Thursday, November 4, 2010

"I challenge you to a headstand contest..."

So this past week, Peace Corps DR (who hasn't consolidated volunteers in years) has emergency consolidated us twice. The first one was for a meeting about cholera. Cholera, as some of you may know, is spreading like wildfire over in Haiti. Cholera is a fierce infection caused by bacteria in the water. The water that the cholera is in happens to be the border river between Haiti and Dominican Republic. The CDC says that there is a 100% chance cholera will arrive in the DR. It is just a matter of time. So all 165ish volunteers were called to the capital to learn how to prevent and treat cholera in ourselves and how to inform our community of the same. The biggest problem is that, as if Dominican-Haitian relations weren't bad enough, Dominicans are calling cholera the "Haitian disease" and are now even more apt to disengage from any contact with Haitians in the DR as they think they can get cholera from them (which they can't, unless they wipe up and consume an infected person's feces...unlikely?).
So the next consolidation occurred this past Tuesday. My region (the southwest) is consolidated in San Juan (about 20 minutes from my site) at Hotel Maguana (no pool but very good food and hot showers) for the supposedly oncoming Hurricane Thomas. Now, on Day 3 out here, there has been very vague amounts of drizzling and a few clouds. And here we are, not allowed to leave the hotel, with all the Dominicans going on with their lives outside in the city of San Juan. Really, I make it sound more tragic than it is, being that we're a group fun charming people and we have hot water showers, decent free food, and speedy Internet. But I'm just saying, we better at least get some churning winds and good-sized droplets going on before we disperse so I can feel like I canceled all of my classes for the week with some sort of purpose or reasoning. People here are starting to get cabin fever. Headstand contests, push-up contests, and discussions about life's deep questions like why Cliff shops online for dresses have plagued our everyday lives. But we will endure. We're rough-em-tough-em Peace Corps volunteers. An evangelical concert is just starting right now in the outdoor concert venue next to the hotel. It feels just like I'm back home in my community. In fact, I bet you half of my town is there right now. Perhaps I should go mingle...

Friday, October 22, 2010

The soccer team's new uniforms

Sosua Photos

Playa Chiquita in Sosua.

Masa enjoying the beach and the immense heat.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chicken Caesar Wraps and Caramel Frappuccinos

This past weekend I headed north, way north. I went to collect some soccer uniforms and equipment I was able to get donated to my community soccer team, and along the way I stopped to visit a few volunteers. First I hit the town of Moca (in the province of Espaillat), which is the largest town near Heather and Sabrina. Moca is really freaking nice. They have a delicious bakery and a really cool coffee shop that has coffee drinks, smoothies, and cocktails. I had a mind-blowing caramel frappuccino (at first I was deterred by the word frappuccino, since I’ve never had such things back in the States, but it was a verrrry good choice). I stayed the night at Heather’s house in Juan Lopez. She’s got a cute, 2-bedroom place, which she JUST bought a stove for. I thought I lived on peanut butter sandwiches, but I have nothing on her.

Next, I headed up to Jimao, where Masa resides. He lives in a sweet 2-bedroom, second-floor apartment with real-life windows. His town’s got a really pretty (and clean) river that runs through it. It’s a hoppin place. After a quick 2nd breakfast of boiled bananas and eggs at his host-moms, we headed up to Sosua, a beachtown up in the Puerto Plata province (pictures to come), where my uniforms were waiting. After some time walking around town, chilling on the beach (water so clear, I took various photos of my feet), and a Stateside-eque meal at Britannia Pub (Chicken Caesar wrap and chocolate milkshake), we collected not one, but two large duffel bags full of stuff for the soccer team! Thanks to Admiral Soccer for the generous donation. That night we went to Masa’s “sports week”, a sort of patronales. We rode the “death swings” and got hotdogs on a stick with mayo squirted all over it. Back to DR cuisine.

After the 8-hour trip with my various bags, I arrived home Monday night to find that my house is finally getting bars on the windows. 3 weeks after the incident (someone tried to break into my house through a shuttered window while I was trying to get my beauty rest), they have finally started working to put protective metal bars on the windows and around the entire patio. Very exciting stuff.

Exhausting but great weekend. And when I showed the captain of the soccer team the stuff, he started to cry. First big win down here in the DR! Now back to giving classes and forming youth groups, the usual stuff of my life.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bola-ing 101

This past weekend I went to Los Rios, where Sarah (an enviro volunteer) lives. There was a group of about 14 of us there to celebrate her community’s fiestas patronales (saint’s festival). Sarah lives to the south of me, however as public transportation-worthy highways are scarce in the southwest region of the DR, I traveled about an hour to the east, then an hour south, then back toward the west to get to her.

The fiesta was a delightful time and there was even a small Ferris wheel to ride! In true Dominican style, having none of those awful “safety” regulations to follow, they spun that Ferris wheel round and round as fast as they could, making it more of a roller coaster than a Ferris wheel. I’m siding with the Dominicans on this one—I love me a good Jersey shore Ferris wheel but the Dominicans know how to do it best—más rapido! However, the feeling of absolute freeing abandonment is somewhat tapered down by the thought that, at any moment, the rust that has been corroding this old not-taken-care-of Ferris wheel could send your Ferris wheel seat flying out into the starry night. At least my last Ferris wheel ride would have been amazing.

So Sunday, Elise (an enviro volunteer who kind of lives near me) and I decided to hell with going all the way back east to get up to our sites. We’d gotten word that there was a new highway being constructed with a more direct route to San Juan. Unfortunately, it was questionable as to whether it was actually finished or not, and we were told that there was no public transportation there. However, being stubbornly adventurous Peace Corps volunteers who would just about sell our souls to save 5 pesos, we headed for the entrance to this highway. For those geographically capable readers, we arrived to this highway entrance via a guagua (minivan/bus) to Neyba, then a bola to Batey 2. Sidenote: A bola means “free ride.” It’s the equivalent of hitchhiking in the States, but much less taboo here in the DR. It is also the one activity in this country that is somewhat easier for women to accomplish as we not only look less threatening, but perhaps if the bola-giver is lucky enough, he might mangar a visa to the U.S. Yeah, okay.

So we arrive unscathed at the entrance to the carreterra nueva. I wish I had had my camera so I could show you fine folks a picture. I’ve been to many a place in this country and elsewhere that seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but this highway, the way it stretched back into the mountains, the way it had nothing but sugarcane fields in every immediate direction, the way there were no cars or shade-bearing trees anywhere in sight. This, I was sure, was the actual physical center point of “nowhere.” While it would have been smart at this point to give up on our dream of riding the carreterra nueva and continue on to the usual eastward route, we decided to stick it out. So we started walking. If there had been a helicopter with a camera crew above us filming, we could have made this into an opening scene for some sort of film—horror, adventure, the possibilities are endless.

To shorten this up a bit, we eventually caught a bola with an 18-wheeler headed for Vallejuelo. We made such good friends with Bobby and Hansel (yes, these were their authentic Dominican-given names), that we detoured from San Juan to go have lunch at Bobby’s family’s house (where I ate goat for the first time) and then got a bola to San Juan in some sort of PT Cruiser-esque vehicle driven by a guy who I’m pretty sure is the Haitian James Earl Jones (every time he spoke, I thought of Bell Atlantic).

To end this story, I’d like to inform all of you that our trip (which was meant to be a shortcut) ended up taking 5 ½ hours. The other way—the one that goes all the way east, then back west, takes about 3 hours. However, the extra time was completely worth the beautiful mountain views, the free meal, the 200 pesos saved, and the fact that we can now claim to have ridden on the carreterra nueva (which I have already boasted about to at least half my town). All in all, a successful experience.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Getting ready to fry up some "rulo" in the dark...

“Is that a microwave?!”

So let me tell you a little story about life in Peace Corps Africa. I know, you say, I’m not in Peace Corps Africa. And you would be very correct. But, let’s start here: When I find myself complaining about stuff here (the fleeting electricity, the cold bucket baths, the dirt that falls down from my tin roof, etc., etc.), I like to say—well, could be worse, I could be out in Africa. Not that I wouldn’t have loved being out in Africa. Let’s be honest, I was a little wah, wah when I found out I was going to the DR, what good would I be in the country of the famous Punta Cana spring break? But when things get tedious out here, when I’m sitting around on a Wednesday night doing nothing by candlelight trying to catch a breeze through my slatted windows (I know, could I sound any more destitute?), I say—at least I’m not in Africa.

So fast forward: My friend Andrea (who I haven’t seen in 5 years, since our big round-the-world Semester at Sea trip) comes to visit. She’s doing this amazing thing called JetBlue’s All You Can Jet. She paid 500 bucks and can fly anywhere in the U.S. for free and parts of the Caribbean/Central America/South America for only the international taxes. Awesome, right? So Andrea’s got this family friend who happens to be doing Peace Corps Namibia right now. She left in March as well. Andrea’s mom has been keeping me updated with a few stories about this chica and up until now I couldn’t say I envied her.

Well, recently, Andrea and I decided to check out this girl on facebook, Andrea said she thought there was a picture of where she lived on there (and that it was a “pretty decent place”). We find this photo, and…ummm…this place is nicer than the townhouse I lived in at college! Part of it has hardwood floors, she’s got like Pier 1 light fixtures, an oven AND a microwave, 24-hour electricity, HOT running water, Ikea-looking furniture. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has air-conditioning. While I am sure this is not how everyone in Peace Corps Namibia lives, I will no longer say—at least I’m not in Africa. And I do feel better about the fact that I’m in the DR. We may have Punta Cana, but at least I’m overcoming arbitrary life challenges like doing nothing by candlelight on a Wednesday night and trying to catch a breeze through my slatted windows.

So on to important things…how to replace my old, decayed mantra of not being in Africa? I will now say—well, could be worse, at least I’m not Cliff. Cliff is an environmental volunteer (gotta love those enviros) here in my region of the DR. Cliff has NO electricity. Cliff has to hike over a 2-hour hill just to get into his site. Cliff grows his own food. So now, when I am annoyed that I have to sweep random debris from my bathroom floor for the 3rd time today, I will sit back, take a deep breath, and say: At least I’m not Cliff.