Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Soft-Core Porn is what plays on Guagua Rides - and other life events!


The past couple of months have been full of traveling the country in the blistering, stagnant heat of June in the DR all while a massive epidemic outbreak has taken over the country. I have grown accustomed, unfortunately, to overbearingly loud music on the guaguas, which every passenger seems to love. Kids vomiting? No reason to lower the music. 75% of the passengers have the Chikungunya (Mosquito transmitted  virus that has become a wide spread epidemic through the Dominican republic and Haiti)? Not a good enough reason to lower the music. It is as if nothing can function or nothing is alive unless there is music blaring at all times.

Summertime here is interesting. I have met new people in my campo who are only there for a few days to “find” their kids who have been living here throughout the year but go to the capital or where their mom is living for the summer. Once the hustle and bustle of that is over – the town is quiet. Not as many children, not a lot of movement. Mostly because of the heat though – no one wants to move for fear of creating more heat for themselves than necessary. Just sitting down makes you sweat. Because you cannot escape the heat amongst my travels I try to take guaguas with air conditioning which is great BUT it means that it is fancy enough to have a television where all they show are music videos of the most popular Dominican music around. MUSIC VIDEOS?? WOW! You would think, how cool – haven’t seen real music videos since the pop-up-video days on VH1. Well…these aren’t the kind of music videos we are familiar with. These videos, about 90% of the time, focus on sex. They are what I would describe as soft-core porn matched up with a song.
    
COULDN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS NOT INAPPROPRIATE TO POST AS A PICTURE - CHOSE TO JUST NOT

Most songs that come out have to do with Love, Sex, Some sort of  Shovanistic Messages, The girl that got away, etc. So the video usually starts with a gorgeous latin woman and an overweight, cheesy dressed Dominican guy. Then she seduces him and the video is all about their sexual relationship. CON RAZON! This culture is so sexualized. In a culture where music is what keeps people’s spirits up and is always around it makes sense that they buy into the idea that a woman needs to be a sexual object for men here. It was clear yesterday after watching about 8.75 music videos per hour for 4 hours that the general theme in the videos are that  If the woman does not give the man what he wants sexually or in the kitchen, then she is not worthy of having him around. As frustrating as it was to see that such a large industry could have such influence on the population it helped me understand better that sexuality is so engrained here that no matter how hard I try in my charlas, change takes a long time. You need powerful people and industries to send the right message in this country – idols, fads, what’s hot now…those are the things that will drive the message home. Understanding this has helped me calm down the idealist in me. Thank you soft-core porn for providing me with enough insight to feel okay about leaving my community in a few months without having changed EVERYONEs life.

Typical Guaguita
If I want Air Conditioning - AND everything else...




                                                On to the national epidemic….

A few months ago the news announced a new mosquito borne illness that was present in the Dominican Republic; The Chikungunya. It starts with body aches – not just “ouch I’m Achy” but feeling as if someone stuffed you in a potatoe sack, hung you like a piƱata and took a bat to your body (at least that’s what mine felt like). Then comes a ridiculously high fever – higher than any other mosquito spread illness here in the DR and in the final stage an awful rash that is so itchy and makes your skin look like red cottage cheese…it’s gross. To date there have been about 246,244 confirmed cases in the DR, which is a ton. The interesting thing is that Dominicans think it is a government conspiracy or something in the water or air. No one actually believes that it’s being spread through a mosquito. So, when the conversation about it gets going, I take advantage to let them know that this illness exists in other countries, how mosquito transmission works, etc. etc. The talk of the town (country really) is this illness. Because everyone knows that inevitably everybody is going to have it, they do their usual “hi, how are you” and follow it with “did it get you already?” Ask any volunteer around and they will tell you how sick they are of hearing about it.


My Rash

                                    On to even MORE exciting news…

My brother came a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing. It was really hard having him leave so it left me in the capital recuperating a couple of days. It gave me such a sense of home to have him here. I got the Chikungunya the night before he traveled here – leaving me crippled with a fever of about 102, awful body pains and an inability to think straight. I tried to sleep it off and the next morning I traveled on a guagua to pick him up in Samana where we rented a car and took an insanely beautiful drive to a resort!! We had some solid quality time together talking about life, relationships, purpose, choices, etc. then road tripped it down to my site! He loved it here, the nature, the tranquility, the beaches.

I will be inviting him to write a post on his perspective of the trip as I did with my last visitor – keep an eye out for it!




Poolside with the best brother anyone could ask for!

After my amazing SibCation - I officially graduated my second group of Health Promotors! I was so proud that we were able to do their training in such a short period of time (3months). This is the usual time is takes but usually women skip, cant make it, it rains or give 1 of 1928392183 excuses for not coming. But this group made it to every charla on time, participated, etc. So Los Blancos now has 11 Health Promotors, officially and I have given them a Summer Challenge. The first group to complete all of their home visits will get to go to a conference with me in August in a town in the mountains in the northern part of the country. This insentivised them immidiatly! I'm very excited!




The new, young and hip health Promoters!


Friday, June 13, 2014

Memorable People


After days of feeling down and not resilient I couldn’t figure out what was getting to me most; was it that lack of mental stimulation within my community, the superficial, always similar conversations or the lack of respect I perceive to always be receiving from my community. Could it be that I am suffering from what college-students refer to as “senioritis” or am I mentally checked out because of a wonderful upcoming vacation I have? I couldn’t shake the negativity – even after running for miles, trying out various aerobic exercise videos – just couldn't get re-grounded. That day, I wrote the following entry in my journal:

            " There comes a point during your service where resiliency is no longer a survival instinct but               a choice. It happens at a time when you feel so worn down that you give into the wearing                     because you can't find the energy, nor reason to bounce back. A pervasive lack of                                 motivation and unappreciation for all you give. A feeling of un-necessariness and no matter                how hard I try people don't change over night."


I decided to just get going on my to-do list for the day in hopes of some distraction. I decide to re-arrange a couple of things in my house – most people who know me know that I consider this my therapy. As I begin reorganizing my bedroom I hear a familiar yet somewhat recently forgotten voice say “Lauuura”. This young girl’s voice extended the middle vowel making me immediately realize it is my long lost friend Joselin! Joselin is a 14 year old girl who used to practically live with me. She used to spend every waking hour at my house, we would chat, she helped me with house stuff, reminded me about where I put things, taught me how to cook and is just a great presence to have around. Always a positive attitude. She was a great example of resilience. Life has been harder for her than most people I know yet she never complains, always shares what she has earned for herself and doesn't understand why people get sad. 

A couple of weeks ago her and her family had moved to another part of the community due to their “squatting” status in the community. Her family moves from house to house every few months to avoid having to pay squatting fees, otherwise known as rent. She had come by once or twice with her sisters – who also became a permanent fixture in my home- but not as often as she used to.

So, today when she called for me I teased her a bit about “botar-ing” me (throwing me away) because she must have found a boyfriend or something. She shyly laughed and said no. I took out anything I could from the fridge to offer her and we went outside to chat. She was telling me that her mom had finally signed her up for school – she has never been – and that her siblings are also going to go. While she was talking to me about what has been going on in her life lately I realized how much better I began to feel. I started to feel grounded again, remember why I am here and who the people are here whom I love.

I have heard that in life there are a few people who touch a part of you that will never let you forget them. Today, Joselin, a 14 year old Haitian girl who doesn’t understand the concept of profound, life altering moments, restored my faith. My faith in my community, in the future of the kids here, in my service and in unspoken human connection.


Remember your moments -  no matter how insignificant they may seem. Remember the people whom you share those moments with – those are memorable people


My Support Network in Site - without these girls, my Peace Corps would have been really hard
From Left (Joselin, Chi-Chia, Lokenja, Samil & Camil)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Reflection by Joanna on her visit to Los Blancos!

Below is a reflection by my good friend Joanna who came to visit in April. I had an incredible time showing her my world here and knew from the get-go that this would be life-changing for her. I am humbled to read her reflection and want to share it with you all! Gracias Joanna! Everyone is still talking about her in my community!

The Best Experience EVER!

 So I met this girl at college, who little did I know, hated me until junior year ( ugh, men ;) ).  Then all of a sudden, the universe – and the fact that our boyfriends roomed together-  conspired and we ended up not only becoming friends, and eventually roommates, but life long besties.  From day one, Laura’s dream was serving in the Peace Corps, in fact, that is probably one of the first things she ever told me about herself ( after hating foods that are white, and that she, too, shared a love for the Spice Girls).  Although at the time, in our 10’ by 10’ dorm room on a private college campus in Worcester, Massachusetts, it seemed like a pipedream, now five years later she is close to completing her time serving as a Peace Corps Health Volunteer in Los Blancos, Dominican Republic.

Laura has encouraged our college friends to visit her ‘world’ since she started. I will admit, I was apprehensive at first, I had already been to the Dominican, and have a ‘thing’ against visiting the same place twice when there is so much more to see in the world (let me tell you -  this experience was nothing like my first trip to the DR at  Punta Cana Iberostar all-inclusive resort).  However, it’s always been a dream of mine to volunteer in places that need some volunteering, plus with the limited time Laura has been able to come home since her tour, I felt like I owed it to her, and myself, to see what this place was all about. 

The journey begins.  I arrived in Santo Domingo and was greeted by Laura at the airport. We jumped on a bus that took us to a town about half an hour outside of her village.  Her boyfriend had family visiting and they were able to drive us to her village – sans seatbelts ( first shocker for this small-town, safety first kind-of-girl!).  On our way, we saw a car rolled over on the side of the road, and about 5 cars lined up to see if everyone was okay.  This was disturbing, but it was also interesting to me because here in the United States, cars would slow down and stare until they caused another accident, but I don’t think that many people would stop and see if everyone was okay – afterall, isn’t that the job of the authorities?  Where we were, however, the authorities do not have the same resources we do, the same protocols, and not nearly the same healthcare if there was an emergency – so people have to look out for each other.  I loved this sense of community.

Over the next few days, I lived the ‘campos’ life.  I shared a room with spiders as big as my palm, lizards, mosquitos, and crabs… yes, crabs, Laura lives across the street from the ocean.  I woke up to donkey’s braying, roosters crowing, and children laughing.  I ate a breakfast of squash, eggs, and onions, and lunches of starch I didn’t know existed.   I drank about 1/8 the amount of water I normally drink in a day and instead replaced it with cherry juice ( cherries+ sugar, with a hint of water).  I did not take a warm shower once, in fact, quite often my bathing took place in the canal behind her house, the ocean, or by ‘bucket bathing’  - exactly what it sounds like.

The smell was probably the most discomforting part, because the water is so limited, you should only really flush the toilet once or twice a day… mixed with the heat, it was not a pleasant odor come sundown.  There was also very limited electricity, or “loose” as they call it.  When Laura and I planned on doing laundry before we left again for the capital, it was very stressful because the electricity only comes on for a few hours a day, and it is not a scheduled time.  Laura told me a story about how one time the electricity hadn’t  come on in days and there were riots because of this in her neighborhood.  As a consequence, the stellar ‘authorities’ threw mustard gas at the homes in Laura’s neighborhood causing temporary blindness, and the inability to breathe fresh air.  Because the gas also infiltrated the water, people couldn’t even wash the stinging out of their eyes.  Although this wasn’t the most comfortable living style, I got used to it and gained a whole new appreciation for what I do have. 

What I could not get used to, however, is the emotional toll that these people face everyday.  While I was there, a woman lost her 9 month old child to a lung infection (something that could probably have been cured with a few doses of modern medicine here in the U.S.).  She had to make a casket for the baby, and carry him, herself, to the graveyard where she buried him.  There was no funeral home, or director, or facilitator that plans any of this, it is on the family to prepare all funeral services.  As horrified as I was, Laura claims that unfortunately, this type of thing happens weekly because of all the disease and unsanitary conditions that they have to deal with.

Although I am not an ‘animal person,’ the liveliness-or lack thereof- of animals was also horrifying to me.  I remember one day walking to Laura’s friend, Katie’s house and seeing a dead puppy lying on a rock next to a muddy hill.  It couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old when it passed.  The girls told me that because animals are not fixed, this happens often where they have babies and can not take care of them, therefore, they are abandoned and left to die.  Heartbreaking.

Although I have talked a lot about the sad things I have seen, I do want to mention the pure beauty and liberation.  Los Blancos sits in between white sand beaches and a mountainous rainforest.  I could not have asked for a more beautiful location to spend my April vacation.  Nothing is as soothing as listening to the roaring waves and trickling rain against the lush greens.  We took a ‘bola’ (catching a ride with a stranger – aka: hitchhiking, which is the primary mode of transportation in the Dominican) out to Bahia de las Aguilas ( Bay of Eagles) which is by far the most beautiful beach I have ever been to.  The water was six different shades of blue and green and as clear as glass for what seemed like miles.  There was not a cloud in the sky, and it was so tranquil it was as if we were in our own world. 

I also loved how friendly and giving the people were.  It is custom for a person to offer food to anyone who is around if they are cooking or eating.  At Bahia de las Aguilas, not only were we offered rides the whole way there, without which, would have made for an impossible walking journey, but at the beach a family sent over a giant plate of fresh salad, fish, and rice – our peanut butter and rolls that we brought for lunch didn’t hold a candle to their delicious feast, and for that I was so grateful!
As the journey neared it’s end, Laura and I spent our last night talking, drinking wine-obviously, and reflecting.  My trip was so inspiring and emotional it is almost impossible to put it into words.  The connections I made- especially with the kids- are unwavering.  I will never forget Nino, who when I said I loved coconut , climbed a tree, smashed it open, and poured me fresh coconut juice – or Angie and Ashley who would sit with me for hours on the hammock as I read my American book out loud as they repeated the words in English.  I will not forget all the kids who gathered at Laura’s house with notebooks and pens when I taught an English class – many of whom had never been to school, almost all of whom could not read, and could barely write, but were so captivated, engaged, and hung on every word I said. 


Now as I sit in my classroom, with desks, and books, and computers-tiled floors, a whiteboard, and an American flag, I am so grateful and appreciative of what I do have – but I think more often now of what others do not, especially the beautiful people I met on my trip.  It does not seem fair, but I think the least I can do is tell my story, my experience, and encourage anyone and everyone to try to start each day thinking about we do have, what we can do, and what we have every opportunity to do.   Thank you Laura for a life changing experience, Te amo mucho!    



Wednesday, May 7, 2014

a day in the life of a PCV...

This post is to give you an idea of the daily frustrations and ridiculousness of a Peace Corps Volunteer - some little anecdotes of life recently!

I have learned to live always having jugo (natural juice) in my fridge. I take advantage of my fruit trees in my garden and make juice daily. Today I woke up to learn that nothing was ripe in my garden for me to use. So out I went in search of some ripe guanabana (soursop). I see one of my health promoters (who spent 10 months in my health promotion course) and am expressing my frustration at not finding any that are ripe being sold and she says “why don’t you just go buy soda or the juice concentrate – it’s quicker and that way you don’t have to clean”. Immediate thought on my end “how long have you been a health promoter and what are you teaching people….” Ay mi madre

This past weekend I had a meeting with the committee for the community center and once we covered everything regarding the project we moved on to other important town issues. One was a fixing of roof project and the most important and lengthy discussed one was our cemetery. Our cemetery is about 1 year old - before this our town used to bury people in the one in a neighboring community. The issue was that the guy who guards the cemetery has decided to bury Dominicans on the sunny, flat side and Haitians in the side that would be best described as a ditch. Other than discrimination and segregation, which was not the issue with the town, the main issue was that it did not look orderly and clean - making the town look sloppy and unkempt. So, for something that we, as american's would think would be common sense, there are some Dominicans who don't understand the importance and dignity in there being order with burials. There was also someone who mentioned that burials, by law, have to be at least 6 feet under but nobody knew that. Everyone was surprised. Needless to say - it was an asinine conversation for the american observer, but for the town meetings and towns people these are the types of issues that a rural campo in a developing country deals with, daily. 

Everyday my kids surprised me at how easily entertained they are with anything they find. I found one of my girls made a little car using my old contact lens holders as wheels. Another one made a house out of sticks that she took off of old branches. One of the girls sits and sticks her hands in a bucket of water and will tell you that she's dipping into (insert any color and delicious flavor ice cream here). Creativity and imagination is something kids in the campo are growing with, unfortunately most will not have the opportunity to use this creativity and imagination in a productive way in the future that could get them out of the cycle of poverty. 

During my women's group the other day I asked how many people had gotten a pap smear. Only 3 (out of 10) raised their hands. Keep in mind they are between 21 and 37 years old. I asked how come so little and the response I get is "I haven't gotten married yet!" Here, losing your virginity means getting married. So here I go explaining the importance of getting one done to prevent cervical cancers, cysts, fibroids, etc. an the women are saying "No, Laura, here if I don't bleed the guy will immediately leave me". Ok, so I go on to explain about reproductive parts and how not everyone has the same thing etc. after about an hour of going over and over this, the women left saying " I'm still not doing it until after". It is so frustrating that in the culture the sex and relationships far out way your health. 

I HAVE CRABS!!! and they are all over my house. It is rainy season and crabs from the beach are roaming about. Every evening they seek shelter in people's homes. Well, I have a few living here with me and they are huge. My poor cat has tried to kill them for food but he himself keeps getting snapped and bit.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

5 Valuable Life Lessons Learned as a PCV

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are the driver, the passenger and the whiny children in the back of a long road trip. You guide yourself, you make decisions, you have days when all you want to do is whine and wonder why you are here. These are moments that amount to lessons – tid-bits of wisdom that you will forever live by.

As I come up on 365 days in my site (my second site, after a site change) and bump into the COSers leaving this week I find myself reflecting a lot on this past year of service. It has been a life changing year and one of personal growth and change in more ways than I could even have time to describe on here.

I want to share some life lessons that I have learned in the past 20 months, especially in the last 365 days.

Always fight for what you believe to be right

To get to where I am today I had to fight fire with what felt at the time like 37.6 gallons of  water. On more than 5 occasions I have luchar’ed (literally translated to “boxed” as in boxing match) to shape my service into what I wanted it to be. I have fought against policy, cultural barriers, taboo perceptions and a lot of misguided ignorance to get to where I am. I fought to bring Health Education to a rural site where no health education had gone before. I fought against peace corps to get in. I fought against misconceptions of others to be happy. I did all of this because I understand the importance of following your heart over logic. In today’s world it is easy to get carried away with doing things the way everyone else does because it’s easy and the path has been carved. Learning to find the courage to take the unbeaten path was the best thing I have learned how to do here.

You are stronger than you give yourself credit for
Our weaknesses lie in our fear – conscious or subconscious. As a Peace Corps Volunteer you are forced to face fears you didn’t even know you had. You are told to lead a commission meeting and structurally reorganize a commission you know nothing about – no questions asked, do it. You are forced to be “the one that doesn’t belong” for 2 years  - eventually you adjust. You must eat what is put in front of you for fear of offending the only possible allies in your community. You must travel to places unknown and trust your instinct on getting there. You are forced to attend rituals such as funerals, weddings and baptisms while feeling completely awkward because you are the only one not participating – no one told you how to act or do.

There comes a point where you stop feeling like you should know what you’re doing and you start realizing that because you aren't native it is okay for you to continue to stand there, with poise and confidence, and know that your presence says more than any “acting” could.


You’ll look less like a stranger if you just go with it

When you are thrown into an event with resistance you are showing that you A. don’t want to be there, B. don’t want to participate or C. don't really care to integrate.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer one of the biggest skills we learn is to just go with the flow – if and when you do, your integration level will be amazing! If you are pulled out to dance, do it. If you are told to attend a 9 day grieving event for someone who died, just go.

Never throw yourself full throttle into an idea

Those of you who know me know very well that this is what I have always done – I now see that to do something well we must always wait for the right moment to implement the next step of our idea. Nothing can be developed full the way you envision it unless you give it time.

You are the creator of your own destiny

We all base our decisions on our own life experience and how they have helped us move forward or backward in life. Because of this we tend to agree and not agree with others’ choices and lifestyles.  On paper, it makes sense to calculate carefully how to live a “good” life. However, what I have learned is that you cannot deny the feeling you get about something. If you feel that there is injustice in the world and are unable to sit tight without doing something about it – do it! Just because logic and reason are what distinguish us from other mammals does not mean we still don’t have their instinct. Follow your heart and you will live a happy and peaceful life knowing that the decisions you made, you made for you and nobody else.

Every decision that you make and its result will influence any upcoming forks in the road you must choose to follow or avoid.

So, I ask you this….You’ll be the only one going through your reel at the end – how do you want to feel when you’re watching it?


Monday, February 24, 2014

graduation, getting robbed, and working with american high schoolers....

Past few weeks have been incredibly hectic - I went from having no schedule for the next few months and trying to figure out what my projects would look like at site, to having my calendar full until the beginning of August...Ay Mi Madre...

To star off with, I FINALLY GRADUATED MY WOMEN AS HEALTH PROMOTERS!!!

    10 months, a lot of charla prepration, continuous self-motivation and constant teaching - the moment came when these women went from students to being teachers themselves. Our graduation took place on February 9th and all the women brought something for our potluck and everyone brought one or two people. It took place in the backyard of my project partners house with a beautiful view and us all sitting under a mango tree! I gave them each a diploma, a first aid kit fully equipped with certification stickers for the homes they certify on their home visits, a blood pressure machine and stethoscope and a thermometer. It was beautiful and incredibly relaxing to know that Mondays I could now relax.

Since i don't have pictures - this is what the certificates given look like!

Typically, I would post pictures - I took A TON  BUT I was robbed about two weeks ago and no longer have my iPhone.

 The moment it happened - nothing was registering - I was not hurt I just go a burn from trying to hold onto my purse. I NEVER go out with a purse full of anything to go get lunch - I usually take the exact amount of what I need in cash. My favorite Nepalese purse was yanked and I immediately screamed and ran after the moto who drove away quicker than I could even blink. My cell phone, iphone, whole wallet, Larimar rings and sentimental things were all in there. I went back to the PC office with my wonderful friends who accompanied me the whole way and tried to start canceling everything and figure out how I was going to travel for the next two weeks in country without any money (there was a lot of cash in there). Luckily Peace Corps is amazing and made it all a smooth transition.

I went to the police to file a report and I felt like I was in a place where a bunch of bored adults play "house" but instead of playing house they are playing "police station". No one was organized, only a couple people knew how to write and what the procedure for a robbery was. It was in the moment when I remembered the lack of faith and hope that I have for Dominicans living here and trying to better themselves as contributing members to society.

The government and politics here is so corrupt that the wheels of the DR will forever be stuck and will never have traction. It was this day that confirmed all of this for me - it makes me sad for the future of this country and the options of development (or lack thereof) that it has.


The day after this happened I went and gave  presentation to the newest group of health volunteers - this was great - to get to know them all but also reminded me of how much I have done with my women - even if sometimes I feel like I havent.

I spent Valentines Day with a group of them eating pizza and drinking beer! It was perfect!

That weekend I went to an Island off the DR called Isla Saona - it was a beautiful surprise for Valentines day and had a blast doing something so touristy - especially after getting robbed.



a Diet Coke in a Can in DR?!?? so exciting!

Bayahibe



Isla Saona

Isla Saona

Post tourist trip I headed up to the mountains in the north with my good friend Kate ( a fellow New Englander). I signed up to translate for a group of high school kids who are on their February vacation doing service work - building a clinic in a community near another Peace Corps Volunteer. I was so excited to have such good Quality Tie with my fellow PCV friends too! This expirience proved to be incredibly insightful - I learned how much I have adapted to Dominican culture, simplified living conditions, and general tolerance of constant uncomfortable situations. Everytime a student was complaining or expressing general frustrations I found myself explaining why the culture is this way or that although it is normal to get frustrated because sometimes our American culture doesn't allow us to be uber-flexible with time, or rules, we are working in another country and need to adapt.















This reminded me of how lucky I feel to have the opportunity of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. This is something I think only other PCVs will understand but I have learned that most things in life are just not worth stressing over. That sometimes taking an extra 10 - 15 minutes to just say hi to neighbors and be late for a meeting is worth it. Not having the exact ingredients for a meal you wanted is okay...another day it will happen. Not having service means a couple days of not being able to work or talk to family. Cohabitation with other critters is what we signed up for so that's why when we see one, we no longer freak out. My outfit doesn't match? eh...whatever. We understand that if it doesn't get done today, then we'll do our best to get it done tomorrow and fully accept it. Weren't able to pay rent on time? Send the money with a muchacho tomorrow, or maybe the next day.

    This is what life has become for me and I didn't realize how much of it I have adopted into my lifestyle until the past week that I spent with the high school students. It gave me great perspective on where I am at with my service!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Getting back from the week of beautiful mountains, fresh air, good company etc. was hard. The good thing was that I got to the capital, turned right around and headed back north but this time a bit west to a beautiful mountain town named Jarabacoa for a women's conference. It was for new health promotors so I went with two of my women! They loved the conference, said they learned a lot and ate a lot of delicious, free food! It was great to see them participate and share time with other promotors - the hard work in the last 10 weeks has definitely paid off.

All in all this time has been very good in terms of reflection on service ....

Until next time!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

incredibly over due post...but here it is.

I have been writing this blog post for a few months now – I can’t tell you why I haven’t posted it but it may have something to do with my constant ADD.

Since the last time I posted a lot has happened and changed. Maybe part of the reason why I haven’t posted is because I feel like I have so much to catch you all up on or maybe not enough….I often find that daily things that happen to me now a days are no longer blog worthy because they have just become normality’s to me – part of my daily life, normal part of cultural exchange. Then, usually when I am bathing, I realize that if it had been the Laura of a year and a half ago experiencing this I would be blogging about it right away for the sheer shock value of an awkward cultural interaction. However, these cultural conundrums are things I am now viewing in two categories - things I would like to adopt into my lifestyle or things I couldn't even imagine doing. 

In fact - with only 9 months left of service this sums up exactly how I am feeling. I feel comfortable in my skin here, I know what to expect – most of the time – I feel like I finally have a personality I am comfortable enough to express in my campo and often times feel like I am just another community member that when there is an extranjero I even get territorial. This isn't to say that there are still things that happen that I often have to stop and say “wow, I don’t think I could ever get used to this” or “dang, I wonder if I will ever adopt that awesome part of the culture” – things that remind me how deeply ingrained cultural customs are, how deep they are rooted and how difficult they are to change.

First semester of college I took an anthropology course – to be completely honest I forget most of what I learned in it. In fact, I almost forgot I took that course until recently – I was discussing collective vs. individualistic societies with a very well  respected, upper class Dominican. I was explaining to him that here, people have a natural collective tendency and in the states it is not like that, full with examples and all. He asked, “did you study this in college?” and I said “yeah in college I took a course that gave me this introduction but now living it is a whole different ball-game”. I thank that course for giving me the two perfect adjectives in describing what I consider to be one of the most crucial parts of my service – coming from an individualistic society and living in a collective one.

The other day Jocelin, a girl who spends almost every waking hour at my house was helping me do oficio (chores). She worked really hard and did so much for me that week that I gave her 100 pesos. She said thank you, immediately turned to her little sister and said “Lokenja, please go give this to mom”. It may have been one of the most defining moments of my service. In this moment I not only felt humbled for her, but intense pride and gratitude – to know that a 14 year old girl who comes from one of the poorest squatting Haitian families in my campo probably doesn’t even conceive the concept of greed. It was complete second nature for her to do what she did, something she does all the time.

My possee - Jocelin, her two little sisters and my two little neighbors.

Last weekend I was mid-oficio, once again, and heard my name being bosiar-ed (shouted?) by a woman who I have adopted as my Dominican mama- Jovah. She shows up and says “hey, I brought you this.” I look down and it is a king crab – maybe about 5 pounds (I have no idea how to measure size of it) but it was really large. Already boiled she said it was for me to eat. Now, this may not seem like much but it is a huge deal – this woman’s family struggles daily financially. Her husband is a fisherman and they try to sell everything he catches – he could have sold this crab to a restaurant for over 1,000 pesos…I’m almost certain. She explains how I should open it and cook and it and just says, “I hope you enjoy it!”





I have been visiting one particular family a lot lately – I usually go a few hours after lunch time to spend the afternoon just plastic-chair-sitting with them and shooting the shit. Usually I hear the same stories, the same amount of times but it is my home away from home. Anyways this family does not have a source of income and they get help from the government monthly – there is a card here, similar to the WIC program in the states, where if you apply the government gives you money for gas for your stove and food staples. No matter what time of day, what day of the week or what attitude I go visit them with, they always have food saved for me. A full plate of whatever was cooked that day is always put aside for me.

All of these exemplify collectivism. I try, on a daily basis, to live this way – it is much harder than I thought. It involves taking yourself out of the equation almost completely. If I cook for more than just me it means I need to buy more food soon, which I may not even have enough for at the time - therefor it might mean going a few days with only one meal or hoping that my neighbors will brindar-me food everyday. It means the kids could get used to this and I would have them at my house more often than I already do. It would mean more dishes – which involved more water, which means I have to conserve on bathing and cleaning because water comes a few time a week. It means giving the villager a fish and not teaching them how to fish.

      These are the things I love about the Dominicans - most hospitable people I have ever met - a lot of it has to do with their need for unity and sincere need to take care of each other - something that I want to continuously practice and immerse myself in. 

OTHER UPDATES

          Projects:

               Since getting back from the states it has been really hard to get back in the swing of things. Thinking about the little time I have left and the amount of things I would like to do often throw me into a state of shock. How am I going to do everything I want to for my community. I often feel like my wheels are spinning as the whole behavior change things is almost absent - even after 9 months of charlas and home visits.

So my Hogares Saludables course ended last week and I am prepping the women for their jobs as health promotors. They are all very excite for they carnets (ID badges) as health promotors but most of them still don't understand the basic concept that sugar and salt are bad for you. "But Laura, isn't this what you spent the last 9 months training them on? Every week?" Yes, but where I live - and the whole region of the south in general - is very behind on health education. 
Their concept of health is the fatter i am the healthier my body is, the fact that i don't have any aches or pains means I am healthy as a horse and the more my body can ingest and consume the better my bill of health is. 

My youth, who graduated in November, are slow. One of them has started his own group which is AMAZING! He is three charlas in and it is going very well!

My secondary project currently feels like a mountain. I am waiting for donations - which are slow - and trying to figure out where to get book donations from. It is definitely going to be my biggest project during service and I am excited to see how it starts up...we will see.

ON FRIED CHICKEN:

I have been eating a lot of Pica Pollo lately and it is amazing. I really like it - never thought I would and I'm sure my mom would be repulsed to know how much I actually eat - BUT while I am traveling to and from the capital it is the easiet and cheapest thing to buy...well that and YUCA - which I always have been consuming a lot of.

ON PLANS POST PC:

Yes, I am already thinking about it. With 9 months left I have decided to stay in country and apply for a leadership position within Peace Corps. This is going to provide me not only with leadership skills but also to work another year in the development field but in a different area - one where I would imagine would be more similar to an NGO job in the states -  and see if it really is something I would like to do. It involves more strategic planning and in office stuff - a good transition between regular peace corps placement and real-world job. 

For now things are going...they are moving forward - the best way to describe it in few words. BUT if you want a better idea of my current life - just look closely at the photo below!

Toodles for now and - don't worry - I will be blogging more often - I want to try out the writing thing for a while...a possible gig post-pc? international journalism? maybe.