Written Friday, April 9, 2010
Buen día! I hope that everyone’s doing great and that the weather up there is getting warmer. I, of course, am sweating bullets right now. Pero está bien. First of all, I apologize for my several week absence from my blog. You may have to get used to that. Second of all, sorry that there’s actually no video of my host family’s house as mentioned in the post above. It’s really not all that interesting anyway. I’ll do my best to upload some photos soon.
Well a lot has happened since mid March. First, let me tell you a little about the city of Santo Domingo itself. I’m not living there currently, but when I was living close to it I made several trips. Its population is around three million I believe but in actual size to me it doesn’t seem like it’s much bigger than Kansas City. The biggest thing is transportation. There are three main forms of getting around in the city: a guagua (which means “baby” in other Latin American countries) is an old public bus or sometimes a van with row seats in the back and middle, a few single seats in the front facing both front and backward, and then a platform and a door that a guy will literally hang out of during travel and shout at people on the street trying to get them to get on. It gets very crowded and hot and there is an aisle between the seats but once the row is full, a chair is pulled out of nowhere and put in the aisle to fill the row (not really out of nowhere – it’s usually attached to the seat). Generally six or seven people are needed to fill the row. Personal space is not acceptable. The driver is usually blasting the radio and the passengers yell over each other to talk. It’s a good time.
Another form of transportation is a carro publico (public car). I think I mentioned it before but it’s basically a compact sedan that follows a certain route (like the guagua) in the city. You stand on the side of the road and flag one down like a taxi but there are often up to seven people crammed into it. The cars and the guaguas follow certain routes that are indicated by a number-letter system located somewhere on the vehicle. However, this system is not at all organized or in any kind of comprehensible order so you just have to ask the driver or the guy hanging out of the guagua where they’re going.
The third form of transportation is the moto, or motoconcho. It’s just a motorbike with a longer seat for passengers. Sometimes an entire family (mom, dad, 2 little kids) can fit onto a single moto. We are allowed to take all of these modes of transportation, but with restrictions of course. We cannot ride motos without helmets and we cannot ride them at all within the city limits of Santo Domingo.
This brings me to my next topic: traffic laws. Basically, there are none. And if there are, they are barely enforced. There are a few traffic lights and stop signs but no one pays attention to them. Cars and guaguas just plow through intersections without reservation and if there’s someone in their way, they just honk and yell at them until they move. The motos move freely around everyone else and will even drive on the sidewalks if it’s too congested. During stop and go traffic, venders will walk around offering people water or chips or lottery tickets or whatever they happen to be selling. I’ve bought a few bottles of water through guagua windows. But Santo Domingo itself is a pretty cool place. It is the oldest city in the Americas and so there is a Zona Colonial in the city where the river meets the ocean. There are museums, parks, statues, churches, old military strongholds, and lots of shopping and people selling stuff on the street. It’s very much a tourist area (I ate at a pizza hut one day) but it’s a very interesting place to visit. There is an almost brand new metro train that I have yet to use but I’ve heard it’s very clean and efficient. Santo Domingo is where the Peace Corps DR main office is, as well as the hospital we’re supposed to go to in case we get sick or injured, and also a hostel that offers discounts to Peace Corps volunteers (PCV’s). There are dangerous parts of Santo Domingo, of course, and I’ve driven through some very poor areas. There are also lots of homeless people and beggars and crazies roaming around. One day I was walking around with my old language teacher, Luz, and some insane woman out of nowhere jumped in front of her and screamed in her face. Then she walked away. Just another day in the DR.
So what am I up to now? Well, a couple weeks ago the volunteers from the ICT sector (which is my sector) split up with the others from the environment sector. My group is now in a town called El Seibo in the eastern part of the country. It’s actually very close to the site where I went to my volunteer visit, Hato Mayor. Here we are having more training sessions directly applied to ICT and informal teaching methods. We also have Spanish classes everyday. I have a different teacher than before but I am still with one of the girls from my previous class. With only two in the class, I think both of us have learned so much since our arrival.
Anyway, here in El Seibo we all have different mini-projects that we’re working on. My group of eight or so have been meeting with a group of kids from the local high school to make the first student newspaper. My having previous experience working with newspapers seems to qualify me as the “jefe” or boss of this little group so it’s definitely been a unique experience considering my low spanish level. Next Thursday I’m giving a class at another place on powerpoint (in spanish). I’ll be giving another class next week. So there’s been a lot of activity here coupled with lots of fun times with the other volunteers. Sorry to cut this one so short but I need to get to one of my classes. I’ll go into more detail about El Seibo next time. I miss everyone and I promise next time I’ll get a few photos up here.