Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oz, The Powerful!

March 27, 2013. Today was our first Spanish assessment with role playing. It went well! And was kind of fun! Our team rocked it though with clapping and getting excited for each other; soo gonna miss us in CBT although Maegan and I will still be together :D. I know I passed but the teachers graded waaay too easily lol. Oh well! I'll take a passing grade!
Next, we played Jeopardy as a review game for our next test. The two teams ended up tying which was crazy! But we all won muffins :) I didn't feel as good about that test and blanked on the regions of the DR and their characteristics. There were 50 questions and you have to get an 80% to pass though so hopefully I didn't do that horribly. Well find out tomorrow!
We had a longer break with lunch and I actually got to Skype with Jen! It was so wonderful to see her face and hear her voice! And, of course, get to talk to Rebel :D. I then tried with my parents but with the Internet being slow and such, we missed out. Told them I would be on at 4 but then we didn't have Internet :( that got to me a little... Sorry momma.
After, we had our CBT talk. I will admit, I'm a little nervous about switching host families... I don't really want to leave Paola and my host mom since I'm really just starting to feel comfortable with them... And they are just so wonderful, especially Paola. I won't nearly be as spoiled as I am here and may have a latrine. Electricity will probably be harder to come by and I may have to take bucket showers. Also, a door with a lock isn't promised there like it is here (so doorway with a curtain, probably) and many of the families have never had a volunteer before... Kind of wishing my Spanish was better so I don't give them a bad first impression of Americans. And kind of wishing I had a laptop so I can steal movies from some other volunteers to watch because my iPad wont read my external hardrive :/.
But enough of the negatives! We will be in schools throughout this training and I'm doing a talk with a small group of us on Thursday of our first week. All of us will be in one barrio (neighborhood) so we won't be far away from each other at all. We can run there and our PCVL said she only runs for like 20 minutes and isn't very good but would love company... Perfect! We will also have much more of Spanish classes everyday which of course, is phenomenal (gonna miss Marcia since she's not my teacher anymore but! She'll still be there!) And knowing now how happy I get when we talk about education, I will hopefully feel that everyday since that's what CBT is all about! Woo! Puedo hacerlo.
After training and realizing I didn't have internet, we planned things for this weekend since we only have a half day tomorrow and then the rest of the weekend is free for Semana Santa. So far, on Saturday, we are going to see caves! I'm sooo excited! I walked home and got running hugs from Delmar and one of Paola's friends :D. That felt incredible. We played a few games of cards (again, totally lost as to what we played) and I told my host mom that a few of us were going to the movies. Originally I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, but a few of the people going aren't in my CBT group so I won't see them for 5 weeks. :( So I went. And I'm so happy I did! My host mom made me a sandwich and I met up with them. It was quite an adventure! We nearly died on the way there (see picture below) and our driver got out of the car to fight with the driver of the bus in the middle of the road. Haha times when I wish I was fluent. We saw Oz, The Powerful (not gonna lie, totally felt empowered after the movie :P), and it was in English!! With Spanish subtitles. I had to pinch myself at first because the previews were in Spanish and I knew that couldn't be me becoming fluent in 20 minutes haha. It was a great movie! So beautiful and funny and emotional and wonderful. I may or may not have stolen my 3D glasses as well :). They were cool looking! Anyways, we got back safely and within PC policies and my host mom and sister were still up watching TV so I didn't have to knock on the window to wake them. Phew! Still feel bad if they were waiting up for me but my host mother insisted that it was okay :). Love them..
To all, you're crazy for reading these but I love you for it. Thank you and buenas noches.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Embracing Change

March 26, 2013. I had multiple dreams last night... And though I remember none, I distinctly remember waking up in tears at one point. And it wasn't even Malaria Miercoles. Oh well. I was just extra tired all day. I even nearly fell asleep in between snoozes which I haven't done since I've been here. Maybe that's a sign that I'm feeling more comfortable? Eh, or maybe I simply went to bed too late. haha
Aaaanyways. Training started off with Spanish, which I liked. I really hate going all day without it but that's how it's going to be in CBT (which starts next week?! Wtf??). We then had a class on food preparation & diet maintenance. This was awesome because they split us into groups and we basically had a PC version of Iron Chef! We all had one main ingredient (we had pasta) at our tables and then there was a table with lots of other stuff (vegetables, spices, oils, sauces, etc). We had 25 minutes to make our main ingredient into a healthy, balanced meal using the stuff from the ingredient tables. We then named our dish, everyone tried each others' dishes at lunch, and we voted! The winner got free kitchen utensils from IKEA (!!!!). We didn't win... lol but seriously, everyone's dishes were awesome. I can't wait to cook on my own. Though I know my budget will make things a bit challenging, it will be fun to experiment, I think!
After lunch we had a sexual awareness class (1 of 3 more). It was planned well though because afterwards, we spoke of resiliency and then we had a relaxation class..
We actually ended early today so a few of us hung around to study. Tomorrow is our first Spanish assessment and our overall PC assessment. Ugh, nervous. At 5pm, we had to leave the center so we went to Sarah's place to continue. She has a gorgeous balcony on the third floor over-looking the street. It was so peaceful up there; I was quite jealous. We finished up around 6:45pm and I still don't feel ready... Oh well.
At home, my host mother, Jenny, Sona, and Francis were playing Dominoes. I sat with Delmar (the 4yr old) and Densel (the 1yr old) and played cards. I have NO idea what games we played and he made NO sense when trying to show me how to play. haha It was so cute! I just kept laughing and watching him play but whenever I tried to copy his moves, I was apparently wrong. haha so great. The adults just would look over, I would make a very confused face, and they laughed. My host mom made me batatas y huevos (sweet potatoes and eggs). It was delicious and I had the company of Delmar! He just talked and talked and shoved food in his mouth and talked. My host mom made a comment that he is crazy but good to learn from because he talks a lot. True, if I could understand it all with food in his mouth lol I didn't catch this until the end, but we were apparently racing to see who could finish our dinner first. I figured it out when I won... haha Oops. Afterwards, he wanted to see what I had to study so I showed him my notebook and we talked about articles of clothing and parts of the body. Of course, soon after, he wanted to play more cards. I told him I was sorry, but I had to study more. We said goodnight, I studied for a while and now I'll head to shower and bed. Tomorrow's going to be interesting... Also sad because it's the last day I'll have with this Spanish class and with Marcia, my teacher. It'll change in CBT... :( Boo.
Ah well. Guess I need to start embracing change. Buenas noches.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Chose To Be Me

March 25, 2013. Today I had a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast. Much better than the tomato and cheese one :) So I was a happy camper. Paola sat with me since she doesn't have school all this week for Semana Santa. We chatted about how she was happy that she didn't have school and I finally was able to give her the rock I found at the beach. I said that it was a gift for her. And that it made me think of her because I think it's beautiful and she is beautiful!
We started off the day at training with an interesting activity. We all stood in a circle and took little strips of paper with statements on them. Statements such as, "I like yuca" or "I have a family member in the Peace Corps." Then the second set of strips were things like, "I believe in pro-choice" or "I have been in an abusive relationship." So we went around and read our statements aloud and if it applied to us, we'd stand in the middle. And then the last person had the statement, "I did not step forward for one or more statements." It was fascinating to see how many of us seemed to be honest. I'm sure there were many who didn't step forward for some but even the difficult ones had participants and we've only known each other for 2 1/2 weeks. Crazy to think about. And despite not knowing these people for very long, I feel like I can trust them or at least be real with them. Hell, I could be whoever I want to be with them since I came in as an empty slate in their eyes. But I chose to be me, and I think that was the best choice.
After this, we separated into Education and Business and talked about our volunteer visits. I didn't say much since it was difficult to have one set of feelings about it. That was okay though, since we were going to have interviews throughout the day with our placement coordinator to talk more about what we might want in our placements. Which...I'll just put here now. Okay, so I went to have my interview and it went really well. I spoke of some concerns about being out in the middle of nowhere with a less populated area. I also said that I was worried about being near the border because of the language differences that exist with the mix of Creole from Haiti. She completely understood, listened to me talk about my weekend and said she is placing us in clusters and that we won't be out in the middle of nowhere :D. I said I was having a difficult time with this because I wanted them to place me where they felt I could make the biggest difference, so saying there were things I didn't want, didn't feel right. She told me not to worry, she already has plans and that it's probably the happy medium I'm looking for. And with us being in clusters, we will have each other for support (technical AND emotional!) and we can do trainings together. She also said that she would like me to do things both in teacher training as well as working with the kids = exactly what I wanted! Ugh, I'm so anxious excited to find out my placement already! It's torture!
Okay so before lunch we then had a lecture on common health concerns like respiratory illnesses, skin infections, dental care, and local creepy crawlies & insects. Wooo. haha apparently nothing here is very poisonous but there are snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, centipedes and millipedes, geckos, etc. Haha so awesome. Honestly, the only thing I got out of the whole thing was GET A DOG. I'm so getting one! She went on and on about how a pet can be so good for your physical, emotional, and mental health. So (definitely used "so" 3X just now... I might be a little excited) at lunch, I sat with her and asked her all about it. It's doable on our budget, she will help me with all of the vaccines, she will help me find one if I don't fall in love already with one in my community, she will help me with training tips, and has books galore that I can borrow! I asked about when I go on vacation and she said I will most likely be able to trust someone in my community to take care of him. My only real concern: when my service is over. She said most people take them home (one girl is currently trying to find a way to take a horse home!)... Which I know probably won't be a reality... So, she said there will be lots of tears and tearing of heartstrings, but someone in the community will probably take him or another volunteer that is maybe extending... I'll have to think about that one a lot but I have time. I just REALLY want a dog! Since I don't play the guitar or anything cool like that, I feel like a pet would fill in the voids when I'm lonely or bored or in need of an excuse to exercise or in need of lovin'. Ugh. Want. So. Bad.
Phew! Continuing on... After lunch we had Spanish and we made orange juice with sugar, evaporated milk, ice, and vanilla. It was soooo good. We then talked about various traditions, parties, ceremonies, and superstitions in the DR.
After training, I finished collecting money for stamps from the group and we went to La Sirena (Super-Walmart). I got a few things (bar of soap, aloe, paper and colored pencils (a whopping 6 of them) to make Paola a picture, a purse (since they totally lied when they said DON'T BRING ONE), post-it notes, qui-tips (!!! had NO idea how much I would miss those), but no sunglasses (damnit)). I also may or may not have splurged on a new shirt that I liked but I am currently having no buyer's remorse (see below). Hopefully that stays that way when my settling-in allowance sucks... haha I spent $1,659.70. Whoo that's still going to take some getting used to. And tax here? 18% so for my purchases = $245.53. Crazy.
Andrew, Maegan, and I are trying now to plan getting together to study for our assessment on Wednesday... We're nervous. But it's 7:15pm already and I haven't had dinner yet... Hm...
So dinner was pasta again with salsa de china? That's what I heard which would translate into Chinese sauce. I have no idea. haha but it was pretty good (still miss yours, Gram).
And scratch studying plans... There was a concern in the group about me walking up to Los Cocos at night so we're rescheduling to tomorrow right after training. Damn. So I guess I'll just stay in my room since a bunch of neighbors are out playing Dominoes and Paola is gone with her friend... I'm good with it :) Maybe I'll study, shower (since it's been hot as HELL today-though I'm sure being burnt isn't helping to stop the sweating...), and head to bed. Love you all, and buenas noches.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Just Glad To Be Home

March 24, 2013. Commence rooster and a whining puppy that I think was being attacked by the rooster right outside the wall at 5am and I was up... We drank coffee and had a little bite of banana bread before Ivette and I were on our way. I got to ride on another moto (by myself this time!) and again, love it. The views from Laura's place are amazing; despite having to wear a helmet which screams, "I'M NOT FROM HERE." The guagua picked us up pretty quickly and it was nearly packed again. Ivette and I got separated there a bit and a woman in the back was very sick... She eventually got off, the cobrador made a nasty comment, and he tried talking to me (even a little in English). I wanted to bad to say, "Yo se solamente un poco espanol pero cuando hablas en ingles, no entiendo nada" (I may only know a little in Spanish, but when you talk to me in English, I understand nothing). But, as per usual, I froze. The bus cleared a little along the way and though the driver was INSANE, the trip was much faster than the way out on Thursday. A little girl right behind me did throw up after her mother fed her hard-boiled eggs, salami, and soda at 9am... The smell came and went in waves. I don't think it's possible to travel here without an episode or two. Back in the city we picked up the last guagua to head back to Pantoja (home). The cobrador tried to take my helmet and offered me a ride on his moto but Ivette fought back and said only if it's a free ride back to Pantoja.. He left us alone after that. Someday. Someday, I'll defend myself and be strong...
When I got home my host mother and sister weren't there. I called the number she gave me but it ended up being the house phone which I could hear ring and not her cell. lol. One of Paola's friends came looking for her with a game so we started to play while we waited together. Shortly after, they got home. Paola sat down and played with us. It was a cute math board game and they both did very well with their addition and multiplication facts. We talked about my trip and the game and I really interacted well, I think!
After, Paola showed me the pool in the back! They decided to swim and I went to unpack my bags. After, I changed and went in the pool with them. I told them I didn't want to wear my bathing suit because I was red and showed them my shoulders. We talked a lot about my friends and family back home and Paola's friend asked me a lot of questions. I understood it all and we had a pretty smooth conversation! Ugh, so good. My host mom made us lunch which was platanos maduros, ham, and onions (oh and AMAZING pineapple juice; which I have to say, I totally missed fresh fruit juice in those previous three days without it haha Today I've already had fresh cherry juice when I arrived, fresh pineapple juice, and another juice with pineapple, rice?, and sugar = more dessert-y tasting ). This time, I ate all my lunch cuz I was starving :). At the table we all talked about the other volunteers that my host family has had and it was a lot (I was totally wrong before when I didn't think they had any... Oops)! My host mom said that all of us volunteers are really smart! But their first one drank a lot of beers, another made this weird noise that they kept imitating, one danced a lot, and so on. Again, a smooth, flowing conversation and I don't think I missed too much!
After we ate, I showed them pictures from my trip and Paola and her friend went to her room to watch TV. I finished up my report and cleaned up my blog to prepare for posting tomorrow. It's only 2:30pm now, but with the way things have already gone today, I'm just glad to be home.
I did some homework and extra studying since we have almost an entire day of assessments on Wednesday to prepare for CBT next week (!). I then went outside and chatted with my host mom, Paola, Jenny, and played with the little one. Julio and Francis came over with Sona and they started playing Dominoes. I went and got my workbook and brought it outside. I sat down and my host mom gave me coffee and said, "Aye more homework, Julie?" I just said I needed to study and I didn't want to be in my room. She agreed because of the nice breeze outside (winning here with conversations! Lol). I worked for a while while they played but the guys at the colmada across the street kept staring and hissing (the hissing burns my ears). So I left to get cards to see if Paola wanted to play. She had her door shut though so I journaled a bit about my weekend (sorry, you don't get to know ALL the details ;) ) while Mumford and Sons cooled the burning and sent a calming pulse to my heart. Goodness I love them. That was one of my smart purchases before i left (I need to start looking for some Spanish music now!). Hopefully they didn't hear me singing in English out there lol.
I went in and out of my room trying to mingle but they played Dominoes all night so it was difficult to interact. It's 7:45pm and I'm sweating still... My sunburn probably isn't helping any. I think I'll shower and head to bed soon. Maybe play a few games on my iPad first :). For whatever reason, I'm in high spirits at the moment so I'm gonna just enjoy it in my room. Buenas noches, everyone.

Just Remember

March 23, 2013. We woke up at 6:50am and made it to the truck by 7:15am. He honked and honked and honked to tell people we were leaving but we didn't leave until 8. Even then, a few people called him to wait for them despite knowing that the truck always tries to leave at 7:15am (gotta get used to this reality). We walked around and I tried to take pictures of the views but it was foggy. I was upset that we never went for that walk yesterday... I had told Nikki that I wanted to ride in the back of the truck this time so I could experience standing on the flatbed so we did! And an experience it was. I felt like I was flying down a mountain and the views when the sun was rising above them? Breathtaking. I tried my best to soak it all in and live in the moment because the moment was nearly perfect. The pictures do no justice.
We made it down to Padre las Casas and got on a guagua to take to Laura's. At the cross, we actually sent our bags up with a moto and kept going towards the beach since Laura and Ivette were running late. I was a bit nervous sending my things with a stranger but they trusted him... Anyways, in Azua we got off the bus and got a motoconcho ride. Both of us on the back of a bike = terrifying! We made it to the beach (La Playa de Monte Rio) --See pictures below! It was perfect. They said it's probably the ugliest beach in the DR but lordy was it beautiful. I swear the mountains in the background were painted there and not real (hard to see in the pictures, sorry). I had found a beautiful shell that I was going to give to Paola but I lost it in the water :( I found a pretty rock instead... We drank chocolate milk, ate lunch (see below!!), and went swimming. Wading in the water, Ivette and I just chatted while Nikki and Laura did the same a bit further away. It was nice to separate for a moment and vent. Ivette's experience was a mix of things as well.
At around 3pm, we left in one of Laura's friend's car. We fit 5 people in the back and four (one was an adorable little boy) in the front!! It was insane haha and hot. Laura and Nikki were dropped off at the supermarket to buy stuff for dinner and the friends took us back to Laura's house. Ivette and I showered (being able to actually sit on a legit toilet and not squat over a hole with flies, was wonderful. But, it didn't flush so you had to dump a jug of water quickly down the hole to build enough pressure to flush lol) and waited for their return. Laura's house was pretty amazing. It had four rooms and then a bathroom; though one room belonged to the lady who she rented it from (but she was never there to use it). She had gotten lucky with much of her furniture already being in the house. She also borrowed a lot from her host family. If I've learned anything from these 2 volunteers, it's that the settling-in allowance from the Peace Corps is basically nothing and I'm going to need to be creative (and possibly very friendly with the neighbors?) in order to make my house a home. I've already written a list of things I would like to have at some point.
Anyways, the girls got back and we went outside to chat and eat chips & salsa, Mmm... It started to rain though so we moved inside. We listened to music, talked, rocked in her rocking chairs (!), and had tons of neighbors and kids stop by. Eventually they made pasta with a chunky red sauce and it was very good! As they were making it though, two kids came by and the three of us talked about books together. The girl started to read to me and then asked me to read. I spent about a half hour reading to them and asking them various questions. They were so intrigued and it was so wonderful!! Of course, I'm the only one in the group of Americans who doesn't speak much Spanish (Ivette is fluent) so much of the day was me, unsure of many things though understanding more than I thought but remaining silent. In this moment, however, I was enthralled in the kids sitting around me in the rocking chair and I was reading to them and interacting with them! Sheer perfection and exactly what my dream is. I want that so bad it burns. Kids to come by every day, my door to be always open (I know I'll need my privacy too, don't worry), the children wanting to read the books I have or color or do puzzles, for them to write me notes or bring me small tokens of love, etc. If I can just remember that reality and what it feels like, remember my loved ones at home and their unending support, and believe that I will accomplish many things here, I know I'll make through those moments (or days) when I think, "There's no way I can do this. What was I thinking?"
We ate pasta, Laura played the guitar and sang (beautifully) and we went to bed. A day filled with ups and downs (which is becoming my norm) but ending with a full heart. Buenas noches.

Sharing Worlds

Friday, March 22. I swear to god if I end up in a community where roosters are brutally slaughtered... I may be the happiest girl in the world (Again, in case you missed my note over on the right there: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely mine and do not represent that of The Peace Corps. Thank you.) Ha. I maybe slept an hour last night between the roosters, dogs barking, and donkeys screaming... The entire night. I asked her if she got used to that and she just said when she did wake up last night, she just laughed and thought, "Wow they're loud tonight." So I guess that means, yes? Ugh. I'm investing in a fan even if I'm somewhere colder (which believe it or not, I was cold last night!), just to drown out noise. I don't care if I have to pay with my own money because my settling in allowance isn't enough lol. I'll go insane. :)
Well she made me hot chocolate this morning and we finished my write up for the weekend which was good to get out of the way. She then made me pancakes and eggs! It was so nice to actually have breakfast for breakfast :D. Then, the talk of education! Oh she showed me so many wonderful things from her teaching binder. It's stuff like that that keeps me going. I just need to get past training and to that part when I'm somewhat fluent in Spanish. The way I feel when we simply talk about it, makes me know this is the right thing for me. We talked forever about her project and all the things she's done. Lots of ups and downs for sure and I admire her for her strength and perseverance. And her mother (from the US) has given her so many materials! Her family has visited like 4 times, brought stuff, and sent stuff. She also was able to get a grant for funding too. I wrote down a whole bunch of ideas for things I need to get :). We then walked to the market and got vegetables for our lunch. She made lentils, Gram Irene!! With potatoes, cilantro, carrots, celery, chicken broth, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It was delicious! We then walked up to her school so I could see what it was like and I took a few pictures. After that, we got our toenails done lol They're gorgeous and I'll definitely post a picture. The lady said I have big feet like her and talked about how small my pinky toenail is haha. Oh don't I already know. They chatted for a while, more silence for me, hooray. I understood most of it but I didn't feel like I had anything to contribute? I don't know.
Nikki then made banana bread so that we can have breakfast on the rode tomorrow. The only truck that leaves is at 7:15am, otherwise you have to take a motoconcho and it's much more expensive. So we're headed to her friend, Laura's, early in the morning! Nikki's fiancé and I then practiced each other's language! Haha she had flash cards and he would say the word in English and I would translate, and then I would say a Spanish word and he would translate. It was awesome haha. And I felt like I interacted more with him and tried to speak more Spanish instead of freezing up and sitting in silence. We would be translating family words, so then I would share some things about my family. It was really nice. (Time out! She has a hammock! God I wish I had brought mine because it's just like the ones I've seen here and it would have saved me $1,200 (pesos, of course) I may have to have my parents send it and take whatever out of my account to cover sending it... That would make me so happy :D) The power went out, he went to work, and we headed down to see her facilitator. Afterwards, we played cards, my tummy was quite unsettled, her fiancée made us sandwiches of an odd, but surprisingly delicious combo of cheese, cabbage, onions, mayo, ketchup, a little jalepeno juice and smushed and fried like a panini (seeing them together and adorable was torture. Love and miss you, baby), and we watched a show called, "Dead Like Me." It was pretty funny and she said she got lots of shows and movies from other volunteers. I wish there was a way for me to do that. But my iPad wont read USBs unless it's my camera I'll live though! Buenas noches.

"A truly simple life is a home filled only with objects that you truly love and are useful to you, friends that nurture and support you, a job that utilizes your unique skills, and time spent pursuing hobbies and travels that you find interesting." ~Unknown

Feeling Defenseless But Then Proud

March 21, 2013. What a long day. I left my house at 7 and we managed to get on a guagua at 7:45. Literally when they said, "You can always fit one more person on a guagua," they weren't kidding. The three of us squeezed in the aisle with our giant book bags and damn helmets. One lady held my helmet for me which was wonderful. I had to hold onto my bag in front of me while also holding onto the railing above me for support. My arms were shaking the whole time. And it took us about an hour and a half to get to our bus stop (waaay too long). Also. The cobrador (man who calls for people to get on his bus and collects money) wouldn't leave me alone... Staring, blowing at me through the window to get my attention, pulling on my pant leg (touching is apparently very inappropriate even here)... I was finally able to move away from him when the bus cleared out a little but he sat down next to me across the aisle. Ivette finally told him to leave me in peace and he backed off a bit... I was fuming. If I had been in the states, I would have been able to defend myself. But I kept trying to think of what I could say and then doubting if it was right so then I remained silent... It sucked being defenseless.
We got off and had to walk a bit and a man in a car was calling out "fea" to me which means, ugly. Then another guy followed me a bit, saying things... Ugh. We finally made it to the bus and it was air conditioned and there was more room. Heaven. No problems there, just a long trip. Until Ivette got off at her stop and the cobrador of that bus asked for my number... I was at my breaking point but I still had another bus to ride and a truck to find before I got to the volunteer's site. I got off at the right stop and waited for my second bus. The motoconcho guys wouldn't leave me alone to get a ride from them. But the bus came, I got on, got laughed at and asked to go sit in the very front next to an older man. I took my seat somewhere else and "Estoy bien aqui, gracias" (I'm good here, thank you) and fell silent despite the burning sensation in my chest. Also, that cobrador owes me 5 pesos. But I'll never see him again. I managed to tell him where I was going so he let me off at my stop.
And then...Nikki was there with Jeff. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Americans and finally felt something other than anger; I was proud that I made it. Oh my god. So so happy. We ended up waiting 3 hours there for a man to return to the truck with his book bag. Turns out he was waiting up the road the entire time... The drive up the mountain? Holy shit. The road was not paved and it twisted, turned, we went up and up and then down and then back up. He was a crazy driver, all over the road and flew through turns that had blind corners. But oh the views. I cannot wait to take pictures tomorrow and post them. I cannot imagine being able to call this place home for two years. I felt closer to heaven. Paradise. We walked to her place and from the outside? Exactly what most people imagine when they think of the Peace Corps. I loved it. Stone walls half way up, then wood, then zinc rooftop. Two rooms but quite spacious. An "outhouse" or latrine with a hole to go in (with lots of flies, that was difficult to get used to) and a little space for a bucket shower.
I met her fiancé (a Dominican) and she fed me rice, beans, and a cucumber and tomato salad. She has Internet on a flash drive that she plugs into her computer so she let me use it (the usb wouldn't work in my iPad though so I'll have to get a router when I'm on my own; which will be affected by the power unlike the usb..). We then went for a walk. It was hilly and just what I needed to stretch my legs after sitting for 8 hours today. Goodness it was beautiful. We're going again tomorrow so I can take pictures cuz I forgot my camera :). We came back, I took my first bucket shower, and we went to visit the woman that took care of her when she first got here. Her story is amazing (and a little unnerving) since this was not her first placement... But she's got a job in the city and plans on being here a third year teaching and then they'll get married. Anyways, we ate empanadas which were amazing and drank coffee. After, we went to visit her fiancé at work (in a banca) and drank some chocolate milk. We came back to her place and watched half of Shrek in Spanish!! Haha Buenas noches.

It's Going To Be The Little Things

March 20, 2013. In the morning I had salami and a yam. It was delicious but of course, starchy and filling. My host mother put on a christian radio station (first time religion has been mentioned in some way in this house) and the song that I know and love, "I Want To See You" or something like that came on. It was translated perfectly in Spanish :). Today was jam-packed with information. First, how we need to monitor and evaluate everything we do for our own sake as well as for the collection of data for the Peace Corps as a whole. They reiterated that much (if at all) of our impact (more long-term) will not be seen by us... This is discouraging in the sense that I will have to work extra hard to keep my attitude right when the results are not there in front of me. Our training director said that when she served, it was the little boy she taught how to read in her community that kept her going every day. There may not have been big successes in the two years of service, but the little ones are just as important for keeping your sanity and providing hope. So many people talk about how they stayed for a third year and while as of right now, I don't want that, I do know that I would love to come back and visit in the future once my service is done. Just to see the volunteers that come after me (since this program is still just starting) and what progress was made, if any.
After this we learned all about the history of the DR from the indigenous people, to colonization from Spain, to gaining independence from Haiti, to Trujillo, to today. Though long, it certainly was fascinating. During lunch we got our helmets for our motoconcho rides (!) and money for traveling this weekend. I was a little annoyed, however. Our helmets are blue with really brights decals all over it that just screams, "I'M AMERICAN, ROB ME." No one wears helmets here and while I understand the reasoning for wearing them, why do they have to be so bright and obviously foreign? (see below)
Anyways, then we learned all about the climate of the DR, hurricanes, and the various parts of the country and how they differ environmentally, economically, etc. Again, long but very interesting. To wrap up the day we got to ride on a motoconcho for practice and had Spanish class. In class we learned how to go about renting a place here and the kinds of questions you would ask. We also talked about what to do in the case of an emergency and all the lingo that goes with it. We didn't have time to make our juice but we're going to on Monday. I collected money for stamps and went to a colmada with a few friends to celebrate Caitlin's birthday tomorrow. Eventually I made my way home, started packing my bag, had pasta for dinner, talked with Sona and my host mother about my trip (understanding most of what they said, I think), and headed to bed. Had to leave here by 7am... Buenas noches.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Too Much Heart and Not Enough Strings

March 19, 2013. Today I awoke to a cheese and tomato sandwich. Oh boy... I tried so hard and nearly threw up. I was able to sneak a tomato in the part of the sandwich I wasn't planning on eating and managed to tell her my stomach hurt a little so I wasn't hungry. I tried Gram, I tried. I will say that I'm officially eating onions though! Had scrambles eggs and onions and platanos for dinner and I ate all the onions :D haha No one else would care about this except for my Mom and Grandma so thank you for bearing with me.
The entire morning of training was dedicated to education. It was so wonderful again to not feel so lost. We learned many statistics about the education system in the DR and it's quite alarming. I'll admit that when I first got my invitation to the DR, I was excited but also hesitant because I really wanted to go somewhere where they needed help the most. Well, I'm in the right place. Just recently, there was a 96% fail rate on a national exam given to 4th and 8th graders. The entire educational system is ranked 130/135 and they are 133/135 in math & science education. Only 1 of every 5 children who begin first grade graduate through to eighth grade. Many teachers are not university graduates and some didn't even receive a high school diploma. School days on average (in public schools) are about 4 1/2 hours and in many places, if it rains, the teachers won't show up so there is no school. To be fair to the teachers, however, as a PCV, I will be paid about 2X as much as a full time teacher here. Oftentimes, teachers will pick up second jobs thus having no time with their families and no time to adequately prepare for their classes.
For the last ___ years, the DR has spent 1.8% of their GDP on education. There has recently been a huge movement to increase this to 4% and it just passed. This is phenomenal but there is still a problem. The first thing they did with that money is give raises to the people of the Ministry of Education, who aren't even in the schools. Now, the fight is starting on where the rest of the money will go. Some argue that it should go to the kids only. Teachers, however, are going on strike (like they're doing today and tomorrow), because they feel they deserve a raise (which based on what they make, is totally understandable...). It's a crazy mess despite one success finally reached. I cannot tell you how excited I am to get started even though the reality is,

"In your Peace Corps service you will help plant trees whose shade you will not get to sit under."

We had quite a bit of a break before lunch and I was able to talk to Nate :). I saw his face! And his sister! But he didn't see me:( The internet just wasn't strong enough to handle all this love haha. Trying to stay positive, I will hear from him soon.
Lunch was Chinese food! haha Sadly, our cook's mother passed away so she's been gone. The food was pretty good though. And I didn't find myself hungry 20 minutes later like I always did at home! I asked Jennifer (our Training Director) how we can mail letters. She said I'm the first to ask so I'm the new mail woman! I will be collecting money for stamps from the other trainees and whatnot, heading up the mail system here at the training center. haha. Woo!
Spanish followed lunch and it was just us girls since Andrew had his 1:1 class in the morning. It ended up being an emotional class with frustrations and feeling lost. Even my teacher, Marcia, started to tear up... She said it just gets hard because of how badly she wants to reach us and she feels she could be a better teacher somehow but she's not. I guess the language barriers really hit her (us) today and I felt horrible. It's no ones fault and we're all doing the best we can but I understand, it's simply too much heart and not enough strings. But luckily, that isn't going to last. I believe in us.
Then another crazy whirlwind. In preparation for our PCV visit this weekend, we were being escorted to our bus stops in Santo Domingo so we would know where to leave from. I had my directions written by my volunteer but then when we talked on the phone, she gave me another bus to take instead so that I could go with another trainee who was going to be near me. Commence total confusion. In the process of trying to compare our directions, Ivette and I got really lost and asked multiple teachers for help. Ivette's directions ended up not being completely clear and I was given two different ones so I didn't know who to go with on the trip out to the city. Finally, we figured it out, I went with a different group, Ivette and I are in fact traveling the first half together, and I'm not nervous about anything until... The truck ride. She said because I'm the "Rubia" I'll probably get to ride in the front. But if not, I have to stand on the flatbed and hold on to the rack on the roof. Oh dear. Hopefully no one talks to me too much...
She did say, however, that we will be going to visit Ivette and her volunteer on Saturday and going to the beach!! Yes please! We're then sleeping there and Ivette and I will be able to travel back to Pantoja (here) together. Wonderful! She also asked me to bring my external hardrive with any new movies or shows which I don't have :( I feel bad... Hopefully the write up will be pretty easy and the rest of the time we can just chill. Our PCVL said she slept a ton on this weekend. I wouldn't mind that lol.
So I got home around 5:30 and told my host mother that I needed to buy naranjas (oranges) for a juice that we are making in class tomorrow with naranjas, azucar (sugar), leche (milk), vainilla (gee...), and hielo (ice). Mmmmm. She had Paola accompany me to the market and I got them. Then back at the house, we played some cards, I had dinner, and they invited me to play Dominoes. The beginning was great! I wasn't doing so well but my partner was so we won the first two rounds. It wa simply nice to be included and get high-fives from Sona. Then the next two we lost and there were multiple times where if I had known how to play better, I could have won it. There's a way to keep track of the dominoes, know what others probably have, and predict which ones to play. Yea, I don't have that yet. So the group started picking on me hard. They laughed, tried to explain things to me, Jenny said if they want me to understand anything it's going to need to be in English, and Sona asked if she could switch partners tomorrow. Ouch. It's all in good fun and they do this to everyone but oo boy. I just picked on myself and said things like, "I need to understand Spanish NOW" and laughed, "I never want to play Dominoes again" and laughed, and when I couldn't play a domino and they had to ask if I could play, I simply joked, "Nunca" (never). I did count the dominoes at the end of each round though since they seemed to struggle and I knew what it was each time. Guess I'm good for something? Oh well.
We finally finished and music went on and dancing began. My host mother tried to get me to dance outside but I simply said, "Dominoes AND dancing in one night? Oh no way." haha. Eventually I said I have a little homework (which may or may not have been a lie) and here I am, typing this.
AH! Nate just called!!! He literally said, "Hello?" and I was speechless for a second. Then of course, the tears came. haha. Goodness did that feel wonderful :D I think I can sleep soundly tonight now :) Thank you baby. I love you.
And I love you all who take the time to read these! Buenas noches.
(Oh and Mom and Dad? I'm STILL finding notes!! Haha Thank you :D)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Si puedes escucharme, aplausa una vez

March 18, 2013. This morning I had platanos maduros y salami. So much starch in those platanos and first thing in the morning? Ay Dios mio. I only ate one and left my other one :/ lol Training in the morning was learning all about diversity in the DR in regards to us as well as within the Dominican people. Four different volunteers of varying ethnicities, race, and sexual orientations came and talked to us about their experiences. It was definitely interesting and eye-opening to what they have to deal with. I'll just have to deal with Americana so I can't complain much. What seems to be a pattern here, though, is having to accept all that is around you and learn to brush things off. There is a time and place to bring up things that are hurtful to you, but mostly, ignore and smile. For two years? Yikes, but boy do I give these volunteers props. We then learned about how the Dominicans feel about themselves and the history behind it all. So fascinating and a bit sad. It's amazing that we all can be so similar in ways (though for different reasons). We look at our models in the states and think we need to be skinnier, prettier, etc and they do the same thing and think they need to be a certain color, have certain features, and be a certain "bonita." The diversity within the people here is vast and, I think what makes these people so incredibly beautiful; they, however, feel otherwise...
During one of the breaks, I also learned that one of the volunteers is probably just as homesick as I am. It was mentioned in passing and this person admitted that everyone else seems to fine but he/she is struggling. I may or may not have attack hugged them, which I hope was okay, but of course told them to call me anytime. I just wish we had more minutes a month. We had pizza (Pause! It's finally raining!! Ah! I wish I could run outside in it!! Damnit this sucks haha but the sound is like music to my ears right now :D ) for lunch which was okay. Not the same as home haha.
Afterwards, we had Spanish all afternoon. We learned all about different articles of clothing, stores, and how to bargain. Yes, Mom! I'm going to have to start bargaining!! Ah!! Maybe I'll get so good at it here, that you'll be asking me to do it at garage sales at home FOR you! Muahaha. I'm gonna master this even if it's the only thing I accomplish here ;).
At 3:15, I had my technical training (training in Education; the Community & Economic Development have separate training) interview. This was basically just to meet with our technical trainer and discuss any worries, expectations, and ways in which we could help during our Community Based Training time. I had ranked all the objectives that we had based on Dominican education system. So basically, all our my responses were 1s which meant I knew nothing about them. She sat me down and said, "Julie. You are my expert and I need you. When you filled this out, were you being modest or...?" I was confused until I realized I was supposed to answer them based on my knowledge and experience in the states! That changed my perspective big time. I re-did that sheet haha. She reiterated that she is so excited to have me and wants me to help with the training classes, teach a few topics, and will be making me one of the leaders within my training group. Ah!! This felt AMAZING but oh god the pressure is on. She said she already has big plans for me to solely work in one school during CBT (which will be in Monte Plata in two weeks-ish?), develop relationships with the teachers and students, and be able to report back with things that are good and things that could be helped. She said with my personality, from what she's seen so far, that I am going to breeze through these next years when it comes to this. Again, AHHH! I need to master my Spanish NOW. And as if my head wasn't full enough with constantly learning new words and trying to translate EVERYTHING (sorry about all the caps, I'm super excited and scared), I now am trying to rack my brain for everything I learned in college and in student teaching. I wish I had all my stuff with me! There just seems to be this really high expectation of me (and I had NO idea!) and lordy I cannot let them down. She also said she set me up with one of the best education volunteers for my PCV visit this weekend. She had matched us all with some things in mind but made sure that she and I were together because she said it's an absolutely perfect fit! Can't wait to meet her! Oh! I almost forgot! Of course I had not having enough Spanish fluency as a concern of mine. She took out a worksheet with the letter Dd on it and various words starting with Dd, phonetics, sentences, and handwriting practice. She goes, can you read some of this? I read it all.... And she goes that's all you need to help these kids. The best part about this project is its goal of sustainability. So if I come in, teach everything by myself and leave after two years, will anything continue to progress after I'm gone? No. So what we do is work alongside teachers here as co-planners, co-facilitators, and co-teachers. We could easily help behind the scenes (and in many other small ways) and let the Dominican teachers do the teaching and that's actually better! Wow did that feel good.
Oh, my new slogan? Puedo hacerlo (I can do it). And I literally use it to cheer myself on all the time. I'm so corny. But again, puedo hacerlo! This is what I came here to do. Test myself, gain confidence in myself and what I am capable of, and most importantly, do as much damage (which by that, of course, I mean 'good') as I possibly can in two years. I cannot tell you how encouraging it was to hear "Si puedes escucharme, aplausa una vez. Si puedes escucharme, aplausa dos veces." Education majors?? Anyone? One of my favorite classroom management tools for whole classroom instruction. Softly in the chaos of some sort of activity say, "If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me, clap twice." Etc until you have everyone's attention. Simple, yet so effective and awesome and a good way to save your voice and always remain positive (anti-yelling right here. Also sorry about all the 'ands' in that sentence. Good thing I'm not teaching English?). Felt like home and felt familiar.
Spanish class finished out the day and a bunch of us walked to the supermarket (soooo far awayyyyy). Lordy I hope my body will get used to this heat and stop sweating altogether. That would be wonderful. I do need to work off all these platanos y papas though... And since i cant run here, why not walk uphill both ways to La Sirena in the heat?? :) Anyways, we exchanged some of our American dollars that we had left from what they gave us in Washington D.C. into pesos. Holy shit I have a lot of pesos now (a lot compared to what they've given us so far, that is). Aaaand a couple bills that are far too big to use in this area so I'll have to go back to the supermarket to just get something so I can break them haha. But at least I have a bit of a safety net that at least will relieve any worry; even if I don't use it anytime soon. Good thing none of you know where I live so you can't come rob me ;). I got home with dinner waiting for me: some sort of seriously delicious meat (with a lot of fat on it lol) and potatoes (more starches! yay!). Now I am here and waiting for Jen to call after 8pm! I'm so excited!! :D Think I'll go shower now (with my sandals so they can be cleaned) and head to bed early tonight. Buenas noches!

Monday, March 18, 2013

And Sometimes a Cellphone is Really a Microphone

March 17, 2013. Today I managed to roll out of my room around 8:30am. A cheese sandwich was waiting for me and I managed to get it down :P. My host mom said I was up early lol but asked me how my party was. After I ate, Paola and I played lots of card games. We then watched Tom & Jerry in Spanish! haha I love spending time with her. Plus she was saying what was going to happen before it happened so it was like I had a Spanish narrator! Good practice, right?! Soon after that, I got ready to head to the colonial zone in the city for a historical tour by a woman named Lynn(e?) Guitar. She's quite a well known person and has lived in the DR now for the last 17 years. She only does tours for PCVs now which was awesome. Apparently I was confused earlier when my host mom asked me about lunch because as I said goodbye she was like wait! Your lunch! I thought I had told her I was going to eat there but apparently I said the opposite lol oops.
We left at noon and took a guagua to the Maximo Gomez. We then took another guagua down to the Avenida Independencia. I was proud of myself because I remembered how to get to the area from last Thursday :P. We walked the rest of the way which ended up being far but it was nice to just walk. Plus I turned on tourist mode (since I brought my camera!!) and took pictures along the way (See below! The trees here are so cool. Grandma Irene? The cemetery pictures are for you, apparently the one is super old but I'm not sure how old. There was a huge Cathedral built in the 1400s. Flowers are always beautiful. Gargoyles are so cool and apparently the name Gargoyle is actually that "o" word that means a sound word? Goodness I can't spell. But anyways, yea. They used to be used as gutters and the sound the water would make as it came out sounded like gargoyle! Beauty can grow out of times of trial and pain - guess which picture. Electricity problems much? And my present from Paola! Will be explained here below. Obviously there's some others not mentioned here but they either don't need a description or I have no idea what it is O:) ). We got to the Conde and split up for lunch. Andrew, Susan, Kate, and I went to KFC. That's right. I'm in the Dominican Republic and I ate fast food. It was perfect! I missed my guilty pleasure already and hey, I probably won't get much of it the next two years so why not, right? :D After we ate, we walked around a bit and looked in the shops. It sucked not feeling like I have any money because I would have loved to have gotten sunglasses or some postcards to send home. Ah well. Tomorrow Susan and I are going to go to the supermarket to change some of our American money into pesos. It'll be nice just to have a cushion in case I feel like I'm gonna die if I don't have a chocolate milk after training one day ;).
The tour was great (despite being long). She was funny and shared some incredible stories. Lord don't I wish I had a better memory so I could share... She has studied the indigenous people of the DR and as far back in history as the 1400s. It was incredible. And I got to take pictures so I can share. I put a few here and then maybe I'll get going on the album on Facebook with the rest (I just don't know how to upload more than one photo to an album on my page from this damn iPad app which is annoying). We finished the tour and headed back no problem. Though I did get change back on the guagua when I had given him the exact amount. Win! Free guagua ride!
When I got home, Paola had a surprise for me. She made me close my eyes and hold out my hands. It was the cutest thing!! I got a little ceramic circle with glitter and "Julie y Paola" written in green on it! I found a nail in my bedroom wall so I hung it up there! She also gave me an envelope that said, "To: Julie Of: Paola With: LOVE" and on the inside it was a beautiful picture of a Disney fairy that she drew and colored with hearts all in the background. Ah! Now I know my Spanish isn't that great but she had me completely speechless! I was so touched and boy did it make me feel good! I gave her a huge hug and thanked her over and over again because that's all I could manage to say :). I want to make her something now but I might have to be creative since I don't really have any supplies... haha. Hm.... After organizing myself, dinner was ready. Paola and I ate together and Mom, you'll be so proud! I ate onions!! And I liked them! Yesss. Paola put the radio on while we ate and got up to dance a bunch of times. She then grabbed the cellphone on the table and USED IT LIKE A MICROPHONE. I couldn't believe my eyes! Mom & Sam? This made me miss those times in the car or the kitchen when we would bust out in song with some random object as our microphone. Ah! It was so great. Have I mentioned how much I love her yet? I pretended to be in the crowd screaming her name, crying at the sight of her, telling her I loved her, tapping my chest and saying with a sigh, "Oh mi corazon!" They got a kick out of that :D Once I was done eating, Paola grabbed my hand and taught me a few dance moves! I was quite clumsy but damn can that chica move! I was so impressed! I think I got a few things down but I definitely still need practice. Even my host mom got up and danced for a bit! It was so relaxing and made me feel so comfortable here. I think they did have another volunteer or someone here because my host mom was saying that another American (and she showed me her old name tag) used to dance out on their patio outside. She was probably awesome and fluent lol! We went outside to cool down and just people watched for a while. A guy probably about my age came over from the colmada across the street and they talked a lot. About me? Possibly, but no clue. They said he could dance too and he would bust a move here and there. He could move his hips better than me lol. Different, but I guess that's the culture! Right around 8pm, my host mom said she was tired and that we all have to be up early so let's go to bed. Some stuff was said about me with that kid but I slowly made my way towards the door and just smiled like a dumb American pretending to know what is being said :) I've become a master at that. haha And now? Waiting for my family to call :) I hope they do! But what a good day. And until tomorrow, Buenas noches.

Just Say a Prayer and Face Those Fears

March 16, 2013. Well I had a bunch of things typed out about this morning and I realized it would probably be a bit much to post publicly. So, I wrote it in my journal and here, I'll just say, it was a rough morning. Eventually, I was able to escape to my room and close the door so I laid in bed for about an hour and a half. I couldn't sleep but that's okay. I heard my host mom and Sona back out in the dinning room so I said a few Hail Mary's and emerged from my room to try and redeem myself. My host mother gave me some coffee and we just chatted for a while. Sona asked me about my mother and if I missed her. I said of course and I told my host mom that my mom wanted me to say "Thank you" to her for taking care of me. She laughed and said thank you back. I then got my album and showed Sona my entire family (including those not of blood relation but still family). She loved it. When we finished she said, "Y no novio?" (and no boyfriend?) I said I have one in the states and I got my iPad and showed them pictures. They said he's very good-looking and looks strong (don't I know!). They also said he looks hispanic so I told them he's Mexican lol. They loved him and talked a lot about how handsome he is :). Sona then asked why I'm here. I told her that I am going to be a teacher in literacy but right now, I'm learning Spanish and learning the culture here. My host mom explained that I'll be here for two years and Sona said, "You're going to be away from your boyfriend for two years?" (don't remind me..) I said yes, it's hard but I have my computer that we can talk on at the center where there's internet and on the phone I just got yesterday. She continued saying things and I would lose her quite a bit but there was mention that Nate's sister is my "cunada" which is sister-in-law. I said not yet! But they insisted :). Finally the subject changed (I think) and I was completely lost again. Hopefully it wasn't rude but I left for my room and studied with the door open. That half hour was good. I hope some confianza was gained. I shared my family and my purpose here and it did feel better. I'm still emotionally exhausted from earlier but the "Believe" on my wrist won't let me forget to do so.
Mental note: Don't play real solitaire when you're bored and depressed. Constantly losing something simple like a card game doesn't help :P
Again, I worked my way back outside where my host mom, Paola, Sona, and Jenny were. I sat in silence mostly but it felt okay. Sona told Jenny that I have a good-looking boyfriend haha. My host mom asked when the party was and where, I understood, and answered. Every once and a while, Jenny would say a word in English. So once I asked them if I could help peel the green beans from the tree that my host mom just chopped down, I asked her some questions. She only knows a little English because 13 years ago, she lived in the Bronx for two years. She hated it lol and English was too hard. She'd say one thing and then write another...etc. She talked slowly and clearly for me so of course, I was happy! Jimmy passed our house on a run. Lordy I wish I could do that; it would've done wonders this morning. They asked if I ran and I said I love to, but not here. My host mom said something about being skinny so I don't think she wants me to run lol. I feel better. At least I know now what it will feel like when I break down. It will be okay afterwards... Just need to get away for a bit, say a few prayers, write a few motivational phrases in my Spanish notebook (for future pages) and just go out to where you're uncomfortable. I feel closer to Jenny and Sona now and that's more important than a sob fest.
They then asked me if I knew how to play Dominoes. I think they were waiting for Julio to play but he wasn't showing up. I said a little, so they invited me to play! It was awesome :) They said I was going to be Jenny's partner so as I sat down across from her I said, "Lo siento." She laughed haha. We started playing and they went on and on how I knew how to play and I was good to go! A few minor things were different from when I learned at the training center but I was able to ask and figure them out. By the end of the two games, I had to go. I headed to the birthday party at Andy's and it was just what I needed. I feel closer to the group, I was distracted and had a lot of fun. We also made lots of bets and wrote them down (i.e. who is going to marry a Dominican, who within the group is going to get married, who is going to be pregnant first, who is going to get robbed first and who is going to get Dengue first). Somehow, I won the Dengue one. Awesome haha. I'm so loved here. I asked my host mother when I should be home and she said whenever. I got home around 11:30pm and she was up so she could lock the door behind me. I felt really bad and I hope that was alright :/ But she doesn't seem upset now (the next day) so I think we're good! Buenas noches :)

A Happy and Loved Girl

March 15, 2013. Today was a day of some ups and downs for sure. We had a class first thing in the morning about the roles of a volunteer in the development of a community. Not something that would wake me up in the morning... but I managed to stay awake. She did give us a list of things that a past PCV did in her two years here (from a write up we will all have to do at the end of our service). After reading this, I couldn't tell what sector she was even in. She had done things with her community in business, education, economics, environmental, etc. It was quite overwhelming and I have to say, a lot to live up to. Our director did say that (especially for education) we will have more focused work but outside projects are encouraged. After that lovely lesson, we got to see presentations from currents PCVs about their living conditions. Holy. Shit. I cannot even begin to describe all the situations because all four of them were totally different. The first girl lives in a place way out in the sugar plantations. She has a two room place, no running water (though they did just get a faucet instead of the manual pump but it's too new to be reliable), and sometimes electricity. Tarantulas aren't that uncommon and she showers in her kitchen with a bucket where she also washes her clothes. It was incredible... and a bit nerve-racking. The next guy lives in a campo which is a bit more civilized but not much. His place is a bit bigger with a nice porch and he has a hammock!! He bargained it down to 900$ so that's my goal as soon as I move out on my own. Time to start saving up! I barely have that now... Anyways, he built lots of shelves from wood he snagged from an abandoned house. His latrine is literally a small hole and he tied a seat belt to the ceiling so that he had something to hold on to while he squats (since there is no actual toilet seat over the hole). The kids in his neighborhood love to color so he has lots of coloring books (gotta get on that). He also built a system on his roof to collect water in a large tank in his backyard. Of course he has to boil it before using it but he oftentimes shares with the family next door since they have six kids. The next PCV lives closer to an urban setting and has his own apartment with a roommate. It was actually pretty nice. You walk into his dining room, ahead is his kitchen with a propane stove, that's next to a living room, further ahead is the bathroom, and then at the end is the two bedrooms. His is very small but workable and he insisted that we get plastic bins for stuff we need to protect during the rain season (which goes from June to the end of November...). He had a gorgeous rooftop with gorgeous views and that's where he goes to get away a bit and play his guitar or drink coffee. I already know I need to make sure I have something like that to be alone at times. The next girl was the urban setting although she lived a bit outside the city and worked in it. Her situation was a bit different though because she still lives with her host family (it's now been for a year and a half). I really don't want that but she's really happy with her family so that's wonderful. I just think I'll want to be independent after being dependent on families for 6 months... It was amazing to see how creative they were with everything they've had to adjust to though. They all had internet except for the first girl. She said she could travel about 15 minutes on a motoconcho and get it though when she needs it. The second guy actually buys timed internet and it's put on a usb which he can then plug into his computer. Fascinating. I guess towards the end of training, we can say what we prefer for the area in which we live but I really am stuck on that one. I have no idea at this point though I think I'd be happy at a campo which seems to be a happy medium. I don't know though... To be honest, it's hard to imagine any of them because I've never experienced anything like them. Going camping in Allegany was nothing like this.
When that crazy mess was over, we got our cellphones!! I get 150 minutes and 75 text messages a month within our plan (in DR only). I've got to get a calling card for international calls though which I don't have much money to do that yet. When I receive calls however, even international ones, I don't get charged! So! If anyone wants to call me and it's not too expensive for them (no clue what it'll cost for you all), please do! I miss voices so much it's ridiculous! After 8pm (we are on the same time now) is best though and if I don't answer, I'm sorry! Message me if you want my number ;)
Lunch was next and then we had Spanish class for the rest of the day. Of course, we got another vaccination in there too. This one hurt a lot. She gave me a hug and another kiss though so it was all good :) In Spanish we talked a lot about our day in the city and then moved on to non-verbal forms of communication in the DR. It was so interesting to learn because talking about people that are walking around or whatever, is totally a norm. "Gossiping" is huge here. We learned the motions for someone who is probably a thief, someone who is unfaithful, broke, full (from eating), hungry, cheap (me!), a liar, thin, fat, pregnant, smart, rich, snooty, etc. It's amazing because most of the time when people use these and talk about others, they have no idea if it's true. They just go on physical appearances and that's accepted and normal. Guess I'm going to start judging people ;). We then learned ways in which to change the subject if we feel uncomfortable in a conversation. The people here ask very personal questions and want to know everything about you. I really do love how much they talk and share with each other (of course, I'd love it more if I could be fluent). This is how people develop "confianza" or trust and it's a beautiful thing. It can get overwhelming though but the best part is that it's fairly easy to change the subject and have them stop asking you why you're not married at the age of 24. Lastly in Spanish, we learned some "sayings" that are a part of the culture here. It was so fun to translate them and learn what they mean because almost all of them had a counterpart in the states. For example, "Loro viejo no aprende hablar" is basically, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Or, "El Pasajero se conoce por la maleta" which is actually the opposite of, "You can't judge a book by its cover" because it's saying that you can judge a passenger on a plane by the quality of his briefcase. I loved it :)
After training, a few of us went to a colmada down the road a ways to get a drink. There was some confusion between some of us though, so the person I was supposed to walk back with, wasn't there. I did have to walk alone but I made it back okay. It was just a little scary walking by some of the men. When I got home, I went outside to be with the neighbors. I didn't talk much but the mother of the three young boys (Jenny) did end up asking me if I liked pasta. In Spanish, I responded, "Oh of course! I am Italian after all!" They laughed and it was nice to actually interact a bit. My host mom made me dinner and we actually had a conversation! I told her that we are having a party tomorrow for one of my friend's birthdays so I won't be home for dinner. I then asked her if she has lived in other places besides here. She did, and described where I bit. I told her I was going to Azua next weekend in Monte Bonita. She said it's beautiful there but colder. We talked about Paola being sick and how she didn't want dinner. When I was full, I used the word that she has taught me to say "I'm full" and she was excited that I was learning so well. I also gave her my cellphone number since I was able to say that I had gotten a phone today! She wanted to exchange numbers in case either of us needed anything tomorrow. OH! I also made another mistake but it was funny. When I got my phone out, I asked her, "Que es tu nombre?" Which means, "What is your name?" She answered and then looked at me funny and I said, "Oh no! Of course I know you're name! haha I meant, What is your number (número)?!" haha we laughed together and she picked on me for asking for her name when I've lived here for over a week already. I said, "Ay! Hay muchas palabras en mi cabeza" (There are too many words in my head). haha It was such a good moment for us since I feel like those are so rare. She's not the typical Dona that they talk about at training who asks tons of personal questions and never stops talking. They say that's the best way to gain "confianza" but my host mom doesn't do that. So I feel like today was great for that reason. I tried to ask her a bit about herself so hopefully she'll know she can do the same for me. And hey, I make mistakes, which should show that I'm comfortable trying to practice and learn with her. We'll see if I'm right!
Jimmy came over because we both had homework to find a child in our neighborhood and ask them questions about the school they go to. Jimmy doesn't have any kids around him so I told him to come down. Paola was great and now he knows why I love her so much. I told him that she's my saving grace and it's true. The hole that is left from leaving my own sister isn't so empty. It's not even close to the same thing without her, but it's nice to have a reminder of what a sister feels like. Boy do I miss you, babygirl. It's now 8:09pm and I told my dad earlier today to call after 8 if he can. I sure hope he does!! I was so anxious getting my phone that I was shaking quite a bit haha. I will probably burst into tears the second I hear familiar voices but I can't wait. I hope he calls! For now, I will try and focus on some more homework to distract myself and return to post about it here if they do call.
They called! And of course, I sobbed :) Hearing their voices was like nothing else I've ever felt and I feel so much better now. I know I'm not completely cut off from them anymore and I couldn't be happier. And my munchkin said he hasn't gotten much taller so I'm good ;). Now I just need my man's voice so hopefully that'll happen sometime soon. For now, I'm going to bed a happy and loved girl. Buenas noches.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Holy Shit I Need a Shower

March 14, 2013. What. A. Day. We spent our entire time for training in the city. It was amazing but: My 1st mistake was not bringing my camera. They freaked us out with all this stuff about being robbed and staying as concealed as possible, including our electronics and such because we'll become a fast target since we're already obviously American. So I didn't bring it. So dumb. But! We will be back in the city on Sunday for a tour of a museum so I will be bringing it then. My 2nd mistake was wearing my sandals. My feet hurt like no other and are so incredibly dirty. My 3rd mistake was not bringing any change. I survived but it did get a bit complicated.
We left the training center and had to wait about a half hour to catch una guagua. It was packed and one of our professors was literally hanging out the doorway-so cool. We were on this for quite some time until my teacher (Marcia) told me I need to yell "The next corner" to have the bus stop for us since we were close. I was like, oh no way, but she started a countdown... So I yelled, "En el proxima esquina!" and the bus stopped. SO AWESOME. hahaha She showed us the Metro which looked very much like those in NYC. She and I raced back up the stairs on the way out :) We then got a carro publico to head down the street towards the main Peace Corps Office. The building was like a labyrinth and had so much character. Most of the people that worked there introduced themselves, told us what they did, when we might need them, etc. I became very overwhelmed walking out because I felt like I had learned nothing. I had no idea who anyone in that office was or who I would need to go to and for what... As we left, I told Marcia that I needed to know Spanish, now (of course this is all in Spanish). She asked me why. And I started to tear up... I said I was just so frustrated and felt lost. I know where I am now and I know where I want to be but it's impossible to see that far down the road. She said the one PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) that we met came in at a level 1 (we are a level 3) and now she is staying here, working in the PC office, and leading other volunteers... She said we've only been here for a week and a day (which is such a crazy thought because it feels like at least a month already) and that we are going to be just fine. She just has such a way about her and I did feel better after those few simple things.. (mini breakdown #2?) Anyways, we then walked a few blocks and she showed us the only place in the city where we are allowed to spend the night if we need to when we're out there on our own. It was a beautiful place and will cost us (with a PCV discount) 1,200$ a night. That seems like so much right now because that's literally all I have haha. We then got in a mini bus and traveled down the road a ways to see the clinic that we will go to if there's anything that needs to be done that the medical staff at the PC Office can't do. It was easy enough to get to. Next was a Historical Museum. It was fascinating but of course, I only got pieces of the history. I wish I had internet (among many other reasons) so I can look up a bit more on the history of the DR. And I don't have enough money to buy a history book... After the museum, it was lunch time! We went to an awesome part of the city that had lots of stores and restaurants (Dominican food and fast food!). It reminded me a lot of Elmwood in Buffalo but the street was only for pedestrians, which was nice, and of course, it had a Dominican twist. I was able to order my food without much problem :) At the end, I went up to just buy a water and Andrew (he's in my Spanish class) walked with me. He said he was super impressed by how I sounded and that it seemed so easy! So I told him my secret. I probably practiced what to say about 8 times in my head on the way to the counter... But at least it worked haha. We sat around and talked for quite a bit there just to rest. Finally we left and went to the Christopher Columbus Park. There were lots of tourists and I heard English outside of our group! The park was right in front of a massive, stone building (it looked like some sort of fortress). I didn't know what it was until we went around to the back and then inside. It was a gorgeous church... Built in the early 1500s. It was incredible. Yet another moment I was kicking myself for not having my camera because I know how much my family would have loved that. There was a cemetery that we passed earlier in the day too that Marcia said was super old. Grandma Irene would have loved that... We walked around a bit more just to see some of the sites. The day was over for our teachers because this was the moment that they left us and we had to make our way back on our own! We made it, though with quite the amazing detour that I will not be posting here :) That will be for my journal only (and for those who will read it when I come home). haha
I got home, had macaroni and cheese waiting for me on the table and now typing this. I need to do my write up about my day now but this time in Spanish for Marcia. So off I go and later, I will take my much needed shower. I did get sun today though, finally! I didn't have my host mom telling me to move my chair into the shade so I wouldn't have to sit in the sunlight haha. Thank goodness. Buenas noches.

You Know What, Rihanna? I Think I Will Shine Bright Like a Diamond Today.

March 13, 2013 We started off the day with spanish class and of course, another vaccination. The doctors were so sweet to me. When I went in, we chatted a little and then the one lady gave me a kiss on the cheek as "anesthetic" before my shot. After she stuck my arm, I said it didn't hurt at all (which was true!) and she said it was because of the kiss. I swear to God I could feel my mother there with me and I was so happy in that moment... Miss you momma. Spanish class wasn't too exciting so I'd rather move on to the exciting stuff (don't worry, nothing exciting happened there- we learned about utensils in the kitchen, ooo)! We finally split up into our sectors (Commmunity & Economic Development and Education) to talk a little about our actual purpose here!! I felt like a kid in a candy store and like Susan said to Lisette and I, we were totally "nerding out." haha I didn't know this but we are the first actual education group to be in the DR. The group before us that is currently working on this literacy program originally came for technology work. They set up computer labs, taught children and adults how to use them, got internet service in various communities, etc. What they soon discovered, however, was that they were successful in doing these things but the people could not read and thus, they hit a major road block. They could only go so far before being unable to advance. So, the entire Technology sector was switched to Literacy Education and now, here we are! They have set up quite a decent development plan for this but they are excited for us to come in because we actually have experience or a degree in what they're trying to accomplish. Recently, there was a 95% fail rate for the national exam given to 4th graders and 8th graders... Looks like I'm in a place I want to be! I cannot tell you how good it felt to learn more (though there's still much more to learn and will completely depend on the area I am sent to) about the education here in the DR and what kinds of things we will be doing. Simply seeing pictures of kids in schools and volunteers in front of a classroom had my heart pounding through my chest. At last! My homework is to ask Paola some questions about her school and I already asked her if I could do so later :)
Another super exciting (yet scary) bit of news I received today was where I am going for my PCV visit. Next weekend (not this weekend), we are going off on our own to visit a Peace Corps Volunteer at their site for a few days. We have to travel alone and do a report while we're there on basically everything about their life during service. I found out that I am going to a mountain for my PCV visit! And that I should bring a jacket! Do you know how perfect that is for me?! Oh... I cannot wait to feel cold (outside of being in the shower here)!! It will take me about 3-4 hours (I think) to get there but it will be mostly by bus until I have to get on the back of a truck to head up the mountain. haha Oh boy. Better get going on my Spanish! What a whirlwind.
Back in Spanish class we learned all about public transportation because tomorrow we will be spending the entire day in Santo Domingo! We will be taking a guagua (crazy packed bus) and un carro publico (shared taxi with 7 people in it). We will see the official Office of the Peace Corps, the Medical Clinic, a museum, and a few other places while having lunch on the streets. I'm terrified but excited all at once, a feeling I need to start getting used to... ha. I just wish I could bring my camera :( But I'd rather not deal with anyone trying to steal it.. Ugh.
At the end of the day we learned how to play Dominoes. I understand it a little more now but learning to predict which Dominoes are going to be played next and which ones you should play will take some time and practice I think. So, I watched a lot tonight when I got home. They played a few games and a few times I think I understood but there's much more to learn. During dinner I talked a lot with my host mom. I told her I learned how to play Dominoes today and that I understand it a little more. I still don't know when to predict the dominoes but I know how to play and how to count them at the end. She explained a few more things in more detail and I understood. I then asked how I could get change because tomorrow we are taking public transportation and it would be easier to have change (and not bills) so the drivers don't have to make change for me. Of course, she said I don't need to bring change, they will give me some... Guess I'm going with only bills. Haha. Oh well. Sobrevivire (I will survive). She commented on the fact that I'm learning fast and I'm understanding much more already. She said I'm speaking more clearly than I was when I first came :) That was certainly nice to hear.
After dinner, I went back out to watch them play a bit more and the power went out. It's amazing how dark it got on the street but luckily, it didn't last long. Paola's older friend from school came over and we all chatted a bit and listened to some music. Paola's friend put music on through her phone and what song came on? Rihanna's "Shine Bright Like A Diamond" of course! So I sang in English with her! Then they asked me what it was about. That took a hot minute to translate in my head but I think I did it justice. We then went through Paola's notebook from school with her English notes! She was adorable with her pronunciations and how she just laughed at herself with every knew word. She struggled a lot with the /th/ sound since there is no such sound in their dialect haha.They had me translating everything. I know I'm not supposed to be speaking English but I actually felt like it was good practice! But who knows... They continued talking about school, that Paola played with her retainer in the middle of math class, what their teacher was like today, etc. I didn't follow much to be honest. Again, it was fast and mixed with laughter so it broke up words. But! I won't give up and damnit, I'm gonna shine bright like a diamond! Buenas noches.

What The "Real World" Really Is

March 12, 2013. This morning I had scrambled eggs and potatoes waiting for me. That made me very happy but eating first thing in the morning is still going to take some getting used to. Paola and I leave at the same time in the morning and we meet Jimmy about halfway up the street. The first item on our agenda today was the PC's approach to development in the world. We learned a lot of statistics about poverty and what the world outside of the borders of the states is really like... If anything does change for me when I go home after these next two years, it's that I'll never say "This is the real world" when referring to anything in the U.S. I didn't write down the statistics (so naturally, I remember nothing) but I will be getting the power point from my training director and I will share later... (UPDATE: one statistic? The DR is ranked #2 in the world for child prostitution...) We also watched an amateur video that was made in a barrio here in DR during a rainstorm. It wasn't a hurricane or anything but simply raining hard. The litter was everywhere, the run-off from the roofs was filthy, the small streams rose higher and higher and filled homes, and most eye-opening of all, the people were pushing all of their garbage into the rushing streams, just to get rid of it... There is also an organization that pays the garbage company to drop the garbage off with them and they go through the trash looking for food. They have bins labeled with all different kinds of food and they sort, "wash," and re-cook it for their community... Made me wish I was doing something environmental but I know nothing about that sector..
Anyways, in Spanish class we learned all about los platos tipicos in the DR. Sancocho, Mangu, Moro, Asopao, Locrio, etc. Then the different uses of ser y estar because they both mean, "to be." I really feel like things are flooding back to my memory and I am able to speak more. Even if I don't have the direct words for what I need to say, I'm able to work around what I'm lacking to say what I want. Our teacher, Marcia, is patient, funny, a bit sassy, and compassionate about our success. I love her. There were a few moments today where a shared language understanding would have been helpful but.... Esta bien. She takes the time to ask us questions and get to know us more. I know it's to improve our Spanish and keep us practicing but I feel as though she genuinely cares about what we have to say. Either that or she's a wonderful actress and hey, since she's a teacher, so that's very possible! She asked what our dreams are for the future and among other things I said I wanted to build my own school. She asked if she could be a teacher in it and of course I said yes! Even though it'll be in the states? And she said okay! Haha she wants to improve the schools here but she'd be happy to teach in my school too. She also said she could tell I am a teacher of young children because I seem to enjoy everything, even the little things. I believe she might be right :)
After lunch we had a discussion on harassment and ways to deal with it. I've already experienced the verbal side of this quite a bit as does every American female here. It's harmless but goodness it's frustrating when you don't know what they're saying or how to react. Luckily, I've been ignoring it and that's what you're supposed to do. Unless it gets more serious or physical. Interestingly enough, the translation for these types of comments from men is "Compliments." Here, it is almost expected and because the people take physical appearance so seriously, if a woman passes a man on the street and he doesn't say anything, she probably will think she must not look good that day. We received a handout with some typical sayings and some had me laughing. For instance (translated in English), "May God keep you and give me the key" or "All those curves and I don't have brakes" or "What technological advances, even flowers walk!" Men are even harassed here a bit by women because they simply want to marry them so they can get to the states. It's quite fascinating to learn about. Hopefully all I'll have to worry about is the verbal and the hissing. I think I can handle that.
More Spanish followed but then! At 3:45 we learned to dance! We were taught various forms of two main dances that originated here; and I will not be spelling them here until I know for sure how to so I don't offend anyone. Oh how I love the music and the dances seemed simple enough. Though... my partners were girls and I somehow ended up leading the entire time... haha Ah well. Basically just move your hips smoothly and lift your feet only a very very little to the beat and you've got it! With some really amazingly graceful fancy stuff thrown in that I did not practice... Hopefully that wasn't the only time we get to try it out!
Our day ended on this fun note and a bunch of us traveled down my street to a Colmada to have a beer. I didn't drink because it was right in front of my house and my host sister was there. I just didn't want to give any wrong impression... I did try someone's though and it was super dark but really really sweet (like everything else here, it seems). I miss light beer. And wine. Already? Oops. O:) I went over to say hello to my family real quick and said,"Como te llamas?" and immediately we all started laughing. I had just asked what their names were instead of asking how they were... haha My host mom went down to a friends house so when I went inside after the other PCTs left, Paola was doing homework at the table. I opened the door, saw Paola, and making a dramatic entrance with my hands in the air, shouted, "Hola Paola! Como te llamas?!" We laughed as I made a goofy face and said, "Aye Dios mio!" haha we chuckled for a while and then talked about what she was working on. It was math and she said she liked it though she had a lot of problems to do. We talked about her day, the other subjects she doesn't like in school, and that I learned to dance today! I understood pretty much everything she said (WIN)! She slows down for me, I've noticed, which is so nice since my host mother won't. Now she is outside and I'm still in my room relaxing. I don't really have much time to just shut down (nor will my brain really let me). Our breaks throughout the day are short (run to the bathroom and fill your water bottle) and during lunch there seems to always be something optional to go to (or I try to get this damn blog set up with slow internet). Then here, at home, I'm constantly trying to translate my own thoughts into Spanish while also listening in and translating my family or neighbors. I should be outside right now, but it is so nice to come in my room, keep the lights off (less heat), sit, and do homework or type this up, or reread all my letters from home... The internet was working today but I didn't get very far with getting this blog up. Though I did learn that my munchkin is sick. :( Wishing I could snuggle up with him on the couch right now since I know how lovey he gets when he's sick... But alas, I will be sending him love and health with the wind instead.
Speaking of health, we also had our individual medical interviews today with one of our PC doctors. I really like them and feel super comfortable talking to them which is perfect... since I will be getting diarrhea at some point and that's not the most comfortable thing to talk about. Ha.
I also learned that we will be living with another host family for 3 more months once our volunteer work starts (after the first 3 months). I suppose that's good because if I really mess this one up, I have a second chance! But that also means more time before I will be independent again... Dulceamargo (bittersweet) {<-- I learned from my teacher today (March 13) that this is not one word here in the DR even though I got it from my dictionary lol it's two separate words.}
I finally got the courage and mental strength to go outside and sit while they played Dominoes. I think I understood a bit more and Paola and I did each other's hair. It was a nice change from just watching them. I told them I'll be learning how to play tomorrow and that I'll come back an expert. They just laughed but didn't say anything. After they were through, my host mom took us to the banca again. We got back, I said goodnight, I think my host mom said she is going to wash my clothes tomorrow (?), and now I'm off to sleep. Buenas noches.
(Oh and a reminder for tomorrow that I'll hopefully read before I get into bed so I can remember to do them before I'm stuck under this mosquitera...: Start doing push-ups and crunches (at least) every night. Por favor y gracias.)