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!