Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Daylight Savings Time

Typed 2 nights ago...

Once again, here I am up late again in my room. Too hot to go to sleep, so I figure I would jot down a few thoughts. I will probably take a shower to cool off after I get a few thoughts on my computer…the nightly showers (YES my house started getting water to come out of the pipes sometimes) and the occasional bucket showers have become part of my nightly routine. I have actually been taking more showers here than I ever did back in the states. Last I checked, Peace Corps should be an automatic guarantee to NOT have to shower. By definition, it’s a free pass to be one with nature and the world around me, to experience a life much like those less fortunate, to get down and dirty to truly learn what it means to rough it…right? Am I the only one who pictured myself going back to the US two years from now with greasy dreads and leg hair that I could practically braid? Quite the opposite. We were told from Day 1 that the Dominican culture takes pride in their hygiene. Whether they have water or not, they are going to be clean; therefore, Peace Corps volunteers must do the same since it’s our job to adapt into our country’s culture. So here I am, showering 2-3 times a day. I am sure my friends and family at home are cheering.

Things are still going well. I had an amazing time at my volunteer visit, and have a newfound inspired attitude about what I could possibly accomplish in the next two years. I realize that it is probably going to be more about learning than teaching for me, so I cannot wait to see what it is that I am going to learn from the people in my site and from the other volunteers. I left off with my last update saying that we had thought about going to see a movie...just to update accurately, we did not go back into the city, and hung out around her town instead. It was really fun!I learned how to make banana bread in a “olla de horno” (no clue what that means, but it’s a cooker thing that goes on a stove…that is powered by a gas tank that Karina, the volunteer, lit with a match). For people that know me, I know what you are thinking. Don’t try this by myself. But I really think I can do it! Most of my preconceived notions about what my life would be like have already been altered through 18 days in the DR. My list coming into this consisted of: picking up the language within the first week, living with a host family for the entire 2 years, and the 3 BIG No-NO’s…No Cooking, No Dog, and No Garden. Although things have picked up some from the infamous turtle incident, I am far from being able to carry on even a surface level conversation in espanol; I have realized that I need my privacy, and have already started getting excited about the possibility of moving out on my own in about 5 months; and, finally, I now want to learn how to cook, I can’t wait to get a puppy, and I am even CONSIDERING trying to attempt a garden. Future Martha Stewart in the Caribbean? Right here. Now I am wishing that I had not immediately checked off all of the items necessary to complete these goals right off the bat from the Peace Corps’ suggested packing list. It was an easy decision to scribble through “cookbook,” “gardening tools,” and “your favorite seeds” to replace them with a million tuna packets, Bananagrams, and 20 pounds worth of exercise clothing. Which have yet to be touched. MG and I have not done our run yet, and time is running out…and I am ok with it. Fried-Dominican-anything at every meal accompanied with zero motivation to get out in the burning sun to run it off? Yes please.

Speaking of MG, everything at home is going fairly well. I mean, as much as I love my host family, I have realized that sometimes I am just going to have to laugh at myself and at the situations and move on with life. They keep my life here a little more interesting. An example is the Daylight Savings Time incident. Just for information’s sake, the Dominican Republic does not participate in Daylight Savings Time. After eventually asking the director of Entrena (our training site), I found out that the DR tried to participate in it once years ago, but then gave up after a few months, and never has done it since. With that being said, there I was, just a confused little American girl at the kitchen table one Sunday morning eating my breakfast when Mama Sol asked me what time I was supposed to meet up with some other volunteers. We had a group tour later that afternoon, and a few of us wanted to go into Santo Domingo a little early to sightsee and get lunch. I told her 9:00, and Mama Sol freaked out. She started yelling that it was already after 9, and that I was going to be late. I had no idea what was going on, so that is when she told me about how twice a year, the clocks change (Daylight Savings Time) and insisted that I was going to ruin my whole day because I did not tell her beforehand about what time I was supposed to leave. What was I supposed to do besides believe her, quickly grab my things, and sprint up to the bus stop where I was supposed to meet everyone? So there I sat for an hour, waiting on the other volunteers. At 9:00am (10am Mama Sol’s time), the other volunteers arrived and had no idea what I meant by Daylight Savings Time. We went through the whole day on their time, which seemed to be right because our 2:00 tour started at 3:00 Mama Sol’s time…and the day was great. Except for when I got home around 7:00pm, all of my family’s clocks had been moved up an hour, and I got in trouble for getting home after 8. (This is a whole ‘nother issue…I am also convinced that my whole family thinks I am twelve because I am the only volunteer who has a strict curfew and is not allowed to leave the house until I finish my homework. We are getting past this issue…slowly but surely. I still get told that I am going to get shot every time I leave the house by myself- this includes Mama Sol making a gun with her fingers and pointing it at me, making a “bang”-type sound to really drive the issue home- but the end result is that she lets me leave.) Anyways, Mama Sol did not believe me when I told her that even my professor said that the clocks weren’t supposed to change and she kept telling me that my professors and I were “loco.” For a few days I had to tell my family that our training started at 9:00am so they would let me sleep in an hour so I could make it to our real 8:00 training time. Somehow now they are back on track with the correct time; however, all of our clocks are still an hour off. I am not going to fight it. There is still a lot of love in the house and my abuela’s favorite thing to do is cup my face in her hand and kiss my cheek, so that is nice. I am also the only volunteer that I know who gets chocolate oatmeal sometimes for breakfast, so if I have to put up with a few gun hand motions and some wrong clocks, I can deal with it. Things could be so much worse.

I guess I should try to head to bed now since I have a long day of training tomorrow. We only have 2 more days of training until we split into our different IT and Environment groups to go to community-based training for 5.5 weeks. Our group is heading to El Seibo, and I am really excited! More updates to come, I’m sure. I keep putting off writing emails or facebooking people because it is a little overwhelming to think about what all I would want to say to people when I am in the pitch black internet café, constantly waiting for the power to go out. Hopefully I will have better internet access in El Seibo, but anyone who is reading this should know that I miss y’all and hope people are doing well! Love and miss y’all!

1st ICT group shot- Day 3ish

The church I visited in my neighborhood!

The only ¨beach¨ I´ve seen so far...

On the tour of the colonial zone

The fire that I saw on my volunteer visit...

Karina, the wonderful volunteer that let me follow her around for 4 days, in front of her cute house!

The wedding.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Volunteer visit!

The volunteer visit is going really well! This has definitely been one of my favorite parts of training so far. We are at the computer center where she works, so it is nice to be able to use the computer for a second FOR FREE!

We have done so much in the 3 days that I have been here. I will post pictures soon, but we have already done the following: saw a fire (people were burning trash and a whole area of land caught on almost caught on fire...crazy), had 2 Spanish classes with her students and one Kids Club, visited the school, visited Santiago, went to a Costco-type place, had sushi and dessert, shopped, and went to a wedding!! The wedding was last night, and it was a blast. The reception started at 7 (aka 9:00 "Dominican time") and we did not actually eat until about 11:30. We stayed until 1am and had a blast.

Tonight we might go into the city to see Alica in Wonderland...I am so excited!

G2G eat lunch...Adios!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

internet cafe...hooray!

Beaches. Check (kinda). Beans. Check. Bucket showers. Double check. Internet café…finally! I have actually been coming to this internet place for the past 2 days; however, as soon as I am about to update my blog, the electricity has gone out. That actually happens a lot here, and people just seem to go with the flow. I am trying. For example, I know the electricity is going to go out at my house around 7 every morning, so I just get up a little earlier to make sure I am not trying to stumble around in the dark to get ready for training. That is going with the flow, right? Anyways, now on to the actual updating portion of this blog…here is what I wrote a little over a week ago…

Ok! So I feel like it has been forever since I have communicated with ANYONE outside of Santo Domingo…one expensive, hurried call to my family and a quick Facebook status update does not seem good enough. I would like to say HI to anyone who is reading this…hopefully things are going well wherever you are and with whatever you are doing. :o) We just have limited internet access at our training site, and I have yet to find a good internet café [how quickly things change]. So for now, this blog must suffice. I am actually typing this at my host family’s house (on my bed, under my mosquito net, everyone else is asleep), and I will try to upload it on the web whenever I get a chance. With all of that said, I AM HERE!!!!! In the DR. It’s still hard to believe.

Today is Monday, so our group has been in Santo Domingo for a grand total of 5 days [13 days now]. It seems like I have been here forever, and, at the same time, I am not sure if it is ever going to feel “normal.” If that makes sense. Our days are long and the culture is a lot to take in…especially for me since I do not know Spanish. More stories about that in a second. We landed in Santo Domingo on Thursday, and the two groups (IT and Environment) took buses to a place about an hour away where we stayed the first night. This is where we first had lessons about the dangers in the DR: mosquitoes, unsanitary water, AIDS, etc. We got our first Rabies shot, and we had to start taking malaria pills…which we were warned could possibly give us hallucinations and “techni-colored dreams.” Haven’t experienced those yet, but I’m still holding out hope that I will at least have one. We were also given mosquito net training and told that we have to sleep with them above our beds every night. So that’s the run-down of Day 1 in the DR. ..Day 2 of my experience if I am going to keep up with it that way. Who knows.

Day 3: We took the buses to our actual training site where we will have our classes for the first 2 months or so. It is BEAUTIFUL. Hopefully I can include pictures tomorrow. We will have training there about 6 days a week, and it’s not a bad place to be stuck for 9 hours a day. After our first day of lessons, it was time to meet our host family. I am going to start off by saying that my family is wonderful; however, the only problem is that I don’t know what they are saying half (aka all) the time. My Dona (mom- not sure yet how to make a ~ over the n :o) )is Mama Sol. The other houseguests include: her mother (mi Abuela), her son, Eduard, and “una inquilina llamada” (houseguest?) aka a random military girl. We can call her MG. After Mama Sol got over her initial shock and possible disappointment that I am a chica not a chico (like she kept muttering throughout the entire first awkward walk home), I think she started to warm up to me. I have already met a bunch of people who I think are neighbors, friends, relatives, and possibly more randoms, and it took me a while to figure out who actually lives in the house. My first HUGE mistake was completely idiotic and highlights the fact that I desperately need to learn the language fast...

BACKGROUND: I took Spanish at a different college because I was scared it would hurt my GPA and I figured I would never really need it. Joke’s on me. Let’s just say, playing Spanish Bingo 3 times a week for a few semesters does not constitute language training. For example, day numero uno of meeting my host family, I completely panicked. The few Spanish words and phrases that I know went right out the window and the only thing that came to mind was the Taco Bell commercial. In my head, “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” translated to “I like Taco Bell.” So I decided to use that expression for everything once we arrived back at their house. Yo quiero tu casa, yo quiero in the garden, yo quiero about Mama Sol’s shirt. Mama Sol ended up giving me the pet turtles after I said that I liked them. She put them in a bowl and had me take them into my room. I was sooo excited and though this was the kindest gesture I had ever seen and I gave her a huge hug. I mean, how generous is that? She also gave me plantains right away, as well. It wasn’t until later when we were sitting in the living room watching Spanish soap operas that it hit me…Yo quiero Taco Bell means I WANT Taco Bell. Here I came waltzing into their house saying “I want” about everything. that. I. saw. I about died when I realized that was why she fixed me something from the garden and gave me their freakin pets?! Thank goodness she didn’t have small children running around whom I would have thought that I was just saying that I liked. For crying out loud. Definitely my first lesson learned. Excerpt from my journal from that night:

Goal #1.Gotta gotta gotta learn the language pronto.
Goal #2. Must figure out how to get their pet turtles back to them without looking ungrateful or indecisive/ out of my mind.

Since the mishap on the first meeting day, things have been fine. There is just a lot of silence in my house accompanied by a lot of smiles. You can never go wrong with a smile, right? Mi abuela will just come up and hold my face in her hands and squeeze my cheeks and walk away. Hugs have become a big thing with her. MG didn’t talk to me for the first few days, but I think she likes me now and she even let me feel her biceps. Let’s just say it was impressive/intimidating all at the same time. If I understand correctly, she is a professional weightlifter too. This could be completely wrong, but it helps me sleep at night because I feel protected with her in the next room, so I will keep thinking that. Hopefully soon I will be able to actually converse with my family! Baby steps.

Hmmm….other than the language barrier, everything is going so much better than I could have imagined! I really like all of the other volunteers, and Santo Domingo is such a neat place. I am constantly learning about their culture, and I can’t take everything in fast enough. The Peace Corps training process has been great so far, too. The instructors are all open and willing to answer any questions that we might have, and they bring in current volunteers (apparently I am merely a trainee at this point) to give us a better idea of what we are going to be doing and what we should expect over the next 2 years. Oh- and bucket showers aren’t bad and I like the food. Not a bad start.

One huuuuge blessing was that I met some of the neighbor boys that know a little English. They are great and seem so excited to help me learn Spanish. Their names are Manuel (15), Frank (17), and Victor (21). Frank has probably become my one and only Dominican friend who is excited to show me the ins and outs of the city…”even Burger King,” he said. Can’t wait :o) They live right next door, so for the past 2 nights, we have been standing at the gate that separates the 2 houses and talking through the fence. Manuel is determined to teach me to dance like a Dominican. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I can’t even dance like an American, but I have a feeling he’s going to find out soon enough.Anyways, last night I hung out at Victor’s empanada stand with all of the neighborhood kids. I am going to try and go to church with them on Saturday because a few of them are in the church band, so that should be fun!

Flash forward to present day: in the pitch black internet café…squinting and pecking to update this little part, finished training for the day, about to go home and probably watch the soap opera “Decisiones” (maybe one of these days I will figure out who is having affairs with whom) or possibly see what’s going on at the empanada stand. A lot has changed since I first tried to blog…I have made some more neighbor friends, I have been learning more about what I am going to be doing, I have been to a few social events in the community (like church and a discoteca), MG is now Cristina (she even asked me to go running with her sometime…not sure if I can handle that, but if it means being accepted into the culture/my home a little more, I might just have to set aside my hatred for running and my physical incapability and take one for the team). I feel like there are so many more updates that I could mention here, but I guess I should keep this entry shorter than a novel, so there ya go. All in all, things are great, and I feel so lucky so far. We have been able to explore the city some, and tomorrow I am going to travel to Santiago to visit a volunteer and see what her day-to-day life is like. I will stay with her until Sunday, and then head back to my barrio for more soap operas and turtles. Wish me luck…the directions included the following: take a bus for approximately 2 hours and get off at Santiago, take a motoconcho (ride on the back of a motorcycle) until you see a green sign, turn left, ride about 20 minutes, you should be able to see a small stream in the gully if you look below, then ask people that you see where to find the volunteer. Perfect. I get lost using my GPS in the states, so this should be interesting. More updates to come!

Mama Sol and mi abuela (in the necklace that I gave her)
My host family´s house!

the dang turtles. Mickey and ¨Mimmie¨


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

so far so good.

This might be the last time I have decent internet access for a while (hopefully not)...but I thought I would give a quick update on the OFFICIAL DAY 1!!

Made it to D.C. yesterday, and things are looking great so far! That might have been the first time that I actually made it on a flight when the connection was less that 2 hours. It's the small successes in life that need to be celebrated.

I was able to spend time with a friend who lives and works in D.C., so that was really fun. He didn't get off of work until about 7 hours after I got in town, so I had a full-on dorky touristy day by myself. We're talking self portraits and taking turns with large random groups of tourists who needed me to take solo pics of them. It was a nice trade-off. Today all of the volunteers and I met and did a full day of training...everyone seems so nice! I am really excited, and hopefully this puts some of my mom's worries to rest. I am in good company. There are 40 of us from all over, and we had a whole day of team building activities and reminders about the history/mission of the Peace Corps. In case anyone is curious, the goals are as follows:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

And there ya have it. Ok well I need to go reorganize my bags (Yup, a lot of us didn't get the memo that we just need one small bag for the 1st day retreat) so basically I need to change up some things ASAP. We're checking out of our hotel at 3:45am tomorrow and flying through Miami to the DR! And it would be nice to get at least an hour or 2 of sleep (more than I would have gotten the night before I left Arkansas!)

Here are a few pics so far...

loser-ish solo shot in front of the Monument.
some of us out to dinner after staging!