Saludos! Long time, no blog. The past few weeks have flown by – 10 days of Patronales festivities, celebrating 4th of July in Samaná, lots of walking and talking for my diagnostic, waking up early to exercise with a group of women, helping La Cabrita with various projects, getting my hair did by various niñas, and even house hunting – hard to believe I’ve been in country for nearly 5 months already.
- Like I’ve mentioned before, Peace Corps requires volunteers to live with a host family for their first 3 months of service. I think it’s a valid condition – it’s the best way to integrate into your community and its culture; it’s a smoother transition into your new lifestyle, as opposed to immediately going out and living on your own without knowing anyone. I’ve been very lucky. All three host families that I’ve stayed with (one in training, one in Peralvillo, and one in Pescadería), have been more than supportive and welcoming. I’ve gained quite a bit of confianza with my host parents here, Eufemia and Reyes, and truly feel like their daughter – my host dad even showed me the kidney stone he passed (so yeah, maybe too much confianza). Around the 4th of July, I was giving Eufemia examples of some typical American cuisine. I explained coleslaw, and mentioned that sometimes we make a similar salad with chicken, egg, or tuna. She got the idea, more or less anyway, and made coleslaw with bits of chicken in it.
While I’ve enjoyed staying with them, the 3-month mark is approaching, and I’m excited to start living on my own (and for people to start visiting me!). There’s over 4000 people that live in Pescadería, and very little housing options. From essentially the first week that I arrived, I’ve been planting the idea that I’d eventually be living by myself. It’s common for an entire extended family to live under one roof, so I often get funny looks when I tell them that I’m not afraid to sleep alone. Regardless, through word of mouth, I found a house located quite close to La Cabrita, and about a 7-minute walk to where I’m currently living. It’s a great spot – made of cement, two and a half bedrooms, kitchen, living room, and an indoor bathroom – an option that won’t come around again.
Rent here is normally paid every six months, and usually costs no more than RD$1500/month (about $40) including water and electricity, because nobody pays that anyway. While being American in a third world country has its perks (lots of juice, hugs, and people wanting to be your friend), there are also downsides. It is assumed that because I’m white, I’m rich. Though my volunteer salary would tell you otherwise, the rental price of my future house unfortunately fell victim to this prejudice. Although we explained to the landlord that I’m a volunteer, get paid very little, and am here to benefit the community, he upped the price to nearly double what I should be paying. We were able to talk him down a little, but he’s fixed at RD$2500/month, which I’ll pay every six months. Being charged so much simply because of the color of my skin disappointed me, but after weighing the pros and cons, I’m left with no worthy alternatives. Ultimately, the house is safe, surrounded by lovely neighbors, in a quiet part of town, and still within my budget. I plan to move August 15th, after someone from Peace Corps comes and gives final approval.
Until then, I’m working on finishing my community and organizational diagnostics. We have our 3-month In Service Training (IST) August 6-9th, for which we go to the capital with our project partner and share our findings in a 20-minute presentation in Spanish. Like living with a host family, the diagnostic has helped me to integrate, and lets people know why I’m here. It also has allowed me to better understand Pescadería – what services and businesses exist, how people earn money, its history, the living conditions and education levels of its inhabitants, what kind of groups or associations are active, what the community lacks, etc. – and La Cabrita – project history, plans, financial situation, organizational structure, etc. After interviewing numerous community members and key contacts, and sitting in on various meetings and activities with members of La Cabrita, I’m starting to develop a better idea of how I’ll be able to help. Once my diagnostic is complete, I’ll share what I’ve learned, and ideas of how I hope to serve Pescadería and La Cabrita over the next two years.