lunes, 28 de febrero de 2011

Getting In Touch With My Feminine Side

Life in my community hasn’t turned out exactly how I had envisioned in many aspects, which is fine. I thought, however, that my social life would at least be similar to how it was in the States. I figured my main group of friends would be a bunch of guys my age that would share the same interests as me. For various reasons, however, I have had to steer clear of that particular focus group. Dominican males, from the age of about two, are taught to spit mad game at any and all females. For this reason, by the time they reach puberty they have more confidence than a 7-times divorced American man. Dominican males who are around my age that live in my community are mostly married with kids, and don’t really pay much attention to me. The ones who aren’t married, from the time they are about 15-years-old tend to sit around on the corner a lot, talking about chicks using slang I will never understand, drinking rum, listening to god-awful regaeton, and thinking they are a lot cooler than they really are. Girls my age that aren’t married or pregnant don’t exist in this country. So what has resulted, is that I have found friendship in many unexpected places. My best conversations are with Dominican women over the age of 40, who are the most gentle, loving, and accommodating people on the earth. We have two topics of discussion: my community projects, and town gossip…call me an old drama queen, but I could gossip for hours. The latest gossip: Gumo went to jail for throwing hot oil on his brother-in-law when they were both drunk, Venancia tested positive for HIV, and Jera moved in with her baby’s daddy, making them officially “married”.

One of my favorite ladies who has been a great supporter and promoter of my community projects is Chave, a 40-year-old married women of 5 kids. She has helped me by sewing reusable bags for an environmental initiative, giving classes for my sex-ed youth group, and participating in reading groups to help promote the library project. Recently, however, our relationship has taken a strange turn. She first wrote me a letter telling me I shouldn’t visit her house anymore because her husband didn’t like us being friends. On a separate occasion, she told me she thought of us as “more than friends”. I responded that I thought of her as a motherly figure. On another day, she came to my house while I was talking to some kids from my youth group and she started caressing my head and ears, making me so uncomfortable I couldn’t think straight and had to tell her to stop touching me. Now she has asked me to take her to see a waterfall tourist attraction and to teach her to drive, but it all has to be kept “secret” from her husband. I don’t know how I got myself into this mess. It’s a very sticky situation because I don’t want to be hit on by an older lady, but I also don’t want to lose a key supporter of my projects. Do I bite the bullet and lay down with the cougar for the sake of the community???...of course not you perverts!!! Her kids are my age, and she is not hot!!! (not that that would be any sort of deal breaker). I’ll keep you all posted of any further advancements in the story (and by the cougar).

Most of my youth group members are teenagers, but we tend not to hang out when we’re not having group meetings or going on trips. So apart from middle aged ladies, I also hang out with my fair share of little kids in my free time. My best friend of all is a 12-year-old deaf/mute girl named Patricia, who is more commonly known as La Muda (the mute one), but contrary to her nickname, she is extremely vocal in her own personal language. She comes over every day and usually cleans my house. Sometimes she cleans for free, but sometimes she feels she deserves payment so I give her 5 pesos or a couple candies and she carries on feeling content and appreciated. I know what your thinking: That’s underpaid child labor!… Well, all I can say is, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! THINGS WORK DIFFERENTLY HERE! Me and Patricia tell each other stories using hand gestures, yet we only understand about half of what is being said. Maybe it is best that way because the kids who I can understand tend to drive me insane after a while. Patricia’s favorite thing to do is talk on my cell phone, so whenever I’m talking to another Peace Corps friend with our free family plan, Patricia asks for me to pass her the phone, and when I do, she begins to tell my friends a story using very animated noises and hand motions. She then passes the phone back to me and my friends ask me, “Who was that and what language was she talking in?” We haven’t said it to each other yet, but me and Patricia both know that we’re BFF’s.

Being an avid fan of youth camps, I recently signed up to go to a girls youth camp, to which I brought two girls from my youth group. At the camp, there were 40 teenage Dominican girls, 17 female volunteers, and 3 male volunteers (me, Jared, and Dean). The estrogen was running high and we were clearly outnumbered. However, this camp turned out to be incredibly fun and the girls treated us men like kings. Everyone at the camp was given a little mail box with their name on it so that whoever wanted could leave a note for their new friends. By the end of the three days, the mail boxes belonging to Jared, Dean, and I were overflowing with love notes. Throughout the first 2 days of the camp, we kept dropping hints that there would be a special guest appearance by Carlos Baute and Marta Sanchez (2 well known singers who have a hit duet on the radio). Then, as promised, on the second night of the camp, as all the girls were waiting in pure excitement, Dean announced, “Give a warm welcome for Carlos and Marta!!!” Then I, dressed and Carlos, and Jared, dressed in drag as Marta, came running into the room where we were met by 40 screaming girls, as if it were an N’sync concert. They were so star struck you would have thought we were the real musical artists. Once we got to the center of the croud, the girls rushed in on us and we were almost smothered before Dean came to the rescue and acted as security and told the girls to calm down. Me and Jared sang our famous duet and for the remainder of the camp, we were called Carlos and Marta. My 15 minutes of fame was over before I knew it, but now I know what it’s like to be Justin Biever, who, by the way, recently took the place of Justin Timberlake as the person people refer to when they first learn my name…great improvement. (My latest prayer: Dear God, please allow someone named Justin to become famous for something more respectable than singing love songs to 12-year-old girls. Amen.)

sábado, 15 de enero de 2011

La Navidad


Mañanitas, meaning “little mornings”, are a perfect example of the Dominican culture. What Dominicans love more than anything are loud noises: loud motorcycles, loud voices, loud explosions, and especially loud music. They also love jumping on the bandwagon and praising the lord. What Dominicans have very little value for are such things like personal space, self awareness, noise pollution, noise violations, and a good nights sleep before work. This complex combination is what allows mañanitas to continue as a tradition year after year. What basically happens is at 4:00 am, a small group of people gather outside the Catholic Church with a collection of percussion instruments and begin marching up the street while singing merengue style Christmas carols. As the group proceeds up the street, more and more people come out of their homes and join the group until a massive parade is formed. If you’re in my community, Tubagua, the parade is accompanied by a truck with massive speakers blasting prerecorded Christmas carols with bass so loud you feel it in your chest. At selective houses, the group stops to sing a song that talks about opening the door until someone from inside wakes up and does just that. This ridiculous display of Christmas spirit continues until 6:00am when the group arrives back at the church just in time for mass in the dark. Mass ends at about 6:45am, just as the sun begins to rise. And as if 1 day of this wasn’t already enough, they do it for each of the 10 days leading up to Christmas Eve. Nobody gets a good night’s sleep for 10 days. So I say,if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

I had two friends stay over during this time who hadn’t yet learned of this tradition. Before we went to bed, I told them I had a surprise for them in the morning, but I didn’t tell them what it was. Like clockwork, the 200dB parade came bumping past my house, waking all of us up. My friends asked, “what in the hell is that!?!?” I told them to look out the window and they saw. I quickly explained what it was and told them to put their shoes on because we were about to join the party. Soon we were walking off into the darkness, half asleep, clapping our hands to the most fast paced Christmas song we’d ever heard.

Looking at this from the average sleeping person’s perspective, this ritual would certainly make the list of the top 10 most obnoxious things ever. Imagine if this happened in the U.S., in your neighborhood. People would most certainly get arrested or shot, or both. The church would be shut down and Christmas carols would be deemed illegal before 3:00pm. However, here in the D.R., those who party harder come out on top. And noise violations fall under the same classification as unicorns. This can even be seen in their politics. The politicians drive around big trucks with their giant face and name printed on the side while blasting the latest regaetón song, except with the lyrics changed to say something about voting for that politician. The politician who makes the most noise wins, simple. Political issues have little to no relevance.

Christmas, a time for sharing

What Dominicans are the best at is sharing. With any visit you make to a neighbors house comes a fresh juice or coffee. If a stranger on the public bus has one hard candy left, he or she will break it with their teeth and give you half. Sharing is embedded in the culture, and for this reason it is great to be in the DR for Christmas, because Christmas is a time for sharing. Christmas Eve is the big day here when the whole family gets together and eats a big feast. The traditional dishes during Christmas time are rotisserie pork, potato/yuka bake, apples, and grapes. On Christmas Eve I ate an early dinner with my neighbor, and then another dinner with my host family, who prepared an entire pig. I ate the pig’s tongue; is that gross? I stuffed myself until I couldn’t move. Later I went to another neighbor’s house where we shared spiked eggnog, wine, and skrewdrivers, and then found some more room to shove in some grilled chicken and hot dogs. This ended up not being the greatest combination because I woke up the next morning at 7am with a full belly and threw it all up. But it was totally worth it. I was eating leftover pork for 3 days until we finished every part of it including the ears, hooves, liver, heart, and intestines, and it was so delicious.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We’re still in need of donations for the library project, so if your New Years resolution is to help the needy, just visit the link below…

miércoles, 22 de diciembre de 2010


Have you ever had a few beers and then noticed that certain people suddenly look a little more attractive? Well the same phenomenon works when dealing with puppies as well. I’ll explain. The other night I was in Santiago with some Peace Corps friends. We were at a sports bar responsibly enjoying some drinks. I say responsibly because we weren’t going to drive home(Peace Corps prohibits volunteers from driving, but the fact that we have no other choice doesn’t make us any less responsible). At the end of the night, we decided to head back to the motel where we were staying. Our group got split up and I ended up walking back with my friends Shannon and Duncan. We turned up a small street, and that’s when it happened. Three small puppies came out of nowhere and blocked the walkway, forcing us to pick them up and accept their sweet puppy breath kisses. We instantly fell in love with them, and suddenly became aware that there were no people, nor mother dogs around; these puppies were abandoned! Being in the emotionally tipsy state that we were, our conversation went something like this:

Shannon: Awwww look at them, they love you! You guys have to take them home!

Duncan: We do?

Justin: Oh shit, you’re right. These puppies are homeless! We’re their only hope. I’ll take the black one.

Duncan: Alright, let me call Amy (Duncan’s neighboring volunteer friend) and see what she says.

Phone conversation

Duncan: Amy, will you help me take care of this puppy I found?

Amy: Huh?

Duncan: Yeah, we’re gonna help save a street puppy, just say yes.

Amy: Ummm, I guess so…as long as you take care of it most of the t..Click. Hello? Duncan?...

Duncan: she said ok.

Justin: But Shannon, you have to take the third one.

Shannon: But I already have a dog.

Justin: Yeah but we can’t just leave one puppy alone on the street…we’ll have to take all three and find someone to adopt the third one. C’mon, lets go sneak these puppies into the motel.

Duncan: Lets find some street food and more beers.

Once back in our motel room, we introduced the puppies to everyone else, fed them some peanut butter, and shut them in the bathroom for the night. The next morning, we woke up sober as saints and realized what we had done, but the damage was already done; we had to face the music. Amy, the puppies (who smelled absolutely rancid), and I left the motel and headed towards Puerto Plata while Duncan left to take care of some work, immediately taking on the role of the illegitimate father (Duncan never saw the puppies again after that day). We transported the puppies in Amy’s bag, which she was not very happy about. In Puerto Plata, I had to attend a meeting so I left the puppies with Amy, however she had to go grocery shopping so she was becoming quite agitated seeing as the whole puppy thing was never her idea. Later on, I took the three puppies from Amy so she could finish running errands, and after five hours swinging around in a bag, the puppies finally arrived at my house. Upon arrival, I immediately showed the puppies to my host mom (the lady who lives behind me and feeds me lunch). She quickly took note that all three puppies were female and for the first time ever, she appeared to be very upset with me. (I discovered at that time that nobody here likes female dogs because male dogs always follow them around and then they get pregnant and have a ton of babies. (I’m not sure what the big deal is considering that Dominican humans do the exact same thing.)) My host mom ultimately said that I can’t keep any puppies and I agreed to give them away as soon as possible. Once Duncan heard that I wasn’t keeping my puppy, he declared that he never really wanted one anyway. Duncan and Amy then refused to come pick up their puppy from my house.

The next three days were a living hell. While running around preparing for the graduation of my environmental youth group, I had to deal with puppies running in the street, crapping diarrhea all over my house, and whining 24/7. I individually called up Amy, Duncan, and Shannon to tell them how much I hated them. But then on the 4th day, a miracle occurred. Amy found a neighbor who had a soft spot for girl puppies and took 2 of the 3. Then my neighbor came over and said she wanted the 3rd puppy, and at last, I was free.

I apologized to my friends for hating them and told them that we were officially heroes. And for any of you that say alcohol destroys lives, I beg to differ; alcohol saves lives, puppy lives. And while we’re on the topic of people who make judgments, I’m sick of Dominican’s arguing over whether catholics or evangelicals are following the right path to God. How about this, have you ever saved a puppy? I say, if you save a puppy, you get to go to heaven, period. Argument solved. In fact, I’m making this an official religion. Who’s with me??!! Oh wait, let me add another stipulation. You also get to go to heaven if you donate money to a library in a poor community where 1 white guy and a bunch of dark people live. To achieve guaranteed eternal life through the latter option, click on the link below:

Lesson learned: In the same way that alcohol consumption leads some guys to take home the obese chick from the bar, alcohol can also influence someone to take home a stinky abandoned puppy from the street. In either case, regrets are often made; but let’s not forget, stinky puppies need love too.

Note to reader:

While many of my stories involve alcohol consumption, I really don’t drink that often. It’s just that alcohol makes for good stories. To prove my point, here is a story that doesn’t include any substance abuse whatsoever unless you consider caffeine a drug (ie. Mormons).

One day, I woke up in my house and decided to take a walk to remind the kids about our youth group meeting that day. I stopped at the house of some of my favorite neighbors, Aida and Cundo. They said, “have a seat Yotin.” Aida brought me some coffee and took a seat next to me. She said, “boy, it’s gonna be hot today.” I said, “Sure is”. She said, “I have such a headache, I couldn’t sleep last night.” I asked, “Did you take a pain killer.” She said, “Yes but it’s not working very well”. She asked “How’s your family?” I said, “They are doing well. Anyway, I have to get going. Thanks for the coffee, see you later.” Then I went and talked with a bunch more people about the upcoming stove and library projects, cleaned my house,prepared for my youth group meeting, ate lunch at my host family’s house, had my youth group meeting, applied for a grant to buy community trash cans, made dinner, worked on a new youth group manual about world diversity and equality, and went to bed.

See, now which story is more entertaining? Exactly. Now add a bottle of rum to that last story and then we’ll be seeing some blogworthy material…

Another note to reader: If I have said anything offensive, I would like to declare that I was just kidding.

New Dominican Nicknames:

Goat (Chivo), Chinese (Chino), Almost Handsome (Casi Lindo), Baby (Chíchí), Chíche (no translation), and Chuche (no translation)

miércoles, 10 de noviembre de 2010

Aventuras del Campesino

Baby Chower

I got invited to a baby shower a few months ago. I know what you’re thinking…baby showers are miserable little parties where ladies get together to talk about babies and verbally bash the entire male species; why would I ever want to attend such an event? Well let me explain why it is important to never pass up an opportunity to attend a baby shower, or as they call it, “baby chower”, in a latin country. First of all, the girl that invited me is only 20 years old, loves to party, and is unsure of who the father of her baby is. The baby shower took place at the community kareoke bar, which is located two doors down from my house. The event started with everyone drinking tons of beer and rum until they built up enough liquid courage to sing a few songs. Drunken singalongs continued for a few hours, and was followed by dancing. We danced merengue, bachata, and regaeton (aka humping music). I’m proud to say that I grinded with a pregnant lady who was wearing a scandelously tight purple dress.

Top 5 reasons why the easiest country to be a Peace Corps volunteer is the Dominican Republic:

  1. The DR is a tropical island in the Carribean (cold water bucket baths actually feel good)
  2. There are up to 200 PC volunteers in this country that is smaller than Rhode Island, so you never have to go to far to see and american friend when things get stressful.
  3. We have cell phones provided with an unlimited family plan between all PC volunteers and staff.
  4. A flight home can take as little as 2 hours depending on what state you are from.
  5. When hurricanes threaten the island, PC orders all volunteers to consolidate at 5 star hotels for a week with AC, hot water, buffets, internet, a gym, and a swimming pool. This is actually what has just occurred with Hurican Tomas.

Adventure to Jose’s House

The other day I went to visit Jose, a fellow volunteer who lives in a little town called Puerto Juanita. I got a late start and didn’t get on the bus to his house until about 5pm. To get to his house, you have to get off the bus at the entrance to a dirt road and take a motorcycle for about an hour. While on the bus, I was telling some other passengers where I was going and I suddenly found out that I had put myself in a potentially dangerous situation. They informed me that if I attempted to get to Puerto Juanita, I would have to ride a motorcycle at night, which more often than not leads to robbery and death. The kind passengers then started offering me solutions to get out of this terrible predicament. One lady suggested that I stay at her house which is about an hour away from the entrance to Jose’s town. Then another lady contended that I could stay at her house, which is only 30 minites from the entrance to Jose’s house. The two ladies started getting into a heated debate in attempt to win me as a guest in their house. It went something like this:

Lady #1: I live on the way to where he’s going.

Lady #2: Yeah but I live in Monte Cristi which is a place that everyone should go to at least once!

Lady #1: I have a guest bed with clean sheets!

Lady #2: Well I’m gonna prepare him a tasty dinner with boiled plantains and salami!

Lady #1: Obviously I’m going to feed him, and I’m also going to introduce him to my niece!

Lady #2: I have family in North Carolina so I know what Americans like!

Lady #1: Yes but if you remember, I was the one who started talking to him first so we are already friends!

In the end, Lady #1 won my company simply because she lived closer to Jose’s house. I got off the bus with my new friend and walked about 5 minutes to her house. Waiting there at the house was her husband, who she introduced to me as the blind preacher. He was in fact blind, and he was in fact the community preacher for the evangelical church. We quickly ate dinner and headed to church. I wanted to call Jose who was expecting me to arrive that night, but he doesn’t have cell phone reception at his site. I whitnessed how a blind man preaches the word of God, which is strikingly similar to how Stevie Wonder plays the piano. I was introduced to everyone we passed as the silly gringo who practically tried to kill himself. We got back to the house, relaxed, and made some good conversation. Here are some examples of the most interesting topics of discussion:

The preacher’s wife told me how her husband previously had a bent penis that prevented them from making love for two years, but just recently, God cured him and now they go at it like rabbits. Being extreme evangelists, the preacher and his wife have a bit of a rivalry with the catholics. They explained to me that all catholics go to hell because they pray to Mary and not to Jesus, and for this reason, you can find many well-known people in hell such as Michael Jackson and all of the Popes. The neighbor then came over and told me how her husband had been praying up in the mountain for 2 days. I didn’t have the to heart break it to her that he is probably cheating on her.

I eventually retired for the evening and got a good night’s sleep on their spare bed. In the morning, we had an emotional goodbye, and I headed off to Jose’s house. I arrived an hour later to find Jose quite relieved to see me and very curious to know where I had been. I said “sit down and let me tell you a story…”

Newly discovered nicknames that I find amusing:

Gimp, The Studderer, Cool, Baby, Pica Pica (no translation), and Pidgeon Pea.

lunes, 6 de septiembre de 2010

Mas Cuentos

Neighborly Bonding

In this culture, if you walk by someone’s house and stop at the door for more than 0.5 seconds, they begin to insist that you come in and sit. God forbid you come in and stand, it makes them very uncomfortable. They often feel obliged as well to offer you some sort of snack, coffee, or refreshment. While this all sounds very nice, sometimes these situations are terribly irritating. To the less experienced volunteer, a situation such as this can lead to hour long delays in arriving where you were actually going and doing what you were actually going to do. You see, when someone invites you in and tells you to wait for juice that is “almost ready”, this could very well mean that the fruit used to make the juice is still hanging on the tree outside. While the host is off preparing juice, you are stuck sitting in a chair for 20 minutes, perhaps in silence, or perhaps making pointless smalltalk with another family member. You eventually receive your juice and you drink it, but while all you can think about is the thing you really needed to do, you feel bad about leaving right away, so you sit and make more small talk until you can figure out how to leave without being rude. You then try to leave, and they say, “don’t go” (no te vayas) or “but it’s still early”, (pero todavia esta temprano). So you decide to appease your host and stay a bit longer. In the end, the trip you took to buy eggs at the corner store took 1 hour instead of 5 minutes. On unlucky days, you can fall into this trap at several houses along the route between your house and your destination, turning a simple task into full-day’s event energized by 7 cups of coffee. I suppose this is why Peace Corps service is 2 years.

Fortunately, I have by observation of Dominicans, figured out that there are a few ways to avoid such situations. The key is to give very vague excuses. To an invitation such as this…

Inviting Host: Hey, come in, sit, sit down, let me get you some coffee…

My favorite responses are as follows:

Busy or Uninterested Passerbyer:

No, I have to arrive.

No, I’m going that way.

No, I can’t.


Now that I have figured out how the system works, I can pick and choose when and whom I visit, making for very pleasant experiences.

Dr. Read

My Dominican Dentist, Dr. Read, or more appropriately called Dr. Klutz, has his office in the capital, a 10 hour round trip from my site. Let’s just briefly go over my last few visits with Dr. Read…

1st visit: The Dr. takes out my mangled tooth (from “the incident”), and as he is filing it down with an electric sander, the tooth goes flying across the room. I take note that the Dr. says things like “oops” quite frequently, which makes me slightly uneasy.

2nd visit: As the Dr. is shaving down my new retainer tooth thingy inside my mouth, the electric sander gets wrapped up in his rubber glove and he spends 5 minutes unsticking it. The Dr. then takes an impression of my teeth, and while removing the mold, he opens the stitches I had from surgery. As he notices blood on the mold, he says “whoops”.

3rd visit: The Dr. informs me that he accidentally dropped my mouth impression on the ground and needs to take another impression. I’m not given the fixed tooth that I travelled 10 hours from my site receive.

4th visit: The Dr. informs my friend, who had an appointment just before me, that I wasn’t going to like my new fixed tooth. I ponder for a second why the doctor says things like that. I enter his office with low expectations. He offers to show me the new tooth, and in doing so he drops it on the floor. He picks it up and hands it to me, and I notice that it has the color that resembles the tooth of someone who drank way too much coffee, a typical Dominican tooth I suppose. He suggests that I wait for him to request a better color from the lab. I agree. He then tells me of a trip to Disney World he’s planning for his family, and shows me a picture of the sports car he is bidding for on ebay. At least he’s getting paid well. I leave empty handed once again.

Si Dios Quiere

Si Dios Quiere…a phrase you here atleast 100 times a day, normally at the end of most statement. The English translation: If God wants it. There are some situations, however, that I find peculiar when this phrase is added at the end of a conversation.

For example…

Me: I’m going to the capital, I’ll be back tomorrow.

Dominican: If God wants it.

My after thoughts: Why wouldn’t God want me to come back? Am I going to die within the next two days? Is God mad at me, what did I do?

Another example…

Me: I’ll see you later for that very important meeting at 3:00pm

Dominican: If God wants it.

My after thoughts: Why wouldn’t God want you to go to the meeting!?!? I already told you that it’s very important!!! God loves important things and would never let anything get in the way of their realization!!! And if it rains that doesn’t count as a sign that God doesn’t want you to attend the meeting!!!

Watch this video!!!

lunes, 9 de agosto de 2010


I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned in my blog that the actual reason Peace Corps sent me here was to design and manage a water project with the purpose of providing water to a community that currently has no running water. You might have noticed that I have spoken very little of this grand task, but trust me, it was for your own good. Rather than have given you the agonizingly slow step-by-step explanation of this miserable bastard of an assignment, I’ll save you the grief and give you a quick and easy synopsis of my wretched battle of futile returns.

September 2009: Arrive at site. Find out that instead of being assigned to a typical PC water project with 30-60 houses, I am given 224 houses and an old damaged set of underground pipeline to work with. I find out that my x-boss, (a man who weighs 300 pounds and has such trouble falling asleep at the wheel that PC has assigned him his own personal driver), had left his main duty of volunteer site development to the last minute, and had never actually visited my site to make sure it had a feasible project. Thanks Peace Corps. I am also immediately informed that the water source is located on the land belonging to a mean-old-lawyer-man that lives in the nearby city, and who has prohibited the community from using this water. My community project partner tells me that she is resolving the problem by way of asking her political friends for assistance. I trust her, and I wait patiently. Meanwhile, my fellow water volunteers are starting and finishing their land surveys and pipeline designs, and fundraising for their respective projects. I begin to feel worthless and bored.

End of January 2010: My project partner announces defeat after the governor, mayor, and senator all fail to provide assistance. I contemplate switching sites, but decide to see if I can make something happen with the name of the U.S. government backing me.

February 2010: I call the governor and senator atleast 4000 times each, spending half of my PC salary on phone cards. The politicians tell me each time I call that they are busy but will call me back, meaning that I was told 8000 lies. I slip into the beginnings of depression and desperation. I give up with politicians and seek assistance from the government water agency. This avenue initially appears promising, but ultimately resolves to nothing. My self worth diminishes to nothing. Just as I am about to give up for good, I get a tip from a fellow volunteer that the governor wants to talk to me. I call the governor and she sets up a meeting with the mean-old-landowner, herself, myself, and the members of my water committee. The meeting concludes with the landowner granting us permission to conduct the land survey, and with the understanding that if he approves the design, we can proceed with construction. An unimpressive slam dunk, but a slam dunk nonetheless. This glimmer of hope helps bring me out of my pathetic state of self-pity, and the fleeting thoughts of suicide begin to subside.

April 2010: We conduct the land survey and discover that the water source is of too low of an altitude to reach a large part of the community. After making a design and calculating the budget, we discover that the project will cost right around US$30,000, the most expensive PC water project to ever exist. I hit rock bottom once again. However, being so close to receiving permission to work, I figure we should keep fighting. We present the design to the landowner, promising him 3 of his own water taps, and he verbally agrees to the proposal, but tells us to wait for him to draw up a written contract before we start to work. Verbal slam-dunk. Landowner goes on vacation.

May 2010: I call the landowner at least 500 times to get the contract in order so we can start asking politicians for money. The landowner declares that he wants his son to come to the community to see exactly where the project will take place and to give his approval. I call the landowner’s son atleast 700 times and talk to him twice. The landowner calls me for the first time one morning only to tell me that his son had informed him that they just realized that there are cattle that belong to another man that drink from the river that is formed by our desired water source, and because of that, we can’t continue with the project. I throw in the towel and regret wasting the last 8 months of my life. I down an entire bottle of malaria pills.

June 2010: I bounce back. I decide that I didn’t really like engineering projects that much anyway, and that from this day on I would be a youth volunteer. Peace Corps doesn’t particularly agree with this decision, which I had actually made without consulting anyone. PC finds another water project for me in a nearby town. I agree to work on it as long as I can continue living in my original community.

July 2010: New beginnings. Miraculously, after 2 meetings with my new community, we have a fully funded project ready to start within a few months. The water system will be gravity fed. There do not appear to be any non-compliant landowners. Now that’s more like it.

While I did waste a lot of time waiting for the first water project to begin, it was time well invested into gaining the trust and friendship of community members. After being here for 11 months, the community members support all of my initiatives and efforts, something that can only be accomplished through personal time investment. For this reason, within a short period of time, we have quickly gotten a few new projects off the ground such improved stove construction, technical skills courses, and youth group activities. It was actually a blessing that the landowner never came through on his half because now I can just blame the failure of the project on him. Otherwise, I would have been faced with an outrageously expensive project that probably would have failed, upon which I would likely have been chased out of the village by and angry mob carrying flaming torches.

I guess that explanation wasn’t actually that brief, but considering this story took place over the better part of a year, it’s not too bad. Sorry this blog entry wasn’t that funny, but I needed to vent. Thanks for listening.

As a final plea for those who are willing to support, the youth camp we have planned for August 23-25 is still in need of funding. During the three-day conference, participants have a safe environment in which to examine their own culture, be introduced to other cultures, and gain the tools to combat discrimination in their communities. The conference will give my youth the opportunity to share and learn with 80 other young Dominicans throughout the northern region of the country. The conference will be financed by a grant through donations from each participating community, and from volunteers’ family and friends. The grant is through a program called Peace Corps Partnership, which allows family, friends, and the general public to donate to sustainable Peace Corps projects in a tax-deductible safe manner.

How Can You Help?
Donate! Tax-deductible donations can be made at this link.

Tell friends, parents, and co-workers to donate!
Thank you for all your love and support!



martes, 27 de julio de 2010

La Lucha

Sometimes I make bad choices; I’ll be the first to admit that. Sometimes bad choices lead to painful consequences. The following is a brief and to the point sequence of thoughts and events pertaining to two demonstrative personal case studies which coincidentally both happened on American holidays.
Thanksgiving 2009:
Meet up with volunteers at hotel. Enter hotel room. See friends. Feel joyful. Make talk of making a run to the liquor store to buy drinks. Notice ceiling fan and its unusually low position, less than an arm’s reach away. Recall one time in the U.S. when I touched a moving fan with the tip of my finger creating a light thud sound with each passing blade, giving me a sense of curious accomplishment. Decide to recreate this experience. Reach slowly towards the fan as friends look on. Instantly regret previous decision as a sharp pain shoots through my finger. Look at finger and see blood, but assume its not that serious. Go to bathroom sink to run water on it. Realize that the tip of my finger has the ability to flap open. Turn white. Nearly faint. Go to emergency room, 4 blocks away. Get 6 stitches. Return to hotel less than 2 hours later. Take a closer look at the fan and discover that Dominican fans are made of sharp metal. Make mental note. Party all night.

4th of July 2010:
Go to Samana and meet up with other volunteers at our weekend beach rental. Have a few afternoon drinks in the pool overlooking the ocean. Break out the football and start to play a game of catch. Reflect on the beauty of all things American: hot dogs, speaking English, money, football, etc. Watch as innocent game of catch evolves into smear the queer (tackle whichever guy has the ball), and continue to participate. Watch as good friend Duncan grabs ball. Move forward to tackle him. Quickly approach Duncan but come to a halt as my mouth is met by an illegally executed elbow defense maneuver. Notice by the touch of the tongue that my front teeth are now much closer to the back of my mouth than they used to be. Bleed from my mouth onto the grass as friends continue to tackle each other like barbarians. Walk towards group until someone notices the problem at hand. The barbarians point and laugh, not the reaction I was hoping for. Call the Peace Corps on-call doctor. Send for a cab. Enter a 15 minute depression due to the displacement of teeth, but more due to the fact that I must leave the party. Come out of the depression and decide to enjoy the party as much as possible until the taxi arrives to take me to the capital. Take shots of hard liquor with several friends. Take pictures with everyone, making sure mangled tooth is in full view. Start an elite club of individuals who were willing to lick my bloody mangled tooth. Final member count: 14. Taxi arrives. Begin 4 hour journey to the capital. Sleep the entire way. Taxi fare: $8000 pesos. Visit dentist the next day. Find out the agonizing road to recovery: Removal of tooth, temporary 2 week replacement of original tooth using glue, surgical placement of implant piece into jawbone, insertion of fake tooth on a retainer thing for 3 weeks, insertion of fixed-temporary fake tooth for 5 months, 2 root canals, insertion of permanent implant tooth. Smile again.
New fears acquired in the Dominican Republic: Fans, Elbows, Duncans.

While my personal (physical) development has taken a few steps backwards, community development is moving along quite nicely. Thanks to a group of American highschoolers, 4 local ladies are now proud owners of brand new firewood stoves. Normally, the women here cook with a giant pot set upon 3 blocks with a wood fire burning underneath. The fire fills the room with smoke, which the women breathe for several hours a day, leaving their lungs as black as the ceilings above their stoves. The concept of the improved cookstoves is that the fire is contained so that the heat is maximized while the smoke is directed out a chimney that exits above the roof. We have trained 3 local guys to build these stoves, which they earn RD$600 for each one that they build. We are hoping to eventually build about 100 stoves.
I took the 20 kids from my Brigada Verde group on a trip to my buddy Andrew’s site, where we spent the day with his youth group. We rode a cable car up to the top of a mountain, my kids gave presentations about how to take care of the environment, and then we hiked 3 hours back down the mountain. All the kids complained the next day that their legs hurt so bad they could barely walk. Whereas before, the kids had a somewhat indifferent view of nature, I think now, they actually despise it. Not really the outcome I was hoping for but what can you do…? I just explained to them they were all stronger because of their efforts. They then threw trash on the ground to spite me. Sigo luchando pa’lante.