Saturday, May 30, 2009

i'm gonna jump!

Hey guys. I'm still alive after a hectic week of traveling and conferences. My new friend with a waterproof camera just sent me a bunch of photos from our trip to 27 Charcos. I'll upload them later, but for now here is a video of me jumping off the 27th (highest) one. I look kind of goofy but whatever, I did it! And lived to tell.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

how renata lost her social skills

I've been hanging out in the capital the last few days, enjoying food, friends, and cable television. Unfortunately, I made some new friends last night and was forced to confront how Dominican (well, Dominican Peace Corps) I've become. A few PCVs and I went out with some visiting Harvard students who were here with Engineers Beyond Borders, and here are some of the things I unthinkingly did at dinner:

  • Hissed at them to get their attention (my friend Trina stopped me with a shocked face and a "You can't hiss at them!" But in the DR it's totally socially acceptable and useful to hiss at people.)
  • Gave directions with a hand wave and a "pa'lla" (over there)
  • Talked too much about Twilight (this is actually a Peace Corps thing, not a Dominican thing)
  • Liberally used essentially meaingless Spanish phrases like "ya tu sabes" and "ahorita"
  • Wagged my finger to say "no"

Anyway, please be understanding when I come home to visit. I'm not trying to be rude or awkward, I'm just culture-shocked. Some friends and I have also been joking about how funny it will be when we move home after Peace Corps and try to import the entire culture by doing things like asking people "Where's your site?", trying to fit 6 people in a Corolla, and showing up uninvited to people's houses and asking for coffee. Also, we will all totally invoke God in conversation way more than we used to. Ay, Dios mio--I need to end this blog entry so I can go catch the bus, si Dios quiere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

i forgot to say

That my landlord fixed my power!! He stood on a ladder and patched me back into the grid with a stick and a piece of my wire clothesline. Later some Edenorte guys came by to do it for real. In other news, this morning I spilled half a greca of coffee on my right hand. Since Dominican coffee actually has to boil to work, it is hotter than the average American coffee. Please feel sorry for me!! I'll take a picture of my pathetic tape & gauze job if I have to.

Don't feel too sorry though, cuz tomorrow I'm skippin' town to pick up my friend Stephanie at the airport (returning from a trip home) and then we're going to the beaaach.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Justin's birthday cake! They don't decorate cakes at Nacional so Keane and I had to do our best with big frosting and a toothpick.

"I have a request... can all the girls drape all the guys? Like in a hip hop video?"
"... only because it's your birthday."

Carly & I re-enacting our karaoke glory.

Me riding up the loma to Anne & Tim's site. (I told you I wore my helmet, and now I have evidence.)

Carina, Carly, me, and Justin pre-27 Charcos. Each of us jumped off of the 27th!! We couldn't take pictures because no one had a waterproof camera, but you can take a digital tour here if you are so inclined. (In English, even.)

A delicious campo meal of homemade falafel and red wine (hauled up the mountain on a moto.)

Como siempre, more available at my Flickr.

Monday, May 18, 2009

a whirlwind week

Hello everyone! I’m just getting settled back into my site after a crazy week, the kind that makes me realize how awesome being in the Peace Corps is. I’m going to do a little day by day for you, and hopefully get some pictures posted.

  • Sunday:
    I left my site to visit Justin, a nearby IT volunteer. We hung out with his host family, ate some tostones, and watched Battlestar Galactica.
  • Monday:
    Justin and I went to the medical mission in his site. It was organized by the US military (specifically the Navy Reserves) in partnership with the Dominican military, and it was a lot of enlisted doctors and nurses coming to give free basic health care, including a dentist and an optician. (If you’ve ever donated your old glasses to the Lions Club, this is where they end up.) Justin had expected it to be a small event, so he only invited me to come help translate (also because we wanted to watch some BSG together), but there ended up being about 50 American Navy people and hundreds of Dominican patients. It was a little hectic, but fun. I spent the morning working at intake, where I went between four different desks helping translate stuff like “dolor de cabeza” (“headache”), ”los riñones” (“kidneys,” or basically any kind of internal upset), and “la gripe” (cold, or flu, or possibly allergies). Then I moved to the eye room, where I helped translate stuff like “Which is better, one or two?” and “What exactly is the problem with your vision”? Also, I’d run across the room and ask patients how their new glasses fit. It was a little frustrating because they usually cared more about how the frames looked than how the glasses actually fit their prescription—often they would try to get ones that were too weak or too strong if the lenses were more stylish, and I would try to prevent that from happening.
  • Tuesday:
    More of the same at the med mission, although by the afternoon I was so tired that I kept saying “osos” (“bears”) instead of “ojos (“eyes”).We said farewell to our new Navy Reserves BFFs—although the mission had one more day in Justin’s town we had to leave the next morning. The funniest part was when we took a photo of all the translators together (Me, Justin, a few advanced English students from the town, and our friend Iris also came on Tuesday) and Iris said, “Let’s take a picture where we all jump on a three-count!” And then she looked at the picture on someone’s camera and said excitedly, “Look how good I jumped!!” Maybe you had to be there.
  • Wednesday:
    We left and headed for our friend Keane’s site. Since it was his birthday, I brought a cake that I had baked on Sunday before I left, which we ate even though it was a little moldy. (It was in Tupperware and a Ziploc bag! Darn you, Caribbean climate!) Justin and I had also made him a certificate, which Dominicans are really big on certificates. In any Dominican house, they will have every certificate they have ever earned from junior high school on proudly displayed. When you offer a class, one of the first things students will ask before they sign up is if they will get a certificate at the end. Dominicans also love Word Art and clip art, so we made Keane a hilariously tacky certificate with no free space anywhere, just tons of rainbow lettering and pictures of pizza everywhere. (Best part: we printed it out in Justin’s center the day before and everyone there was all, Que lindo!! [How pretty!]) Then we went to the new volunteer swear-in ceremony, which was… well, not exactly fun, but nice to see all the new group and get free cupcakes. Afterwards we went out for Chinese food and karaoke. The new kids weren’t really into the karaoke but we older volunteers (it’s weird that we’re older volunteers now, right?) ate it up. I myself participated in duets on the Spice Girls’ classic “Wannabe” and Aqua’s “Around the World” (which my friend Joel chose thinking it was a different song called “Around the World” and I leapt in heroically to save him with my knowledge of Danish pop music). PLUS I was a backup dancer for a performance of NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.”
  • Thursday:
    The All-Volunteer Conference! These used to be held in December and then got moved to May last year so this is actually the first one my group has attended. It was kind of lame; a lot of bureaucratic announcements and such, but it was nice to see everyone. Plus, free food. The best part was when the safety & security officer gave everyone a little home improvement kit containing “a lock, a personal alarm, some screws, and a hasp” and none of us had any idea what a hasp was, which it turns out it’s that little metal flappy thing you need to lock something with a padlock, and then we were all obsessed with the word “hasp” which is, you know, a pretty funny word. The worst part was that for the rest of the week I had to haul around ten pounds of hardware. Including the hasp. Hasp hasp hasp. Also then we went out to the car wash (which in case you’ve forgotten is a car wash by day, open air discoteca by night).
  • Friday:
    Justin, Carly, and I traveled with Anne and Tim up to their site, a trip which involved a bus, a carro publico, a guagua, and a moto ride up a mountain (yes, Mom, I wore my helmet). Their site is much more “Peace Corps” than mine—it’s a little two-room house on top of a mountain with a latrine and an amazing view. We hung out and made dinner and just had a fun evening, including a heated discussion of food of an intensity probably only possible for Peace Corps volunteers and other people suffering from culture shock:

    “I think my favorite cereal is Reese’s Puffs.”


    “My favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor is Chunky Monkey.”

    “Would you guys PLEASE stop talking about Brie cheese?”
    “Let’s just run down to the store and get some. (Deep sigh)”

  • Saturday:
    Justin, Carly, and I met up with Karina’s friend Carina (confusing, I know) to do the 27 Charcos, which is a series of 27 waterfalls and pools and you climb up and jump down. It was really hard for me because I couldn’t take my glasses so I was just sort of blindly wandering along and slipping on rocks and stuff. We all jumped off of the 27th charco, which is the highest and scariest one. I did it, and then immediately afterwards was like “Oh my God I can’t believe I just did that!” and was more scared about it after the fact. But we were all fine. (Don’t worry, Mom, we all wore helmets and life jackets.) Unfortunately, our guides were in a hurry to get down the mountain (I’ve heard from other people that this is a problem—the guides want to go as fast as possible so they can do more trips and get more money) and wasn’t clear about the directions on the next one, which was a long waterfall we were supposed to slide down. I went to go down it, and the guide goes, “Not there, over here!” but the current was too strong for me move back and I ended up getting swept down this waterfall backwards and my leg got stuck on the rock and forcefully removed. I didn’t break it or anything, gracias a Dios, but it hurt a lot and made the rest of the charcos harder. Especially since then the rude guide was guiding me by hand and yelling at me the whole time (“Watch where you’re going! Go slower! Go faster! Don’t fall!”) etc. And then when one of my awesome friends came over to take my other hand, the guide would yell at them, too—“That’s not your job, that’s my job! I know my job!” Ugh. But the sore leg and mean guide aside, it was a lot of fun. It was like Nature’s waterpark (with an Indiana Jones theme). It was really frustrating not being able to see, though—everyone kept being like, “Wow, it’s soo beautiful here!” and I’d be like, “It looks very brown and blurry!” There were two Mormon missionaries on the trek with us and they had a waterproof camera and promised to email us pictures… maybe then I’ll be able to see how beautiful it was! Then we went back to Anne & Tim’s and enjoyed another tranquillo evening. There are definite tradeoffs to all Peace Corps sites—they have to ride a moto 25 minutes down the mountain to get to the nearest colmado, and further still for a grocery store. But their site is beautiful and cozy, and their old host family grows and roasts their own coffee and cacao and makes 100% fresh coffee and hot chocolate for them. Awesome.
  • Sunday:
    We spent the morning with Anne & Tim, eating pancakes and playing Quiddler. Then Carly, Justin and I went to my site, where my guests were in complete awe of my home décor (not to mention running water and tile flooring). We went over to visit my host family, but they weren’t home so we went over to the host aunt and uncle’s house. We were planning to eventually go to a concert at the high school that was supposed to start at 6pm, di que, but we knew it would be later. But then at 7pm, the host aunt (a teacher at the school) said, “You’re going to the concert? Let’s go now!” and we ended up sitting in the bleachers for another hour and a half. And then as soon as it started (and the lights went down) we slipped away to make dinner. (Not that I didn’t want to see the concert, but I was more concerned with just showing my face in the community again after being gone a week, which I had had ample opportunity to do. And we were hungry.) We made an awesome stirfry and played Scrabble!
  • Monday:
    We got up and I made French toast. Hilarious highlight: I went out to the colmado to get eggs, and Justin offered to make coffee. I told him where I keep the greca and the coffee, and when I returned a few minutes later I found him sitting on the bed next to Carly with the greca in pieces. “I thought I could just figure it out,” he said, “but it looks really complicated!” (Justin still lives with a host family—he has his own little suite but his doña still cooks all his meals for him, so he’d never had to make his own coffee before.) Then they headed off to Justin’s site for his English class, and here I am, alone for the first time in eight days! (Actually, now I'm back at my center. But for awhile there: alone.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

more tales from this dominican life

Yesterday I went into Santiago to meet up with my friend Karina and her visiting friend Carina. (I know, right, what are the odds?) We climbed to the top of the Monument, which is the first time I'd ever done that. There's a nice view from up there, although not too much to see. I was more impressed with the awesome mannequins in the historical tableaux on each level on the way up. I regret that I forgot my camera, since these were some high quality historical kitsch in my favorite vein.

Afterwards, we went to La Sirena where I bought ramen noodles and attempted to purchase an unintentionally hilarious Precious Moments greeting card to send to my mother. I got to the checkout, where the cashier swiped my noodles just fine, but was flummoxed by the greeting card. "It doesn't scan," she said helplessly, then stared at me distantly.

Me: Oh.
Cashier: It doesn't scan. (Continues staring)
Me: Can you do anything?
Cashier: No.
Me: You can't ask someone how much it costs?
Cashier: No. Usually there is a muchacho who checks the price, but he is not here.
Me: There's no one else you can ask?
Cashier: The muchacho is not here.
Me: ... so I can't buy this?
Cashier: No.
Me: I really can't buy this card?
Cashier: No.
Me: (Stares)
Karina: (Engages full-on Spanish-flip-out mode at the cashier)
Cashier: I'm sorry.

Oh well. Sorry, mom, but this is why you're getting an eCard for Mother's Day: the muchacho wasn't at La Sirena. Nothing to be done.

Schedule for the week to come:
Saturday: English class if anyone comes (so probably not); helping out with the afternoon computer class.
Sunday: Visiting Justin for Battlestar Galactica party.
Monday-Wednesday: Helping with the medical mission at Justin's site. (Translating for Dominicans receiving free medical care from visiting doctors.)
Wednesday: Heading to the capital for the new volunteers' swear-in ceremony.
Thursday: All-Volunteer Conference, which I am pretty sure will be a nightmare but maybe will be fun.
Friday: Travel day?
Saturday: Do the 27 Charcos with friends--a series of waterfalls that you climb up and jump down. I haven't done them yet but they're supposed to be a great Dominican experience.
Sunday: Graduation at my high school.

Oh, and yesterday my landlord came by and promised to talk to the power company this morning to see about reinstating my luz. He also assured me that I did not have to pay the $12,000 pesos owed. So, we'll see. At any rate, I'm leaving again so I won't need electricity until I get back.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

back home

I'm back home after a lovely weekend in the capital, complete with Sarah's despidida and Justin's surprise birthday party, and of course, lots of electricity and delicious food. Also, I ate too many mangoes and got an itchy rash around my mouth. (Did you know that mangoes are related to poison ivy? That is why you should not feel them with your teeth if you are too lazy to get a knife. But whatever, it's worth a little discomfort to eat free, delicious mangoes.)

Now I'm home again, and no, I still don't have power at my house. The landlord hasn't been by yet. It's not really that big of a deal. The worst is that my fridge is out of commission, but I lived a few months without a fridge before. The colmado system makes it easy enough to live sin luz. Also, I'm addicted to the show Battlestar Galactica and now I can only watch it when I charge my laptop at the center, and then for only three hours at a time. Which is sometimes not enough. But really it's for the best; I'm reading and cross-stitching more, and spending less time watching computer TV.

It is getting hotter, however, so I hope that I get my power back so I can run a fan when full Dominican summer hits. But this is looking to be a busy month for me, so I should be able to avoid heat by being in other places, places with more electrical power.