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!