Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quick update

Hello everyone!  I'm back in the capital to get (another) vaccine, so I wanted to add a quick post while I have internet.

Things have been going pretty well, although I've been a little under the weather for a couple of days (nothing too serious, just a little Peace Corps gastrointestinal excitement).  There's word that the cholera outbreak has made it into the Batey, but I'm confident it's not that.  The rainy season has just started, which means there are frequent downpours, which means the dirt roads are actually mud rivers.  And a recently shared a very small latrine with a very large tarantula.  At night, in the dark, with only a small flashlight.  I tucked Netalie in extra tight that night.

On the positive side of things, I've started helping out in the local school with 3rd graders who need extra help with reading.  There are lots of kids who don't even recognize all of the letters yet, and it's common for kids to be held back a grade several times in a row.  I sit with them one-on-one and help them work through simple words and sentences, which is really rewarding work, because I can already see some improvement, and they love the individual attention.  There's less than a month left of school, though, and some of them need more than a month of work before they can go on to 4th.  Also, there are 35-40 kids in a class, with cement walls (so everything makes an echo), and lots of the kids have really terrible behavior...I've already wrestled apart kids who were on the floor beating each other, in 3rd grade, multiple times.  But the teachers are dedicated, if overworked, and lots of the kids want to learn, and one of my biggest problems is trying to share my time with all the kids who want to read or play with me.  Some volunteers have a hard time finding people to work with...I don't think I'll have that problem!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Batey!

I'm back from visiting my Batey...we have our official swearing in ceremony tomorrow, and we'll return to our sites to officially move in this weekend.

I really like my site!  It's one of the poorest places I've been, but that's to be expected in the Peace Corps.  It has three (dirt) roads, three churches, a primary school, a community center, and about 1000 people.  There are lots of kids, who are all really friendly and already run over to hug me when they see me!  Lots of people have expressed interest in taking computer or English classes.  Supposedly, the first three months are just my 'diagnostic,' where I study the community but don't actually work on any projects.  However, I think my role in the community is already clearly laid out and they want me to start sooner.

I'll probably do a lot of work in the primary school (K-8th grade).  I was already introduced to all the classes, so there are 300 kids who know my name, and I know about 5.  They also have a computer lab (built by Save the Children), which they've barely begun to use, and they're going to give me free reign to do what I want with it.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be the fact that the kids have never had any consistent discipline, so a lot of them are cute little brats.  There's a lot of hitting that goes on (parents hitting kids, kids hitting each other), but I certainly don't want to participate in that, and it would be nice to get everyone else to stop also.  I've got a bag of cheap candies...whoever gets hit (without hitting back) will get a candy.  We'll see if I can outsmart the seven year olds.  One of the PC nurses also pointed out that hardly anyone invests emotionally in these kids, so I can hopefully make a difference just by caring.  Advice on handling dozens of misbehaved kids would be appreciated...

Anyway, here are a few photos.  I didn't take very many, but I'll have two years to document the 3 street town!

Some of my new friends.  After I'd been in town for only six hours, I told them I was staying for two years, and they all cheered!

At a neighbor's house

All the fences look something like this.

My new church, in the nearby town.  It's one of the prettiest churches I've seen in the country.

My shower (with a dirt floor)

And no ceiling

My room, with Netalie, my beloved mosquito net.

View from the top of the ladder in my shower.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Por Fin!

After more than a year of applications and waiting, they finally told me I was accepted into the Peace Corps and was invited to serve in the Dominican Republic.  Months later, I actually arrived in the country.  Now, after two months here in the DR, I finally know the specific community where I'll be living and working!

As expected, it's a Batey in the East.  I requested the East because part of our training was in that region, and I got along really well with my host family and want to visit them.  I was interested in a Batey because I'll get the chance to learn Haitian Creole.  And how many Americans can say they speak Haitian?

Bateyes are the poorest communities in the DR.  The Dominican economy used to be based primarily on sugar production, and Haitians came into the country to work in the sugar fields.  Now, the economy is focused on tourism, and all that's left of the sugar plantations are small groups of Haitians without any major sources of income.  Most of the inhabitants of Bateyes are of either Haitian or Haitian-Dominican descent, and many of them don't have any legal documents.  The older community members often don't speak Spanish, but only Creole.  This is going to be a crazy experience!

The Batey I'll be in has had a previous PCV from 2007-2008, and has also been visited by volunteers from Save the Children.  There are about 1,100 people in the community.  They have a computer lab with functioning computers, a printer, and (at least part of the time) electricity, so they've already got plenty to work with.  I'll be fairly close to a large city, so it won't be too difficult to get resources.  There are also some cool PCVs from my group who will be living very close.  Unfortunately, for security reasons, I can't post the name of the Batey on a public blog, but it those of you who are my facebook friends can find that info on my facebook page.

Most of the Bateyes in the country are closer to the Haitian border, where it never rains and is extra dusty, so I got a pretty good deal with a Batey in the East.  Tomorrow, I will meet my project partner (the person with whom I will probably do most of my work over the next two years) and we'll travel to the Batey, where I'll stay with my new host family (with whom I'll live for at least the next three months).  I'll come back to the capital on Sunday, because we have the official swearing in ceremony on May 11, then I'll take the rest of my things and be officially (finally!) in my permanent community!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I'm back in the capital.  The last five weeks were CBT (community based training), and we in the education sector were in a pueblo in the East, learning about education and computers and working with local high school students.  For now, we're just hanging around in Santo Domingo waiting until Tuesday when we find out where we'll be living for the next two years.

On one of the last days of CBT, we took a tour of a Cacao (Chocolate) factory and farm.  It wasn't really related to our work in the PC, but nobody was complaining about visiting a chocolate factory!

A Cacao tree with fruit

If you split open the fruit early, the seeds are covered in a sweet white layer, which tastes a little like mango.  It's pretty good, but there isn't much on each seed and it's hard to eat, so the real value of Cacao is letting the seeds ripen further and turning them into chocolate!

Overripe Cacao fruit with the seeds spilling out.

Once the seeds are harvested, they're left to ferment for a few days in big bins.

The fermented beans are collected in bags

Then they're taken to a greenhouse to dry out.

We cracked some open and tasted them.  They were extremely bitter...the darkest dark chocolate possible!

There's more processing that goes on, but I could follow what all the machines did

The beans are then packed into bags and shipped around the world.  Nestle is a big buyer, but it sounds like China is trying to buy out the DR's cacao production
We finished our tour of the Cacao farm with lunch and a great view.  Really, everybody thinks the Peace Corps is a lot more difficult than it is.  Then again, I'm still technically in training.

All the stages: tree, fruit, various stages of bean, processed, and fermented in to (surprisingly delicious) chocolate wine.