Monday, May 31, 2010

This is my life. aka The Dog Situation.

I will eventually write about my family, my town, my community, my work, etc. I swear. But first I need to talk about what happened to me this weekend. If this was a movie, this is when the screen would cut ahead to a clip of me walking in the streets, in my pajamas, crying, carrying my (yes MY) dog. But this isn’t a movie. It’s my life.

I feel like I say that a lot here. “Yup…this is my life.” It actually makes me laugh quite a bit. Every awkward encounter I have with a person or every time I have a seemingly meaningful heart-to-heart with someone, and then walk away thinking, “What the heck did they just say?” Every time I say yes to an invitation for what I think is one thing, and then it turns out to be completely different. Like when I thought I was going to a sweet, little, old doña’s house for coffee, and next thing I knew, she was handing me whiskey shots and papaya. Or when I thought I was simply meeting one of the community members, until I realized later that I had agreed to be a founding member of his committee where I will teach classes about development to different towns.

It keeps me on my toes, I guess. But anyways, back to the not-really-a-movie-but-feels-like-a-movie night/morning I had this weekend. So last week, my project partner, Delvin, tells me that he and this high-school girl, Genesis (who I have kinda become friends with) wanted to give me a gift. I told him that that wasn’t necessary (apparently that doesn’t translate very well…because he got offended). So I said that I thought that was so nice and that I was excited. He said, “Oh well Genesis has to wash it first.” Clue #1 that I would not want the gift. I reminded him that I couldn’t have a pet until after the first 3 months, and he responded with, “Yes you can.” I thought surely I misunderstood something or was missing the joke, so I chose to ignore it. It can’t be real if you don’t think about it, right?

Entonces, I went to Moca (the closest city to me) and had a really great Saturday. I got home around 8:30pm, and as soon as I walked in my house, I heard barking. I thought surely no… My doña did not look super excited. She said, “Delvin brought you a gift. It can’t stay here.” I quickly started apologizing, trying to convince her that I didn’t know about it. She said that Delvin said I wanted a dog. Which is true. IN 3 MONTHS. I can’t have a dog now! First of all, it is against Peace Corps rules. Secondly, I don’t have the time or money to get its shots, food, etc. Thirdly, I don’t have a place of my own. After I think she understood that this wasn’t my doing, we fed it and I played with it. And I fell in love with it, but that’s not the point. It really was just soo cute, though. Anyways, my doña said that it could stay the night in a box in the back room, but I needed to give it back to Delvin in the morning. Simple. Or so I thought.

It barked the entire night. I kept getting up with it; one time when I actually fell asleep, I woke up to find that my family had turned up the music to where it was shaking the house in attempts to drown out the noises of my sweet puppy. I eventually stayed up with it for good when I found that it knew how to get out of its box & peed everywhere, and we sat outside for a bit. It was still early, but I needed to get it back to its proper owner as soon as possible- preferably before my family woke up and hated me for good. I don’t have anyone in my town’s numbers anymore (remember the mugging?) so I had no way to get in touch with Delvin. I also don’t know where he lives, so I took off to Genesis’ house that is approximately half the world away. Did not bother changing out of my t-shirt and pajama shorts because, honestly, I forgot how far away this girl lives. Along the way, I talked to a sweet woman who I had met at the CTC last week. She talked about how she loved puppy and how she had another dog in the house. Should have just given it to her then and there. But I kept walking. By the time I got to Genesis’ house, I was sweaty and just ready to do an old drop and dash.

I explained to her how I really loved the gift, but that I couldn’t keep it. I told her about how it was against the rules, how my family wouldn’t let me keep it at the house, how I didn’t know what to do with it, and blah blah blah. She was very uninterested. This 17-year-old was more concerned with fixing my hair, commenting on how sweaty I was, and telling me how much prettier I look without my glasses (which she drilled the point home by continuously taking them off of me and hiding them.) Real cool. She said that she didn’t want the dog, and that I should just worry about it next week. I went over my main points about 5 times until I just got frustrated and my eyes started to water. It is hard to fully express yourself when there is a language barrier. I am getting much better with the Spanish, but it’s times like this when I definitely just want to be able to explain myself in English. She realized that I was sad and suggested that I just sleep over. This is what she tries to do every time I see her, so I was not going to give in this time. Plus it was Mother’s Day here, and I wanted to be at my house with my host family. After I got the point that she was unwilling to help me, I tried this approach…

Me: Ok I really need to talk to Delvin…can I use your phone?
Her: No, not today.
Me: Ok, well I don’t even have his number. Can I get it from you?
Her: No, my cell phone battery is dead.
Me: I understand. Then I am going to go now. Thanks for your help.
Her: Wait, you walked all of the way here?
Me: Yes. That is why I am so tired and sweaty.
Her: That is a really long walk.
Me: (No crap, Sherlock.) Yes, I know.
Her: Where are you going now?
Me: Delvin’s house.
Her: Do you know where he lives?
Me: No.
Her: It is very, very far. You can’t walk there. Just hang out with me all day.
Me: I can’t do that. You won’t help me, so I have to find Delvin.
Her: You’re crazy. You should just eat the dog. Hahaha.
Me: That is not funny. I don’t know what to do, but I need to leave. Bye.
Her: You’re crazy. Bye.

Good times. So as soon as I left, I started bawling out frustration. I promise that I have only cried like 3 times in this country…I just happen to blog about those times? Really, just so people know (basically just my grandma since she is probably the only one still reading this), I have not been a complete mess for the past 3 months! Haha. But ya-this is where the clip of me walking along the street like a crazy person comes in. I can just imagine what a sight I must have been to all of the people I saw along the way. The crazy American, in her pajamas, disgusting, crying, holding a puppy, walking for miles. My last blog talked about how there are going to be ups and downs, and I would say this is a down-type moment. Definitely not in the running for one of my Top 10 Shining Moments in the DR.

I ended up going back to the lady’s house that I had seen on the way. I had pulled myself together by then, but as soon as she gave me a hug, I lost it. She was just so sweet and it was nice to feel like I had a friend who understood. She immediately said that she would take it for the day/night until we could figure out what to do with it. She also said that if Delvin didn’t want it, then she would keep it. Soooo nice. She offered to make me breakfast and said I was welcome anytime. And I will probably take her up on it. I still haven’t found a way to not say creepy things in Spanish. I just use the words that I know, and sometimes it comes out a little peculiar. Last week, a kid was drawing a map of Juan Lopez because it’s an exercise Peace Corps has us use to get to know the community. His was really good, and instead of telling him how great it was and that it would be helpful in my presentation, it came out, “I love it! Can I keep it for all of my life?” Ya-I’m a creeper. And another example is when I told this sweet dog lady that she was my best friend in all of the DR. Take it down about 5 notches, Heather.

I am at work now, and I haven't talked to Delvin yet. We are going to have a fun morning. I just hope that he understands my situation and is not offended. We shall see. Will write soon to update and maybe next time I will share a story worth sharing!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

so remember that time i got mugged?

Here is the story. It was our last night in Santo Domingo, and our ICT group decided that we wanted to stay in the city. We were all staying in a hostel downtown called the Pension. Everyone went out for a “nice” dinner (some got cheap sushi from a food-to-go type place and others, including myself, treated ourselves to McDonalds). Classy. It was basically going to be a great night.

Everyone was hanging out around the city pretty late. Another volunteer and I walked back to the Pension, and we stopped to talk right around the corner from the hostel. We heard voices from the other side of the shed thing that we sere standing by, so the volunteer, Joe, went to see who was there. All of a sudden, we saw two Dominicans walking quickly around the building in our direction. I immediately noticed that the smaller guy in the front was carrying a large silver gun. I told myself to ignore it and not to panic. There was a really big, bulky guy not far behind the little guy, and for a second it seemed as though they were just trying to get to the buildings behind us. We moved back so they could pass by, and then the little guy went straight for Joe. Although it became clear that they were not merely going to walk through us, it took me a second to realize, “Oh my gosh, we’re getting mugged and he’s threatening to shoot.”

The little guy pointed the gun at Joe’s side and whispered for him to give him everything. Joe gave him everything in his pockets, including both of our phones and his wallet with all of his money and US and Dominican credit cards. The big guy was closer to me keeping lookout for anyone coming in the streets, and the little guy seemed completely frazzled. He seemed a little too panicky for comfort. It hit me that these guys could easily kill us and never get caught. I automatically started crying and begging them, “por favor, no…por favor, no…” That seemed to freak the little guy out. He wailed his gun around and made exaggerated arm motions, hissing at me to SHHHH. The big guy thought they were done and started to make his way towards the street. The little guy yelled’ “Wait! Wait!” (in English, I might add), and started to search Joe. For all we knew, the “Wait! Wait!” could have meant, “Wait! Wait! I need to kill these two worthless Americans first…what’s your rush, big guy?” We were both frozen, and really the whole thing is a blur. Weird fact: This was literally the only time I have ever not carried my purse in this country. It is even a joke with some of my PC girlfriends that I am always going to have an oversized, slightly ugly bag with me…not sure what made me leave it at the hostel this one night. I was also wearing a dress, so I don’t know if they would have been so lenient with me if they thought I had something in pants pockets. Anyways, all of that to say, they were definitely more concerned with the male in the group. After he searched and got everything he could from my friend, he took Joe’s watch and they started running away. They crossed the street and then stopped. We were both frozen for a second, and then it hit me that they might come back or be stopping for a reason. We hurried to get out of there, and we ran around to the other side of the shed. We were both still in shock, I think, and I can’t remember if I was still crying or not (if I was a betting woman, I would guess yes). We could still hear them on the other side of the street, so it took us a second to decide if we should run for the corner and risk being shot or just stay and wait for them to leave. I am almost positive that, if it was solely up to me, we would have just crouched and cried, but Joe said we needed to get out of there. We ran to the Pension, and we were lucky that a few other volunteers in our group were in the lobby to let us in and to comfort us. They helped us calm down, and then Joe called and reported the incident.

All is well now. Joe filed the police report (which consisted of a Dominican police officer scribbling down notes on a scratch sheet of paper…I guess they do have bigger fish to fry in this country), we got new cell phones, he was able to get some money out before cancelling the cards, and I think he will get reimbursed for the things that were stolen. That was definitely one of the scariest things that I have ever witnessed. I realize that Mama Sol was being serious when she used to pretend to point a pistol at me and tell me that the streets here are dangerous. All I know is that God was definitely watching over us that night, and I am thankful that it went the way it did. Something could have so easily went differently and turned out badly, and I know that it wasn’t based on our own luck or wits that we didn’t overreact or try to take matters into our own hands. I have faith that everything happens for a reason, so I am going to trust that there is a purpose for this. I have been trying to guess, and I have come up with a few theories…maybe God allowed this to happen so all of the volunteers (particularly myself, I know) would be more cautious over the next 2 years? Maybe this is going to prevent something worse from happening in the future because now our guards will be up a little bit? (I am just saying a little bit…I am still certain that I would rather live my life with a small dose of recklessness than to live in fear. Anyone that knows me is reading this and rolling their eyes and sighing in frustration, I know.) Maybe the reason really is just that the guys needed money and this could actually help them? Or maybe they just wanted cash for drugs? Who knows. And the exact reason doesn’t really matter. It’s pointless to try to guess what God’s plan is…our job is just to be thankful that everything turned out ok and to use this as a learning opportunity. I am so thankful that it happened because it was a good reality check to experience the day before I went to my site for good. What is really important in life? If I had died on Friday (at the risk of sounding dramatic), would I be happy with how my life has gone? I think so, but every day is another day where we have the chance to love people and to influence someone else’s day. I think that is a great thing to keep in mind over the next 2 years. Spanish will eventually click, the inevitable loneliness that we have been warned about since Day 1 will fade, sicknesses will come and go, bad days will happen, however, the great ones are never far behind… Life is good! Basically why should we worry? The Bible says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” We don’t need to waste time questioning and being anxious about the little things. Live your life, love people, trust in God, and stay positive. And yah.

I pray for those of you at home, as well as the other volunteers, every day. Please let me know if there is something specific I can be praying for, and continue to keep all of us here in your prayers! We need it. Haha. As we start our official service, we are definitely going to have our ups and downs, so keeping us in your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. :o) Love all of you. Stay safe. And don’t walk in the streets alone.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ay Ay Ay...2 week update.

Below the following entry (as in the entry before this one) is an update that I wrote about 3 weeks ago. I figured it would save a little time to just post it, and then to actually update about what all has been going on lately. WHERE DO I EVEN START?!?! I feel like so much has happened over the past month or so….ok, so I guess the best way to go about this is to start with where I have been over the last 3 weeks.

On Monday, May 3, everyone in our group and the Environment group found out our site placements. It was a nerve-wracking time; however, I think everyone was more or less excited just to finally know. It seems crazy because people with whom we talked for a total of maybe 30 minutes decided where we should live for 2 years. They called out our names and gave us a small packet of information about our future communities. I found out that I am going to be living in Juan Lopez, Moca for the next couple of years of my life. It seemed like a fine enough fit for me, and plus- I saw the map of where all of the new volunteers are stationed, and WOO HOO I am not isolated. I was extremely excited to visit my site and to learn more about it.

The next day, we had Project Partner Day, where we met the people with whom we are assigned to work. This is also the day that we visited our site for the first time!! My project partner, Delvin, and another guy that works in the CTC, Pedro, helped me transport my 300lbs worth of luggage to my new, wonderful home. (More about my coworkers in another entry! They are great and I think they will provide me with tons of blog material :o) )For me, the ambiguous process for assigning sites worked out because I LOVE my community, colleagues, and host family.

To quickly catch anyone who is reading this (bless your hearts…sorry I am so scattered) up to present times, here is a quick outline:

- After Project Partner Day, all of the new volunteers stayed at our sites for 5 days. This is where I met everyone in the town, hung out at the CTC, started to get to know my host family that I will be living with for the 1st 3 months here, and observed classes at the Centro. My coworkers are a fun group, and they even took my to the river once (with Mas and Sabrina- the volunteers in my group that live closest to me!), into Moca one night for ice cream (obviously they know the way to my heart), and into Santiago one night for dinner. Santiago is a big city that is only about 45 minutes away from Juan Lopez.

- Traveled back with Mas and Sabrina to the capital to spend another glorious 2 weeks with Mama Sol. Worst gua gua ride of my life. 3 rather large Dominicans and me in a 2- (possibly 3 on a good day) person seat. No air conditioning. I just kept thinking, “This is not the way I am going to die…breathe, Heather…just keep breathing.”

- We had a few more days of training, and we got to hear about other volunteers’ visits to their sites. If you get bored or are looking for blogs that are more exciting than my own, then you should check out the volunteers’ blogs on the side of my page. They are all pretty cool people.

- No crazy stories from the casa of Mama Sol. We actually talked a little bit and “compartir-ed.” Compartir is the Spanish word that directly translates into “to share, to divide,” but (from what i understand)it is basically what they use for any activity that builds trust or "confianza" with another individual- talking, watching soap operas, playing dominoes, spending time with, etc. That’s our goal in our new communities…to compartir & build confianza with the entire town. So ya. Mama Sol and I did that a little.

- Not sure if I ever actually fully vented about Mama Sol. Now is not the time or place, but let’s just say that I stressed her out. She hated that I talked to the neighbors, and would get upset every time that I went to the empanada stand; however, she would not speak to me when I was home, and even talked about me when her sister and other neighbors were there. Umm….I might not be able to speak Spanish that well, but I know what you’re saying.

- She also sells ice cream now, which I thought would be nice, right? One would think. Dominicans are known for sharing everything they have. If my family in El Seibo had one ice cream bar, I knew I would at least be getting a lick or two. And it went both ways. If I bought myself some yogurt, I would buy another one to share or pour people some of mine. It’s the Dominican way, Mama Sol. But nooooo…she, the grandma, and Edward would each enjoy a tube of ice cream every night after dinner in the living room. I would awkwardly sit there and read my book. Side note: her family is not struggling. We live in a nice house and she tells me about how she does well by selling jewelry in the US. Anyways. Finally, the last night I stayed there, I got up the courage to ask if I could buy some. She said, “Yeah. Give me 5 pesos.” Gotta love her.

- We hung out in Santo Domingo for 2 weeks- had our swearing-in ceremony, attended the All Volunteer Conference where we met all of the volunteers that have been in the DR for at least longer than 8 months, went to the 1st Annual “PCV Prom” haha, I stayed at my 1st hostel, we were on Standfast where we couldn’t leave our neighborhoods for 3 days due to the country’s elections (people here are un poco loco about politics), the ICT group had literacy training for a week, and last but not least- I was robbed at gunpoint on my last night in the capital.

- Whew, told you there was a lot to catch you up on…

I have a feeling I will be updating more to fill in the blanks…? Possibly? I am now back in Juan Lopez. Mas, Sabrina, and I made the trip on Saturday with the rest of our belongings from Santo Domingo. It was actually more upsetting than I thought to say bye to my Santo Domingo family. The grandmother is so sweet, and for some crazy reason, Mama Sol acted really sad to see me go. I will never understand that woman. It’s raining in Juan Lopez now (which is why I finally decided to update…things have just been so hectic!)…so here I am. In Juan Lopez for the next 2 years of my life. Not sure that idea has really sunk in yet. Estoy emocionada (I am excited…hands down, my favorite phrase to say in this country.) Adios!

Sabrina & Mas at the river!
In Santiago with my new friends/coworkers from Juan Lopez

Swearing-In Ceremony!

PCV prom!

when i thought i was going to be placed on the border...

Written on 5/1…

Back in Santo Domingo. I already feel dirtier from the air pollution and I already miss my family in El Seibo. Mama Sol welcomed me back with an “Hola” and “Let’s clean your room.” Missed you too, Mama Sol. I think I have just accepted that she’s not the warmest person, but I feel like she shows that she cares in other ways. Umm…like for example, she helps me clean my room and helps me with my mosquito net? That’s stretching, but you gotta take the love where you can get it in this house. My abuela is not here this weekend, so that’s a little sad...she was the one person in this house that I was excited to see. I could use a good grandma hug in this city. I was able to catch up with a few of the neighbors, though, so that made my homecoming a little more friendly-like.

On a different note, I found out what organization I will be working with during my 2 years! I am going to be working at one of the Centros Tecnologicos Comunitarios (a CTC). This is a community center that is funded by the Despacho de la Primera Dama (Office of the First Lady), and it is a more structured setting. There are 6 of us new volunteers that will be working in these across the island. There are 8 people working in the school districts, 2 people working with a business in Santo Domingo, 3 people working at Indotels (another community computer center), and 3 people who are mainly working with literacy training in the South, one of the poorer regions in the DR. I did not have a preference with where I would be working, so I would have been happy with any of these jobs; however, I am getting really excited about the CTC. We split into our groups yesterday, and had meetings that told us a little more about what we are going to be doing, so that was fun to have a teeny tiny bit more information about my role in the Peace Corps.

The plan is that we still will find out on Monday where we are going to be. It’s driving us crazy, but I am trying to keep in mind that any place will be great and that everything happens for a reason. I am trusting that I will be placed where I am supposed to be placed, so that has helped a lot with the anxiety that keeps creeping up every now and then. Ok that’s it for now, I suppose, I need to unpack and repack. We get to go visit our sites from Tuesday-Sunday! So exciting. I have a strong feeling that I am going to be placed on the border of Haiti, but I am trying not to think about it too much. I told them that I would like to live in a poorer community and that I preferred to be mas o menos close to other volunteers. They responded with, “Ok great. However, it would probably really help your Spanish if you were isolated.” All signs point to Haiti. Vamos a ver.

Ok over and out. Will actually post this when I get a chance.