Saturday, July 16, 2011

Luz, Camera, Accion

Wow. Ok. I am really bad at keeping up with this blog. But for good reason, I have been very busy lately. Projects are finally calentando, "heating up"...grants coming in, groups coming together, working Peace Corps Committees, etc.etc. In the last few months I have developed my girls group, a boys group, created a committee to build a childrens park, went to a boys superman camp, started a dance group, became part of the Peace Corps DR 50th Anniversary Committee, received three grants for projects, been certified as a scientific and advanced diver to do reef studies in my community, ok you get the point.

it. is. a lot.

But all that is "stuff." The reality of it all is that I am almost in the DR a year. One year. I feel more and more at home every day. And everytime I leave and return, I come back more appreciative of where I am. It could also be because we are in avocado season and I get to return to rice sacks full of avocados from my tree (I am eating about 5 a day on average). Anyways...

Being here 10 months or so in my community, I am seeing changes. I am rolling through the seasons- babies have been born, elders have passed-I am noticing the changes of life and the changes in myself. I am no longer treated as the outsider who is passing some time in the community. I am told to do chores around my host families house, mandared (sent) to run errands, babies thrown at me to cuidar (take care of). I am trusted here as part of the family, I have received my right of passage.

It really does take a year to get the ball rolling and right now I am in a good place. This is where I am supposed to be, this is what I am supposed to be doing. More than ever, I feel a disconnect from home. Sometimes I am lost in translation catching up with others abroad. I can run through a story about my day and at the end one word that is misunderstood can throw things off. I can talk blue in the face about my near death experience on a gua gua, or climbing trees to get a chin of lemoncillos, why I sleep with a Colin next to my bed or why I was guapa with the tiguere down the street... Gua guas aren't some type of animal, they are our public transportation mini vans and no I don't rent a watchiman (guard) to protect me at night (Colin is a machete)-sorry Mom. Volunteers have really become family. It is a much needed support network because in the end, they are the ones that understand best.

Everyday is different. Right now, it is good. I am in a beautiful place finding that balance I need and it feels comforting to really just be at peace with it all.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Community Care

Running through my community this morning, the usual. Everyone is used to seeing me past by. We shout saludos, get a quick como estas in. It's second nature.

This morning I run past a truck selling vegetables and get hollered at.

New Dominican in the Community: RUBIA! I LOOOVVVE YOU! [man nearly gets down on his knees]

Dominican Rastafarian from my Community: [shouting from a ladder at the top of a building]: Ella es dominicana! [sneering at the unfamiliar face like he should know]

Me: [I turn around laughing] ya tu sabes!

I leave the men laughing behind me.

Integrated? I would say so.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Morning Inspiration

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

–Mother Teresa.

My favorite ChiChi. Can't take that smile away

Working on my World Wise School Project. Our 5th Grade Class receiving their U.S. Pen Pals and some great schools supply donations

Reading all about her new American friend. 3rd Goal of Peace Corps Success Story

Part of my new girls group, Chicas Brillantes, doing a fun activity in my home.
Girl Empowerment

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And The Wheels Keep On Turning

2 weeks in the States does a body good. Well rested and ready to get going again. It was a lot harder leaving the second time. But I think I got enough buffalo wings in to last me until I return Christmas time.

I got back to my site and it feels different. The air smells different. The streets are quieter. The season is in the midst of changing.

I have learned a lot going back home about myself and how I want to finish my service here in the Dominican Republic. You forget that you aren't here just to work. I have been in my community so long that I am a resident, I am part of this community. I am no longer the gringa- I am a neighbor, a teacher, a friend, a sister. Living a well-balanced work/personal life is essential or else time will pass by and you will feel like you never got to take in all that is around you.

I have a busy month ahead of me. I just returned from my first conference called Sirve con Fuerza-an educational 4 day volleyball camp. I brought six girls from my community and we spent time 'compartiring' (sharing) with ten other volleyball teams from other volunteer sites around the country. Imagine some of these girls have never left their little villages. It was just like summer camp in the states-late nights, dancing, singing songs, talking til the wee hours in the morning. It was an experience these girls will never forget and it makes me happy that they were able to let loose and be themselves and talk about things that might make them uncomfortable at their homes. It was four days of empowering these girls to go back to their homes inspired. Hopefully to be conscious that they are in control of the decisions they make in their lives and with the hopes that they can themselves teach others what they learned-many themes that are taboo to talk about such as sex, HIV/AIDS, breaking the social norms of being a female in a machismo world.

I left empowered. Sunday I have my first meeting with the younger girls to start a girls group for ages 11-15.

I leave for the capital tomorrow for our annual All Volunteer Conference. Just as it sounds, an annual conference where volunteers are obligated to come to the capital for two days of meetings. Incentive: We have our annual Peace Corps Prom after. This years theme: Tigueres de la Carribean. Basically, dressing very trashy gangsterish-bright colors, matching everything. How important these traditions are to keep us all sane on this small island!

That is all the news I have for now. This month is going to fly by. I will be getting certified in a science dive course at the end of the month and will get to travel to a beautiful part of the country in the south east. The fishermen project is still chugging and next week I start the business course I have been promoting in my community.

Mangoes are falling from the trees all day-so many that you have to watch your head when walking. I was gifted a full bag of mangoes yesterday. Trying to find new recipes for what I can do with all these mangoes. The best season is on it's way- the season of avocados. The avocado trees are already starting to flower. Can't wait to get gifted bags of those!

O, forgot to mention. Chopped 14 inches off my hair at home. Went to a good cause and it is so much easier to shower now!

Until next time,

Think of something that inspires you and do it

Sirve con Fuerza Camp 2011

Home relaxing with friends-that is all I wanted!

Home for the Law School Graduation-Congrats Juli

Sunday, April 10, 2011


"True friendship is when friends can walk in opposite directions, yet remain side by side."

Just had one of the best weeks in site. Nothing like having your girls come for some much needed quality girl time. It is always nice to show people back home what I am up to here-words and pictures can only describe so much. We accomplished so much. Community service work, painted an entire mural, got in tons of beach time, delicious food, fresh air, good conversation, lots of laughter.

Always like we never skip a beat.

Text Color
Our gorgeous mural

One of my English classes (the younger kids) graduating. 10 cakes and over 100 fresh baked cookies later...Couldn't have done it without the help of the girls

All we wanted to do is sleep.

El Cabito. As Kate said, "I can't believe places like this actually exist"

Thursday, March 31, 2011


(Written March 23, not posted due to technical difficulties)

I know, I know…I said I would be better at writing but then all my projects started rolling and I just haven’t had the time to just sit down and lay out all my thoughts. I also just got over being sick for a week-have a new appreciation for all the American comfort foods like warm soups of all different kinds (Panera, grocery fresh soup bar and Thai Pho). No fun being sick all alone, although my host family did make sure I was okay. With that said, I am just going to get to it.

Yesterday I cruised with my host dad on his motorcycle to some of the poorest little isolated villages in our region. Some Italians had donated money to give some less fortunate families cement flooring. I spent most of the day traveling to these remote sites-so far out there that the children have to walk 10 km to school every day. It made me realize how fortunate I am in my community and at the same time how I want to find a way to reach some of the communities outside my own. Whether it is by choosing a few families to be part of my latrine project or raising more money to put down flooring for some families who literally sleep in the dirt (COST), hopefully I can spread myself a little more toward the more isolated communities that really lack bare necessities. When I first got to my site, I was a little disappointed because I felt like Peace Corps doesn’t send people to places that have the most need. However, I learned that it is hard to be placed in the poorest areas because of the lack of structure and resources in the communities along with the lack of motivation amongst community members. If members of neighboring communities, like my own, are able to educate these communities, that is where they need to start so that they are able to move forward and develop themselves.

So about my community. Some of my projects are getting going, but others are a little frozen. Fishermen project is off to a slow start as many fishermen have been busy with side jobs and out of town on fishing trips. Other projects are keeping me busy including a project plan for a community park, day trips for medical missions in other parts of the country, and getting prepared to teach a business course. I am enjoying my new found freedom of living alone. Everyone here tells me “how sad, you can’t live alone.” I was thinking the same thing (the how sad part that is, there is no way I would move in with someone here). I always lived with a lot of people-family of 5 at home, never had my own room after I moved out-needless to say, there was always somebody around. Now I come home at night and it is very quiet. Sometimes too quiet, but my new puppy Habichuela (Bean) has made the house feel less empty. But I am learning to live solo, and I actually like it. I like me time. I like that after a long day, I can come home and choose what I want to do and I don’t have to compromise that, or listen to the noise of my host family, and live in tight quarters-Life really does get a whole lot better once you move out. And one of the best parts is that I get to have visitors and I love to host people. Some volunteers have passed through and my sister and Sergio. Great times, fun memories. Would be nice if I had less meetings lately so that I could be a better host, but hopefully after I get done getting some of these projects organized, life will slow down.

I have been in country now eight months (can you believe it). Although I have kept some of my American ways, I have in other ways been ‘dominicanized.’- I yell for people to get their attention, I am as negro (dark) as some dominicans, I eat whole fish head and all, I am so good at scaling fish a gringo asked me for help, I can make a mean sason (seasoning), my guandule (pea) peeling skills are exceptional, I have mastered riding a motorcycle and bucket bathing, and learned to be fashionably late to meetings. I have also learned to just take it easy (cogelo suave) and enjoy sitting outside passing time doing not so much (when I have time for that).

Mango season is approaching. There are so many outside that I have to be careful crossing under the trees as I might get pelted by mangoes. My grandfather keeps telling me I will grow tired of mangoes, but I have a bet going that after bags of mangoes, I will keep eating them. Really glad sister brought me a blender. Fresh mango smoothies, yes please. I feel like I have been in a constant summer since August. We have some ‘cooler’ days, but for the most part, the sun has stayed strong. I will be going home in April and I am excited for some chilly days where I can throw on a sweater and wear sneakers. Never did I think I would miss that. Yes, I am going home. Just thinking about it I get overwhelmed with my food options-what will I eat first! But before thinking about home, I have a Shakira concert I must attend (would I really miss Shakira performing in a Latin American country?) and my best girlfriends coming to visit. April is sure to be an exciting month.

I think I am going to end it here for today. I am at a neighbor’s house and the smoke from burning trash is getting to me. No matter how much they cough, they still burn their trash AND they have trash pick up. Don’t quite understand their reasoning of inhaling toxic fumes from burning plastic. Some people think I am crazy when I tell them that you really shouldn’t burn the plastics.

O forgot to update on my International Women’s Day Event. Great turnout for my first big community event-65ish girls. All went well, minus the fact that it got a little too competitive for my liking, but that is always an issue when it comes to sporting events.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paso a Paso (Step by Step)

I know, it has been a while. A long while. Now I have to play catch up. So what have I been doing? Well, I presented all my findings from the community at Peace Corps three month In Service Training. All business volunteers came to the capital with their project partner for a weekend of presentations and strength building workshops. It allowed us to prioritize projects in my site and see the need of the community. Did you know...

49% of my community never finished primary school

Unemployment rate is at 52% with only 15% of the population having a stable job

The median income is $188.00 U.S. Dollars

15% of the community do not have a latrine or a bathroom

This is some of the information that I collected from my first three months. It is very helpful in shaping my projects and what I will focus on in the next two years.

After returning from the conference, I thought that things would speed up-I was going to be moving into my new home all on my own, starting up some of my projects. Just the opposite happened. It has been very difficult to find motivated people to work with. It has been even harder to have the community decide on a project to work with. Some days I think they are confused as to why I am there. At our development association meeting I finally stood up and said something. I told them that we must meet more than once a month to accomplish anything and that I am here as a resource and that they reallllly need to use me. I talked about forming committees so we can have a strong group working on projects, having a vision for the year with long and short term goals. I think I got to them, but like I said, things are slow.

My fishermen are continuing to surprise me. They are motivated to work and I have taken them on as one of my main projects. A lot is going on in the country about developing code of conducts for fishing, trying to promote sustainable fishing practices, etc. They are going to see a big change in the next year or so as the government is taking more of a stand with the fishermen. For us, this is great. We want to do conservation projects and we are hoping that organizations in country will support us. I started to write a grant for lobster houses and FADs (Fishing Aggragative Devices) with the hope of repopulating the lobster species and taking pressure off the reefs from being fished.

O, forgot...started two English courses. I have 100 students. Yes, one-hundred. It is too much, but I am surviving. The little kids are tough. I am currently recruiting a classroom mom for help control the rascals. My older group is doing great. They are learning little by little and it makes me proud (even though I am not too keen about being an English teacher).

My first big event is coming up in March-I will be hosting a Peninsula wide International Women's Day event. Over sixty girls from the Peninsula will be attending. The day will be filled with activities including a Volleyball tournament, sex and gender dramas, career planning and self-esteem talks, a professional volleyball player will be attending to mentor the girls, we will be having lunch and at the end of the day we will be parading through the community showing everyone how strong we really are. I am very excited. Hoping that the girls in my community come through to help me. Lets just say at our first meeting, only two girls showed up, an hour late. But that is how things are here and you have to learn to roll with the punches.

I am living on my own now. My host family doesn't understand that they don't have to prepare food for me anymore. They also get very upset when I don't show up at night to watch soap operas with them. Some things will never change. The independence is glorious. I get lots of visitors. My neighbors are great. It is a little loud (the owner of all the 4x4s lives right next to me and he stores the vehicles there at night, so at 7:30 am his workers are revving the engines getting them ready for excursions). But I am used to it. The roosters usually wake me up before the 4 wheelers.

My sister came and visited. She just left Monday. It was incredible. We relaxed, enjoyed sister time, saw whales, went to all the beautiful beaches. I was able to show her some of my work too. I think she has a better understanding of what I am doing here. Maybe a little bit more appreciation. She experienced living without water for three days...let's just say I don't think she will be joining Peace Corps.

Today I am in the capital at the office awaiting another visitor. I had some time to speak to one of my bosses. Although lately I feel like I haven't made any progress, she gave me the assurance that I am actually picking up speed and doing a lot. Some days I just need to hear it. Since I don't physically see anything changing, sometimes I get down in the dumps, thinking that I am making no progress. It was a pick me up that I really needed.

So I have a lot on my plate right now. English classes, volleyball team, fishermen, starting a latrine project, maybe constructing a park, learning to live on my own. At this point I take day by day. You can't think so far ahead because things change and everyday brings something new to the table. It's slow, but I am still chugging.

Some fun from sissy's trip...

La Cascada en El Limon
view from El Cabito
Humpback whale season!