Tag Archives: adventure

mujeres in the mountains

7 Jun

Even the vicious maye that sucked away at my bare legs and dotted my skin with swollen lumps and dainty drops of blood didn’t bother me. We were in the mountains tasting sweet air and basking in the pleasant greenery of Constanza.

The four Sector Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders and a fellow capitaleña/Returned Peace Corps Volunteer had decided to reward ourselves – to escape the sweltering city of Santo Domingo and enjoy each others’ company in a more intimate setting before moving on to our respective next life chapters. We set our sights on Constanza, a region known for its agriculture (strawberries!), refreshing climate, and opportunities for outdoor adventures.

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4 PCVLs: Natalie (Youth), Julie (Education), Silpa (Health), and me (Business)

We booked a cozy-looking cabin nestled in the hills, tickled by the thought of having our own space to bake goodies and lounge around in socks by the fireplace. To our delight, the house was better than we had imagined – quaint and quirky with an idyllic view of Constanza’s lush valley.  It was not the typical setting one conjures when imaging the Dominican Republic, and we were thrilled.

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Our cozy casita!

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Fog lazily hugged the hills as we woke up each morning to snuggle into blankets and relish the tranquility, souls soothed by the cradle of a rocking chair. The crisp air kissed sweet moisture onto our skin and sent welcomed chills down our usually sweaty spines. The vast array of greenery was impressive and revitalizing.  We did yoga, read, played card games, gazed upon the valley, dined on incredible homemade meals, and drank copious amounts of warm beverages (coffee, hot chocolate, and room-temperature wine). We relied on our neighbor and his pick-up truck to find strawberries and take us adventuring high up into the mountains to visit a remote waterfall, a frigid crevice tucked far away from any school or clinic (though we passed several communities along the way); he presented us with fresh, local produce and brought firewood at night to keep us cozy. We reflected on how much we’ve enjoyed working with one another and tried to wrap our heads around the fact that we are just days away from becoming Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

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All sorts of greenery!

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just one of our tasty meals!  black bean breakfast enchiladas

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Hillside agriculture on the way to the waterfall

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Stacey (RPCV), Silpa, Natalie, and me

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Silpa and Julie

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Natalie and me

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mujeres de fuego

Tomorrow I will head to Pescadería to say my goodbyes. How is it that in some ways I feel as though I’m visiting my site for the first time? Anxiety, hope, and disbelief. But, then come the waves of sadness and pangs of grief. It’s a paradox that I will only be able to process with time. Certain crannies of my soul wish that I could have just hidden away in Constanza and have the mountains protect me from the tears and heartache that surely await me. Leaving will be  painfully more uncomfortable than arriving.

Ideally, this “goodbye” is more of a “see you later”, and that I am able to embody the strength with which I was rejuvenated this past weekend. After all, “Beyond mountains there are mountains.”

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visit revelations

8 Mar

Happy International Women’s Day! Though I didn’t do anything in particular to celebrate this special day, these last few weeks suffice.

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Silpa, Julie, me, and Natalie – the Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders for health, education, business, and youth sectors.  Admirable co-workers and superb friends.

To put it briefly, I have a full heart and busy mind. Since returning from a much needed and appreciated month-long visit in the States, I have continued on with the “visit” trend. Work visits with potential groups aka partnering organizations in future site placements for the new group of CED volunteers that just arrived on March 2nd. Visits with host families to prepare them in receiving a new, foreign family member. A quick visit back to the States to celebrate the marriage of one of my best friends, my college roommate of three years. Playing host while three different people left their comfort zones to explore my world here in Santo Domingo and beyond. Reconnecting with two of my best friends from my swear-in group who have since moved on from Peace Corps and are leading successful lives as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  Visiting the volunteer currently living in Pescadería and finally enjoying our community together in person.

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Alejandra and I out in the border province of Elias Piña for site development.

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Pineapples and cabins at the eco-lodge in Rio Limpio, Elias Piña

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Traffic jam in Rio Limpio

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Stacey, former PCV, showing me the ropes of Elias Piña

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Beans in Elias Piña

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Greenhouses in Elias Piña

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Bee hives in Dajabón

 

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Peanut operation in Dajabón

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Work perks!  Marmalade, honey, peanuts, and peanut butter gifted to me by groups interested in collaborating with a business volunteer.

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Lovely house I spotted while in Barahona on site development

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La Ciénaga, Barahona

Though all of these visits have had a different vibe and purpose, I have nevertheless enjoyed each and every one of them. These intercambios have not only helped me to reconnect with old friends, but have brought to light certain aspects of my service here on the island that I might otherwise not have recognized.  Gracias a todos for all of our shared conversations and experience.

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Julie, Courtney, and I at Julie and Chris’s wedding #itsementabe

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Reni, my sister from Pescadería, finally came to visit me in the capital!

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Amanda, the current PCV in my old site, and I.

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Reunited with two of my favorites, Samantha and Kaley, who both served with me here in the Dominican Republic.

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Kayaking on Laguna Limón out in the east of the country with a fellow Clemson Tiger in the background!

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Montaña Redonda in Miches

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Playa Limón, part of the Kayak Tour

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Playa Esmerelda, Miches

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Chris, Carlos, and I at the end of our adventure in Miches

 

The culmination of these visits has led to me celebrating THREE WHOLE YEARS of life here in the Dominican Republic. Plenty of ups and downs, plenty to look forward to, so much to be thankful for.

I end this post with some food for thought, revelations from recent visits, goals for the future, and a just a couple more photos documenting this lovely life I’m so lucky to live.

  • Everyday Leadership
  • Preguntar es aprender. On a recent guagua ride, a young man sitting in between two boisterous tigueres and a friendly doña was noticeably anxious. He had missed his bus stop due to the fact that he didn’t quite know how to arrive to where he was going. The two tigueres were unimpressed, scoffing at his lack of street smarts.       As he dismounted the guagua however, frantic to retrace his steps and reach his destination, the doña empathetically encouraged him to simply ask next time, that nobody knows everything.
  • But even if you aren’t learning anything, confidence can help you play it off like it knows what you’re talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S0FDjFBj8o
  • Spoil your taste buds with healthy juice combos! Recent favorites include anything with kale (can’t even taste it, just makes the juice green and more nutritious). Pictured below: mango, kale, cucumber, basil, and honey.

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  • The Art of Getting Things Done. Everyone has their own way of feeling productive, but now that it’s such a busy time of year, a few practices are helping me to survive – smart to-do lists, stepping away from my desk (during lunch and at least every hour), and leaving myself a solid 45 minutes to prepare myself in the morning.

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  • Have a vision, do a bubble map. Though I at first procrastinated this “assignment” from my dad during my time in the States, I now appreciate why he encouraged me to do it. Be it past times, career paths, or fields of study, what are you interested in?       What draws you? What are you good at? What do you have experience in? How are these topics related? Does it have anything to do with what you’re involved in at the moment? How might this image change over time? Having a vision not only helps you focus, but more easily allows you to focus your thoughts when communicating your goals to others.
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My personal bubble map.  Most of my interests – empowerment, food, small business, policy, and education – are rooted in service, an overarching passion of mine.

  • Journal.
  • Travel ≠ Vacation. Vacation ≠ Travel. “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
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Reunited with two of my favorite troublemakers.

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Omailin, Jenna (Go Tigers!), and I in Pescadería

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Amanda organized a trash clean-up at the court.  Very successful event, thanks to Jenna for being such a good sport.  Notice that our court now has lights installed!?

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Omailin and I

 

Peace, love, and mango season!

 

calmed by community

3 Jan

Written 12/28/15

I find airports bewildering and entertaining. Both weary- and bright-eyed travelers represent a spectrum of individuals coming from or heading to an adventure of some sort. Overwhelmed, curious, rude, oblivious, excited, seasoned, and determined. Airports are strangely neutralizing; they are international arenas through which such an array of passengers navigate systematically, and where one has the choice to interact with, observe, or neglect his/her immediate surroundings. Today, in the wondrous community of the Miami International Airport, I am one of these travelers. Stimulated yet calmed, I am sitting at the same gate where I had been intensely people watching just over a month ago while awaiting my flight to Boston. It had been two years since I was last home in Vermont, and now, as I wait to board my flight back to Santo Domingo, I have some time to reflect on the whirlwind vacation I just experienced.

Between November 23rd and December 28th, I traveled over 10,000 miles, visited three major US cities, spent two holidays in my hometown, attended my grandpa’s 98th birthday party, gave six 50-minute Peace Corps presentations, watched my sister graduate from Auburn University, reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer (check out mom’s blog here), got two massages, ate all the food I’ve been longing for, spent quality Auntie Kati time with my five sobrinitos, took the 5:20am Dartmouth Coach to the Logan Airport too many times, and reconnected with a healthy number of family members and friends. I owe the majority of these ‘accomplishments’ to my parents, particularly to my dad. Generous with his time, feedback, humor, and goodwill, Tom has become an active, integral part of the local Woodstock community; he not only made my homecoming possible, but also humbly heartwarming.

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Turkey Trotting

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Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler and his granddaughters 🙂

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Chicago with my college roommate, where we watched Clemson make it to the Orange Bowl!  

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Tree decorating in Chicago

 

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One of my favorite activities?  Catching up with a fellow Tiger.  

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snuggle seshes in Denver

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So happy I was able to catch this guy’s holiday concert!

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Tree decorating in Denver

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Reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer

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Carrie graduated from Auburn!

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War Damn!

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Weschler sisters and the Mister

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Long weekend with mom = awesome bike tour in Atlanta

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Grandpa turns 98!

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*Merry Christmas*

This sense of community – bumping into classmates at the gas station, alumni hockey games, celebrating the holidays out on the dance floor of the only bar in town, sharing my Peace Corps experience with the local schools, exchanging motivational cheers with both tourists and Vermonters alike during the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, an unspoken yet shared appreciation for good beer and local food – is what I missed most about Vermont, and is also one of my favorite parts about the Dominican Republic. It seems almost paradoxical that one has to leave a place to be able recognize what makes it so special in the first place.

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hungry -> Worthy -> blessed

During my trip home, I came to several realizations. The three that reoccurred the most were: 1) I am excited for these next 6 months of work in the Dominican Republic. 2) I am excited to start preparing for what might come when it’s time to leave the island on June 15th. 3) How will I bridge 1 and 2 to close this chapter that has shaped some of my most intimate beliefs and experiences to date?

These next six months have a lot in store to keep me busy in the mean time – site development, volunteer visits, arrival of a new CED group, training sessions, hosting Stateside visitors, planning the national conference of Construye Tus Sueños, and soaking up all the time I can get with mi familia dominicana. My mind races with to-do lists. I consider the thought that I’ve lost the ability to speak Spanish. But as the passengers begin to arrive for our flight to Santo Domingo, the familiar vibrancy (read: loud colors and voices) assures me that I will finish out this service how any traveler can choose to embark on an adventure – curious, stimulated, and determined.

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Since writing this post, I’ve realized that I still do know how to speak Spanish. I celebrated this New Years in my home away from home, surrounded by mosquitoes and blaring bachata music, and watching my Tigers make it to the National Championship.

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Reni and I on New Years Day

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my home, my heart. omailin.

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Hungry hippos, happy campers

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Watching the game in my Dominican family’s house.  ESPN in Spanish!  

Love knows no boundaries.

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“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

the third fourth

6 Jul

This week marks the THIRD Independence Day that I’ve spent outside of the United States.  How did I celebrate the land of the free, home of the brave in the land of bachata, colmados, and doñas you might ask?  Why, at a German market of course!

Santo Domingo and the campo are two different worlds – it’s exciting to have so many options yet again at my fingertips (big box stores and supermarkets, international restaurants, cultural events, live music, mass Zumba classes in parks, etc.), but also nerve-wracking to think how much more ‘world’ awaits me once June 2016 comes around.  It’s almost more unsettling (but also gratifying) to recognize that us PCVs have a very unique perspective of the Dominican Republic; we in fact know much more about campo culture and hardships than many people who live here in the capital do.  My neighbor here was shocked that I had even stepped foot inside of a latrine, and yesterday, my guagua driver refused to admit that I had lived in Barahona for two years because “donde hay prieto, no hay progreso” (literally, “there is no progress where there are blacks”).  In the campo, most of my time was spent compartiring with neighbors outside of my house (oh how I miss my hammock!) or wandering the streets, peeking in colorfully friendly homes and not thinking twice about denying hugs, juice, or a plastic chair to, as us PCVs like to refer to it, join in on the ‘power sitting’.  Time moved slower, and little interaction or awareness of ‘the outside world’ was always a confusing blend of comforting isolation.  Santo Domingo can be isolating too in the sense that people keep much more to themselves than in the campo, but in reality there are plenty of opportunities to explore and share in an authentic Dominican style (read: loud).

Having spent a good chunk of June visiting volunteers in their sites (or attending a seafood festival, as shown in the pictures below), I turned down the option to spend the 4th on a world-renown beach and opted instead for Kati-time…mainly to do a month’s worth of laundry, but also to continue exploring my new world here in Santo Domingo, where I still got plenty of sun and had the opportunity to enjoy authentic German brews and brat.

Danielle (CED PCV), me, and Michael (Associate Peace Corps Director for CED)

Danielle (CED PCV), me, and Michael (Associate Peace Corps Director for CED) at the Festival Marisco Ripiao in Sanchez

Festival Marisco Ripiao, Sanchez

Festival Marisco Ripiao, Sanchez

They put us in charge of face painting...

They put us in charge of face painting…

Artisan booth - Faceless Dolls

Artisan booth – Faceless Dolls

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

Eco-Tourism Lodge

Eco-Tourism Lodge

cooking show !!

cooking show !!

Cooking show - ways to use local seafood

Cooking show – ways to use local seafood

Took a break from face painting to judge a food competition !

Took a break from face painting to judge a food competition !

In this new city and new role, rather than being partnered with a community group or organization, my new primary project is essentially supporting the volunteers of the Community Economic Development sector.  While it’s not as hands-on as my first two years of service, Sector Leader is still grass-roots in the sense that we help prepare the community to receive a volunteer before he/she even gets there, and then continue to give follow-up support/visits throughout the PCV’s service.  Though these visits allow me to gain context – understand who the volunteer is working with, current activities, site conditions, etc. – and to better connect with my peers, I STILL have to be proactive about not comparing my service to theirs.  I am striving to use this retrospect in facilitating the service of my fellow PCVs and not to deplore or regret aspects of my own.

Learning about vermiculture (fertilizer from earthworms) in San Jose de Ocoa

Learning about vermiculture (fertilizer from earthworms) in San Jose de Ocoa

PCV visit to Montecristi

PCV visit to Montecristi

"The Shoe" at El Morro Beach

“The Shoe” at El Morro Beach

View of El Morro from the Salt Mines

View of El Morro from the Salt Mines

Loading salt into the truck

Loading salt into the truck

Salt!  Extracted from salt water, filtered through mangroves, and passed through a series of pools until...

Salt! Extracted from salt water, filtered through mangroves, and passed through a series of pools until…

it's salt!

it’s salt!

One way I’m choosing to be proactive about this – learning from my peers and applying it to my own work – is by continuing to visit Pescaderia and interacting on the ground level.  As you might recall, two of my Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams) students each won $RD50,000 to start/strengthen their own businesses.  Chamila took advantage of the local week-long patronales party to sell clothes to interested party-goers and plans to save the profit to eventually build a locale; Jonathan is using this investment to widen his product line, encouraging customers to buy all of their agri-veterinary needs at his business rather than making the trip to Barahona.  To learn more about the Construye Tus Sueños initiative and the national conference where these two young entrepreneurs showed their stuff, watch the video below.

Lastly, I’d like to make a special shout out to someone who has helped me to create and seize opportunities – my MOM!  In under one week she’ll be headed to Washington D.C. to participate in her very own staging for Peace Corps service in Malawi!  To learn more about the adventure this incredible woman will experience, follow her blog here.  Suerte, amor! 

Alejandra and I on top of Montaña Redonda near Miches

Alejandra and I on top of Montaña Redonda near Miches

Mangoes on mountaintops

Mangoes on mountaintops

see we can sit in a distant haze and watch rain clouds pour thoughts of greatness to help our troubles sail real far away

see we can sit in a distant haze and watch rain clouds
pour thoughts of greatness to help our troubles sail real far away

confessions of a capitaleña

12 Jun

Exactly one month has passed since I packed away my hammock and bid hasta luego to my neighbors, backyard full of plantain trees, favorite colmado, goats, and other familiarities of the campo lifestyle to move to the capital city of Santo Domingo.  With a metropolitan area of around 3 million people (compared to 4,000 in Pescadería), one could imagine how much of a contrast this next year will be from my last two here in the Dominican Republic.

hugging this munchkin goodbye was no easy feat

Omailin — hugging this munchkin goodbye was no easy feat

Reina (Omailin's grandmom),  who started sharing her rice and beans, advice, washing machine, culture, and home with me from the moment i moved across the street from her family

Reina (Omailin’s grandmom), who started sharing her rice and beans, advice, washing machine, culture, and home with me from the moment i moved across the street from her family

Ultimately, the transition from campo life into office culture has opened my eyes to a number of things (leadership, diversity, and an endless thirst for learning being the hot topics).  I’ll get into more specifics about the context of these events later, but first, understand the source of some of these realizations below:

  1. The Power of Introverts: a TED Talk about the importance of accepting and celebrating introversion.
  2. Quiet Leadership: a book about how to be a more effective leader by helping people think.
  3. Empathy: a short cartoon about the difference between empathy and sympathy.
  4. The Danger of a Single Story: a MUST WATCH TED Talk about stereotypes, diversity, and perspective.
  5. Fast Company Magazine: old magazine, new information about ingenious companies and organizations.
  6. The Guardian: dynamic news source from the UK (introduced to me by my new friend Mike – owner of an authorized Apple repair store down the street from the office who served here in the DR with Peace Corps in the 70’s).
new apartment!

new apartment!

temporary house guest - yes I still have my cat, and NO he did not like Rufus.

temporary house guest – yes I still have my cat, and NO he did not like Rufus.

easy access to tasty ingredients = tasty new weschipes

easy access to tasty ingredients = tasty new weschipes

As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development (CED) sector, I am now based in the main office where I share a work space with the other Sector Volunteer Leaders (health, education, and youth).  I work closely with both the Program Specialist and Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector to provide support to volunteers, to monitor current projects and initiatives, and to develop future sites where business volunteers could continue collaborating with locals to make a positive impact on the economic environment of the Dominican Republic.  As PCVL, I am no longer working on-the-ground alongside members of my community (though I still go back to Pescadería whenever I get the chance), but rather with Peace Corps Volunteers themselves.  From this perspective, I am able to draw on my own experience as a volunteer and a new-found proximity to PC staff to facilitate information between PCVs and the office, be a sounding board, and help to ensure that aspects of volunteers’ service and office politics suit and are understood by all parties involved.

An effective way to do this new role (but really, pretty much any role) is to ‘keep a pulse’ on things.  We learn this as volunteers by going out and getting our hands dirty – living and working alongside community members to achieve goals together.  This sort of gumption creates confianza, is an authentic commitment, and provides perspective.  Does researching a city via your computer count as visiting it?  Knowing it?  No.  It’s a single story.  Until you’ve met the locals, eaten traditional dishes, explored some back roads or alleyways, and most importantly, gotten lost, I’d be hard-pressed to check that city off of my bucket list.  Same applies to successful, sustainable development work.

“Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets”

So, in terms of the PCVL position, one of the best ways to continue collaborating with PCVs and supporting the Peace Corps community and mission is to do just that – taking my hands away from the dust-free keyboard, leaving the comfort of AC, and going out to visit current volunteers at their sites.  My goal within the next year is to visit each of the 30+ PCVs in the CED sector at least once (by the end of June I’ll have visited about half, si dios quiere).  These visits allow me to understand the intricacies of each volunteer’s site (project partners, living situations, projects and activities, etc.) and having this contextualized perspective enhances my ability to provide empathetic support.  Recognizing and appreciating the diversity of both the volunteer community and Dominican countryside has been an enlightening adventure within itself.

The Program Specialist, Alejandra, and I visiting a volunteer in Samana

The Program Specialist, Alejandra, and I visiting a volunteer in Samana

Juan and I - Juan supports an association that grows and processes oregano.

Juan and I – Juan supports an association that grows and processes oregano.

Snapped a picture of this fruit vendor right as he was opening up shop where he sells "frutón" - frozen chuncks of fruit served in a delicious blend of their juices.

Snapped a picture of this fruit vendor in Nagua right as he was opening up shop where he sells “frutón” – frozen chuncks of fruit served in a delicious blend of their juices.

We've got lots of business volunteers working with CACAO

We’ve got lots of business volunteers working with CACAO

Countryside

Countryside

The backyard of one of our CED volunteers.

The backyard of one of our CED volunteers.

Campo lunch on a volunteer visit

Lunch in the campo while visiting a volunteer

Pineapple!

Pineapple!

Visiting Rita, one of our newest CED volunteers.

Visiting Rita, one of our newest CED volunteers.

To better educate ourselves on how we can be proactive and cohesive throughout our service, volunteers representing all PC sectors came together this week for a workshop on diversity.  Motivated to highlight the issue within the Peace Corps community (especially considering the legal and political environment of where we’re serving – read more on the issue here), we spent two days telling stories, recognizing privileges, learning what it means to be an ally, and recognizing the true diversity that exists in the world, even among a group of 30 Americans.  This workshop, like the other sources I mentioned above, has empowered me with an experience and information I will continue to reference throughout both my Peace Corps service and life afterwards.  So here’s to continuing to get my hands dirty – the more stories the better.

PCDR's Diversity Committee

PCDR’s Diversity Committee

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

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

Hello from Vermont

27 Jan

I am back in Vermont for the first time since October 15!  That day, two good girlfriends (also from Woodstock) and I departed for a road trip in my car, Susan the Civic.  Our goal was to drive, eat, sight-see, and explore our way across the great country of the United States of America to California.  We took two weeks to visit various cities, national parks, foodie destinations, and family members and friends.

Inside the Bean; Chicago, IL

Inside the Bean; Chicago, IL

Sidebar: This has been a dream of mine for quite some time, but especially since I studied abroad in Argentina.  When my dad came to visit me there, we took a trip to Mendoza – on the border of Chile, beautiful, cobblestone, wine country, sigh, I’ll go back there some day.  Without a doubt, it was a very special father-daughter bonding experience.  Long story short, we ended up having to rent a car because our flight didn’t work out, and what we originally thought was going to be a 4 hour car ride turned out to be one close to 10.  Oh, and we didn’t bother to get any map what so ever, except for one of Córdoba where we had rented the car.  But we eventually made it to Mendoza!  The next day, after riding horses along the foothills of the Andes (picturesque, right?), we gathered with some gauchos and other tourists around a bonfire.  I started a conversation with a guy from Rosario, and among other questions, I asked him if he’d ever been to the US.  Even despite the several cups of Tinco (awesome red wine + Coca Cola) that I’d consumed that could have potentially affected my memory, I will remember his answer forever: “No.  And it’s not like I don’t want to.  But it’s important to me that I explore my own country first.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Me, Courtney, and Zoe at the Grand Canyon

Me, Courtney, and Zoe at the Grand Canyon

Anyway, so I eventually lived up to that guy’s thought- and adventure-provoking words, and our cross-country trip was freaking awesome:

10/15: Woodstock, Vermont –> Chicago, IL

10/18: Chicago –> Denver, CO

10/21: Denver –> Boulder

10/24: Boulder –> Sante Fe, NM

10/26: Santa Fe –> Flagstaff, AZ

10/27: Flagstaff –> Grand Canyon –> Kanab, UT

10/28: Kanab –> Zion National Park –> Las Vegas, NV

10/29: Las Vegas –> Encinitas, CA

10/31: Encinitas –> Los Angeles

While we had secured a sublet apartment in West Hollywood, Los Angeles for the month of November, we had pretty much no game plan (read: no jobs).  But that’s OK!  Given that we were in a prime location, and also had Susan to drive around, we did our fair share of exploring the greater LA area, which by the way is huge.  Farmers’ markets, museums, internet cafes, strolls, food trucks, neighborhood tours, happy hours, even a concert!  We certainly found ways to occupy our time, and I will remember those weeks for the rest of my life.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

When I got my invitation to the Peace Corps shortly after Thanksgiving, the three of us began to realize that we actually needed to figure out what we were going to do with our lives, at least for the month of December.  My family was going to be spending Christmas in Denver, and given that I was not ready to go back to Vermont just yet, I opted to continue exploring California until the holidays came around.  I had about two weeks to kill, so I paid $30 to access the WWOOF directory.  Short for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (http://www.wwoof.org/), WWOOFing offers volunteers food, accommodations, and agriculture knowledge/experience in exchange for their help on the farm.  Having found one I liked (a vineyard/olive grove called Le Vin), I left LA on December 4th to begin my trek north to Cloverdale, CA.  Serious rain storms and power outages delayed my arrival a few days, but I eventually got to spend probably the most interesting four days of my life picking olives, tasting wine, playing guitar, and conversing with some of the funkiest people I will ever meet.  I think I’ll just leave it at that.  But here’s a tip: don’t eat an olive right off the tree – they are very bitter and must be cured before consumption 🙂

December 11th I left Susan in Pleasanton, CA (thanks Frank and Luann!), and headed to my sister’s house in Denver, CO.  While the whole Weschler clan came to Lauren’s for about five days at Christmas, I managed to stay there for nearly one whole month!  It was truly priceless to have been able to spend so much time with my family before having to leave for two years.  But eventually, it was time to resume my vagabond ways.

DSCN1642

Seaweed on Route 1, California

Given that my car was still in California, I figured I’d stick with the road trip theme and make my way back to Vermont.  This way, I could continue seeing the US and spend at least a month in Vermont before I left for the DR in March.  Despite it being just Susan and I this time, I started my journey back across the country on the 7th of January, and I have zero regrets…

1/7: Denver, CO –> San Francisco, CA

1/10: San Francisco –> Los Angeles

1/11: Los Angeles –> Phoenix, AZ

1/13: Phoenix –> Amado, AZ

1/14: Amado –> Abilene, TX

1/16: Abilene –> New Orleans, LA

1/17: NOLA –> Clemson, SC (GO TIGERS)

1/20: Clemson –> Greenville

1/21: Greenville –> Washington D.C.

1/24: D.C. –> Mystic, CT

1/25: Mystic –> Woodstock, VT

Golden Gate Bridge; San Francisco, CA

Golden Gate Bridge; San Francisco, CA

So after over 8500 miles of driving, it feels very good to be home.  Without a doubt though, these last few months have been some of the most eye-opening, tastiest, worthwhile, and humbling that I’ve experienced to date.  Endless advice, support, and hospitality, AND no flat tires, break downs, or accidents – all in all a very positive trip, and I feel very blessed 🙂  Still, I have so much to see!  We live in a beautifully vast country filled with incredible cities, food, culture, landscapes, opportunities, and individuals; I can only hope that others realize how lucky we are to live here.  I encourage everyone to explore, to ask questions, to step outside of your comfort zone, to take the path less traveled, and to be positive.  There are just way too many people/places/things to experience not to.  And as elementary as it sounds, make new friends and keep the old!  It’s been priceless to meet, see, and/or reconnect with so many friends along this journey, especially because I’ll be leaving for two years!  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

The Trip

The Trip

Peace Corps Update: I’ve received final medical clearance and am waiting for my plane ticket to come in the mail!  Bought a book about the DR, and must do lots of research regarding everything.

here’s to living up to some pretty good words

16 Dec

To stumble upon a quote that resonates deep inside you is worth memorizing, or at least keeping track of.  A good quote is something to admire, as it so concisely manages to capture even the most grandiose of ideas in just a short phrase.  A good quote also kind of makes me want to kick myself for not having come up with such insightful, tactful, hit-the-nail-on-the-head words first.  Regardless, two of my favorites are:

I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  Robert Frost

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  St. Augustine

While these two quotes are motivating, and I have to admit I was smitten the first time I read both, I’d like to clarify the second.  In reality, anyone can travel.  There are plenty of people who have jet-setted to more places than many others even know exist.  But what did they do there?  Where did they stay?  Where and what did they eat?  How many people did they meet or befriend?  Unfortunately for many, their are answers banal, comfortable, and unadventurous.  Truth is, the true culture or character of any location cannot be felt from inside even the nicest resort – one must venture out onto the path less traveled, get his/her hands dirty, strive in uncertainty and awkwardness, be a minority, take a wrong turn or two, learn, and grow.  To travel lavishly, however worthwhile or well-deserved the trip may be, is the same as skimming the description on the back of the world’s book.  To travel the way I believe St. Augustine intended, there must be adventure.

this is important, and fun.

To increase the adventure factor, travel independently.  Certainly one can fulfill an adventure while in the company of others, and often it makes for even greater stories.  In the grand scheme of things however, and as cliché or selfish as it may sound, independence is key to personal happiness.  Without it, goals are not achieved, expectations are not met, and your world is lived and viewed though everyone else’s shoes and eyes but your own.  Not good.  So, I’m opting to take the road less traveled by, knowing that it might not always be easy, fun, or comfortable, but trusting that it truly will make all the difference.

Which brings me to why I’m rambling and writing this blog in the first place.  I’m joining the Peace Corps!  As of November 23rd, I was invited to serve in the Dominican Republic as a Community Economic Advisor beginning in March.  From March until at least May, I’ll live with a host family while I undergo some pretty intense preparatory training; my service officially starts in May 2013 and ends May 2015.  There’s still a lot about those 27 months that I’m unaware of, in fact what I just told you is pretty much all I know; even that has a chance of changing.  Anyway, it’s been a long process and I’m glad/anxious/pumped that March is quickly approaching.  For the next couple weeks I’ll be staying in Denver for the holidays.  Monday and Tuesday I have dentist and doctors appointments to finalize my medical clearance – wish me luck!!

Can’t wait for the adventure to truly begin.