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Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 10

  • May. 9th, 2008 at 5:00 PM

I'm alive!

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/Street%20Scenes under "Peace Corps 2-step"



With all my heart,


More Pictures

  • May. 9th, 2008 at 2:46 PM

Under "Peace Corps 2-Step"  

Being a bad blogger....

  • Mar. 29th, 2008 at 4:57 PM
Obviously I suck at blogging. I'm a little bit better at emailing. If you'd like to be a part of my mass email list and are not yet leave me a comment with your email address and you'll get updates about once a month. Comments are blocked or whatever so no one should see your email address.

Sorry I'm lame.

I'm still alive and kicking.

Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 9

  • Mar. 16th, 2008 at 5:00 PM
Dearest Dears,

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,


Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 8

  • Jan. 15th, 2008 at 5:00 PM
To the Loves of My Life,
I hope that everything is going swimmingly in America-land, and Japan, and wherever else you may be. Things here in the DR are going great. I´ve had one bout of homesickness since I wrote last and I got really, really sad. And I did what I do when I get sad here -- call another Peace Corps Volunteer and speak in English for a few minutes. Believe it or not, it makes things just a little bit better.
Great news though, no weird diseases since the last email. One point Maryam, 3 points Dominican Republic. Woo! So, what has been going on since the end of December... a whole lot of nothing. Lots of walking around my village and conducting my community diagnostic. Lots of time being spent with my host family and a lot of them making fun of me and thinking that I´m a drunkard. I showed my host family some pictures from home, the majority of which I am quite drunk, and they think I just drink my life away.... which was pretty much true of a lot of the time at UCLA. Or, at least a lot of the time that I decided to take pictures. So, my host family knows most of your faces. They think that Chalence was a boyfriend of mine because there is one picture of him trying to kiss me on the cheek. They also think that one of my volunteer friends is my boyfriend because I occasionally call him. They keep telling me that I need to find a Dominican boyfriend and I cannot marry an American because I would have ugly babies. Life is strangely entertaining in my campo.
My family killed a chicken and a duck since I wrote last to make a stew and I took pictures. But, I don´t have them to post at the moment. There are also more pictures of my host family, including my two host brothers who don´t live in the house but were visiting for the holidays. Those will come with the next email.
I´m happy with life most of the time here. A lot of the time, actually. I still feel overwhelmed. My spanish is getting a lot better. And I really feel like a part of a family in my community and I hope that I can help them as much as they expect me to help them -- but we´´ll see if they expect too much of me or not. I meant to write this in my last email because I had two mini-revalations in my downtime. So, here are my words of wisdom, to close with. If you want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer you have to be really comfortable with two things. One: You have to be really, really okay with being bored. I honestly entertain myself sometimes by watching the lizards jump from wall to wall and seeing what they´ll do next. And Two: You also have to be really comfortable with talking about your bowel movements openly and honestly. I´d say we Peace Corps Volunteers talk about our poop at least twice a day when we´re together.
Alright, I love you all. I haven´t been to the Office to pick up any mail yet... if any of you decided to love me a little bit.
Be amazing.
Until Next Time,


a month in photos

  • Dec. 30th, 2007 at 8:42 PM
Updated Photos!

Please look here: http://maryam.smugmug.com/Street%20Scenes

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!

Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 7

  • Dec. 27th, 2007 at 5:00 PM
Hi Lovers, Haters, and the rest....

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/Street%20Scenes

I love you all, I'll email soon... I hope.

Love love,


PS. Sean Deel is my hero.

Pictures Say A Thousand Words

  • Nov. 25th, 2007 at 10:46 PM
For the lack of words and the lack of time, here´s my last ten weeks of life:


Big love to you all. That site is where my photos will be for the next two years.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 6

  • Nov. 20th, 2007 at 5:00 PM
My Dearest Platypuses,

    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.

-Holiday Cards/Postcards!
-Bicycle Playing Cards
-Uno 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=jsViWXv2ru4

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/Street%20Scenes 

Here's a website that Peace Corps is putting up: dominican.peacecorps.gov

Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 5

  • Nov. 1st, 2007 at 5:00 PM
Hello my happy pandas!
I´m writing email number five from Bani... the largest city near the pueblo that I´m currently living in. Halloween passed quite uneventfully in the festivities aspect. But, we did survive our first tropical storm, Noel, last weekend. Noel started as a tropical depression and turned into a storm once it hit land. Unfortunately, according to the press, no one knew that it was going to turn into a storm and no one was warned.
My house here is made out of cement and has a tin roof... and there is about a 6in gap between the roof and the cement so all environmental noises are quite apparent while in the house. On Sunday night, the night Noel hit, it literally sounded like buckets of water were being dropped onto the roof. All the while the whirling of the wind was knocking against the house and the windows. I was a little frightened and I swore that it was a hurricane -- but it wasn´t. Most of the bridges in the country are out and all the little rigolas became rushing rapids. There´s a small stream near my house that turned into one of these rushing rapids, flooded the street and turned it into a second river. My house and my family ended up being fine and nothing was really damaged. The front door was knocked off of its hindges and we no longer have a door to the house. But, we were lucky. There are some volunteers whose entire homes got flooded and still cannot move back in. We´re also staying with some of the more fortunate (economically) families in our pueblos... I can´t even imagine how the people with nothing to begin with are surviving.
My host mom´s sister who lives in another small barrio had her entire house flooded and now most of her belongings are sitting in our house. She´s staying at the elementary school with all the other refugees -- most of which are Hatians.
I just wanted to let ya´ll know that I´m fine and in one piece. But, we´ve been calling home and no one in the States seems to know about it so this is just in case any of you hear of Noel and worry a tiny bit about me.
Other than Noel, who is still leaving aftershocks of rain, things have been going pretty well. I like my host family for the most part. My 7 year old host sister is my best friend in the house and is always willing to play with me. I have an 17 year old host brother who is always  off playing baseball, and my host mom is very very acommodating and nice. My host dad is always out working but he´s nice is a quiet, absent way. The only one who makes me uncomfortable is my 14 year old host brother who professed his love for me and told me if Peace Corps didn´t have rules against family being involved with volunteers he´d do something. He also told me that love has no age. In short, I like it better when I don´t have to be around him. That´s really mean of me but it´s true.
We´re learning a lot. I feel slightly more prepared to work in health but that´s not saying much seeing as how my only experience is two 4-6 hour classes in CPR and First Aid. But, I´ll go with the flow and see what happens. Everyone always tells me that in Peace Corps everything happens for a reason.
I also have some other exciting news; I have my tentative placement in country. I´ll be in the southern most part of the province of Peravia, on the western side. I´ll be about 2 hours from the beach and 1.5 hours from the city of Santiago. I´m a little bit worried that my site will be too big (population wise) but there aren´t too many ¨Peace Corps¨-esque sites in the DR. We´ve been prone to calling the DR ¨Peace Corps Light¨. There are no mud huts in the middle of nowhere. And, well, I think all of us sort of wanted that. But, this is definitely a country that needs help.
Last week we visited the regional hospital in Bani and I went into the Maternity ward of the hospital. There is a Pre-Birth area, a Post-Birth area, and a Birthing area. In the Pre-Birth area there were expectant mothers with complications and needed to be kept in the hospital in the time before giving birth. There was no bathroom in the room that had 10 beds and a ceiling that was dripping and falling in. We asked if that was rainwater and we were told that it wasn´t. It was from a bathroom from the floor above and that it was dripping urine. So, these women in dire condition had to either pee their beds or scrounge up the strenght to walk down to one of two bathrooms down the hall.
On that depressing note, I love you all. I only have 1 minute left and I want to let you guys know that I miss every single one of you and I think about home and UCLA and camp everytime I get home sick and even when I´m not home sick.
We´re all roughing it and washing our dishes with collected rainwater here in the province of Peravia.
Miss you oh-so-much,