Thursday, October 31, 2013

Maybe English Isn't So Bad

October 31, 2013. Yup, Happy Halloween! But here in the DR, it's just another day. It was strange to think about all the happenings at home. Though I have to say, I have the COOLEST little brother in the world. He was Darth Vader :). 
As for me? I put up Christmas lights outside my house yesterday! Hahaha Normally, that would so not be okay. At home, you don't do that until after Thanksgiving. But as I walked through Jumbo yesterday and two Christmas aisles stood grand and colorful and shiny before me, I almost broke down in tears. With a mix of awe at the beauty and crazy depression from missing such a simple piece of home, I had to do it. Half the strand is out already but I guess that's what you get for paying only $100RD. But I'm totally getting more when I go to the capital next. My house is gonna be the best house on the block.
Today I cleaned my house and did my laundry upon rising from bed. I have a jam-packed day tomorrow and Sarah is coming to visit for the weekend! I figured I should get it done now and she won't have to sit through four hours of me washing clothes and moping the floors haha. I then went to El Batey, taught for a bit and discovered four more students from third grade that can't read that weren't on my list. That makes three out of the whole class that can read. I have the rest (14)... 
Then my favorite part of the day followed. Which still surprises me. One of the things I was not looking forward to here was teaching English. It's hard, I've only heard stories of failure, and the people lose motivation fast (understandably so). So I've got my adult class here in my community on Fridays. The first week, one person showed up-my pastor. We didn't start for obvious reasons. The second week, my pastor and another guy about my age. Again, we didn't start. The third week? Three people. Three different people. We started... My other English class is with my eighth graders (and a few others) which is okay but it doesn't feel like they actually want to learn.
So when Ramirez came with the contractor for our future cancha (SI DIOS QUIERE) and talked of wanting an English class a few towns over, you can imagine I wasn't too thrilled. But he continued, saying they would pick me up, bring me back, provide a place, asked what I would need, and how many people I could manage, etc.  It felt pretty serious. And organized. So I thought hell, let's give it a shot. So Thursdays at 6, in Juananito (spelling?) began today. 
And? It was amazing!! First, Ramirez brought me because the contractor guy had a compromiso. Ramirez wasn't staying for the class but stayed with me until things were settled and I was alright-which felt so wonderful. He's was watching out for me and with everything going on here at my site, let's just say I wanted to hug him and thank him for it. But I knew he wouldn't understand. When we got to the church, we had to wait for the pastor to show up with the key. Finally. 6:30 rolls around and he arrived (and Ramirez left). They had a chalkboard and a wall for me to tape my posters up (including one that is a red circle with a red 'x' through the word 'vergüenza' which means 'embarrassment' and I have a speech about how they must lose the vergüenza if they want to learn! Like I had to do!). 8 adults came even though 15 were invited. But the main guy talked about how many in the community want to learn. And how maybe I could do two cycles. Work with this group for a few months, have a graduation, and then begin again with a new group. And the graduation would include a parade walk through the community, certificates made from a university and finalized with my signature and music and food. And how he runs this organization, that community group, set up these workshops about the environment, health, education, etc. It was like I actually passed through some sort of transporter on the Duarte and out of the DR. As for the class itself? The people were phenomenal. Enthusiastic, funny, understanding, patient, and fun. We learned greetings (lame copying but you have to do it so they can study) and then did presentations. I split them into pairs and made them practice introducing themselves to someone, asking how they are, nice to meet you, see you later... All that jazz. I explained that I am naturally a teacher of little ones and proceeded to make them say "Lights, Camera, Action!" with hand motions before each presentation. And then different fun applauses after each one (it's a Dominican thing I'm totally bringing back to the states). They loved it! Participated without grumbling and genuinely seemed to have fun! I flew out of that church. And felt a little guilty for not wanting to do the class in the first place. The main guy then called a car for me to take me back but came with us to ensure I got home safe. Ugh, such a good feeling.
I'm excited that I have something to look forward to each week now. And it's out of my site with new faces. It's hard to explain why that's such a good thing but Lordy, it is. And I now feel more motivated to make my lessons more exciting, different, and interactive. I don't like teaching English. But I now love teaching this group :)

Buenas noches.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Meditate in Reality

October 21, 2013. 

First off, two of the biggest Happy Birthdays IN THE WORLD go out to my munchkin way far away in the land of Grand Island and my big brother over there in PA. I miss you both like you can't even imagine and thank God every day for those two blessings in my life. LOVE YOU.

So again, it's been a while (and I think I'm going to stop saying that since it seems to be happening more and more often, sorry). But instead of sharing what's going on now, I'm going to share something different. It's been insane, changing my project, starting new ones, no longer going to the school, needing to get Diego neutered because now he's angry at people too (and I'm worried he'll turn against my kids soon) etc. I'm stressed beyond belief, and while I know what I'm about to do is way better (hopefully perfect but I'm sure I'll have to change more here and there as I experience more), I'm still not feeling quite like myself yet. But briefly, before I move on, my focus is now switching to just my third graders individually, and the majority of them at their homes. Individually I feel will be more effective in shorter time and then will allow me to move to my second graders when I believe they've advanced enough. In the homes will allow me to interact with the parents/guardians and hopefully inspire/teach them to get involved with the education of their kids more. Also, I am starting an informal preschool out of my house and have a girl about my age currently studyng education to help me. In that way, when I leave in two years, she can continue the class and we will have already structured a curriculum together. More investigating is also being done to see if there is an interest to have "parenting classes" with the help of my pastor. I've got another meeting with my community leaders this Friday and then a teacher conference in the capital this weekend. And will also be neutering Diego. Again, I'm stressed.

But I'd like to just share something I found in my notebook while organizing my things today. I wrote this back when I was in Monte Plata in April and although I'm overwhelmed, defeated, confused, and jealous of those volunteers who seem to have extra time all the time with nothing to do (???), I still agree with the conclusion that this piece comes to. So. Here you go. Enjoy the wordiness that is my writing.

"My home. Outside on the porch, the cement is cracked and chipped away. The blue and yellow splotches are scattered in a random pattern. The zinc rippled fence across the way is rusted or rotting but fastened together with barbed wire. The road itself? Rocks, pebbles, and earth. The crickets have started their hum already and birds fly in to break the silence of the still trees. Houses here announce their presence with vibrant yellows, reds, pinks, and greens against the somewhat bland backdrop of the dust that gathers as the motos pass by. The people also have a way of screaming, "Here I am!" without their voices. Whether it be four Dominicans and a baby on one moto. Or the shameless stares as the American walks by. Or the tight pants of green and the tiny shirts of yellow. Or the music that pours out of every crevice of a house. Or kids playing with a stick and tire running down the street. Or simply the smell of pan con queso in the morning; arroz, habichuelas, y carne in the afternoon; and some sort of vivere con carne at night that drifts into the air as you pass.
This is my home. Although I will be moving once more but for good that time; here, in this country, I will live two years of my life. With the dogs, roosters, forever greens trees, zinc roofs, heat, rains, the ranas and cockroaches, ants and mosquitos, the waiting game that is diarrhea, la luz (or not), running water (or not) and the beautiful Dominican people.
I cannot explain the feeling, I cannot scratch this paper with the ink of truth just yet. Has it sunk in? I couldn't say. Am I ready? Not sure if that's possible. What about those I love back home? My faith is with Him for them. And for someone who has never travelled outside the US of A, the peace that washes over my heart when I take a minute to meditate in reality, reminds me that I'm where I belong."

Buenas noches.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Hidden Foundation before The Walls

October 10, 2013.  So Monday night I prayed long and hard. I will admit that I don't always do that when I should. But I needed it. Then Tuesday went horribly and I'd rather not share the details here. But I hit my limit. I tried to pace outside the school but I couldn't see straight. I left school early sobbing and shaking uncontrollably and was a mess after flipping on my teacher and director about their petty problems. I did laundry and showered to calm myself and then stayed in bed all day and wallowed. Today, I awoke with my alarm and didn't feel ready to go back to the school. I texted my director and said I was sick; which emotionally, was absolutely accurate. And went back to sleep. At 9:30am, I received a phone call from Ramona, the fourth grade teacher. She asked what I was doing, told me to get up and that she had a surprise for me. I arose and about 20 minutes later there was a knock on my door. As I opened the door, I was greeted by a sea of blue shirts and khaki pants and skirts. Still groggy and a mess, about 65 kids and 3 teachers were all outside my house yelling and cheering. They all piled into my house and attack hugged me. On command with Ramona they chanted together, "Feel better! Come back! We love you! And we're sorry!" I fell to tears yet again but from a very different emotion than yesterday. It took me a bit for it to sink in as the pain I feel about this site, my community and my project was/is still strong. But after speaking with my father and looking up to the skies thinking of a dear friend back home and his constant reminder of my needed faith, I knew my prayers had been answered. The big guy was just reminding me that it's on His time and that it will all be worth it. I'm not here to do what I thought I was supposed to do or even what the Peace Corps thinks I'm supposed to do. But I'm here to give the community what it needs and provide the kids hope for a better tomorrow. And I'm going to do it.  
So with a newfound strength that I know will come and go, I'm ready to face tomorrow and get my ass out of bed. 
That friend continues to change my life (you know who you are, Charles. Oops I told everyone ;) ) and is a constant reminder to keep my faith in The Lord and be patient.  That He is capable of miraculous things. One of which was just here on my front porch and in my house in the form of about 65 munchkins wrapping their little arms around me and telling me they loved me.
Afterwards I spent time translating my annual plan into Spanish to send to the NGO as requested by my boss Ann. The more I did it though, the more it felt wrong. All of my Peace Corps goals and strategies didn't fit in the puzzle that is KM 59. And just as I was putting in the email addresses to press send, on cue, Ann called me. I filled her in on everything and told her what I thought. I'm here and not leaving (after today?? No way) but I need to change my expectations and goals.
And so:
Ann supports me and my thoughts of revamping my entire project plan and staying put (and told me not to send my annual plan-phew!). Another very special person in my life spoke of needing a foundation in order to build a house and how there is no foundation here in my site. I shared this with her and she absolutely agreed (THANKS DAD!). She's coming to my community soon to have a meeting and get these people straight. Telling them that there are so many communities that are dying for a volunteer but I'm here, with them. And they need to get their shit together in order for me to do my job, what is required of me by AMCHAM and The Peace Corps and what is so desperately needed here. She praised me like crazy saying she understands but that I'm a saint for starting here at rock bottom (which is totally against Peace Corps requirements for an education site placement-there needs to be a foundation with some organization in order for us to work and be successful with the kids, teachers, and community-I can't do any of that here yet and go to school everyday not knowing what my job will entail) and being committed. Haha She also told me to do a "Slot Analysis" before she comes which is just like a list of pros and cons so I can look at how I can capitalize on the strengths of my community and improve the weaknesses. I'm pretty sure that same super intelligent man in my life just told me that today. And I'm pretty sure he should become president. Or at least Diamond so he can change thousands of other people's lives like he has mine. I love you daddy. So many people are changing my life from a distance...

So I've been reborn. The path ahead of me is fuzzy and confusing and challenging but I now know why I was struggling so hard with my previous expectations. They were pieces to the wrong puzzle. This next little bit will determine a lot and probably be full of mistakes. And this strength and refreshment I feel now will leave me and return just as it always has since I landed here March 6, in the DR. But I'm ready. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I left this community knowing how badly they need something or someone. Yes, other communities are dying for a volunteer but I won't leave this one like so many others have. No, I won't be able to change their entire situation and solve everything. But the next volunteer after me can build the walls above the hidden foundation that we've laid and actually see the results of all of our hard work. And that will be enough.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jamás Olvides

October 8, 2013

Backtrack to the weekend.

Friday-Lula and Greg came to visit. I then was supposed to have my first adult English class. It didn't happen due to some serious rain. But despite being excited about having my first class, with my emotional and mental state at that point, I was okay with it. Then walking Lula and Greg out to the Duarte, I see Ramona (which was a surprise because it was fairly late and she doesn't live in my community). And I spent the next two hours talking to her.

Saturday- After enjoying some chocolate milk the night before, I was looking forward to "sleeping in" a bit since it was the weekend. Diego decided otherwise, however, and woke me up at 530am. Lol I tried many things to calm him but then Linda's music started blaring at 7:30am. Rise and shine! Laundry for four hours. Planning. Cooking lunch. Going to Villa for a few groceries including dog food, but it looked shady so I didn't buy it. Then I visited the family of Lula and Greg's director. And was invited to a party next Sunday. Phew.

Sunday- Diego allowed me to sleep a bit more so I arose at 8am. I cleaned the house a bit. Tons of kids were here. English class for my eighth graders actually happened and I video taped their performances. It was so cute. Tons of kids returned again afterwards. I did more planning. Ran at 5:30 with a bunch of munchkins and Diego. Came back. Still tons of kids. Excersises with them-SO funny. Just imagine about 15 kicks putting their feet up on my walls all lver my house beside me and doing crunches. Then holding each others feet to do sit ups. Etc. I tried to kick them out to shower but they were suddenly working so hard and so calmly and TOGETHER on puzzles in my Sala de Arte. I couldn't do it. So I gave them a big speech about how we have confianza and how if they steal things, they won't have anything to play with anymore. And I left to shower. When I came out, they were still working beautifully! I cooked and FaceTimed with my dad and jake and my kids which was INSANITY. But jake with the Pikachu voice was a hit! I finally got them out and FaceTimed with Sam and Momma too. Exhausted, I went to bed. Sorry for how choppy this all is.

Monday. The meeting with Ramona, Natividad, and the community. Just... Yea. I can't say anything here for various reasons. But I found out why half of the community didn't come. They're completely divided. And I'm left wondering who I can trust and how I can help with this reality. And why these issues are issues when the problems with this school are way bigger and being ignored...

Tuesday. No director so we sent the first graders home. I spent most of the time talking with Brayan who is a four grader that fights multiple times daily and that's not an exaggeration. I just sat on the floor beside him while he was being punished in the office and we talked. His mom and dad are in Villa but separated. His dad left him here because he thinks this school is better. But he left him with a family he barely knew (luckily they're good people) and now rarely sees his own son. And his mother never sees him... On my way to El Batey I saw the pastor. He knew I had looked for him yesterday to bring him to the meeting to bring some peace but he wasn't home. He asked me how it went. I couldn't hold the tears back. He said that he wants to sit down with me sometime soon and explain to me what happened to this community. I trust him. We'll see what he says...
I've finished planning now for El Batey tomorrow. I didn't let any kiddos in my house tonight and I didn't go running. I think that was for the best. 

I'll put this quote here for all to see (going to leave it up to you to translate though ;) ) because I found it in the school's office and I love it. I'm struggling to feel better through reading it but I'm rereading and rereading it to drill it into my head and heart. Hopefully this will all resolve and we can move forward together as a team; all with the same dreams and goals for the near future of these munchkins.

"Que tu vida es más grande que tus miedos, que tus fuerzas son mayores que tus dudas. Que aunque tu mente esté confiada, tu corazón sabrá la respuesta con el tiempo, lo que hoy es difícil, mañana será un tesoro, pelea por lo que realmente te llena el alma y la virtud de saber esperar porque lo que tiene que ser, será." Jamás Olvides
 (I copied this word for word which is funny because the "author" literally means "Never Forget" in Spanish)

Buenas noches.