Written on Saturday, March 13, 2010
Hola todos! Sorry I haven’t updated since I left but it’s been crazytown here. Thanks for being patient! I promise it’ll be a good one. I’ve been here for more than a full week and I feel like it’s been a month. Let me pretend like I can remember everything that’s gone on.
First, after my airport disaster day, I at least made an appearance at our staging event in DC. I got a few winks in* and we left the hotel at an ungodly hour. I’ll skip boring/senseless airport details. We finally got on the plane from Miami to Santo Domingo (the capital of the DR) and shit got real. The scenery on the flight was beautiful – we flew over the Bahamas! Then we landed. The moment I got off the plane, I was thrown into a hot, humid August day in Arkansas. It was great. We got our stuff and piled into a bus that took us to a retreat center just outside of Santo Domingo. There we were given some vaccinations and some preliminary safety guidelines and met some of the Peace Corps staff. Good people. We had dinner (more about food to come) and Juan, one of the staffers, taught us how to put up our mosquiteros (mosquito nets that we have to hang up over our beds for protection against malaria and other diseases). It went a little something like this:
“Okay, primero, yayalabayaya yabaskabayaya. Entonces, heeyalabalabayaba los mosquitos y lasabayalalalababa.” And on and on.
Everyone nodded. “Ah, si.” Making jokes and responding with gusto. Of course, I smiled as beads of sweat began to form. Not that I know much Spanish to begin with, but Dominican Spanish is very hard to understand if you aren’t familiar with it. A lot of the words are different from traditional Latin American Spanish, most of the ‘s’ sounds are dropped, and the words are run together. Thankfully, Juan demonstrated what I guess he was explaining. But that night I had my first freak out moment. I woke up around 3 a.m. with the skin around my eyes burning. My eyes themselves were fine, but I had never felt anything like it before. I thought for sure I missed some crucial step during Juan’s lesson and some little bugs had made their way through the net and into my body. I waited it out, was able to fall back asleep, and the next morning the nurse said it was just because I was dehydrated. It went away after a while.
That morning we made it to the Peace Corps training center on the outskirts of the capitol. It’s called “La Entrena” and it’s where we all come every weekday to receive language, cultural, and technical training. There is a big, beautiful house that serves as the office building and there are lots of little open huts around with thatched roofs and pathways that lead to them. All of the trainees (there are 39 of us) have cultural training workshops together. Examples: non-verbal communication, history of the DR, dancing & dominoes (that’s all they do here), living conditions, safety, etc. The volunteers I came with are broken up into two groups for technical training: information technology volunteers and environment volunteers. We haven’t started technical training yet but each sector has a technical trainer and supervisor. For language classes, we are all broken up according to skill level: high (we have a few native speakers), intermediate high/mid/low (where the majority of the volunteers lie), and so-low-it’s-shameful (guess who’s in this group). It’s really not as bad as I make it out to be and I’m sure I’ll be fine. We have anywhere from three to five hours of language class a day, and our language facilitators don’t even speak English. Therefore, we are forced to learn. My facilitator’s name is Luz and she is a funny little lady, very patient and understanding. There are three other people in my group and we meet each day in one of the little huts. I feel like we’re coming along nicely for only having been here for a week.
So, where do I actually live? I can’t give you the exact address, but I live in a barrio (neighborhood) in an area called Pantoja. There are about 10 or so other volunteers in my barrio. We each have a host family and live with them in their houses. These are not houses in a normal U.S. neighborhood, as you can imagine (pictures are coming). The floor is concrete and the roof is metal crossed by wooden beams. I have my own room with a bed and a little desk and chair. There is a porch area surrounded by bars and a gate that locks. Other Dominicans have told us that we live in “the ghetto” but I doubt it – I’ve definitely seen worse. There is a living room with some chairs and a dining table. There’s a little kitchen, two other bedrooms, and I think two bathrooms. The streets are not paved, it’s all rock and dirt and trash and it’s very hilly. The houses are very close together or are connected. Many families live above or beside a store or business that they run. I have a host mom (another sweet, funny little Dominican lady) and she has two sons who work in the city in a computer center. One is 28 and the other is a little younger than him. They both live in the house and the 28 year old has a nine-year-old daughter who hangs out here after school and sleeps here sometimes. Her name is Laura and she likes to watch music videos and the Disney channel (side note: apparently leaving the developed world was not enough to escape Hannah Montana) and play dominoes. And yes, we have cable, but there is not always electricity. At least a few times a day the electricity will go out for a few hours, everyone says “la luz se fue,” and they go on with what they were doing by daylight or candlelight. It really hasn’t been hard to adjust to.
I’ve adjusted well to the bathroom situation as well. There is a toilet, sink, and shower but no running water. My family has a cistern full of water outside the house and once a day, when there is electricity (“luz,” meaning light), they hook up a water pump and fill up a few buckets through one faucet in the bathroom. One of the buckets is for when I bathe, one is for flushing the toilet, and another is for the kitchen. When I bathe (which is often more than once a day), I stand in the shower and use a smaller bucket to pour the cold water over myself. This sounds bad, but when I’m soaked in sweat from only walking two blocks it’s actually refreshing. And it’s also a way to conserve: you’d be surprised by the small amount of water you actually need to get clean. Of course, I’m very careful not to accidentally drink any of this water. After I use the bathroom, any toilet paper I use goes into a trashcan and I have to pour water from one of the buckets into the toilet bowl to force everything into the pipes. There’s a technique to this I haven’t yet perfected, so sometimes it can take a few pours.
A typical weekday for me: I get up around 6:30 a.m., take a bucket bath and have breakfast (which usually consists of orange juice, bread and cheese and butter, eggs in some form, sometimes oatmeal, and coffee). I leave the house around 7:30 to walk to entrena, which takes about 15 minutes. If I’m running late, I’ll take a carro publico, which costs 15 pesos (less than a dollar) and is basically a beat up jalopy with seven people crammed into it. And by the way, there are no traffic rules here. It’s great fun. Anyway, we either have cultural workshops first thing in the morning or we go straight to our language classes. We usually have homework to present from the night before. We have lunch at noon (which usually consists of rice, beans, various vegetables, and chicken) and lots of us try our best to use the wireless Internet in the house – VERY slow when you have 20 people trying to check facebook and send emails. Then we’ll either have more language class in the afternoon or more workshops. A couple of afternoons we’ve actually gone into the city to explore and learn how to get around. We usually get done around 4:30 or 5 and those of us who live in the same barrio will walk home together and hang out for a while in one of the many colmados surrounding us. A colmado is a very small store on the corner where they sell beer, food, and random stuff. There is often a jukebox that blasts music and people dancing and playing dominoes. It’s been a great way to get to know the other volunteers and our community. When it starts getting dark, I head home to have dinner (has been everything from rice and beans to pasta to tuna and potatoes). I do whatever homework I have, talk to my host mom as best I can, and go to bed around 10.
Sunday we went again into the city to explore. Santo Domingo deserves its own post and this one has been equivalent to a short story so I will end it here. Overall I have been having a blast and am learning a lot. I’m safe, healthy, and eating well. I will update again soon, so stay tuned! Below is a video of my room in my host family’s house. Enjoy! Adios!
*For Talitha – Loathe!