Thursday, November 4, 2010

the hurricane.

Hi there! Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I will probably explain more about that in a following post, but for now I wanted to just say hi. I don’t really know where to start because it’s been over a month since my last update, so I will just start with what I am up to right now….
Let’s see, in case you haven’t heard, there is a hurricane here. We found out on Monday that the volunteers in my region were going to be consolidated to Santiago until Hurricane Tomas passed. So here we are…nice hotel in Santiago, air conditioning, free wi-fi, buffets at every meal, tvs with channels in English, around the clock electricity, hot water. Basically this is a vacation. Thanks US Government! It’s actually ridiculous to think about how lucky we are in this comfortable retreat while the conditions are so horrible just right across the border. I am appreciative that this organization takes such good care of its volunteers, but it’s hard to fully wrap your mind around what the storm (on top of everything else) could do to Haiti. The count is 3 days, and we are hoping to leave by Saturday. At first, we were all disappointed because we had to cancel classes, inconvenience everyone, and leave our sites (after only being in our sites for 2 days since we had to consolidate for cholera training). Also, everyone in our sites thinks that we’re all wimps because none of the Dominicans in my region are even a little nervous about the hurricane. Oh well. Now that we’re here, it’s not that hard to enjoy.

Here’s an update about the hurricane…

Supposedly it is supposed to hit tomorrow, but we all keep hearing different info. So vamos a ver. Until then, you might be seeing several posts and facebook albums pop up from me! Also, let me know if you wanna skype…? :o)

Love you, friends!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Because I have a fast internet connection & it's easier to update through pics.

The Argentinian Wedding in Samana much fun!

My dates for the weekend.

The house where we hung out for the nice.

Going up to visit Magee's site in the campo!

Her house. Really cute... & quiet, too!

Her lawnmower.

Her bathroom.

Trying to hike to the rio.

Carly's fam came to visit!

Moca crew.

The fun group for the night.

proof that i do work. this is from a camp about a month ago...meant to post it much sooner.

Water Conservation Summer Camp 2010. par-tay. ps did not make this sign.

Delvin & me.

one of my favorite little girls of all time here.

my coworkers at the CTC!

ok will write soon! have a good day!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Art Class

I already explained before how Peace Corps encourages its volunteers to take it easy the first three months in site so we can have time to adjust to our communities, as well as work on our diagnostics of our towns. Right? Right. So you can see how I would be excited to jump on board with any community activity available. Right? Right.

So this was my mindset when I agreed to help teach an art class at my CTC about 2 months ago…

And this was the beginning of the art class from you-know-where.

It started off easy enough. Basically I was just supposed to help with the set-up, roll call, clean-up, and whatever other odd jobs the teacher needed help with. The class was on making pottery using plaster and trash. A recycled art piece type thing. I’m not big on arts and crafts…never really loved the stuff, but I thought it could be a good way to get to know people in my community and have something to do, too. Art is supposed to be fun, right?

One would think.

I went to the first class, which hardly anybody showed up- including the teacher. Oh Dominicans. Went to the second class, which ended up being me and 25 students standing around awkwardly while the teacher did an entire project to “show us how to do it.” I had to miss the third class because we had something to do for Peace Corps. When I got to the fourth class, the teacher said I was behind and therefore could not do my own project. While everyone worked on their large art pieces, she gave me a teeny tiny little lid of a can to cover in the plaster mixture. I was a little disappointed because I really wanted to make a vase, but oh well, I’m trying to make friends. Can lid, you say? Never have I ever been more excited.

Piece of cake. It was looking great (if I do say so myself), so I thought I would change it up a little bit and try to add a little creativity to my bland project.

I tried to make it into a flower; the teacher yelled at me and said I was doing it wrong. She sawed off the petals of my flower with a knife.

I thought maybe she didn’t like the flower idea, so I tried to add a design in the plaster with a knife. You would have thought I was trying to eat the plaster by the way the teacher reacted. She was so upset and frustrated that she grabbed a handful of plaster and smeared it over my design. Adios creativity.

This is when I noticed that she was killing everyone else’s creativity, as well. But they didn’t seem to mind. If someone was doing something that didn’t perfectly match up with her vision, she would take her knife and saw away chunks of the art pieces here and there. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Not in this case.

The next week, I guess she thought that she would give me another mini-project to work on. Like it would be impossible for me to start my own pottery since I missed the first class. Because mixing the plaster, water, and scrap paper is rocket science and all. So she gave me the World’s Ugliest Vase and told me that it was hers and she wanted me to finish it. Seriously, there was nowhere to go from there. It was awful. I tried to salvage what little I could by changing the shape and trying to round out the bottom. Meanwhile, the entire art class was cracking up at my incompetence. First of all, I couldn’t explain that the tiny round blob from the week before wasn’t my idea. And to make things worse, now the dumb American is sculpting the most hideous project in the class. I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, “Whatever I’m working on is not my fault.”

Apparently I was not doing exactly what she envisioned, so she made a big scene about how I don’t understand anything about art and everyone was laughing. She took that dang knife and sawed off all of the work that I did to the vase, and said I would have to start on it again the next week.

Um…no thanks.

Anyways, so the classes were on Saturdays, and sometimes those tend to be difficult to attend. That was around the time when I was traveling a few weekends in a row, so I was rarely there on Saturdays. I went when I could, but I know I wasn’t the most reliable student. Also, she didn’t really want my help anymore “teaching.” Surprise surprise.

Then things got really busy when I was trying to finish my diagnostic for the 3-month In-Service Training. I went to the CTC one Saturday to finish my presentation (because my harddrive crashed the week of the IST…lost everything…you can imagine that I was a little stressed). The teacher, who is actually super nice outside of class, saw me and made another scene about how I’m never there and how behind I am. I tried to explain how I had to work on something for Peace Corps, but that wasn’t cutting it. She pulled me aside and told me that I was the only student who was probably not going to pass the class. PASS THE CLASS?!?! I thought this was for fun? Nope.

You see, this country is super weird about certificates. The people here looooove getting certificates. Pass a class? Here’s a certificate. Go to a lecture? Here’s a certificate. Successfully pick your nose? Here’s a stinkin’ certificate.

And they actually mean something here! Instead of a normal resume, Dominicans have a piece of paper with their name and some info about themselves, but the most important part is the stack of certificates that are stapled to the back of it.

So I guess she thought that was a big threat by saying that I wouldn’t get my certificate.

Needless to say, I did not go back to the art class (I honestly was out of town the next few weekends…I think). So then one day I am at my friend Sabrina’s house, and Pedro from the CTC calls me and reminds me about the art class graduation. I answer by saying, “Remember Pedro…I didn’t pass the class. I don’t know if it’s a good idea that I go.” He assured me that it was ok and I should just go to show support blah blah blah.

When I get there, Delvin (my always happy, light-hearted project partner) is printing out the certificates for all of the students. He says he wants to make me one, but I tell him that I don’t want one because I really didn’t make an art piece and everyone knows it. He said that I always told everyone how pretty their art was, and I always was an encouragement, so for that I deserved a certificate. Ay ay ay.

He printed one out and put it in the stack for the ceremony. I panicked and I knew the last thing I wanted was for attention to be brought my way for this stupid art class. I took my certificate out of the stack and hid it in the office. Things seemed to be going well, and as the ceremony started, my only job was to take pictures. It was going along fine and dandy…until they started to announce the names of the graduates. It was like slow motion. I was in the back of the outdoor ceremony, and I saw them whispering and looking around the podium. I had an awful feeling that all of the commotion was because of me. Then they started talking louder, “Where is the certificate for Heather??” and “Is it lost?” The people in the audience all looked at me, I pretended not to know what was going on (extremely believable for me in this country), and Delvin and the teacher continued to frantically search.

I just thought, “Kill me now.”

Then they made a big deal about not being able to find it and eventually announced that they could merely hold up someone else’s certificate for the pictures. They retrieved a certificate from the audience, made me go up there, and started in on the speech:

(roughly translated) “This certificate is for our volunteer, Heather Phillys. Actually she did not complete the class or even make a piece of art because she had other obligations from the Peace Corps…and Saturdays are really difficult for her, but we still wanted to recognize her. She is always positive and always encouraged all of the students about their projects. All of the students here know this...Heather always told them that she liked whatever they were working on. She always told people how beautiful their art was, even though she was not able to complete her own project. Encouragement and positivity are very important, and we thought it would be a good idea to give her a certificate because she is important to us. So we would like to present this certificate to our very own American volunteer, Heather Phillys!”


Not exactly the way to not draw attention to yourself. Then they made me take a million pictures with someone else’s certificate. While everyone sat there and watched.

Ay ay ay. After that, I definitely tried to hide out as much as I could until everyone left and I could help with the clean-up. Sure, my “lesson learned” could have been to never start something you’re never going to finish, but instead I merely learned the following: don’t ever take an art class. period. never go to a graduation for something that you dropped out of. and finally, never, ever forget the importance of a seemingly ordinary piece of paper with a stinkin’ stamp on it.

If this would have been my most embarrassing experience in the DR, then I would be doing well. But I feel like I have situations like this daily. My life is one awkward moment after another here, and the part that worries me- I'm getting used to it.

Pics for your viewing pleasure...

The other students hard at work.

My 1st project.

Unimpressed reaction to my 1st piece.

More pics of hardworking students.

Example of another student's art.

My art. Try #2.

The teacher giving a speech at the graduation.

Me with my very own certificate.

The graduating class...they asked me to take the pic.

Oh well. Adios for now!

Friday, September 17, 2010

101 Ways to Eat Tuna, Cereal, and Peanut Butter.

I have definitely been neglecting the blog. And for that I apologize, mom. Ok so I guess I have been up to a lot lately! I am learning how to live on my own, furnish a house/live with a Peace Corps budget (which has led to neighbors building me a table, countertop, and a bookshelf…not too shabby!), teach English classes, live without electricity for half the time, live without water at times, clean- Dominican style, how to not allow neighborhood teenagers to turn my house into a dance club every night, what you should and should not keep in one’s mini fridge with this electricity, how to say “No” (lifelong goal…starting to work on it at the age of 23. Go me.), and many more things. I am also remembering what it’s like to not depend on my host family for every single meal. I’m not cooking for myself or anything (don’t anyone get their hopes up now) because I don’t have a stove yet. Slash still might never get one…who knows. So basically I could write a cookbook called “101 Ways to Eat Tuna, Peanut Butter, Cereal, Bread, and Salsa.” You might be surprised just how many different combinations one can make with these 5 ingredients. It’s been nice! However, I still enjoy when I get invited over to a Dominican’s house for dinner. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? ***Insert important info: Brought a ton of tuna into this country, and it has saved my life. Down to 4 packets…if anyone feels like providing me with a source of my favorite protein, I am not opposed :o)***

So there’s just a few of the things that I have been doing around my town and in my personal life. I feel like I never talk about what I am actually up to…ok so here’s an overview:

2 English classes with about 16 people in each class. One on Sunday afternoons for 3 hours and one on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2-4. I love this! Something here that I can do better than anyone: speak English.

Meetings on Monday and Wednesday nights. One is with an organization that is working to build a technical school in town that will have meeting spaces, a basketball court, and a library. Hopefully I will be able to help with the funding for this! The other is an organization that helps the poor in the community.

Go to any random meetings in town that I can. Whether I understand what is going on is not necessarily the point.

Spend time in my work site- the CTC. Helping however I can there. And sometimes feeling like I’m in the way…

Hang out with my neighbors. Sometimes because I genuinely want to. Sometimes because I know how important it is to integrate.

Spend time in my house. Rarely alone. This is getting better, but I still feel a bit smothered by my neighborhood at times.

Feel like I am doing nothing.

Feel like I am swamped.


Plan for the next few months…starting another English class next week. I’m actually really excited about it…survival English for a group that’s moving to the states to receive training on HIV education. They will train in the states and then use the knowledge to form groups in the Dominican Republic. They will have a translator for their classes, but they just want to know how to live in the US. Cultural tips, basic English training, enough to get by, etc. Sound familiar?? I can relate to this group’s situation, so I am pumped.

Will start a girls’ group and an English club this month hopefully! Want to do a radio program for the town. We’ll see how that goes with my Spanish.

Which is getting a bit better! Sometimes I even go a whole week without someone responding to my Spanish by saying, “I don’t know English.” :o)

Hmm…what else?

Basically life is pretty good, and I’m happy that things are starting to pick up.

Going to Santiago tomorrow for a meeting with the Peace Corps volunteers that live in my region. Should be fun.

I will try to be better at updating! Hasta luego.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

B-day/ 3-month IST/ house-warming sopas/ you name it.

Sorry it’s been so long! I thought this whole blog thing would get easier with time, but it turns out that I’m slacking more and more the longer that I am away. I will fix this ASAP. So many updates! Here we go…

Birthday: Had my first birthday in the DR! It was a blast. A group of volunteers all went up to Cabarete and we hung out for the weekend, relaxing on the beach, eating non-Dominican food, and dancing (Dominican style, of course, with a lot of American stuff thrown in there too). We stayed at a little bungalow-type place that’s actually a surf camp. It was Carly’s birthday, too, so that made it even more fun! I would definitely recommend this town as a place to visit…One strip of restaurants, shops, and touristy places along the beach. At night, it is one huge celebration along the beach and all of the restaurants play music and have the beach lit up. Really fun! Also I wanna say it’s the kite-surfing capital of the world? Um…or maybe just the DR. Need to check my Lonely Planet book for that one.

3 Month IST: PHEWWWW!!! Finally finished with the diagnostic process. Our ICT group had our 3-month in-service training last week in Jarabacoa. It was a beautiful site; it actually reminded me a lot of Arkansas, so while my co-worker Pedro was raving about all of the mountains and pine trees, I was a little preoccupied missing home for a sec. I tried to explain that palm trees are a lot more exciting to me than the pine trees, and I think that blew his mind. Oh well.

Anyways, our close-knit group of 22 all met up in this site in the mountains, along with our Dominican project partners (or any random Dominican we could find who would go with us), and we spent 2.5 days at a retreat center listening to lectures, doing team-building activities, playing the best game ever, MAFIA, and (ugh) giving our presentations in Spanish. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it was actually really interesting to see what all of my friends had been working on for the past 3 months. It seems like everyone knows exactly what they need to get done in their communities, so good luck to all of us!!

Now it’s actually time to start classes, get going with youth groups, make a difference…you know, all of that Peace Corps jazz. I am actually really excited to start working and be able to make my own itinerary for the next ~21 months.

House: MOVED IN!!!!!!!!!! Last night was my 3rd official night in my new cute little house. So far it’s rat-free – knock on wood– so my biggest worry is not a problem. Well, if I was being honest, my biggest fear is really just living alone and someone breaking in my house with a machete, but that is being a little dramatic. My project partner, Delvin, did give me a giant machete of my own, so that was comforting.

So I moved into my house for good this past Monday. Delvin helped me a ton- found me a random bed to buy from some factory(?), rounded up help from his cousins to move everything over from my doña’s house to my new house, gave me some chairs and drinkable water from the CTC, and even threw me a “Sopa.” Haha. Sopa is soup in Spanish, and he explained that it’s a good-luck tradition to have a party and cook soup when you move into a new house. I figured it would happen later this week (or never happen…this IS the DR, right? If you have questions about this generalization, please look at my list in the previous post.); however, NOPE. Delvin made this happen my first night there.

One minute, we are all sweaty moving things and I am thinking I am just going to crash in my new place; next thing I knew, he was inviting all of my neighbors/random people around town/some of those cousins, people were going home to shower, and he was driving me all over town telling me what to buy for this soup. I don’t have a stove (yet/might not ever buy one…to be determined), so he rigged a fogon outside my house and built a fire. There was cooking, music, amazing soup, new friends and some people I will probably never see again, and it was a good time.

Here are some pics from Monday night...

I think I am going to love my place! Only problem might be that I will never have a moment of privacy (which I guess is better than loneliness?) because everyone is practically taking shifts to hang out with me. I am the crazy American living by herself (without an inversor- gasp- which means electricity only half the time), so that automatically means I will die of boredom or sadness if someone is not always at my house, right? Or so my neighbors think. They are all precious and it's so nice that they care about getting to know me! However, I actually had a dream that I was suffocating and meanwhile everyone was climbing over my fence, running around my house, and rummaging through all of my stuff...a dream? or foreshadowing? Vamos a ver.

Oh-- something else I forgot! Before I moved in, I bought some cleaning supplies to get the house semi-ready. I dropped them off one day, and some of the neighborhood kids decided that we were going to deep clean my house right then and there. So we did. Or they did. I was kinda the dumb American who didn't know when they changed the bucket to bleach, so I scrubbed of some of the paint on the walls. And I also hosed down the room with the wood in it. Oops. I felt like the little kid that they were all having to watch to make sure i didn't hurt myself or the house. I swear, I know how to the States. Here is just different. They took a power hose and sprayed down the entire inside of my house! Sooo sweet. Ok so final thing (I promise)..Here are some of those pics...

So those are just some of the updates from the past few weeks! I am off to an Argentinian wedding in Samana this weekend, and I am really excited. It's all about cultural integration, right?

English classes start next Wednesday! Wish me luck! Will write soon. Love you guys.