Tuesday, October 27, 2009

see you never?

The Dominican accent tends to drop a lot of "s"s, and since I am speaking Spanish primarily with Dominicans, I've started losing my "s"s too. For example, "adio" instead of "adios," or "no e' facil" instead of "no es facil." But today I heard myself tell another volunteer "no vemos!" instead of "nos vemos!"

For those of you rusty on Spanish, "Nos vemos" is literally "we see each other" but commonly used as "see you later."

"No vemos" is "we don't see each other" or, I guess, "I won't see you later."

Cultural intergration is one of Peace Corps's primary goals, but still, maybe I should work on keeping my Dominican accent in check, just un chin.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

presenting gringo and the gritas!

So, I've been in the capital all week working on the PCDR magazine, the Gringo Grita. (We all know what "gringo" means; "grita" means "yelling.") I'm serving as editor this time, which basically means it's my job to stay around until the whole thing is finished. As always, it's been a super fun (but tiring) week.

A few highlights:

Pretty Much Everyone Who Passed Through the Office Ever: RENATA! Did you know that the Jonas Brothers are coming to Santo Domingo?? Are you going to go??
Me (sulkily): Noo, I'm not going, it costs 1700 pesos.
Justin: We should have a fundraiser! I would put in 200 pesos for you to see the Jonas Brothers.
Me: Aww, that's sweet. But ridiculous.

Joel: Look! A Jonas Brothers poster!
Me: Are they on the MOON?
Joel: It says "world tour," not "intergalactic tour."

Joel*: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young are like the Simon and Garfunkel of folk-rock.
Me: Aren't Simon and Garfunkel the Simon and Garfunkel of folk-rock?
Joel: ... point.
* I orginally typed that Chris had said this until I received this message from him: "I totally didn't say that about CSNY, Simon and Garfunkle can barely rock at all. Digo yo." So... I think it was Joel? I had this conversation with someone, if not Chris, whose opinions regarding CSNY/S&G I now know.

Me: Let's read this out loud. In Batman voice.*

Me: Remember that time when we read everything out loud in Batman voice? (In Batman voice) It was EPIC.

* Christian Bale Batman voice, which is super gravelly and low. It makes anything funnier!**
** This entry would probably be funnier if I posted a video or audio of us doing Batman voice. Alas, I am not quite that dedicated to my blog; you'll just have to use your imaginations.

Also, there was the time when we went out to a hipster bar that has the video game Rock Band on Tuesdays. We were really excited about it, but most of us hadn't played it before. This was in stark contrast to the small crowd of Dominicans who clearly go there every week and were all beating songs on Expert level. We went up and failed Oasis's "Wonderwall" on Easy. Twice. (I was on vocals! I failed out first! Both times!) But hey, we had a good time. We played (and passed) a few more songs later in the night. However, our best time was probably had when a group of Dominicans went up to perform "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey. We got super into it and sang it more loudly than their actual vocalist. Unforunately, these were the only Dominicans we saw fail a song all night.

Joel: Don't stop! Don't stop believin'!

Our Rock Band night also inspired our themed Grita staff photo. We decided to pose as a band called Gringo and the Gritas. We are all extremely excited/angsty/angry about our band photo shoot. I hope that you think this picture is as hilarious as we think it is. We are all kind of obsessed with it.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

let me tell you about a volunteer way more hardcore than me

I'm in the capital this week working on our esteemed volunteer publication the Gringo Grita. We hole up in the library most of the day, editing and laying out and slowly going crazy. Then at night we go out to dinner and hang out with whoever happens to be in the capital. It's a fun way to meet new people. Last night, my friend Jen and I ate some fried rice with a Water volunteer named Bill. Water volunteers in the DR are known for being the most hardcore of all volunteers--they usually live in the most remote sites and are working to build aqueducts, so they lack running water and electricity. (Compare this to my studio apartment with a water tank and air conditioning.) Here are a few excerpts from our conversations:

Me: Hey, what happened to your finger? (Which has a splint on it.)
Bill: Well, I smashed it with a hammer a few days ago working on laying some pipes. I kept drilling into it to drain the pus, and it was fine, but then I mentioned it to Lissette (the doctor) while I was talking to her about something else, and she freaked out and told me to put a splint on it and come into the capital immediately. So I got some popsicles* and taped the sticks to my finger.
Me and Jen: ...
Bill: But it's fine, really. In fact, I think I'm going to take it off right now. (Untapes the popsicle sticks to reveal a horribly swollen, crooked finger.)
Me and Jen: OH MY GOD.
Bill: It's fine!
Jen: It is definitely crooked.
Bill: Yeah, Lissette says I need X-rays.
Me: Put the splint back on! I'm eating.
Bill: This is nothing.

* This is my favorite part of the whole story.

Bill: I've been waiting on funding for my aqueduct, so I've spent like $500 of my own money on it.
Me and Jen: YOU WHAT?

This morning we also experimented with the Peace Corps Challenge game on the PC website. It's purportedly a game designed to simulate the Peace Corps Experience (tm) but it's a way more hardcore experience than ours. We wanted to design our own game, where you sit around the Peace Corps office and have to decide if you want to have pizza or sushi delivered to you. Then, you try to get the office WiFi to work so you can check the movie listings and figure out what you want to see that night. Be careful not to pick something dubbed into Spanish!! When you walk to the movie theater go in a group so you don't get mugged. Also, watch out for potholes in the street! Minus five points if you get garbage water in your flipflops :(

Saturday, October 17, 2009

on shaming children

This week at DREAM we had "community service week" in our afternoon program, wherein we had a variety of different activities instead of regular classes. The first day was the only day that really had "community service"--we did a street cleanup of the barrio. Some of the older girls insisted to me that they couldn't possibly pick up garbage because it was too shameful. One girl insisted that she couldn't pick up trash because her mother-in-law would see. I said, "What? You have a mother-in-law?" and she gave me a glower and told me I didn't understand anything. Fair enough, teenage girl!

But most of the kids were enthusiastic and we picked up a TON of trash, which is great. (The DR doesn't have any kind of anti-littering culture. Kids, grownups, everyone will just toss trash into the street without a second thought.)

The rest of the week the kids got increasingly worked up about the change in routine and we had more and more behavior problems. After classes, some of the other volunteers and I talked about how frustrating working with Dominican kids can be. One of the biggest cultural differences we've noticed is how shameless Dominican kids can be. Most Dominican kids are huge cheaters--and don't get me wrong, American kids cheat too! But American kids will usually try to be smooth: writing on their hands, notes under the table, at the very least they'll whisper. Dominican kids lack any kind of subtlety in cheating. They will talk at normal volume levels about the answers to tests. While the teacher is in the middle of giving a "no cheating" lecture.

Or take the T-shirt painting activity I led. I started off by explaining that "Some very nice people donated a bunch of T-shirts to us! Wasn't that nice? Now we can give everyone a T-shirt as a gift. The T-shirts are pretty big, I'm sorry. But a big T-shirt is better than no T-shirt, right? So we don't want to hear any complaining when we pass out the T-shirts, okay?" To which all the kids replied, "Okay!" And then literally the second I pulled out the first T-shirt, all the kids immediately started whining about how big and ugly the shirts are. Of course, American kids would have whined about the shirts too. But I estimate that lecture would have shamed them into at least five minutes of silence before the complaints started.

This shamelessness can be super frustrating to American teachers. Like, the kids don't even respect us enough to fake listening for five minutes? But on the other hand, it's a little refreshing. What you see is what you get, even if what you see is sometimes kids who are cheating off of each other, talking over your frustrated lecture about how rude it is to talk when other people are talking, or making out in the library during class.

Luckily, these kids don't speak English, so if you occasionally have to mutter to your co-teacher, "I am going to KILL ALL THE CHILDREN," they are none the wiser.

Friday, October 9, 2009

do i know how to throw parties or WHAT?

Since the other DREAM volunteers have bigger apartments than I do, we always hang out at their places instead of mine. But on Wednesday, I decided I wanted to entertain. I invited a few friends over with promises of homemade banana bread & a freshly-downloaded episode of The Office.

I tidied up, even going so far as to actually make my bed. I figured that we would all just sit on my bed, since I don't have a couch. Or other furniture. All went according to plan: my friends arrived just as my banana bread turned a lovely golden brown, and we all cuddled on my bed-couch. A few minutes into The Office, however, we all hear a crack. We look around and notice nothing amiss, so we don't think anything of it. You hear a lot of weird sounds living in the DR. Soon, however, we hear more cracks. And then the bed collapses.

We all flail about for a few moments, then manage to lift up the mattress and check out the frame. One piece of wood is cracked. We have no idea what to do about it, so I run next door to my landlord/neighbor's house. The landlady says, "How did this happen? Did it happen last week when you had THREE friends over? Three people can't sleep in that bed." "No, no," I assure her. "It was just now." She shakes her head. "My husband will have to see it."

He comes over to survey the damage, shakes his head, and magically gets two muchachos out of nowhere. The three of them take off my mattress and drag my bedframe out into the street. This naturally draws a crowd, and we all speculate what the neighbors must be thinking when they see five hot gringas and a broken bed in the street.

Then, magically, the muchachos immediately return with a new bed!

It was ridiculous. So unexpected, too, since things here are often... inefficient. But apparently when a lady needs a new bed, a lady gets a new bed. Awesome.

A short photo essay:

Oh dear.

"Fun party, Renata!!"

Magic new bed! (A mattress arrived shortly after.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

permit denied.

Remember Anderson, my student who wanted a permit to be my friend? After I failed to respond to his e-card, I've received these messages from him:

hi Renata
this is your pupil Anderson , how was your week end. i hope you had a good one .for me i am doing very good but i do miss you a lot for the last week i didnot see you .please i hope to hear from you too.
your friend Anderson

hi my friend
Are you good today?i am sending you some emails but i dont receive your answer .do i am so unfair to receive your email or to be your friend?i hope to hear from you for this moment
take care


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

great googly moogly

In my afternoon computer class we're continuing to focus on Internet research. After more or less completing last week's dictionary worksheet (you know, the one where words were frequently defined as "noun" or "verb"), we've been working on an Internet scavenger hunt using Google. By the way, Dominicans (and I suppose all Spanish-speakers) pronounce "Google" as "Googly." And they have no idea what I'm talking about if I say "Google," so I'm always like, "So, let's go to Google... (blank looks) sorry, I mean, Googly." This cracks me up. Also, like 5/6s of the sounds are the same between "Google" and "Googly" so you'd think they'd figure it out. But no.

Anyway, here are some highlights of student answers to the scavenger hunt, translated to English for your convenience.

What is the capital of India?

What is the population of China?

What is a traditional African food?

What is a type of traditional Japanese theater?*

Find a photo of traditional Mexican clothing.

(I mean, yes, technically this is Mexican clothing, but seriously... you couldn't find a PHOTO? No, you can't, if your entire Internet strategy involves clicking on the very first thing that comes up. And also if rather than use Google Images [I mean Googly Images], you type "Find a photo of traditional Mexican clothing" into Googly.)

* "What's your favorite kind of Japanese theater?"
"Noh theater."
"You don't like any Japanese theater?"

Friday, October 2, 2009

more tales from this dominican life

Thank God it's viernes! A few anecdotes for you:

  • Yesterday I introduced my classes to the online multilingual dictionary WordReference.com. I gave them a worksheet with some English words and some Spanish words and asked them to find the word in the opposite language. This activity was a little bit high-level for a lot of the kids, who just haven't been taught many reading comprehension skills. So I'd look at the worksheet and see that kids had defined words as "verbo" or "sustantivo" (noun). But my favorite was one student who defined "reirse," which means "to laugh," as "to laugh at grammar." Wouldn't it be great if English specifically had a verb that meant "to laugh at grammar"? I would use that verb all the time. I bet German has a word for it.
  • The standard demand in my computer classes is "Juegos! Juegos! JUEGOS!" (Games!) The kids want to play computer games. Understandable, but whenever I give them a little free time to play games, it turns out... they don't really know how to play computer games. So they call me over to show them how to play whatever Flash game they have encountered--assuming, naturally, that I automatically know the rules to every single Flash game on the Internet. Usually I can figure it out, and then they don't even want to play the game. They want to watch me play the game. So I have 10 kids all going, "Sssst! Profe! Sssst!" urgently calling me over to play Internet games for them. Which, I mean... there are worse jobs.
  • DREAM has a pretty good database of all its past and present students, often including observations from teachers and parents. Today I looked up a student and saw that under "Parental comments" it said "He is not good at anything." WOW. I called everyone else in the office over to look because I thought it was so hilarious. And so sad. And also, can you ever in a million years imagine an American parent telling their child's teacher, "Oh yeah, he's not good at anything"? I mean, there's a good chance that the Dominican parent honestly meant for "he's not good at anything" to be a helpful comment. Like, he should take all the classes... because he's not good at anything.
  • I realized I never really updated my blog about my health--I'm totally fine after my week of near-constant sleep. However, I'm bitterly disappointed that my diagnosis was "a dengue-like viral infection." Come onnnn, I couldn't have gotten regular dengue? I had all the symptoms, but now I don't get the badass points of being able to say "Yeah, I had dengue fever. No big deal." "I had a dengue-like viral infection"? LAME. I also technically can't say for certain that I had a parasite. "I had a long-running stomach ailment that resolved itself after I started taking anti-parasite medication, but I didn't go in for a stool sample so I can't conclusively state that I had a parasite." All I wanted from my Peace Corps experience was one impressive-sounding tropical ailment. Is that so much to ask?
  • Also, the electricity situation has been better. I opened my milk box and it hasn't gone bad yet, hooray! Next to the fridge, I did discover a banana that I left at my house the entire week I was gone being sick. It was basically liquid, but strangely didn't smell bad or have any flies or ants on it. (It was in a plastic bag, but that doesn't necessarily keep bugs out in this climate.) Interesting. I wonder how long I could potentially have rotten fruit in my house before I would notice.