Monday, September 30, 2013

Trying So Hard

October 3, 2013. Disculpame. It's been quite a while since I've written. Like usual, but feeling moreso lately, things have been crazy. Friday I was an exhausted mess who had to teach first grade because Nati was out looking for our books (language, math, science, etc-books that haven't come yet and it's been over a month since school started). Then Lobo came to visit! We hung out and drank chocolate milk and it couldn't have been better.
Saturday he headed out in afternoon and I went to the birthday party for Alex. There was no luz, which meant no music so the kids were quite restless. But it was fun. And getting cake is always a good thing.
Sunday I planned all morning and then there was a party at a farm. It's held every year for a saint and the kids to in the morning and the adults at night. It was so awesome. I didn't drink-don't want that kind of publicity and there were TONS of people. And palo music which was so incredible. A group of guys in a circle with tall, skinny drums and what looks like a cheese grater (forgive me) is brushed hard with a "stick." It was fast and exciting. Then the bachata and merengue. And the food. Wow. Apparently there's another party just like it in the spring too. Gonna have to practice my palo dancing and get rid of this verguenza by then!
Sunday night I didn't sleep a wink. For whatever reason, I was super nervous about Monday-the day I got Diego! So I got out of bed exhausted and made it to the capital by 9. I did some Jumbo shopping for a few things (which turned into too many things) and met Ellen at the vet. Turns out Diego had ticks and now a tick-born parasite. I waited with her in the lobby while he was drying after his tick bath.  But as soon as he came out the door and I saw him for the first time, the nerves vanished instantly (cue sappy movie music). Seriously though. She and I headed out with her friend who had a truck to KM9 so I could catch my car. She was struggling. And though my nerves went away, my guilt only grew. She had had Diego since he was born. His mother died and he would have to if she hadn't adopted him... Diego had also always lived with his sister. I felt as though I was tearing a family apart. And as she handed me his leash, I ripped her heart out too..
The first carro wasn't thrilled about my dog. But I paid for the two front seats and he sat on my lap (he's a 40lb dog but thinks he's a lap dog) the whole way. He moved quite a bit but never barked, didn't throw up, and we made it without problems! In Villa I stopped in to get his antibiotic at the pharmacy and we were off in another car! These guys were way better. And got a kick out of the fact that he would sit on the floor-only my lap. 
Finally after an emotionally exhausting morning, we made it. And an hour later I had to leave him in the house for a bit. I felt awful. But I fed him and laid on the floor with him until I had to go. It was meeting time with Zach from Courts4Kids! We met at the school and Ramirez and the contractor were on time! Zach explained many things and my community leaders had many questions. This was a good thing! Zach really felt like they were taking ownership of the project (because it IS theirs) but were also open to ideas for change so we could lower the estimate. Afterwards Zach and I headed to my place and we chatted about a few more things I need to do before his next visit. There's apparently 9 applicants here in the DR right now and they can only do 5 or 6... Say some prayers please? 
Once he left, I planned for the rest of the night with Diego at my side and about 20 kids drawing and coloring. Diego was SO good with them. Of course they were all terrified of him at first because of his size and the way dogs are here but they learned quickly how chill he is and have loved up on him like crazy since.
Tuesday I did pull-outs with my fourth graders for half the day. Then I noticed my director outside cleaning and the first graders going crazy inside alone. I went and took the broom from her and spent the rest of the day cleaning and organizing the school so she could teach... Even if that wasn't what she wanted. When I got home, Diego was at the door and I can't tell you how good that felt to come home to someone. He wandered around outside while I cooked (I was originally nervous about letting him go free like that but he always comes back! Now to buy a rope and chain so he can stay outside during the days when I'm at school). I went to El Batey in the afternoon and was finally able to finish my evaluations. And it was depressing. Also the fact that two teachers had to ask the names of two of their students... "You-what's your name? Yea, you don't know how to read."  Then as I'm doing other random evaluations with kids that are coming over and bothering us, I came to find that more than those on my list can't read. So now, I have AT LEAST half of first grade, second grade, and third grade with me.
I left and planned for the rest of the night until midnight-taking a break and running at the field with Diego, of course. Who turned out to be a phenomenal running buddy and was so incredibly patient with all the kids wanting to hold his leash. But no matter who was holding him, he would only run when I ran and walk when I walked haha. 
Wednesday I did none of my pull-outs. The director asked me to do a few things which turned into, "well there's no point in even starting them now so I'll just do more to keep us organized later in the year..." Then, ready with plans for El Batey, I realized while resting in the break that I didn't have a space to work there yet. Outside was way too crazy with the breeze, children distracting us, and possibility of rain. So I decided to just go there, show them my schedule and organize the kitchen as a classroom. I saw the pastor on my way over who always makes me feel better and said I had every right to do that. And I did. I told them what I was doing rather than asked and bam. I had a space.  I left after an hour cuz there was no point in starting classes then and stopped back at the pastor's. of course we spoke of a million and one things but eventually I left to get Diego and my iPad to show him MercyMe's music. He LOVED it :) now I've gotta find a way to transfer it to his USB and print out lyrics. It would help him with his English, after all!
I left, went for another run with Diego and my kiddos and returned home to cook, clean up, and plan some more... 
Today? I awoke even more exhausted so I'm gonna skip school tomorrow. Of course, Nati wasn't there to tell her (no worries, Mavel came to teach first grade so I didn't have to) but I'm doing it anyways... I did pull-outs with my fourth graders until recess. During recess, I was inside the school with Ramona and Manuela (the seventh grader that we're helping together). There was screaming in another room. I walk in to Pamela and Samuel tearing each other apart and Samuel was sobbing. i broke it up and rocked Samuel until he calmed down. I went back to working with them when more yelling out back was heard. I went and broke another fight with two older boys. And got hit in the face in the process. Then the kids were climbing our cage that holds the water jugs. Then another fight. It was absolute chaos. Then a group of first graders ran through a pack and Meliana got kicked in the knee where she already had a decent cut. Screaming bloody murder I took her inside. And as I walked in, Manuela was crying. Ramona had walked away to check on something so Manuela was standing by the door waiting. Another kid came running through and slammed the door shut on her hand leaving three good sized blood clots on her knuckles. I saw the other teachers and yelled, "This is absolutely crazy! And this cannot happen anymore! During recess, all of the kids need to be outside and one teacher needs to be in front, one on the side, one in back, and one inside. Enough!" I was livid. Ramona agreed and the others said nothing.
After, my plan was to continue. But of course, that was my plan. A teacher's husband's back was apparently so bad he could barely walk so she had to take him to the hospital. He drove to the school to pick her up... So I went to third grade. I literally said to them, "Today, you will work. And work hard. And in silence. I have no patience. I'm angry and sad. I want silence. Now." With limited patience, I had to remind them a few times but we survived. And at the end, I read them a story and they were completely silent, enthralled, predicting the next page, and when the bell rang, I went to close the book and they yelled at me to finish. Haha
I left with Ramona to head to El Batey to talk with Manuela's parents. We wanted to make sure they knew what happened and apologize because as educators, we are responsible for the safety of their children. It went well, the mother wasn't upset, and she understood.
By the time I got home, I had 45 minutes to cook, let Diego out (poor thing :( ) and head back to El Batey. I got there and started my classes. They were a bit crazy and I've certainly got to make some sort of behavior chart unlike on my side. around 3:30, Luisa passed me her phone and said it was Ramona. I answered, and she told me she was leaving and not coming back. That she was sorry because she cared for me and loved me but she just couldn't do it anymore. I wanted to leave so bad to see her... But she was gone and I had classes. And by 4, the rains threatened. So they let the kids go. Lord, you did it again. I booked it despite every person yelling for me not to get wet. I had to see Natividad and find out what happened. I made it soaking wet (had to fight with a teacher telling her that me coming and getting soaked was more important than staying dry back at the other school), she explained, and then the community came. Seven in total; screaming, talking over each other, getting angry, calming down, attacking Natividad, some defending, arguing about things that didn't matter, things that weren't the issue, etc. It was absolutely insane. And after getting sick of them attacking Natividad about all the things she HAS to do, I yelled, "ENOUGH. If you're going to say these things to her, you have to say the same to Ramona!" They agreed, and want to have a meeting with Natividad and Ramona... Soon. Like Monday when I'm supposed to be in the capital all week. I also yelled again when they got off topic and said "BUT THIS ISN'T EVEN THE ISSUE!" Kenia finally got them all to shut up, pray, and leave. It was 6:30. School lets out at 5 and I had made it there dripping wet at 4:30. 
So I told Natividad I would teach 4th grade until she needed me to. So much for not going to the school tomorrow. My pull-outs have come to a halt. And Natividad has threatened to leave as well. She can't work in this atmosphere. And I don't blame her.

And through this mess I'm trying so hard to stay positive. So here's my list.
What I have to be grateful for:

Yucca and salami.
My house. 
Cooler nights.
My kids even if they do just love me cuz I give them time to color and cut and paste and draw.
Courts4Kids and the possibility in my community.
My director, Ramirez, and the contractor who were all super open to ideas but also took ownership of the project.
My Peace Corps friends.
My pastor.
I have "my own" space in El Batey now to teach-the kitchen.
The rain.
Family and friends back home.

Yea...Buenas noches.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Take Care of Her From Above

September 25, 2013. 
Started pull-outs.
Evaluations in El Batey-disaster. The teacher didnt even know the name of one of her students.
Ran. With 30 kids. Raced. Walked. Did cartwheels. Did two push-ups as a joke and turned around to see about 30 kids doing them with me hahahaha SO GOOD.

These were my notes from yesterday. I didn't have time to complete them and now today, the 26th, I've got other things occupying my mind. But today my pull-outs went well. We followed through with an idea of mine to have a monthly meeting where the teachers can express what went well this month and what we can work on for next month. Then we picked one "Outstanding Student" from each grade and I'm making certificates and a mural to post their pictures to help with motivation and positivity. The teachers were honest and we've got a few things to work on for October so I'm excited. Things didn't work out in El Batey today (figures) but it's a work in progress-it'll get better. I then went running again (despite being exhausted and sore) with more little ones and it was a blast.
But when I arrived home, there were a ton of people at and around my neighbor's house. Come to find out, a man that lived down my street and around the corner was killed today. One story is that he was crossing the Duarte (the highway I cross to get to El Batey) and a tire flew off a truck and killed him. Another story is that it wasn't the tire, but they won't say what they think it was. He left behind a three year old little girl who just kept saying that her daddy was on his way home with soda and crackers like always... From 8 until 9:30pm, the people were waiting for the body to come; there had to have been at least 100 people, no exaggeration. They hung a canopy outside the house which will be taken down after nine days. When the truck arrived, they left the body and sped off. A woman began screaming. Sobbing on and off from the house. The people continued to arrive to just stand around and watch or listen. I pulled out my chairs because it was right near my house and many came to stand on my porch. The woman left the house screaming to the little three year old, "AY DIOS MIO, SE MURIÓ TU PAPI" (oh my god, your father died) over and over and over again... 101 people asked if I was scared and if I wanted someone to sleep here with me tonight. 
I can't describe how I'm feeling... I just keep thinking about that little girl who once had a father who  bought her a soda and crackers every day on his way home from work and slept with her every night will now have a completely different life and she won't understand why. And she will be fatherless like so many children here. And I keep thinking about the highway. Whether it was the tire or not, he was killed there, and we have little ones crossing that highway everyday, twice a day, for school. And how the people just watch it all happen here. And how I got sucked into it too. I don't know what to think or feel really... I just hope that man takes care of his girl from above.
It's now 11:30 and because I was unable to hide my yawns, the people on my porch left. I brought all my chairs in and am in bed but it's quite loud outside still. There's quite a few drunk people. Hopefully there will be no problems during this sleepless night. And hopefully the little one can sleep in blissful ignorance for now...
Buenas noches.
Update: Commence singing, chanting, and clapping at 12:15am.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Making a Day Off Count

September 24, 2013. Today was a day off! And I made it count in many ways. First, this morning in my bed :) I awoke around 7:30am to my kiddos playing in the field outside my house but didn't get out of bed until 9:30am haha. I slowly made breakfast, washed my dishes, got dressed and eventually opened my door at 10:30. To which I heard comments all day like, "Man, Julie, you sleep a lot!" Haha I explained that I was awake early, not sleeping, and was just doing things. I'm just a weird American who doesn't open her door immediately upon arising from the bed.
They started drawing and I mapped out my schedule (eliminating the first graders...) and made plans for my first day of pull-outs--tomorrow! At noon, I kicked them out so I could cook and not feel embarrassed. Another lousy meal made, I ate and watched the rest of Bridesmaids on "my" couch. Hung out with some more munchkins until 2:30 and went to go see Dulce! It had been way too long. Buuuut she was sleeping lol. I let her be, bought some sugar, made coffee, and ate more sugar cane, sharing it with six others. At 4, I checked with Linda who said she was gonna run with me today, "Sí Dios quiere."  So I tried to see Dulce again until 6 and was successful! She was there! And Moreno too. She was cooking (and of course fed me too) and Moreno and I talked A TON on the porch together. He said he's been wanting to visit me but gets home so tired (he seriously doesn't have a single day off-even today). It felt so great to be able to do that and Lordy do I miss them. I made sure I told them that too lol. He told me to make sure I always had a few minutes if I ever needed to call them, even if that was in the middle of the night. They're always there for me :). Ugh. Love.
And another sugar cane in hand, I headed home to change.
Me (to Linda at her house down the road as I'm opening my door): "LINDA!! VAMOS!!"
Linda: "It's almost 7!"
Me (looking at my phone, knowing it wasn't): "It's 6! VAMOS!"
Linda: "I'm cooking dinner!"
Me: "But I said 6 and you said yes!"
Linda: "Tomorrow! Si Dios quiere!"
Me (to myself): sigh... "I know what that means."

So little Pamela and I headed down by ourselves. And it ended up being AWESOME. She ran with me and got tired after one lap. So we'd walk, run back, walk, run back, etc. Slowly more and more kids showed up and would walk, we'd race back, walk, race back. They would cheat and start running early. Or not walk as far as I would before turning around haha. It was so funny. Then about 15 more showed up and a game of tag was started. Which turned into freeze tag. And then the tag where when you tag someone, they tag people too and it adds up. SO FUN. and exhausting. I was sweating so much and I finally wasn't embarrassed despite all the comments! Cuz Lord knows, I can't do anything about it or hide it so whatever! Lol finally I got too tired, bought yucca and avocado and water and headed home with Pamela. On the walk back, Antonio handed me something wrapped in a napkin. It was a huge pork rind, Dad!! And legit! Not like the airy stuff we would buy at the stores! It was so good! You better come visit so you can have some-I'll make sure they make it when you're here :D Though you'll never wanna go back to the processed stuff ;) I shared it with two little ones and made it back to no luz. Damn. But I showered, made yucca, and hung out in my dark house until 10pm. Now I guess it's time for bed. A good day off indeed. Tomorrow, I promised them more tag and I can't wait! I'll probably need it after working in both schools :P
Buenas noches!

Monday, September 23, 2013

It Was Time to Run

September 23, 2013. Today I evaluated a few first graders. Then got thrown into teaching first grade for an hour. And was hit in the ass by a five year old girl. Go me. When class let out, Ramona and I tried to create a better intervention plan with Mavel and I. It was unsuccessful. Here is my letter to my boss to gather her opinion:

"In doing my evaluations for the entire school (1st-4th), my conclusions were grim (but that's why we're here!). The majority of my second and third graders know one, maybe two syllables, first grade consists of a few who got held back and many who didn't come last year for preschool. And I've got 4 in fourth grade who need reinforcement terribly. In my ideal situation, I would have two groups in each grade from 1st-3rd and have some time to work with the 4 kiddos in fourth grade individually (because their needs are completely different). But I simply don't have the time.
Now Mavel is the teacher that lives in my community and is being sent by AMCHAM to work in the school-one hour each grade in literacy and math. There is this game that they are focusing on (by Pro-Leader) and she will start after the talleres in the capital (Francisca and I are going as well but a different week). At first, Natividad had a plan to put Mavel in each grade for an hour so that the teacher could leave for that hour. I spoke with her about the idea of "co-teaching and co-planning" and how that would benefit the students (especially in first grade with the many many different levels that exist). She agreed that it would bea better idea to have the teachers stay in the classroom so more individual support could be provided. Okay, win 1.
Ramona and I then talked about how much work I have with little time. And how Mavel and I are here together to provide support for nearly the same thing. Why should we work completely parallel from each other and not support each other as well? To make our lives easier AND benefit the little ones more too?  When Juana (AMCHAM) came to this school before I arrived, she asked Ramona what the school needed. And Ramona said, reinforcement in first grade; that is where the problem lies. So as she and I talked, we thought, why not put Mavel in first grade the majority of the time? For example, all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; and Thursday and Friday she could work in the rest, one hour each grade. This would then alleviate the intense needs in first grade and will provide the support and change needed for future generations (sustainability!). I could then focus solely on second, third, and fourth grade to help those that are behind and would stay behind without extra help. (I hope this is making sense-There's a lot of components here). 
So we talked with Natividad. And it didn't go over well. She's stuck on Mavel being in all grades, one hour each. She said it's the program that AMCHAM sent her for and that's that. But I don't understand that. Every school has it's specific needs, it's varying challenges. Why would there be only one program that isn't flexible to the necessities of the school? I tried to teach the munchkins in first grade. Natividad is doing it now and even she is struggling. It's so hard when there are those that are older because they were held back. Those that have never been to school before and can't hold their pencil correctly. And those in the middle who are basically on track. Mavel and I are resources to combat all of this but we need an intervention plan. And the one set FOR us and not WITH us doesn't seem to fit. 
Let me know if this all makes sense (well, my explanation of the situation, anyways haha) and what you think? I'm just at a loss and agree with what Ramona is saying. But we've hit a wall with Natividad and it's frustrating because we have the support!  Just not the most effective plan (in my opinion)."

Within minutes Ann responded and says she agrees with my perspective but also understands that Natividad's hands may be tied by AMCHAM. But, she said she'd be willing to message Juana and talk with her about the situation if I get permission from Natividad. So since we don't have school Tuesday, I'll ask Wednesday.
I went home and ate the rest of the crappy lunch I had made yesterday while watching Bridesmaids :) Afterwards, I went to the school to ask the eighth graders if they were serious about learning and that I was sorry I didn't make it clear enough that they needed to be ON TIME ahead of time. But they still want it! :) I returned home and tried to nap. I was unsuccessful with the thousands of things running through my head so I got up and played cards with a few munchkins. 
It wasn't a horrible day, just slow moving and that's somehow exhausting. I was feeling defeated but at 6pm, I went abajo to run with Mirian (the girl I met yesterday) but she wasn't there. And there were guys playing baseball. But! I ran anyways. A few kids would join me, quit, and join me again later. We raced. They quit again. I kept going haha. I then went to buy yucca but there was none. So cold water bottle in hand (seriously, I cannot tell you how good cold water is when I finally get it. I can't drink it fast enough and then I get a headache...), I ran home and did some core stuff with Pamela watching from the spare bed. It felt so good to run again. Despite the comments, the reality of being out of shape, and more comments ("Oh well at least I know you'll last in bed with me!" Yup.), I was flying high. The day was a rough one but man, I ran and my worries and doubts just passed through my pores with the sweat (ew). 
Pamela and I then sat outside and ate chinas together. I showered and started making dinner when BAM, commence group of kiddos drawing, painting, cutting, gluing, and being super creative. I've noticed that as more time goes by, they have branched from copying each others drawings to doing other original things. Again, it was chaotic but I just stood at my counter drinking my hot chocolate and grinned from ear to ear. My heart swelled and I loved every minute of it. And didn't kick them out until 8:45pm this time! Also got a huge sugar cane brought and munched on that before turning in :D Hopefully cuz it's natural sugar, it won't kill my teeth? 
Buenas noches!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Start With Pancakes and End Up On a Baseball Team!

September 22, 2013. So yesterday I said egg, salami, and avocado were a good way to start a day? Try hot chocolate, pancakes with a touch of vanilla, and Matilda on my iPad. Trumped it :D I then gave myself until 9am before opening my front door. And as soon as I did, I had a few girls and Linda come by. And then Charo who asked for coffee immediately lol.
But Linda and Charo soon left so I started hand washing my laundry. And what a process that was! But I did it and feel pretty damn proud. My burn on my arm started bleeding like crazy from the detergent though so I wrapped it up and carried on. I missed Dulce's washing machine quite a bit but more for the dryer than anything else. It wouldn't dry my clothes all the way but within the hour in the sun, everything was done. Now, it takes a few hours to dry. Not terrible, just missed being spoiled :P
Afterwards, I started planning for my English class (finally!). Around 1:30pm I finished, kicked the artists out of my house so I could cook, and made a pretty shitty lunch. But still edible. At 2, the girls returned and we played Dominoes and cards until 3. Class was scheduled for 2 and it wasn't until 3 that a group showed up. And another at 3:05. I could have given the class but I needed them to understand. So I asked what happened and why they were an hour late. "What time is it?" They asked. I said it was 3 and that class was at 2. I told them I was sorry but I had plans at 3 and couldn't give class then. And that when I say a time, I mean that time exactly because my schedule is packed and don't have time to waste. I felt super guilty but I need them to learn... They can't be Dominican with me lol Hopefully this didn't scare them away but rather makes them come on time next week...
I showered (it was so freaking hot) and headed to see Dulce. She wasn't there so I went to talk with Ramirez. Zach isn't coming until next Monday because he'll be in the south visiting five other volunteers applying for the Courts4Kids project. Apparently there's 8/9 applicants right now and they can only do 5/6 each cycle... I'm nervous because I really want ours to happen this cycle :/ Anyways, I needed to tell Ramirez about the postponement of the meeting but he wasn't there either. 
I almost turned to go home but thought I'd stop by and see Manuela. I chatted with her and her daughter for almost 2 hours. And found out there's no school Tuesday. Woo! There was a softball game going on with the women in my community and a women's team from KM56 so I went to watch.  I sat with Linda and met a girl my age who wants private English classes. I agreed to do it because she seems very committed and already knows quite a bit. We were talking about the game and exercising and I found out she runs every day during the week at 6pm and does core workouts. I got super excited and asked her if I could join. She said yes! WIN. 
Linda then turns to me and goes, "Julie, you're going to play ball with us." And within seconds, the coach came over and welcomed me to the team! He wants to put a new team together with women that are a bit more serious and Linda and I are going to join! I have no idea if I have the time but I'm so pumped!! 
My community won the game (:D) and Linda and I sat at a colmado for a while. We then headed back, she cooked me dinner, and brought it to me while I FaceTimed with my family :) Had a bunch of kids watching and there was lots of going back and forth between Spanish with them and English with my family haha. But the vocal switch of languages has become easier and faster and that was fun to realize. I felt terrible for my family cuz it's chaotic but they were troopers :D 
And now I need to plan for tomorrow. And shower. And go to bed. And it's already 11pm. Whoops! Haha
Buenas noches!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Clean, Plan, Organize, and Remain Calm

September 21, 2013.  I woke around 7:30am and made an egg, salami, and avocado sandwich. Oh yea. That's how you start a day. I went to work pretty quickly cleaning my house. Aaaand changed the  floor bucket like 20 times-thank goodness we had water! But it was gross. And the floor really didn't look better... But seeing the water and how brown it was means I did something, right? 
A few girls stooped by and one tried to take the mop from me to "help" twice. That poor girl almost got her hands bitten off ;). It just felt so damn good to clean, I couldn't let her do it. hahaha I told her she was so sweet for wanting to help but I really really wanted to do it myself :P I then had some extra time so we organized my "Sala de Arte" haha I think that's a better name.
At 10:30, I showered and headed out to the capital. In the guagua I got in, the chofer got snippy with me cuz I thought it was $50RD but it was $60RD. He was nasty and yelled at me for giving him 50 and demanded the rest. I just laughed at him, told him it was no problem, and handed him ten more pesos. The two guys in the back laughed with me and we chatted the entire way into the capital. Still love being able to say I did that. And I hope that feeling of accomplishment never goes away... Lol
At the office, Cory and Laila and I planned for our Classroom Management talk for our Escojo Enseñar Conference in October. It should be a good two hour session :).  But I am nervous I won't get anyone from my school to come... We'll see. 
Afterwards, I headed to Ikea with Cory to get a spatula and containers for my food so I can take it all out of my fridge lol. I found adorable colorful ones, a reusable bag with a zipper, other utensils, and super cheap art to put on my living room/kitchen walls. #Ikeatherapy.
By the time I got home it was dark so I shut my door (the guilt is getting to me though so tomorrow I'm gonna have to leave it open all day :P). I made ITALIAN-STYLE pasta and it made me so happy. It wasn't the same but it reminded me a bit of home :). 
Then....I was totally going to plan for my English class tomorrow at 2pm (expecting lots of eighth graders to show up and others...) but motivation and drive was lacking big time...

So instead I did this:

...Cuz apparently I had motivation to organize some more instead? Before, all that beautiful art that was made for me was hung on the walls with tape. And the next morning, it was all on the floor. Guess wood and tape aren't best friends. So string and clothes pins it was! But now I'm out of clothes pins for when more art is made... Looks like a new capital list has already started and I just got back from there! Haha
Now it's 10:30pm and I've done no planning for class tomorrow... And I was planning on doing laundry in the morning (gonna try and work up the courage and be Dominican so I can ask Linda to borrow her washing machine. I'm just not ready to hand wash hahaha). It's all good. It'll work out like it usually does.
Buenas noches.

Inside and Outside Their Education

September 20, 2013. The difference between El Puerto as a private school and my schools? Indescribable. No, not perfect, but I'm still quite... In shock. 
So the director came to get me in the morning but found out last minute that he had a taller to go to. He left me at the school and headed out. The director then took me on a tour. The classrooms were huge. Beautiful murals were painted on the walls outside. There was a swing set. Basketball nets. A kitchen. Green grass and space to run. Every time we entered a classroom and said "Buenos Dias" the kids stood up and said it back. When she said "You can sit now," they said "Gracias" and sat down. I'm not exaggerating when I said I got goosebumps all over my body the first time it happened. Two of the teachers that work in my school in the afternoon, work there in El Puerto in the mornings. So I visited each one for a bit. Of course I was asked to do Alele with the kids (which they loved). I walked around and helped the second graders with their work. They were beyond precious. In fourth, she left me with them for about a half hour (not surprised...). Thankfully they were more mature and I did four different dinámicas/games and they loved it. And responded to all my positive classroom management strategies. Again, not perfect, but the difference made it feel perfect. During recess I didn't witness one fight. The kids sat, ate, swing, ran, and played. Later, after recess one fight broke out. But one fight with at least 3X the number of kids? Ha. Ha. Ha...
Afterwards, I headed to Yokasta's house to eat so we could head to 59 together. I met her mother and at a wonderful meal. We left and I parted ways at the colmado so I could grab a few things and go home. I was not going to the school for the afternoon and I was pumped about it. Of course every kid I walked by was like, "Julie! You weren't in school today!" Haha nope! When I got back to my house I made coffee cuz I was crashing hard and I had promised the pastor I'd stop by in the afternoon. I was struggling to find the motivation but I knew I had to go. Just as I showered and changed, however, pitter...patter...pitter...SHEW! Commence downpour and serious thunder and lightning for the next two hours. YES. I could barely think straight with how loud the rain was on my zinc roof but oh lord was it perfection. After almost falling on my ass in the kitchen, I discovered where my roof leaks and also all over my Sala de Tarea. Lame.
But I left a bucket under the spot in the kitchen and answered the call of my bed. Sadly (and surprisingly) I couldn't actually sleep but simply lying there was enough. Around 5:30, I headed out to see the pastor like I promised. As per usual, we talked about nearly everything under the sun (or clouds...). But the one part that got me was when we talked about the parenting issues here in the DR. It started out with the story from El Batey of the fractured skull (yea, found that out) from a stick because a pencil was stoken. I spoke of the way parenting here is and how the kids are treated at home and in the schools. And how the violence between the children (the way they ALWAYS fight one another as a first reaction to conflict-like having their pencil stolen) makes sense. They are raised by being beaten when they do something wrong. And in most cases are hit in the schools too. How could they possibly know a better way to resolve conflicts when this is their life from birth? I was nearly in tears because I would love more than anything to also work in this area here but as a whole culture, this has existed for generations and is country-wide. That's quite a task to want to tackle. But he saw it all; my perspective and my tears and has just as much passion as I do. There's a program in the Peace Corps that touches on this (and many other aspects of families-self-esteem, health, communication, discipline, etc) and I've got the manual. Our next visit will consist of going through the manual and developing a plan to see if this would be a possibility in my two communities-because there has to be interest if there's going to be change. I'm definitely sending a thousand prayers up with this one because wow, it's hit me harder than I could have imagined. These kids own my heart and this could be one step to bettering their lives outside and inside of their education.
The rains had returned while we spoke and by the time they stopped, it was dark. But I walked home convincing myself that I was not afraid despite the slight increase heartbeat trying to tell me otherwise. I made it, shut my door, made dinner, and now it's time to sleep. Tomorrow it's capital time. Buenas noches.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why I Am Here.

September 19, 2013.  And as much as the day was crazy (which I now know will be my norm), it was filled with so many moments that made me pause and think, "Yes! This is why I'm here!" So many that I hoped for before I arrived to this country and so many that I never even thought about until they happened. Let's recap, shall we?
I woke up in the morning (woo!) and made myself coffee and ate avocado for breakfast. When I got to the school, I was put to work doing random things for the director. While that's not exactly my job, if I helped make her life easier for a day, I'm happy ("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). After all, she's the director AND the first grade teacher, which is rough. I also did lots of planning for my groups. And scooped up little Yessica and rocked her in my arms as she sobbed when the pain in her leg returned ("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). I cleaned it up once she settled and bandaged it. The director from El Puerto then stopped by to confirm plans for my visit tomorrow since he lost his phone. Even something as simple as that makes me so happy. A Dominican that has ideas, seeks the help he needs, makes plans, and follows through? A rarity. And I don't want to let that slip away because that's how you bring about change; with people like him ("Yes! This is why I'm here!").
Ramona came yet again in the afternoon to cook with me. We cooked, washed my dishes in my shower, sang, danced in the kitchen, and talk about life ("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). I feel so much closer to her and feel like I can be myself with her. She's real with me and doesn't hold back because I'm not Dominican or because my Spanish isn't that great. We then left a bit early because I wanted to talk to Nati before heading to El Batey. She signed my vacation form that says leaving will not harm the progress of my project (lol). She gave me permission to use the school for my adult English classes. We set a date and time to have the meeting with Zach from Courts4Kids (and Ramirez and the contractor will be there too!)("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). I then tried to explain the plan that Ramona, Mavel and I talked about yesterday. She agreed that leaving the teachers in the classroom with Mavel would be better (okay, one win!). But she wouldn't let Mavel just take first grade so she could provide the much-needed support there and I could provide more help in second, third, and fourth... Damn. 
I headed to El Batey, sweating out everything I ate for lunch ("Yes! This is why I'm here?" Lol). And Elva was there?? Yup. Crazy. Three kiddos showed up at 2. Not all I have for first grade but Lordy me was it 100X better! We actually accomplished nearly all my plans! And had fun together ("Yes! This is why I'm here!")instead of having me just yelling over them and physically moving them or breaking them apart... And two of the teachers came in and started thumbing through all of my materials, got really excited, and asked for copies. So hey, even if I can't do charlas with them, they might have some better teaching methods (besides just copying the board) because they saw my stuff ("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). Then the next set of kiddos showed up. There were about 7, and it was crazy but not too terrible. Of course, during recess, the director started dancing in ways that the young girls do to a very popular, inappropriate song so I lost them for a bit there. BUT. The kid who I tried to send home yesterday, behaved the best out of all of them. And the one who's house I went to, was 75% better today (not exactly why I'm here but now I can get to that point with them-and I didn't have to hit them to make them listen! Which I've learned now that those teachers do... Nati says they get it enough at home and would never allow that in her school so I was hoping it was the same in El Batey. I was dreaming).
I walked home with Manuela who confirmed that next week will start the first cycle in the morning-YES. I then saw the pastor and he said I could visit tomorrow in the afternoon so I can talk to him about his adult literacy class and how I can help :D ("Yes! This is why I'm here!"). Oh, and he wasn't mad at me! I was afraid because it had been so long, he would be. I also want to invite him to the Courts4Kids meeting with Zach because he's super excited about it too.
When I got home, only a few minutes passed by before I had about 15 kids in my Sala de Tarea. They were coloring, drawing, cutting, pasting, laughing, singing, and making an absolute mess. A few parents stopped by, laughed and commented on my patience and how crazy I am. One mother went to go fetch her son after seeing it all and getting excited. It was a blast: loud, messy, chaotic, and fun. These kids don't have the opportunity to do things creative and they were here, in my house, not fighting with each other (if they started, I told them they had to leave-ABSOLUTELY NO FIGHTING IS ALLOWED IN MY HOUSE). ("Yes! This is why I'm here!")
I also have this little 2, maybe 3 year old at my house nearly everyday. He's Haitian and perked up only when Fredito talked in Creole. But never talked to me. Today, I fed him the little rice that was left over from lunch and he ate it up quick. After that, I couldn't get him to leave my side. Then he was drawing in my lap and making grunting noises every second to make me look at what he had done. I would tell him a color, and he'd repeat it. His almost black eyes sparkled and he finally started smiling with me!  ("Yes! This is why I'm here!") I swear, my heart melted into a puddle in my stomach... Then that night, I made myself tostones (and was successful!) and gave him some; along with another boy who was here that I know has a difficult home situation... Though I was told to be careful with him because he will rob me blind in seconds if I don't pay attention when he's in my house :/
But man was it a full and satisfying day. Things are looking up. Still so far left to go but I can sleep soundly tonight. Buenas noches.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

And The Winner is....??

September 18, 2013. Okay.

Things that have gone wrong these past two days:

1.  I continued to make bad coffee.

2. I started working in El Batey (the other school). I told them I wanted first graders sent to me from 2-3pm, second graders from 3-4pm and third graders from 4-5pm. About 20 kiddos in first, second, and third all showed up at 2. It was a disaster. My plans were impossible. They ran, screamed, fought, locked me in the classroom (cuz the damn door locks on the outside), and cried. And despite repeating over and over and over what time each child was supposed to come, it happened again today. I also said I needed a list (and even wrote my requests down for the teachers) of the students for a few reasons. One: a lot of them cannot write their names and I'd like to teach them the proper way to do so. But many times I can't spell their names because they're not names I'm used to. Two: so that I can be organized. And three: so that if a child (or 7) doesn't (don't) come, I know based on my list and I can go to their house and talk to the parents to find out why. I've now said it three more times that I need a list and one has yet to arrive.

3. While I was "teaching" yesterday in el Batey, all of a sudden there was screaming outside and a ton of kids running around. Two students were fighting because the boy took the pencil from the girl's younger brother. And she took a big stick and swung it at his head, hitting him square in the face. He had to go to the hospital... It started in the classroom and ended up outside. So... Where were the teachers? Where was the director? Yea, I don't get it either.

4. This morning a little girl came to school sobbing. She's one of my tough girls who never seems to be bothered or hurting. She had some pain in her chest and was hunched over and could barely walk. I walked her back home to talk with her mother and her mother simply laughed and said it's because she eats way too much fruit... I certainly hope she's right...

5.  During recess, a little first grader was running and fell, splitting open her knee pretty bad. Lots of blood outside, on the school floor and on my hands. And she was screaming bloody murder. I held her as the director cleaned her up and dressed the wound but when I say "held her," 25% of me was hugging her for comfort and 75% of me was holding her down because she was kicking and writhing so much so that she probably thought she was going to die. I also walked her home.

6. In El Batey, one second grader gave me lots of problems yesterday and today. When I finally sent them all home, he and a girl started fighting outside. He started throwing rocks at her but she ran behind me. One hit my leg and I caught the next one. And a teacher that was just sitting outside watched and laughed saying, "These kids certainly aren't easy!" I then decided to go to his house after I finished at 5pm. A girl in 7th, who's an absolute sweetheart, knew where he lived so she took me. I saw him and then his mother and he took off running. But I simply shook his mother's hand, introduced myself and gave her a little background, and asked her to send him at 3 tomorrow, not at 2 and explained why. Now I at least know where he lives, he knows I know, and I've met his mother. So hopefully that will help and this story can go below in my "Things that went amazingly these past two days" section.

7. I have visitors in my house every night (from my kiddos to guys my age to adults) after I get home exhausted and still have to plan for the next day.

8. I cried yesterday when I got home. 

9. Woke up freezing both mornings.

10. I realized that I've completely filled up my schedule. I don't have a single full day free. Just Monday nights and Saturday mornings. Hopefully that'll be enough?

But! Things that went amazingly these past two days:

1. I just about finished the evaluations in the mornings in my school here.

2. Ramona has come to my house in the afternoons to cook with me and both meals were amazing. And she's coming again tomorrow!

3. I started working in El Batey!
4. One munch especially in second grade (today and yesterday) was giving me problems. Today, I finally took his book bag (seriously, bookbags, pencils, and notebooks are sacred to these kids here) and set it outside telling him that I only want to help him, but if he doesn't want to learn and doesn't want my help, that's fine. He can go home. As he went to fetch his bag and run back into the classroom (cuz despite not wanting to work or listen to me, he didn't want to go home either), I shut the door. But he locked me in... Eventually an 8th grader walked by and unlocked it. And my munch was sitting outside of the door crying. We spoke calmly, just the two of us, and he agreed to come in and work and listen. And he did...

5. Around 3:30 both days I quit trying and sent all the kids home. That's when 3 kids showed up in third grade at the correct time. And we did my plans, joked around, learned, and actually enjoyed the hour. One kiddo knows almost everything and even though I told him he doesn't need to come (because the other two know not one letter or one syllable), he refused to leave and wants to learn more. How can I reject him? Exactly. So I'm not going to. And I'll just differentiate for him because if he wants to learn that bad, I certainly want to teach him. And also clone him too.

6. I have visitors in my house every night (from my kiddos to guys my age to adults) and we made coffee together, drew, colored, share pictures of my family, laughed, and loved.

7. I found out that I put my grecka back together wrong and that I need to shut the stove off when the water starts to rise and that's how you make good coffee. And it worked.

8. On the way home from El Batey, I saw the family that lives there but their kids come to my side. I sat down and visited for a while with them and their mother. There's 9 kids all under the age of 12 and usually it's just the grandmother that takes care of them. And in a house smaller than mine... But it was a wonderful visit and I get to add another family to my list of people I've met and will see more of in the future.

9. I also saw Manuela (teacher in El Batey and lives on my side who wasn't there today) who told me that because of the huge fight that broke out yesterday, they're probably going to switch the tandas again. So the first cycle would be in the afternoon. After much explaining and repetition, she finally understood how that situation would be better for me. I'd still have an open classroom. I could take students out of the classroom (not their homes) when I called them and it would help the teachers to have less students to work with for a while. Also, I'd rather do evaluations with every student like I've done on my side so I could share my results with the teachers and choose my own groups. Sometimes the teachers here will just send the trouble makers or not send some that really do need help for one reason or another.

10. Woke up freezing both mornings. 

11. Linda cooked for me last night and my other neighbor tonight.

12. Dulce dropped by to see me in the afternoon and I told her how much I missed her!

13. Ramona likes my idea for the "library" and we're going to chat with Nati soon.

14. Courts4Kids country director is coming early next week to chat with my community!

15. Ramona, Mavel and I also talked about an "Intervention Plan" because Mavel and I are both here for the same reason (Mavel was sent by AMCHAM, the NGO, to work in first, second, third, and fourth, in literacy and math). Nati wants Mavel to work in each grade in the morning for an hour so the teachers can leave and have a break. But we talked about it and because her and I are here, because I have no idea how to choose which first graders to pull out, because first grade is where the problems begin, and because there's just not enough time in the day to do what is needed, we came up with a better plan to bring to Nati's attention. Mavel can work in first grade with the teacher (because some munchkins know a ton and some know nothing so it would be so much better if there were two teachers that could help both groups). And I can just worry about second, third, and fourth grade; giving me less students (or maybe I can help more in each grade that I would have had to sacrifice) and more time.

16. All my food is in my fridge (luckily it never actually gets cold enough to matter for the things that shouldn't be cold) and haven't heard any rats.

And the winner is?? "Things that went amazingly these past two days!"  10 to 16. I'm good with it.

Buenas noches.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Do Habichuelas Take SO Long To Cook??

September 16, 2013. Woke around 5:30 to a rat eating something... I don't know how but he got in my cupboard and started eating through various bags I had up there (flour, pancake mix, etc). Looks like I've gotta put things in Tupperware. Which I have a limited amount of. So... Ikea anyone!? They have these awesome bigger containers with lids that I can use for food but also my school stuff like crayons, pencils, etc :D Oh damn ;) And there not that bad price wise and colorful!
I made an egg for breakfast and COFFEE! Which wasn't great but better! Yesssss. I headed out with a few new girls I have in my neighborhood who held my hands the whole walk over. And I did what I was supposed to do again today! Almost finished my evaluations though I feel quite overwhelmed by the number of students I feel I need to have in my pull-outs. Like my 6 kids in first grade that were held back. Or the munch who has three years in first grade before they finally just passed him cuz they quit trying. Or the 10 year old in first grade. Or the 13 year old in third grade (my brother is almost 8 and in third...) and can't read at all. Etc.
What I want is nearly impossible but how do I decide who will be in it and who won't? :/ The kids were so cute though. We weren't doing anything fun (evaluations, ew) but they would all come in at different times asking, "Is it my turn yet??" Or, "Can I do it again??" Haha
I booked it at noon with a herd of kiddos excited that I was now walking their way. And started cooking right away... First mistake: I started the rice and habichuelas at the same time (and way too much of both). Second mistake: Cooked the rice for too long. Third: had no idea habichuelas TAKE FOREVER TO COOK. I started right when I got home around 12:15pm and they weren't done by the time I had to leave for the afternoon tanda at 2pm. And I had not a single clue on what people put in it to give them flavor. So I made it up with random spices and sauces I had in the house.. Honestly though, I thought they tasted pretty damn good. I started them back up again when I got home at 5:30 and didn't finish until 7:30. That's just nuts. 
BUT! Dulce spoke with a neighbor of mine who apparently was best friends with Lucy when she still lived in this house. Around 1, I hear, "Oh! You're cooking!" And turn to see her standing in my doorway with a bowl of rice, beans, and pork. And said that whenever I want to visit, I'm always welcome. And Linda had brought me an avocado last night. So despite not eating what I had been cooking, I had an incredible lunch with my heart swelling with love ;) Dominicans are amazing.
At the school I did lots of random things since I really have no job to do in the afternoon. Made copies, wrote notes, broke up a fight which turned into a crazy hot mess with parents involved and lots of screaming...etc. The director isn't going to be there in the morning tomorrow so she said she told the kids not to come... I told her that made me feel awful because I want to help and it didn't feel right that they should miss out on a day of learning. She looked at me so seriously and goes, "Oh no, Julie. They're so difficult. You saw how I am with them right? They're not listening to me either. I'm struggling so there's no way it's fair for you." Goodness that made me feel better. 
Then the discussion about my lunch. I shared the whole habichuelas thing and how I didn't know they took so long. Oooooh man did they get a kick out of that! But now? Ramona is coming over tomorrow during the break to cook with me! And Nati the next day :D WIN. Apparently there's a way to soften the beans ahead of time and store them in the fridge for when I get home in the afternoon. I'm learning every minute of every day I tell ya.
Back at home, I made coffee (good coffee!), had about 10 kiddos drawing and coloring in my messy Sala de Tarea (ah, which now I'm giving English classes again for the 8th graders on Sundays at 2pm), finished up my habichuelas (for a grand total of a 4 hour cook time), made plans for tomorrow, and laid in my hammock some more. Moreno came to visit to see how I was doing (and also laughed at my habichuelas story) which was so wonderful. Linda stopped by too and because I was using both my pots (all that I've got!), she noticed that I couldn't cook my dinner (since I wanted to save my rice and beans for another day and have yucca). So she took my yucca to her house, boiled it and added an egg and avocado. So yet again, I was cooked for. Hahaha oh! And while I was still cooking, I heard something above me... Turns out the rat was back for more and early! I hit the side of the cupboard and he jumped out! Screaming and jumping up and down, I ran over to the chairs in my living room. Hoping up to keep my feet from touching the ground, Fredito and Luis just about busted a gut laughing at me. I eventually tried to go back in the kitchen but the damn thing then ran into the living room. Crawling over chairs to get across the room, I watched again as he scurried across the floor. To where, you ask? I have no idea... And still don't. Aaahhhhhh.
And now I have to finish my annual plan. Cuz it's due today and I forgot... 
Buenas noches!

My Beautiful Disaster.

September 15, 2013. Home, yes. Buffalo, no. But it finally came true. I moved into my own home. Saturday I arose and did my laundry. Then I began packing up my things. About 10 trips later (with the help of my little buddy, Alex who was overly enthusiastic about helping lug my stuff across my campo), everything was everywhere in my house. Fredito even brought my fridge on the back of his moto-like it was nothing. 
And so I left this:

And wanted to cry.

Loser, I know. But I've lived with Dulce for three months. And other host families for three months before that. Looking out onto this...

...And more was terrifying. 

But I had a ton of help. Which was good and bad. Lots of "JULIE! JULIE!" and putting my things everywhere I didn't want them. Haha but! I got everything nearly organized except for my Sala de Tarea. Cuz I have far too many papers and books to sort through.
Here is my bedroom:

(So wanted to stop living out of a suitcase but that's not gonna happen. I just don't have anything or anywhere to put my pants.)

That beautiful curtain (Dominican door) was given to me by Dulce along with bed sheets and pillow cases. I was ready to sleep in my sleeping bag but she would have none of that :) 

The view out my bedroom window :D

I have an extra bed! Yoba said I could use it! It's gross and uncomfortable but I figure it's better than the floor if I have more than a few guests :D

Look at that beautiful shower curtain (hung by strings and not shower hooks :P)! Ugh so in love. And for those of you who send me prayers? Pray that that huge tank doesn't get taken from me?? I just don't want to have to fetch my water at the river despite wanting to learn how to carry buckets on my head like the Dominicans do... Also: 

The notes from my momma that were all in my suitcases when I got to the DR. And:

Those from my papa to enjoy while I DON'T SQUAT OVER A HOLE CUZ I HAVE AN ACTUAL TOILET! :D


Oh yes I am a Master Cooker! Or at least... I'm trying to convince myself that. At least my silverware and plateware will make me happy with all those colors while I'm eating gross food!

Living room. All that you see here will eventually get taken away from me. I will be sure to have an awesome dance party though cuz it'll be spacious enough!
I also have a Hammock spot in the back which I forgot to take a picture of. After everything I was so ready to cook myself an amazing dinner of pancakes. Buuuuut.... I found out I was missing stuff to hook up my stove and the gas tank. So! I went to Dulce's and asked her if I could eat there one more time. She laughed at me and fed me yucca :)
I returned home and the water se fue so I had to bucket shower my first night. But I used the WHOLE BUCKET (no, no not the big tank) just cuz I could since I was all by myself. So good with it :)
I then partied by myself with chocolate milk and soda, FaceTimed with lots of family and passed out around 2:30. Alone. In my own bed that I bought. In my own place that will be my home for two years :D

I woke up the next morning around 7:30am not remembering where I was haha. but I laid in bed soaking in the privacy for an hour or so. I eventually got up, hung my hammock outside and ate a delicious granola bar for breakfast while swinging. For whatever reason I felt that I needed to do something so I migrated into my Sala de Tarea to try and get organized. A few girls came by so I had them make some wall art for the room which they loved. Fredito then came to take me abajo to buy a big jug of water, the connector for my stove and yucca, platanos, rice, beans, eggs, salami, corn, candles, etc. It was very overwhelming since I had never bought these things before I didn't know how. Like how many pounds if yucca or rice I wanted. Or beans. They laughed at me and while I was defeated, I had to laugh too. 
I then got stopped by a woman who wants her daughter to take English classes with me. I told her once a week for an hour starting in October. She was not happy with that. We proceeded to argue for a few minutes about how she thinks I need to have it at least twice a week for two hours. After all, I'm free nights and weekends, right? Wrong. I told her I'm at this school in the morning, El Batey in the afternoon. And I plan for the next day in the nighttime. El Puerto Fridays (not set in stone yet but she doesn't need to know that). And Quisqueya Aprende Contigo classes Saturday and Sunday. And can I have at least a half day to rest? AND the class is free! It's something extra, outside of the PC! I think she understood but still wasn't happy about it.. Lol I was very frustrated but happy I stood my ground.
Fredito and I got back and I was so ready to just make coffee! Until he told me my gas tank was empty... I thought I bought it full. Nope. I just sat on the floor and started crying. Hahaha he was so good about it and told me all about when he was first learning how to fix motos. He made mistake after mistake after mistake until he learned. But once he learned, he never forgot. Which is what I'll do, he said. So he then took me to fill my tank and wouldn't let me pay him for the trip. We got back and I made coffee. And it was awful. Way too strong and we had to add a TON of sugar to make it drinkable hahaha. I'm learning! Then a Haitian came by and sat with us. It was fascinating because he speaks Creole and despite living here for 16 years, hardly knows Spanish. I was able to catch his mistakes and had a hard time understanding at times. But then we started talking about his language. I busted out my notes and started learning Creole! I really want to learn since there are so many Haitians in my community and tons of my kids know Creole but with the racism that exists here, they're ashamed of it. So I want to learn so they know I care... A little boy who lives next to me (and is 10 and in first grade...and his sister is in third and is 13. Do the math...) came by and I asked if he would help me learn. With the biggest and brightest smile I've ever seen here, he said yes!
At 2:30 I headed to the birthday party of Samuel's little sister. She turned 2. I stopped by to see Dulce first who asked me what I ate for lunch. I answered honestly... She laughed so hard, shook her head and disappeared. Seconds later she yells, "Julie! Come!" I emerged from her room to a bowl of rice and beans and pork on the table.... hahaha God I love her.
At the party, nearly the entire campo showed up :). But all I wanted to do was leave... I just don't know if I'll ever get accustomed to seeing little girls (like 5, 6, 7 years old) gyrate in ways I have seen only at bars in the states... And the parents watch with pride... But I'll leave it at that. I hung out with niño and Dulce and Lili, got cake, and made it to the end. Afterwards I headed to the teacher that substituted for me all last week. I thought there were talleres this week but the date got moved (thank goodness!) She greeted me with the biggest hug and a Choco Rica which is the best chocolate milk EVER. And yes, fellow readers, I actually mean chocolate milk this time ;). We chatted a bit and then I had to go talk to Manuela to make sure I was good to go to start in El Batey this week. She and I also chatted for a while and it felt so great. I then passed by Dulce on her moto and she goes, "Come to my house! I'm cooking dinner for you!" I tried to argue but she just yelled louder, "COME!" She made me pasta and tostones :D I guess telling her I had an egg for lunch was an awesome idea despite having to admit a weakness. After all, I  got a second lunch and dinner out of it!
And despite being on my own and feeling like I'm starting all over again learning new things, I more than survived my first day on my own! No, I didn't cook well. I spent nearly all my money (gotta wait till October for more!). I suck at making coffee. I didn't know the tank wasn't already full. I cried in front of a Dominican. And I missed Dulce.
But I have a place I can call my home. I didn't wake up at 5:30 to Moreno showering or throwing up. I laid in my hammock in the cool breeze of the morning overlooking the rice field. I eventually bought all my necessities (I think all!). I stood my ground about the English classes/my sanity. I started learning Creole (and that little boy bragged to all his friends the next day about How I was learning his language :D). I got to cook an egg cuz I wanted to. I went to a birthday party and ate cake. I visited Mavel and felt so welcome in her home. I visited Manuela who made me feel wonderful also and confirmed that I can start working in El Batey! I got dinner made for me. And I got to go to MY home at the end of the night. 
It was a beautiful disaster.

Buenas noches.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Un-Electrocuted and Ready to Run

September 13, 2013. Bueno. I swear every time I go to the capital it feels like I'm out of my site for weeks. But it's certainly always a good refresher. I opened the school up Wednesday morning and then headed out; quite proud of the fact that I fit all that I needed into my normal book bag so I wouldn't have to lug my hiking pack. I made it and found a package in my mailbox! My wonderful Grandma Judy sent me cookies (they're gone already Gram...), granola bars, workbooks for my kiddos, erasers (they're going to LOVE those), stickers, letter decals, and colored pencils! You're the best, Gram. Thank you so much. I finished looking through the box through teary eyes just in time for the first meeting about our regional Escojo Enseñar Conference coming up in October. There, we bring one director and one teacher from our schools and provide workshops where we can collaborate, share, teach, and motivate (hopefully!). Aaaand now I'm doing a talk with Cory and Laila about classroom management (which I couldn't do with my first graders? Hm...). And yes, in Spanish haha. 
After the meeting, Greg, Lula, Cory and I headed out to a sandwich place that was on the Food Network show, No Reservations. We had the "special" which had two types of meat, tons of melted cheese, and mayo all deliciously mushed and toasted. Top it off with ketchup and hot sauce and wash it down with a Morir Soñando (orange juice, evaporated milk, vanilla, and ice)? Sheer heaven. Then the juice guy made us all a special mixed fruit juice for free! Also heaven. We headed back and I went to a Yo Sé Leer meeting. This is the resource we have for teaching literacy which consists of a book of worksheets for the kiddos and in the making: a training manual for teaching local facilitators in order to have sustainability when it comes to effectively teaching literacy. Afterwards, I glued myself to a computer and busted out my VRF which is the formal, detailed way we tell Peace Corps what we've done in the last six months with what kind of successes. Luckily, I haven't done much so it wasn't so bad. But man when I do have stuff? It's gonna be a process...
Then a large group of us collaborated and decided to make Thai pasta (THANK YOU DALLAS) for dinner at Andrew's place. There was 10 of us. And his place isn't that big haha. But! We only had to travel an hour to his site (on a jam-packed guagua), staying there was free (unlike a hotel), and we all got to be together. AND Andrew has a sweet roof you can hang out on. And amazing American music that we blasted. And a pretty sweet personality and INCREDIBLE sense of humor (like seriously) which makes everything even better (it's all true Lobo and you know it so shut up). We were up until 2:30am, passed out where we were seated on his gorgeous but hard tile floor, and prayed that the cockroaches and millipedes wouldn't crawl up our clothes while we slept. Pancakes were made in the morning at 6:30am and we made our way out by 8ish. 
Back at the PC Office, we had more meetings (Quisqueya Aprende Contigo, National Escojo Enseñar Conference), I competed my ELF (which is my locator form that I had to update since I'm moving!), we went to the sandwich place again (such a fatty) this time bringing more people, and I got a green dress from the free box. Susan and I were the only ones staying at Andrew's again but it was amazing. We drank chocolate milk, played Plants v. Zombies, sat on his roof, had some good heart-to-hearts, and ate bread, cake, and chicken nuggets (what?).
Early morning back to the office for one last meeting. We are creating evaluation tools for the many many objectives that the education sector has. This way we have a consistent, standard assessment tools to use and provide the next education group that comes in March. Susan, James, and I went to McDonald's after for lunch (did I mention that I'm a fatty?)! They didn't have ranch (seriously so depressing) but the nuggets and fries were a whole new level of delicious that I cannot describe with mere words. I then worked for three hours on my annual plan. This was both good and bad. There are still so many unknowns, doubts, and possibly impossible desires in my site that I don't feel prepared or ready to make a detailed plan for this next year. It stressed me out as I started. But by putting my ideas down on paper, assigning dates, detailing them out, and brainstorming people to work beside me in my community, it gave me a better sense of my project. I feel more grounded. I can actually see, hey, yea I am doing something. I do have ideas. They do line up with the literacy project framework. I prioritized and postponed things that I've been wanting to do but know I don't have the time for right now. Etc. So more pros than cons for sure. I'm not done but I'll finish it Sunday and once I'm moved into my house I'll feel more organized and ready to fill up my schedule and get started working. I'm so ready to run. I also will briefly say that I have an idea for a traveling library (since we don't have one nor any building to put one) and literacy integration with the Courts4Kids team that comes but I'll wait until they're developed more before I share the details here :)
After three hours, I quit and packed up my things. Cory and I left for the Metro, parted ways, and I made a pit stop at Jumbo to grocery shop. After all, I should have the staples for when I move out! These included toilet paper, coffee, peanut butter, oil, tissues, salt, ketchup, pasta, hangers, dog food (!!), floor cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent, etc. I also got a few unecessities but things that will make my life much easier: a thingy for my closet that are like hanging shelves to put pants and such (now to find something to hang that and my hangers on cuz I don't actually have a closet...), a mini non-stick frying pan, and more that I'm blanking on... Luckily I brought my giant Ikea bag to stuff all these little bags in but holy shit did it weight a ton. 
I made it to the carro público and the driver put my stuff in the trunk while going on and on about how much strength his American friend has. I told him I work out. Hahaha. The trip was...nearly flawless? The second carro headed to my site suddenly got a flat tire on the Duarte in the middle of an intense lightning storm. We had to get out so he could jack the car up and I watched above as bolts pierced the sky and came down pretty damn far around us. It was beautiful. 
But I made it home un-electrocuted, left my groceries in the bag on the last spot on my floor that had room, showered, ate, and typed this baby up. I'm exhausted. Tomorrow? One last day of laundry with a washing machine before I switch to hand-washing. Then: I'M OUT. Hopefully Fredito will stop by so he can take my mini fridge to my house on the back of his moto...
Buenas noches.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Key to the Capital is a Hug

September 10, 2013. Just a few things:

1. I now hold the key to my house. Saturday=Move out day and nothing is gonna stop me.

2. Capital tomorrow till Friday! Can't wait to see everyone :)

3.  Remember when I said I missed hugs? I don't anymore. I get them by the bucket-loads now everyday in school by the kiddos :D

Buenas noches.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Crazy Day of Blessings

September 7, 2013. A damn rat in my room kept me up all night. He was playing with some papers that fell from my wall behind my bed. I tried to shift around and make little noise to scare him but he just ran to the other side of my room and continued. Of course, around 5:30am I had to pee. Great. Headlamp in hand I ran as fast as I could the short distance to the door, unlatched it, and bolted. I didn't hear from him after that. Maybe he ran out after me...
I "awoke" but more like arose from my bed and started my laundry. Dulce headed out to Villa telling me to go arriba or to see Linda cuz she didn't want me left alone (even though I'll be moving out on my own soon lol). After finishing I slowly headed down to first see Manuela. I was super nervous cuz I just realized I've got to be in the capital this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and I forgot that when I said I'd start working over there this week :/. She wasn't there (talked to her later in the day and she was totally fine with it! :D) so I headed to see Linda. Aaaand she wasn't there either. I returned to an empty house and started watching the Hunger Games in my bed. For whatever reason after that unsuccessful walk, I didn't feel like going anywhere anymore. I went through 101 excuses to not go arriba knowing that that way, I wasn't going to eat. After all, there were those bread cookies things on the table. After about twenty minutes I couldn't do it anymore and after having such a good day yesterday, I didn't want to ruin it. I got up and headed arriba to my host mom's house. She seemed genuinely excited to see me, I helped a little with clearing out some wood despite them yelling at me to sit down (I can't tell you how much I miss manual labor...seriously), Lili "taught me" how to mop (though I did learn a different way to squeeze the water out of the mop-Mom and Gram you both would die at the site of the water I used), and we ate. And as I sat there with Alex on my lap wrestling him and engaging in conversations with the family, I could help but fall back to the beginning when I was here. I sat in silence mostly. My host mom and her mom would try and talk to me but I never understood more than one word. They would get up and leave for another room whenever I joined. Fredito never spoke to me. I wasn't allowed to help with the floor cleaning. And I would sip my coffee as slow as I could or eat at a snails pace to avoid having nothing to do but sit there.  This time Lili and I joked around as she took a video of me mopping. My host mom's mom engaged in conversation with me. My host mom's dad did too from his hammock. I chased Lili around the house. Tickled Alex like crazy as he tried to mush my face. I got three cups of coffee (half of one was Dulce's cuz she didn't want it all-I understood her the whole time!) that I drank at a normal pace. And so on... I can't tell you how good it all felt and how glad I was that I got out of my bed and went arriba when I thought I didn't want to. It also made me feel so much better about living on my own. I'm nervous about mentally getting stuck in the comfort of my home and not getting out into the community. It's too easy living with Dulce; I just go with her. But today she wasn't there. I showed up unannounced and it went great. I can do this.
Speaking of living on my own. Yobi didn't come to fix the door today. He's coming tomorrow.. Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be smarter to wait until next weekend... Ugh. But with Corps Forum in the capital this week, why would I move all my stuff now just to leave the house vacant for three days (especially with everyone telling me they don't want me to move cuz of the burgluries)? So I asked Dulce if it would be alright and told her I would pay for half this month when I get back (which is going to make me broke but it's only fair since it will be mid-September). She laughed at me and said not to worry, whatever is best for me. She's the freaking best. I'm disappointed but I feel like this is symbolism. Haha but seriously. Nothing ever seems to work out on my schedule but everything seems to work out. No, I'm not moving out for another week now. But it's better that way and hey, it's another week I won't have to cook for myself ;). No, nothing (well, hardly nothing) is going the way I want it to or think it should at the school. But the kids hug me everyday and "Julie!" or "Profe!" is yelled by too many munchkins I don't know the names of everyday in the street. And I love it.
To continue this crazy day of blessings, I went to El Puerto with the director of a school there. He desperately wants a volunteer and has plans to call my boss to solicit.  But in the mean time, he wants any help I can offer. And after today, I want, more like need, to make time for him. He has passion. He has purpose. He has drive. And he has ideas. I first met his family. We then went to his school where a church is attached. It was beautiful and spacious. The concert was supposed to start at 5 but of course, didnt start until 6:30. There was singing, praising, dancing, clapping, and joy. The concert was put on to bring parents in so they could raise money to buy books for the children; something they lack greatly. Sadly, it rained all day and the crowd was very very small. But they carried on just like they would have if the place was packed and it was incredible. I still have goosebumps from the singers and the dancing third graders. This is what a school is supposed to be like. With people who care about the kids, about the school, and about the involvement of the parents and community. I was recognized twice and after many people telling me how impressed they were that I knew so much Spanish in just 6 months, I understood nothing John (a Canadian who is working in the school through a religious mission) said about me in front of the whole crowd. And it was obvious cuz I froze and turned red. Damn. Hahaha But it's all good. 
I've gotta somehow fit in going there. He wants help with their library. And his first grade teacher is new and struggling. So long as I make it clear that I WILL NOT TEACH ALONE, I want to go there and help. We'll see. 
I made it home by 8, received the most beautiful email from one of my best friends back home (Charles, you better know I'm talking about you) and with a full and heavy (in a good way) heart, I'm off to eat and go to bed. Buenas noches.