Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beach Corps!

Wow, I cannot believe that my last entry was waaaay back in December! That is a testament to: how removed I am from the (internet) world, and how busy I've been. Time is literally, and luckily, flying by. I say luckily not because I am unhappy here. You guys know this is something I have always wanted to do in my life and I cannot see myself doing anything differently right now. With that said, it still doesn't make the experience easy. I remember when we first arrived in country, the country director described Peace Corps as the hardest things you'll ever love. I remember thinking to myself, what's going to be so hard about it? I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, see a different part of the world, learn a new culture, etc. But now, I can attest to that sentiment. It is tremendously much harder to live alone in a new culture, with limited communication skills, in completely different circumstances than I had initially anticipated. It's like being five years old all over again. I had to re-learn basic tasks like how to get around, how to collect water, do laundry, cook, express myself, what's culturally acceptable and what's not. All of this was very daunting and yielded this feeling of dependency and inadequacy. And I have to overcome all of this while simultaneously steer a successful needless to say these first few months have been stressful. Great, but definitely challenging. Fortunately I have always (always!) had amazing people in my lifeand Peace Corps is certainly not excluded. I am always so excited to receive a call, text, email from you guys. Also, I came in country with a spectacular group of people and we are always getting together to visit and get away for a little bit.

Work and personal life (which are one in the same here!) have been busy since getting back from my fabulous trip home! I am now in my own house, a charming little place with barnyard doors (one of my favorite features)...see pictures! I also have nine (yes, nine!) fruit trees in my backyard: cherry, lime, mango, avocado, grapefruit, orange, guayaba, guanabana and nispera. I have probably eaten two guanabana a day since the harvest started...see picutres! Sooo good. Ask Rachel, she can verify this. I also have a dog now, Besos! She is out of her mind crazy and love to chase the chickens and roosters that roam around here.

As for work, things are constantly changing. The one constant is that I am still dedicating all of my time to my primary project, the artisan group. A lot of Peace Corps projects tend to fizzle out, but luckily my artisans are still holding strong. The distant future goal is to build a gift shop/tourist stop right along the highway in my community. However, it is easier to work with pre-existing establishments than to try to build from the ground, super grassroots up. So we are currently weighing several options and seeing which takes flight. When I was home, I know a couple of you were asking what I did on a day-to-day basis. And as you can see this is hard to answer! Things here are not planned and organized like they are in the States. Schedules are made that day, mostly at the last minute, and if you try to plan something in advance, forget about it because no one will remember.

As for the community, we are in mid-term election season, meaning our mayor has actually been doing some positive work around here. See pictures of our newly paved roads!!! Politics aren't as dirty as they are in the States, but there is absolutely no accountability here (there isn't even a word for accountability in Spanish...ironic??).

As for play time, we (two women from my artisan group, my local friends, Besos and I) went to the beach for Easter...see pictures! For Earth Day, we along with 500 other participants volunteered to clean up trash along the highway. It was our first event where we were invited as an association; a big recognition for us. A couple of weeks ago my volunteer friends and I went to a neighboring city to go see a Dominican bull fight, which turned out to be more like a county fair/rodeo/shit show. By the time the last bull came out, when all of the Dominicans were extremely intoxicated, about 50 to 60 people jumped in the ring and started chasing and taunting the bull, pulling its tail, etc. Eventually they all jumped on top of the bull and did like a dog (or bull?) pile. If you've been in this country long enough, you'd know that this behavior is neither shocking not crazy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Okay, I just realized that this blog publishes the photos work from the bottom up!
First picture is of the sign right outside of the mayor's office, just as you get into my community. Second is of my project partner's house. Third and fourth, police station and school. Fifth, some of the candles my women make. Sixth, my room! Seventh-Nineth, pictures of the beach about 20 minutes from me. Tenth, a couple of the kids who I play baseball with every Sunday afternoon. Eleventh-Fourteen, pictures from the little fair we had in our community!
A month has passed since I moved to my site…a whole month! Can you believe it? I surely cannot. And I have been busy every second of it, literally. The first week of my arrival was dedicated to meeting the entire community—the mayor’s office, the police department, the Red Cross, all the kids in the schools, the health clinic, the church, all the women in the Directive and their family… you name it, I met it. I hadn’t even been in the community for 24 hours and I had the mayor asking me in a televised interview what I was going to do for Cumayasa. Luckily the cunning politician in me surfaced and I filled my responses with flowery, meaningless vagaries. Thanks Poli Sci degree!

The mayor’s enthusiasm of my presence is by no means exclusive and definitely shared by all. I have been welcomed with open arms by almost everyone. It is truly a great feeling. My site kicks ass! Right now we are working on the infrastructure of the women’s group to strengthen internally and get ourselves organized. There are seven women in my Directive who are all artisans and make mostly jewelry and candles. Their market is primarily the tourists. Dominicans are extremely grateful for the tourism that passes through here; it is not resented or begrudged one bit.

I am so soo sooo proud and excited to say that we started a fund!!! Haha, all of my women are serious Evangelicals, so the other night we celebrated by popping some soda and toasting our accomplishments with that. I guess the popping champagne song hasn’t reached here yet…boo. The money in the fund is coming from a percentage charged from merchandise sold and a quota system we set up. It is for any member of the Directive who needs to borrow money to buy materials to make more products for upcoming fairs and shows that we have. Access to capital is not nearly as fluid as it is in the States, and even if you can approval for a loan, interest rates are crazy high here. So I am extremely excited to have started this!!! The vision is for it to become stable and eventually grow enough to transition into a community bank. Pretttty cooool, eh??

My heart and soul are committed to working with this Directive. I hope to improve it as much as possible while I am here. Other projects on the horizon include teaching English courses (I am asked almost every day when I am going to start giving these courses. That’s how excited the community is about English.), and working with two local humanitarian institutions that help children and the elderly.

Thanksgiving just passed and Peace Corps every year hosts a nice event for all of the volunteers. They rent out a club house and cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal (yay no rice and beans!), consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, that cranberry dressing stuff, a vegetable medley of sorts, AND, the best part, pecan and pumpkin pies! So I passed the entire day poolside, getting tan and eating as much pie as possible. It was definitely relaxing. But I had a sadness hanging over my head the entire day. I never think I am going to get homesick, and I receive no warnings, it just happens and I get into this little funk. So I was homesick that day, missing you guys!

I LOVE YOU GUYS!!! Hope all is well. Keep me updated on everything going on with you!

Here’s a fun little Get to Know a Dominican Series. Four things that I bet you didn’t know about the Dominican Republic or Dominican culture:
1.) They eat Halls cough drops as candy. It’s pretty gross. Though, they are only a peso…so they’re growing on me!
2.) They are a very giving/sharing culture. I once had a three year old offer me a drink from his bottle on the bus. Not once, but about four different times during the trip.
3.) They point with their lips instead of their fingers.
4.) Men will lift up the front of their shirts if it’s hot, or after a meal if they’re full, or if they just feel like it dammit.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Serenity Now, Insanity Later

What to say about these last four weeks?! Just read the blog title, it sums it up pretty nicely. Haha juuuust kidding (kind of). Training up in the mountains was fun and a great experience. At first, I didn’t quite understand the logic behind coming to Santo Domingo, leaving only after 3 weeks to train at a different location, and then coming back to Santo Domingo for a week and a half to finish training. But now, I totally get it. This go-around was like a test run, or practice before the real deal. I have learned a lot about the culture of rural communities; information that I plan to take with me to my site. Now I know that… people in the rural areas are marvelous; privacy is literally nonexistent; sending neighborhood boys on your errands is the best tool out in the campo; donkeys are the most annoying animal in the whole wide world; and chicken are the most disgusting; Dominicans are afraid of the sun, and some of water; no matter how hot and humid it is here, I will never get used to cold bucket bath showers; electricity is harder to come by than a Dominican who doesn’t love the Yankees; if baseball is the national pastime, merengue, bachata, rice and beans are the national sport; and… that I am so lucky to be here serving! It’s been a hoot.

We seized every moment that we were there, whether it was going to the river on a regular basis, hiking, exploring, or just laughing. My absolute favorite activity we did was go to an adventure tourist site called 27 waterfalls. It was actually developed by a Peace Corps volunteer in the ‘60s and has had multiple environmental and business volunteers since. It was incredible! We swam and floated through rivers and hiked through mountains discovering waterfall after waterfall. We did not do the entire tour, all 27 falls, but we did see 15. Even more impetus to go back! Pictures and videos are posted! Because we were cliff jumping from some serious heights, we were required to wear helmets and life jackets. Second best activity was the beach! Check out the pictures. Yes, that’s right, I am actually tan! Woo hoo

Training ended with us attending the annual Business Plan Competition that is hosted by Peace Corps and Plan International. I loved it! People aged 15-25 complete a 4 month course in business and submit a business that they want to start in their communities, it could be a pizza restaurant, beauty salon, clothing store, whatever they are truly passionate about. There are two categories, production and commercial, and a third, second and first prize in each category. The third prize winner receives 50% of their projected start-up costs to open their business, the second 75% and the first receives full funding. The opportunity that this brings to these kids is tremendous. I am so proud of all of them for putting forth the effort to pursue their dreams. The best part about it, though, was when our director came and surprised us with a little gift. She told us our site placements EARLY!!! I hope everyone's excited because you have serious reason to be. I AM ON THE BEACH!!!!!!! In the most beautiful part of the country, the east. I will be working with a group of artesan women and will find out more about the project on Monday. I CANNOT WAIT! Tuesday I will go out to my site to meet my project partner and come back on Sunday. I officially move out there either Saturday, October 31 or Sunday the 1st. Stay tuned, I love you!!!!