It's been a really long time, I know. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Things have gotten a lot better. They really weren't that bad the last time that I wrote but I was in that complaining mode and once I got started I just couldn't stop. Thank you, thank you for all your concern and your caring and your love—it really made me feel a million times better. I love all of you.
So, since my last email bashing my host family, who really isn't that bad, I've moved out. I moved into a little house in the "poorer" part of my community – whatever that's supposed to mean. The road isn't paved and I don't have an indoor bathroom but that's what I expected when I came into Peace Corps so I was actually happy. My house has 2 bedrooms a small kitchen area and a living room area. The people in my community have been absolutely lovely and helped me a great deal in my move. Almost everything in my house is borrowed so that I didn't have to invest in things that I would have for only two years. That was great. I'll take pictures and post them once I'm all settled in; my stuff is still all about. I love my house and it's made me a happier person. It's also made me appreciate my host family a lot more because I'm not spending every minute of my life with them.
Also, since I've moved, I've been spending a lot less money. Because I'm not paying a host family (which was RD$3300) I'm saving that money. Rent is RD$600 and I really don't spend that much on food because the people in my community have been giving me my meals for free. I literally show up at someone's door and will be fed lunch (which is the largest meal of the day). (US$1 = RD$34)
My mom also came and visited and we stayed in Santiago, at my site, and went to a resort for a couple of days which opened my eyes to what most people see of the Dominican Republic; which is a lovely land full of beaches and endless food and drinks. This, well, obviously isn't true of the entire country. But the visit was lovely and it was great seeing her. And she stayed with me in my house during my first week there which made moving in and sleeping alone a lot easier.
I don't know if I mentioned this in my last email but my youth group is strong and going. We've had nearly all of our charlas (talks) and there's only one left before they can graduate my course. Yay! They've learned about values and self esteem, reproductive organs, STIs, HIV/AIDS, condoms, teenage pregnancy, alcohol, and family planning. It's been really successful and I think I'll have about 15 rural adolescents graduating at the end of May. They got all psyched up over the graduation and decided to raise some money so that our graduation will be bomb. They planned a party, all on their own, and got community donations to raise RD$5000. I mean, that's not much in American Dollars but it really made me super proud.
Other than that there's not that much going on. Life is going on and becoming pretty routine. I have mice in my house and lots and lots of wasps all around. But, the kids come by and take down the wasp nests for me and there's venom out for the mice to eat. About two weeks ago I found a dead mouse in my bedroom so at least I know that the venom is working, right? I'm going to post a few pictures of my life since my last photo post. I really should have taken photos before leaving my site of my house but maybe that'll be next month.
Check it: http://maryam.smugmug.com/
With all my heart,
Sorry I'm lame.
I'm still alive and kicking.
I know that I haven't written in a long time and I'm writing to inform you all that I have not fallen off the face of the planet – although, sometimes, it feels as if I have. I've gone through a hard slump here in Peace Corps/DR. I knew it would happen and I was kind of ready for it. But, you never know how or when it will hit you. And you never know what that last piece of hay on the camel's back will be. I'm still not quite sure but I just know that everything is not rainbows and butterflies. They say that Peace Corps is the hardest job you'll ever love they just don't tell you what it is that'll make you cry in front of strangers for the first time.
The physical living aspects are not so bad. The electricity is not constant; there is no permanent running water. Those are things you get used to. The hard part is the adjusting-to-a-new-culture stuff, and the emotional taxation that one goes through. The missing the family, the missing of the friends, the being alone in a village of Dominicans, you know… that kind of stuff. And, especially, living and existing in a machista society when you didn't grow up in one. That's really hard. And so is the blatant racism that happens in this country. I'm not ignorant and I know that there is deep rooted racism in the United States but I'm used to people hiding it and being politically correct. But, here, in the DR, people have no qualms telling me that I can't go to such-and-such place alone because there are Haitians and that Haitians eat children. I'm absolutely serious. It's hard. And you wonder if you should say something because you know it'll be for naught because tomorrow they will not have changed their minds about Haitians.
I've started to realize how controlling my host family is of my life and I don't like it. I've never felt like this, not even when I was fourteen and living at home. I'm told that this is the way they are with their children and it shows that they really care for me but I can't deal with it. I've gone to bed with a small explosion in my head and with no where to explode because I'm living with the people that are making my brain expand and pound against my skull.
That leads me to my latest dilemma… I'm supposed to be moving out and finding a home. But my host family doesn't want me to move. Nothing is safe enough or good enough for me to move into… or so they say. And, so, I'm about 85% sure that my host father is telling people not to help me find a house to rent and that makes me angry. Because he's doing it behind my back and I can't do this on my own. Therefore, if no one helps me I'm not going anywhere and I need, need, need to go somewhere. I need my own space so that I can do my work, go to bed when I want and wake up when I want. Having three months of living on other people's terms is enough.
Enough of bitter Betty. Let's talk about progress. I've started my youth group. I have about 15 jovenes that come to my meetings and we talk about making healthy decisions regarding life and sex. We have 1 hour charlas once a week and in 7 weeks they'll graduate my course and hopefully become the ones that start teaching other jovenes. That's Peace Corps' hope – sustainability after I leave.
The PCDR/Health project plan calls for two other groups that need to be formed and capacitated – a women's nutrition group and a women's reproductive health group. I'm going to start the nutrition group once I have my own house so that we can all cook together and hopefully some of those ladies will be continuing on to the reproductive health group. I'm having some dudos about these women's groups and how successful they'll be but that's a story that'll evolve later on and you guys will be on the trip with me.
At the end of March I'll be going to a water filter taller given by the Rotary Club of the United States of America and hopefully I'll be bringing back some water filters to my campo and people will be able to filter river water and drink it. I see some potential conflict in that also because I'll only get 25 filters and there are over 300 homes in my community. Someone will have to decide who gets filters and I don't want the decisions to be made selfishly.
My momma is also coming at the end of March; Hooray! So, that'll be an adventure. I really don't have much more exciting things to write at the moment. I'll tell you if I get out of this slump… I think I will, right when I get my own house.
Love from the Caribbean,
Please look here: http://maryam.smugmug.com/Street%20Scene
Updates: I've been sworn in as a volunteer, moved to my village, I've had a wicked flu, a parasite, conjunctivitis, I've watched a pig get slaughtered... and I got really, really drunk with other Peace Corps Volunteers.
Write soon-ish? Lots of love!
So, I started this three paragraph email about my life for the past three months and it went to crap, and now I have nothing. So, I'm going to synopsize and it's not going to be nearly as articulate or exciting or well, anything at all. I was writing about how much has happened in the last month of my life and how I don't have email access. I wrote that in the last month I've been sworn in as a volunteer, I've been consolidated due to a tropical storm, I've had my first dominican parasite, I've had a case of conjunctivitis, and I saw a pig get slaughtered and then I ate it for Christmas Eve dinner.
I also wrote that I'm emailing this to Peace Corps kids as well as my favorite California peeps because I'm emailing a link to my photos (that also consists of some of Beth's, Evan's and Kevin's photos). And well, because the Peace Corps kids look pretty ridiculous in most of the pictures from consolidation. There's pictures of the pig killing, under "A Dominican Christmas"... which I wouldn't recommend for any of the faint hearted. I also wrote that the day before Christmas Eve the entire village was full of the screams and the cries of dying pigs and it really didn't stop till dusk. And then the air of my village filled with the smoke of the pits that the pigs were roasting in... the whole village was in a fog. The irony of the pig being killed at my house was that my host dad is the village veterinarian, who specializes in pigs and he's the one that did the do.
Well, my guagua is coming to pick me up, I believe so I have to go. Here's the link: http://maryam.smugmug.com/
I love you all, I'll email soon... I hope.
PS. Sean Deel is my hero.
I've been dubbed a Koala. Perhaps I should explain myself… I started playing that game where you give each person "their" animal. You ask people what they think you would be if you were an animal; you ask them to super-impose the face of an animal onto yours. And, they told me that I'm a Koala. And I think I'm more than okay with that. I like Koalas.
I'm doing pretty fantastic at the moment. We went to our sites, the ones that we'll be living in for the next two years, last week. And I absolutely adore my family there. (I also lied in my last email. I am not in the province of Peravia, I'm in the province of Puerto Plata in the mountain range of Cordillera Septentrional.) I live with a don and a doña who are now by themselves in the house. Even though I only "live" with two people, there is a grip load of extended family all around. Across the street live the nephew of the don and the nephew's three kids. Down the street live the mother and father of my doña and across from them live the brother of my doña, his wife and their three kids. Next door to my doña's brother live her daughter, her husband, and their two year old daughter who might be the cutest thing in the entire world. And they all come over to my house and hang out with me and it's freaking incredible. Learning names is going to be a very interesting experience.
The area in which I live is absolutely gorgeous. I feel like I'm living in the rainforest; there's a river (more of a stream really) that runs behind my house and all through my little village. The disparity in my village alone is pretty incredible. The don in my house is the area veterinarian and so they're pretty well off and we live on the main, paved road. But if you go down the road and turn right you run into houses with dirt floors, no paved roads, no doors on the homes, and where ten people are sharing a latrine in crappy, crappy condition. I feel like I want to give these people so much but I know that I can't.
The people in my village, in general, are incredible. I really feel like I'm being watched over, protected, and cared for by all the people there. And it's so, so very comforting. I'm really happy right now even though I'm hitting that Peace Corps point of thinking "what can I really do in two years?" Apparently most volunteers go through that moment and my phase is starting now. But they say that as long as you realize that you're not going to change the world that you'll make it. I feel loved and I think that can really get anyone through anything. And I feel incredibly lucky for all the wonderful people that I've run into in my experience here.
I have to say though, I'm not really "Peace Corping" it. I know I said that in my last email but it's really true. I have running water from a tinaco that my family put on the roof to collect water and I have a toilet. One of my best friends in country lives in a campo with 4 hours of power a day and uses a latrine. Her bathing area is four pieces of long tin put into a box shape that only reaches her neck (and she's 4'11"). Her family, and therefore her, have to go to the river to gather the water that they need for the day. Another friend of mine has to walk down to the river and find a strategic place behind a boulder and bathe himself while other people bathe beside him. And I'm sitting pretty in a house where I'll probably have my own bathroom. I'm not sure if I'm happy or disappointed – I'm probably a little of both.
Since it takes a butt-load of time for mail to get here I'm going to send you all a Christmas/holiday wish list. You can send me what you wish or nothing at all but I would love, love love cards from you guys. I'd want that over anything else on my list. If I get 15 cards I just might be the happiest person in the world. So here's the list, no pressure.
-Bicycle Playing Cards
-Some sort of stuffed animal to sleep with at night (I know, lame. I'd really love a stuffed Hippo.)
-Constellation Map!! (I can actually see millions of stars and I'd love to know what I'm looking at.)
-Other travel sized games
-I'd LOVE some burned TV shows:
-SEAN DEEL: can you burn me The Office (UK), all that you have, please please?
-NESTOR: If you're still downloading Heroes can you burn me what you have of this season??
-SHARUKH: If you're still downloading Scrubs can you burn me what you have of this season?
-And, if anyone has any of this season's Ugly Betty or LOST I'd love some of that action too.
-If you're feeling especially corny/crafty and want to make me a friendship bracelet and mail it with a card I will wear it until it falls off *JULIA?
-Semi Fitted A's Hat (M/L)
-Baseball Cards to give away to the kids
-See's candy canes (or regular candy canes) to give away
Also, if you guys would like some holiday love from the DR email me your address and I'll try my very hardest to get some cards/postcards out of here.
I love you all and am always thinking of you. Oh, and Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to you amazing fools.
If you'd like to see what a lot of the country looked like after Tropical Storm NOEL here's a great video. Warning... it's a little bit graphic in parts: http://youtube.com/watch?v=
I'm attempting to upload pictures at the moment but I am not having much success because of the slow internet connection. Here's where my Peace Corps photos will be... http://maryam.smugmug.com/
Here's a website that Peace Corps is putting up: dominican.peacecorps.gov