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 cafĂ©, 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.