Tag Archives: samana

baffled and blanketed

22 Apr

Well folks, it’s official. I’ve finally booked my plane ticket back to the United States. I knew this time would eventually draw near, but despite all of the epiphanies I’ve experienced while living in a foreign country, this might be the most difficult thing I’ve had to wrap my head around yet. Less than two months until I am officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

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Don’t worry – Mio/Neal got his plane ticket too!

I was struck with a similar wave of disbelief around this same time last year, when my original 27-month commitment as a Volunteer drew to a close and all of the people I had originally come into country with packed up their lives here to continue on elsewhere. The countdown clock essentially restarted once I decided to stick around for an additional 13 months. Needless to say, time has flown by and it is now my turn to do what my peers were brave enough to do last year.

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Group trip to Las Galeras, Samaná for Easter!  The last time I had been there was almost 3 years ago when we celebrated 4th of July with the group I entered the country with.

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Playa Rincón – my new favorite beach!

For the past several months we have been in the thick of “site development” – identifying, investigating, and visiting communities and groups around the country that have expressed interest in collaborating with Peace Corps. The process is tedious but stimulating. Not only do we explore all corners of the country, but we also meet motivated people who are doing what they can with the limited amount of resources they have to make their community a better place. Site development involves multiple meetings, orientations, security checks, rounds of paperwork, and the coordination of at least 9 different Peace Corps employees/Volunteer Leaders plus that of the respective community counterparts. The placement of a Community Economic Development Volunteer suggests that there is enough motivation and existing infrastructure (among other factors) within a community to build off of; the ultimate goal of the partnership is increase economic activity, improve business skills and practices among locals, and provide an intimate intercultural exchange between the Volunteer and members of the community.

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My boss, Michael, and I out on the road.  We never go too long without a cup of coffee.

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After work activities – watching Michael’s band play (he’s in the background on the far left)!

One of the main roles I’ve played in this process is visiting and prepping the host families. The group that the Volunteer is partnered with is in charge of identifying which family is both willing and able to host a Volunteer for at least his/her first four months at site (families do receive a monthly stipend for their service). Though challenging for those of us who are used to an American-sized personal bubble, staying with a host family is both the most authentic and effective way to become integrated into a community and develop language skills.

Some families have heard of Peace Corps or have met Volunteers before and seem to be somewhat familiar with American customs; most are anxious to receive feedback about how to welcome a foreigner into their home. Though my level of Spanish and knack for Dominicanisms typically make this orientation go smoothly (though I have been mistaken as the Volunteer that is coming to serve in the community), I try to chock each visit full with tips while reminding them that the person who is coming to live with them has been in the DR for less than three months – a fresh slate compared to my three years: “Not all Americans have blonde hair and blue eyes.” “Wanting privacy does not mean that they are mad at you, but rather that they’d like some time alone.” “If you eat rocks for breakfast, they will also try to eat rocks for breakfast – don’t make them anything special. They are just another member of your family.”

Though the orientation lasts only one night, it puts the families at ease and helps to clear up what could potentially be a serious misunderstanding. Not to mention, I get to enjoy the cooking and company of a loving doña – aspects that lack from my service here in Santo Domingo. I don’t think that I will ever forget Quisqueya, a future host mom in Montecristi, asking me upon arrival if had to go #1 or #2 to make sure that she had provided me with enough toilet paper and water to flush the toilet. Or snuggling in bed with Ana from Dajabón, who I’d met just hours before, while we watched a poorly dubbed version of Nanny McPhee and sipped sweet coffee on a quiet, campo night. All of the Dominican families that I stayed with during these visits were gracious hosts who reminded me what it is that I love so much about this culture – warmth, camaraderie, conversation, faith, and leisure.

Perhaps it has been these visits and the fond memories they’ve evoked that are making this transition so frightening. When experiencing an unfamiliar place or culture for the first time, the very quirks that make it “it” are often the most difficult to adjust to. Noise, food, past times, landscapes, structures, relationships, and histories – the threads of a culture’s fabric; a blanket that comforts an opportune soul. What some Volunteers spend their entire services adjusting to is now home to me; I am wrapped up in the craziness of this culture so comfortably snug, or as the Dominicans say, aplatana’a. Thinking about departing this island of doñas, guaguas, and guineos after accomplishing such integration and appreciation for it is almost painful.

In the meantime, I have quite a few other things to distract me from truly processing, accepting, and preparing for June 15th. Namely, coordinating the National Conference for Construye Tus Sueños, which takes place next week. Here’s a video of last year’s conference to remind you how much I love this initiative that is dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in youth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAlPujF05fc

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

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Diagnostic and Discrimination

19 Jul

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.

my girls Cristi and Peque dressed up for the Reinado during Patronales

my girls Cristi and Peque dressed up for the Reinado during Patronales

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. 
La Playita, Samaná - 4th of July trip

La Playita, Samaná – 4th of July trip

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.

Cooking with Peque, Topazio, and Anita

Cooking with Peque, Topazio, and Anita

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.

Dancing during the Reinado, Patronales week

Dancing during the Reinado, Patronales week

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.

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Group at La Playita, Samaná