Thursday, October 13, 2011

Construye Tus Suenos.

Tomorrow two of my jovenes and I leave for a 3 day business plan competition in the Capital. These kids worked for 3 months in my business course, deciding what business they wanted to start, learning the ins and out of the planning process, collecting community data, planning the budget, learning about target market, accounting, marketing, the 4 P’s, point of equilibrium, you name it. Walton College of Business- you would have been proud.

One of my students was selected to compete for the chance to win up to 60,000 pesos, so I am very excited for her! She wants to start a repostería (pastry shop) called Linda Repostería (Pretty Pastry Shop :o), sweet huh?). It is a 3 day conference that some of the Peace Corps volunteers in the Business Sector have organized, and it really is an incredible opportunity for young people in this country. There will be panel discussions, games, educational charlas, a dance, and each competitor will be graded on a 10 minute presentation that they’re required to give. My girl, Lisbeth, is really excited and has been practicing her Powerpoint presentation since…well, just yesterday, actually…but she tells me that she’s going to work really hard tonight! Haha. My other student, Eliyen, will not be competing; however, he still gets to go and participate. I anticipate millions of posing photos and “serious” and/or “sexy” look shots in my future. Oh Dominican youth.

Like I said, the competition will last until Sunday, so we will see if my kid can bring home the big bucks. Money or no money, I am so happy that there are competitions like this in the DR. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to work hard at something, and then be rewarded for it by going to an educational camp. I look forward to seeing all of the bright, shining faces of the kids from all over the country and see their hard work. Should be a good time!

Wish us luck!

Here is her logo that she created…

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

trip to the Haitian border!

I have a piece of paper hanging on my wall that lists all of the places that I want to go, the people I want to visit, and the cultural activities that I want to experience during my time in the Dominican Republic. I put little empty boxes next to each item (as I do with any to-do lists…learned that from some management book in college. Try it out! :o) ) During times that I feel stuck in my site, I will add random, easily attainable items to the list so I will feel like I’m making steps towards my goals. For example, the other day I was able to check off “Chinese food in my town” from the paper, and it was a very good day. Any time I’m able to use the designated checking-off black Sharpie brings about a sense of accomplishment.

However, last week was different.

I was able to check off boxes that I had been dying to do since I arrived in this country. “See the border” and “Visit the Haitian Market in Dajabon.”

It was incredible because it was a new experience for me. Tambien, it was a sneak peek into Haiti, a country that I’m particularly anxious to visit. You see, volunteers aren’t allowed to cross the border due to safety/security/liability issues with the government. Disappointing, but understandable. However, I am already planning a trip with some friends to cross over the week after I finish my service!

In 214 days.

Not that I’m counting.

Back to the point, I went to the border!

It was one of those events that made me remember how overwhelming the DR can be to visitors. It was quite the reminder of increased sympathy that I need to show when I am giving tours of the Dominican Republic. It brought me back to how I first felt when I came to the DR, not knowing the language, culture, customs, reasons that the people were doing this or that. I felt all of this come back as I went to an area of the country that I did not, and still don’t really understand.

Although different from the laid back, good natured interactions with generally humble, friendly Haitians through a semi-organized marketplace that I had been picturing, the market was still very interesting and beautiful in its own way. Beautiful chaos might be a better description for it.

People were literally sprinting back and forth over the bridge that connects the two very different countries. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was running because it seemed like it was a free for all in terms of crossing borders. Nevertheless, with large crates of chickens and mile-high piles of toilet paper rolls on their heads, the Haitians were on a mission.

It was amazing, intimidating and saddening- all rolled into one 3 hour visit. There were countless pick-pocketers trying their best shot, as well as more focused individuals pushing barrels filled with everything from cow heads to diapers. And a 90-year-old woman with a Volkswagen-sized package on her head. Sprinting…she was sprinting.

Haitians have a great deal of racism and discrimination to overcome in the DR, and it’s really eye-opening when you get a closer look at their daily battles. There are only a handful of Haitians in my town, and I am still in the midst of the slow process of understanding their struggles. I really like a quote by Daniel Goleman that says, “The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does. You have to really see the person. If you see the person, then naturally, empathy arises. If you tune into the other person, you feel with them. If empathy arises, and if that person is in dire need, then empathic concern can come. You want to help them, and then that begins a compassionate act. So I'd say that compassion begins with attention.” Not that the trip to the border made it any clearer, but I feel lucky to have had another snapshot to make me stop, give attention, and think.

I am not sure I will ever be able to make it back to Dajabon, but I am really thankful that I made the time to see a different side of the country. The freedom to travel and experience a different side of the culture whenever I want are things I know I’m going to miss after my service.

I’ve included a few pictures from the day….enjoy!

Pictures from a nearby beach in Monte Cristi.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tribute to Eminem.

Back to reality. Oh there goes gravity.

Did I really just quote an Eminem song for my blog? Strange, but I’ll go with it.

So here I am! Back in Juan Lopez, Moca, my humble abode for the next 7 months of my life. It’s a little after 9:00pm, and I am currently sitting outside the director’s office at the high school where I work. The public night school has a questionable reputation and is basically a last resort for kids in my town and the surrounding areas. Most of the muchachos work during the day and then study at night. Also, it is the only school in the area that is open to anyone that wants to study, such as undocumented Haitians or non-traditional students of any age. With all of that being said, there’s never a dull moment here! Tonight’s main event was the breaking in of a former student who has been expelled for 2 years due to bad behavior. She was apparently a troublemaker who wanted to cause a scene, so she climbed over the barbed wire gate behind the office building and ran through the halls. As I sat in the office waiting room with my computer in my lap, in my little plastic chair that has become my makeshift office, I heard a stampede of the entire body. It came complete with, as we would say in Arkansas, hootin’ and hollrin’, and I thought, “Yup, so this is it…They decided to revolt. This is how I’m going to die.” Moments later, when I realized what had really happened and the watchyman dragged the little rascal into the office by her arm, I was greatly relieved and a little comforted by the fact that my liceo did not let me down. Although it was a slight stray from the usual fight and occasional bloodshed, broken my up by an armed security guard, it will still be something to share with my neighbors when they ask, “So how was school tonight?”

It’s good to be back!

About being back. It really has been great. Or at least it’s been easier than I thought it was going to be.

I’m doing really well, with more than enough projects on the near horizon. The neighbors were welcoming. The entire town has been excited to hear of my “adventures over there.” Still love the food, and didn’t realize how much I really missed my favorite side of concon (burnt rice) YUM!

With the help of another volunteer, Charlie, I was able to get 3 laptops donated from an organization called Free Geek. Charlie used to volunteer there, suggested we apply for computers since he knew that was one of my new main project goals, we filled out the request, and BAM! Free Geek was so kind to donate 3 laptops to this school that even the Ministry of Education tends to overlook. Lucky for us, Charlie was heading back to his hometown, Portland, so he was able to pick up the computers and bring them back with him! The director and the teachers were very grateful, so that always helps make it more rewarding to help a group. As with all transactions in this country, it turned into an unnecessary presentation. Charlie and I had to speak and then there were lots of pictures with us posing with the computers and handing them over. I will try to get copies of the pictures and post them soon.

Another update since I’ve been back is that I’m continuing my Chicas Brillantes girls’ group. I have already completed the 12 lesson, 1.5 billion activity manual with the group, so I had decided that I was done. I had an epiphany while I was home that I really want to focus on the most important, most meaningful projects in my final 8-or-so months; in my head, that did not include dragging out this group about which I thought I was the only one who cared. I also didn’t love the stress it caused me each week as I frantically planned each meeting and worried about whether or not the girls were going to show up at all. I went into the computer center where we meet, fully expecting nobody to be there and ready to go to the each girl’s house to announce that we were going to have our final party at the river and then go our separate ways. Surprisingly enough, there were 6 girls there waiting on me. When I suggested that we’ve had a good run at the whole girls’ group initiative and that we could simply graduate and call it a day, they were strongly opposed to this idea. One girl even started crying about how she was going to miss me when I’m gone, while the rest of them said that they wanted to keep it going. Hmm…definitely wasn’t expecting that response. I tried to gently convince them that I’m really busy and, although I love all of them and still want to hang out sometimes, that maybe a weekly meeting with activities and lesson plans wasn’t what we needed.

Still they opposed.

How am I supposed to turn down a group of girls that want to keep talking about self-esteem, relationships, health, values, etc.? Or maybe they just like the weekly snacks, but -still- they have to hear participate in the talks first. So maybe I’m insane, but I decided to take my chances at another round of this youth group. The girls also said that they would take more of a leadership role and give the charlas (talks), so that should take some of the pressure off of this commitment. Also, it will help them learn about responsibility. Si Dios quiere. Hopefully we’re not all regretting this decision in a month, but we’ll see!

Other activities with which I will be focusing include: helping plan the Peace Corps DR 50th Anniversary celebration (I’m in charge of organizing 12 hours worth of presentations with the help of some amazing volunteer friends), getting trained and then installing water filters in my neighborhood, getting started on the cement floor/tin roof project, eventually continuing the Muchachos de Los Macos kids’ art club in my barrio, working on the follow-up teacher training for the staff at my high school, still working to get more computers for my liceo, and Lord only knows what else! It should be an incredibly busy next few months, but I’m really excited and everything seems to be falling into place.

Knock on wood.

Last update for the night….seeing as how the high school is about to let out and the lights keep flickering…not that I’m scared of this ridiculously intimidating high school of hoodlems or anything…but probably the most exciting update of my time back is that my neighborhood has been amazing as of late! I’ve always, for the most part, appreciated my neighbors; however, lately they’ve been extra fun. The happenings of Los Macos can be summed up in 4 words: Impromptu Dembow Dance Parties.

What do you mean? What in the world is Dembow?? Is what you might be asking, Mom. But hold your horses.

I came home from the school earlier this week to find a group of the neighborhood muchachos breaking it down in the street in front of my house. Not wanting to be the only girl in the mix, I went across the street to Doña Maria’s house to watch from her porch. Once her niece came back home, we got some of the neighborhood women to come out for the show. Next thing you know, we were all taking a shot at this dance…and it was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time!

We were all outside enjoying each other’s company and cracking up as the guys tried new flips and moves, sometimes resulting in a full-out face plant on the street (I never said it was the safest night).

Since then, we’ve had dance parties almost every night this week. May they live on forever!

It’s hard to put all of this into words, so I will attempt to upload a video of the guys performing at a birthday party last night…

So there’s what’s been going on around my neck of the woods! Hope things are going well in the States! Love you all…especially you all because you’re the ones still reading this :o)

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

some things i've forgotten

Still procrastinating writing about my trip home for 2 reasons: 1. I am a tad worried that it will make me homesick. 2. I have been drained since being back here. Don’t get me wrong, I love being back and am really blessed to have people that I love in this country, but it’s incredibly tiring. Much different than my not-so-realistic, way too amazing trip home where I was able to sleep in late, without the noise of dogs, motorcycles, or neighbors screaming at 7am, in my comfortable bed in my parents’ house; take a nice warm shower to start the day; lay on an actual couch; hang out and wait for everyone to get off work; visit friends and family any time I wanted because I had cell phone service AND a car; still feel clean by the end of the day because I hadn’t spent the last 12 hours sweating; and then start the next day fresh all over again. That was a little glimpse of what the few weeks home were like! More to come soon, I’m sure.

Anyways, I found this blog that I wrote a while ago…like after I had been here for 13 months (I have now been here for a year and a half…). Thought I’d share it! Maybe it will get people from home (you know who you are) from griping that I never update. :o) Or at least it will make me feel better about procrastinating longer….

The 1-year mark quickly came and went (yikes?!). This is scary enough in itself, but what might be even scarier is that I have started noticing that some of the things that once drove me crazy or really confused me are becoming fairly normal in my everyday life. Notice that I said some of the things in my life; others will never make sense to me. Several of these no-longer-strange-to-me cosas were brought to my attention during my first round of visitors, while others hit me every now and then like a ton of bricks. Like, “Oh my goodness, I forgot that it’s not normal for me to be told how I’m a fashion victim just because my eyeshadow doesn’t match my shirt, which matches my nails, which matches my jewelry, which matches my purse, which may or may not match my friend’s wardrobe.” At first I was going to call this blog “Things I’ve Forgotten aren’t Normal”, but that isn’t right. These things are normal to my life here; they are simply very different from my past life as an American.

Now: Things I’ve forgotten are…umm… different.

1. My water situation. I have a tinaco, which is actually great because it means sometimes I will get to take real showers; however, it is quite the process. The tinaco is a black tank (usually large, but mine is miniature) that sits outside my house. When it is full, it holds the water, and I have to turn the knob outside to allow the water into my house every time I want to flush the toilet, wash dishes, or take a shower. Mine has a leak in it somewhere, which is why I have to turn it on and off so much. Going to try to explain this process…if you think it’s boring to read this, imagine how I feel having to do it all the time :o)

Ok…so there is one pipe that runs from the street into the tank; the water from the streets can go straight into my house instead of the tank, too. Usually once a week, the town will send water through the pipes into the street pipes. When this happens, everyone in my neighborhood yells that there’s water, and (if I’m home) I run out and open the pipes from the road and run around to the back of my house to open the pipe to the tank. Once the tinaco gets full, I can close the pipe into the tank and use the water from the road to fill the buckets in my house. This is also a good time to do dishes, mop, and shower because I won’t have to use any of my water to do these things. After the water from the streets stops, everyone yells to let others know that it stopped, and I can close the pipes from the street. Once our neighborhood went over two weeks without getting water, and I had not yet invested in a large bucket. I had no water to bathe, wash dishes, or clean (and to my surprise…all of these bugged me). Luckily my neighbors (yes…one of the overbearing ones that never let me breathe, God bless ‘em) let me bathe in their house. Now I have a large bucket in my shower (still sporting the bucket showers…would have to change the name of this blog if I didn’t), so there is usually water of some sort available if I play my cards right.

2. Piropos. This is basically the Spanish word for “cat calls.” It is completely normal, and even encouraged, for the men in this country to yell things at women as they are walking by. We learned in training that many women in the Dominican culture like this because it’s a way for the men to tell them that they look nice (in usually a completely inappropriate manner, in my opinion). There is a popular song here that goes, “Yo quiero una Americana pa’ manga mi Visa, pa…….” Translated: I want an American girl so she can get me my Visa. Perfect timing that this song came out right before I moved here, right? So that’s always a popular liner to shout out as Americans are walking by. They will also hiss at you. Yes, hiss. Like pssssssst 100 times as you’re walking by to get your attention. Usually if you look at them, they have nothing to say or do besides say, “I love you,” or just wave. I mean, who wouldn’t melt at an almost-Shakespeare-like liner such as that? It’s bizarre. And I don’t like it. But sadly, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Honestly, it’s not as bad in my town, so (for the millionth time) people should visit. :o)

3. On the hissing topic, it’s not only the men. EVERYONE HERE HISSES. In the classroom, in the church, on the streets, at work, in the supermarket, in the gua guas, at home. It’s is the way to get people’s attention. At times, I have told people that I have a name and they need to use it. Other times, gotta admit, I’ve caught myself doing it. It’s a culture thing, so -for example- it’s hard to be the only person in the middle of a crowded store who is trying to scream “Excuse me!?” to get the cashier’s attention. Guilty.

4. Public transportation. There are no words. Will have to come back to this one later.

5. Halls throat drop = candy. Energy drink = medicine for a sick stomach. Seen these so many times, I’ve started believing ‘em.

6. Another thing I’ve found keeps sneaking into my head, “I can eat as much fried cheese, fried salami, fried chicken, rice, and potatoes as I want and I will be healthy; however, if I take a sip of yogurt, I will get fat.”

7. Hitchhiking. It’s so normal here. LOVE it. It is probably one of my favorite things about the DR, no lie. It’s like an adventure sometimes: How fast can I get someone to pick me up? And how far can I get them to take me? I may or may not take this back to the states with me.

8. Try #2 at the transportación público.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still crazy. But I have definitely gotten so used to it that I may or may not warn you about it when (yes, I said when) you visit. So consider this my warning.

Picture this: 1 normal car. 11 adults. 1 child. 2 suitcases. And a live turkey. Yup. Alive. For approximately 2 hours.

I suppose the example will suffice as the explanation.

9. Need for patience. Something that takes 10 minutes in the States could- and probably will- take about 2 hours here. And something that would probably take 2 hours in the US might take up to a few days here. For example, getting somewhere here is a slow process, filled with lots of the aforementioned transportación público. One can never be quite sure when one will arrive at the desired destination, so it’s advantageous to leave an hour or so before you would think necessary. It never ceases to amaze me how patient Dominicans can be. Hopefully this will follow me back to my life in America, and I won’t get irritated if the pizza delivery guy is an hour late, but we shall see.

10. Health consciousness. Having to wonder whether or not you’re going to get cholera every time you accept a glass of water at someone’s house. You can either live in fear or just go for it. The choice is yours.

Like I said, these things are merely parts of my life here. And I love my life. So I guess I should love everything on this list, too. I can’t remember why I even started writing this 6 months ago, but I’m sure there was a reason at the time. Thanks for listening! It’s about time for the last gua gua to my site, so I don’t have enough time to develop this random list into an organized thought-provoking analysis. Not like any of my other posts really do that. But I will just casually sum this up by saying that life is good here.

I’m back in the DR.

Ready to do 8 more months of this thing called Peace Corps.

And maybe eventually post about my trip home.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

As of late.

Unlike the other posts, this blog will not begin with a long apology about the length of time since my last update. I will not give an extensive list of reasons of why I haven’t had time to share my life with friends and family back home, nor will I give the ever-so-popular, slightly overused justification that I am awful at keeping in touch with everyone. Nope. Not going to be a broken record.

Ok, maybe just a quick apology. To Mom: since you’re probably the only one still checking to see if there has been a miracle and I actually posted something on this thing, I am deeply sorry for letting you down.

Phew, I feel better. Now on to the good stuff. And by good stuff, I mean a general overview of what I’m up to as of late….so “the good stuff” could be an exaggeration. But “stuff” nonetheless.

So here go the bulleted points of my current activities:

• For the past 2 months, I’ve been teaching a business class that gives students the opportunity to write a plan for a business of their dreams. At the end of the course, the students who finish a plan are able to compete with kids across the country for a 70,000 peso prize to start their business. The course started off incredibly with 16 seemingly motivated students, excited to learn the ins and outs of marketing and finance, research and implementation, planning and doing! However, once they realized that I wasn’t going to just hand them the prize money and that they actually had to do a lot of work, the class quickly dwindled to a grand total of 6. And out of those 6, I have faith that MAYBE 3 will complete their business plan and have the opportunity to go to the competition. It was disappointing at first, but I’ve come to realize that the fact that there are 3 kids determined to write this plan with only guidance and instruction from a teacher is huge. I’m extremely proud of the students who are still involved with this, and I’ll keep you updated on whether or not we’re able to travel to the big Capital to compete!

• Still working with the girls’ group! And surprisingly still loving it. We’ve covered a lot of material in the few months that we’ve been a group, such as the following: self-esteem, individuality, hopes for the future, gender roles, relationships, abstinence, condoms and birth control, friendships, relationships with parents, dating, future planning, and many more. Actually about to go to a 5 day camp with two of my girls! The whole group came together and raised over 1000 pesos for these girls to go to the camp, so I was really proud. Hopefully this camp will be fun and go well!

• I think I mentioned that I’m now working with the high school. I still have my girls’ group, an advanced English group, and my radio show (La Hora Americana…shout out!) at the technology center where I was initially placed; however, I wanted to find a place where I was more needed. And what is more needed in a country that has one of the lowest investments in education in the hemisphere? Like one of my posts mentioned, the education system in the Dominican Republic could use some help. While the ultimate goal is to get a computer lab for the school and to motivate the teachers to use it for their daily classes, for now, I am focusing on teacher training.

Another volunteer, Sabrina, and I won a $5000USD grant to host a teacher training conference for the teachers from both of our high schools. Hopefully I will post more about that in the future because it’s going to be great!

• Remember like 7 months ago when I got super excited about a grant I won to start a kids’ art group in my barrio? Well, about 6 months after that initial excitement came….and went…I finally received the money. It turns out that it’s been a great project nonetheless! I wanted to start a club for the kids in my little neighborhood because there is nothing for them to do. Some of them can’t even afford to go to school, so they just basically run around the streets or run amuck all over my house. Which is fine and all (most of the time), but I wanted to give them a creative outlet for all of this energy…instead of insisting on driving my poor dog insane with their not-so-dog-friendly running and screaming in-and-around-my-house activities. So this brings us to “Muchachos de Los Macos” or “Kids of the Frogs.” It makes more sense when one knows that my barrio is nicknamed “Neighborhood of the Frogs.” Cute, huh?

So once a week, the neighborhood kiddos come to my house to do an art activity. Thank goodness that 3 out of the 4 weeks that we’ve met, I have been lucky enough to have friends visiting to help out. Special thanks go to Miss Becca Wall, Mr. David McLaren, Sr. Basil McLaren, and Lic. Joe South! :o)

**Speaking of Becca’s visit, it was so great to have her here!!! I am going home in August, and I honestly think I needed something to help me get through this crazy month. Having a friend from home visit helped hold me over this last little bit of time before I get to take a vacation and go pa’lla! I plan on writing about her visit ASAP!

• Still trying to do Survival English classes, be involved in community meetings, and help Dominican friends start their English classes in town.

• The last thing I will write in this list (partly because it’s getting long…partly because it’s late- 9pm I should note- and there’s no electricity which automatically adds up to BEDTIME) is that I am currently working on a grant to put in cement floors and tin roofs for the people in my community that only have dirt floors and/or partial roofing or roofs that leak. BOLO for messages that consist of me begging for help! If approved, this grant will be put up on a website and people can donate to help out the poor in a developing country!

There’s a quick peek at what I’m up to down here! Will try to write soon….sneak preview of things you MIGHT read about if you keep checking out this unsuccessful blog….

Heather v. the Mice: An Ongoing Battle.

10 Reasons I’m going to be Awkward when I Visit the States.

‘Who Cares about the Ant Infestation, Hair, and Stains in the Hotel Room…? It has Air-Conditioning!!’ A Look into why my Visiting Friend was Amazing and Dealt with my Incredibly Low Standards of Comfort.

Do I have a Dominican Boyfriend? A Cliffhanger.

Top 20 Favorite Things I’ve learned to Cook. (with pictures!)

Mikey: An Analysis of Whether or Not I Love my Dog too Much.

“Most Stuttering Charla of the Year Award” goes to…The Infamous Girls’ Group Condom Talk. With Details.

Top 10 Reasons Why I Wear a Hairnet on a Daily Basis.

*SPOILER ALERT: In case I don’t update for another month, I will go ahead and break some news. Claro que no there is no boyfriend & even if I do make the cooking post, I would only have about 5 items to put on the list. And 3 of them include boxed mac-n-cheese and/or packaged cereal. Bon Appetit!

Hope this makes up a bit for not updating in forever! Hope things are going well! Be home soon...August 10 woo hoo! Hasta luego.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Worst mother ever.

So Mikey broke his leg. It was probably one of my worst moments in this country to date, too. To make it quick: 6:30pm last Thursday. I was in the kitchen, and he was playing outside. I called him in. He started running in. I turned back towards the kitchen to wash some dishes, and 2 seconds later, I heard him yelping. Poor little guy was on his back with his arm out to the side...

...Don't really remember what happened after that- all I know is that at some point, I was walking through the streets of my town, crying, asking if anyone knew where a veterinarian lived. You see, it's very rare to find a Dominican who cares about animals and/or knows how take care of one. While some were sympathetic, most people said, "Oh he's fine! So do you want to come in and have some juice?"

Finally, I went to Magdalena's (basically my mom/ one of my closest friends) house, and finally I found a little sympathy and support. They quickly called their vet friend, and even though he wasn't home, it was a relief that somebody took this seriously. Although they would later make fun of how hysterical I was, at the time they were very understanding and did everything they could to make the situation better: joked, offered me & Mikey food, and even rubbed Mikey down with Bengay (still not sure that this did anything besides make poor Mikey greasy and smell like mint, but it's the thought that counts).

Once it was decided that there was nothing I could do until the morning, I went home and called the Peace Corps doctor (an amazing woman who LOVES animals). She told me to come to the capital in the morning to go to a well-respected vet, which sounded much better to me than walking all over Moca the next day, looking for a vet who may or may not actually have his license. So that's what we did. 6am the next morning, Mikey and I were on our way to Santo Domingo where we would later find out that he has a fractured wrist.

He should be better in about 21 days, so that's a relief. He's been the perfect little patient, and finally we have some sympathy from some of my friends in town who thought I was crazy. Or maybe they still think that. Oh well.

Having a dog has seriously made me reconsider ever having kids. Not only is it difficult to have to think about somebody else's needs all of the time, but it is almost impossible not to worry about their little life that is basically in your hands. What if I screw him up? I want to give a shout-out to my mom right now (Happy belated Mother's Day!) because I know I was not always the easiest child to deal with. I have broken several bones in my 23 years, and I wasn't half as tranquilo as Mikey was during the emergency. My poor mom had to listen to me bawling all of the way to the Emergency Room on several occasions, and she was always calm/cool/collected while I was worrying about everything from possibly missing cheerleading tryouts to thinking I was going to have to get a limb amputated. Bless my mom's heart, and thank goodness one of us is sane. Hopefully by the time I have kids (that is an IF statement), I will have learned a little about this whole motherhood thing.

Thanks, mom.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Homework in the DR. Hmm…bueno. How do I even start this? There are several things that I could say about the education system in this country; however, I will refrain for the most part. I’m an Education volunteer, for crying out loud, so it’s probably better that I remain on the bright side for now.

This does not mean that I am not going to give you a glimpse of the homework system.

I will pretend that this isn’t venting. It’s just an observation that has started to seriously involve me through my vecina and her 5-year-old, which resulted in the mother yelling at her child for trying to do her own homework while, meanwhile, I was being punished for giving Baby Jesus a basket. But more on that later.

So homework in this country works like this: kids can either do their own homework (which I have maybe heard of occurring one time in my town) OR, the more preferred option, they can take it to an internet center where somebody else can do it for them. How many American kids do you know who would choose the first option when the latter option is not only tolerated, but encouraged?

I can’t think of any.

It’s easy:
1. You get your assignment.
2. You take the topic to the nearest internet center.
3. The person at the desk googles the aforementioned topic.
4. Duh. He/She chooses the Wikipedia data.
5. He/She copies and pastes it.
6. He/She highlights the document and changes the underlined parts to normal, and the blue lettering to black. We don’t want this to look sloppy now.
7. He/She prints your masterpiece of a term paper.
8. You pay the person at the desk.
9. You leave.
10. You get a killer grade, sometimes with a “Champion!” note at the top, even though the rest of the class turned in the same exact “essay.”
11. You get your next assignment (Please go to Step 2)

And the process continues.

Seems crazy, right? But I see this happening with EVERYONE. I’ve seen med students- MED STUDENTS!- come in to have someone else Wikipedia their assignments. I feel like somebody should see the problem with their future doctor not giving 2 cents about the whole learning part of school.

One of the biggest problems is that they never learn how to learn. They develop this mindset at an early age, so it’s tough to blame them. So this brings me to my neighbor and good friend, Angelina, and her daughter, Nayelin…

Nayelin is 5 years old and in school. Nayelin loves to draw; however, her mom never lets her. It’s awful. The way the homework goes for the younger students is that they each have a notebook where they do all of their assignments. The teachers write the daily homework assignments in each child’s notebook for the kids to take home and “do themselves.” Once again, you will rarely see this happen.

My first experience with this was when Angelina asked me to “help” her daughter with her homework. Sure! I’d love to. “A la orden siempre, tu sabes” (Always at your service, you know that!). Mistake. The first assignment I helped her with was “Draw a picture of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus.” Huh?

It went like this:

Me: draw Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus?

Angelina: Yes. I know you know how to draw better than I do, so thanks for helping Nayelin.

Me: No problem! Here, ok so Nayelin, let’s start by drawing Mary…

Angelina: NO! Nayelin draws ugly, so you should just do it.

Me: Hmm…well it’s her homework, so I don’t want to do it for her….

Angelina: No, just draw it. Nayelin draws so ugly.

Nayelin starts crying.

Me: Oh Nayelin, I think you draw very pretty. Hmm…well I think the teachers want the kids to learn, right? How will she get better if she never gets to practice?

Angelina: No, I want her to get good grades. I would do it, but I don’t know a lot about drawing. I bet you draw really pretty.

Yes, I'm frustrated. But still not wanting to offend her.

Me: Well I don’t know much about drawing either, but I will try and Nayelin can help me color.

Angelina: No. I don’t want her to ruin it.

Me: Ok…well we will see.

Attempting to draw…art’s never been my strong suit. If in doubt, please refer to my Art post.

Angelina: Well, you know the Mary wore something on her head, you know?

Me: Ok. I will try.

Angelina: …and her skirt was longer, you know. I don’t want to see her shoes. I don’t know much about art, but I think it’s better if her skirt is longer.

Me: You’re probably right.

Nayelin picks up a colored pencil.

Angelina: NO Nayelin! Don’t make it ugly, muchacha! Go away while Heather works!

Me: Maybe it would be a good idea for her to help me…?

Angelina: No. That muchacha has to learn respect.

Me: Ok. You know, in the United States, I used to do my homework by myself and it was really ugly. But little by little, I learned and it made me better because I did my own work.

Angelina: MmHmm. You know, Joseph always holds a staff thing in his hand.

Me: Oh..ok…I will try.

Angelina: No it was in his other hand.

Oh really, Angelina? You know Joseph and he always holds his staff in a particular hand?

Me: So you want me to erase it and put it in his other hand?

Angelina: That’s the side it’s supposed to be on. But it’s your decision. You know more about art than I do.

Me: Oh ok…well I didn’t know that. I will change it.

Angelina: And you know that back in the Bible days, they did not have a bed for Jesus…he should be in Mary’s arms, not in that bed.

Me: Well I don’t know how to draw him in Mary’s arms, so I am going to try to draw grass around the bed and color it like wood…they had those types of beds.

Angelina: Well I don’t know much about art, you know, but I think it would be better if you erased it and put Jesus in Mary’s arms. But I don’t know much about art, you know.

Me: Ya me neither. As I try to scribble in grass around the awful manger. Ok, I think I’m done. Sorry it’s not that good…I bet Nayelin could have done just as good of a job…

Angelina: It’s better than anything I could have done. Thanks so much! I don’t know what Nayelin and I would have done without you!

Um, besides maybe have her do her own homework?

Me: No problem.

Angelina: You don’t know how to build a house out of milk cartons, do you?

Me: Nope. Not at all.

Angelina: Oh well I will have to wait for my husband to do it. That’s Nayelin’s other homework.

Me: That’s nice. Well I have to go!

So that was the first time. The teacher gave her an A and even wrote “Perfect!” on it (which I don’t know if that’s an insult to me? Shouldn’t this teacher be able to tell that a 5-year-old does not have the motor skills to draw and color like that?? Oh well.) Since then, there have been several situations, usually resulting in the same way. I would just stop and put my foot down, but this is the family that I have a lot of confianza with, and I don’t want to ruin that. They help me out a ton- with Mikey, with laundry, and even with meals sometimes- so I don’t really want to offend them since I often feel like I can’t pay them back enough for what they do for me.

The worst part is that I am not that good at drawing, and Angelina lets me know that.

I try to draw a cat…“But that’s a monkey?”

I try to draw a family…”I don’t think the girls need to wear the same type of dresses. You should probably make the baby’s different. And the sun is too big.”

I try to draw her for the draw-a-picture-of -your-mother assignment…”You know that I am fatter than that. And why am I wearing that skirt? I don’t have a skirt like that!”

Good grief. Kill me now.

My plan? Grin and bear it, and try to keep insinuating that this is insane. Before I leave, I swear that I am going to tell them exactly what I think; however; I don’t think anyone is ready for that yet.

Wish me luck, and I will keep you posted. Por lo menos, I might improve my art skills…by doing the homework of a 5-year-old. Goodness, this is my life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let's meet MIKEY!

So if you haven't already caught on, I have a dog. And he's adorable.

I got him about a month ago from the neighbors of another volunteer. He's been loved by me since he was a baby, and I always felt sorry for him because the owners did not treat him very well. His previous life consisted of living in a dark stairwell...all alone...never getting to see the light of day. :o( It broke my heart.

I always joked with the owners that I wanted to take him home with me, and they would always laugh (and kinda look at me suspiciously like they thought I was going to steal him).

Which I had considered, not gonna lie.

So finally one day I had my friend seriously ask them if I could buy him from them. They said yes! After the exchange of RD1000 ($27), I had a new member of my household! They were excited that they didn't have to deal with him anymore and went on a shopping spree, and I had a new child.

8-month-old Mikey (I kept the name they had given him) and I have had a lovely little time together for the past month. He now has all of his shots and has been fixed. Several people in my town tell me that he's feo (ugly), but I STRONGLY disagree. Nobody knows what kinds of dog he is, so we just tell people that he is a biralata bonita (pretty mutt/street dog). Other people tell me,"His face is cute, but his body is really ugly."

One day when I was walking him, a lady yelled, "What an ugly dog!"
I replied,"Stop! He's my son!"
"Well you have an ugly son then!"

So rude.

He's been a lot of work, but everyone has taken to him...eventually. I have heard the advice from other volunteers that it's good to get a dog in this country, and I agree. It's nice to have someone waiting at home (or going to work with you...what?? He LOVES being on the radio!) to cheer you up after a stressful day, and- even though the training is not going super well- he's been really good.

I'm going home in August (YAY! 1st time home in over a year!) and we are trying to figure out how to get Mikey back, too. I think he's going to like the states.

So there's Mikey for ya. My new pride and joy. Besides making me more responsible and patient, he's also making me a huge hypocrite: In the end, I'm going to be giving a Dominican male his VISA.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Semana Santa.

Hope anyone who is reading this had an amazing Easter weekend! Here in the DR we were able to celebrate this over a week-long period called Semana Santa, or Holy Week. And it was great. Although it definitely helped me with procrastinating work-related activities, I had a lot of fun with friends in my community and fellow volunteers. My week consisted of the following:

• Waterfalls
• Beaches
• Rios
• Good food
• Horse bola (reminder: bola = 1.(n)free ride 2.(v)to hitchhike)
• 4-wheeler bola
• Back-of-truck bola
• Motorcycle bola
• Bola with a bike
• More bolas
• Hiking with Mikey (more on him later)
• New cooking adventures in my site
• Visiting new families in my site
• Helping a lady study for her US citizenship exam
• Trying to recreate my mom’s clogged-artery causing Southern casseroles and joyfully succeeding
• Night out in Santiago with the visiting family of another volunteer
• Historical Museum of the Mirabal Sisters
• Over 3 hours on my bike
• Rewarding my hard work on the bike with lots of ice cream
• Modern Art Museum
• Surprise overnight adventure with my Dominican family: “Heather, where are all of your clothes? ….Because we’re not going back until tomorrow!” Classic.
• Mikey’s 1st campo visit
• More good food
• Little to no tangible work…fun fun for this week
• Good Spanish time
• Great English time
• Amazing friends in both languages
• And, of course, food.

Y ya. Ya is the Dominican way of saying “I’m done” or “That’s it.” So once again. Ya.

Hope you had a great week, as well, Mom & Dad. And thanks to anyone else who is still keeping up with this :o) Will try to get the Introduction to Mikey post up quickly!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Celebrando las Chicas!

Hello again! Long time, no see. I swear I'm going to get better at this updating thing if it kills me.

As most of you know, last week marked my 1 year anniversary in the Dominican Republic. I can't believe I've been here over a year! I've had my ups and downs, good Dominican days and bad ones, language difficulties (and a few successes here and there), skin infections, injuries, amazing adventures, new appreciation for regaton and bachata music, new love for coffee and salami, new friends that I couldn't survive without, old friends that show me that our friendships will never change, a birthday, a dog for a day, 5 visitors, 1 mugging, 0 Dominican boyfriends, tons of sunburns, 1 case of bed bugs, lots of alone time, about 500 hours of dancing time, and more emotions than I can count.

And I'm still loving it.

Thanks for your prayers and your encouragement through it all. I have no doubt that the next year and 3 months will provide me with more vaina for which to be thankful and, of course, to blog about. Vamos a ver :o)

For now, here are some pictures from an event Sabrina and I planned this past weekend. We won a grant for International Women's Day, so we were able to host a free event for girls in our communities. We meant for the event to be for our 2 girls groups (YES! I started it 2 weeks ago and I'm loving it. The girls are great and haven't even hinted about giving me a makeover yet. Gracias a Dios.) and we had planned on inviting about 15 girls each for a total of 30. We started getting nervous that nobody was going to come and we'd be stuck with tons of snacks, pizza, and art supplies for the 2 of us to take care of; entonces, we started telling a few more girls that we knew about the event.

There ended up being over 65 girls at the event! It was so much fun. Other volunteers that live nearby, Lindsey and Joe, came to help out, too...which saved our lives. It was a great time, and I think the girls had fun and (hopefully) learned a little about self esteem, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, and famous women throughout history. If nothing else, they got out of their houses for an afternoon and got a free t-shirt out of the deal. I'll take it.

Have a good week! And happy (early) Women's Day!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Some videos I've been meaning to post for months...

The internet is too slow to add any more. Hope this counts as a legit update! Things are going well down here. Happy belated Valentine's Day! :o) Oh- and P.S. I bought the bike! Woo hoo! Over and out.

Friday, January 28, 2011

typical weekend in the campo.

overview of my time in the campo...




and a few around her site!

it was a blast! i actually felt like a dominican retreating to the campo for the long weekend. good times.

will update more soon!