Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mi Querido Ángel Miguel

Saturday the 16th, I hear yelling and a bunch of people running outside my house. Upon asking around, I hear that one of Casilda's twin boys (almost 2yrs old) fell very ill and was in the clinic. They then got rushed to the hospital in Restauración. The world seemed to blame whatever it was on the chinola he had just eaten that morning...
But things only got worse. In the middle of the week, they then moved to Santiago Rodriguez which is where he was born. His stomach was swelling and he wasn't eating or going to the bathroom. I called everyday to check on him but it got harder each time. I tried watching out for her 5 other kids left here with the grandfather and praying hard for the little man. I even made the decision to go visit that Thursday but when I called, she told me they were filling out the paperwork to get sent to Santiago... Not good. He went into intensive care and his parents were left outside to sleep in their truck..
Last Saturday I then get a phone call from another community member and am told that he needs blood and that I need to put a Facebook status up asking for someone to donate. I was confused but did it. It turns out, people don't really donate blood in this country. There are blood banks but you have to bring a person to donate in order to receive blood. Even with money, it's difficult. I'm a mess. So I called Maria. I have type O+ and I can donate to whatever blood type...right? But the big guy that runs PC slams the door in my face. Volunteers aren't allowed to donate. My head spun. Sitting here in my campo, knowing in my heart I could do something to save him and then being told I can't? That feeling is my worst enemy. 
Some people moved. Felix was on the phone all day with hospitals trying to find blood. Apparently a pint in the capital and one in Mao were surfaced. But the little boys dad had to go and get it. Later I hear that he was already given two with no results... At this point, I still didn't know what he had (has-and still don't). 
I called Ann in tears. Asked her to forgive me but to ask why we weren't allowed to donate. Or what I could do from here. There had to be something. She asked for the father's number and said she'd call to see what she or her husband could do. He said that at that moment, they had what they needed. He had gotten the blood from the capital and the other pint from Mao was to be delivered the next morning. We would just have to wait.

It was a week and a half from Hell. School started, we had met the president and been given tons of work to do, and I had Escojo Enseñar Conference planning. And my heart wasn't in any of it. Anywhere I went, he was all people talked about. And the tears just never seemed to run my body dry.
They're saying he's better. He sat up and called for his dad one night. The next day he was playing and laughing. And he's now out of intensive care. But they're still running tests. It seems that he has something, some sort of illness but from what I gather, they still don't know what it is... Communication here is difficult. 

He's better, but he's not home yet. So many prayers have been sent for him and I want to thank all those back home for that. But don't stop just yet. Not until we celebrate and gather around the entrance of my campo as he arrives. I promise to let you all know as soon as that happens.

This little guy is his twin brother but this is just how absolutely adorable they are:

Their names are Ángel Miguel and Ángel Manuel. Two angels that we need here in Mariano Cestero because without one, an absolute void is left in his place.

No Worries, The President and I Are Best Friends

Well...not really.
So on the 13th of this month, I had the day planned out for planning our Escojo Enseñar Conference. Andria from Rio Limpio was coming up and we had lots of work to do. That morning, I find out from a neighbor, that the President of this country, Danilo Medina, was coming to Restauración to talk about education. Bueno. I couldn't go. I knew it would only be me sitting in the audience listening to great promises of a better tomorrow but hell, it would've been a cool chapter in the story book of my PC service, right? Ah well. My President of GRUJDECO, Casilda, however, went. And gave our solicitation letter directly to his secretary. I figured it would be a dead end, a lost piece of paper in the piles of his basura but como quiera, I was so proud.
Then that Friday. Our group and friends met to continue practicing for our comedy show planned for Sunday. We received an invitation letter to Restauración Sunday morning for a meeting held by the President's committee. It was for all groups and organizations in the area to present their projects or problems and for the committee to review and decide on those to provide support. Wow. Sounded good to us! So with plans for Casilda, Marizol, and I to go, we parted ways.
Sunday morning comes along and we arrive in Restauración (menos Casilda, plus Kilvio-see next blog) early. The meeting of course starts late and we are jumbled trying to get our group name down on the list to present. In the mess, we find out that the meeting is only for agriculture projects. Ha. NO WHERE in the invitation did it specify. So we were taken off the list but placed at the bottom "if there was time." Not moments later with much frustration brewing inside me, a man announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and greet the President of the Dominican Republic!" Surprise visit!! Haha And in a smaller setting I was able to sit and listen to projects being presented, the President ask questions, and then make a speech at the end. And in the midst of agriculture talk, other random projects were addressed to which he made promises to fully fund On. The. Spot. So not fair. But then he said his committee would return and those who presented and those who weren't able, were to bring detailed project proposals (with estimates, budgets, beneficiaries, etc) on Wednesday. His side kicks would review them and bring them back to him and he would be back again to deliver his response. 
So. Ignoring the fact that we aren't an agriculture group, we decided to go back Wednesday. That night I spent hours typing up a fancy Project Proposal with everything from our group history, our mission and vision, our census, our location, our estimates, and more. It is beautiful if I do say so myself ;) oh, and as the President walked out, I may or may not have strategically placed myself near his exit path. So as he passed me, he shook my hand and said, "Bye, bye." I know. BEST friends. Totally.
Wednesday, we waited for an hour for a bola only to find out the meeting got moved to Thursday. Thursday it is! And the meeting was an unorganized disaster. We weren't going to be able to present. We spoke with a man from here with connections who looked at our proposal, loved it, and grabbed me and dragged me over to one of the President's right-hand men, the Executive Coordinator of Presidential Projects, and just as he was about to leave. He himself looked it over, seemed to like it (and a few other things I won't mention. Ha.) and told us what we needed to do: write an official solicitation letter to accompany the proposal and follow his assistant to his truck. I got his fancy business card and then his assistant's. I wrote my number down for him and promised to call when we had it all ready. 
It's now Monday. Card done and shaking hands, I'm with my group and I'm the one who has to call. After much probing and pressure and laughter, I finally hit send. I get a secretary and explain who I am and why I am calling. She tells me to call his cellphone directly. The shaking grows. I dial. No answer. I wait a minute and dial again. 
"Hello, how are you doing today?"
"Hello, JULIE. I'm great."

AH! He knew my name! The conversation continues, they had apparently been waiting for my call. He said they will be passing through the area again sometime soon so they are going to give me a call the day before so we can be there to give them our project. He then passes me to the original, fancy guy I met and he jokes around with me for a while and he too promises that they will call.
I'm trying not to get excited but if this all goes through well, we could have our entire project funded in an instant by the PRESIDENT HIMSELF. What an incredible blessing for my tiny little community of 400 people way up here in the frontier... I hardly even know what to think yet.
But for now...We just wait.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Being Cut Inside a Void

Lo que pasa es...
We no longer have a location for our Biblioteca Tecnológica... Looks like the only way the office with be given to us is by loaning it to us. Which I very frankly and clearly said that I would not be able to help in any way monetarily if the building is only loaned to us. Why, you ask? Because with the estimates we made on the renovations, it's about a $1,000,000 peso project. And in 2 years, 5 years, 10, lo que sea, they could turn around and go, "Oh hey, we want our office back now. You've gotta leave." After all the money, work, pride, sweat, and I'm sure blood that will be poured into it's concrete walls and electricity pumping batteries?
I just can't.
So new plans are in the making, maybe even building from the ground up. Might be cheaper in reality but will definitely take longer. And the last I spoke with another volunteer, the number 10 escaped her mouth for what remains in months of our service and I almost threw up. It's amazing how time and how it feels changes so drastically. Normally, 10 months is a long time. It no longer is. 
I'm beaten down, but never defeated. I still have faith. I still have fight. But when you cut yourself, naturally you react by pulling back, clenching your teeth, or swiftly covering it with an available hand. But only moments after, your body relaxes again and you move forward, even if the bleeding continues a little. After all, underneath and through the pool of blood rising, you know that a clot is slowly and quietly forming.

In other news, today is Wednesday and for the second week in a row on the same day of the week, the water truck came through. I don't want to get too excited that is could be a regular thing but I'll admit, I danced about it today. I didn't go to the river once last week. It's funny though, I almost miss it. A volunteer came to visit to work on conference planning and she asked what arm workouts I do... I laughed and silently showed her my best friends: my gallon jugs. But I swear to you due to a mood wave of seriousness currently washing over me that I can say that I miss it. Just don't tell the same self that is climbing up the hill next time, full jugs in hand, and heart pounding so hard she can feel it in her chest...

TiTin and my Doña left yesterday morning and it's killing me. They went to go visit one of her daughters in Santiago de la Cruz and the emptiness left behind the trails of guagua dust and cold negligence of the locked up house have made me restless. It still amazes me how deep these people seeped into my blood and became family, no biology included.

The President was in Restauración today. Ha, yup. And I had made plans so I couldn't go. I was told this morning. His whole shpeel was on education, kinda what I'm here for but my incredible committee President went and gave our solicitation letter to his Secretary. Maybe a dead end, but I'm proud as hell that she did that.

Tonight I went to visit a younger couple up the road. He had shot three palomas that day, was cooking one of them, and wanted me to have a taste. I ended up staying until 11pm sharing nightmares, horror stories of the nighttime here, ghosts and spirits and haunted houses, and then? All that Mariano Cestero used to be in the past. Full of life, events, compartiring, and just an all around feel of what a real community should be like-bonded as a family. They lamented that things have changed, no one seems to care anymore and in turn, the next up-and-coming generation is suffering and is going to continue to suffer. What happened? They simply don't know.
It's like the void I spoke about in a letter to my boss (see below). There's one part we can see or used to see. And then there's today and reality. But the middle is lacking, mysterious, and haunting. No one seems to understand what happened or how to combat it... Change is challenging. And while the past should remain in the past, sometimes it's a necessity to at least recognize it in order to learn from it. And then if there's no vision forward? Change becomes nearly impossible. Pero venga lo que venga, something's has to happen. 

As promised and as a close, here's my email to my boss. More thoughts flow behind its response but I'll save organizing and sharing those for when the response arrives:

Greetings and Peaceful Mornings from the Frontier!

Julie here with just some questions when her thoughts wander and a desire for understanding takes over. And I included our beloved Brenden in this email to continue expanding the possibility of answers.
In my experiences with the summer talleres last year and then seeing a few more here, this year, I find myself seeing (or rather, feeling) a void but am unsure as to where said void lies. Yesterday in my school, we sat tirelessly and read through the 52 page First Cycle Pedagogical Manual. And it's a beautiful document. It addresses all aspects from students with special needs, to the importance of taking 45 minutes a day to read aloud to your students, to creating a student-centered curriculum, to never using abuse as a form of discipline, to recycling, to the ambience and physical space of the classrooms, to teaching through interactive methods and games... etc. These creations and ideas are obviously sent down to the foundations of this country by the top dogs in the Ministry of Education. They know what they're talking about. And I know we've (us volunteers and you) discussed this before; about how their ideas, movements, initiatives, and programs (all synonyms?) are incredible and if applied could/WOULD mean a total facelift in what is to be the future education system of this country.
Entonces, qué sucede? We see them and their knowledge of all things proper and then we go into the schools in the pueblos, campos, and cities, and this is not what we see. There is a void. Somewhere these ideas are sucked away and lost and all that's left are chalkboards, notebooks, and an impatience so great that hitting a child is easier and apparently more effective than any other behavior management strategy.
I could sit here and just say that it's just a lack of motivation in the teachers. Which makes the students lose enthusiasm. And then turn and blame parents for not motivating their students to arrive on time or study. Which then makes the teachers lose motivation. The cycle in which we hear daily and a cycle very difficult for us, or anyone, to break free of. 
But maybe there's more? That's my question and forgive me for the long-windedness of the email to arrive at this point. Do you have a lot (or any really!) of experience looking into the universities in this country where teachers are molded and set free? What are the courses like? How do they learn? Do they learn all the goodies that the Ministry of Ed knows but choose not to use any of it? Or maybe arrive at reality and give up? Or maybe they don't learn these things so when they receive the material now, years in, for them it's useless to try and implement? Or they just don't feel they're paid enough to put the effort in?
Forgive me for some of the questions-they are innocent, I can promise you that. I just want/have a need to understand more. Maybe it all is just this cycle between teachers and parents but I guess I just don't want to accept that. Or while fighting to combat it currently, I would like to research and learn more to see if there's something else contributing to the beautiful battle we fight daily. Because if there is, and we can somehow get to the basis of it all (possibly opening up a whole other can-of-worms), the war might be less lengthy, less bloody, and both sides could walk out winning.

Take your time with this email and it's response if there is one! It's not on your top priority list right now, no worries :)
Hope all is well in the capital life.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Jumbled Update and a Search For Missing Treasure

Update from a both two weeks ago:
Dry rivers.
Small, red, wiggly, wormy thingys.
Meeting in DaJabon-bought diapers for Naomi and chancletas for TiTin-too small but he wears them.
EE Conference at the end of August-I've got two charlas.
SPA grant. $$$! But... I have less than a month to fill out the application with a TON of information I don't have yet.
Rifa-That's a raffle! It was a bed spread and we sold tickets for $25 pesos each. We raised $2,290 pesos!
Softball practice solo. Loved it.
River trip with 15 munchkins and lugging gallons back up the ridiculous hill.

Next Update:
Meeting the Ambassador of the DR. He was amazing and shared more of himself professionally and personally in 45 minutes than I could have imagined.
My boss, Mary-Also met her! It wasn't much but she seems great.
Sam's visit (blog to come!)
Census! Though I wasn't able to, my committee took the entire day last Sunday and did a census of Mariano, el Cruce, and Vara de Vaca. In total, we have 488 people that could benefit from our Biblioteca Tecnológica. 205 children in all grades. And of all the adults, 68% only attended and/or finished primary school (1st-8th). 18% attended and/or finished high school and only 8% have pursued or are currently pursuing a college career. Striking numbers... More estimates on location and materials are in the making as well.
GRUJDECO meeting with the community on Thursday-went really well! We cleared the air although the person who is fighting against us the hardest wasn't there. There is a distaste for the fact that the entire committee is made up of only people from the Cruce. This was not something done on purpose. Ideally, yes, we would have a few from here, a few from the Cruce, and a few from Vara de Vaca to fairly represent all. But I told them a little bit of my story, and I meant every word I said. I was originally in another campo far from here. I was going to be there working for two whole years. But it was 8 months. I spent those 8 months searching, fighting, searching, and crying out for people like these 4 I've got in my Committee. And in 8 months, I never found them. For that very reason my boss changed my site and sent me out here. I have complete faith in them and fully believe in their capabilities and drive. They are better than I am. And I love being able to say that. 
And with an applause to follow my speech, we left the meeting motivated and calm.

Staph infection. Gone! That was ugly and I'll save the details :) But with a whole left in my right leg, it's no longer swollen and I'm walking normal! Woo!

Saturday (yesterday). After three trips to the river Friday and two early Saturday morning, I was able to get enough water to wash my clothes. Afterwards, I disconnected the plugs and went to rinse off my hands. What I didn't realize was that the still-connected extension cord had fallen into that bucket of water. I put my hands in and ZIP, total body electrocution to the point of which I fell over and cut open my infected leg. Shit did that hurt. Haha shaking for a while, I laid down and soon felt better. I then was able to go pay for my internet, help a friend get an injection to cure his Staph (yea, it's spreading around my community but I didn't start it!), and started working more on Escojo Enseñar Conference planning. Casilda stopped by and we made a few more phone calls to get estimates on computers. That was when Francheska came in and asked where Baraquito was. Since I had gotten back on Wednesday, he wasn't here. Everyday they told me he was at his mother's in Tierra Sucia. He always goes there by himself, usually doesn't tell anyone, but never stays more than a day. I thought it was strange that he hadn't come back yet but they assured me he was there. But then Francheska said that his mother had seen Nena Thursday and asked where Baraquito was. Nena thought he was here, in Mariano. My head spun. He left Wednesday, but then his mother basically said he wasn't with her Thursday. It was now Saturday. Casilda saw my face, understood my worry, and went with me to investigate more. Asking more questions and talking to more people, no one really knew where he was. But they all said I couldn't go to Tierra Sucia that late 7pm because not even motos enter there, it would only be afoot and it would be dark before we arrived. I looked at Casilda with tears pouring down my face and said, "I don't care about that. No one knows where he is and his life is more valuable than walking." She simply replied, "Let's go." I couldn't have loved her more than I did at that moment. We gathered up a group: her, her cousin who is my age, Osiris (the only one who knew the way), Estarlin, and Francheska, grabbed flashlights and water and left. What a trek. An hour and a half later through the hills and woods, we arrived in the dark of the night...
And there he was. I cried so hard and hugged him. We explained to his mother why we went and that if he was happy, being fed, and loved, that he could stay. We weren't looking to take him away from his mother, only to know that he was safe and well. His plan, however, was to return to Mariano the following day alone so he decided to just leave with us. He cried too, and for a moment I just held him, knowing he didn't want to go back and face his father but knowing he had to.
Another hour and a half back and we made it, singing, shouting over the mountains that we found the treasure and were bringing it home, and soaking in the breeze that blew through the tops of the hills. His father was waiting for us when we got back. But of course, the conversation went nowhere (even turned into how, dizque, everyone in Mariano is smoking marajuana... Yep.). I stayed in my Doña's house waiting for his father to leave so I could be sure he wasn't going to hit Baraquito. But at midnight, he grabbed his two little ones and called for Baraquito to follow him home and sleep there.. For the first time since I've gotten here, he was going to have his son sleep abajo with him. My heart sunk and my chest burned. But there is always a limit to how much you can protect someone. And I hit that limit hard.
Problems have now arisin with this trip and I fear for the consequences. I fear them not for me, however, but for how they will affect Baraquito and maybe my work here. But despite it all, it was worth it. And I would go and search for him all over again if given the chance to go back in time.