So, it's that time of year again... We're doing our diversity and leadership camp in August! And, of course, without money there will be no camp. I`m co-directing the camp this year (woo, responsiblity!) and I really believe that Dominican youth benefit from the different activities we have at camp including disability charlas, american culture charlas, hatian history charlas and much much more. It is also a great opportunity for youth to be somewhere other than their village... for some it will be the first time.
So, please help me if you can. I know things aren`t so good in the states with the economic down turn. All donations are tax deductable. Every volunteer needs to raise about $150. So, if you could give up your morning coffee one morning and donate the money to camp it would be really appreciated. Anything... $5, $10.
Here´s the link: https://www.peacecorps.gov/
If you´d like to donate a check instead of doing it electronically here´s the FAQ about that:
I don't want to donate online - how else can I donate?
Although donating on-line is the fastest way for Volunteer projects to get funded, you may also donate by mail or over the phone:
Send a check to:
Peace Corps Headquarters
Office of Private Sector Initiatives
1111 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20526
Please make check payable to Peace Corps Partnership Program
Please also note the project number, Special Fund name, or Country Fund name in the memo section of the check.
(Please print and mail this donation form with your check, so we may contact you with information regarding your donation, if necessary.)
Call the office and we can take credit card information over the phone (1-800-424-8580 x2170)
LOVE! I swear I`ll write soon. I`ll be in Central America until June 21st.
Kisses and Hugs,
Before I write anything else I have to say thank you, thank you to all of you who made my trip to the United States better than I could have ever imagined. I loved seeing all of you and catching up and eating delicious food. You all are the most wonderful people on the planet and, yeah, thanks.
I was going to write about how I seem to have nothing to write about. That'll come later. But, being home in the states really made me appreciate the good ole USA. Those of you that know me would maybe think that I would be the last person to be running around and saying how much I love America. But, that's exactly what I did and I wasn't trying to be a smartass. I never hated the country of ours but I was never quite the patriot. Oh, how things have changed. In the end you have to appreciate that America works. The infrastructure that we have set up might not be agreeable to all but it works. And having a society that more or less runs smoothly – especially in a depression – is amazing.
When I walked off the airplane in Miami and stepped on American soil for the first time in 16 months I felt like I had walked into the future. Now, I knew that Obama was president and that flat screen televisions have been around longer than the time I've been away. But, here we were, in a large international airport with flat screen televisions every ten feet and a black man giving presidential addresses. It seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie but it wasn't.
I also noticed how negative my emails have been lately – particularly because so many of my lovely friends would call me out on all the unhappy things that I've said. So, I must clarify—life is not that bad. I think my emails have a bit of journaling-syndrome. You tend to write down all the really bad things and all the really good things and nothing in-between. There have been so many in-between things that you just forget or don't seem like it's important to be sending out in mass emails. So, I am not living in a spiral of depression. It's actually quite alright.
This country drives me nuts a lot of the time but there are some really wonderful people who really care about me. Most volunteers have to pay someone to feed them lunch and dinner. Most volunteers have to pay someone to wash my clothes. And most volunteers had to buy their furniture. I can walk anywhere in my community and find food to fill my stomach. I have a best friend that lets me use her washer and she's the one that feeds me nearly everyday. I collect rain water for all my water use – bathing, cooking, cleaning and my tank was half empty before I left for the states. A fellow volunteer left her site with a tank full and came back to an empty tank. But, when I came back from the USA someone had taken the time to fill my tank when there were heavy rains here. Someone left their house in the pouring rain, uncovered my tank, filled my tank, and covered it back up. This seems like such a simple act but it made me smile as soon as I stepped into my house.
I've gone back to my community and seen all my Peace Corps friends. Things are pretty much the same and my youth are really excited to get up and going again. My women's garden has grown and they're ready to take vegetable plants and put them in their homes. I got funding for a stove project that I'll probably end up starting next month. There's a new group of volunteers coming into country in the next few weeks. We're busy planning our annual diversity conference for Dominican youth. Things are all moving so quickly and I'm sure that before I know it my time will be up.
Back to the "having nothing to write about". I think that there is actually a lot to write about even though my life is a series of repetitions. But, I think I don't write as much anymore because before my life wasn't really everyday life – it was Peace Corps life. There was a distinction between "real" life and "Peace Corps" life. I often forget now that I'm a volunteer. My routines have become just that – routine. I don't notice things that I would mentally note in the past and because I don't find importance in it I find it silly to write about later.
So, forgive the lack of emails or the lack of those stories that you all are so hungry for. I love you all so very much. Thank you again for making my 16 days in the United States the best a girl could imagine. For those of you I didn't see I hope that I see you after my close-of-service in November. I don't know what my life plans are but let me know if you have any big life plan changes.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
Take really good care of yourselves.
! Nos vemos pronto!
Con mucho amor,
To the coolest kids on the block,
I hope that everything is going well state-side. My favorite senator from Illinois is looking good at the moment, eh? I keep questioning McCain or the Republican Party for their choice of vice presidential candidate – but at least she's giving Tina Fey something to do every week – all that Katie Couric/SNL stuff has been seeping down the grapevine and made it down here to us in tropical paradise. I also heard about this thing that Stephen Colbert did at some sort thing for the press at some sort of dinner with our current president which resulted in our current first lady to tell Colbert to go "fuck himself" or something? This political drama is amazing. We're sitting here, in Santiago, waiting for the power come back so that we can glue ourselves to CNN and watch this young man take all those electoral votes. And I bought champagne.
And USC lost to an unranked team. That's amazing too. But that was a while ago.
So things here, in the good ole Peace Corps, are still repetitive. I still have my nutrition group one hour a week at the alcalde's house. They really drive me into a depression most of the time because of their lack of devotion. But enough of that poopering about; I seem to be doing that a lot in these emails. I think I'm going to do a garden project with the women that remain but I really don't want to invest my time into them because I have this feeling about what a giant failure it'll be. I'd much rather focus my attentions elsewhere.
So, here's a story, hot off the press. Like, last night hot. So, I always try to cross the river before it gets dark (which means around 6:30pm… we don't do silly things like fall back or spring forward). I stopped at a neighbor's house to hang out because I hadn't for a while and people were starting to call me privona and such. So, whatever. Hanging out. Then I decided to go back to my house while there was still electricity so that I could pack up. It's pretty dark out. I get to my house and the neighbor's cat followed me into my house. I turned on the light in the living room/kitchen and I looked under the table where my stove sits and there was a tarantula the size of my face. I immediately freaked out – no screaming this time. I left my house and went looking for my favorite 9-year old boy. I found him, his name is Harry and he has glasses. I said, "Harry, do me a favor, get a machete." His eyes widened and asked me why. I said we're going to kill a tarantula. I got a group of six 9-12 year old boys to follow me to my house. They came in, chopped the bugger up and I made them sweep that monster out of my house. They, of course, decided to shoot the thing with their new beebee guns before sweeping the bugger out. It was great. Only in the Peace Corps would pre-teen boys be sought out to save me from monstrous arachnids.
My youth group is still going strong. They meet for an hour to an hour and a half a week to talk about self esteem, reproductive organs, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, etc. Your basic sex-ed/intro to the teenage years class. This is my second group and keeping with Peace Corps' idea of sustainability it's the youth of my first group that are now giving the classes and I'm trying to sit back and just watch. I've failed so far in the "just sitting back" part but I think I'll get better. Tomorrow they're supposed to give an HIV/AIDS charla to some representatives from the Secretary of Education and on Saturday they've planned a raffle/dance activity to raise money. One of my boys is up for being a regional coordinator for the youth groups in our area who are new or currently without volunteers. He's really my favorite.
My kids want to have a friendship bracelet shop – I don't think they realize how much patience they need for a project like that. That'll be funny.
I've contacted an NGO about building a bridge or a couple bridges over the river that zigzags through my community. I live on the other side of the river, as does about half the community. On a normal day this is fine but once the rainy season begins the river rises and displaces the sand bags that have been placed in the river as stepping stones and adults must wade in thigh deep water; it's even deeper for the children. When the river is high the children have two choices A) stay home from school or B) take their shoes and socks up, pull up their pants and wade through contaminated water to get to the paved road. Neither of which are very good options. So we'll see if this NGO thing works out or not – I think it would be awesome if it did.
I'm also working with the community center group to see if I can raise funds to finish the community center/library/clinic that has been "under construction" for the past five years due to being on the end of a string of broken promises by the local politician. So, I might be begging for money early next year – prepare yourselves.
I solicited children's books from a foundation here in the Dominican Republic that will be placed at the school for the use of the children during their recesses and whatnot – I'm thinking that I'll go to the school once a week once the books get there and do story time with the kids. I'm not so sure that the "checking-out" and "returning" of books would really work… more the returning part that I have doubts about. But, we'll see. I hope story-time is a hit.
I'll be around today waiting, hoping, and wishing for "that one" to be elected president.
That's right my beautiful friends, you haven't seen my lovely face in more than a year... or more. Not that my face is really all that lovely or that you miss seeing it or anything. I kind of already went on that whole "reflective" rant last email about poverty, the "developing world", perspective and all that jazz so I'll spare you. Or at least I'll try to spare you.
So, I promised a photopost but I lied. The internet is too slow to be doing silly things like uploading. So, that'll be next time when the wifi isn't crawling like a snail in the middle of a hurricane. For now, you'll just get some verbal diarrhea from me. I'll never look at the word diarrhea the same way again... ever. But, that's too much information.
I've had some new diseases since my last disease ridden email last winter. I got ring worm all over my body and mad crazy sad flea bites from the beach all up and down the backs of my legs. There's a photo but I think I'll spare you that little bit of vomit that'll rise up from your stomach and enter your mouth that you'll be to embarrassed to spit out and that you'll just end up swallowing again. But, it was naaaaasty. I also had another run with that d-word that I mentioned up there but it went away in a couple of days.
So, I don't know if I wrote about Ike, the hurricane, and how we were all put into a hotel, again. There wasn't really that much damage in my site but Haiti got wrecked and so did Cuba. And Texas too... I'm sure you guys heard about the Texas part. There are a couple trees in my backyard that shouldn't be bent the way they are but other than that it was pretty okay in my campo.
The women's group I mentioned, that started out as 28 eager women, has been reduced to 8 women who show up. It makes me sad. But, there's really nothing I can do. So, I'll keep on trudging. I started a new youth group which I'm really excited about. I really do enjoy my youth group most of the time until they get all full of attitude -- which is universal for teenagers I've decided-- and I want to hit them over the head, individually, with a machete. But, I really do love them. The old group and I have given charlas at the Liceo (High School) and the local Catholic Church -- both of which were hits. So, now it's time for the little younglings to teach other little younglings so that when I leave there won't be an implosion.
Other than that, life is pretty repetitive. I did go to a friend of mine's site near Dajabon (a boarder town) and we went to the Haitian market which was just chaos, chaos, chaos. There were thousands of Haitians crossing over the bridge with UN guards standing watch, fighting and pushing to get into the DR to sell as much as they can before going back to Haiti where the economy is bust and poverty is much more apparent. Mondays and Fridays are market days which mean that crossing the bridge is free-- otherwise the fee to cross is US$25 on the Haitian side and then another US$10 on the Dominican side. It was really an experience. Not somewhere to take mom, if you know what I mean.
So, here's the big news of the day. I'm coming home for a visit! Not until January mind you but I'll be there. In the bay area to see anyone who is around. I'll be flying in on the 24th of January and out to NYC on the 8th of Feb. I'll spend the night at Cynthia's -- if anyone is around and would like to see me in NYC on Jan 8th I'll be elated, and early early on the 9th I'll be going back to the DR. So yeah, yay! California! Yay Berkeley! Yay New York! Lovely, lovely things. Let's hope a young black man is president, eh?
Well, that's all. You're all lovely. Write to me. I miss you.
Hey my fluffy marshmallows,
I think I probably used the marshmallow thing before but I'm almost a year in and my creativity, as well as my English, has highly dissipated with the passing of time. So, with my discombobulated English I'm going to write this next mass email about things I've done, seen, and well, the regular.
No really funny stories as of late – which is probably why I haven't written in so long. Or, there have been funny stories but I'm so used to it now that it's not memorable. In less than a month I will hit my one-year mark in country. Crazy. The new volunteers came in on the 21st of August which makes my class of volunteers move into our junior year as Peace Corps volunteers.
When I think back on my year here I feel like I've done some things but it's not exactly as "world-changing" as I thought it would have been. My Peace Corps life is not exactly how I imagined. My community is not what I pictured my village would look like. Poverty is not what I pictured poverty to be. The "third-world" is more developed that I thought it'd be. They say Peace Corps is an eye opening experience – and it has opened my eyes but differently than I had imagined, also. So, right. Peace Corps broke all my pre-disposed notion of about everything that I was thinking about before I got here.
In the past month I've done a couple of things. I finally started my women's nutrition course in my community. They meet once a week for about an hour and I tell them about nutrition basics like food groups, vitamins, malnutrition, etc. Then after "class" we cook something related to the class – each woman/lady/girl brings some ingredient that goes into the dish and we all eat together and usually give a lot away to people who are around. It's kind of fun. I'm not sure about the retention level of these women but I think they're having a good time.
I also participated in my very first medical mission – nursing students from the University of Southern Maine came down the DR to do basic diagnoses of villagers in the mountains of Santiago and brought them medicine. Peace Corps was there as translators for the nurses and doctors and it was AWESOME. I felt so fulfilled the entire time because we were actually having some sort of tangible results to our work – unlike our official peace corps work that is the spread of knowledge and know-how. We traveled all throughout the villages surrounding a community called Las Lajas about 40 minutes from Santiago. There was lots of walking and speaking in Spanish and saying things like "gripe" (cold) and "dolor" (pain). The nurses asked all the Peace Corps if it was required to wear long pants because we all were and to them (they're from Maine) it was burning up outside. We laughed. I also had one of my youth ask me once if Peace Corps provides Havaianas (flip flops) to the volunteers because we really all do wear them. So, that was great.
And, 26 volunteers, about 55 youth, and I participated in that diversity camp that you all generously donated money to. It was a hit. Thanks! We talked about Dominican Culture, Dominican-Haitian relations, American culture, Sexuality, Disability… they played a lot of games and they really all just had a great time thanks to your help. They saw Haiti in a different light than normal, realized that all the stereotypes of Haiti and Haitians aren't true. You guys are amazing. Without you there would have been no camp. So, the next time I ask you for money you'll know that we'll do something amazing with it so you shouldn't hesitate. J
Next email will have a photopost—probably in the next week, si dios quiere. I love you all. Take care. I can't believe McCain chose a woman vice president and that taco bell has come out with a new taco that's pink. WTF is going on in America?
First of all, thank you all so very much for all your birthday wishes. You really made my day. And, Anna, you made me cry... but in that good, I miss you kind of way. You're all so lovely. I know I say that a lot, but it's true and I can't really invent other ways to say it anymore.
I'm thinking that this email will be a short one because I need to get back to my site soon. I can't seem to remember where I left off in my last email so I think I'll just throw a couple of anecdotes in here and call it a day because, well, life has just been the same ole, same ole at the site.
Anecdote #1: So, a couple of months ago my friend Kevin (who appears in my birthday album) came to visit me at my site and he stayed the night. And for those of you thinking that he's the love of my life you're wrong. And even if he was he doesn't swing that way so there's no chance. Anyhow, he comes to visit me and we're in my house just chit chatting about life and he hears a flappy noise come from the corner of the house. He starts flipping out and running into my room saying he's getting into the mosquito net. On top of it all, there is no electricity so we can't see anything so it makes him flip out even more. Which, of course, makes me flip out and I start running around like a crazy person also. I get the flashlight too see what the hell is going on and, lo and behold, the flappy creature is attracted to the light. It starts flying around and eventually lands on the neck of my shirt and I scream. Apparently it was quite a screech because within 5 minutes there were 10 men at my door with machetes ready to kill something for me. They thought I was being attacked or that there was a snake. But no. It was a flappy insect. I say it was my test of the Emergency Scream System -- I have felt so safe in my house since that night.
Anecdote #2: This is not so much an anecdote, more just a story of something that happened that may or may not be amusing. So, on my 23rd birthday I was at my site. I woke up and went to Oliva's house (my best friend in my community) and we were getting ready to eat a chicken that she had killed for me. I thought that we were going to go to the river but she was cooking in her house and I didn't say anything. Then her brother showed up and we went to the loma where her mother lives and we had lunch up there. All day long Stacey, my best friend in Peace Corps, had been calling me and wishing me a happy birthday and whatnot and asking where I was and if I had anything special planned. While on the loma I get a missed call from her and I call her back. She showed up at my site to surprise me but I was no where to be found. I told her to come up the loma and meet me for lunch and so she did -- she brought me chocolate chip muffins and a bottle of wine with a poem. It made me really happy.
We come down from the loma and Stacey is hot and wants to bathe. We start buying stuff to make dinner and making plans to go back to my house. Oliva is being weird and telling me to stay and I do. She says we need to go to Mary's so that she can wish me a happy birthday -- but I was thinking of just going back to my house so that Stacey could rest. We do go to Mary's and I see a youth from my youth group scurry into the house. I knew something was up. My youth threw me a surprise party! They really do love me. I thought that they had all forgotten about me. That was really lovely. There were snacks and soda and a little bit of dancing. I felt really loved. So, my birthday was a good day.
I've posted some pictures from the 4th of July, where 70 or so volunteers packed up and went to a beach called Bahia de las Aguilas in the south of the country. It was absolutely gorgeous and there was a ridiculous amount of drinking. Some of us even got on a party bus to head down there. 6 hours on a bus with a keg. Yeah, I'm in the Peace Corps. There are also pictures of an early birthday celebration, shared with my buddy Kevin at the Hub and some of the surprise party in my community.
Under "My First Peace Corps Birthday" and "Bahia de las Aguilas"
I love you all. I always think about you guys. Really, I do.
Hugs, kisses, etcetera,
There have been a lot of mental changes in the last nine months. I'm in that Peace Corps phase now where you become philosophical about the romanticism and the real benefit of Peace Corps and all other Peace Corps-esque organizations out there in the world.
There's this place called The Hub in Santiago (the second largest city in the Dominican Republic) and I'm not sure if I've talked about it before. It's really a Peace Corps Volunteers' Oasis in the middle of mental exhaustion. It was started by a Canadian couple years ago as a place that Peace Corps volunteers could take their R&R days. You pay RD$150 for a night which is a grand US$4.41 for a clean bed, sheets and a hot shower. They are a Christian couple and the husband is some big deal shoe distributor and they wanted to donate money to help out the Dominican Republic but instead of donate it to anonymous organizations they let Peace Corps volunteers stay in this amazing place for pretty much nothing. It's great. Anyway, a lot of the time at The Hub is spent sharing stories, anxieties, doubts, ideas, and whatever else. It's also spent watching cable TV…. it's not all romantic. Now I can get to my point.
An idea that was floated around The Hub a couple of weeks ago is the Peace Corps Crazy Rollercoaster that most volunteers tend to ride via volunteer Dave Benitez. This is, mas o menos, how he put it: You come into Peace Corps pretty much sane. You meet volunteers that have been 6-months in or a year in and you see that they've gone a little bit crazy and the new volunteers figure it's cool to be crazy so they pretend to be crazy but they really aren't – not in the Peace Corps way. 3-4 months in: you get to your site, away from other volunteers, immersing yourself, speaking a language that is not your 24/7 language and get used to your new living situation. 5-6 months in: you start to go Peace Corps crazy. Your brain is over stimulated by the most mundane things and you just react in a not normal way to things that would have kept you calm and tranquil in the United States of America. 7-8 months in: you embrace your craziness and come back down to an even plane right in time to get all crazy again in a continuing cycle.
So in my downward ride towards Peace Corps Crazy I began thinking about something: romanticism. We all come into the Peace Corps, whether we like it or not, with pre-conceived ideas of what our service will be like, what we'll be able to accomplish and a whole bag full of other expectations. We're told even before we get here that we're not here to change the world, nor the country and we should expect our service to cause some sort of evolutionary change in the countries that we serve in. But, we're never told that we may not even change the communities that we're in. We just might touch a few lives before we leave and that's it. That's all we'll have done in two years and that's okay. And even if people tell you that you still think that you're some sort of agent for change because of the idea of Peace Corps and the romanticism behind it.
I just watched Blood Diamonds for the first time the other night in my house, under my mosquitero, while the entirety of Marmolejos was well to bed and it got my brain going about how the idea of America as the goal to reach has ruined so much of the purity of culture and being in this world. America is the country to be with its capitalistic imperialism and image of money, money, money. The movies don't normally show poor America, suffering America, ugly America. Everyone in this country, the DR, wants to get out. If you're in the campo you want to get out the campo and go to the city. If you're in the city you want to get out and go to America or Spain. I think, if I'm right, 25% or more of the economy of this country comes from remesas – money sent by family in the states or some other foreign country. If everyone's goal is to get out and become un-Dominican, how is anything sustainable… how is there ever going to be development if no one cares about investment because the goal isn't to make your country better but to leave your country so you can become rich like the gringos? Ready, set, delusion. Then I ask, what am I doing here?
What if we just left well enough alone? What if there was no globalization, no envy, no wanting to be like someone else. What if every country was happy with feeding its people and leaving the desire to be rich behind? Then there would be no use for the UN, for the Peace Corps, for NGOs. But we're not in that world and I'm getting disgustingly philosophical about all of this. We are where we are and there's no going back to change the past so we just have to deal with that we have, don't we? I really think I'm getting much more out of this than my community. I graduated my youth group from essentially a life skills class – HIV/AIDS education, teen pregnancy information, self-esteem, etc. I'm pretty sure that once these kids turn 18 they're going to bounce which will be max 5 years from now and then what will happen with all that information that they're supposed to be multiplicating in the community? They've already said to me that when I leave the group is going to fall apart.
This is not to say I'm completely disillusioned with the Peace Corps – far from it. I just thought I'd express my feelings because I know how much you guys love reading 1,000 word emails.
I love you all. I miss you all. I'm planning to come home to visit January-February 2009 if I don't go stir crazy before then.
Hearts, hugs, and peace,
I love you guys. Sorry for being such a bum. And if you would like to get my mass emails send me a comment with your email address and I'll add you to my spam list. My emails are pretty much once a month and I'm 20x better at that than journalling.