Archive | January, 2014

under the big, tall tree

26 Jan

Peace Corps is all about the little wins.  When something good happens, no matter how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of your service, one learns to appreciate and cherish it  – who knows when such a little thing will make your day again?

Running water in the shower?  Awesome.  Luz all day long?  Exceptional.  I wasn’t the only one that showed up on time to a meeting?  Unbelievable.  My English students finally understand the difference between “throw out” and “throw up”?  Groundbreaking.  Just got a bag of mangoes delivered to my door?  Delicious.

Then, every so often, a little win turns out to be a milestone moment.

I continue to meet with my two groups of Chicas Brillantes every Thursday, once in the morning and again in the afternoon due to the school’s current two-tanda system.  Each week, seated on the cement floor of my living room, we discuss a different topic – inner vs. outer beauty, self-esteem, puberty, healthy communication, diet and nutrition, the media, etc.  We put our knowledge to practice through both individual and group activities, dinámicas, games, and their favorite, coloring.

a typical Chicas meeting - coloring.  here we're drawing the various food groups and discussing the different benefits we get from a balanced diet.

a typical Chicas meeting – coloring. here we’re drawing the various food groups and discussing the different benefits we get from eating a balanced diet.

It is not the easiest task I’ve ever taken on, especially because a lot of times I feel as though I’m simply babysitting 20 adolescent girls rather than actually getting any information across, but our reuniones are always the most rewarding hours of my day.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that they feel the same way.  For many of these girls, our Thursday meetings are the few hours of their week when they can still be kids; where only positive, constructive, engaging, and amicable interactions with others are allowed; where they can giggle, doodle, and eat popcorn rather than looking after younger siblings, cleaning the house, or helping their moms get lunch ready; where they’re always given encouraging adult attention in a healthy environment.

Last week we entered into the topic of adolescence – a potentially scary one for both teacher and student – where we discussed how our bodies change, why they change, and how we can care for them while doing so.

To illustrate the importance of relaxing and ‘alone time’ (a hardly-practiced concept in collectivistic cultures), I had all the girls lie face-up on the floor, making sure that they were comfortable and not touching anyone else.  Once all eyes were closed and there was no peeking, I explained to them that we were going to relax and do some visualizing.

Girls, we are no longer in Pescadería.  We are at the top of a huge mountain.  We hiked here together.  It is a beautiful day – the sun isn’t too strong, and there is plenty of breeze and shade.  We got to the top of this mountain together.  We just finished a delicious, healthy lunch, and each of us is now resting under our own big, tall tree. Your belly is full, and aside from the gentle breeze, it is absolutely quiet. Under your big, tall tree you are safe.  In this moment, under your big, tall tree, you are happy.  You have no worries.  From your head to your toes you are calm.  You are safe, happy, and relaxed.  And so you start breathing deeply.  You breathe deeply and can only think about how relaxed you are in this moment, under your big, tall tree.  The breeze allows you to breathe even deeper, and frees your mind of any bad thoughts.  With each breath you become more relaxed.  And with your eyes closed under your big, tall tree you are at peace, focused only on your breathing. 

I let them lie there for quite sometime, admiring their tranquility and dedication to such a foreign activity.  In that moment, despite the persistent and distracting noises that blasted from outside the walls of my living room, they were calm, quiet, and innocent. I savored that moment, their time under their big, tall trees.

After some more time, some more breathing, I reiterated how safe, happy, healthy, and beautiful they all were in that moment; how important remembering to breathe was.  I told them that it was time to start gathering our things from the top of the mountain, and that soon we’d be hiking back down together.  I explained to them that when they were ready, they could open their eyes and join me back in the living room.

But here’s the kicker – not one of them opened their eyes.  Whether they had fallen asleep or were just relaxing, all of my girls chose to stay put under her big, tall tree.  For me that moment was magical – to watch how positively they were responding to an idea that I had pretty much come up with on the spot; to witness how truly safe and comfortable they felt in my company; to understand that maybe I am making a small difference.

So that’s what I mean by little wins.  Who knew that a leading a successful 15-minute relaxation activity with 20 adolescent girls would be such a memorable moment?  I didn’t, but what I do know is that I will never forget that afternoon under my big, tall tree.

a snowless christmas and happy new year

7 Jan

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s crazy to think that group 517-13-01 has been here for almost one whole year already!  Some days are easier than others, but like I expressed in my last post, I’m very happy (and lucky) to be doing what I’m doing.  But a true highlight of 2013 was having my mom and sister come to visit me!

Christmas-time in Pescadería seemed like a combination of Spring Cleaning and Thanksgiving.  Everyone spent the entire month of December painting, dusting, and organizing their house from top to bottom, intending to start the new year on a clean slate.  Given that two of my favorite people were coming to visit me, I followed suit – house got painted; chairs and table got sanded and painted; windows got washed, then decorated with paper snowflakes.  This was our first snowless Christmas, and I don’t think any of us were sad about it.

I gave mom and Carrie a decent tour of the community, stopping by La Cabrita (where there now at least 10 new baby goats!), my host family’s house, and other homes of wonderful people that have taken me under their wing.  Not only did my community get to know more of me by meeting my family, but my family got to see where the heck I’ve been living for the past 9 months, how I’ve been keeping myself busy/sane, and who’s been taking care of me (read: the 3000+ members of Pescadería).

laundry and longaniza

laundry and longaniza

We drove a couple hours down the southern coast to Paraíso, and stopped on our way back through for papaya juice and the best sandwiches in Barahona.  We survived a dance lesson with Reni.  We people watched.  We gorged ourselves on Dominican Christmas favorites – longaniza (homemade pork sausage with lime and garlic), fried chicken, potato salad, fried plantains, apples, almonds, gumdrops, and pastelitos (platano/banana tamales stuffed with pulled chicken) – and shared some of our own by decorating gingerbread cookies that Mom brought all the way from the States!

cookie decorating!

cookie decorating!

We left early the 26th to explore Cabarete, which is located on the north coast of the island and is known as one of the kite-surfing capitals of the world.  After all of the attention, translating, and traveling, lounging in a hammock while reading a book and drinking a passion-fruit mojito seemed like a pretty good idea.  And it was.

described above.

described above.

We ventured out the 28th to do the Playa Grande tour, recommended by a fellow PCV living in the neighboring town of Sosua.  For US$150 we had our own personal and bi-lingual taxi driver, who took us to various beaches, a waterfall where crazy locals jumped off, a cacao farm with tons of yummy fruit and honey to sample, and our personal favorite, Dudu Lagoon.  35+ foot cliff jump and zip-line into vibrant blue-green fresh water – one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in country to date.

Playa Caletón

Playa Caletón

Playa Diamante

Playa Diamante

Cave next to Dudu Lagoon

Cave next to Dudu Lagoon

Dudu Lagoon

Dudu Lagoon

fishy lunch options at Playa Grande

fishy lunch options at Playa Grande

Carrie and I at Playa Grande

Carrie and I at Playa Grande

Carrie and Mom left for the snowy States the 30th after a semi-successful paddle-boarding session (how could we visit Cabarete without doing at least one water sport?  Couldn’t).  I stayed in Cabarete till the 1st, ringing in 2014 with other volunteers that had flocked to the area to celebrate the end of one year and start to another.  How will this one top the last?  Who knows, but here are some goals:

  • actually start writing in my journal, even if it’s just a couple words a day
  • floss
  • visit 5 other volunteer sites
  • graduate 15 girls from my Chicas Brillantes class
  • do a Medical Mission (will probably end up writing about this later)
  • complete Construye Tus Sueños course and have 3 students participate in regional and/or national conference
  • build that darn basketball court (more on this later, too)
  • plan an activity with my women’s group for International Women’s Day

Anyway.  Since December is not the most productive time to get things done in this country, all of my groups and projects are starting up again.  My Chicas group meets Thursdays, my Chicos group starts Saturday, the women are meeting Tuesday, La Cabrita is having a planning meeting sometime next week, my Construye Tus Sueños class starts the 26th, and kids are headed back to school (well, technically they started today but no one will actually go till next week).

sunset at Sosua beach

sunset at Sosua beach

Thanks to all of you who take the time to read these posts.  I can only hope you’re learning half as much from me as I am from this experience here in the DR.

Felicidades amigos 🙂

a rainy but happy start to 2014

a rainy but happy start to 2014