Friday, September 3, 2010

it's over!

It occurs to me that I should update this to let everyone know that I'm done with the Peace Corps. My close-of-service date was May 7, and I flew home that day!

I thought about trying to document my readjustment and reverse culture shock, but, well, I didn't.

I doubt I'll update this blog again, but I'll leave it up for those who are curious about Peace Corps or who just want to look at pictures of my cat. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The big excitement of the barrio was the recent arrival of pavement! Yes, the Callejón de la Loma, home to a few thousand people and roughly the same number of motorcycles, has been paved. Well... kind of. They did about half of the streets. Maybe a third. And then the giant trucks and workers and piles of gravel just disappeared one day, as suddenly as they had arrived.

One afternoon, I took a class of kids out with my camera to document the event. Here are a few of the photos they took:




(This one isn't really related to the paving, but I think it's a cool photo. Check out the large version! This restaurant has been abandoned and decaying for a while now, but you can still read the menu on the wall.)

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of my favorite aspect of the newly-paved roads: rollerblades! Literally the day after the streets were paved, kids of all ages started scooting around the neighborhood on rollerblades. Where did all the rollerblades come from? I have never seen them in a store here. Did everyone just have rollerblades saved in their closet, waiting for the day when the asphalt would arrive? Amazing!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thoughts on Global Injustice: My Kitty is Pretty

Hello, blog! It has been awhile since I posted anything here. Here's a piece I wrote for the Gringo Grita, our Peace Corps magazine.


When people disparage this fine publication, they often say, “The Grita is just full of articles about people’s cats and stuff.” This is confusing, as in the past two years the Grita has only published one article about someone’s cat. (It was Joanna Carman’s cat.) A few more dog stories have been featured, but still, the average number of pet-related articles per issue is very low. Too low, I believe. To correct that, I am going to tell you about my cat, Duarte.

Duarte is, objectively speaking, the cutest kitten ever. He is small and fuzzy and has adorable white boots on his feet. He is very clever and has very sharp claws, which he likes to use to scale my back. (I never climbed Pico Duarte, but I have been summitted by Duarte many times.) I found Duarte sitting on the edge of the main road of my barrio. He was ridiculously tiny and diseased looking, but I picked him up and took him with me. My mom was visiting at the time, and she took him into Sosua to see the vet, who said he was about three weeks old--far too young to be separated from his mother. (You may have met Duarte at Thanksgiving. You may have inquired about my "pet rat." Please know that I have not forgiven anyone for slandering baby Duarte in that fashion.) My mom and I nursed Duarte back to health and now he is a happy, healthy, not-even-remotely-ratlike kitten.

Having Duartecito in my life has made me a much happier person. It’s hard to stay down when a cute little cat is rolling around on you and purring. However, he has also made me contemplate animal rights and human rights. Although I love animals, I do believe in an abstract way that human lives are more important than animal lives. And in an abstract way, I don’t think humans and animals have to compete. But here, in a very concrete way, I have taken an abandoned animal into my home and spent thousands of pesos on him. Duarte is only six months old and has been to the vet four times. He has all of his necessary vaccines. I buy fancy cat food to make sure he’s properly nourished. Duarte, one might say, has a better life than some of the kids in my barrio. My mom even sent him a care package with some light-up cat toys that any muchacho would likely enjoy.

I know that as volunteers we don’t have a lot of income. But I didn’t hesitate before taking out money from my American savings account to get medical care for my cat. Taking care of Duarte has only driven home to me how privileged I am. And it raises again the question I’ve faced throughout my two years here: what can I do? I can’t take every campo kid into the doctor. I can tell people about medical missions, and I can translate for them. I can buy cat food for one small cat, and I can help sort food donations for earthquake relief. But I can’t give every Dominican the same standard of life that Duarte and I have. This is extremely depressing—and it’s exactly the reason why I need a feline companion to cheer me up.

I think having Duarte is a good reminder of one of the reasons I came to the DR in the first place: to come see poverty up close and personal. If someone asked you to donate $30 to the Humane Society, you'd probably say no, thinking, "Gosh, it's a good cause, but I'll donate when I get back to the US and have a real job," and forget about it. But if someone asked you to pay $1000 pesos to get your own pet vaccinated so you can take him back to the US, well, you'd do it, if you're anything like me. And if someone asked you to donate money to UNICEF to "save the children," it would be pretty easy to justify not donating money. What children? Why do they need money? I could use that money to purchase things that I need, like Hello Kitty accessories. But when it's your own cute neighbor children drinking contaminated tap water, it's a lot harder to be indifferent. Our experiences here, in addition to the tangible benefits we're providing to community members (including stray animals), are giving us all a better understanding of our own privileges as citizens of a developed nation and of what poverty really means. It doesn't necessarily mean naked babies from Save the Children commercials, but it might mean not having access to medical care for your children, let alone your cat.

Although I am conscious of this disparity, I am still attached to my cat. I asked Duarte what he thought about this kind of global injustice. He said, "Meow." I suppose that's as good of an answer as any.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

charming anecdotes

  • There are some students and professors visiting from a college in Canada. On Friday, I led two students and one professor on a small trip to a neighboring town vis public transportation. The price for the bus is 35 pesos (about $1 US). Upon exiting the bus, I handed the driver exactly enough pesos for four passengers. He looked shocked and handed the pesos back. "I can't take your pesos," he said. "You're in the mafia!"
    "What?" I said.
    "Mafia," he said. "I need dollars from you. Twenty dollars. Each."
    "I'm not in the mafia. I'm a teacher. I live here, and I don't have any dollars. You have to take these pesos."
    "No, no. Too dangerous. I need dollars."
    "Don't try to trick me! I know it costs 35 pesos. I live here."
    "I wouldn't try to trick you! I would be in trouble with God if I did that. Twenty dollars."
    I ended up just shoving the pesos at him and walking away briskly. But seriously, if he thought we were in the mafia, shouldn't we have gotten to ride for free? Lest I send my mafia henchmen out after the bus driver? I mean, really.
  • In English class yesterday, the kids were filling out a sheet about their preferences. A twelve-year-old girl showed me the sentence, "My favorite movie is Yanblo Bandan" and asked me if it was right. It took me a second to figure it out, but then I helped her write "My favorite movie is Jean-Claude Van Damme." (I didn't even want to get into explaining that Jean-Claude Van Damme is not, strictly speaking, a movie.)
  • When I ask a question, my youngest computer class has a tendency to just repeat things they remember from previous classes, regardless of whether or not their answers actually make any sense. Our class has pretty much focused on three things to date: the proper use of Google, Wikipedia, and capital letters. A few examples, translated from Spanish:
    "So, who can tell me what Google does?"
    "Press the shift key at the same time as a letter?"

    "OK, what is Google?"

    "When do we need to use a capital letter?"


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

cute kid story

It seems like I spend too much time on this blog talking about "development" and "poverty" on this blog. Whatever, that stuff is boringgg.

So here's a story from this class this morning. I was co-teaching a class of rambunctious 9-to-11-year-old kids. And Dominican ideas about classroom management are different from American ideas about classroom management, so basically Dominican kids tend not to learn about things like "raise your hand," "line up," "don't yell," "don't yell the teacher's name while she's talking to another student right next to you," and "seriously stop yelling at me." Thus, at DREAM we spend a lot of time trying to get the kids to settle down so we can maybe, like, teach something?

This morning, I decided to try a little yoga. I taught the kids a few basic poses like mountain pose (basically just standing still), tree pose (standing with one foot on your knee and your hands touching over your head), and a modified version of warrior II pose (standing with feet far apart and arms stretched out to the side).

And then I learned that my Spanish has progressed to the point where I can do some BS meditation guidance-type stuff. ("Close your eyes... we're in a forest... we can feel the warm sun on our skins, helping us grow... helping us grow to be tall, strong, trees... we are quiet and peaceful...")

It was moderately successful, although I had to banish little David to the back corner of the forest because "It is QUIET in the forest! No one in the forest should be talking!" After class, all the kids lined up and were starting to get a little restless as we waited for the next classroom to be ready. I started asking them to do yoga poses in line. Mountain and tree were fine, but when I asked for fake warrior pose, there was trouble. One of the first few kids in line somehow fell over backwards and knocked over the entire line of warrior-ing children, like little yoga dominos. No one was hurt; everyone was delighted. It was probably their favorite part of yoga class.

FACT: this entry would be better if I had a photo--or better, a video-- of children falling down.
FACT: it's an imperfect world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

a day in the life!

I just posted a day in my life in photos! Check it out, if you are so inclined.

Monday, March 1, 2010

mi fin de semana chulo

Oh, hello there! I haven’t been blogging much of late. I suppose since I’ve gotten Internet in my apartment, I’ve been updating Facebook and the like much more often. Mainly I have been up to The Usual: teaching classes, hanging out at the beach, and keeping up with the demands of the cutest and most ferocious kitten on the North Coast.

This weekend was a little more eventful, though! On Friday, we had the day off at DREAM. I spent the morning giving a workshop to some Dominican pre-school teachers who got some subsidized laptops. Most of them had very little experience with computers and were sooo excited to get laptops. I was nearly as excited to have the afternoon off and visit friends at their friend’s swank condo. They had fast Internet and cable TV, so we spent nine hours watching the Olympics and reading Wikipedia articles about winter Olympic events. Curling raised many questions, all of which we were happily able to answer, thanks to the power of the Internet. By the end of the women's curling gold medal match, we were all rooting for Canada, half in-love with Canada's skip, and tossing around curling lingo like we were actually Canadian. ("Wow, I thought she was going to burn that stone, but it's in the house!")

Saturday--February 27--marked the DR's Independence Day! We made a day trip down to La Vega to celebrate in style at the country's largest Carnaval. I wrote about this in more detail last year, but it was fun to see all the elaborate costumes. Less fun: constant fear of getting hit in the butt. I only got one hard hit and few playful taps, but still: ouch! On the way home, we stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Santiago and I made an excellent discovery: Dominican KFC has biscuits! Legit biscuits! I haven't eaten a biscuit in months and months, and it was delicious.

Sunday morning I got up and went surfing with a few friends, but the waves were too big and crowded with real surfers for the likes of me, and I got out after about 45 minutes. I am pretty sure that I have maintained the exact same skill level (extremely low) since I started surfing in August. Whatever. I'm definitely not going pro any time soon, but it's still fun. And something I definitely won't be able to do once I return to the landlocked states, so I need to aprovecharlo (take advantage of it)!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

counting down!


75 days, apparently. 75 days left in the DR. I'm sure when I get back to the US and start transitioning, there will be things that I miss about being here. Certainly I'll miss all my Peace Corps and DREAM friends. I'll miss being so close to the beach. I'll miss egg empanadas.

But mainly, I'm ready to get home. What I miss most isn't material things--although there are plenty of those that I do miss, like hot water, a non-flood prone living space, and paved streets/sidewalks--it's just American culture. I'm not going to make a case that American culture is better than Dominican culture. But I'm used to American culture. For example, if many people are waiting for a service, such as asking for goods from behind the counter in a small store, who should get that service first? If you said, "the person who was there first," you are probably American. Or European. If you said, "the person who is loudest," you are probably Dominican.

If there's a dog in the neighborhood that you don't like, what should you do? If you answered "confront the dog's owner" or "call Animal Control," you are probably American. If you answered, "put out poisoned meat," you are probably Dominican. (Now, if you are Dominican, you definitely do not have an Animal Control line to call. And if you are a Dominican whose dog is accidentally killed by some poisoned meat, you are probably not too worked up about it--you probably thought of your dog as a security measure, not as a beloved family pet. But this is one of the reasons Duartecat isn't allowed outside.)

And I guess the benefit of two years here in the DR is that I really do understand where Dominicans are coming from, and I'm not like, "God, Dominicans KILL THEIR PETS." I mean, Americans have semi-arbitrarily chosen a few animals, like cats and dogs, that are "pets" and are taken care of, while others, arguably about as cute, like sheep and chickens, are kept in gross factory farms and eaten. But I still am American, and I'm looking forward to getting home and waiting in line for things, letting Duarte outside, and letting myself outside in a tank top without hearing every passing male's thoughts on the subject (which, granted, are invariably favorable).

Soon enough I'm sure I'll be complaining about how people in America are overly litigious and obsessed with their lawns, but for now, I'm pretty happy to get back to the devil I know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

culinary delicacy

So, lately I've been really excited about leaving the DR. Granted, I've been here over two years; it's fair that I'm ready to go home. But still, I have three months left and I want to take some time to focus on the positives. There must be some things I will miss, right?

Yes there are, and here is one of them:


Mmm! Egg empanadas! Empanadas are awesome little fried things sold on the street for around 15 pesos (about 50 cents). They come with a variety of fillings, but the best kind is egg.


They are very best when they are fresh out of the oil. Some places will sell cold empanadas. These are acceptable for eating, but nothing compared to the warm crispiness of a freshly fried empanada.

Dominicans: maybe not the best at getting along with their neighbors, but excellent at frying things.

haitian-dominican relations

I was running a little late for work this morning, like usual. I turned the corner to get to our side entrance--our front door is blocked off because we're constructing an extension to the building. I turned the corner and saw most of the other volunteers in a little gaggle outside the door. "Whew," I thought. "I must not be that late." They were talking to a couple Dominican men I didn't know. It turns out that someone hung themselves behind the community center I work at. When I found out, I said, "Wow, how sad!" And the random Dominican man said, "No, it's okay! He was Haitian! He left!" and made a "get out" hand gesture.

Needless to say, he was a little confused about why we were still upset, even though he was Haitian.

Later, in my computer class, I had the kids look at this page of photos after the Haiti earthquake and choose one, and then write a description of the photo and how the photo made them feel. One student chose a picture of some men digging out a building. The English caption said, "Residents search for victims after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 13, 2010." But of course the kids can't read English, so this kid wrote that it was "Dominicans helping Haitians out of a building." I asked him how he knew they were Dominicans. He gave me a "Well, DUH" face and said, "Look at them!" I gave him a little lecture about how not all Haitians look the same, and neither do all Dominicans, and Haitians work hard, blah blah blah.

I think I have more to say on the topic, but I am tired.

No es fácil, no.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

beginnings and endings

Oh, hello there! I'm back from a pretty exciting week in Santo Domingo. Wednesday through Thursday we had our COS (close of service) conference. This was exciting for several reasons: we got to stay at a nice hotel with hot water and buffets, all the members of my COS group got to hang out, and it meant that we're ALMOST DONE! The COS conference is three days designed to prepare us for returning to the US, which we can do on May 7th! We talked about resumes and interview techniques, we learned about our health insurance plan, and we took some rad group photos. Here is the COSing group of IT volunteers, minus Keane, who got tuberculosis and couldn't come. (Like that's a good excuse.)

By the way, yes, it was incredibly nervewracking to hold my laptop that close to the pool. You can see I have one hand lamely curled around it.

Some environment volunteers are COSing too, but who even cares about them?

Anyway, I am getting excited about leaving! The past two years have been a rollercoaster, and I'm definitely glad I did Peace Corps. But I'm also looking forward to first world conveniences, speaking English, not being stared at all the time, not worrying about people killing my cat all the time, and eating delicious, delicious American food. Ohh, yes. America.

After the COS conference--which ended up being somewhat of a plague zone, and most of us left with either a cold (I did) or food poisoning (I did not, gracias a Dios)--we all stayed around the capital for the weekend, because Stephanie got married on Saturday!!

She kissed her new husband!

We toasted her!

Hoorays all around! There are more photos at my Flickr, featuring many PCVs looking suspiciously well-dressed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

my week of soirees!

My social calendar this week has been fuera de control! Everyone in Cabarete has been scrambling to do what we can to help out in Haiti. It seems that everything there is still too disorganized for more volunteers to be of much help (especially non-Creole speaking, non-medical professional ones), so we've been focusing on fundraising efforts. Here in Cabarete there are enough tourists and expats that there are plenty of funds to be tapped, unlike in a lot of Peace Corps sites.

DREAM held two events. We had a pulga (flea market) here in the barrio--a bunch of people donated used clothing to us, which we sold to the residents of the Callejon. They got cheap clothing, we raised 25,000 pesos for Haitian relief. I myself spent $400 pesos on a new wallet, purse, and T-shirt. Everyone wins!

We also had a fancier event downtown, aimed at tourists & expats. We sold art made by the students, as well as a lot of jewelry donated by local businesses. There we made $40,000 pesos. Wow! (To put this in perspective--my entire monthly salary is $13,000 pesos.) In total we raised over $5000 US.

Remember my T-shirt tote bags? Here are some, after being decorated by the kids.

Here's some of the donated jewelry. I ended up buying the white button necklace.

Me and Lindsey, both wearing hot pink and posing in front of the donated higüero lanterns. Also, I'm wearing my new button necklace!

We also had a groundbreaking ceremony at DREAM. We got funding to build a few new classrooms for our center, hooray! And Celines Toribio, a Dominican actress/model, came to be our celebrity guest. She was really fun with the kids and, claro, extremely pretty. (I didn't bring my camera that day, alas.)

On Sunday evening, a few friends organized a FUNraiser (get it... because it's fun) at a local bar. There was a silent auction, and all of us DREAM volunteers made out like bandits! I spent $600 pesos on $1000 pesos worth of gift certificates at the two restaurants we always eat at. Hooray! Plus, I'm helping Haiti. I am a hero! A hero entitled to $1000 pesos worth of pizza and mojitos! This is the best kind of hero to be.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

tote bags for haiti!

DREAM is having an art show/fundraiser for the Red Cross next week! One thing we're planning to sell are these awesome tote bags made out of old T-shirts! We're planning to get kids to decorate them, but let me show you some of the plain ones I made this afternoon. It's soo easy, you don't even have to sew!

Step one, get a box. I mean, a T-shirt. And turn it inside-out.

Step two, cut the sleeves off of it, one inch-ish in from the seams. (If you do this a lot of times with crappy scissors, you will get a blister on your thumb. If you are lucky, you will have a Hello Kitty Band-Aid to put over it.)

Step three, cut out the neck. Basically make it a sexy tank top.

Step four, cut some awesome 80s-style fringe in the bottom. About a half-inch wide, two inches long, all the way across.

Step five, tie all the fringes together with double knots.

Step six, turn it rightside-out and oh my God you made a bag!!

Step seven, try to put your cat in the bag.


sigiendo la lucha

By now, I'm sure you have all read about the situation in Haiti. It's pretty grim. The earthquake would have been bad anywhere, of course, but in Haiti? In Port-au-Prince? Yikes. It pretty much destroyed all the infrastructure in a country that had barely any to start out with. People here are trying to mobilize. DREAM is having a few fundraiser events, and we're donating some of our own stuff (that others had previously donated to us).

Aside from being worried about Haiti, we've all been a little down here since it's been raining constantly for two weeks now. My street is a river, my apartment floods when it rains too hard, all my clothing is mud-spattered, and things are molding. Things that I did not even think could mold are molding. Of course, as annoying as all this is, I know I'm lucky to have a roof over my head. A twist of geographic luck and that earthquake could have been in Santo Domingo, not Port-au-Prince.

I'm sure you have heard this before, but truly, if you have any money to donate to Red Cross or Partners in Health or Oxfam or any relief charity, please do. It will help Duarte rest easier. He is very concerned about Haitian cats.


(Okay... he's not really. He's pretty oblivious. But you're not, right?)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

¡terremoto! or, the power of social media

Yikes! I was just sitting here in my apartment, minding my own business after a long day of DREAMing, when suddenly everthing started shaking. Duarte was frolicking around the bed and at first I thought maybe he was jumping too much and shaking the bed. Then I realized that even though Duarte has gotten fatter, he's still not big enough to do that kind of damage. Since I am sooo fancy and have Internet in my apartment now, I got on Twitter and joked about how maybe my apartment was collapsing. Then I felt dizzy and decided to eat some fruit snacks. I felt better and thought I had solved the problem! Then I read Rainn Wilson's (aka Dwight Schrute on The Office) Twitter where he said "Just heard there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti. Please send some prayers that way - they need a LOT of help."

Then I realized that it wasn't just my need for fruit snacks, and started Googling. CNN had nothing on it until like ten minutes after Rainn Wilson's Twitter. A few of my fellow IT volunteers updated their Facebooks with blurbs about the earthquake. Finally, CNN posted a 2-sentence story, which included the phrase "tsunami watch." Then I spent awhile Googling "tsunami" and freaking myself out. (Don't worry! It does not seem I am in any real tsunami danger here on the North Coast. However, in general please DO worry about tsunamis because they are terrible!!)

Anyway, in summation: I'm fine, the Internet is crazy, and you should maybe donate some money to the Red Cross because they are going to need it in Haiti. (More than they already did.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

¡dos mil diez!

Oh gosh! Happy new year! I have not blogged in a little while, because I have been too busy working to fight global poverty.

Just kidding, mainly I've been hanging out with Duarte and watching episodes of 30 Rock on my laptop. Global poverty can suck it. Uh... what I mean to say is, classes are starting soon again at the DREAM Center, at which point I will once again do my part to right global wrongs by teaching children how to blog.

Anyway, in addition to hanging out with my grumpy kitten I have had a few other exciting moments. My friend Justin came back from vacation on the 29th, and a group of us with nothing else to do (and deep love for Justin in our hearts) made big posters and went to greet him at the airport. Dominicans were curious about who we might be waiting for. One guy told us he "already saw a white guy leave." We assured him that we weren't waiting for a white guy, but rather a Chinese one. (Dominicans tend to refer to all Asian people as "Chinese," which Asian volunteers can either get really depressed about or find it hilarious. Justin, a Filipino, generally opts for the latter.)

Justin, Jen, Karina, and Steph showing off their posters.

We were, in fact, dazzled.

In addition to gracing us with his company, Justin also brought me back some Christmas presents from my mom! Most exciting of these were organic macaroni & cheese and a new digital camera!! It is a Canon PowerShot SD1200IS, whatever that means, and I really like it! It is very small and it takes pictures quickly. This is important, because with my old camera I could pretty much only take pictures of Duarte when he was sleeping. With this technological advancement, please expect up to 75% more photos of Duarte.

Here's one right now! This was at my friend Judith's apartment, where Duarte stayed during Christmas.

For New Year's Eve, volunteers traditionally come to Cabarete to party. Although I party in Cabarete every day, it is exciting to have visitors!

Here is a picture of me, Jen, and Karina. Party hats are involved to verify that it is, in fact, New Year's Eve.

I made two New Year's resolutions. One was to leave the DR without hating it (not that I hate it now, but I do have a little bit of an attitude problem that I want to keep in check). The other one was... uh... I forgot. Keeping my attitude in check is the biggest one, I suppose. Cheers to a new decade!