Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blue Drawers

Blue Drawers, Cooking in Pot
Blue Drawers, Ready to Eat.
 Blue drawers, or blue panties as my host mom likes to call them, are only the most delicious breakfast food in Jamaica.  Also called tie-a leaf, duckoono, and boyo, this yummy dish is made from coconut, sweet potatoes, green bananas, sugar, vanilla, spices and raisins.  The mixture is wrapped inside a banana leaf and tied with a string. The wrapped parcel reminds me of a gift (see top pic).  The parcel is then placed in a pot and cooked in boiling water.

Why is it called blue drawers, I wondered? It's because the banana leaf gives the water a bluish tint and the shape of the fold resembles drawers.

Blue drawers is eaten cold and for breakfast, per my experience .  I'm not sure what I can compare the taste to. It is moist like a pudding but firm, coconut-ty, sweet and the raisins give it a tangy pop.  I enjoyed it with coffee and felt like I was having dessert for breakfast.

I appreciate that the ingredients were so fresh and so close to home. The bananas and  leaves were gathered from our back yard, the coconut and sweet potato were freshly grated and bought at the outdoor market.

The appearance of blue drawers reminded me of a dish in the Dominican Republic called "pastelito en hoja".  Pastelito en hoja is also wrapped in a banana leaf but it's not sweet and is has a meat filling.  In the DR, making the dish was a very social experience as a group of us gathered together under the tutelage of an experienced Dona to make our first batch..  See my posts from April 2006 for pics.

All this writing about food is making me hungry!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Di Bus

Above is a picture of a typical bus in Jamaica.  The writing on the bus, bottom left, says seats 12 but  that is almost always ignored. The bus usually holds 16-20 persons.  The pic is not of  my bus stop but is of a stop in Mobay.  I didn't take a picture of my stop because I don't want to attract attention to myself and I feel like a camera would expose me as a tourist or something.  The buses in my site are much more colorful and they have custom writing all over. My favorite bus  has bible verses written on the outside and inside.

The ride from work to home is usually about 40 minutes and costs $120 JD ($1.40 usd).  There is a bus driver and a bus loader who helps the passengers and collects the money.  The loaders is called the conductor or "ducta" which sounds like doctor to me.

Sometimes it can be quite an adventure, riding the bus home.  The adventure starts at the bus stop.
The bus stop is located at a gas station at a busy intersection of town and the bus driver is usually on the run from the Police! Why would the bus driver be on the run from the police you might ask? Because the passenger loading is supposed to take place at the bus park, not the gas station,  but the buses NEVER EVER goes to the bus park because, well I'm not sure why. So the bus drivers and the Police have this game they play where the police will show up on their bikes or on foot and the buses will scatter as the drivers are yelling at the police. The buses then circle the block until the Police leave.  It can be DRAMA, with all the running but I think I've gotten used to it. At first i thought I had stepped into the wrong bus and was confused by the police showing up and the buses running from the police.  This one day I felt like i was in an action movie, as I had just gotten on the bus when the police show up and the bus starts taking off and we are riding down the road with the door wide open.  the drivers yelling shut the door shut the door and i'm trying to shut it but its one of those sliding doors that needs some momentum. it takes a few tries but i finally get it shut.  Pheww safe on the bus.

Apart from the Police there is more DRAMA with the "ducta". Typically there are 2 or 3 buses to choose from.  The bus driver will not leave until the bus is full, so the "ductas" compete with each other to try to fill their buses first.  It's quite a spectacle when you are not the one being pulled in different directions. The  "ductas"  will literally fight over passengers, they are shouting at each other, taking your arm, pulling you in different directions, helping with your bags.  The first time for me was overwhelming so I went with the  "ducta"  that I was most familiar with and got on his bus.  Now I look for the most "ready" bus  so I don't have to sit and wait too long for the bus to fill.

Once I'm on the bus and I'm sitting and waiting for it to fill I can safely observe the spectacle.  Being on a bus sometimes is like rooting for a team or standing in line at the grocery store.  As you wait for the bus to fill you notice that another bus is filling quicker and you wonder if you picked the right bus. You want to encourage people to join your bus because the quicker it fills the quicker you can go. When people get on your bus you feel  like your team just won a point. YES!! Go "ducta". I can appreciate the "ductas" hard work and passion for filling up the bus as he runs across the street, stopping traffic,  trying to get more passengers. Not many people work with such  passion everyday.

Between each other the "ductas" tease each other in good fun and run from each other like school children.  Most of the time, if you look closely and understand what is going on, it looks like they are  having fun and as they break into smiles and laughter.   It makes me smile and laugh to see them running around trying to get more passengers.  I can write more about the "ductas" but I'll call it a post now.  Please pray for the "ductas" as they have a very stressful job yet are usually polite, helpful  and calm despite the drama :)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

My Partnering Organization

The slogan of the St. Ann PAA is "HIV/AID is everybody's business! Be a source of sustainable change!"
Just a little more about the organization that I am working closely with, the St Ann Parish AIDS Association (St Ann PAA).   Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes and Saint Ann is one of them.  The AIDS Association is an all volunteer organization.  The logo is pictured above.  Some of the things the organization does is outreach, intervention, advocacy, counseling and grants.  Last week was an exciting week as the organization awarded 3 grants to people living with HIV. The grants are to assist PLHIV in creating creating a sustainable source of income. Specifically the 3 grants were for a landscape business, a snack shop, and poultry rearing.  Currently they are organizing a Community Fair for January 21st with over 25 community groups and businesses representing their organization.

 The St. Ann PAA has some exciting projects on the horizon.  The organization has received funds to open a resource center and a cyber cafe.  I will be assisting in the set up of the cyber cafe and the resource center.  Currently  I am working on a website for the organization and will soon share that with you all. The sponsors of these projects are the National AIDS Committee, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Peace Corps.

Pray that the Lord, our Strong Helper, will move us ahead with great Joy and Strength for his Glory.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day in Jamaica

Nativity scene at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
 Christmas is a big celebration in Jamaica.  The excitement is felt in the air in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  On Christmas Eve the masses gather at Grand Market to do their Christmas Shopping. Celebrations go on all night and end around 7 or 8am the next morning.  On Christmas day many attend church and have a big Christmas meal with chicken, pork and goat as the main dish. 

My Christmas experience was wonderful. I ventured out on the 23rd during the day and caught some of the crowd and culture. I was intrigued  by the Junkanoo characters that dance around the streets in their scary masks, pointing pitch forks and asking for money, all in good fun and a tradition from the past. I didnt have a camera to capture the Junkanoo but believe me they are some of the scariest masks I have seen. I spent Christmas eve with my host family helping bake traditional Jamaican fruit cake.  It turned out really good!  Christmas Day I attended church with my host family. I was so happy to see the alter decorated with a Christmas tree and Nativity scene. I hadn't seen many decorations or trees leading up to Christmas as I am accustomed to in the US. It made me appreciate the decorations all the more when they were put up on Christmas Day. I was so happy to finally sing some Christmas songs in Church on Christmas Day, as we had not sang any Christmas songs before then.  I could listen to Christmas songs all year around I love them so much.  Yay Christmas Carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After church we served communion to the sick who could not attend church that day.  We were offered Jamaican fruit cake and Sorrel juice (traditional Christmas drink).  Soon after I headed to Ocho Rios to celebrate with other PCV's on the beach. We caught some rays and soaked our cares away in the warm waters of Jamaica.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Beach

Mammee Bay, Jamaica
My senses were soothed ,with sand as soft as a bunny on my feet,  warm gentle waves, and calming shades of  blue. God is good.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Meet the Tireless JASL Crew

Meet the tireless Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) crew, Alfonso, Nurse (Masie), and Milton. This was taken at an intervention last week in Race Course at the Youth Advancement Development Center .  As part of the intervention, they poster the walls, set up a table with pamphlets and condom demonstrations, hand out free condoms, do free HIV testing and counseling and do a presentation on JASL and STI education.  This team of volunteers works hard. Please pray for them to have strength and motivation to continue to volunteer their time  to continue to reach the at risk population.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dispelling Myths

HIV in Jamaica is complex.  I'm just skimming the surface with this entry in trying to create a picture of the situation. In Jamaica there is a stigma associated with HIV. Myths and misinformation about HIV feed the stigma and the fear which obstructs testing, treatment and support which contribute to the spread of HIV and increase in AIDS related deaths.  Hence, a large component of HIV reduction is education and desensitization.

Below is a picture of Milton (Jamaica AIDS Support for Life Volunteer), giving a demonstration on how to use a female condom to a very interested group of high school girls. Our table generated alot of interest with our demo penises and vaginas (used for condom demos). Jamaicans are not shy in talking about sex.
 In the month that I have been here, I have  read every pamphlet and booklet in the office, I have assisted with interventions, health fairs and educational sessions. I have talked to the health care providers,  counselors,students, and people living with HIV. All of this to try to get a better understanding of the HIV situation in Jamaica and how my assignment aligns with this big picture. The stories that I have heard are heartbreaking.  My project partner told me the story of a 7 year old girl who had been raped  by a person infected with HIV.  She then became HIV positive. When her caregivers found out that she was HIV positive they put her in a cage and kept her there until my project partner heard about her case and became her advocate. They kept her in a cage due to the fear and the stigma that is associated with HIV.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No More "Smalling Up" of Me

"Small up" is a term used in Jamaica when riding the bus. Bus drivers get paid based on the number of people they transport,so they try to pick up as many passengers as possible. The bus "loader" helps the bus driver find passengers and squeeze people into the bus. When the bus appears full to the untrained eye the "loader" scans the bus and finds space where another person might fit. That's when the loader says "small up".  He means, "Move over and make room for someone else".

All that said to explain the name of the poem below.  I saw this poster up at a social service agency and wanted to share the poem. I liked the message that children should be encouraged to express and to be themselves. 
No More "Smalling Up" of Me
No more meekly saying
'yes' when my heart is is 
screaming 'no'
No more taming of my feelings
so my power won't show
No more hiding my exuberance
from disapproving eyes
No more watering down myself
so my spirit won't rise.

No more "smalling up" of me
pretending I'm not here
No more running from the music
and the spotlight's glare
No more living in this prison
barricaded by my fears
No more turning and retreating 
in the face of new frontiers.

Even as I am speaking
I am taking shape and form
harnessing my powers like a 
gathering storm
There's no obstacle so bold
as to dare stand in my way
I am taking back my life
and I am doing it today.
- Jean Wilson 
Kingston Jamaica

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Living in Runaway Bay

Meet my host mom, Macie.  Everyone calls her Nurse. She lives in a residential area of Runaway bay and works as a nurse at the Jamaica Aids Support for Life. The day of this picture, we had our morning coffee and then went out to the side yard to pick some ripe guavas. Yummy, sweet and tart. Macie has been blessed with several fruit trees including june plum(looks like a mango), bread fruit (looks like a melon), cherry, guava, ackee and plantains. The neighbors enjoy the fruits also.  One morning, Macie went outside and to her surprise saw a little boy, way up  in the june plum tree, picking june plums to sell. No climbing for us, we just wait for the fruit to fall.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Swearing In Ceremony - Peace Corps Response, Jamaica

On Friday Nov 4, 2011 I had the privilege of meeting the USA ambassador Pamela Bridgewater for the  official Peace Corps Swearing In Ceremony. It was an intimate ceremony with one other Peace Corps Response Volunteer. We met in Ambassador Bridgewater's office, where she  took a few minutes to thank us for our service, welcome us to Jamaica and ask us if we had any thoughts.  Then we continued with the reading of the official Peace Corps vows. Soon after I was put on a bus, destination Ocho Rios.  I was on my own for the first time since arriving in country.  Awaiting my arrival, in Ocho Rios , was my project partner, Oral Higgins.  What a relief to get out of the capital and to the northern coast of Jamaica. Ya Mon! I hope you are all well. Laura

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Peace Corps Response in Jamaica

Welcome to my photo journal!
(pic from La Romana Domincan Republic)
Come visit me in Jamaica or visit my blog. Here I will be sharing a weekly picture throughout the 6 months that I will be working as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Ocho Rios Jamaica.  Through my pics, I hope to share a little piece of what life is like in Jamaica.  I hope you enjoy the walk with me and that we can stay connected.

My assignment as a Peace Corps Response volunteer is  "Database Website Consultant for the National Aids Committee".  www.nacjamaica.org

I am scheduled to arrive on Monday Oct 31, 2011 feeling excited and anxious

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Whale Watching in Samana, Happy Bday

Best Whale Shot
Originally uploaded by espinli.

What better way to celebrate my bday then to go whale watching and scratch it of from my list of things i gotta do in life. All in all it was a great experience as you can see we had quite a show with the whales jumping out of the water like torpedoes and flipping their tails and waving their fins. We had an excellent front seat view in a small motor boat . The excitement of seeing the whales out in their natural habitat made me forget for a minute that we were in a tiny boat in the middle of the sea far far away from land with HUGE mammals that could easily swallow me with one gulp.
Afterwards we relaxed on the beautiful Island of Cayo Levantado aka Bacardi Island. where we drank rum out of coconuts and basked in the sun on the sandy white beach for a few wonderful hours before heading back to reality.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Home for the Next 2 years

My Project Site for 2 years, San Victor Moca

My site is called San Victor, Moca. It’s in the Cibao valley where there are mountain ranges to the north, and past the mountain ranges is the beautiful north coast. It is very pretty especially for somebody who grew up in the flatlands of the Midwest and is not used to seeing mountains. They grow tobacco, coffee, yucca, mangoes avocadoes, cherries, passion fruit, papaya, and all sorts of other delicious fruits. I love having fresh juice straight from grandma’s backyard. Right now mangoes and avocadoes are in season. I had no idea there were so many different types of mangoes; there are like 8 varieties all equally delicious. Everybody here raves about the avocadoes and is excited to have avocado at the table for lunch everyday. I am not too crazy about avocados but everybody assures me that there are also different types of avocados and there are some as big as coconuts and others that taste like butter. Yummy , I might become an avocado fan after all.

San Victor is about 14,000 people and is considered a pueblo and not a campo. The town has all of the services available such as electricity, water, telephone, cable. However , of course like all of the country, the water and the electricity are rationed during the day and week. We have some paved roads and some gravel roads. All in all I am impressed with the little town and its current state of development. We have little mom and pop shops for all necessities such as food and cloths.

In the picture above is the colmado we usually go to and that is my host sister on the right in the blue shirt. She is buying groceries to make lunch. Looks like we had chicken that day.

The little food stands are called “colmados” and are where everybody goes everyday to buy the food to prepare lunch, or “la comida” which literally translates to the food. Lunch is the biggest meal here and my family spends 3 hours everyday preparing lunch. It is definitely worth it because it is delicious or maybe its because I am so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that anything would taste delicious. Really I think it’s very good, it’s usually rice and beans with chicken, pork or beef.

I think my town is considered a little better off than other volunteer sites. We have an internet café and even a gym where I go everyday and to do aerobics. There is a religious retreat here called Monte de Oracion where people from all over the world come to stay and visit.

Also there are 2 big universities within an hour away from San Victor so there are quite a few college age students that still live in San Victor but travel to school everyday. My host sister Sagrario, goes to Moca and is studying psychology.

My Host Family
Here is a picture of my house family.

From right to left, Carolina (the youngest), Sagrario, Mejo, Negra, and Escarlene ( the oldest)

Sagrario got married this year so she no longer lives in the house but she comes over everyday and makes lunch, and the oldest, Escarlene, is engaged and will be getting married within a year. Escarlene is a pharmacist and works for the government in Santiago. She is very smart and a lot of fun. She has introduced me to her friends and took me out dancing in Santiago. I am so glad to have the 3 girls as host sister. They are great company.

Here is a picture of my house.

Right behind my house is the grade school and the highschool. In our backyard we have a mango and avacodo tree, a rooster and some hens. If the rooster doesn’t wake me up in the morning the school kids definitely do.

From the pictures it probably looks pretty normal but there are some areas of town that are very poor and many of the houses look like the ones in the picture below.

My project – Tele-centro at the high school.

Here is a picture of the high school that I will be working at for the next 2 years.

It looks pretty tropical doesn’t it. I took that picture as an arial view from the Monte de Oracion.

So the goal of my project is to incorporate computers into the school curriculum, give classes to the community, and make the computer laboratory self sustainable so that it generates enough funds to pay for maintenance, repair, and a director/teacher.

The secretary of education has donated 20 dell computers , 2 inverters and 16 car batteries for back up power for when there is a blackout.
I have a committee that is supposed to help with achieving the goals of the telecenter.
I want to get a projector, laptop and digital camera for my school so that teachers and students can create power point presentations to show in class.

Wish me luck!

What I’ve been doing for the past 2 months.

Well the idea of a computer lab and donated computers with back up power is a fabulous IDEA but the reality is that power is a big problem and the education system has lots of problems. So in the past 2 months I have not been working at the computer lab because our inverters blew out and we had no back up power. As frequent and unpredictable as the blackouts are it is not feasible to use the computers without a back up power source because the computers can become easily damaged from not being turned off properly or from power surges. The reason why the inverters blew out was because our transformer was sending too high of voltages. So my school director had to find a new transformer and have it installed. I have no idea how he got a transformer but he did it. With our new transformer installed the secretary of education agreed to give us 2 new inverters which were installed last week. However now we are waiting for the batteries. So it seems that real soon we will have everything and will finally be able to open up the lab again. It’s just a shame that I had to wait because summer would have been a fabulous time to give classes. The kids are bored and keep asking me when computer classes are going to start. I think it would have been so much better if the secretary had donated laptops instead of desktops but I am sure they have their reasons and beggars cant be choosers right? Either way there are plenty of internet cafes that function perfectly well with desktops and blackouts. So it can be done at my school too. The problem is making people accountable for problems that occur. That is where the education system problems come into play and all of the problems of the government come into play. Really in any country, government run operations are less efficient than privately owned. Maybe that is the solution. Outsource the lab to a private company. Yeah , problem solved.

So what have I been doing really?

Becoming the national spokesperson for UNO , reviving every child hood game I have played and teaching the kids, nagging everybody about not throwing trash on the ground, hanging out on the front porch with neighbors, learning how to dance bachatta and merengue, fending off “enamoradores” aka admirers, getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep finally, working on my community diagnostic, and doing a few volunteer activities.

For the 4th of July about 50 volunteers went to the south to a national park called Bahia de las Aguilas, where we camped out on the beach and had a great time. Oh the beaches here are going to spoil me so much. The water is so beautifully blue and warm and the sand is so soft and untouched by tourists.
What can I say, I LOVE it here and feel so lucky to have this opportunity to slow down and enjoy life.

It looks like things are going to pick up some more as I will be starting private computer lessons this week and have been asked to teach English 2 hours a week.

Send me your addresses so that I can send you all postcards. My palm pilot treo phone was reset when I tried to have it activated so I lost all of my contacts, booh.

For those of you who can come visit me the best time would be November through February as this is when all of the festivals are and of course it will be nice and warm here when it’s freezing cold in Illinois.

Big Hugs and kisses
Miss you

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Phone and Address Update

Hi All
just wanted to update my contact info
i'll write more soon
miss you , write to me!

Laura Espinoza PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic
Cell Phone 823.979.9021


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The finished product - pastelitos en hoja

Originally uploaded by espinli.

Here you can see our pastelitos en hoja all individually beautifully wrapped in banana leaves and string. we started making it at 5 and ate at 9

they were absolutely YUMMY! a different taste in every bite.

Making string for the pastelitos

Originally uploaded by espinli.

We resourcefully made string by pulling apart a potato sack. We used the string to wrap our pastelitos.

from left going clockwise

Iris, Jenny, Becky, Patricia, Manuela, Laura, Helen

Making Pastelitos

Making Pastelitos
Originally uploaded by espinli.

Next we had to boil the leaves, add the stuffing and then wrap each one individually.

Making Pastelitos

Gathering Banana Leafs
Originally uploaded by espinli.

This past weekend Iris invited the girls over to her house to make pastelitos with her family. Pastelitos are the Domincan version of tamales. They have a vegetable based dough, stuffed with meat and sprinkled with raisins.

The first part of making the pastelitos was cutting the banana leaves from the trees. Its easy to cut them and we only needed a about 10 because they are sooo big

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Invasion of the pigs

Originally uploaded by espinli.

We all thought it was so cute how these little pigs arrived to visit us on the beach and we started snapping away.

Playa Esmeralda

Originally uploaded by espinli.

Ahhh the beach ....
so beautiful and peaceful

We took so many twisty windy roads up and down the mountains and down a secluded sand path, I´m not sure if i´d be able to find my way back to this beautiful beach. I was told the beaches don´t get much more beautiful than this one.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The IT girls

Originally uploaded by espinli.

Here is a pic of all the girls in the IT sector starting from the left
Me, Helen CS teacher from Cali, Jenny out of college from ohio taught spanish in mexico, Becky from Kansas taught in Germany. and Iris from Chicago taught spanish.

so you can see we have a good mix of teaching skils and IT knowledge in our group. I definitely need some help in the teaching departement because I´ve never taught in a classroom setting before

Pictures from the beach

Originally uploaded by espinli.

last week our IT sector of trainess got to go on a ¨cultural activity¨ to the beach, I believe it was Playa Esmeralda. Its between Higuey and Miches off the beaten path down a little sand road. The beach was practically ours as there were very few people there. Beautiful blue shallow waters, clean soft sand and warm sunshine....ahhhhh

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Volunteer Visits, New City and the Beach

Hello everybody ,
Here is an update of the past few weeks
i'll post more photos later s'not working right now :(

Volunteer visits

I survived my first trip in country all by myself! All of the trainees were given the mission of visiting a current volunteer to find out how the current volunteer is living and what a day in the life of that volunteer is like. A trip across the country all by ourselves, how exciting and scary! I feel pretty comfortable with my Spanish and I can always ask if I get lost so no problem right? It’s just different here; there are no schedules, signs, bus stops, etc. People here just know where to go and how things work, so there is no need for them to create schedules or organization and it works for them. So when a visitor is traveling you basically have to ask where everything and how to get everywhere because there are no maps or designated areas. I guess its like small town living in the USA. I was excited to have some freedom, prove to myself that I can get around on my own, and of course to meet the current volunteer to have an idea of what my life might be like in a few months. I was fortunate enough to be at a site were I could take a Caribe tours bus that took me to Santiago. Caribe tours buses are so much better than guaguas , there is air conditioning, a bathroom and you get your own seat, its LUXURY. Guaguas of course are not air conditioned, you have to carry your bag on your lap, and I had a huge bag, and the guagua doesn’t leave until it has at least 10 people in it. Once in Santiago I took 2 carro publicos ( I got a tour of the city on the carro publico because my driver forgot to tell me where my stop was and so I took it all the way to the end of the route and back) and then a guagua to my final destination , San Jose de Las Matas! Yes! I made it and didn’t get lost

The site visit was a lot of fun. The volunteer that I visited, Kate was an awesome host. I felt like I was back in the states. We had pasta and wine for lunch, she heated up water for me and I had my first HOT bucket bath, which was divine, we even went to aerobics class lead by a chubby Dominican man. The setting was awesome, an outdoor patio with a roof and beautiful lush tropical trees surrounding the patio. The ladies in the class were a trip. Kate had leant the instructor a Pilates DVD and at the end of class he asked her to explain it to the ladies. The ladies seemed more interested in the men in the video than the exercises. The instructor told them that when they had a question to tell Kate so that she could pause the video and explain it. Basically when a guy appeared on the screen they would yell out that they had a question and then talk about the guy on the screen, ese me gusta, suave come anoche, etc…

We went to the school were she works, I met her Dominican counterpart, I even got to assist her a little with a class she taught on Saturday morning. Kate has a computer youth group in the afternoons and teaches advanced Microsoft word to the community on the weekends. I will probably be doing stuff like that also whenever I am at my permanent site. The PC goal for IT is really to teach the teachers but from what I’ve heard and seen, the teachers don’t really have an interest in using the computers. It’s not going to be easy motivating the teachers, which is a common phrase here, “no es facil”. The education system here is hmmm a little inadequate. I think that’s going to be the biggest obstacle in creating sustainable development in IT. Before IT , I think first this country needs sustainable development in basic education. The kids here go to school for only half a day! Its like summer time all of the time here because the kids run around the rest of the day playing and even in school they run around and play. The teachers don’t show up when it rains, they leave when they have errands to run, they strike often, they aren’t paid well etc… and the list goes on and on. Really half a day of school seems like a problem to me. I never see the kids I live with doing homework and they are 13 and 16. Anyways I digress

We walked around her pueblo, which is beautiful. Its surrounded by mountains and pastures with goats and sheep.

So the visit was really fun and I feel like I have a better idea of what I’ll be doing. On Saturday we went to Santiago and met up with a few other current volunteers. We stayed in this pension called “the hub” which was 100 pesos or 3 dollars. The hub is owned and operated by a Canadian couple who created it just for PC volunteers in the Dominican sweet! I felt like I was in Europe traveling with friends and meeting new people. we went to an Italian restaurant and I was reminded again that we are poor volunteers as we contemplated bringing in our own bottle of wine because owe couldn’t afford to buy one at the restaurant. It was an awesome night and I even had a hot shower at the Hub. It was interesting to hear about the other volunteer’s experiences and to see how different they were even though it’s the same country. One of the girls I met has absolutely no electricity and you have to walk 45 minutes up hill to get to her house. I haven’t had to live without electricity yet. The electricity goes out here but only for few hours and then it comes back. That night I found out that a volunteer had gotten into a car accident and was in the hospital with a fractured skull. The volunteer is in stable condition now.

I spent 4 days in San Jose de Las Matas and then headed back to Santo Domingo on Sunday, just in time for Carnival! Carnival is basically a big parade next to the sea. The costumes were absolutely beautiful and the masks had so much detail and color in them. My camera battery ran out so I wasn’t able to take a lot of pictures. Carnival wasn’t as wild and crazy as I thought it would be. One of the things they do here is spank people with a bladder like container filled with , I dunno , sand. Its kind of violent. I got hit in the side of my leg and it stung. People in the parade also had whips which they would hit the ground with and hit each other with. I was glad I got to see the Carnival. The parade is supposed to be one of the best in the Caribbean.

I had another week at the training center in Santo Domingo. We had to make a Dominican meal in groups of 3 and then had a potluck on Thursday . my group made an eggplant dish, which is very common here. Eggplant is very common here in general and I have it at least once a week. Friday we had our pasadia which was a little get together for all of the host families and volunteers. We took pictures of the families with their volunteer and then displayed the pictures in a little slide show. The entertainment was dominoes and dancing. Why was it that the few times I was taken out to dance NOBODY else danced , the song lasted forever, and my dance partner was dancing way to class , practically cheek to cheek, for all to see because we were the only ones on the dance floor? I lived through my embarrassment and stumbled my way across the dance floor. I think I am getting better at dancing :-). They taught us how to bust out some dance moves and how to keep our dance partners at a respectable distance from us with a locked elbow. I should’ve busted out the locked elbow but I know for next time.

The next week all of the volunteers were split up into sectors and moved again. All of the IT volunteers were moved to El Seibo for 5 weeks. So that is where I am at right now. During these 5 weeks we will get extensive training in computers and lesson planning. We also have to do a community diagnostics and present it to our professor on Saturday. I am working on the diagnostic with my Spanish group, Jenny and Iris. I actually like El Siebo better than Santo Domingo because it is cleaner, prettier, quieter, for the most part more tranquilo. I actually have running water here and can take a real shower! The water is cold but its alright after a long hot day it feels good to get the sunscreen bugspray and sweat off with some fresh cold water. I also have not been bit by mosquitoes as much either. Life just keeps getting better and better. I think I’m really going to like living in a smaller pueblo. I can definitely get used to this. My new family is great. There is Sabina, who is the host mom, her mom, her son Ramon (13), and her niece Scarlet(16). Sabina’s husband lives in Detroit with her 2 daughters.

Saturday has to be one of my favorite days in the DR. Finally I got to go to the beach and it was one of the most beautiful, softest, cleanest and peaceful beaches that I’ve been on. It was pristine, secluded, and there were even baby pigs roaming around. After a week of moving and getting adjusted to a new city , family, and schedule , the trip to the beach was our little reward from our trainer. The drive to the beach was an adventure in itself as we all packed into a truck and went up and down windy roads through the mountains and down a secluded road to finally get to the beach. The scenery was breathtaking with mountains, waterfalls and lush trees.

Hope you all are doing well
Miss you and write to me

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My first month in the DR

My first blog entry! I’ve been in the Dominican Republic (DR) for about 3 weeks. I am having a great time in Santo Domingo. After a month of goodbyes I said my last goodbye Feb. 14th and departed to Miami Florida for 2 days of "staging" to meet the other volunteers and to get prepped for the big flight to the Dominican Republic.

During "staging" we met for the first time and it was exciting to see who we would be spending the next 2 years with. My group is great and I was really impressed with all of the other Peace Corps trainees. There are 2 returned volunteers who served in the 60’s and 70’s, 1 married couple, 21 females, 9 males and the majority of the volunteers. We were all so excited to be there that we were jumping on the beds and acting goofy. During staging we basically went over our hopes fears, expectations, aspirations, and of course safety and policy.

The Peace Corps staff led us through many activities/"dinamicas" together which is the Peace Corps way of doing things. I felt like I was in summer camp. For example one of my activities involved writing a song regarding integrating into our communities and singing it to our group which was fun and silly.

After much prepping from the staff we were ready to go to the DR on our own. Imagine 28 people each having 2 years worth of baggage trying to check in at the airport at the same time. As one of the PC trainers put it, the Miami airport is like a fiesta.

The airplane ride to the DR was absolutely beautiful with clear blue waters and sandbars visible from the plane. We landed in the DR and were greeted by the country director and training officer. They welcomed us with open arms and guidance. As we walked to baggage claim, there was a brief blackout or "apagon", as they call it here. We had been warned about electricity outages but I didn’t expect to experience it immediately at the airport.

On our way out of the airport we were greeted by current volunteers and staff holding up Peace Corps signs waving at us and welcoming us. It was so nice to be met at the airport by so many people who were happy to see us and yet had never met us. It was a sign of how the volunteers take care of each other and how they were going to be our family for the next 2 years.
This is Jenny and Becky who are both IT volunteers on our way from the airport to the retreat center.

The first day in the DR we are taken to a monastery/retreat center where we are given our first dose of malaria pills, our mosquito nets and repellent and a quick overview of things to come. That night was fun as we had dinner and then played cards outside enjoying our first beautiful Dominican evening. The next day was Friday and we had training at the training center and met our host families that we would be living with for 3 months of training in Santo Domingo.

My host mom, or dona as they call it here, is named Angela and has a husband and 2 sons who are living in New Jersey. For a while it was just Angela and I at the house but her husband came home on Sunday after a long trip to the USA. Angela is super nice and really goes out of her way to look after me. She calls me her daughter. As for my living conditions, I live in a neighborhood called Los Angeles in a cement house with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. There are 5 other volunteers that live in my neighborhood. The neighborhood is packed with small houses right next to each other. It’s a typical city neighborhood with butcher shop, bakery, internet café, pharmacy etc but the houses are no bigger than 2 stories and there are cows, goats, chickens and roosters. Mix the roosters with the loud dogs, motorcycles, and the music that is usually blaring from all over the neighborhood and you get one sleepless night. There is no running water in the house which has been a learning experience, especially to take a bath. I have to take bucket baths with cold water but it’s not as bad as it sounds or as I thought it would be mostly because it is hot and after a sticky day it feels good to get cleaned up. Also, the electricity goes out at specified times during the day but it has not been a problem because my dona has a back up generator. ohhh they also have the biggest roaches and spiders here EVER. I won't be spending a lot of time in the bathroom. One morning there were 3 overturned roaches in the bathroom at least 2 inches big. The first night I was here was exciting to me as I took in all the sights and sounds and met people from the neighborhood. There was a political parade that night which was exciting to watch the people rally around a box truck. The truck had the candidate’s pictures and was blaring meringue from large speakers on the back of the truck. My dona made me go inside because she said sometimes the rallies get out of control and people start hitting each other.

So everyday during the week I go to the training center which is in a different neighborhood. The training center is beautiful. . The center has beautiful coconut and mango trees that offer the perfect amount of shade and breeze. Yesterday for our Spanish class we walked around the training grounds and picked fruit of the trees. We had banana, mango, guanabana, tamarind, cocoa etc. I love it; its so cool to be able to go to the tree and have a little fruit tree during break. Our classes our held outside in little gazebo like shelters.

Our instructors, who are all Dominican, have us do crazy things to get us energized like they make us makes us dance to a song and clap hands with each other, like a conga line to wake us up. This week we are going to be making traditional Dominican food and having a potluck on Thursday and Friday we are having a little party for all of the host families. I’m in charge of the welcome committee which is going to be bomba. They teach us absolutely everything you can think of like how to dance meringue administer CPR , make your own re-hydration liquids , cook traditionally Dominican food, take public transportation and of course Spanish. You name it and we will probably be trained in it. They really prepare us for living here on our own in all conditions. We have Spanish 4 hours a day but I have the best class and the girls in my class are so goofy they always have me cracking up.
Public transportation here is a trip! I have 2 choices to get to school, "carro publico" or guagua (pronounced waawaa). The carro publico is a beat up 4 door car that is pretty much stripped in the interior and the doors are ready to fall off the car. You have to gently nudge the door closed or the "chofer" will throw you a look probably because he is afraid that his door is going to fall off. So the name of the game is to pack it in with 3 adults in the front and 4 adults in the back. Let’s just say it’s a tight squeeze most of the time. We were told by the trainers to remove all jewelry and watch your pockets at all times in the carro publico. It’s such a tight squeeze I can’t imagine how anybody could manage to pickpocket but I guess it happens and we need to watch our stuff closely. To catch a carro publico we stand at the side of the road and point backward with our thumb. We always have to point in the direction that we are going and the carro publico will pull over if he is going in your direction. Its sounds a little sketchy but it has been pretty easy and we have yet to choose the wrong car. The drivers and the people are really helpful when we have questions. The first time I took a guagua was an experience. It was so packed that I don’t know how we squeezed in. I was trying really hard to get up the steps and away from the door. They don’t close the doors in the guagua so somebody could easily fall out as there is hardly anything to hold onto. I squished myself between 2 people and hand me face in somebody’s back and I kept grabbing somebody’s boob on accident when I lost my footing. It hasn’t been that bad since then thank goodness. The guagua is the mode of transportation used for long trips and people can be packed in like sardines for 5 hours with chickens too. It definitely makes for an interesting ride. I don’t really mind taking either form of transportation and have already adjusted to it and find it easy now. You get to know the people and integrate when you are in such close proximity that’s for sure.
Next Monday I will be going to another city called El Seybo for 5 weeks with the IT group. This will be the intensive sector training where we will get trained on IT stuff. After that we will come back to the capital for 1 week, receive our permanent sites, and swear in as official volunteers on May 5th yeah!
There is a lot of observation and changes in personal habits that will go on in the first months. I can say thus far that the people here are very nice , happy, and helpful. Even when times are rough I don’t hear people complain. We have not had running water in more than a week now and our reserves are almost gone but I don’t hear complaints or worries. Yesterday a semi came to our neighborhood with water. It was a politician that had donated the water and his name was painted on the semi. We took our buckets to the side of the street be filled with water. People didn’t push or shove or try to steal anybody’s water even though the semi ran out of water. I watched the people fill up their buckets and wondered how it is that we don’t have running water? I wondered what the solution was but didn’t really come up with an answer. How can I complain about not having a hot bath when we don’t even have water. Well, it all works out in the end and you live in the moment and make the most of what you have because you have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow. People here look after one another, they know their neighbors, and they welcome visitors with open arms. They enjoy life and love God.
Check out my pictures for a better idea of what it’s like here.