Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Batey Nef

Hey all, I found the internet but I don't have a lot of time so I am going to make this quick... Bullet points go!

  • The cancha inauguration was amazing, our youth and the community of El Chorro made us look so good, they didn't really need us at all but it was nice of them to give us some of the credit.
  • CBT ended, very sad, good times with good people. Definitely won't forget it.
  • We had our swearing-in ceremony, the acting U.S. Ambassador was there, as was the Peace Corps country director and all our host families, technical trainers, and language facilitators. Lots of words of encouragement for our two years of service and a nice way to wrap up training.
  • Had two days in the capital after swearing-in to wrap up things, pack our stuff, and say goodbye to our host families. Everyone stayed in hotels the last night before departing to our sites, we (the youth crew) found a great one: cheap with balconies everywhere and roof access. We spent our last night together as a group drinking, dancing, eating pizza and basically being loud drunk Americans with an amazing Caribbean breeze blowing and keeping us cool. It was great. We also swam at the embassy pool the next day, unbelievable.
  • Then we departed to our sites. I like my site a lot, great people and I found a great little park area with a bench where I can read. Love it. Have had 5 youth group meetings already and am starting English classes this week. Soccer everyday and co-ed volleyball this friday. Not going to have time to do my community diagnostic but oh well.
  • Got bed bug bites all over my body, not so fun.
  • Had a week of Kreyol training, starting over with a new language also isn't very fun, but hopefully someday I will be as functionally bad at Kreyol as I currently am at Spanish.
  • I have the world's worst farmer's tan, lots of sun+t-shirt= not a good look for me. No beach days in sight to fix it either.
  • Batey 9 is surrounded by sugarcane fields, with mountains in the distance. It is actually very pretty. Sorry no pictures yet, gotta get on that.
  • Better update to come, gotta write the post before I get to the internet next time.
  1. I have a cell phone! and I have service at my site most of the time! Those who are interested can call me at 1.809.723.2761. Simple, no country code or anything like that.
  2. Here is another link to some more of Kerri's pictures from CBT... http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2225887&id=1615070&l=73e448ac65
  3. I am not funny when I write, quite the opposite in fact. I apologize but I am afraid that I am just a boring writer. But the good news is my friend Duncan is a hilarious writer. So read his blog and just know that that is how I wish I could convey my experience down here to you all. Seriously, go to his blog right now and read all the posts. You won't regret it. http://duncanpeabody.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Hey all, so we left Constanza yesterday and are now back in the capital. It was quite a sad send off, a lot of tears, a lot of hugs, and a lot of love. I will write more about the inauguration and the goodbye party with our families and youth soon, and also upload pictures from both. Also, it recently came to my attention that all the pictures I have on facebook cannot be seen because Kerri´s profile is private, so here are some photos from Constanza up to two weeks ago.



Hope these work, adios!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

La Cancha

I mentioned briefly in my last post that I, along with three other volunteers, have been working with our youth group on building a basketball court, or “cancha.” Well I have great news to report.

At the end of last week the project’s prospects were looking pretty dismal. The mayor blew off our meeting, and the letter we gave to his assistants must not have been as persuasive as we thought because we kept getting the run around when our youth asked about the funding.

In the letter we basically said that our barrio, El Chorro, did not have a basketball court or play (baseball field) for kids to do recreational activities, but they did have more than half the concrete already completed for a mini-cancha as well as a broken hoop. The community also had motivated youth that had the knowledge and ability to finish the court and the support of the neighborhood association. All we needed was 15 bags of cement, red, blue and white paint, and two meters of sand.

The estimates we got for the materials put the cost around 8,000 pesos, about 220 dollars. We thought it would be an easy sell to the mayor because it was just a one time expense for a barrio without a court and he wouldn’t need to do anything but sign the check. Our youth seemed optimistic as well.

Well when we went down to his office to make our pitch last Monday we were told that the mayor had an “emergency meeting” and wouldn’t be able to meet with us. So we made the pitch to his aides and gave them our letter with pictures of the unfinished cancha, and they gave us positive feedback and looks that said “all you’re asking for is 15 bags of cement?” So we waited all week to hear back and never did, and our youth kept saying they were going to find out tomorrow, then tomorrow, then tomorrow. Finally by Thursday we all knew we weren’t getting anything from the mayor, not even a no.

It wasn’t unexpected, we had always assumed we would be rejected by the mayor and had been trying to get our jovenes to walk the beat and make similar pitches to the hardware stores, businesses, and political candidates. But the whole week they had said we would get it from the mayor so we waited and waited, and then when we had wasted the whole week we finally were able to get a group organized to hit up businesses on Friday morning.

But by then we were really under the gun. It was October 9th and all the volunteers had to have their projects done by the following week. Basically we were starting from scratch, and as we walked downtown to meet our youth to go from business to business I was pretty pessimistic that we would get anything from anybody. I was mad we had waited to hear from the mayor instead of fundraising and had wasted the whole week and was disappointed that we had apparently failed in our admittedly ambitious attempt to help build a basketball court.

But something amazing happened once we hit the pavement. It started slow, the first politician blew us off, and then some hardware stores said the boss wasn’t in but they would deliver our letter and call us back, not very promising. Then our luck started to change. A couple of our youth knew someone who worked at another hardware store, and he said we should come back in the afternoon to talk to his boss, so we had an in. Then while standing on the street writing down the name of a political candidate whose face was plastered on a truck, the candidate walked up, it was his truck! He was unshaven and clearly just a regular working man during the day, and one of our youth started talking to him and showed him our letter, and he just reached in his pocket and gave us 500 pesos, about 15 bucks. It wasn’t a lot but it was something, our first donation.

From there we went out and met another candidate who promised to donate something, then a water distribution plant that promised a couple bags of cement and all the sand we wanted. The ball was rolling. From there we went to another hardware stuff who said they would call us, but while we were waiting one of your youth recognized the ex-mayor and told him about the court and he just bought us four bags of cement on the spot. Later that day we got some paint from the owner of the hardware store we had visited earlier, and two bags of cement from the water place, and our group got six more bags and some paint plus 1,000 pesos from other sources.

The day was a complete 180, we had gone from nothing to everything and could actually build the court. We started to plan things out and after preparing we started building the court on Sunday morning. It was hard work, we didn’t have a cement mixer so we had to mix the gravel,
sand, cement and water by hand. We also had to get the sand from a disgusting river and bags of wet sand are about the heaviest thing I have ever tried to lift. But our youth were incredible, they had all the connections. The brother of Kelvin works in construction so he led the laying down of cement, and a guy they knew had a backhoe so he ripped up the broken rim and also dumped sand for us to mix. We worked all morning on Sunday, then the youth finished the laying down the cement that afternoon.

We let the court dry on Monday and then on Tuesday went over there early to put the lines down and paint. Dean and I printed international court dimensions from the internet and tried to make an official court while Jenni and Alicia painted the backboard and cleaned the surrounding area with some neighborhood kids. Putting the lines down was much more complicated than we had envisioned, we had to measure and place tape 5 cm apart at perfect angles 6.25 meters from the non-existent rim for the 3 point line, and make perfect circles with nothing but a measuring tape and string. It was extremely tedious work and took a long time, but we got the lines painted in yellow and they finished painting the court red, blue and white. And I also got the world's worst farmer's tan to show for it.

Now we just need to install the hoop and then on Thursday we have our inauguration/bball tournament so that should be a lot of fun. All in all I'm really happy with the work we've done here in Constanza over the past five weeks. It was just supposed to be training but because we were paired with such an incredible youth group we were able to complete a project that we can all be proud of. Not a bad start at all and now I'm really excited to get to my site and do work in the place I will be calling home for the next two years.

(more pictures of the cancha can be seen here and there will be more to come)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Winding Down and Starting Over

The community-based portion of our training is nearing its end; we have less than two weeks remaining in beautiful Constanza. It has been great, I think everyone was beaten down by the weather in the capital when we first arrived, many volunteers have told us that they don’t understand why they have this training group arrive at the absolute hottest part of the year. But I guess it was good because the rest of the year will seem cooler and less suffocating in comparison.

But after three weeks of hell (I actually imagine hell must feel a lot like Santo Domingo in August) arriving in Constanza was a blessing. I immediately fell in love with it. It is so green, with mountains in every direction and crops covering every valley and hillside. It looks a lot more like Oregon than an island in the Caribbean.

Also, after the unbelievable amounts of trash everywhere in Santo Domingo, Constanza looks like Pleasantville. There are still some places that trash just kind of gets dumped out of sight, but you actually see garbage trucks on the streets here, something I only saw once in three weeks in the capital.

As part of our training in Constanza the 15 of us were divided into smaller groups and each group was partnered with a local youth group. This was great to get to know some Dominican youth and start figuring out how to work within screwed up system to get things done. My youth group, along with Jenni, Alicia, and now Dean, is an environment-focused youth group from the barrio of El Chorro, a poorer barrio on the outskirts of town. The group was amazing and really had their stuff figured out, we definitely learned a lot more from them than they did from us but they like us so I think it’s okay. We are still in the process of trying to get some cement and paint from the mayor or some other source to finish a little basketball court in their barrio before we leave, so keep your fingers crossed.

Throw in the fact that all us volunteers lived within two blocks of each other and hung out all day during training and then every night made CBT a really great experience. “Loma Time” was amazing. Instead of going to clubs or bars to spend money we didn’t have, we would just take some ipod speakers, blankets, and sometimes drinks up the hill near our barrio. Up on the loma we would just sit in a group, talk and get to know each other, listen to music and stare out at the city lights and stars above. It was a blast and was the perfect way to unwind after long days. Part of me is kind of sad to see it go honestly, but now it’s on to the Big Show!

We got our placements in a big meeting with our assistant peace corps director (APCD) Adele Williams. She has been working on developing possible project sites since February and during her explanation of each site and who was going where it was obvious she had thought about it a lot and put each person in the site that most matched their skills, desires, and experience. I think to a person everyone is really happy about their site placements so that's pretty awesome.

(Here is a map to the youth development group's site placements)

I am going to Batey 9 in the southwest of the country. This is the desert area and it is supposed be really hot, really dusty, and not a whole lot of fun in terms of climate. She said there are a lot of youth excited to have a volunteer and I will be working with sexual health and sports and recreation. We didn't really find out anything more than where we are going so I will have to wait until we get our project descriptions in a couple weeks and also visit our sites. Like I said Adele put a lot of work in and had good reasons for sending people where she sent them, and I feel like it is a really good fit for me. The only downside is that I am really far from all the friends I've made in CBT--I am the only one from our youth development group going to the southwest. But there are some second year volunteers in the region so I won't be totally alone.

So yeah, that's the lowdown. We are almost done here, then we go back to the capital for a couple days, then go visit our site and take our stuff, then go back to the capital to swear-in and then we will be returning to our sites for good around October 29th. I also have a week of Creole training in there somewhere but I'm not sure exactly when.

My internet access is most assuredly never going to be like it has been here in Constanza for the rest of my two years, so I will try and write a lot before I leave. Once I get to my site I have no idea what kind of access I'll have, I'm pretty sure I won't have any in the Batey and I don't know what the closest town is that will have access. So start sending that snail mail, letters would be greatly appreciated. The mail goes to the capital and I'm pretty far away, so I'll probably only be able to pick it up every month or so. Nevertheless, here is my mailing address for the rest of my two years:

Cameron Jones PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Bolivar 451 Gazcue
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Letters are safe and easy, packages perhaps less so, but since it is going to the Peace Corps it should be fine. Don't send boxes or anything via UPS or FedEx, they go to customs and cost a lot to get out and get messed with. So letters and padded envelopes via regular mail is they way to go I've been told. Several people have received stuff already in large padded envelopes and they said it takes about two weeks to arrive. Love you and miss you all, adios!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Hello all. It has been a while since I updated the blog, for that I apologize, I will try and write more often while I still have some kind regular internet access. A lot has happened since I wrote last, including a visit from Aaron Williams, the new Peace Corps director. You can read a little about him here. The Dominican Republic was the first country he visited after getting sworn in, so it was a pretty big deal. He came to our training center straight from a meeting with the vice president of the country. He was really nice and gregarious and spent like thirty minutes talking to us about his service (he served in the D.R. from 1967-70 and married a Dominicana), and then took some pretty tough questions from us ranging from his experience learning Spanish to what his vision was for the future of the Peace Corps. Then he joined us for lunch before jet-setting off to wherever else in the world he was going next. It was great to meet such a successful person who had been in the exact same position as us 40 years earlier, and who went on to have an incredible career in both the public and private sectors of international development.

What else has happened in the past few weeks... well we had our volunteer visits which were great. I visited a married couple, Darryl and Trenita, and they were amazing hosts. They live in a suburb outside La Romana, which is a pretty big city in the eastern part of the country along the southern coast. It was great to get out of the madness of Santo Domingo and actually see what life as a volunteer is like. Mostly we hung out and talked, ate American food that they cooked, and I tagged along as they had their various meetings and activities in their community. There was girls' volleyball practice, a high school graduation, and condom distribution and safe sex information with their Escojo Mi Vida group of teenagers, which is a program designed to teach youth groups about safe sex and then when they complete the class they can teach it to their peers. And we went to the beach twice! So I finally swam in the Caribbean Ocean. The color of the water is like nothing I have ever seen, and it felt great to get in and swim around a little bit. My beach visits are going to be few and far between I fear, so I need to really ejoy them when I can.

The big change is that we finished the core part of our training and have split up into our project groups to do community based training in different parts of the country. The youth group is one of the largest, with 16 (now 15, I will elaborate later) people. We are in beautiful Constanza high in the mountains. The difference between here and the capital is like night and day, I literally and metaphorically got a breath of fresh air when we arrived. I absolutely love it here. It may surprise some of you, it definitely surprised me, to find out that the Dominican is actually a really mountainous country. Everyone thinks of it as just island of beautiful beaches and baseball players, but it has three major mountain ranges stretching across the country and its highest peak is more than 10,000 feet. We are not that high, but our valley is surrounded by mountains on all sides with beautiful green forests in every direction. The temperature is perfect during the day and a bit chilly at night, I don't ever want to leave. Our group is great so the long days of classroom training aren't as bad as they could be, and in smaller groups of three or four we have started working with local youth groups. My host family is wonderful, super generous and friendly. My host parents are named Pedro and Esperanza, and their three kids are Enzo, Evelyn, and Jesus, ages 13, 10, and 8. I like them a lot, we play soccer and dominoes and listen to this awful song Pepe on repeat day after day. The other trainees are really fun to be around, we walked to the river the other day to go swimming and have been hanging out a lot. That's not so good for my Spanish but great for my happiness. The only drawback to Constanza is that colder weather means colder bucket baths, so cold that it borders on unbearable. The cold water felt great in the city, but here it makes you want to scream. My dona boils the water for me sometimes, so if she offers I accept. It makes me a wuss but feels so much better. But I have been taking a lot more cold ones lately because it's easier and that's what everybody else in my family does, though experiencing the warm bucket baths makes the cold ones that much more painful.

This past week was a hard one in training. We had to carry out a community diagnostic of our youth groups' barrios and then do a 30 minute presentation to the group of what we found, in Spanish. Needless to say there were some long, stressful nights trying to prepare the presentation. But our group worked really well together and I thought we did a really good job, though I am ecstatic to have it behind us. Then on Friday our big boss lady, Adele Williams, the Assistant Peace Core Director for the youth program, visited us along with her counterpart from Peace Corps Costa Rica who was visiting to share ideas with Adele. While he made a presentation, a handful of people were pulled out in succession to meet one on one with Adele. I was one of those people and it was to talk to me about bateys. A batey is a Haitian community within the D.R. They used to be seasonal housing for Haitians who migrated to work in the sugar cane fields, but they are now basically slum cities isolated from the rest of the country. They have a pretty bad reputation, and a lot of volunteers are hesitant to go there because it is a very tough situation to work in because of the lack of resources. But during my first interview one of the questions was if you would be willing to go to a batey, and I said I would. Some volunteers come and ask to go to a batey because they want to take on that challenge, I am not that hardcore but I figure I have no excuse not to go. When she talked to me on Friday Adele said she just wanted to make sure I was still willing to go to a batey, and to talk to me about learning Creole. So part of the question about where I will be spending the next two years has been answered, though I don't know where specifically I will be placed. I could be biting off more than I can chew, those in our group who visited bateys for their volunteer visit said it was shocking, but now that it has become more concrete and less hypothetical I am looking forward to it in a weird way. Plus, now instead of being bad at one foreign language I can be bad at two!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Classes and a Car Wash

I arrived in the Dominican Republic on August 20th, so I have been here about a week and a half. During this time I haven´t done much but go to classes all day and hang out with my host family and study or read at night. I have only seen the ocean twice! Visions of hanging out on the beach were shattered the second we landed. Training is intense, we have safety and security classes, language classes, technical training classes, history and culture classes... I thought graduation meant I was done with school! We also have health classes about mosquitoes, water, malaria, dengue, parasites and a whole host of things you don´t even want to hear about. I have had about a half dozen shots since I arrived and have to take these malaria pills once a week that supposedly have a side effect of ¨technicolor dreams¨ and make some people go crazy. We were issued our ¨mosquiteros,¨ mosquito nets, that we have to sleep under every night and also our motorcycle helmets that we have to wear when using a ¨motoconcho,¨ a motorcycle taxi that you have to take to get to many rural parts of the country and are supposed to be near suicidal endeavors. We are not allowed to drive a motorcycle or we get kicked out but we can put our lives in the hands of some random, crazy motoconcho driver... doesn´t make much sense to me but oh well.

Speaking of rules, we have spent hours going over the rules and regulations, of which there are countless let me tell you. The list of things you can get kicked out for is almost as long as the list of diseases and viruses you can/probably will contract during your two years here.

But there have been a couple of free moments when I have been able to have some fun. First of all our group is great, there are 51 one of us from all over the country. There is actually another volunteer from the University of Arizona! But it is not just a bunch of college-aged kids, there are three volunteers over the age of 50 and at least one or two in their late 20s early 30s. Our training director said some statistics at the beginning, I don´t remember exactly but we were from something like 30 states. And man are there some smart and successful people in our group. I think like 25 people have graduate degrees, including one law degree. Many have their masters in social work or public policy, and several others are pursuing graduate degrees in conjunction with their service.

Despite having such a large group I feel like I know a lot of people decently well already. Though we are never all together outside of school, at various times groups of us have gotten together after training to play baseball with some neighborhood kids or basketball on an outdoor court not very far from my house, so that has been great. And on Friday we went out for the first time, but not to a club or bar, nope, we went out to a car wash!

They have been drilling it into our heads in training that it isn´t safe to be out late, or to drink in excess, or do any of the things they know college-aged kids like to do at night. I think a lot of it has been a scare tactic and also to cover their backs in case something happens to one of us, but there is some truth to the fact that this is a very poor country on the whole and large groups of Americans could be a target. But you can´t live in fear so on Friday a group of us from around my barrio, Los Cocos, and the neighboring ones, Don Gregorio and Pantoja, met up at a colmado (corner store) to drink some cold Presidentes and then went to a Car wash in Los Alcarrizos that we had heard was a good time. Now when we were putting the plan together it sounded pretty weird to go to a car wash at night, but we were all excited to go out and do something fun at the end of our first week. We walked about ten minutes to a car wash that was basically underneath the Autopista Duarte, which is hands down the scariest freeway I have ever been on. When we got there we saw another group of volunteers that lived in Alcarrizos and later another group came. All in all there were about 25 of us and it was a blast. The ¨car wash¨ is actually a car wash with a dance floor and bar off to one side. Dominicans absolutely love to dance, and we had gotten a little lesson in how to dance Merengue and Bachata during the week. The girls in our group went crazy and danced immediately but it took the rest of us guys a little while, and some liquid courage, to get out of the chairs and on to the floor. When we finally did I have to admit it was really fun and we all switched off dancing with one another and literally danced for two hours straight, at one point forming a conga line and then a circle inside which the Dominicans showed us how raunchy you can dance when you actually have moves and not screws on your hips. It was a great time and we were all disgustingly sweaty at the end, the dance floor was under a little ramada so we were practically outside and the humidity never subsides so we were all just drenched. But it felt great to get out, drink some cold beer, and dance the night away with some new friends in a new country.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Beginning

So I have been down in the Dominican Republic for about a week and now that I finally have a strong enough internet connection I can share some initial thoughts and observations of the D.R.
Well to start, it's really hot and and extreeemely humid. I was bracing myself before I came for a lot of humidity, and because I am a desert kid I figured it would be a rough adjustment. But it is like nothing I have ever experienced. You just sweat and sweat and sweat, and since everybody knows how I am about showers and cleanliness, one would think I would be having a hard time with it. Really what you have to do is not think about it. Do not think about the sweat dripping down your face and through your shirt, your pit stains and backs stains and front stains, or the swamp in your pants (in Dominican culture men are supposed to wear long pants, all the time, regardless of the heat). And luckily I managed to do so rather easily, I have completely let go of apprehension over sweating constantly, I am sweaty, every one else is sweaty, that's life.
After a long day, class and training starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., a nice cool shower would be nice. But since my house doesn't have any running water that is not an option. Instead we take "bucket baths." Basically you stand in the shower with a big bucket of cold water on the floor and you take a smaller bucket, fill it up, and pour it over your head. Then you lather up, fill up the smaller bucket again, and repeat. You do this as needed until you feel clean or the bucket is near empty. Again, it is one of those things that, given my great affinity for showers, should have been difficult to adjust to. But it is quite the opposite, "bucket baths" are actually incredibly refreshing and it is amazing how little water you need to feel clean.
My host family is very nice, but I do not have a really close relationship with them like I did in Chile. I am gone all day at training and when I get home I am usually really exhausted from the heat, from the long day, and from the mental exertion of trying to think and speak in Spanish. I tend to go to bed pretty early and not sit out with them on the porch for hours which is considered pretty unfriendly in this culture, but I am just so tired that I basically look forward laying on my bed with the fan on high and pointed directly at me, listening to music, and reading before falling asleep. Then I wake up and do it all over again the next day. But I hope as my Spanish improves and I get more energy as I adjust here I will be able to connect with them more, but we are only in the capitol for about two more weeks. Though I did go to church with them on the first Sunday, they are very religious and attend an evangelical church in our neighborhood, and it lasted for three hours! It started at 5 p.m. and the first half wasn't bad at all, there was lots of singing and music, there was a full drum set and an assortment of Dominican instruments, but then the second half was just a guy preaching and it dragged on like no other. I am not religious but I went because they invited me and it was a good thing to do with the family and experience at least one time. They go to the church like four or five days a week but I have turned down every weekday invitation since, and I think one Sunday service was enough. But it was a unique experience to say the least and I'm glad I went. The country is still almost entirely Catholic but evangelicism is spreading fast and they tend to be more passionate. I'm getting kicked out of our school that has the wireless but I will try and update soon. Paz!