly slipping it onto my mom’s plate.

9:05am: My dad fixes our wobbly breakfast table by wedging a butter knife under one of the legs, to the approbation of two passing waiters.
10:00am: We take the shuttle to the beach, where all of the non-broken lounge chairs are already taken by extremely tanned individuals. We find three empty broken chairs and lie down in them.
10:30am: My mom sends me to the beach bar to get more fruity pink drinks, from which I abstain.

11:30am: I get up from my broken chair to swim for awhile in the ocean.

I accidentally swallow a lot of saltwater and have to come drink some fresh water and lie down for awhile.

We get lunch at the resort’s beachside restaurant. I am again disappointed by the highly carnivorous options available and my mom tells me to pick the bacon off the rice.

2:00pm: My mom buys a magnetic bracelet from a passing vendor. My dad and I conduct important experiments to find out what will and will not stick to it. (Yes: silverware [kind of], the other end of the bracelet. No: the room key, other bracelets, Mom’s iPod.)

3:15pm: My mom considers getting her hair braided. I point out another middle-aged white woman with braided hair and say, “That’s what you will look like.”

3:16pm: My mom decides against getting her hair braided.

4:45pm: I take the shuttle back to the resort and take a really long hot shower. I shave my legs for the first time in, um, awhile, and cut myself and bleed all over the shower.

I take a walk around the resort grounds and discover that what I had thought was an abstract sculpture is actually the giant pot that was used to make the Guiness World Records-certified World’s Largest Sancocho. I mentally add one star to our hotel’s original three-star rating.

6:45pm: My parents and I play a game called “Seriously, Look What that Person’s Wearing.” It’s a game everyone wins, except for the people wearing those things.

7:00pm: Seriously, that man is wearing a Hawaiian shirt with only the middle button buttoned, look at him!

Returning to my room, I stop by the lobby to see if they have wireless Internet there. They do, but it costs US$2 per 15 minutes. That’s like $250 pesos an hour! I thought everything here was included. This is una basura. I go back to the room and watch TV instead until bedtime.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

10:00am: After a leisurely breakfast, we depart for Playa Sosua. (The resort offered US$40/person Snorkeling Excursions to Sosua, but we figured we could just drive there and rent snorkels on our own. We’re not really Resort People.)

We arrive at Playa Sosua. (It’s not that far from our resort, but my dad kept stopping to take pictures of potholes and motorcycles.)

11:00am: I regetear for our chairs. Having my parents in tow significantly dampens the effectiveness of my standard No soy una turista line.

12:30pm: After offering oranges to some hungry kids, we learn that beggars can be choosers and we agree to give them our Pringles instead of the oranges. (We try for in addition to the oranges so at least they would get some vitamins, but they did not want them.)

3:00pm: My mom and I rent snorkels. Dad takes a look at the rough ocean and decides to stay on land.

3:45pm: I get kind of seasick and swallow some saltwater and have to go lie down for awhile. I am not very good at the ocean.

We return to the safe confines of our resort and I take the most amazing hot shower ever.

We arrive to the Caribbean a la carte restaurant and I am dismayed to discover that it is basically just an upscale plato del dia place. Um, if I wanted to eat moro, I could have stayed home. At least we get free wine with dinner here, unlike most Doña places.

10:30pm: Bedtime. We turn up the air conditioning to give us an excuse to use all the blankets on the bed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I sit out by the pool. I am surrounded by cautionary tales who remind me to apply (and re-apply) sunblock.

3:00pm: My parents and I leave the resort once again to ride the cable car in Puerto Plata. The car breaks down for awhile right before we board, but they fix it and we all survive the trip up the mountain.

5:00pm: We all survive the trip down the mountain, gracias al Señor. My mom does a little shopping in downtown Puerto Plata, but I get stressed out by the in-your-face sellers and we leave quickly. I don’t care how cheapie-cheapie it is, I do not want to buy a T-shirt with Bob Marley on it or a bottle of mamajuana.

8:00pm: We get dinner at the Italian a la carte restaurant, which notably has multiple veggie options. Plus, according to my parents, my spinach ravioli was better than either of their seafood dishes. The vegetarian wins one! Plus, I drank a ton of red wine without getting sick.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My parents and I vow to eat three meals worth of food at breakfast, since it’s our last all-inclusive meal. I probably get one and a half, maybe two meals worth. I could have done more if the waffles had been good, but they were absurdly tough and chewy. I do take delight in the label for pancakes--all the buffet food is quadrilingually labelled (Spanish, English, French, and German), but apparently the word for pancakes is the same in every language, leading to an excited-looking sign that reads "Pancakes/Pancakes/Pancakes/Pancakes."

We check out of the resort. The receptionist cuts our bracelets off and stashes them somewhere. Plastic resort bracelets must be big on the black market.

homeward bound

Sorry for the lack of updates! I've been in Santo Domingo since last Wednesday, working on the Gringo Grita, PCDR's trimesteral magazine. It's been a lot of fun but also a lot of work. We've been spending 12-hour days at the office (which, okay, include a lot of breaks for meals, snacks, and YouTube videos... but still).

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun but I am looking forward to getting home to my site. I have a new garden to water, a school to do work at (si Dios quiere), and some naps to take.