Sunday, April 28, 2013

Less than a Week

Hello Readers

Feeling a bit in two directions today. For one, I do not really want to leave Monte Plata. I have enjoyed my time here very much, and I love hanging out with Las Chicas. I have my own band of motorcycle drivers who have been trained not to bother me with Americanas!! and instead leave me in peace when I walk past them. In short, everything here is as I hope it will be a month into my own site.

However, since I do have to leave, I kind of cannot wait until I do. You see, I've done all this work getting settled in and loving a pueblo, only to have to leave it all behind me in another week. Once I get to my real site, I will be able to do all this again, except I have to start from square one. I am very glad to have had this chance to learn *how* but yeah, now that it's almost done I just want to get on with my life here in the Dominican Republic.

The one thing I do not want to do is go back to Santo Domingo. I DO NOT like Santo Domingo. It is a dreadful, dreary, miserly place filled with traffic and noise and smells and crazy people who drive like maniacs and guaguas packed with three layers of humanity. I so much prefer the rest of the country.

In one week and one day, I will know exactly where I am going. It is going to be a bit of a surprise where, since I absolutely do not wish to know that information until I receive it, but I am so eager to know. Sometimes I wonder if this is how it is when a person has a baby. Oh yes, I want to know what gender the baby is going to be, but oh how I long for the surprise! Not like I'll know. Somehow I do not see myself being the sort of person to settle down and raise a family. It's just not in my genes. I am Jean Luc Picard. My brother is Luis Picard.

For now, this adventure in the Peace Corps is all I could ask of it. And as long as I am here, I am going to branch out a bit from my usual personal thing for a bit of a political one. I know this is a controversial subject but I will not make any non-objective statements about it, just going to paste the link and let people read.

Rape is a problem in the Peace Corps. There's usually a case or two in the Dominican Republic each year. If a woman gets pregnant she basically is kicked out of the Peace Corps because "it is not medically feasible" to keep her in service. Just going to make that statement and leave the rest alone.

I won't leave you on this sad note however. I will leave you on a much happier one. At this moment there are four gals on the bed counting me and three of them are staring curiously at this blog because it is all in English and they only know a bit of that language. For them, however.


They understand.

Roman Wolf

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Hello Readers

A short update tonight because I am really in need of some beauty sleep. Last few days have been gruelling and I do not see them becoming more relaxing for three more weeks.

On Monday the Meriño group gave a group of twelve teachers a presentation on how to create, communicate, and implement a more effective system of rules in the classroom. I am in a group of very fluent Spanish speakers, and am the only one with lower than required Spanish, so I felt like the gloomy casual runner trying to keep pace with Usain Bolt and other world-class Olympians.

Despite that blow to my morale, I feel I did a very nice job on my speech. I just decided to work strictly within my abilities and not do a thing to veer away from what I knew I could do. So, I had my entire speech written out on a couple pieces of paper and memorized the whole thing. Then I could look up and give a very nice presentation, but still be able to check every now and then to make sure I was going to say the correct conjugation of a given verb, or get all the syllables into the ever-gory imperfect tense of a nosotros. Demonstrábamos. Most of Spanish is easier than German, but every now and then there is a word so long after it gets conjugated that I might as well be speaking in German again.

The good news was that after our presentation, the teachers were very motivated to create the chart we made for classrooms. Students can each have a little clothespin and they can move up or down the chart, and if all the students are on the "bien" side at the end of the day, there can be class-wide rewards. It is very neat and efficient and the teachers seemed to love it.

Today I went to watch another group give their presentation. They did a great job too. We are all going to be very effective and engaging volunteers once we've had our three months to settle into our communities, drink the coffee with gobs of sugar or tea (since I really do dislike the taste of coffee and can only endure it when I have it with too much sugar), and blather. I really want to have all the speaking practice I can get for those three months. I'll just need to befriend some children and their Doñas. Then I can speak in Spanish all day long and maybe within a month or two I'll be able to do it without feeling like my brain has melted by the end of the day.

Almost done with my Bob Marley tunes. I think I will sign off and get some sleep. Adios Amigos!!

The Dominican Wolf

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Tantalizing

Hi Readers

Not a whole lot more to report over last week. It went by in a total blur and now somehow it is Saturday already and I am about to start a brand new week in Monte Plata.

The highlight probably was visiting with the business volunteers at a really sweet hotel. I now know the cry of the peacock, and probably the only thing I like less is the crowing of a rooster. It sounds like a baby yowling while its feet are being burned off. Not like I know that particular sound from experience, but if one had to imagine the noise, that would be about it.

There were also cows, horses, geese, and a donkey around the hotel. Very amusing, but that is how Monte Plata is. Think South Dakota. Farm, Farm, Farm, Town. Farm. Farm. (Hotel) Farm. I enjoyed seeing everyone again from the other group. It was a great reunion, even if it came at the price of having to listen to a full day of very serious and rather depressing topics, like sexual assault and how to handle someone breaking their neck on Pico Duarte.

My poor brain hates Saturdays because they are my Speak Only in Spanish Days, as are Sundays. Unfortunately, I am just going to have to get used to them because in three weeks every day will be Speak Only in Spanish day. For two years. It's a bit like being told, here's a lake, start swimming, good, now cross the English channel.

My only consolation is at least I can communicate. Oftentimes for formal things like the workshop my group is giving to the teachers on Monday, I need to have and memorize a speech so I can say the words correctly and in the right tense, but once I have written and corrected that speech, and had somebody with more Spanish look at it, then all is well. Here it is a Spanish professor, in my community I'll just ask my Dona or my Key Community Contact to take a look at it. Good way of sharing ideas as well, since we are always supposed to do that. In the even more Peace Corps build local capacity style, I would not even speak more than a few words, my Key Community Contact would handle the rest. Hehehe.

On Monday, I will be giving a portion of a formal presentation on how to design, communicate, and use effective classroom rules. My portion is communicating the rules. For the purpose of this activity, and since none of the teachers will know me, I am compositing every teacher I have ever seen communicate rules into me. And describing "my" experiences in Spanish. For reasons like this I really hope that I get the post that has been hinted at for me. I won't be expected, at least as much, to come in and teach teachers how to teach because I really have no qualifications to come in and teach a teacher how to teach.

And if a teacher asks me for help in how to teach, since that will not be my primary role, I won't lose nearly as much face if I come out right away and say sure, I'm not a teacher in the United States, but I worked in a school and I at least saw a lot of teaching practices there.

I know people are probably wondering what I keep hinting at, and I have told a few people, but I am refraining from making any grand announcements before I know for certain, in case it is totally different, because then I will have fewer people I need to correct. Besides, I am scared of getting my hopes up for this particular project. I want it that badly, but as long as I keep it rather quiet, and keep reminding myself that it is only a hint that I practically begged my boss to give to me, then I will be less disappointed if I get something else. But I have a feeling it will be mine. After all, passion counts for almost everything in a volunteer and I can feel my passion for this assignment already, and the ways to make it happen, so there is no reason for me not to be assigned there. And my boss knows how much I want it. I was too eager to control my body language that afternoon. Haha. Dancing in place. I was so happy.

 Trust me, it is hard to keep this quiet. But it will be much better if I make the announcement all at once.

Tonight is a Chica Night. The girls are all over, including their Swiss friend, and one of my volunteer friends is coming over. Should be enjoyable. I'll post again soon, my pack.

The Dominican Wolf

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Fortnight In

Dear Readers

I have now been in Monte Plata for nearly two weeks, as of tomorrow morning. I don't want to leave. I love my host family, I have befriended Swiss people and get to speak in German, and there is a totally amazing baseball field where I can go walking or running at leisure. The barrio in Santo Domingo felt like a prison, this pueblo feels like paradise.

I've even befriended a group of motorcycle drivers based on my stunning blonde looks. It's rather an amusing story. There's a pack of them under some trees about a block from my house. I imagine it is rather boring sitting there under that tree day after day, waiting for a fare, and at first, I provided a source of amusement--an Americana walking by. Whoo hoo! AMERICANA!!!

Then, last Thursday, I proved to be more than just a bit of rubia, I came up to them and announced that I was going to Merino, (my school here) while holding a motorcycle helmet. I have often wondered just what I looked like to them, because there was a second or two when they all just stared, before one came forward to claim me for a passenger. I doubt there was any confusion on my accent because I'd rehearsed that phrase over and over before stating it aloud.

Today, I walked past, and one driver pointed me out to the one who'd driven me on Thursday and he was ready to take me wherever I wished to go. Of course, I was on my way home and did not have my helmet so I had to disappoint him, but told them that I was going to need a ride on Tuesday and Thursday. Word is already spreading, I heard him repeating it to the others as soon as I walked away. I was trying not to laugh because the ways of the moto drivers are a very useful thing to learn. There seem to be two things which truly interest them--a 25 peso fare, or something diverting, but the fare is the most important.

In other words, be nice to the blonde women who pay you.

In a month and a day, I swear in as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I will head off to a site, where I will build on all the things I have learned here and live with the results for two years. So I am glad to be doing so well on the mere practice, but it is strange, because we are practicing building the groundwork for two years worth of networking when we are only here for five weeks. In some regards, I don't care. If I am in the vicinity of Monte Plata, ever, I am calling up my family here and visiting them.

My Spanish is still progressing. I feel I have advanced more than half a level in the past five weeks, but my tester felt otherwise, so I am only at at 4.5 and need to reach a 5 by the end of training. Rather frustrating since by a more lenient standard of testing I could have been graded at a 6 (I misconjugated a few irregular preterit verbs and might have used the wrong form of the past tense once or twice, so really, that took me from a 6 to a 4.5??????) but oh well. I am simply trying harder. I have decided, since my host dad always greets me with a dime (DeeMay/Talk to me), I am simply going to take him literally once in awhile and describe my morning using the preterit and imperfect forms of the past tense, in addition to as much daily practice as I can squeeze in elsewhere. So ha, Spanish, I am totally going to rock you in five more weeks. Not to mention I am totally going to master those crazy indirect object pronouns. I've been inserting them deliberately into sentences all weekend. Rather fun, and it does make me sound more Dominican, since Dominican Spanish is all about keeping it short. Give it to me. DaMeLa!


Roman Wolf

Monday, April 8, 2013

I've lost a leg, but don't worry, I've got this

Hello Readers

No, I have not really lost a leg. Both legs are just fine. The title is just an illustration of the different attitudes towards sickness that I've seen since my gluten reaction.

First, the story. Saturday, my host mom offered me the promised meat that is not chicken, because I told her that I will eat anything that is not bread based and she wanted me to be more specific because she wants me happy, not just satisfied. So I asked for something with carnes, hamburger, and she made me meatballs with my plateful of white rice. My first thought was, aren't meatballs normally made with wheat? Then I figured, oh well, I can trust her, she understands, she would never feed me wheat.

Well, I ate the meatballs and rice and am loving this like crazy, because it's not chicken, when suddenly she comes up to me, all worried, and says that she forgot, she mixed wheat with my meatballs. Oh dear, I think, now I'm going to get sick, why the heck didn't I ask about the meatballs? She was very worried, I dug out my dictionary to explain all the symptoms in the correct Spanish, and she and my host dad tell me that if I lose consciousness, they will take me to the hospital and call my trainer and all that.

I never lost consciousness, I was just dizzy for a day, but then starting yesterday I have had really severe pains in my stomach. At first I thought this was a consequence of the pig hoof I ate yesterday, but by today I was suspecting the wheat because I had other symptoms of a continued gluten reaction, like hypersensitivity to the smell of gluten. In sum, I then called the Peace Corps medical office, was told some meds to buy, the foods to eat, and shared that info with my host mom, who went out and bought the cassava bread and jello for me and even bought me an apple and some apple juice because she knows I like them. Super awesome of her, is it any wonder I love her after just a week?

After my first technical presentation this afternoon, I came home, took my meds, and ended up falling asleep. About eight o'clock my host mom knocks on the door and wakes me up. My trainer is at our house and wants to talk to me. I am a little confused, why exactly is my trainer here? Dang it, I was sleeping! Turns out she heard from my Spanish professor that I am sick and wanted to make sure I was okay, and to ask why I had not explained to her what was bothering me. That had never occurred to me. But she genuinely wanted to know if I trusted her enough to tell her something like that, and I assured her that I did, so she was happy. She and my host mom started gabbing in Spanish about what I needed, and everyone is so concerned about me and making sure I am alright.

Back, then, to the title. You see, I am used to being responsible for my own health. Yes, I am sad because I always have to give away my cookies when we win prizes for things during training, but it is what it is. I do not feel that things need to change solely to accommodate me. Yet, my trainer felt badly because I was not being included and she offered to buy me food when she goes back to the capitol because that's where the gluten free food is. I was like, yes, but I was just going all natural, and they are like, not necessary. You can still eat the food, because you like pancakes, yes? Of course I like pancakes.

And maybe I just did not expect any of this because during the application process, the situation with my gluten intolerance was phrased more like, "What would you do, eat gluten or offend your host family by refusing food?" and I was always like, huh? How can I choose between being sick and offending my host family? I could not even answer that question. Now, here I am, in the Peace Corps, and that is so far from being an issue. Deeply, deeply grateful that it is the case.

This is now the second day I have not used my journal but I am going to go to bed without writing in it. This story will suffice for the record, and I wish to share it. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Reflections sobre un caminar

Hello Readers

In the past five days, I have seen firsthand what I am going up against in the next two years, or at least a snapshot thereof. I've seen a student crying because he literally could not read and was absolutely terrified of school. I've seen another student unable to write a word down after it was spoken but who had managed to memorized the order, or the appearance, or something, of those same words when he saw them on a piece of paper. I've seen a teacher who clearly wanted to do something about these problems she faced and who wanted me to do something about them or help her. (despite the fact that I barely understood a word she was saying, only the gist, which I do not think I misinterpreted).

The DR is, on the whole, a wonderful place. I just finished taking a walk around my new Pueblo and now that I am not in the city, I can walk with only smiles and the occasional English come-on from a tiguere out to practice his lady charming or the occasional whistle/cat call. Not a single rubia, and there were days in Santo Domingo when I got to five rubias on a single walk. Rubia, for those who do not know Spanish, essentially means blonde chick, and the tigueres (a breed of young male which hangs out on street corners causing low-level mischief, rides motors, and looks for females with near-obessive levels of compulsion) love to shout it at me. When they are not hissing, whistling, or saying some things I prefer not to translate. I've learned "ni esquierda, ni derecho" which means neither left nor right, referring to the need to stare straight ahead and not pay the slightest bit of attention to what's being said of me in either direction.

However, here in the Pueblo, it hasn't happened nearly as much as it did in the barrios and capitol. I love that.

Instead of being harassed, I have other interesting experiences. Just this evening I was out on a stroll and studying the neighborhood, when I first encountered a woman who I'd met earlier in the day, we chatted a bit as we walked and then parted. A few minutes later I was walking down the street when I saw a group of people waving at me. One of them, a woman, looked American and I did not think I knew them, but they acted as if they knew me. So I went up and introduced myself and said I was with the Peace Corps and the older man, who was the American-ish woman's uncle, said I was always welcome at his house. They'd have me there yet chatting but I did not feel up to that with total strangers this particular night so I apologized and said my Dona was cooking supper so I needed to return home.

A bit of a lie, but also the most culturally appropriate one I could think of. To refuse outright would have been rude, but by putting my family relationships first I established myself as a nice young woman who could not imagine hurting her Dona's feelings. IE: a good person. However, as I was walking away I thought a bit harder and I am almost positive I have never met any of those people before. I was simply a stranger walking down the street they'd summoned over to say hello to, and I did the same thing without even thinking about it. I just crossed the street and stood on their porch and visited with them for a couple minutes.

If there is one thing I love about the Dominican Republic, it is that relaxed attitude about meeting people. People just sit on their porches and visit with anyone who happens to come near to them. It is really cool and something we in the United States should do more of. Except in winter of course. In winter it is just too blasted cold.

Another new thing about the Dominican Republic. On my walk I happened to pass down a new street and saw two cows chewing on grass in a vacant lot. This is campo, I thought. Then I thought again of how I might like a cow, except they are too big. I'd love to have fresh milk again though, hence the desire for a goat.

With that cheerful note I will sign off. Tomorrow I am going to visit my host mom's family. They live outside of the town, by a forest and a river near a lot of cows. Or maybe her family has cows. Either way, tomorrow I will see more cows. Should be a great time. Apparently there is a lot of space to play games there. I'd be happy about that, especially since I did not get to go to the farm with my family last weekend over Easter.

Todos buenos,


Monday, April 1, 2013


Seems that back home this is April Fools' Day. Hm. Never really gave a thought to it until now.

Today I moved to Monte Plata, and I am practicing community integration and diagnostic approaches. All that is still overwhelming but we haven't really started learning how, only the what. And the what is sheer madness. I really hit the jackpot here with my new host family. Running water in the bathroom, including the shower, internet wifi, and an indoor toilet. Stunning how three simple things feel like I am basking in the luxury.

Also, I seem to have landed in a hothouse of Twins fandom. The oldest brother in this new family lives in Minnesota and is a big fan of the Minnesota Twins. I also saw a car today with the TC logo on the back windshield. Makes me wish I'd brought my Twins hat but I just had so much STUFF to pack for five weeks that I didn't feel like adding another thing on my head. Plus, I was not sure if I would have to wear my helmet to get down the stairs at the SD house. I didn't, but only because the brother-in-law carried my suitcase down those rickedy, narrow metal stairs for me. Had I worn my helmet, it may well have saved my life after tripping. Fortunately, I did not trip, as I had enough hands and arms for all my remaining bags.

As for adjusting, I feel like I am on the verge of being used to this sort of thing. My Spanish is a lot stronger than it was just three weeks ago. I can hold a conversation, discuss things, and make requests for important stuff like recharging my minutes on a cell phone. The local colmado owner saw me a bit later and said that I should always go to his store for my minutes. Guess he likes having repeat customers, but who wouldn't?

And culturally, I am getting more used to the whole "Hi, I'm going to be living with you now" thing. It's always a bit weird, and definitely does not feel quite "real" yet. The human brain is a marvel of adaptability but even the sharpest mind takes some getting acclimated when one is dumped from one country, to another, from one family, to another, to another, to the second, and then to a third.

Tonight, I am simply exhausted. May have to go to bed really early. Good luck, Twins, on your first game. I'll check the score on and then I may hang with the fam for a bit before calling it a night. Even now my Spanish still falls off when I am tired, but it improves when I drink energy drinks. I learned that last night. However, the improvement in Spanish comes at the cost of a night's sleep, so I think I'd rather study up and expand my speaking skills the hard way.

The Dominican Wolf