Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Questions, Camps, and Rocks--A Volunteer's Diagnostic Activities

Hello Readers

Miss me? I've been so busy I've practically missed myself. Today I have a meeting at 10:30 with some teenage girls who are going to help me run my questionnaire and map making projects this week. Very important work, because this is the sort of information on which projects are formed. I'll be sure to buy them cookies. The colmado store down the street is going to love me by the time I finish two years.

When it comes to my project all the people assigned to me as my project partners are very hands off, which means I have turned to my teenage host sister for help rounding up her classmates to aid me in my project, and when it comes down to it, maybe I don't mind so much. It gives me a chance to be independent and formulate my own project, even if it also means that the story of what they want me to do changes almost as soon as I finish speaking with one person and begin speaking with another. Still have to find a way to coordinate this better.

I may not get a literacy program this summer after all, but I have a green light to form a camp. A camp would be fun. I could do that for like a week or a few days or something and really gauge which kids would be most interested in some of the side activity projects Peace Corps has. And I'd have an excuse to get together and meet more families and parents, which can only be helpful in my long term work.

And I'll be hanging out in the library working with community members all summer for three days a week. I've mentioned to a few people interested in English classes that I would be willing to do a little bit of that, informally, during those days.

The diagnostic phase has been a lot of things, but I cannot call it boring, not now anyway. I get up, I get working, and then in the afternoon I walk and visit and play in the river and talk and visit and sit on the beach and talk and visit and then I come home and eat at my two houses and really have a great time. I've also found a new pastime while sitting on the beach. You dig a little hole in the rocks, and then you take a larger rock and you throw it into the hole to watch the smaller rocks go flying. Or you can build a pile of rocks and try to see how many big rocks you can stack on top of the rock pile before they slide off. Very popular games here.

Maybe there's some truth to the Peace Corps insistence that the diagnostic is the time when you make or break your feelings towards your site. Every day I feel a bit more connected to the people here, meet new folks, discuss my projects, and build up my future little by little. Give me until August, and I'll be as well-known and popular as the beloved previous volunteer, and I can steal his legacy.

Coincidentally, I also heard that he might be coming for a visit in August. haha.

Dominican Wolf

Saturday, June 15, 2013

La Patosa

Hello Readers

Patosa: a woman from Los Patos.

Once more I find myself without power and a dying laptop battery. I've got 9% to type with before it goes so I will just type what I can and if I don't get it posted I'll post this when I have energy again. Haha.

What have I been doing? Oh, nothing much. Played some Dominoes yesterday and learned a bunch of names and houses and interconnections between people, because this community, like small towns the world over, has about five or six degrees of connection between every person. Classy, hm? And now I'm one of them. Even classier.

This afternoon I'll be meandering to the river to help out with some girl's clubs that the other volunteers are bringing to my site to play in the river. As always, should be quite entertaining.

It's been raining a lot. Especially at night. Last night there was tons of rain. And lightning and thunder and wind. I just hang out in the dark house, listening to people speak in rapid and blurred Spanish, and laugh when I barely understand them but am highly amused by their hand gestures, which accompany stories I can sort of understand but not really. Especially when those gestures are made by the light of flashlights and candles. Sometimes I wish I knew how to tell ghost stories in Spanish because that would be really appropriate.

I am also a product of vivere power now. Or so they tell me. Those are the very potent vegetables and plaintains and bananas which constitute the entirety of my diet. I also walk a lot every day, so all the nutrients are going to fuel muscles. I've got very muscular legs and arms. People like to comment on them. They tell me I am very skinny and in good shape because I walk a lot, and it amuses me because in training we were always told that we'd be told we're fat for a compliment, but I've only been called fat once. Usually I'm just told I have strong legs.

And I am also very tanned. The other day I had my arm on a counter near a friend of mine here, and her skin and mine were the same color. She is a paler skinned Dominican, but still, it was quite funny. She told me I was a Dominican now, not an American. I just laughed. Of course, my hair is yellower than ever, and will just keep getting bleached by the sun, but if it were black, I suppose I'd be a true Dominican beauty.

Instead, my blonde hair and nice muscular legs make me an attractive figure on the guaguas. The other day I took a trip up to Barahona and on the ride there and the ride back I had guys practically salivating for me. They were very nice about it, unlike guys in the capital, but I'm not blind. I know what it means when a young man stares desperately at a woman and tries to engage her in conversation. Especially when they start asking if I have a boyfriend. Or a husband. It's quite amusing.

Believe that's all I wanted to share with you guys. Cuidate. (take care)

Dominican Wolf

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mud on the Shoes

Dear Readers--

There is one high praise I will give for Dominicans--this is a culture of extreme cleanliness. The more you bathe the better. And that goes for Peace Corps volunteers too.

So, here's the story.

We'll begin yesterday, when I was visiting House 2. I have two houses because I live with one and sleep in that one and officially live in it, and I have House 2, where I am the adopted daughter of the Dona. In House 2 I spend a lot of time, eat some meals, and sit in a hammock.

As I said, this is a fastidious culture. So, I've become very conscious of whether or not I am clean or dirty, I clean my fingernails several times a day and am always checking my body for mud because it rains a lot and I often get muddy. I was sitting on the front stoop of House 2, when I noticed that my arm was dirty. The Dona was washing some clothes nearby and there was still water running from the hose into the ponchero, which is the large bucket used for washing clothes.

There were no clothes in the ponchero, and as I said, my arm was dirty, so I took the hose and washed my arm, and then I washed the other arm for good measure. I thought I was being covert but naturally, her keen Dona eyes spotted that I was trying to wash myself with a hose. I was then taken into the house, handed a towel and soap, and she told me it was okay, I could use their bathroom to wash up.

It ended up being a great experience. My first glance was for their bucket, but there wasn't one, so I looked up and they actually had a pipe sticking out of the wall! Running water! I took the soap I'd been given and scrubbed and scrubbed and let the running water hit all the parts that I just can't reach well with the bucket baths. I felt so gloriously clean. It was wonderful.

Fast forward to the evening. Have I mentioned that there's been a lot of rain and mud? Well, that means my tennis shoes have gone through a lot of rain and mud. I've also hiked up mountains, through beaches, and along dirt paths in them for three months. You can imagine the state those poor things were in.

Ah, this too is a problem! I've watched people scrub their shoes clean, and have admired the experience, but had never done it myself.

Yesterday, people started dropping hints. Sarah, your shoes are really dirty. Sarah, your shoes are really dirty. Sarah, your shoes are really dirty. I felt embarrassed. My shoes were dirty! Muddy! I was a horrid person because I let my shoes become dirty. There was only one solution.

"Yes, I know my shoes are dirty. I really do need to wash them. What do I do?" (ie: the helpless gringa defense. Save me Dominicans, for I know not what you do.)

Enter Grandma Dona of House 1. She just came back from Santiago last week and she is a marvel of Dona power. Since her arrival, clothes have reappeared from the dirty laundry, rice tastes delicious again, and things get clean.

Together, we scrubbed, bleached, washed and rinsed those tennis shoes until they were a brand spanking new white color. Then the shoe laces received the same treatment. Problem solved. I've seldom felt so proud of a pair of shoes in my life. Now they are hanging on the clothes line, and I can again be a proud human being with clean shoes.

Maybe these stories bored you. Too bad. I am in the Peace Corps and cultural exchanges is what I do.

Dominican Wolf

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Missing my Site... =(

Dear Readers

Took a trip up to the capital today. Tomorrow I have to get my green card. This means I've spent a cheerful day passing the hours in the Peace Corps headquarters. Bought some ice cream and checked my mailbox--no letters. Sad day. But, happy day, visited with a bunch of volunteer friends from training!

Eventually I may swing up to Pantoja again, to visit my host family there, but I am giving it time. Sounds like the guy I dumped is feeling like shit and miserable, so he needs lots of time to forget me. I could feel bad about this but in a way I am just letting it slide. Time will heal him far more than I could at this point. Things happen. I've changed and my heart changed with me.

This is a mistake I regret, and one I will not make again. I know my facebook posts have been cryptic and a little schitzo, but really, things are very smooth going in the site with the guy. I'm just frustrated with myself because I know I need time, but there are moments when I am ready to start up with the one person right now, even if I shouldn't and even though I WILL NOT. So yeah. That's that. He is unbelievably patient, or unbelievably in love, or a little of both. He's willing to wait for me. In the meantime, I spent time with him as a friend. It makes me very happy, and I teach him English and he explains as much as I need explained in Spanish, multiple times if necessary, so all is well.

I've been in the capital not even half a day and I already miss my site. I miss the quiet, broken by the occasional roar of a motor.  I miss knowing people as I walk down the streets and calling salutations to the DoƱas. I miss visiting the river and talking with the restaurant owners. I miss the roar of the waves crashing into the beach, over and over again, so loud I can even hear it during quiet moments at the house. I miss the wind which blows off the sea and the heavy greenery in the forests and the mountains. I think it is fair to say that even if I am holding back my heart from men, I am unreservedly giving it to the land around me. I can only think of one place in the world I love more, and that is my home in the pine forests of northern Minnesota.

At this rate, I hardly know how I will leave in two years. My friend has told me that when the last volunteer left, the entire town threw a party for him and he sobbed all night. I could believe it. I've never met him, nothing more than stories and a single photo from the volunteer magazine last spring, but he sounds like the sort of volunteer every volunteer dreams of being. He knew everyone, he built cool things, he had the total respect of an entire pueblo, and he gave his all to his work. I cannot even imagine what it will be like to build a life for myself over the course of two years, and then have to say goodbye.

For right now, I am constructing that life. There is no time to imagine deconstructing it. I'll be starting up week after next, when the school exams are finished. Need to get the Center up and clean, remove all the dead bugs and lizards and cobwebs and dust, and then start up the literacy program with the high school students. We'll be teaching kids who are about to repeat third grade. It's good work, and I am pleased to be doing something constructive. I feel once I begin working I can start to have a more steady grasp of my life in my site. And I have to run the diagnostic. That will be an activity all its own. I'll need to talk to my co-teachers about it. They can help, or know people who can help.

This is the Dominican Republic. There is always time, just as there is always space on a guagua, or more rice, or another mango. Sometimes I forget and become impatient, but in time, I may become less American and more Dominican about time. Who knows. That's for the future to know.

Dominican Wolf