September 5, 2010 at 8:14 pm (Diagnostic, Year One)

Hey friends! It’s been over a month since my last post (apologies) and a whole heap of stuff has happened. But first, some much-awaited photos!

A row of local giftshops at Playa Dominicus near Bayahibe (closest city - La Romana).

Friends from El Seibo and La Romana. The girl in the black is Yadely, one of my neighbors.

The living room in my apartment! I have 2 plastic chairs and the machine on the right is my little washing machine. On the outside there is a small porch surrounded by criss-cross bars and a locking gate.

My kitchen - medium size fridge, wood table, bottle of drinking water, gas stove with propane tank behind it, and a sink.

Bathroom - toilet and sink (left of the toilet), shower where I fill up the white bucket and use a smaller bucket to pour over myself to bathe.

My closet - a pole hanging from the ceiling. Notice the huge black butterfly in the corner. This my bedroom where I have a bed and a fan.

The remnants of Earl rumbling in - the view from my window

My old host mom, Ana Celia, speaking at my center's graduation in August.

Cultural and scenic paintings done by students at my center

And finally, the view from my little porch

Since my last update, I went to my 3-month IST (in-service training) up in the mountains in a town called Jarabacoa where we presented our diagnostic reports with our project partners to the rest of the group. We also worked on our one year plans and played some team building games. Now that IST is over, we are finally free to pursue our own projects and are officially working volunteers! This weekend marked 6 months that I’ve been in the Dominican Republic. It feels like it has flown by. I moved into my apartment 3 or so weeks ago and have been getting to know my neighbors and slowly buying furniture and appliances to make it a home. I will post a full update later this week, don’t have much Internet time left. Hope you all enjoy the photos! Hasta pronto…


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Summer Goings-on

July 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm (Diagnostic)

Hope everyone’s summer is going great! I keep up with U.S. weather when I can, and it looks like the entire country has been hot as hades lately. Well, it’s about the same here: during the day the high reaches to around 90 or 95, but the humidity (which makes me question my computer’s ability to fuction with so much moisture in the air) makes it feel like 100 or more. But thankfully here in the eastern region, nights are relatively cool, and if I keep my fan on and leave the window open, I usually wake up in the mornings feeling relatively cool. There hasn’t been much hurricane activity to speak of yet, although last week we caught the tail end of a tropical wave, which sent nothing more than heavy rain. To put your mind at ease, Peace Corps has an intricate emergency plan in the case of a major hurricane. Because we can now anticipate when hurricanes will make landfall on the island, Peace Corps contacts all volunteers (through email, texts messages, phone calls, or actual personal visits) to warn us of any possible threat before it happens, and if need be, each region has a centrally located safe place to wait out the storm (in my case, a hotel in the capital). I’m in a great position given that I have perfect cell reception in my site and Internet at my center.

In other news, after weeks of searching and two plans that fell through for various reasons, I have finally found an apartment of my own to move into! I found it last weekend with the help of the president of the Junta de Vecinos (basically a group of neighbors that meets every two weeks to discuss neighborhood projects) who invited me to the meeting and afterwards told me that he knew of an apartment for rent above a house not far from my center. So we walked over to the house, met the family (who are all really nice) and looked at the place. You enter from outside where there’s a narrow staircase close to the street. There’s a small porch area just at the top of the steps that’s surrounded by bars and a gate with a padlock that you have to get through to reach the actual door to the apartment. Inside is a large living room, a long hallway that you walk through to get to the two bedrooms, a nice little bathroom (with sink, working toilet, and shower – all connected to running water!), and a little kitchen in the very back with a counter and another working sink. They just put in a locking door to my bedroom and it’s just been repainted – pink, but not too pink. I have cool slidey windows in the living room and regular vented windows everywhere else. Basically, I love it and I think I’ll be very comfortable there. There is another apartment below me and another to my left on the same floor. The neighbor to my left, Isabel, works with the same organization as my host mom and I can already tell we’ll be friends. I can officially move in after my 3-month IST (in-service training) which will be August 9 – 11. I’m so excited to finally have a place of my own – more privacy, more space for visitors (hint, hint), and the ability to cook for myself! I’ll post some pictures soon.

Speaking of food, I’ve realized that I haven’t written much about food here in the DR. Well, as you might have guessed, I’m not too taken with traditional Dominican meals. Last night, for example, I had a big bowl of yucca, which is a banana-shaped stalk of almost pure starch. It’s a vegetable and closely resembles a potato, but without the taste. My host dad owns a couple of farms out in the country, so most of my meals consist of starchy, bland vegetables and fruits, including boiled platanos (again like starchy boiled bananas). Lunch is always a variation of rice and beans with either chicken (freshly murdered), beef, or a combination of boiled fish and potatoes, and usually refresco (coke of some kind). Breakfast (my favorite part of the day) is thankfully usually only two boiled eggs or oatmeal, after I told my family that I usually don’t eat a large breakfast, if I eat in the mornings at all. Sometimes with the yucca at night I get a nice noodle soup with fresh avocado (which actually is very delicious in a soup) and one or two fried eggs (but cooked in a ridiculously excessive amount of oil, which ruins it in my book). Every once in a while, when the family is busy or they come home late, they stick pieces of cheese inside some rolls, slather them with butter, and press them in a waffle iron and serve sandwiches. Actually not bad by themselves or with tomatoes (and of course after I add my customary mayonnaise glob). If you don’t find yourself salivating over this fine cuisine, you can imagine how excited I am to be able to make my own food once I move. We have a small supermarket close to my new apartment which sells actual loaves of bread and pretty much everything you need to make sandwiches, cereal and milk, pasta, cheap rice, snacky things, eggs, and oatmeal. And if I absolutely need a uniquely American meal, the capital has huge grocery stores where I can find mac n’ cheese, hot dogs, all types of condiments, hot sauce, basically a Dominican Kroger. Also, since Dominicans have embraced the sentiment that “sharing is caring,” I am offered food or at least coffee and some sort of fruit anytime I visit someone’s house (Mangos seem to grown in everyone’s backyard).

In short, things are steadily progressing here on my tropical island. Next week I will finish and polish off my diagnostic report, my presentation of my community investigation, and my plans for my first year (all in Spanish – yikes!). Then in two weeks I will travel to Jarabacoa with one of my project partners from the center to make my presentation in front of the rest of the ICT volunteers and receive some more training on how to actually implement our project plans. All in all, things are going great and it’s weird to think that in August I will have been here for six months!

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Getting Diagnosticky

July 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm (Diagnostic)

Well, when I said in the last post that I’d be able to post more frequently, I actually meant that I was going to let more than a month go by without updating. Oops. What can I say, I’ve been busy. So let’s start with what I’m actually down here to do – work.

The 27-month service of every Peace Corps volunteer (no matter the country) is broken up into a cycle as follows:

First three months – Pre-service training; this part has come and gone for me.

Months three to six – Community diagnostic; I am currently in the throws of this period and will explain what it means in a bit.

Months six to 12 – First year of service; this is where we more or less plan and carry out (more planning, less carrying out I’m told) our primary and secondary projects.

Months 12 to 24 – Second year of service; this is where we take a look at how our projects have progressed, revise and make changes if necessary (almost always necessary).

Last three months – End of service; we finish up our projects, tie up loose ends, say our goodbyes and hit the road.

So I’m currently in my first three months of service here in El Seibo (if you look at the little map on the right, it’s close to Higuey), which are typically reserved for carrying out a community diagnostic. Basically, this means getting to know the community: its needs, its leaders, its geography, and its people. We have to conduct surveys and interviews to figure out what the people want and what they need, and figure out ways to meet those needs. The diagnostic also means just hanging out, getting to know people, and sharing in the culture. As it’s happened, I’ve put the more formal diagnostic process on the backburner for the first month or so. I’ve been hanging out and getting to know some really cool families, teaching classes already at my community center, as well as tutoring some of my neighbor kids English. It’s not required of us or even really encouraged that we ICT Education volunteers immediately jump into teaching right away, but my coworkers asked me to and I said yes. I figured it would help me with my Spanish, give me some much needed experience and confidence with actual teaching, and keep me from being bored. Missions accomplished (I think, anyway).

It started my first or second week when a group of jóvenes, or young people, from the campo was brought into my community center for an impromptu month-long computer class in the afternoons. Then the regular classes were left without a teacher, so the encargada, or manager, asked me if I would fill in for the teacher’s classes while he taught this new group. It was my very first month, I had no real teaching experience, and my Spanish level was (and still is) pretty abysmal, and all of my insides screamed at me to say no. But I forced out a “Sí, yo puedo” (Sure I can) and the next week I started teaching three classes: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and a basic computer class.

A little bit about my community center. It’s called a Centro Tecnológico Comunitario (CTC) and there around 60 or so of them around the country. Five of my fellow ICT volunteers were also assigned to work at CTC’s in different parts of the country. The CTC’s are a part of an initiative of the Despacho de la Primera Dama (Office of the First Lady) of the DR to bring technology and ICT-related services to people who don’t have access to them otherwise. This is only one of several of the primera dama’s initiatives to help impoverished Dominicans; my host mother works for another program in the community that provides a host of other random services. Anyway, the first lady’s office funds the CTC’s and all of the services are free. The building itself is very colorful (pictures below) with a big gazebo out front for community gatherings and meetings, a moderately manicured lawn, a playground, a lobby, an administrative office, a radio station, a small library, a small daycare, and three rooms that each house ten computers. One of these rooms serves more or less like an Internet café where people (mostly kids) come in, sign their names, and can use the Internet for an alotted period of time. But trust me, it’s not at all as organized as it sounds. Another computer room is the actual classroom where there are at least four classes during the day (two in the morning, two in the afternoon) and it’s where I teach.  It can be problematic though because it’s very small, only allows for ten students, and is hard to walk through if I need to help them individually at their computers (which is honestly about every three minutes). The last room houses the P.O.E.T.A. program, which provides classes for mentally or physically challenged people on how to use computers and software with specialized equipment. It’s very cool and ours is one of the only CTC’s that does it. But lately it’s being used as an alternative regular classroom to teach the group from the campo. My CTC has about eight or so employees altogether. There are the two facilitators: Wanda, who teaches the regular morning classes, and Esnaire, who teaches the regular afternoon classes. Then there is Carolina, who is also a teacher at the high school and isn’t around as much but teaches in the P.O.E.T.A. room. The encargada, Jenoris, is the administrator and keeps track of the students in each class and reports the numbers to the main office. Cesarin is the encargado of the radio station but only comes by a few times a week to make sure things are running smoothly. Ruth is newer than me and acts as the librarian and has a group of kids each day working on art projects and reading books. William is the groundskeeper and the one who opens and closes the gate and the building each day. Then there are the ladies who work in the day care but I rarely interact with them or the pre-school aged children that infest that side of the building.

It all seems great and wonderful but there are a slew of problems with the CTC and the teaching methods and how it’s organized but I’ll save all that fun and happy stuff for another post. Let me now briefly explain the true horror that is felt when you enter a classroom of kids aged anywhere from seven to 19 that you can’t really understand and can’t really understand you and have barely even touched a computer before in their lives and have grown up with an education system that does almost nothing substantial to facilitate actual learning. Your first instinct is to run like hell. You’re sweating more than usual, which means you look like you just got out of a pool with all your clothes on. You stutter and slur and forget all of the Spanish you’ve been taught in an instant. But you take a deep breath and “fake it ‘til you make it,” which is a slogan that my technical trainer taught us during CBT. Thanks, Peace Corps.

My Word and Powerpoint classes weren’t so bad since most of the students already had some experience with computers. But my basic computer class was and still is a challenge. The first class consisted of teaching them the correct way to turn a computer off and on and we practiced several times before they got it right. Then we learned all the different parts of the computer and what they were used for and about different types of computers. It took a while but my reward finally came a few classes in when I asked them to repeat these things back to me and they did so flawlessly with big grins. Then a few classes later they got so excited when they learned how to type their names. Now we’re learning the wonderful world of WordArt and Paint and they’re getting bored! It’s definitely been a lot of work and frustrating at times but also a lot of fun.

But now that I’m down to the last of my first three months, it’s time to get to work on my diagnostic. I’m handing out short surveys to the kids in the classes and any visitors that I happen to catch and are willing to fill out a survey (which are few) so that I can get a feel of what other classes they’d like offered, what they like and don’t like about the CTC, and a few other stuff related to the radio station. Next I’m going to try to survey kids at the local high school, which has a much larger pool of jóvenes, and see what they’re interested in. Then I have to go around town and interview families about the needs of the community. Hopefully Wanda, one of the facilitators, will accompany me for this. She’s the one that’s been helping me with my survey questions. It’s definitely going to be another busy month.

Let’s move on lastly to some fun stuff. Every once in a while Peace Corps DR lets us volunteers take a couple days of R&R without counting it as vacation days. So a few weekends ago I met up with a few of my fellow March arrivals as well as some older volunteers in the capital to have fun and relieve some stress. We ate lunch and swam at the pool at the American embassy (which awesomely lets Peace Corps volunteers in during the day), spent lots of time drooling over free wi-fi at the office, saw Prince of Persia in English with Spanish subtitles at a movie theatre (two thumbs way down, by the way), hung out and danced at a colmado in the Colonial Zone, and revisited the swanky bar where we had our Peace Corps prom. It was a great weekend. And of course this last weekend was the 4th of July. It’s Peace Corps tradition for volunteers to meet up at some really awesome place and just chill out (or go a little crazy). So I met up with about 16 or so volunteers from my group in the capital (where I got my first package – thanks, Briget!!!) and we all hopped on a guagua to a town called Paraíso (Paradise) in the southwestern part of the country. (But this is no easy feat – from my site to Paraíso in total is about six and a half hours.) It’s our friend Clayton’s site and his project is to develop this little local resort on the beach as part of an eco-tourism program. Yeah, he’s got a tough life. Anyway, we met up with around 20 or so more of our March group there and had an incredible weekend. The place is beautiful, though the beach we were on was rocky and had huge pounding waves caused by the distant tropical storms. But we had a pool and slept in tents under little thatch-roofed huts and took advantage of cheap drinks at the bar. On the actual 4th we all traveled about ten minutes south to another one of our friends’ sites where there is a lazy river that you can float on in an innertube that flows right into the ocean. There we ate fried fish and tostones and had a few Presidente’s (the most popular brand of Dominican beer). Then that night we had a campfire and roasted hot dogs and smores. It started raining shortly after that, so we headed to the bar/main dance area, broke out our iPods, and pretty much had a dance marathon. I was a complete and total hot mess. Despite a moderate digestional incident on the way back (which I will not expound upon here but I’ll gladly tell you about if you ask me), it was a really great weekend and it was awesome to catch up with my fellow March arrivals who I hadn’t spoken to since we parted ways almost two months ago.

Well what a trooper you are if you’ve made it this far. I’ll keep the goodbye short and sweet. I’ve learned now not to make any promises about my next post, but it’ll come at some point. Hope everyone’s doing great and keeping cool. Hasta luego!

The El Seibo CTC

My little classroom

View of my host family's house from the front

4th of July Getaway - I slept in the upstairs half of the hut on the left

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Oh, by the way…

May 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm (Training)

I have a new cell phone and number! 809-723-9868. You don´t need to dial an international code to call me. It does cost a little extra per minute, but it´s free for me to receive calls and texts from the states. You can also send me free texts from this website: Remember to include your name! Also, I won´t have a mailing address here in El Seibo yet so if you still want to send me something, send it to the Santo Domingo address from one of my first posts. I will travel to the capital every so often and check my mail at the Peace Corps office. Remember – letters or padded envelopes please, no boxes! I miss everyone so much and I won´t be too incredibly busy for the next three months so feel free to give me a call!

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Officially a Volunteer!

May 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm (Training)

Hey everyone! Soooooo, a lot has happened since I last posted. Again, as always, sorry for the long wait. Let´s play a little catch-up. Where we last left our heroes, I’m pretty sure we were in El Seibo, which is a medium-sized town in the easter region of the country, for CBT (community-based training). To sum it all up, CBT consisted of technical training sessions in the mornings at the local high school (which included presentations on education; formal, informal, and non-formal teaching methodologies; how to set up a computer lab from scratch; how to clone hard drives; teaching English; teacher training; and much more), and Spanish language classes in the afternoons at their host familie´s houses.

My first Spanish teacher’s name was Ailyn, and about two weeks into CBT she found a full time job in the capital with another organization. She was a great teacher, very energetic and fun, and we were sad to see her leave. But our second teacher, Cecilia, was also great and I learned a lot from her. Another girl from Arkansas, Heather, was in my class with me. We both had the lowest Spanish levels of the group when we started, so I guess they figured we needed a smaller class to work closer with the teacher. Other Spanish classes had anywhere from three to five students. It turned out to be great! Heather and I became good friends with both of the teachers as well as the host family they were living with. And we´ve both come a long way with our Spanish! I´m pretty proud of us. To give you some kind of perspective, upon arriving at Santo Domingo at the beginning of March, I was placed at a 2.5 on a language scale of 10. During the last day of training I was placed at a 6! Behold the wonders of immersion.

So El Seibo was a blast and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to go through training with. My fellow ICT volunteers are all so great and we got to know each other very well during the five week CBT. My host family in El Seibo was also pretty amazing. I actually had a really nice pink house with a huge bathroom, a ceiling fan, running water, and an outside dog named Puppy. I lived with one of the language teachers, Juana, which was great for my Spanish. We would hang out on the porch and sing old 80’s soft rock ballads (Brian Adams anyone?), then she would help me read the national newspaper. She actually speaks English pretty well but still wanted practice so we set up a conversational system where she asked me questions in English and I had to answer in Spanish and vice versa. Then we would correct each other and laugh at our horrendous grammar. She´s good people. We had a great host mom named Altagracia, two older host brothers who lived at the house with us and two other host siblings who are engineers in Santo Domingo. They were all very nice and hospitable and let me come and go as I pleased, and for Easter they took me to visit their family in the campo (countryside) and swim in the river.

During CBT nights the other trainees and I would hang out around our barrio and play card games, go out to eat, hang out at the park, or go to the local discotec called “Club Wow.” Wow is an interesting place to say the least. It´s got two floors with the dance floor in the middle on the bottom floor surrounded by high wooden tables and the bar, and the upstairs has more tables, the DJ, and a see-through floor where you can conveniently spy on the dancers. Wow is where most of us made complete fools of ourselves in an effort to perfect our merengue and bachata dance moves. But they were also kind enough to play some American music (e.g. -¨Barbie Girl” by Aqua) so that we could make fools of ourselves in our usual ways. After we were tired of dancing and/or dripping with sweat, we got some street food (empanadas and chimis) and walked back to our respective barrios.

We also went to one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Playa Esmerelda, two times and got incredibly tan/sunburned/tan and sunburned at the same time. There´s a photo of all of us at the beach in the last post. If or WHEN you come to visit me, this will be our relaxing getaway destination! The beach is clean, the water clear blue with a hint of green, and huge palm trees hang overhead and drop coconuts every so often. It´s surrounded by private land and armed (but friendly) guards all the time. Definitely an awesome time.

So after CBT, we all packed up and headed back to our host families in the capital. We had a couple more days of training where we reunited (and it felt so good) with the environment volunteers we came into the country with, we had one last Spanish class, and then we found out our permanent site assignments! And wouldn´t you know it – El Seibo just hadn´t had enough of me. Towards the end of CBT, I had heard a rumor that they had requested a male volunteer for El Seibo, but I didn´t think it would be me. I was hoping I´d get something a little smaller up north or in the mountains. But while in CBT during interviews with my APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Director, who is a well spoken and ready-for-retirement Dominican man) I was asked several times “how I liked El Seibo.” And I had responded politely that I did indeed: not too small, not too big, really nice people and not a lot of traffic or crime. Then I heard they were looking for someone to work in El Seibo´s CTC (Community Technology Center), and a few days before I got my site assignment, I was told I would be working at a CTC, just not specifically where. So by then I was pretty sure that my permanent site would by El Seibo. And not three days after I get back to the capital, my prediction was confirmed and I had to turn around and head back for my first official visit as the El Seibo volunteer. Don´t get me wrong, I´m not unhappy with my site assignment. It´s a great town, there are currently two youth development volunteers living there, I already know my way around, and I already know some of the local people.

So it was easy when I went for my initial week-long site visit. I basically walked around and got reaquanited with my old host family and my friends´host families and the CTC workers. I had actually already taught a powerpoint class there to some kids during CBT. So I hung out at the community center and observed the classes and also spent time with my new host family, who are all awesome. I have a very dedicated and involved host mom who works with the First Lady´s Office (which also funds the CTC). I have one 20-year-old host brother named Marcos who lives at the house and likes to show me around town. One night I went with Marcos and his cousin Miguel (who also lives at our house) to see a Dominican singer, Juliana, at a street concert. It was good times. Then I have two host sisters who live in the house as well and one of them has a husband and a two-year-old named José. There are neighbors and family members and random street children coming in and out all the time – basically the typical Dominican household.

After the El Seibo visit, I came back to the capital for our official swearing-in ceremony and one last week of training for a new literacy project they want to start here. All the ICT volunteers in my group were required to attend. I stayed with my first host family again and made several “last” trips to grocery stores, American restaurants, and other exclusively big city places with the other volunteers. During this time we also had an all-volunteer conference where we got to meet other current volunteers and introduce ourselves to everyone and try to get a feel for how these next two years are supposed to work out. We also had our first annual Peace Corps Prom at a swanky little bar in downtown Santo Domingo where we all spent the night in a hotel. And for our last night in the capital, our ICT training group all went out together to a car wash (which double as discotecs at night) and stayed  in a hostel. If anything can be said about our training group, it is that we are a dedicated bunch and we know how to have a good time! That was Friday, May 21. The following day we all said our goodbyes and headed in our own directions to start our lives as official volunteers. I´m in El Seibo right now at my CTC waiting on the kids in my class to arrive (yes, I´m already teaching – more on that in the next post). So I will leave it at that for now. I´ll try not to wait so long for the next post. It´s been raining a lot here, which means no one does anything, so there will no doubt be a lot of downtime where I can blog more frequently. Thankfully I have Internet here in my center. I hope everyone is doing great and enjoying these first days of summer freedom! Hasta luego, vaya con dios!

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April 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm (Training)

ICT PCV's at Playa Esmeralda

A street in my barrio near Santo Domingo

Well, two will have to be good enough for now. The Internet is slow, per usual. More to come soon, I promise!

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SD & Technical Training

April 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm (Training)

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.

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Sin titulo (Lo siento)

March 23, 2010 at 8:54 pm (Training)

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!

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Last Post from the States

March 4, 2010 at 3:54 am (Pre-service)

I’m in my hotel room in Washington, D.C. after a day from airport hell. I was supposed to report for staging at the hotel today at 12:30 pm but ended up here around 6 pm and missed almost all of orientation. Basically, the airplane for my morning connection flight to Memphis had some kind of computer problem as we were taxiing on the runway. We stayed on the plane for probably an hour while they tried to fix it but eventually were told to deboard. I got off the plane, called the airline customer service number, and they booked another flight for me that left Little Rock at 11:25 am and connected in Atlanta this afternoon. Then I boarded the airplane in Atlanta to DC and they had some auxiliary air flow problem that needed to be fixed. This took about an additional half hour. When I finally got to DC, my large suitcase had a broken leg and the cover on my backpack had disappeared. And all of this on three hours of sleep last night.

But I’m here now ready for another early flight tomorrow. I got all my paperwork filled out, loan deferment letters signed and mailed, and had a nice dinner with some of my stage mates. They all seem really fun and I can’t wait to begin training. Despite this hellish day, I think it’ll be worth it. I’m going to leave all this mess behind me and focus on the positive.

When you hear from me next, I’ll be in the Caribbean! I’ll end with part of a poem that I like. It’s what inspired the name of this blog. The entire thing is called “Ulysses.”

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

– Tennyson


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And then suddenly, without warning…

March 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm (Pre-service)

…it was March. After a week of lasts and goodbyes, it’s finally hitting me that I’m leaving in two days. My schedule as I understand it for the next few days is as follows: Wednesday, March 3rd I’ll wake up early to catch my flight at 6:40 AM from Little Rock to DC (with stopover in Memphis). Once in DC I’ll make my way to a hotel where the rest of the trainees in my group will convene. We’ll have registration and an afternoon of orientation seminars. Then even earlier the next morning we have to check out of the hotel and get to the DC airport by 8:00 AM to catch our flight to Miami where we connect to the international flight to the Dominican Republic. Once in country, we’ll be herded to a retreat center near the capital, Santo Domingo. We’ll receive all sorts of fun vaccinations and spend the night there. The next day, March 5th, we head to the capital where we will meet our host families and begin our three months of training!

During this three month period we will have language, cultural, and technical training classes each day. My spanish (which currently is shameful) will have to improve exponentially. We will practice travelling, learn some dances, visit a current volunteer at their site, and learn our own assignments toward the end of training.

For these first three months, my address for regular mail service will be:

Justin Seiter, PCT

Cuerpo de Paz

Av Bolivar 451, Gazcue

Apartado Postal 1412

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Please send only letters or padded envelopes for now. Large packages require a postal tax and are more likely to be opened or lost. Fedex Express and DHL have offices in Santo Domingo, but delivery to the Peace Corps office  from these services requires a separate address and phone number that I can give you upon request. Wish list items include letters, photos, art supplies, new (or old) music, books, magazines (time, newsweek, etc.), small games, any little trinkets I can give as gifts.

Today I have the daunting task of packing for two years. Yeah, I’ll let you know how it goes. Below is my soundtrack for the day. Enjoy.

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