Monday, March 25, 2013

Horses, Bikes and Goats

Dear Readers

As those who follow my facebook know, I recently returned from a trip into the Dominican heartland, a region known as the Cibao. There are some really amazing mountains, rich volcanically fertile areas, and is very, very green. Those who know me well know I go gaga for green vistas. And pine trees. Most of the trees are Caribbean pines. So that was all to my liking.

My volunteer knew so many people in her community! I could hardly believe it. We'd walk down the street for some eggs and be greeting people every few feet. I was able to practice lots of hello, how are you, nice to meet you Spanish. Also, I have now had the experience of riding a motoconcho while carrying a small bag of groceries in one hand and a lemonade in the other. Yes, Peace Corps, I was also wearing my helmet, thank you for asking.

You may be wondering why my post is titled Horses, Bikes and Goats. Well, this is also a consequence of my visit into the Cibao. You see, there are lots of horses, ponies, cows, and other livestock in the campo. And that got me started on some thoughts about buying an animal during my service. I'd only be able to afford one.

A goat would be great because then I could have a reliable source of milk, and they eat just about anything so they are fairly easy to care for. You can even eat them if meat becomes scarce but I do not know if my carnivorous attitudes are strong enough to overcome the human aversion to eating those things one has become familiar with. I'd rather keep my nanny goat alive and drink its milk so I don't have to use the condensed milk things people buy in stores. So those are the reasons I'd buy a goat.

A bike is not an animal but I tend to treat them like pets. A bike is a form of exercise, of transportation, and are just plain fun to have around. Unfortunately, one cannot talk to a bike, or pet a bike without looking strange, and if I were trying to travel up and down the mountains, that would be a lot of work on a Dominican road with a bike. The upside is I only have to keep the bike running and I don't have to feed it. Plus I'm a bike fiend.

The alternative to a bike is a horse. Here my eagerness outweighs my obvious doubts. If I am in a post where a horse will serve me better for transport than a bike, then if I can get a horse, I will. I've pretty much decided that I want to learn how to own and take care of a horse because I really like horses and this may be the one chance in my life where I can actually have one of my own. There's a learning curve and a lot of expenses associated with a horse, but I also WILL OWN A FREAKING HORSE!!!!!!!! This is actually a possibility in the DR because a lot of the more mountainous and remote regions are best reached on a horse or mule, if, like a PC Volunteer, cars are forbidden. If not a horse, I'd also be willing to buy a mule but probably not a donkey. I don't really like donkeys. They bray too much.

During my first interview I told my section leader that I'd kind of like to own a horse. Or a bike. She's considering all factors when placing us so now that I've said that I might set in motion a situation where I'd actually own a horse. At least I have a pretty good idea of how much work a horse would be. They eat a lot and they poop a lot, but if I garden then I'd have a good use for the manure, along with my own compost.

The pet I want most is my campo dog, which I will totally adopt no matter what else I do, so long as I can find one to love me back. Food I guess works well when adopting a campo dog because they choose us as much as we choose them. Just like the olden days when humans tamed wolves. Here, wolf. Meat. Eat. Hunt with me. Good wolf. Growl at strangers.

Campo dogs are good for female volunteers who like to exercise because they provide a degree of protection against dangerous people. Unfortunately, like my volunteer's dog, they can also be hurt by other dogs, and that is terrifying. Yet, such an attacking dog could also attack me, and dog on dog is slightly more even than dog on human, so...horribly...that may also be an advantage for me. I just wish I had the power to transform into a wolf in a situation like that so I could tear the attacking animal apart with my bare fangs. Certainly wished that when that nasty poodle bit my Dukie boy back in Minnesota.

Tis getting late and I should be taking my repose. Fare thee well, friends of the states (and of the RD!)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Un dia en la vida Cuerpo

A day in the life of a Corps (PCT)

PCT, by the way, is Peace Corps training.

I rise a little before 7am, bathe a bit if I didn't the night before (it really depends on anything from whether or not we have water in the giant tub bucket to if I fall asleep before I manage to feel like washing) and then my Dona (she's awesome) feeds me breakfast. Usually breakfast is a heaping pile of root vegetables, combined with either queso (cheese) or sausages, and sometimes two boiled eggs, with a side of banana. Some days the root vegetables are replaced by four bananas, of which I can eat two.

Apparently it's a common competition among the Donas to see whose volunteer gets the fattest, or so the rumor goes. Because I am so thin, I am a prime opportunity for my Dona to win and she genuinely wants to see me gain weight. Reminds of me of my own Mom back home. Love you too Mom!

Anyway, after breakfast, I brush my teeth and hope that the water is running in the sink. Usually it is but for the last two mornings I have had to improvise with the shower bucket. Nobody should ever join the PC unless they are prepared to be totally flexible on their water situation. If you cannot be flexible in your water situation, find some other way to make a difference in the world. But really, it's less bad than the stereotype goes, and most of the people on Earth live this way, not the American way.

Then I gather up my bag, tell everyone hasta luega, and go to the Peace Corps Pantoja training center. I am very lucky because it is very close to my house. I literally just walk past my local comodo (corner store) through a group of school children dressed in blue and tan uniforms, and on the other side of the school is the training center. I greet our guards with a buen dia, and start my day.

We have morning training sessions, which can be language but more often are related to Peace Corps, Sector training, or Medical Information. My sector is Education. I'll be working on literacy in Spanish, but during my technical interview this afternoon I basically learned it is a lot like the earliest Reading Corps work, except I have to make Spanish sounds, not English sounds. Compared to holding a conversation with my host family or the Primo (cousin) who works at the pizza place next door, it is muy facil. (easy).

Then we have lunch (usually rice and a meat dish) and after lunch is usually three hours or so of Spanish training. We both study Spanish and learn about Dominican culture in Spanish. All the classes are held in gazebos outside, so sometimes we feel a cool breeze but just as often we are stifling in what my teacher assures me is the cool of a Dominican winter. All I can say there is that I prefer the cool of a Dominican winter to the deep chill of a Minnesotan one, but I can hardly wait to find out just what a hot Dominican summer entails if 80-90 degrees is the cold season.

After classes esta terminando a la 4:30 (finish at 4:30) I usually hang out with the other boluntarios (trainees/volunteers) until 6:30 and just have to be home before dark, which is around 7:00. We visit comodos and play cards, or dominos, or just hang and enjoy our last bit of Spanglish conversation before going home and speaking nothing but Spanish until bed.

When I get home, my younger host brother, who is four, throws his arms around my legs and hugs me and I call hallo to everyone and explain how my day went in Spanish. Ever since I bought a guitar yesterday the next thing that happens is my older host brother begs me to get out my guitar so we can play. He is eight. I spend some time with the family until I am fed supper, which is usually more rice and meat and root vegetables, then I spend more time with my Dominican family, and do homework, and journal. I am keeping a paper journal documenting my time here. I also have a private journal, a notebook if I feel like writing stories, email my family back home, blog, and post to facebook, then I go to bed by 10:30 when I can no longer keep my eyes open. Once in awhile I try talking to my family later in the night but usually by a little after nine-thirty I no longer have the mental or physical energy to handle Spanish, so I just retreat to my room for a little r & r in ingles. (English).

Then I wake the next morning and it all starts again.

So yeah, just wanted to post this so you can have an idea of what things are really like, on those days I feel like bragging. I'm mostly just bragging because all this hard work has to have rewards, or I'd never be able to endure the grind.

The Dominican Wolf

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy Saint Paddy's Day

Hello Readers

I hope this blog post finds you all doing well. Just wanted to give another little update. So far, my Spanish is improving. I am able to string several sentences together when talking, and this morning I did so with only one hand gesture to substitute a word! Understanding people is still "una lucha" but I am trying to listen hard to my host family, even if I don't understand their words, just in case it helps my brain differentiate between Spanish words in the long run. That's the way babies learn and if I have to behave like my sobrino, Zach, so be it. Happy 5 month birthday Zachy! I tried to send a message to your parents on the 15th but I don't know if they passed it on to you or not, so I'll make my well wishes public.

In other news, I've learned how to sled Dominican Style. Those palm fronds are tough little suckers to break apart. I always thought they would be flimsy like a leaf but breaking one off was like trying to fold a really thin bit of wood. Wish I'd brought my knife to the park but that was the last thing I thought to pack. Guess I'll know for next time. Not like my little pocket knife would help much but it would work better than a rock.

I hope that video is good to go. Might be a bit grainy because it was filmed with my Dona's phone. The point, however, is to provide videographical proof that I know how to slide down a hill on a palm frond. The word for palm frond, for those interested in the linguistics, is jaguacil. Don't know if I spelled it right but that is how I saved it to my Peace Corps cell phone.

This afternoon I'm going on a tour of the colonial zone with a local historian who provides tours to Peace Corps groups. I'm meeting up with some of the other trainees around noon and we are taking a guagua downtown. For those unfamiliar with a guagua, imagine a very old, very shabby little bus, pack it to the rafters with humanity, and you have an approximate idea. I swear either they or carro publicos are the reason behind the Dominicana's insistence on personal cleanliness.

Monday, March 11, 2013

First Impressions

Dear Readers

I am writing this to you from a mesita in my room at my Dominican family's house. Contrary to what I wrote last night, only now am I actually writing in this blog. Dominican time, not American time, as the sayings go.

It's all very interesting right now, and I can hardly summarize everything in a single few paragraphs. I've gone from being an intelligent and fairly articulate person to a person who staggers and struggles to explain the need to buy a water bottle. A lot of my host family's conversations fly by my head without entering my brain, and I have to have things repeated a lot, because they talk very fast. I'll forever remember to speak slowly to immigrants because those people who do, I LOVE!!!

And yet, I am also getting fairly good at the bachata, I can maringue like a 23 year old Americana semi-pro, and every morning I wake up to the cry of the family rooster. I think, on the whole, the linguistic trade-off is a good one. And really, it's not that bad. I'm about in the middle of the pack, skill-wise, when it comes to my Spanish and I've entered with the minimum level of skill we need to reach by the three month mark or we're out, so technically, I am starting at the requirement and improving, not striving to learn enough to do the work and improving on the job.

My host mom is very determined, like many Dominican host moms, to see me gain weight during my stay here. Therefore I am fed and fed, and fed. This is also normal, but a very different sort of normal than the American one. Fat is good. I am "muy flaca", which means very skinny, which is not so good, but I told my host mom today that I am getting fatter and she was very happy. We laughed.

On a more serious note, I've been putting a lot of thought to how much we are getting paid as trainees, and it is rather intriguing that I am being paid roughly two dollars a day, and yet because I am treated to all my food and housing and live so close to the training center, I feel richer than I did as an AmeriCorps getting paid $800 a month--yet then I see things at the mall which cost nearly as many pesos as my 1,250. For the month. Fortunately Volunteers are paid more than trainees!

Poverty in America is different than poverty here. The expectation in America is so much higher, and nobody expects a person to be truly poor in the richest country on Earth. In the Dominican Republic, the poverty is much harder to look away from, and you cannot avoid it. Yet it has it's rich and it's poor, just like anywhere else. And also tourism, which will probably become a rant at some point in the future when I actually feel the idiocity of entire cities dedicated to people who come in for a blinkered experience, which I don't think I've hit the depths of yet. For now,  it is enough to say that I refuse to wear blinkers. Don the blinkers and you forget that the people you choose not to see are as human as you are. Certainly I would have never learned how wonderful and kind my host family is if I came in for the "Touristica" experience.

Instead of luxury, I am led around by a four year old who seizes my pinky and drags me into the porch so I can play Uno with him ten times a day. I am taught the local dances by my host mom, who understands that I am not really able to talk to her, but am eager to learn as much as I can. And I can translate instructions on the computer games for my older host brother, who is eight and just starting to learn English in school.

Who could possibly choose blinkers over something like that? I know I couldn't. It's worth every bucket bath. When you get used to those they are actually quite fun.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Departure Eve

Just a swift words, my readers. This is my last night in Minnesota. My bags are packed, my backpack stands at the ready, and I am leaving bright and early tomorrow morning. I really hope that everything goes smoothly. There's a snow storm moving through Minnesota tonight, and might complicate things for my 7:30am flight, but my family and I are true Minnesotans, so we are just planning on hitting the road early and giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. Once there, here's hoping no flight delays, or at least very small flight delays, and smooth flying from there.

I'll have a day of orientation in DC, then the next morning we are taking the 6am flight out of DC, bound for Santo Domingo with a layover in Miami. It'll be incommunicado for awhile, but I will do what I can to keep in touch once I'm settled.

More adventures to come--