Saturday, May 22, 2010

one last thing...

I accidentally put these in mostly chronological order...captions at bottom

1) Rich versus poor, neighbors in Constanza

2) Some hilarious geese, our barrio in Constanza

3) Religion is sport, Constanza

4) A nice house in the Batey, Las Pajas

5) Los Pilones

6) Punta Rusia from the end of town

7) A pet parrot, Los Pilones

8) The view "uptown" from my plastic chair, Punta Rusia

9) The view "downtown" from my plastic chair, Punta Rusia

10) The restaurant I lived above for most of my service--from my plastic chair, Punta Rusia
11) Elementary school and library, Punta Rusia

12) My first Dominican boyfriend/nephew Edison, Punta Rusia

13) Reina and Lorena, Punta Rusia

14) The sunset from my porch, Punta Rusia

15) My house, Punta Rusia

16) Beach cleaning and trash burning on earth day, Punta Rusia

17) Kids in the "park", Punta Rusia

18) More earth day, Punta Rusia

19) Two wood and zinc houses by the side of the newly paved road, Los Pilones

20) The gas station, Punta Rusia

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Hello there readers.

For anyone reading who isn't on my email list or facebook....

Due to some unforeseen and unforeseeable events back home, my Peace Corps service has come to a close. Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me.

In the words of my director, I did not fail, I finished.

Cuidanse y gracias.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

heat and politics

Here’s a shout out to the Dirigo High School in Maine spring break crew. Hope you had a great time, I sure did.

-I underestimated the heat. There are, I’ve decided, two signifiers of intense heat and I’ve felt both of them in the span of one day. Number one: when you’re sitting still in the shade and you break a sweat. Number two: when you’re on the back of a motorcycle wearing a tank top and shorts going forty kilometers per hour and you feel like you’re driving through a convection oven.

-Shouting and talking over one another during political campaigns seems to be a universal pain in my rear. At least the colors here are different; it’s purple versus white instead of red versus blue.

-You know how when you find out where someone is from and you instantly rack your brain to see if you already know someone from there? And then when you realize that you do you ask the person if they know who you’re talking about, no matter how big the town/city/country? That happens a lot here. I was explaining to someone that I’ve never actually been to New York City and aside from not quite believing me they then asked :
-“Well even if that’s the case, do you know Joe Rodriguez? Because he lives there and he’s my cousin and I figured since you’re from the same place (i.e. the United States aka New York) you’d probably know him.”
- “I’m from the other side of the country. I’ve never been to New York. And there are 300 million people in my country. That’s like the Dominican Republic times 30.”
-“So you’re saying you don’t know him…”
Similarly a lot of people assume that I know the white people in town because hey, we all do look alike. But on the flipside of this, whenever I see white people in town I double take because I think I do know them. This might be from the aforementioned blog of me living in a rather extreme minority.

-Will someone please explain to me where 2009 went, and then explain where 2010 is going? I swear it hasn’t been a year since I was incredibly anxiously awaiting my placement for the Peace Corps.

-My dad came to visit and told me that I’m a lot braver than I used to be. That I sort of just jump into things here and assume the outcome will be good because assuming otherwise isn’t at all helpful. I almost cried. My dad thinks I’m brave.

-I remember when I applied for the Peace Corps that I refused to say that there was somewhere that I wouldn’t go but secretly really really didn’t want to go to Africa because I thought I couldn’t hack it. Then when I got here and visited the Batey I decided that I really really didn’t want to spend my two years in a Batey because I didn’t think I could hack it. Now I see pictures of people doing Peace Corps Africa and I’m kind of jealous. It’s not that I don’t think I’m helping here—I do believe I’m bringing something to the table—but man, talk about culture shock. It would be so amazing to be thrown into a culture that is almost unrecognizable to our own—this one still has its Telemundo, love of baseball, light beer and aeropostale t-shirts. This is probably the dad-bravery statement in action.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

-I never realized how anonymous life is in the United States. And while some people might lament that they don’t like the anonymity and we should live in a communal world and blah blah etc, try living in a country where you are not only the racial and cultural minority but you are essentially one of a kind. Where everything you do is of interest to everyone and the most mundane parts of life are spectacle. And sometimes, when you’ve had a long week and you just want to listen to some music and have a beer you don’t want to have to explain why or what you are doing to anyone. Don’t take that anonymity for granted, I miss it.

-I find myself defending God a lot. To some of you—most of you—this might sound a little, well, odd. But here in this country, and a little bit in this town we have this really feverish type of evangelism that is really only fire and brimstony. What happened to the Haitians is because of their pact with the devil, if women wear pants they are probably going to hell, and Catholics worship too many false idols. Oh, and god is very very angry with us. I don’t know if it’s my college degree or what but several people seem to ask me with some authority if I believe what Pastor says. I politely say no and that my reason is that I believe that God lives in the heart not in the tongue/mind and that the message of Jesus was love and compassion not hatred and exclusivity. Interestingly, while I still don’t believe in hell and I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in heaven, I absolutely believe the previous sentence—but I still don’t want to go to church.

-I’ve read 37 books since August 20th 2009. One recently was a dense 400 pager that I finished in two days called Random Family; it’s wonderful, you should read it. I’ve been told and have realized that I will never have this much time to read except for maybe in my retirement if such a thing will ever exist. My themes have covered everything from poverty in the US, poverty in the middle east, poverty in Haiti, poverty in the DR, love stories, utopian environmentalist stories, economics, quite a bit about god in all different forms, funny stories, tough life stories, a lot of prison stories (not intentionally or related), and David Sedaris. Any suggestions?

-There is maybe nothing more repulsive than finding a cockroach nestled comfortably in the business end of your toothbrush.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

it's short. live it.

I went to check my email this morning on the frustratingly slow but still existing internet connection at Franklin's house. It's only one bar of unprotected, unfirewalled, wireless service but it's been a godsend as I previously only was able to check my email about twice a month.

The first email in my inbox was a facebook group invitation: In Loving Memory of Sarah E Jennings.

I found out from facebook--a group invitation not even an email or wall post mind you--that my best friend died.

Four years ago this July I received a text message from Sarah saying "I have a brain tumor, will you come to the hospital?" She was doped out of her gourd and did not remember sending such a loving text. The coming months were surgeries, chemo, my college graduation, and a general reluctance and guilt to want to bust the hell out. She told me I had to go. Someone had to have the adventures for us, and she wasn't currently capable.

So I went. She beat cancer. Life was good.

Last year, cancer tried to come back. Chemo, she lost some hair, she beat cancer again. Bad ass. I was just off trying to have adventures, she was fighting wars right inside that teeny tiny little body. I told her I was joining Peace Corps and that she needed to be done with this cancer for good. Of course, she said. What if something happens? I thought/maybe said. But of course you have to go, she said, why on earth wouldn't you?

February. I receive a thanksgiving card from Sarah (the mail is slow here), she's great. Days later I receive an email. Cryptic at best, but only a small hiccup, not cancer, just a small hiccup. Eric and I are getting married, she says. Where are my nieces and nephews and when can I secretly feed them meat, I ask. No response.

Today I open my email. You have been invited to join the group In Loving Memory of Sarah E Jennings. Damn you, facebook.

Eric emails me (thankyou facebook), the last few months have been a battle but we decided not to focus on dying. She didn't tell me. She said she was fine. Of course she didn't tell me. Then who would be out having our adventures?

She said she was proud of me, he said he was proud of me. I'm just trying to have our adventures. Somebody has to do it, since she can't.

Friday, February 26, 2010

turning 26

Oregon Youth Health Sexual Plan
That was to get the attention of the person who left me a comment on my last blog, in case you aren’t following still. Thanks for the great comment. I hope you continue to follow through my service since the sexual health initiative is one of my main projects here. Also, thanks for making Oregon great.
Moving on.

-My reproductive organs charla was pretty fantastic if you consider fantastic an hour’s worth of question and answer on crazy myths and beliefs like I do (seriously, it was awesome). And I do consider that great because today there are 15 more kids who know that you can still get pregnant in water, and that you won’t die if you go swimming on your period…unless you swim through a shark’s nest, but you might die without your period there. We do condoms next. I have a little smiling condom as an advertisement, hopefully it goes well.

-My nephew just discovered pockets. This is kind of a big deal, especially considering the rate of losing small things just went way up.

-In case I haven’t mentioned 6 or 7 times already, there are two “national” dances here. I use quotes because I guess they aren’t official but they’re so popular they’re really unofficially official. The Bachata and the Merengue. The Bachata is a slower, generally more romantic dance with a 4 or 8 count depending on the music. It is the hard one. Merengue is easier but faster and sweatier and you generally want to get showier because you’re moving faster. Seemingly every Dominican over the age of 12 knows how to do both of these dances and especially the men can’t help but dancing at every song. As a gringa these dances aren’t too awfully hard because all you have to do is follow—I’m not great, but I’m getting better at following. But our poor poor gringos. We have a sliding scale of ability there: can dance; thinks he can’t dance but actually can; thinks he can dance well but only marginally has rhythm but has fun; know they can’t dance but they’re trying and learning; improving; think they can dance but have negative amounts of rhythm and step on feet without noticing. Also guys, if you’re reading this, I’ll let you decipher who’s who, and just so you know, Salsa can’t be danced like Merengue OR Bachata, it can only be danced like Salsa, and it’s hard.

-For my 26th birthday I got two excellent parties, a fever—not for cowbell, and an inner ear infection. Regardless, it was definitely one of the best birthdays ever. Also, I was not surprised by my first ever surprise party but it didn’t make it any less fun. Interestingly you can figure out you’re having a surprise birthday party when you’re at the supermercado with the planners buying things that look to be for a party but you are assured that they are for “oh nothing.”

-Per the title of this blog: I have used a pit toilet. I still have not eaten a cow’s tongue. BUT I have eaten (vegans please move on, this is not for you) a cow’s hoof. Not in the fashion that dog’s eat cow’s hooves like bones, but the innards of a cow’s hoof. The gelatin-y part. It doesn’t taste bad, but it smells awful, the texture is weird, and once you’re finally told what it is, interestingly you might lose your appetite. I may have made the mistake on day 1 of telling them that I like pretty much anything except for eggplant and Bacalao (think sardines times a million more pounds of salt) but I reiterated last night that I will at the very least try everything I haven’t had at least once. We can now add cow foot to the “no” list.

-The condom charla went pretty great except that I was missing some of my favorite youth, but I did get the tigueres to show up which is sort of a feat in itself. And they all rather willingly put that condom on that plantain. So now I’m rather officially the town condom fairy. I told them that they have to use the trash cans that the last volunteer installed and not the street to throw them, and that I would not be the condom provider for party favors or balloons, only sex…not to encourage them or anything, but if you knew my teenagers you’d know that abstinence is a word that we might not need to bother learning and I want those condoms used correctly dammit.

-My English grammar gets worse every day (obviously). Unfortunately, my Spanish isn’t improving as fast as my English is deteriorating. My apologies.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

sidewalks and escojo

-A sign was posted by our municipal government on an abandoned building, because that’s apparently where people are supposed to read signs not pertaining to said abandoned building. I may be the first person who actually noticed or read the sign. It stated that we will be getting 4 sidewalks installed in our little community which is a place that doesn’t often see the presence of our municipal government. The first thing noticeable was that it was written very obviously on a type-writer. This is a little unnerving considering an official government document, stamped and sealed by a notary and the sindico is not being saved and documented in a computer file somewhere (we’ll see if we get those sidewalks). But the sidewalks are also notable for other reasons. First, we don’t even have a paved road. Our road is dirt and sand and the plan is to build cement sidewalks. On top of sand. Before an actual street. Second, is the idea that the notice said that the sidewalks were being put into place for the safety and education of the children here, when our teachers have been asking for months, if not years, for a second classroom so as to have only two grades at a time in a single room instead of four. Hmmm.

-I started my first real project this month with the first real functioning meeting on Sunday (17 jan). I’m working with an initiative called Escojo Mi Vida which means “I choose my life” and it’s a youth group with charlas (classes) dedicated to healthy decision making, sexual education and health, and adolescent changes. The idea of standing in front of a bunch of teenagers giving lectures in Spanish about their changing bodies gave me an anxiety unmatched since the incredibly uncomfortable (and not in the funny way) sex talk that my mother’s friends forced her to give me in the eleventh grade—which may not be too late here but is about seven years too late there, sorry mom. My anxiety was only heightened with the realization that my first talk, about values and self esteem, was easily the most boring subject in my laundry list of sex, drugs, and prostitute lectures I would eventually be giving. But then this amazing thing happened: they were totally into it. Every teenager wanted to tell me exactly what the value respect means and how it’s the same but different from the value of tolerance. Every teenager wanted to share what they thought made them special so that they could remember it when their self esteem was low. The only giggles were born out of that special awkward feeling you carry around like your own soul when you’re fourteen, not because this far too old woman who butchers the language is teaching you stuff you already know. Probably because they don’t already know it. Rather unfortunately I suppose, self esteem and values aren’t shoved down Dominican throats like they are in America and beyond that, kids and teens here seem especially starved for adult acknowledgement and attention—even if that comes in the form of some woman who is way too old to not have kids (I’m 25) talking about sex. But at least I’m trying.

-I just saw my neighbor club a chicken. Wednesday is chicken day. This is the day that a guy comes around in a truck with a chicken coop in the bed. His lady friend (wife? sister? niece? girlfriend? business partner?) brings a scale over and attaches it to the awning. Then depending on the quantity of chickens one desires a teenage boy either brings over a bag full of chickens (live mind you) to be weighed, or what could be called a bushel of chickens that are weighed by the foot of the chicken at the top of the bushel. Then you get to decide. You can either have them take the chickens away to an as yet undetermined location to be plucked and beheaded a la the chickens we all buy in the supermarket; OR you can keep your live chickens to club yourself and then pluck and prepare. At the restaurant we receive them like butterballs, but the club-your-own option is actually pretty popular as chicken foot is a delicacy here. Unfortunately I’m not a fan. The texture is like chewing on baby fingers.

-My second Escojo charla sucked. The third is about reproductive organs—here goes nothin’.

-The other day Franklin asked me if I wanted a mango. I said of course I want a mango. He took 25 pesos out of his pocket and bought 8 mangoes. That’s like 72 cents. For 8 mangoes. They’re two bucks each in Oregon.

-I have a rat and between 2 and 4 lizards that live in my little bedroom. I do not like the rat because the rat is eating my clothes and pooping on my things and I’m probably dying from hanta virus as we speak (please do not encourage my grandfather to look up hanta virus, it was a joke). I love the lizards because they are eating the bugs. Now if only the lizards could find a way to convince the rat to move then I would keep them for pets.