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!