Sunday, March 27, 2011

Volunteer Site Visit

This post is a little late, but that's how things work.  Last weekend, I visited a current volunteer who lives in a small pueblo on the coast.  Everyone who had visited told me it was one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it lived up to its reputation.
    The volunteer works in a Community Technical Center, one of many computer labs set up by the government around the country.  They're doing good work, teaching classes in basic computer use and Microsoft Office, as well as training teachers and staff to take over after Peace Corps leaves.  Unfortunately, the promised funding hasn't been coming through on time, so their equipment is breaking down and nobody's getting paid.  The unsteady electricity means the entire lab can shut down at any time, and the computers' power supplies break down and never get replaced.  This sounds like a pretty common problem here in the DR, though, and nobody said the Peace Corps was supposed to be easy.
    I was impressed by how integrated the volunteer was into the community.  It's a small town, so it's not very difficult to meet everybody, but this volunteer always had a group of teenage boys hanging around his house, using his computer, eating (and sometimes cooking) dinner, and practicing English.  That level of interaction was clearly tiring, but it paid off in solid friendships and a positive impact on the town.  They loved playing sports, especially basketball, and I joined in some basketball and a game of soccer in the few days I was there (I also got to swim in the ocean and the freshwater river.  It was a pretty nice visit!).
    One of the volunteer's favorite accomplishments was the newly completed basketball court.  Before, they just set up a hoop in the street, but their hoop blew over and broke this winter.  The entire community grouped together and raised funds (with the help of the PC volunteer) and donated hours of work to complete a cement half-court with a permanant hoop.  There was even enough money left over to buy some uniforms.  The volunteer was especially happy with the fact that it was a community effort...he didn't run the project or push anything through, he just supported the town as they helped themselves.  That's exactly how the Peace Corps is supposed to work!

Some shots of the city of Santo Domingo

Traffic jams aren't as common as you'd think

El Campo

The road to the pueblo

View across the street

The view out the bathroom window.  Not something you see in the States.

The pueblo at sundown.

Dawn over the Caribbean Sea.

Returning to Santo Domingo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Day in the Life of a PC trainee

Hello, everyone!

Today I thought I'd give you an overview of what a typical day looks like (if we have a typical day).  I wake up at 6:30-7:00 and my host mom already has breakfast prepared.  I'll do another post sometime on what Dominican food is like, but for now I'll just say that my host mom is a doting grandmother who likes to make sure I eat plenty, so I always leave the house feeling pretty full.  There's a married couple of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) living on my street, so I walk over to meet them and we leave at 7:30.  Most PCVs live within walking distance of the training center, but we're in a more distant barrio (neighborhood), so we have to ride on the public transportation.  It would be nice to be able to walk, but it's turned out to be really good for us, because we are more comfortable with the public transportation than most of the other volunteers.

Training starts at 8:00, and the schedule for every day is different.  We have large group sessions where we learn about health and safety or hear from current volunteers, we have small groups of 3-7 people where we practice Spanish (according to our speaking ability level), and we occasionally break into groups by sector to cover information specific to our field.  There are three sectors in my training group: ICT/Education (my sector), Environment, and Appropriate Technologies (appropriate technologies covers basic tools and skills such as digging latrines and irrigation to provide practical changes that can improve the lives of some of the poorest people in the DR).  Often, during training, we will have some type of a field trip, such as practicing public transportation, buying fruit and making a fruit salad (the fruit here is delicious), or learning how to ride a motoconcho.  Lunch is provided while we're at training, and it's pretty typical Dominican food prepared by Dominican women in a small kitchen on the PC training compound.

When training is over for the day (usually about 4:30), we head back to our host families.  Some people may stay behind and play volleyball on the compound or meet up later for drinks, but most of us just head home.  In my case, passing time with my host family consists mainly of playing Dominos.  Dominos is a huge national pastime, and you will often see people playing in front of their houses.

We have dinner around 7:00, but the primary meal in the DR is lunch, so dinner is smaller and more casual.  By the evening, the temperature has dropped to a very comfortable level (60-70 degrees F), so I try to spend the time outside reading or playing Dominos, or I visit a neighbor's house to see if they have working internet so I can check my emails.

Later, I take a shower (the water's cold, but it feels pretty nice) and go to bed.  My host family has steady water and electricity, which is quite a luxery in the DR.  There's better infrastructure in the cities, and we're in the Santo Domingo, which is the capital and largest city in the DR, but I think most people in the city lose power at least for part of the day.  Inverters are common, to keep everything running when the 'luz' is gone.

My daily life isn't normal right now, even for a PCV, because I'm still a trainee and not actually a volunteer.  Tomorrow, we will all leave to visit current volunteers in their various locations around the country.  I'm going to visit a volunteer who lives in the South.  Everyone who has seen his site says it's one of the most beautiful places in the country, so I'll try to get some good pictures!  For now, here are some pictures from around the PC training compound.  It's not completely representative of the city, because it's a walled in area that's well taken care of, but you can see some Dominican plants and see where I pass most of my time.

A Mango's not in season, but you can see some green mangos if you look close.

One of the rooms where we have lessons

Me in my fashionable motoconcho helmet.  I'm forbidden from getting on a motorcycle in the city, and required to wear a helmet if I'm ever on one in the country.  It's as tight as it looks.

Some palm trees and our bathrooms.  They flush!  But we're still in the luxury of the city.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm here!

I don't have time for a large post, but I wanted to let everyone know that I'm finally here in the DR.  Internet is spotty, but it's pretty fast when you can find a place that works.  I got in on Monday and made it to training just in time to grab a plate of food and join the lesson on Cholera and diarrhea.  After we covered malaria and Dengue fever, I was about ready to return home, but they take good care of us and make sure we know how to avoid major diseases and get to the health clinic if we're sick.

Most volunteers live close to the training center, but I'm one of 4 who lives far enough away to need to commute by 'carro publico,' which is a standard Dominican form of public transportation.  It costs 20 pesos and they fit 3 people (including the driver) in the front and 4 in the back of a typical corolla, or something similar.  We've been in one that had a cardboard roof...they're usually not in great shape, but they run.

I'm living with a host family...a grandmother and grandfather who live alone at home (now with me).  My host mother likes to dote on me and feed me too much. 

Next week, I'll have to travel out to another province to stay with a current volunteer and see what it actually looks like in the field.  Later my group (Education/ICT) will be traveling together to work on a project in yet another city.  For now, we're all together learning the basics of life in the Peace Corps and in the Dominican Republic, and spending a lot of time on health, safety, and, of course, Spanish.  I've got a lot of work to do, but I've been able to get along in the language.  We have to be at least level 5/10 before we 'graduate,' and I surprised myself by getting to level 7 on my first test, so I've already passed part of my training.  I'll want to improve quite a bit, however, before I'm comfortable teaching classes in Spanish.

I'm borrowing a friend's internet connection, so I have to go, but I'll try to provide more details (and pictures) when I get the chance.

Hasta luego!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Washington DC

As some of you know, I haven't made it to the Dominican Republic yet.  I was supposed to spend a day in Washington DC in training with the rest of the PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), and fly to the DR on Wednesday.  However, I caught a virus and was throwing up while the others were training, and I spent Wednesday sleeping off the illness instead of flying out.  Then, with doctors appointments, waiting for lab results, trying to get the right information to the right people, and not wanting to arrive on the weekend, my arrival in the DR was pushed back to Monday, March 7.
It could have been worse, though.  I recovered pretty quickly, so I ended up having a good chance to see the sights of DC.

My favorite was the Washington Monument.  It surprised me: I've seen pictures, and it's just a big pointy tower.  What the pictures can't capture is just how big it is.  You can see it from almost anywhere in DC.
Here's the Monument from several blocks away.
Here's the Monument from close up.  As you could see, it's not easy to fit all of it in one picture.
 I also visited the WWII war memorial;
WWII Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial (this was another cool one.  Pictures just can't capture the size.);

Honest Abe himself.
The Korean War Memorial;

 The FDR Memorial;
 The Jefferson Memorial;
 and the Vietnam War Memorial.
To be honest, I don't want to see any more memorials for a while.  The start to be a lot less meaningful after you see five or six.