Tag Archives: travel

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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toils and triumphs of “los tres cafeteros”

15 May

Immigration processes have been a mess here since the nationalization issues between the Dominican Republic and Haiti came to a head over a year ago. Though we are guaranteed residency as Peace Corps Volunteers, we have not been able to renew our green cards since the beginning of 2015 (they expire after 6 months). Despite not having my Dominican residence card, immigration issues occupied the least of my thoughts as I passed through security and arrived at my airport gate. I was on my way to the States for one more brief visit before touching back on the homeland for good as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

It was May 5th and I was headed back to Annapolis, Maryland for my grandpa’s memorial service at the Naval Academy. My shoulders were light since my workload had lightened up immensely just days before, so nothing else was on my mind except the excitement of reuniting with family and the opportunity to finally try Maryland crab.

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Reunited with two of my former Clemson Lacrosse teammates

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Grandpa’s memorial

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Most of the workload that I refer to is the National Conference of Construye Tus Sueños, one of the largest projects we undertake annually as the Community Economic Development sector. Over 45 Dominican Youth and 20 Peace Corps Volunteers and Dominican facilitators participated in the three-day event that took place the 27th-29th of April and focused on entrepreneurship, micro-finance, and professional development. 15 contestants presented their respective business plans to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning one of the three prizes of RD$50,000 to start their businesses. This was the fourth CTS conference that I have attended, but it was the first one that I coordinated.

The conference consisted of two guest speakers, four professional development workshops, two rounds of presentations critiqued by 12 judges, a panel of previous contestants, and a micro-finance fair involving five financial institutions. Given all of the moving parts, the conference concluded without any regrettable hiccups and the youth left informed and motivated. The youth responded positively to the presented advice and activities and the three winners were well-deserving individuals who now have a greater opportunity to generate economic activity within their communities.

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What’s a conference without ice-breakers!?

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“El Artístico” Jose Ignacio Reyes Morales, one of our guest speakers, is internationally known for his ironwork and efforts to inspire artistry and entrepreneurship in youth.

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Day 2 of the conference consisted of two rounds of presentations during which youth explained their business plans to panels of judges

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Michael, Alejandra, and I with some of the judges from Round 1

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Participants and judges at the end of Round 1

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Prepping the judges for Round 2, where 7 participants competed for 3 RD$50,000 prizes

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Round 2

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Jonathan (teal shirt on right), was one of my students who won the competition last year.  He and three other previous contestants came to share their experiences and advice with the participants of this year’s conference.

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Alejandra, Michael, and I with Jonathan, Raylin, Rosa, and Damaso.  All competed in previous CTS competitions, have since started their own businesses, and are exemplary young leaders within their communities.

Experiencing the event as it unfolded from the perspective of coordinator rather than participant was stressful but enlightening. The participants portrayed such bravery, fighting for their dreams while representing their communities’ desires to progress and prosper; the resilience, creativity, and readiness of the people that I am able to collaborate with on a daily basis has always fueled the best feelings and moments of my service here. I thank the Community Economic Development team in particular for their support and guidance – without Michael or Alejandra, I could not be celebrating the event’s success. Having recently secured a new strategic partnership with a local bank, Construye Tus Sueños continues to strengthen its influence on young entrepreneurs who are looking to improve the economic wellbeing of their families through the creation of micro-businesses in marginalized communities throughout the Dominican Republic. I couldn’t be happier to have experienced the ins, outs, and impact of this initiative.

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Michael and Alejandra with the Peace Corps Volunteers who are involved with CTS. 

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Los tres cafeteros” – the best team I’ve had the chance to work with.

Just three days after the conference finished, the CED team informed all of the new trainees where they would be living for the next two years – their site placements. To read about how I felt when I received mine, take a trip down memory lane by clicking here. Matching a Volunteer to a community is a tedious process that takes over 6 months of work. It was through this procedure that I have been able to travel this country, reconnect with my favorite aspects of this culture, solidify the working relationships I have with Michael and Alejandra, and analyze communities’ needs to develop problem-solving skills. Having a say in essentially two years of someone’s life is a powerful feeling; seeing the trainees become bright-eyed when we told them their assignment brought me both nostalgia and peace. All 16 trainees visited their sites and have now sworn-in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, prepared as they can be to begin two years of service in their respective communities.

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Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders with the United States Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, James “Wally” Brewster, before the Swear-In Ceremony.

With the two most trying elements of my extension finally completed, I was set to board the plane and enjoy a long weekend with my family celebrating my own accomplishments as well as the life and legacy of my grandfather. To my dismay, the flight from Santo Domingo to Ft. Lauderdale was inevitably delayed for over four hours. It finally dawned on the employees at the counter to pass out meal vouchers to the impatient passengers who immediately perked up at the offering and seemed to forget about the inconvenience. No longer than 5 minutes after half of the passengers had scattered around the airport to look for free lunch did the attendants decide to stop handing out vouchers and instead announce that they were ready to board the plane. I sat dumbfounded as a group of people protested that they had not yet received their vouchers and that the plane couldn’t leave yet because there were still people eating. Anxious to board and hoping that I wouldn’t miss my connecting flight to Baltimore, I stood in line behind the people that were in fact ready to fly while contemplating the curiousness of cultural priorities I had just witnessed.

Once in Ft. Lauderdale, I realized that my connecting flight was also delayed. Feeling both relieved that I had made my flight and impatient to see my family, I sat down at a bar to enjoy a State-side IPA.   I began chatting to a young man that had decided to celebrate his birthday by flying himself to Colombia for the weekend. Another man joined us, who happened to be from Colombia. Despite how long my day had become at this point, our conversation was effortless and a good reminder to continue accepting (and therefore creating) serendipitous experiences. In the end, the Colombian gentleman footed the bill and I made it to Baltimore with a barriga llena, corazón contenta.

This anecdote, while trivial compared to so many other experiences I’ve had here, encapsulates how much the Dominican Republic has taught me about faith, expectations, and human connection. I couldn’t be closer to the team that I work with – Michael, Alejandra, and I refer to ourselves as the “tres cafeteros” (the three coffee-drinking musketeers) – and it’s intimidating to think that we only have one month left to collaborate on these efforts that we’re all so dedicated to.  Certain aspects of this culture and vein of work continue to surprise, amuse, delight, and touch me; I wish there were a way to bottle it all up – the warmth, faith, camaraderie, and spunk Dominicans have taught me – and drink down when stressful moments overwhelm the peaceful ones. Here’s to satiating these last few weeks with everything this country has to offer those willing to accept, appreciate, and embody it.

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Michael and I with the winners of the CTS conference and their PCV facilitators

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Sometimes this is the easiest way to process change…

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.”

(los) weschler perspective

10 Oct

As one door closes, another opens. Windows of opportunity continue to present themselves, and the ceiling limiting my options and interests to pursue after Peace Corps grows taller, further away. My blog posts seem infrequent, not because I’m uninspired, but because it’s difficult to transmit all of what I’ve been learning since moving to the capital. My day-to-day life, while its schedule is more ‘traditional’ than it was the campo, experiences a vast array of tasks, locations, and conversations. This third year in Peace Corps has been as invigorating and tumultuous as the last two, but how I’ve developed professionally is incomparable.  This has after all been my first ‘office job’ ever.

Pics from a recent stateside visitor

Pics from a recent stateside visitor

Las Terrenas, Samaná

Las Terrenas, Samaná

It has been six months since most of my friends from my March 2013 cohort left, meaning that yet another group is now wrapping up their service to move on to other travel, work, and study plans. A new batch of trainees arrived to country in August, one of whom is staying with the very same host family I lived with during the six unforgettable weeks we spent in Peralvillo, Monteplata for Community Based Training. Additionally, one of these same trainees will eventually come to serve for two years as a follow-up youth volunteer in Pescadería, my home and ‘office’ for the majority of my time here. The new business volunteers, who I helped guide through their Community-Based Training in April, are now settled into their site assignments, some beginning to move out of their host families’ houses to live independently. I recall this part of my service fondly. It is when I regained a bit of independence, delved deeper into cultural integration alongside my beloved neighbors, and began to take on work projects that would ultimately define themselves as the most challenging yet rewarding parts of my service.

Latest visit to Pescadería with my girls Reni and Juana

Latest visit to Pescadería with my girls Reni and Juana

Omailin and fellow-biker, Angely

Omailin and fellow-biker, Angely

Nothing beats star-gazing in the campo...neighbors watching the eclipse/Super Moon.

Nothing beats star-gazing in the campo…neighbors watching the eclipse/Super Moon.

So, why has this third year so far been the icing on the cake to an already incredible experience? In one word: perspective. Peace Corps service tests all aspects of one’s life. Culture, identity, skills, beliefs, and boundaries. Not to mention patience and willpower. A fellow volunteer mentioned that, as volunteers, there is a thin line between our personal and professional lives; it is our job to make it thicker. The perspective this third year extension has brought to my own service has helped to fill in the gaps where I often didn’t see a line existing – moments where relationships defined productivity; times where only retrospect could offer clearer resolution. Spending time with other volunteers at their sites, investigating sites for future volunteers, talking to locals in nearly every province of the country, staying in touch and visiting people back in Pescadería – it has all helped to wrap my head around the 24 months I spent among the goats and plantain trees.  A big ‘hats off’ to those still out in the field.

YES I still work with these fools.

YES I still work with these fools.

Latest edition at La Cabrita - a reservoir so they can save water and use to irrigate the plantains they are planting to eventually generate income

Latest addition to La Cabrita – a reservoir so they can save water and use to irrigate the plantains they are planting to eventually generate income

By working in more direct contact with the people that function “behind the scenes” of a Peace Corps volunteer’s service, my campo blinders have been removed. I’m seeing the bigger picture, and realizing how we’re often just cogs within a large, bureaucratic machine. Good things take time – both inside and outside of the office. There are no parts of my two years that I regret, but I’ve gained a certain perspective that could’ve helped me navigate my service a bit easier. PCV or not however, I think it’d be hard to find someone who has never had that feeling of nostalgia plus “what if” on their conscience.

Another trip, another roadside stand - this one features mangoes, coconuts, eggs, and avocados.

Another trip, another roadside stand – this one features mangoes, honey, coconuts, eggs, and avocados.

Fellow PCV and my boss, Michael, enjoying a breakfast with a view in Moca

Fellow PCV Matty J and my boss, Michael, enjoying a breakfast with a view in Moca

Avocados and sunsets

Avocados and sunsets

This bathing spot made a long, steep hike well worth it!

This bathing spot made a long, steep hike well worth it!

PCVs outside of Matty J's house

PCVs outside of Matty J’s house

Cacao nursery near Cotui

Cacao nursery near Cotui, visiting another PCV

Hiking with fellow PCV near San Francisco de Marcoris

Hiking with fellow PCV near San Francisco de Marcoris

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Peace Corps will never be the job where you can arrive home from work and forget about your day at the office. Until the move from campo to capitaleña, my home WAS my office. My house in Pescadería was where I learned to prepare lunch the Dominican way and where I taught my chicas sexual health; home was where I watched Omailin learn to walk, where we stored the supplies used to build our basketball court, and where I mentored young entrepreneurs on feasible business plans. Work colleagues are also neighbors, church leaders, and school principals – a complex but wholesome quilt of personal and professional networks that blankets a volunteer’s understanding of the additional threads that hold the culture and community together.

Latest work trip: headed down south to the Barahona region to visit some of the winners of the Construye Tus Sueños competition. This is Raylin's San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours business

Latest work trip: headed down south to the Barahona region to visit some of the winners of the Construye Tus Sueños competition. This is Raylin’s San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours business

Michael, Raylin's mom, and Raylin's facilitator Jim (fellow PCV and Vermonter!) at his business

Michael, Raylin’s mom, and Raylin’s facilitator Jim (fellow PCV and Vermonter!) at his business

Lunch view.

Lunch view.

Lunch! Jim, Michael, and I

Conch for lunch! Jim, Michael, and I at Raylin’s business – food side of the business ran and cooked by his mom!

What better way to start the day than to watch the sun rise over an endless, ocean seascape

What better way to start the day than to watch the sun rise over an endless, ocean seascape?

Ready to start the mountain tour - note the Clemson Lacrosse shirt and view of San Rafael :)

Ready to start the Raylin’s mountain tour – note the Clemson Lacrosse shirt and view of San Rafael 🙂

CENTIPEDE

CENTIPEDE

views from the tour

views from the tour

Raylin - winner of Construye Tus Sueños and owner of San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours

Raylin – winner of Construye Tus Sueños and owner of San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours

San Rafael

San Rafael

Michael and I stopping for breakfast on our way to a community meeting.

Michael and I stopping for breakfast on our way to a community meeting.

Visiting a potential site for a future volunteer - an association that makes fruit marmalades !

Visiting a potential site for a future volunteer – an association that makes fruit marmalades !

Ladies in action - preparing orange jam

Ladies in action – preparing orange jam

Another stop to check out the 'gem' of the southern region - larimar

Another stop to check out the ‘gem’ of the southern region – larimar

Larimar - mined ONLY in Barahona

Larimar – mined ONLY in Barahona

I appreciate the opportunity to continue collaborating with Pescadería while not living there. This past weekend I watched one of my chicas graduate from high school – the 3rd graduation I’ve been a part of here. Though still soft-spoken and naive, she’s blossomed into a young leader, capable of commanding a classroom of adolescents while educating them on their anatomy and self-esteem. I also visited with Jonathan, one of my Construye Tus Sueños students, who has seen more than a 150% sales increase since taking the course and winning RD$50,000 to enhance his agro-veterinary business in May. Lastly, my friends who I became close to during the basketball court chronicles, informed me that they had not only bought new jerseys, but that they also had a new team name: The Pescadería Weschlers. Young people that I’ve had the pleasure to work with are becoming catalysts for change, and theirs are the stories that make me feel like I’m still fighting the good fight.

Colorful, festive high school graduation

Colorful, festive high school graduation

Graduation parade

Graduation parade

Odalina (graduate), Grissel, and I at the high school graduation. These two girls were my super-star multipliers for Chicas Brillantes.

Odalina (graduate), Grissel, and I at the high school graduation. These two girls were my super-star multipliers for Chicas Brillantes.

Photo of the Pescadería Weschlers. They captioned the photo:

Photo of the Pescadería Weschlers. They captioned the photo: “this has been done with great motivation for our friend, who helped us achieve what we’ve been waiting for. today with a truly united team, we dedicate it all to you kate weschler. we love and will always remember you.”

oceans separate land, not souls

29 Aug

This week I visited La Isabela on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, one of the first European settlements of the New World.  Much to my surprise, there were hardly any signs indicating the route to such a monumental location.  Then again, I wasn’t surprised much at all, as this country has its own way of doing things…

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“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”

On his first voyage, he landed in the Bahamas and ultimately established La Navidad as the first European settlement in what is present-day Haiti.  On his second voyage, after discovering that La Navidad had been destroyed by Taínos (natives to the island who were [probably] rightly disgruntled with Spanish treatments), Columbus traveled a bit east and founded La Isabela.  After several years of your typical conquest blunders – hunger, disease, quarrels with the natives, etc. – Columbus abandoned La Isabela and ultimately named Santo Domingo as the official Spanish settlement in 1496.

Museum at La Isabela

Museum at La Isabela

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“On this land of the Americas, the Admiral Christopher Columbus founded La Isabela in the year 1943.”

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Admiral Christopher Columbus's house!

Ruins of Admiral Christopher Columbus’s house!  (thatched roof not included) 

I couldn’t help but feel small while standing on such historic ground, unable to process all of the events and people that our world has seen since 1493 (nevertheless before that!).  As I walked along the hot, salty clay and posed with ruins of Admiral Christopher Columbus’s house, one special man naturally came to mind – my grandpa!

Coincidentally or not, Vice Admiral Thomas R. Weschler is being honored this very weekend in his hometown of Erie, PA for his service in the US Navy AND his continuous efforts in providing exciting education opportunities for people interested in both studying and accepting the magnitude of the sea. Furthermore, the wing of the Military Gallery at the local Historical Society will be named in his honor. At 97 years young, my grandpa is sharp, curious, and humble; a stoic individual who, in applying a specific passion to all areas of his life, embodies a wise truthfulness that inspires others to find and develop their own.

VADM Weschler

VADM Weschler

VADM Weschler

VADM Weschler

Like the concept of history, I will never be able to fathom or understand all of my grandpa’s stories at sea. However, I am certain that he deserves every bit of recognition he’s receiving this weekend and more. Not only has he been an exemplary grandpa, but also a beacon of nobility, intellect, and just plain goodness. Wishing I could be there to celebrate, but “oceans separate land, not souls.”

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

Thankful.

9 Dec

Not too much has happened since my last update.  Oh wait, I VISITED HOME!!!!  10 days sure did fly by, especially because 2 of them were spent traveling, but catching up with so many friends and family was priceless.  Some highlights include:

–       Speaking at Woodstock Union High School to various students and teachers about Peace Corps, culture in the Dominican Republic, and my life as a PCV in the DR so far – very rewarding, and I was thrilled to share my experience with so many eager listeners.  Thanks guys 🙂

–       Sharing all the Dominican goodies I’d brought home with my family.  Before I left, my neighbors and I made pan de yuca and pan de maíz, both of which I fit in my suitcase; they totaled about 20 lbs.  I also brought various dulces home – banana, coconut/pineapple with raisins, and tomato (yes, you can make tomato dessert, and it was actually the favorite of the three!).  Lastly, I brought home three big bags of tasty sweetened cacao seeds made by a women’s association where my friend Sam is living and working.

–       Seeing my family and friends after so long, but particularly my niece and 2 nephews.  It had been almost a year since I’d seen them, and they’re growing up so beautifully!

–       Thanksgiving dinner.  Who doesn’t love it?  Plus it had been 9 months since my last bite of turkey.

–       My dad got married!  Congrats Tom and Mary – love you both very much.

–       Visiting Oak Knoll farm in Windsor, VT.  This place has over 800 goats (!!) and they produce milk and yogurt.  I took advantage of living so close by and took a tour of the farm.  I plan to share pictures and what I learned with members of La Cabrita

Oak Knoll's Goat Yogurt

Oak Knoll’s Goat Yogurt

I got back to site on Tuesday, realizing that I’m thankful for an infinite number of things.  Visiting home was such a blur of mixed emotions.  Culture shock.  Hugging family and friends that I hadn’t seen in way too long.  Freezing my butt off.  Being able to plug in my electronics whenever I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about there not being luz.  Speaking in English.  Nature.  Mescaline lettuce, and not having to soak it in bleach before eating it.  Trash cans.  Realizing how great my high school education was.  Drinking pure Vermont water from the tap.  Wearing a seatbelt.  Having all my friends telling me that I look pretty because I’m so tan.  Coming back to the DR and having everyone tell me that I’m prettier because I’m whiter.  Culture shock.

burgers are good and I missed them.

burgers are good and I missed them.

But I’m thankful for it all, and I decided that I’m really happy with what I’m doing.  Not every day is comfortable or uncomplicated, but that would take the adventure out of this whole experience.  Overall, life here is pretty dang good, and I’m thankful for so many things every day…How easy it is to clean cement floors.  How badass I feel while riding a motorcycle, even if I’m always the passenger.  My health and safety.  The kids’ eagerness to learn, play, and give hugs.  Fresh fruit, and the infinite number of tasty juice combos one can create.  Saludar-ing.  The determinedness of the members of La Cabrita.  Having my neighbors bring me lunch every single day and not expecting anything in return.  My mosquito net.  Recognizing how much less water I use by taking bucket showers.  The crunch of perfect tostones.  The fact that no one does anything when it rains.  Bachata.  How accomplished I feel after finishing my laundry.  The stars on a luz-less night.

Catching up with friends and family :)

Catching up with friends and family 🙂

One thing that I don’t express enough though is how thankful I am for all the other volunteers.  It’s one thing to go home and “explain” to people what your life is like.  That’s even what I’m trying to do by writing this blog.  But no matter how many details you give, gestures you make, or pictures you share, you just can’t do it justice.  Life here is too different.  Good and bad different.  So that’s why I’m thankful for other volunteers.  They’re living here too.  We all have different sites, but we share similar frustrations and break-throughs, failures and triumphs, goals and dreams, and digestion problems.  And from Day 1 we’ve been able to talk about it all.  And I mean everything – I’ll spare you the details 🙂

Jackson, my nephew, and I

My nephew, Jackson, and I

So here’s a list of some fellow PCV-DR bloggers, most of who arrived with me in March (more than nine months ago!)  All of them are doing great and very different things, and are those who make this whole experience that much better.  Thanks guys!

http://theadventuringtype.blogspot.com/

http://lewisjw7.wordpress.com/

http://skinneypeacecorps.wordpress.com/   – who I bought the cacao seeds from!

http://pazitivelyloca.blogspot.com

http://caitkeegtravels.wordpress.com/

http://serpasjohn.wordpress.com/

http://Landylamb.wordpress.com

http://susandr.blogspot.com/

Really important P.S. – Two weeks from today I receive my first stateside visitors!!!  Can’t wait to see you Mom and Carrie, and to show you what life here is really like 🙂

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom's arrival!

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom’s arrival!

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.