Archive | May, 2013

Mango, floss, repeat

22 May

It’s been one week since Swear-In.  Still working on a decent Internet situation, as I’m currently using my host mom’s banda ancha device, but it’s better than nothing!  These first few days as a real, live PCV have been interesting to say the least – all sorts of awkwardness, entertainment, and excitement; calming but overwhelming; lots of walking, eating, and compartiring.  Campo life is simple and slow.  People start stirring around 5 or 6 (I’ve been going out walking or running around then because the sun is up by 6:30!), and the town seems to be in full swing by 8 or 9.  At least three herds of cattle walk by my porch every morning; it’s a pleasant sight to witness while enjoying my homemade and sinfully rich hot chocolate.  There’s a noticeable lull from 12-2 while everyone’s eating lunch (biggest meal of the day) and taking their pabita.  When the second tanda of school gets out around 5, all of Pescadería seems to be in the street, listening to music, eating mangoes, playing marbles or dominoes, revving motorcycles, or gossiping on their stoops.  Dinner’s normally around 7, and I hit the hay around 9.  Sounds grandma-ish, but it’s tiring to think in another language all day long!

For the first three months of our service, we’re in the “Diagnostic Phase”.  We’re supposed to walk around our communities, introduce ourselves, let people know what we’re doing here, understand how life works, what businesses exist, what could be improved in the community, etc.  It gives people the opportunity to adjust to have a foreigner living amongst them, and for us to become familiar with our new home of two years.  Peace Corps compares our diagnostic with a visit to the doctor – if you were sick, you wouldn’t expect your doctor to just give you medicine without knowing what you had.  It’s an aspect of Peace Corps that I really admire; they expect their volunteers to both integrate into and collaborate with their community.  Without either, a volunteer’s work will be both unsuccessful and unsustainable.  Eventually, I’ll have to conduct interviews, draw maps, and use other tools to create a formal presentation regarding my diagnostic, but for now I’m expected to just walk around, chat, and drink coffee.  It gets awkward at times, but hey, I’ll take it.

I’ve been meeting at least 3 people a day, which is very encouraging, but also challenging to remember so many names and faces!  Most of my new friends are either over the age of 40 or under the age of 15.  Whatever, friends are friends.  I get lots of stares, and even more questions.  Some of my favorites include: “What year is it where you live?”, “Are you friends with Barack Obama?”, “How many kids do you have?”, “Do you wash your hair?”, “What part of the Capital (aka New York) do you live?” and “What do the elephants do when it’s wintertime?”.

Overall, I like my community.  It’s tough being the town spectacle, but it sure is good character building.  I’m practicing my cat-like reflexes on the mosquitoes – it’s just about rainy season so they’re EVERYWHERE (if Dominicans are being bit, you know they’re bad).  I’m gifted at least three mangoes day and though it’ll never be a graceful sight, my mango-eating process is getting a little less sloppy every day.  I’m practicing phenomenal personal hygiene a) because flossing is necessary after eating mangoes and b) because I’m expected to bañarme at least twice a day.  Like I mentioned, time is NOT of the essence here, so patience comes in handy, as does positive energy.  Dominicans saludar to everyone walking by, so I’m working on saying hola as many times as possible – it’s gotta be over 100 times daily.  I like it though, and I wish we recognized the importance of greeting people you walk by more in the States.  I’m gaining confianza with my goat group by starting to help them with daily chores and activities.  I’ll eventually have to do an organizational diagnostic for La Cabrita in addition to the one for the community, but for now I’m just taking it slow and easy – cogiendo lo suave.    Today I’m going with the ladies to sell cheese and yogurt, which I kind of helped make the other day!   Hoping to have a meeting with the president of the Foundation soon so I can understand what specifically they want me to work on with La Cabrita.  From what I can see, finding a niche market to sell their products too should be a top priority.

That’s about it for now, hoping to start an English class soon!  One for niños and one for adults, might have to offer one for jovenes too.  Just bought lots of paper and crayons to make signs, and to color with my new friends 🙂  Will fill you once those get started…

Off to sell queso y yogurt!

517-13-01

16 May

WE DID IT!  33 individuals of group 517-13-01 are officially Peace Corps Volunteers 🙂

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

We’ve all been waiting a long time for Swear-In (application, interviews, nomination, medical stuff, invitation, LOTS more medical stuff, travel arrangements, get in country – for someone in my group, this process took them two years!).  Training was not easy, but having 32 awesome new friends did make it more enjoyable.  Thinking about it, yesterday was probably the most important day of my life thus far.

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

As one of my friends put it, “receiving my invitation to the Peace Corps was like getting a key to my future.”  Already, in just the few months we’ve been here, we’ve met so many incredible, knowledgeable, experienced, different, and fun individuals, all of whom I look forward to working with in the future; we’ve been introduced to various NGOs, business ideas and practices, and personal and professional resources; we’re learning how to live and work in a culture very different than what we’re used to; we’re growing…and today’s just the first day of our service!  There will be plenty of ups and downs along the way, but in reality, I’m looking forward to it all.  Can’t even imagine where (or who!) I’ll be two years from now.

DSCN3138

Lauren, Ivette, Kaley, Maegan, me, and Caitlin

The ceremony was short but sweet.  We took lots of pictures before and after, and gorged ourselves on cake.  I’m proud of myself for this huge accomplishment, but a whole two years of work still awaits.  More importantly, I want to thank all of my friends and family, in all parts of the world, for your support.  When taking the oath, I couldn’t help but think of all of the love, advice, and well-wishes I’ve received; I dedicate my oath to you!  I would most certainly not be here if it weren’t for my family and friends.

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

Tonight, we’re celebrating our accomplishments 🙂  Tomorrow, we all head off to our individual sites to begin on the 3-month diagnostic phase of service.  Wish us luck!  Hope you keep reading my blog to learn more about the adventures that await…

Neighbors!  Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

Neighbors! Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

P.S. They’ve given us a mailbox key at the Peace Corps Office located in the Capital.  If you’re interested, feel free to send me a letter!  They recommend NOT sending items through FedEx or DHL, as those packages are more likely to get searched/charged when going through customs, so just use regular mail.  If you’re going to send a package, use a padded envelope as opposed to a box.  It might take weeks to get here, but it’ll be that more fun to open 🙂

Katherine Weschler, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
APDO 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

so official!

…and we’re live!

12 May

Once again, from my cozy-little-WiFi-equiped-Santo-Domingo room, greetings!  Back from my site visit, and already anticipating Wednesday, our Swearing-In Ceremony where we’ll become real, live Peace Corps Volunteers 🙂

on the way to Pescadería

On the way to Pescadería

As I said in my last post, I’ve been assigned to serve in a town called Pescadería.  My two community contacts, Ronny and Nibia, came to meet me at the Pantoja training center on Tuesday to show me how to get to my site (and to help with all my bags!)  Pescadería is about 3 hours from the capital, a pretty seamless trip.  My new host mom, Eufemia, met us at the bus stop.  Driving into ‘town’ was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating.  “…This is my new home!  But, what if I don’t like it here?  So this is where I’m going to spend the next two years of my life…What if they don’t like me?  Oooh, cute house!  What if I can’t accomplish our goals?…”

The students also gave me this Guayabana fruit when I arrived!

A welcome present from the students – Guayabana fruit!

My nerves were calmed however when I looked ahead.  At the end of the street, at least a hundred students had gathered with a sign saying bienvenida a nuestra comunidad.  Eufemia, being the principal of the town’s school, had clearly pulled some strings and organized a very heart-warming welcome just for me!

My new house is nicer than I had expected, I even have running water!  Despite it being cold, it’s a luxury.  First real shower in two months!  However, I now feel guilty if I leave the water running for too long while I’m washing my hair.  A toilet that actually flushes is never a bad thing though.  Anyway,  Eufemia and her husband Reyes are very nice, are great cooks, and are super religions.  In fact, as Seventh Day Adventists, they are not allowed to drink alcohol or coffee, eat shellfish or pork, use fingernail polish, or even dance (which, for living in such a loud and lively country, seems almost tortuous).

new digs

new digs

In terms of my project, I still have lots to learn and see, but La Cabrita seems really cool!  It was started, and is still heavily supported financially by, La Fundación Central Barahona.  The Fundación is a branch of the Consorcio Azucarero Central, a Guatemalan company that owns a large portion of the sugar plantations and processing facilities in the Dominican Republic.  Given its wealth and power, the government required that the Consorcio help the zona cañera to develop economically.  Thus, the Fundación was created – to start and aid various projects in communities around Barahona.

On the air :)

On the air 🙂

La Cabrita has about 60 French Alpine goats, 15 or so of which are producing milk.  They started making cheese and yogurt just weeks before I got here, but regardless, it’s tasty.  There’s 11 members that work on the project, and though I haven’t met all of them quite yet, I can tell that it’s a very dedicated and motivated group of people.

Another project that the Fundación supports is a radio station, and guess who was invited on air for an interview!?  This girl right here.  I was joined by my friend Kaley, who lives 15 minutes from me and is working on a Tilapia project also supported by the Fundación.  We spoke about why we chose to join the Peace Corps, our backgrounds, what projects we’re going to work on, and so on.  Like most of what’s going on in my life right now, it was nerve-wracking, but it was pretty darn cool.

Traffic outside my house...

Traffic outside my house…

I spent most of the weekend walking around town with various ladies that have taken me under their wing.  I consider myself an outgoing and friendly person, but putting yourself out there can be tough!  Especially if you’re not 100% on the language or cultural norms (nothing too embarrassing yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a story or two to share one day).  My community seems to have received a fair amount of both national and international aid, so seeing a volunteer isn’t out of the ordinary.  But, explaining to them why I’m there for two years by myself, when people of my age in Dominican culture are normally married with at least two kids, is a bit more difficult.  Pasitos.  Overall, everyone has been welcoming, understanding, and interested.  Now if I could just remember everyone’s names…

This is what happens when you win a bet with a Dominican...

This is what happens when you win a bet with a Dominican…

SITE PLACEMENT!

6 May

YAY – today we received our site placements!  The anxiety I felt beforehand was similar to what a kid feels like on Christmas morning, except this ‘gift’ would designate the next two years of our lives.  To make it more fun, Sasha and Michael had us write down 2 truths and 1 lie (for example: I’m left-handed, have never seen the Pacific Ocean, and still sleep with a teddy bear – can you guess the lie?).  Then, when they described a site, they would read the 2 truths and a lie, and as a group we would have to match up the trainee with their site.

Sunday's beach trip to Juan Dolio!

Sunday’s beach trip to Juan Dolio! Lauren, Kaley, Samantha, me, Ivette, and Maegan 🙂

As soon as Michael described my future site, then read what I’d written, I was thrilled.  I’ll be living in a community of about 4500 people called La Pescadería located in the province of Barahona.  According to my site description, Pescadería is “surrounded by vast fields of sugarcane, bananas, and other crops; the Rio Yaque del Sur runs close-by and fishing is an important source of income for the inhabitants”.

A: La Pescadería

A: La Pescadería

The primary agencies I’ll be working with are Asociación La Cabrita and Fundación Central Barahona, Inc.  Supported by the Fundación (the community development arm of the local sugar company), The Asociación La Cabrita was formed 2.5 years ago to manage a goat cheese and yogurt project.  Potential project activities include: assist group write a business plan for the upcoming cheese and yogurt production; help group do a market study; marketing and promotional tools to reach niche markets; costing/pricing analysis of operation; basic business administration for the group; help with FUNDEPE loan management.

Sidebar: There are two main goals of the Community Economic Development sector of Peace Corps, and at least one of the objectives must be reflected in any future project.

  • Increase job creation and employability via entrepreneurial education, expanded markets, value added practices and business skills development (Objectives: Entrepreneurship; Income Generation Activities; Business Development Skills)
  • Organizations will strengthen their capacity to develop and implement sustainable projects, manage their resources, and collaborate with others to achieve their missions (Objectives: Project Design, Management, and Service Delivery; Governance)
Juan Dolio

Juan Dolio

All and all, I couldn’t be more excited.  There’s even two girls from my group that will be each be living less than a half hour from my site.  Tomorrow we meet our project partners (I have two, Ronny and Nibia) at the Pantoja Training Center for an orientation regarding cultural and work expectations.  Then, after lunch we head of to our individual project sites!  I’m all packed up, and am planning on bringing the majority of my belongings with me, especially because I’ll have the help of two other people to carry my bags 🙂  We’ll stay in our communities with our new host family until Sunday, then will return to the capital for last minute training, preparation, and processing.  We will become official Peace Corps Volunteers at our Swearing-In Ceremony on Wednesday the 15th!  Can’t even begin to fathom what I’m in for, and I’m looking forward to every step of the way!

DSCN3066

¡hasta nunca!

5 May

Helloooooo world!  Currently writing to you from my bed in Santo Domingo.  Yup, we’re back in the big, bad capital.  We left Peralvillo yesterday morning around 9:30; I was a complete mess – can’t believe that 5 weeks of CBT went by so quickly!  I couldn’t have asked for a better host family experience.  They were welcoming, entertaining, comforting, generous, fun, and interesting to talk to; they treated me like a queen, taught me how to dance, opened their home to me and my fellow trainees, helped improve my Spanish, and shared Dominican cooking tips.  Blood-related or not, we are most certainly family 🙂  Because we had so much confianza, jokes, teasing, and/or sarcasm were not uncommon.  For example, when I’d have to leave the house for training, instead of saying hasta luego or adios or nos vemos ahorrita, I opted for hasta nunca (bye forever).  By the end of CBT, all of my neighbors were saying it too!  I explained to them that even though I say ‘bye forever’, I’ve always come back.  So, when I bid them hasta nunca when I left yesterday morning, I made a promise to both myself and to them that I’d return.

I believe I mentioned in a previous blog post that we were going to attend the Construye Tus Sueños Regional Conference this weekend.  CTS is a CED initiative that motivates entrepreneurship in and teaches business skills to youth.  Kraft Foods, producer of Green & Black Chocolate, took particular interest in Construye because their product is made entirely from 100% organic cacao that is grown right here in the Dominican Republic.  They realized that it was important to invest in the communities their cacao was grown in by making them more viable places for youth to stay and work.  As opposed to leaving to find work in the city, Construye motivates youth to open a small business in their own hometown.  Given all of this, CTS is the only Peace Corps initiative worldwide that is funded by a private or public business – Kraft has offered to fund Construye for at least the next three years.  Pretty cool stuff.  Unfortunately, not everything went as planned, and the conference was postponed until further notice.  BUT, seeing as Peace Corps demands flexibility, we held our own mini conference on Friday in Peralvillo, which turned out to be a great success!

Friday was a busy day.  In addition to the CTS workshop, the director of the Community Economic Development Sector, Michael, came to visit us.  A large part of his job includes site development – finding and deciding where each of us will live and work for our two years of service.  He explained that the most important aspect of both his job and ours is collaboration.  In order for a community to receive a Peace Corps volunteer for example, a group or organization must solicit one (PC doesn’t just drop a volunteer in a random community).  Once in site, we’ll have 2 project partners that help us to integrate and to lead various projects.  Which brings me to TOMORROW, when we find out our site placements!  I have no idea what to expect, just that that’s where I’ll be living and working for the next two years.  Quite exciting, and nerve-wracking…

Last but not least, here’s some photos that I took during my CBT experience in Peralvillo: PCDR – CBT Training.  Wonderful place, even better people 🙂

Hasta nunca!