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.)

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