Monday, June 27, 2011
It started at 5 p.m. local time, which given the Caribbean climate I thought would be a death sentence. But it was just overcast enough to bring the temperature down a notch and that made a big difference. All throughout the course, which wound through wealthy Dominican neighborhoods and main thouroughfares, fans were lined up shouting encouragment at the runners, giving water, and spraying us with water from their garden hoses.
I had no idea that events such as that existed in the Dominican Republic, or that there was such a sub-culture of similar sporting events. I found out at the race about other events around the country, including triathlons and biathlons.
The D.R. is a confusing place full of juxtapositions. On the one hand you have very impovershed parts of the country without even the most basic services, corruption is endemic in the military and police force, the political system consists primarily of handouts and graft, thousands of children born in the country are stateless and unable to attend school or work in the formal sector and, on top of it all, the Dominican Republic is also home to one of the worst, if not the worst, education system in the Americas.
Yet on the other hand if you go to certain parts of the capital or Santiago you could easily think you were in the the United States. There is every amenity, chain restuarants, fancy cars, million dollar high-rise apartments, you name it. There is even a half-marathon with corporate sponsors, competitors from 8 different countries, tons of publicity, and a huge turnout on the day of. We even got a sweet goodie bag for registering that included our chip and number, a running shirt with the event printed on it, sports drinks, crackers, cookies, and chocolate.
I competed in said event yesterday, only a 4 hour bus ride from my community. It is disconcerting that extreme poverty and extreme privilege are so close to each other. I know it is the same in the States and most other countries of the world, but I guess that I didn't go back and forth between the two sides in the States so I never really had to think about it.
It raises deeper questions that I can't answer, though I do know that getting together and running in the event with my friends was one of the most fun things I have done in-country so far.
One of the coolest things about the race was that one volunteer, Meg, brought 15 kids from her community to run in the race. I mean kids, like 10-14 years old. They couldn't even technically register because they were under 16 so they don't have a Dominican cedula, they had to lie and run as their parents.
Once she decided to start training for the half-marathon 3 months ago she invited some kids in her community to train with her. Keep in mind that running is not a part of the culture here, I'd say that outside of the small niche group of runners in the capital there are very few people who run long distances for fun. Baseball players just kind of run short sprints and then stand around for a while, and the rest of the population is pretty sedentary.
I have never seen anybody running for fun in my site, or even running at all. But the kids started going with her on her runs, and eventually they had a pretty good sized running club going. In order to motivate the kids, she told them that everyone who stuck with it and ran every day on the training schedule would get to go to the capital and compete in the race. 15 of the kids did, and she got friends and family from home to donate money in order to pay for the bus tickets, food, 2 nights in a hotel, and entrance fees for the race.
Most of the kids had never gone very far from their rural community if they'd left at all. Some had never seen the ocean before, despite living on a pretty small island the size of New Hampshire and Vermont. But they kept with the training program Meg set up, got to visit the capital and walk around the Colonial Zone, eat pizza, stay in a hotel, and when the race rolled around they were all there warming up with the group of Peace Corps volunteers.
Once the race started they were off, all skinny arms and legs in rapid motion. One of the kids was running in jean shorts and none had what I would call comfortable running shoes. But every single one crossed the finish line running, it was amazing to see. One boy who couldn't be older than 12 or 13 finished in 1:46 and another tiny girl who couldn't weigh more than 85 pounds finished under 2 hours. I was so impressed by the kids, and by Meg for making it all happen.
When I saw them that night in the hotel they were all smiles, all said they were going to keep running and said they would eventually like to do a full marathon.
Here are the race results if you're interested:
The winner is Kenyan, the second place finisher is Kenyan-American, and the third place finisher is Kenyan as well.
The first Peace Corps volunteer to cross the finish line was the incredible Jared Oubre, who finished 54th with a time of 1:27:34. The second PCV, and first woman, to cross the line was the equally incredible Merry Placer, with a time of 1:36:00, good enough for 11oth overall and 10th amongst women. I finished third among PCVs with a time of 1:44:47.
However, Merry and Jared were both collegiate athletes, Merry at Wake Forest and Jared at Williams, so I'm claiming to be the first normal PCV to finish the race.
I've never run that far and I felt strong, even at the end, so I am happy. I stuck to the 5 minute per kilometer pace set by my running mates during the event, Jenn and Peter, for the entire race, actually running my fastest three kilometers from km 18 to the finish.
Unfortunately, I did not beat my mother, who in 1985, the year before I was born, says she ran a half-marathon in 1:38 at the age of 27. However, she has not presented any documents confirming that time so I remain skeptical. Not really, my mother is twice the athlete I am.
Also, before I forget, please donate and get your friends to donate to this water project I am working on in my site with Duncan. You can read a description of the project and donate here:
Thanks for helping out. The advantages of donating to a Peace Corps project is that 100 percent of your donation will go directly to the project. There is no overhead, the money is for materials only. All the planning, execution and manual labor will be carried out by the benificiaries of the project and the Peace Corps Volunteers free of charge.
you can read Duncan's pitch on his blog:
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Under the Banner of Heaven - John Krakauer
Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence - Paul Feig
Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter - Adeline Yen Mah
Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky
Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama
Why the Cocks Fight - Michelle Wucker
Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
What is the What - Valentino Achak Deng as told to Dave Eggers
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The White Man's Burden - William Easterly
Consider the Lobster - David Foster Wallace
Cocaine Nation - Tom Feiling
The Professor & the Madman - Simon Winchester
Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation - Joseph J. Ellis
A Heartbreaking Tale of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers
Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine
- George Dohrmann
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris
- Mark Kurlansky
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
The Other Wes Moore - Wes Moore
Not as numerous a list as I would have predicted while preparing to depart almost two years ago, but I'm going to go with the quality over quantity defense.
Also, reading books and watching tv shows and movies on my hard drive are in direct competition with one another, so that has cut into my overall reading output.
I recommend all the books on this list, so if you are looking for ideas, pick one up, and the send me your thoughts upon finishing it.
Note: We just finished the Dominican-Haitian Relations Conference this past weekend and I think it was a success. The conference's theme was "Mobilizing Marginalized Populations" and its goal was to give volunteers and community counterparts specific ideas and strategies for projects they can do in their communities that include all members of the community: haitian immigrants, women, undocumented children, informal sector entrepreneurs etc.
One thing we wanted was for the conference to be practical and concrete, as opposed to theoretical and abstract. While it is important to understand the larger political and historical factors behind the current crisis of undocumented people in the Dominican Republic, instead of focusing on that big-picture we focused on tools and strategies for starting documentation projects and how to navigate the process to actually get people their birth certificates.
The same was true for the other mini-workshops and presentations. For education, rather than talk about the larger scale problems with public education in the Dominican Republic that are beyond our abilities to address, a great volunteer shared tools that she has been using for the past year and a half in her community to teach literacy to a small group of students. There were also presentations about youth initiatives, which include the sexual health course Escojo Mi Vida, girls club, organized sports, and environmental education. There was a health presentation about higiene and nutrition, which included a demonstration of a simple handwashing device made out of a soda bottle, especially important now because of the risk of Cholera. There were also healthy recipes using local ingrediants and tips for how to start a community garden project. The fourth presentation in the afternoon session was about doing a latrine project, focusing again on specifics, like how to organize the community and educate everyone on how to properly use and maintain latrines, and where to find funding to carry out the project.
The final presentation of the day was about the youth business plan competition, in which youth 16-29 receive business education through a course called Construye Tus Suenos, and upon completing the course write a business plan that is submitted to a group of judges for evaluation. The best twenty plans are invited to a competition where the kids make a professional presentation of the plan and budget in front of a panel of dominican professionals. The three winners are given the start-up capital for their business. Two youth who won the competition last year spoke about the experience and how the business is doing a year later. It is a great project for the rural areas because there aren't many jobs available and many people in our communities don't have access to traditional lines of credit, either because they are to poor to give collateral, or don't have citizenship.
Those were the meat & potatoes of the conference, in addition there was fun as well. Some of those include a photo exhibition from each community that was on display throughout the conference, a presenation about the history of Dominican-Hatian relations dating back to the 17th century, a Kreyol lesson, a movie, "Glory Road," to spark a discussion about race and discrimination, an immigration activity, reflection about the issues of race and disrimination through art, poetry, and drama, and guest presenters with experience in immigrants rights and working in local politics and non-governmental organizations.
It was a long three days, but the participants were very engaged and enthusiastic, and really embraced the planning session at the end. Each group walked out of the conference with at least one project in mind to begin implementing as soon as they arrive back in their communities.
I don't have my camera cord with me right now, but I will post pictures from the conference the next time I have internet.
Until the next time!
Jiska pwochenn fwa!
Hasta la proxima vez!
Friday, March 4, 2011
Also, Dominicans love taking and posing for pictures—I think my friends in my community are even more excited about my new camera than I am. Most of it is for reasons of vanity, but they have also pointed out that we can now take pictures of all the work we are doing. Nelson “el Chiquito” was out yesterday taking pictures of the girls soccer practice. Printed pictures also make great gifts I've learned.
Also, the newest group of volunteers arrived a couple weeks ago and I was asked to go to their training to share pictures of my house and community with them during the PCV Living Conditions presentation. I was one of 4 current volunteers to present. I represented a batey, and the others represented a campo, pueblo, and city. A batey is a rural mixed haitian-dominican community, a campo is a rural dominican community, a pueblo is a fairly large town, and a city is well, a city.
That's all the time I have for now, in the next post I will try to include some pictures of my community as well. Adios!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Hello all! It has been more than a year since I have updated my blog and for that I am deeply sorry. Many of you (members of my family) have mentioned to me how much you had enjoyed reading my blog and wondered why I haven't been updating it.
Well, I don't have a good excuse, but I have many excuses to make up for the lack of a good one. Quantity over quality has always been my motto. First and foremost I got lazy, no two ways about it. When there is electricity it is easier to just watch a movie or TV show on my laptop than actually think and reflect about my life in a blog entry. So if it was nighttime, and there was electricity, zoning-out won-out over taking the admittedly little amount of initiative required to write something and share it with those who are interested. I realize that was very selfish so again, my apologies.
My second excuse is that there isn't internet access in my community or in nearby communities. So even IF I would have had the initiative to write a blog entry, I wouldn't have had the ability to post it online. Using the internet requires a trip to Barahona about an hour and a half away. There are places with internet closer but in my experience those places either don't work, are too slow to get anything done, or getting permission and the password is such a fight every time that it isn't worth it (cough, cough, stupid World Vision Office, cough.) So the closest reliable internet is in Barahona, at a pizza place called Pala Pizza.
Don't be mistaken, I am able to use the internet at least every couple weeks, if not once a week. It is just that in my limited amount of internet time I have to prioritize, and email, facebook, news and sports have just been higher priorities over the past year. The internet is so vast and so much happens in the world, that trying to catch up on it all in one hour every couple weeks is just so overwhelming that having access to the internet often makes me more stressed out than relieved. Trying to get all my work stuff done and also use the web for enjoyment never seems to fit into the amount of time I have so every session feels kind of incomplete. This is actually a lame excuse for not updating my blog in a way because the amount of time it would take to copy and paste a blog entry written off-line to my blog is minimal; I offer it to you nonetheless.
My third is and final excuse is simple: duncanpeabody.blogspot.com. Duncan's blog is just so much funnier than mine could ever be, and he updates it pretty frequently, so it just made more sense in my (lazy) mind to direct any and all interested parties in that direction. Again, bad excuse since none you know him, but I will say that I have been successful in increasing the popularity of his blog. Our family makes up at least 50 percent of Duncan's readership and 100 percent of his fan club.
Also, because he constantly cries about being overshadowed by Duncan, I would like to send you all in the direction of Justin Hitchcock's blog, justinsexcellentadventure.blogpot.com. Justin is best known for getting his front tooth knocked out by Duncan on the 4th of July.
But seriously, Justin's blog is very good as well. I highly recommend it, especially for the story about the time he, Amy, and Duncan drunkenly adopted three abandoned puppies one night and then regretted it in the morning. Here is your second place sticker Justin.
And for those of you who know me—which I assume anybody reading this does, otherwise you are weirdly interested in the meandering stories of a nobody living on an island—then you know that if I can't be the best at something, in my own mind at least, then I don't do it. Hence my subconscious resistance to writing a blog. Fear of having my writing pale in comparison to Duncan's, or even worse, Justin's, has prompted my mind to construct the artificial barriers to updating my blog mentioned above.
But no! I am here to say that fear of inadequacy will no longer hold me back from sharing my life with the nearly half dozen members of my extended family who are interested in reading about it. Wi, nou kapab!
One of my New Year Resolutions is to write more, or at least write something, and that includes this blog. So I am resolving, here and now, to update my blog more frequently, ideally at least once a month.
I'm back, if you'll have me. It only took me 18 months to figure out that writing about my life and work on a regular basis is a good idea, both for myself and for my friends and family at home. Better late than never I say!
While we are on the subject of new year resolutions, I'd like to share mine with you to let you know where I'm at heading into this next year and also to keep me accountable to my resolutions.
Eat better (cook, organize lunch with a family)
Exercise at least 3 x a week (running, soccer, basketball)
Push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats at least 3 x a week
Stretching, yoga, and relaxation for at least 20 minutes a day
Study Kreyol or Spanish 30 minutes daily
Write (blog, journal, Gringo Grita, etc.)
Stay in my site
Cogelo suave (take it easy), hang out and talk to people, compartir (spend time with my neighbors)
Lesson plan and execute the Sala de Tarea (after-school program)
Solicit books for the library with a library committee—form a library committee!
Kick ass with Actas (birth certificates), find a dependable lawyer to help with rectifications
Organize the committees and write grants for water & latrine projects
Meet with the mayor and get school transportation solved
Stay engaged & don't work alone