Wednesday, April 29, 2009

welcome to my disaster area

SO. I finally got my running water fixed (although it mysteriously stopped working all of yesterday, it's back again today). Naturally, life would be too easy if I just had functional, yet occasional water and electricity, so yesterday morning someone from Edenorte, the power company, arrived to cut off my luz. I fought them off with the receipt for last month's paid power bill, but apparently they came back in the afternoon after I left. This happened once before, because the lady who lived in my house before me left me with a $12,000 peso outstanding bill (roughly US$300/roughly what I make in a month). I pleaded my case--"It wasn't me, I swear, and my landlord says that lady is dead" and they reconnected my luz. Today, no such luck-either I have to get my landlord to pay (unlikely, since he is a shady shady dude) or I have to pay myself (ouch) or I have to live sin luz. Ay, Dios.

Anyway, if that weren't enough, yesterday it rained hard enough to flood my house. This happens occasionally, not because my roof leaks, but because my entire yard is paved over, and when it rains enough in one day, the water flows up under my door and into my house. Yesterday it rained enough to fill my entire house (usually it only makes it into my front room) and make my yoga mat float out of my bedroom and into the living room. Luckily, my floor is all tile, and I'd been meaning to mop the place anyway. So it's all for the best, really. Basically.

I'm planning to deal with my luz situation primarily by a) skipping town and b) spending even more time at the computer center. Also eventually harassing my landlord, except I'm still kind of scared of getting evicted. I mean aside from the fact that my house has no power, lets in water, and has a shady landlord, it's a very nice house & in a very convenient location.

Anyway, like I said, I'm skipping town tomorrow--I'm heading to my friend Justin's site to guest teach an English class, and then we're going into the capital together for our friend Sarah's despedida (goodbye party), since she's leaving the DR soon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

a highly successful weekend

Hi everyone. I hope you all had a weekend as delightful as mine was. “What did you do, Renata?” you might ask, and I will happily respond, because, like all bloggers, I love talking about myself.

So, Saturday morning I got up and dragged myself out of bed early for my 9am English class. I had made plans to meet friends for lunch “if no one comes to my English class, which they probably won’t.” As predicted, no one came to my class (which is too bad for them because my lesson plan was “watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure with Spanish subtitles on”), so I called my friends to set the backup plan into action .Unfortunately, Justin had been pressed into service helping his host family with an inventory of their colmado, so we rescheduled for Sunday. I then took a nap.

Then I rolled out of bed and helped out with the afternoon community informatica class, which mostly meant deleting a bunch of viruses off of one of the school’s computers so that the students could actually use them. I spent the evening watching movies and working on my cross-stitch.

Sunday morning I got ready to meet my friends for lunch. We were meeting in San Francisco de Macoris, a good-sized city that was supposedly about an hour and a half from me. I hadn’t been there before, but di que there’s an awesome restaurant there. So, I got in my carro publico to La Vega at 11, and told the driver to let me out at the stop for the San Francisco guagua. (This is one of my favorite things about carro publicos: I never have to know exactly where I’m going. Either the driver will know, or he’ll roll down his window at corners and yell out requests for directions.) I get in the guagua with 2 Dominican girls and we wait. And wait. It is raining, so naturally activity halts in La Vega. A few more people trickle into the guagua. I listen to an entire Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast. The Dominicans start to riot, “Ya nos vamos! Ay Dios!” The driver continues to wait for more passengers. Finally we leave, with the guagua about 2/3 full. I show up, shamefaced, about an hour late for my lunch date, but everyone understands. They know how it is when the guagua just won’t leave.

Anyway, the restaurant is as delicious as promised. We share a pitcher of chinola (passionfruit) margaritas and have cheese and spinach (SPINACH!!! The only other place you can get spinach in the DR is the US Embassy cafeteria!) quesadillas and an awesome pizza with blue cheese and nuts and some sort of magical sauce. It was almost like being back in Amurica. Justin and I also had an in-depth discussion about Twilight and Battlestar Galactica, much to the dismay of the less-geeky Arianna.

Then we parted ways and I caught a guagua back to La Vega, which luckily left more quickly than my last trip. Unfortunately, then I also had to get a carro from La Vega back to my town. While waiting for the carro I picked up an admirer. Not to sound vain, but I pick up a lot of admirers in this country, both because it’s much more acceptable (in fact, encouraged) for Dominican men to act in a way that would be considered harassment if an American man did it, and because most Dominican men love white girls. Anyway, so I’m pretty used to rebuffing Dominican dudes, but this one was a little more intense (and hilarious) than usual.

(Translated from Spanish)
Dominican dude: Where are you going?
Me: [My town]. (Pretty obvious, since I was waiting at the stop for my town, but anyway.)
DD: You live there?
Me: Yes.
DD: You live there… alone?
Me: Yes.
DD: You shouldn’t be alone! (Rubs index fingers together in the Dominican sign for sex)
Me: It’s okay.
DD: You should marry a Dominican.
Me: Maybe.
DD: You should marry ME.
Me: No.
DD: Can I have your phone number?
Me: No.
DD: Please can I have your phone number?
Me: No.
DD: Can I give you my phone number? You can call me?
Me: No.
DD: (Pulls out his phone)
Me: NO.
DD: (Sticks his phone in my face)
Me: (Realizes he’s taking a picture with his camera phone, turns away)
DD: (Sticks phone in my face again and shows me a picture of myself in profile, turning away from him)
Me: (Pulls out my own phone and starts making calls to my friends, so I can be far too busy talking in English to pay any more attention to this guy)

It was awesome.

Anyway, then I got home without further incident, dropped off my stuff, and went over to visit my host family. I’ve been trying to get my host dad to come help me with my plumbing for like three weeks, throughout which period I haven’t had water. A pipe connecting my house to the main water line broke, requiring someone to climb up on the roof and reconnect it. My dad keeps insisting that I should get my host dad to do it, because I will probably die if I do it myself. But since my host dad has a job and a car and extended family responsibilities, he is rarely there. Finally on that afternoon I decided to just give up and do it myself. I mean, I’m an independent woman, I can surely reattach one little pipe by myself, right?

So I borrow my host family’s ladder and set it up. Then I got out the bonding cement whatever that Dad left me and tried mightily to open it. And I couldn’t. So this independent woman finally took it over to the colmado guy to get him to open it for me. And he couldn’t do it either, so he passed it off to one of his muscular customers. So, with my open cement in hand, I climbed up the ladder and studied the scene. Just then, one of my neighbors yells something about the ladder, and I freak out a little. The next-door doña sends over the next door don, and I climb down the latter. It turns out the doña mistakenly thought the ladder was broken, but since the don was over there anyway, she started commanding him over the fence to fix my pipe for me, giving him shouted step-by-step advice. “Put your left foot up now!” “Test it before you glue it back together!” “Tell her that anytime she needs something like this done, she can ask you to do it! Tell her!”

Anyway, so now I have running water again! Hurrah! Right now I’m preparing for my first community Photoshop class (OK, right now I’m writing this blog entry, but that’s just on break from preparing my Photoshop class). I didn’t really think about preparing anything for it last night, because I was pretty sure no one will show up. I still kind of think that, based on previous community enthusiasm for my projects, but I’d still better be prepared!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

happy earth day!

I thought about organizing some sort of Earth Day celebration at the school, but then I decided I couldn't really bear the crushing defeat when it inevitably fell apart or suffered tragically low attendance or just exploded. Instead I'm trying to install Windows on some computers at my center, and also celebrating the fact that we just got Internet here!! Hooray. Also, I put up some posters for the Photoshop class I'm going to start soon, si Dios quiere, although it just started pouring rain so all the outdoor ones are probably ruined. Stupid Dios.

What else? I just finished reading the book The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. It's not really about the sex lives of cannibals, it's about his two years living on the small Pacific island of Tarawa, where his girlfriend was working for an NGO and where he was basically just hanging out. I relate to it way more than I do to the Peace Corps narrative books I've read, which are all like "Blah blah blah I built a clinic and dug a million wells and saved my village from destruction by evil imperialist slugs.¨" In contrast, here's an excerpt from Troost's book:

"The longer we spent on Tarawa the more Sylvia and I came to realize that to live on Tarawa is to experience a visceral form of bipolar disorder. There is the ecstatic high, when you find yourself swept away in a lagoonside maneaba rumbling to the frenzied singing and dancing of hundreds of rapturous islanders. And there are the crushing lows, when you succumb to a listless depression, brought about by the unyielding heat, sporadic sickness, pitiless isolation, food shortages, and the realization that so much of what ails Tarawa, the overpopulation and all its attendant health and social problems, need not be as bad as it is."
-- J. Maarten Troost, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, p. 207

Which it's kind of sad that I relate to life of someone who is UNEMPLOYED, but also I think that Peace Corps/NGO lives in places like Tarawa and the DR are different from the kind of countries that get Peace Corps books written about them (mostly African nations). And especially I am sure that no Information Technology volunteer has ever written an inspirational memoir of any sort. Oh well, at least now I can check my email every day! (Until our router inevitably breaks.)

Also, as I type this, some Dominican muchacho is using the new Internet to play awesome American music: Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio, Single Ladies by Beyonce, and That One Song by Linkin Park. God bless you, The Internet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

important bureaucratic events

So anyway, after my freezing cold Constanza adventure, I hung out in my site for a few days (including attempting to hold a youth group meeting, which no one attended) and then headed into la capital. I had to get my green card renewed, which took over four hours. (Two hours of waiting to get a photo taken, 2 minutes to get a new photo taken, 1 more hour to wait for the card to get printed, and then another hour to wait for a new one because they had listed my birthdate as June 21, 2005. Which would make me three years old. Which is inaccurate.)

Then we heard that Hillary Clinton was coming to the Embassy that evening as part of her diplomatic tour or something. We were mad at first because it meant that the Embassy pool was closed all afternoon, but then we found out that volunteers were allowed to come. There was a brief flurry of excitement until we learned that Formal Dress was required, including Closed-Toed Shoes. Um, like any volunteer has any of that? A few dedicated people rustled up appropriate attire, but I gave up and went to see the Watchmen movie instead. (Hey, I've already seen Hillary speak, and I'd never seen the Watchmen before!) Apparently Madam Secretary gave a short speech thanking everyone for their service (including a Peace Corps shoutout) and shook some hands.

Now I'm just taking last-minute advantage of fast Internet at the office and getting ready to head back to site, where my goals are: finish watching Queer as Folk, finish watching BattleStar Galactica, and get my host dad to fix my house so I have running water again. Also, I've been trying to show my English class Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure for a month now but no one has come to class. I sent out some threatening text messages, so hopefully tomorrow morning los muchachos will arrive and experience some true American brilliance.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

what have i been up to

I've had an eventful week-ish! For Semana Santa (Holy Week- the week of Easter), I spent a few days in my site, then went to Karina's site on Wednesday. The Main office was forcing her computer center to show a religious-themed movie that turned out to be sponsored by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, which made for... interesting viewing. I learned that reading a regular Bible is like going hiking with a map with a hole in it, compared to reading the Mormon Bible (presumably a map with no hole).

A few other friends came and we had a lovely, relaxing few days. We also made Easter eggs! It's not a Dominican custom, so they don't sell egg dye here, but we used Kool-Aid.



We tried for pink ones and orange but they all basically look the same.

Then, bright and early Saturday morning, Arianna and I left for our VAC meeting. (VAC is Volunteer Advisory Committee, or something like that--basically volunteers get together by region and talk about Peace Corps policies, but mainly it's an excuse to hang out and get officially reimbursed for it). So our region's meeting was up in the mountains in the town of Constanza. On our ride there (which involved two guaguas and a ride up a mountain in the back of a pickup truck) we overheard a hilarious conversation.

Cobrador (guy who collects money on guaguas and passes on information to the driver): Pa'donde vas? (Where are you going?)
Haitian passenger: Pa'lla (over there)
Cobrador: Pero, donde? (But where?)
Haitian: Pa'ca (over [slightly-closer] there)

It was so funny, because Dominicans ALWAYS use pa'lla and pa'ca to give directions, even though they are basically meaningless phrases.

Anyway, we got up to our destination, and we had arranged to rent a big truck to ride around in the back of to see two nearby attractions: the waterfall Aguas Blancas and the Pyramids monument that former president/dictator Trujillo had built at the exact center of the island. At the last minute, the big truck doubled his price and we hitched a ride in the back of the pickup truck of some Dominican tourists. (Asi es life here.)

At first, it's all fun and games:


And beautiful scenery:

Aguas Blancas was beautiful too:

But then it started raining, and it's COLD in Constanza. Not Caribbean cold, for real cold. See-your-breath cold. And the Pyramid turns out to be FAR away. Like two hours. (OK, not that far--but very bad mountain roads means it took longer.)

So, we're unbelievably wet and cold. For two hours. And we finally get there, and see:


Maybe you can't judge the scale from that photo. How about this one:


It was so tiny! And stupid! And so not worth two freezing, painful hours in the back of a pickup truck to reach! Dios santissimo.

All around, though, a good week. We did a lot of Region 6 bonding-through-freezing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Ah, the dangerous life of a Peace Corps volunteer! I’m currently nursing a pretty severe Peace Corps injury—I pulled a muscle in my shoulder while towel-drying my hair. Okay, it’s probably not life-threatening, but it still hurts.

Other than that, though, can’t complain—right now I’m sitting on the couch at the Hub, the hostel in Santiago, after a fun party last night. A couple other volunteers organized an “Art Interest Group” and kicked it off with a mini art-show/open mike night (okay, the mike was a water bottle). Plus we had a yummy potluck. I’ve been experimenting with my new olla de horno (stove pot—basically like a stovetop Dutch oven, so I can bake stuff even though I don’t have a traditional oven. I like it because it makes everything I make look like a Bundt cake) and I brought some cornbread and brownies. They both turned out pretty well, thanks to my constant vigilance. (You can’t set a temperature or anything, so you just have to set the flame mediumish and then check it every few minutes.)

Things in my site are okay. My computer youth group is still meeting and we’re learning Photoshop. I’m hoping to start some advanced computer classes in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, next week is Semana Santa—Holy Week, the week of Easter. In the US Easter usually merits a 3- or 4-day weekend; here, it is a 7+ day weekend. The entire week is a holiday, and then people are usually a little sluggish to trickle back to work after Easter. Anyway, so we’ll see about when I can get classes going.

A couple nights ago I had an awesomely awkward experience—it was around 9pm and I was sitting in my house, in the dark, watching the movie Sin City on my laptop. Suddenly, I hear “Hola, Renata!” and turn to see both my host parents’ faces pressed up against my open window. This is weird because a) people never come to visit my house, knowing full-well that I have only plastic chairs and no homemade juice to offer, b) people don’t go visiting so late at night, and c) men don’t usually go visiting. So—unexpected, basically. But I let them in and told them to sit down, and they’re like, “Wow, it’s dark in here!” I remind them that I don’t have an inversor, and that the power is out, like usual. I turn on my lantern and my host mom immediately notices the empty wine bottle on my table, left over from when Stacie was visiting last week. (I was thinking about re-using the bottle as a vase or something and never got around to doing anything with it, but I didn’t throw it away yet either.) So she goes, “Wow, you drank all that wine??” And I explain no, it’s from when Stacie was here… which still makes me seem like a horrible housekeeper, if not a drunk. Then my host dad drags over a plastic chair in front of the computer, which is still showing Sin City, which if you haven’t seen it is not like a pornographic film by any means, but the female characters tend to wear very little in the way of clothing. So he sits down, we both look at the screen and see a bunch of prostitutes in lingerie. I awkwardly say, “Um, the movie is in English” and flip my computer shut. (Last night I was retelling this story at the potluck, and I made a hand motion as I said “flip my computer shut” and I dropped my plate and broke it.) Then my host mom asked to use the bathroom—which, they live a block away, why didn’t she go before she left?—so I gave her my headlamp, which confused her. Then she spent an awkwardly long time in the bathroom, leading my host dad to speculate about why it was taking so long. Finally she comes back out and says, Renata, your toilet is broken. I say no, it’s just that there’s no water right now. (They have a working tinaco at their house that keeps them in running water all the time.)

Basically, my host parents came over to my house to experience Dominican shortages of public works, and to witness my sinful lifestyle. On the bright side, I’m hoping that word of this will spread and prevent any further late night visits, because God only knows what la americana might be up to in her house at night!