Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happy Corpus Christi

I actually had no idea there even was such a thing as Corpus Christi until very recently (as in this week) but it appears that today is Corpus Christi. It is a day without work here in the Dominican Republic, so rather than observe in the school and trek up to the main city in Barahona I'm sitting in the house, amusing myself with qualquier cosa and blogging.

For those who are also ignorant, let me share a bit of cultural knowledge. A long time ago, there was a nun who had a vision that there needed to be a day celebrating the Eucharist outside of Lent. She spent the rest of her life campaigning for that day, and after she died, the Pope issued a Bull saying that there should be a feast day of Corpus Christi. That's today. In Catholic countries the world over, today is a very special day. Including my new one.

So, anybody wondering what I've been up to lately?

I've done some pretty intense parent-engagement activities, conducted non-participant observation activities, am planning participant observation activities, and yesterday I learned more details about my primary assignment and ran follow up checks with other members of the committee.

All of which is a fancy way of saying I have climbed a mountain with a parent who was so flattered by the fact that I wanted to take pictures of his chicken farm that he took me up a mountain so I could take more pictures of the mountains and the sea, and have greeted way more people than I have names for (all of whom seem to have my name down pat) and sat in the school watching lessons, and have decided to take up a teacher's repeated offer that I teach his class for an hour, and yesterday I had a meeting with my boss from the Peace Corps and went down to the river later and chatted for a few minutes with a committee member who wasn't there.

Oh, and I've got keys to the library!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, about the assignment. I'll be working this summer on a bit of diagnostic activities, obviously, and also there is a group of girls in eighth grade who'll be aiding me in a tutoring program at the Centro. Yay! And doing other things in the Centro. Small, enjoyable activities, and cleaning it up a touch. There's going to be a clean-up day there with community people. It needs it. Poor place has been shut down since last July, nearly a year by the time anything happens there now.

There's going to be a lot of fundraising plans needed for things. For this, I may need to call in my business volunteer contacts. Hehe. And the community needs to feel more invested in the building. There are always possibilities. And my boss told the committee member showing us the Center how I'd reacted when she told me about the library. He was pleased. I thought it was funny how she remembered that too. It is certainly a moment in my life that I will never forget as long as I live. I wasn't exactly subtle and I wanted it so badly I did not wish to be subtle because I was afraid subtly would be lost. Hence the wide-eyed, desperate begging for the library project. Shameless.

Ah, there went the electricity. Dang. This is the price of paradise.
Dominican Wolf

Friday, May 24, 2013

Adventures of the First Week

Dear Readers

All this week I've made the quick trek up to the school for observations. It's been fun. For one thing, I can speak Teacher in Spanish, so I can actually hold conversations there at an intelligence level above that of a twelve year old obsessed with clouds. Despite that, I cannot understand Dominican Teacher Speak Speed, but at least in the afternoon classes, everyone is very understanding. Yesterday I burst out laughing because over the course of a conversation the only words I had really comprehended were Blood, Leg, and Parasite. They were spaced out enough that they were probably unrelated but taken together they were pretty funny.

Then, of course, everyone is like, what's so funny? And I actually told them so they could laugh too.

And everything I've been told about No Dancing, Be a Nun is complete BS. I've been ordered to get up and dance at the school to prove that I really do know how to dance bachata. Not like in front of crowds or anything but the teacher attitude towards being in the classroom is much more lax here, so frequently my observations entail sitting in a chair, on the sidewalk (sientate! My most common command, it means Sit!) and chatting with teachers, or listening to teachers chat. The other day I was there, and was asked if I really knew bachata, and one of the teachers who had already forced me to prove my bachata dancing prowess said yes, I did, so some music was put over a phone and yep, I got up and danced.

I just tell everyone it is because I am a Dominicana now, not an Americana. People seem to think that is very funny. I survive by laughter. If not for my ability to create humor with my crazy situation and lack of Spanish prowess, I think I'd be miserable. Peace Corps is not easy, not by any means. Day after day of constantly speaking and listening in a language I barely have a handle on, the high expectations the community has of me, (contrasted with my lack of Spanish!!!!) and too many guys surrounding me like lovestruck puppies.

Speaking of lovestruck puppies, I also have a real lovestruck puppy. The family dog follows me to the beach and the river every day now. He won't let me out of his sight. I feel kind of awkward about this because he is not my dog, but everyone asks me if he is. I just enjoy having some company when I take my walks that does not try to speak to me in Spanish.

The other high entertainment I've been experiencing is with my guitarita. That tiny little guitar has won me some friends, and possibly another love-struck male. People are trying to teach me how to sing 24 horas, which is a very romantic and beautiful song by Frank Reyes. That also is cute. Instead I just start singing in English and nobody knows what I am singing about. It is fun, especially when I am feeling frustrated by things I cannot describe in Spanish so I start singing about them in English and people only know to compliment me on my singing, without having the slightest clue what I am really talking about. The best was when I was singing about how I hated bucket showers and my host mom said it was a beautiful song.

What else? Well, what if I were to tell you that I am often given commands like a dog? There is the ever present command, SIT! and then there is Come! And then there is Bath!

And it might amuse people to know that I have been presented to the mayor. It was an odd experience. I told him who I was, what I was doing, then I was given the third degree on how powerful he was and how great he was, and then he told me welcome to Los Patos and I said thank you several times and bolted. With dignity, but I bolted. I can see why people might not like him much.

I think that about covers it. I've now had a full week free of those crazy tigueres and their crazed cat-calls. The only time I am ever bothered is by tourists from other parts of the country and I am learning to recognize them on sight.

Dominican Wolf

Monday, May 20, 2013


Hello Readers

Going to type this fairly quickly because the electricity is out, again, and my computer doesn't have a whole lot of battery power left. Just wanted to update everyone on a few interesting things.

Interesting thing one: the speed of gossip in the Dominican Republic is very impressive. No doubt it is this way in small towns the world over, but this is my first time living in one and experiencing it. This is how I can come back from the river, the day after I explain to my Dona that I have feelings for a guy, and suddenly my project partners are giving me fist pumps because I have a Dominican boyfriend. I never even used the word boyfriend, in fact I carefully avoided the word novio because it is very strong here, but that's how the story is going around the town.

Interesting thing two: I think I've lost my phobia of eating fish with the eyes still attached, or else I was just very hungry this afternoon. I was certainly hungry, and I was tearing into this extremely bony fish that barely had any meat, and got quite excited when I saw a hint of flesh I could eat. I dug and tore at it with my fork and finally exposed this succulent morsal---and it was an eyeball. All I felt was a vague disappointment. I really wanted more fish meat. Maybe one day I will eat an eyeball but that day is not today. Eventually I found the other eye. They were both stuck to the skull.

Interesting thing three: Schools. Ai Ai Ai. There's some very interesting teaching practices here, or maybe I should say there are some very interesting non-teaching practices here. Not to complain, but I will just say that at one point today I ended up leading a class in a bunch of clapping exercises because I was afraid if nobody intervened there might be some eyeballs on the floor.

 Interesting thing four: Come visit me. My site is beautiful and there is so much to see and do. But wait until after I finish my first three months. Then I will have a charming little house of my own.

Dominican Wolf

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hasta la Mañana: A few scenarios

Greetings and Waits.

Greeting: Today I hung out in the lounge with my fellow volunteers at the Santo Domingo office. Pretty darn cozy. It was so welcoming to be there and *know* that at long, long, long, long last, I am a volunteer. I feel there are more differences between the day of being a volunteer and not a volunteer, than there was of having my birthday. Normal enough, I guess.

Greeting: Everyone has told me that my site (described below) is incredibly popular among the volunteers. Today, I learned that that is very true. Many times, my name and site introduction was followed by some sort of wow, cool, hey, I like that place, I've been there. Hehe.

As a side not, apparently I've been bragging. But can I help it? I mean, I'm not trying to brag. Here's a sample of how I have been bragging.

Person says. "Yeah, I'm not getting very much cell service. I have to go to a certain tree."

I say, "Yeah, I was having the same problem. So I had to go to the beach because my signal was better there."

Everyone in earshot: "Stop talking right there."

Me: "What? It's true."

"Just stop."

Me: Sigh. *shuts up*

Greeting: Met a fellow Vermillionite! It was quite the coincidence. I happened to be wearing one of my old USD shirts, because it was the most comfortable shirt that I still had clean in my closet of the few I'd left in Pantoja.

Vermillionite: You are from South Dakota?
Me: No, but I went to school there.
Vermillionite: Oh my gosh, I am from Vermillion!
Me: No way!

Turns out we know a lot of the same locals. Which is cool. The Vermillionite had even studied International Studies there for a year.

Now for the waiting.

Waiting: Come the morning, or sometime tomorrow, I bid adieu to Santo Domingo. And I give a fond hello to my new home, that lovely land with prime cell phone reception on the beach.

Waiting: Until I can look out along the beach road down the south, gaze upon the turquoise sea, see the curvy mountains nearly reaching the water, and thank whatever twist of fate gave me this place to live for two years.

Waiting: For the next three months, when I get to know that community much better. For the time after, when I know who, what, when I'll be working with. Some things are clear, others are not.

What matters, then, is the now.Tonight, I'm in a hotel in Santo Domingo. It is what I call the lap of luxury: wifi, shower, and a television we are listening to in English.

Dominican Wolf

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Last Post as Trainee

Dear Readers

Today, May 15, 2013, I cease to be a trainee and I take my oath of office as a Peace Corps volunteer. It is a really exciting time for me. Tomorrow I am going to spend a day in the capital with the other volunteers, and then Friday I grab my stuff from the hotel downtown and ME VOY!

I am so happy today. But oddly enough, in my last few days in Pantoja, I finally came to accept this place. A nice neighbor guy, being able to speak more with my family, and being more comfortable traveling in what passes for transportation here has all helped.

Two more days in the capital. Then off to my beach!

There's a lot to do and achieve there in conjunction with my partners in the community. Friends to meet, a library to restart, a sala de tarea to run. All is going to be challenging and beautiful.

Need to go.

Roman Wolf

Monday, May 13, 2013

I asked for a library and got a BEACH

I asked for a Library, I got a Beach

That about sums up my site. I can stop typing now.


Just kidding.

My site has a beach, a very lovely beach, filled with small, white rocks and also some larimar, which is a precious stone very common in the southern DR coast. It is blue and very pretty. The Caribbean Sea is in sight of my house, and it is the most gorgeous turquoise I ever have seen in my life. And I’m a Minnesota girl. I know water.

It also has mountains! Big, huge, green mountains which look like a baby version of the Andes. The mountains kiss the water, quite literally, because when you stand on a clump of giant rocks on the beach you can look north and see how the mountain swoops down to the coast and touches the water. It is the most stunning sight I have ever seen, aside from the view as the waves slowly crest upwards towards shore and become white monsters striking the rocky, sandy dunes alongside the sea.

No, I do not have pictures yet. I had some mental complex about not taking pictures on my first visit to the site because I wanted it to be pristine and free of touristy implements like cameras. Plus, I do not even have internet in Santo Domingo so I would not be able to post any until I get back and can befriend the Italians who own a restaurant with wifi. Hehe.

Don’t worry Italians, I’ll buy some Kola Real.

And have I mentioned the river? Because it has one of those too. A wide, shallow little thing that happens to be the shortest river in the world. Very shallow. Not even a foot deep. With rocks. Sharp rocks that can cut a foot of the unwary person unfamiliar with the way current can seize a floating human being and drag them along said rocks. I know. I have the cuts on my foot to prove it.

One of my project partners owns a restaurant along the river. That’s the most touristy part of the town because Dominicans come from all over the DR to visit my site’s river. And the beach of course. So I have a splendid excuse, when running or strolling along the beach, to swing by the river and visit either with him or with his friends and family who are usually there. It is awesome.

As for the town. It begins right along the beach and extends back and upwards into the mountain. My Centro (with the library! And the homework center! And the office!!!!) is a bit up the mountain past the school, so there is a small climb. So far I’ve only taken it via motorcycle with my other project partner, who was showing me around. No doubt I will climb it frequently in the months to come.

Now that you know what the appearance is of where I will live, I can describe what I will be doing in order to live in this town just south of paradise. (Although if the people talking knew what they were talking about, they would have named my town that!)

Three years ago, this really cool volunteer came to town and had a mission to get a library in it. He started the library, the homework center, an internet center, and a basketball court, all while building some latrines. He also got to know everyone that I have met so far. So as far as I am concerned, he was pretty awesome. Then, like all volunteers, he left. And the follow-up volunteers (a married couple) suffered health problems. And left a month later. People don’t really remember them.  Once they left, El Centro closed.

There were a few other things going on and I have not had time to dig out the full story. I know the mayor was not supporting the library either. And there was no money. I’ll need to uncover the data during my diagnostic.

Anyway, now I am there. My mission is to restart El Centro, including the library and the homework center, teach Spanish literacy to children, and work with teachers on improving literacy teaching since there probably will not be a follow-up volunteer after me. (I am the follow-up.)

First, I have three months to learn what there is to learn, and adapt to life under the tree. A later blog post will describe the tree. It is very important. But I think it belongs more in a post about conducting a Community Diagnostic in the Dominican Republic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Posting

Dear Readers

Today was THE DAY. The setting this morning: sixteen education trainees anxiously awaiting word of where we were going. Our jefe, Ann, walks in with the stack of red manuals containing the answers. We stare eagerly like starving dogs in the calles. She tells us that she is just going to give them to us because she knows that we want them.

I listen anxiously for my name. Sarah Paulus. Los Patos de Barahona.  ( Lows Pahtoes day Bah Rah Oh Na).  I take the manual and the first thing I do is look on the giant map for Los Patos, and found it in the very southern part of the country, along the eastern fringe circling the Carribean Sea. Barahona is the region, and Los Patos is a little community perched on a mountain.

Supposedly, it is GORGEOUS! A mountain goes right up to the edge of the sea, and the rocky beach is at the bottom. Nearby is a huge national park, filled with trees and beaches and iguanas, and a giant salt lake. And mountains. Lots of mountains. The Sierra de Bahuroco. My new mountain range.

As for the project, a bit of history first. In 2010, a volunteer went there to start a library. He worked on it for two years, and finished with a completed library but the site needed a follow up volunteer to make sure it was all going to be used. In 2012, the follow-up volunteer came, but left within a month due to medical issues. For a year now, the library has waited its volunteer. Me. Yay!

I will also be working with the local elementary school, and supposedly there is a pre-school there too, in the school, but it is also supposed to be in the same building as this library...I'll see the layout tomorrow. This could be very interesting. I will be doing literacy work in the schools with the younger kids.

As for how I live, we'll see. Electricity is fairly scarce, the first volunteer had a side project building latrines, so it will be latrines for me, more than likely, and I will need to bring along a water filtration tank, but I will need to grab it tomorrow, forgot to take it from the Cuerpo de Paz today. Also, it is a high risk area for earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding, so I will always need to have a three day supply of food and water on hand, or at least a three day supply of food. Pure Peace Corps readiness. The safety and security person mentioned that in the south it is not uncommon for bridges to give out after a major storm, cutting volunteers off, which is why that will be so important. In that situation, I'd have to hunker down in the community with the others and wait.

So happy today!!! This will be the greatest adventure of my young life. And in one week, I will be 24 years old. So many changes, so little time.

Roman Wolf

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Part II April 28

Ok, going to continue this blog post from a nice porch near my house. This is what I refer to as the Volunteer's Internet House, because on a weekend I can always swing by and find volunteers to hang out with. There's a lady who used to be a host mom here, and since she couldn't have a volunteer this spring, she offered her porch to any volunteer in need of wifi. It is great. And slightly more peaceful. As a reader of Part 1 will see, home can sometimes get a little crazy.

In the last week, I have really gotten the hang of different projects. I have delivered the presentation to teachers in Spanish, and designed a really cool trash pickup project at the school. Unfortunately, after coming down with a nasty case of gripe, (cold/sore throat mix) I lost my voice the morning of the painting project so I motored there, dropped off my supplies, and silently wished everyone good luck. From the pictures posted to facebook, it looks wonderful although I will not actually get to see the finished project until Tuesday.

That Friday, I also learned just how much I benefit from having motors at my service on my street. I'd barely left the house before the motor drivers saw I had my helmet in hand, and one of them revved up its engine to come get me. So I did not have to walk far that day.

There's also been time for fun. I'm getting pretty good at the bachata dancing. The Dominicans certainly are very amused by my dancing, although I am obviously not at the skill level of a Dominican. Dominicans look like they can dance as soon as they can walk, and maybe earlier. There are certainly small children who are much better dancers than me.

That's bachata however. Dembo is another matter. It is a very sensual and rambunctious dance. I cannot do it for the life of me. There's a certain butt flick, and a stomach twist, and leg shakes which I can crudely imitate but am either too thin (sorry Doñas!) or too Americana to manage.

Another bit of fun. I actually passed the Swiss level of the Friv chase game. It's an online gaming site filled with random flash games. There's one that is very popular in both my host families, where you play a character getting chased by everything from German women holding beersteins to bulls, and have to jump obstacles without getting caught. The Swiss level is on a snowboard, down a mountain, chased by a masked man in skis. You have to make the jumps over the mountain crevasses and rocks and such. Very fun.

And last but not least, I have tons of free books downloaded from kindle. I have read Gulliver's Travels, the Secret Garden, and am starting to read The Time Machine. Reading the Time Machine reminds me of The Big Bang Theory, one of my favorite TV shows from in the States. I am also reminded of that show when I see the cable van because it has the characters from Big Bang Theory painted on the side.

I believe I am finally satisfied with all of my updates. All the best,

Roman Wolf