Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Birthday!

Today was my first birthday in the DR.  I took a break from my diagnostic and
from teaching, which was partially my choice and partially necessitated by crazy amounts of rain we had: 

The path river near our house

I never wore crocs in the US, but I couldn't manage without them here!

Our yard

My host sister sweeping water to get it moving out of our yard (and house).

Sweeping muddy water and feeling very Peace Corps!

When the rain and mud let up a bit, I went out to visit some friends.  There are a couple of families living right next to each other; I teach some of the kids reading and math, another teenage daughter is learning English, and their mom is teaching me Haitian Creole.

The teenager (who avoided being captured in any photos) gets credit for remembering my birthday, and ran out to buy something.  Haitians living in a batey don't have a large budget, so I was honored they were spending money on me, and I love what she came up with using only a few cents at the tiny local store:

Cheese puffs and candy, with a candle!

Proof you don't need a cake to feel loved!

 They sang "Happy Birthday" in Spanish and English, but the English version was something like "Happy baby yoo yoo!"  Then we played some games and they insisted on me taking more and more photos:
Showing off for the camera with a song from church

Then I went to another family's house.  These people get even more credit, because they saw me coming, hid inside, and then all ran out cheering when I got there!
 Then someone commandeered my camera
and proceeded, as she always does, to take a bunch of photos of everyone and everything:
Mom in the kitchen


Dad's motorcycle (and another sister)

I decided not to include all the pictures of the ceiling, floor, rocks, dark corners, the same people over and over, and blurry shots of who-knows-what.
Meanwhile, that mom in the kitchen was cooking sugared cherries:

So they gave me a cup of that:
I've had this several times here in the DR.  It's similar to the filling in cherry pie, but a bit more's pretty good!

'Someone' was pouting because her extra-long turn with the camera was over.
 Overall, I'd call it a good day!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Community Diagnostic

I've been busy with several things recently, but the main task has been my Community Diagnostic.  I'm supposed to visit at least 100 houses in the community to meet people, introduce myself, and learn about the batey and what the people here need.  As of today, I've visited 81 houses, so I'm making good progress and should finish on time to present during our reunion August 9-12.

It's been a good experience so far, and I can see why the Peace Corps requires it: I've met a lot of wonderful people whom I would have never noticed otherwise.  It's easy to walk past a house every day and never stop to think about the people living there, but not when you have to sit down and ask about their interests and struggles.

Coming up with good questions is one of the hardest parts of the Diagnostic; if they're too personal, some people may get put off and not answer honestly, but if they're too general, you don't learn very much.  I've realized that some of my questions aren't very helpful, but others have been really interesting.  Here are my 12 questions, translated into English:

  1. How many people live in the house?
  2. What do you do in a typical day?
  3. What work opportunities are available to the members of this community?
  4. Do you speak Haitian Creole? (I would like to learn!)
  5. What are some strengths of this batey, or the benefits of living here?
  6. What are the biggest problems in this community?
  7. Are you Christian?
  8. I'm currently fixing up the computers in the school, because they're in English and I need to put them in Spanish.  When I finish with that, I hope to give a basic computer class (just teaching how to use a computer) and a class in Microsoft Office (teaching how to create documents).  Are you interested in either of those classes?
  9. There are some clubs that Peace Corps volunteers occasionally give.  One is for learning even more about computers so that when I leave there can be people to manage the computer lab.  Another is for learning about and taking care of the Environment, and and third is for learning how to start and run a small personal business.  All these are possibilities if there's enough interest.
  10. I visited the local nuns to ask about the documentation of children, because I know that's a big problem here, and the system in this country is very difficult.  Do you have everything taken care of, or are some people still missing birth certificates or other documents?
  11. What forms of discipline are used in this community?  When children behave badly, what happens?
  12. What health resources are available in this community?
The Creole question is helpful for connecting with them on a personal level.  Most are Dominican, and some even start to get offended to be mistaken for Haitians, but once I talk about wanting to study the language, they open up and share a few words they know or laugh about how they still can't understand the language after being around it their whole life.  If they're Haitian, I can tell them in Creole that I'm studying the language, but I can't say very much!

The question about Christianity helps me gauge their response to question 11.  Child abuse occurs among Christians and nonchristians, but most of those who join me in opposing it are Christian, and most of those who seem dangerous are not.  I've never had any problems personally, but there have been a few houses where question 11 is really uncomfortable, and I'm happy to leave.

Harsh physical discipline has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with here, and I want to do something to address the problem while I'm here.  Gracias a Dios I've met many wonderful people in this batey who see the problem and want to help me fix it, and question 11 is what brings them out of the woodwork.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A volunteer by any other name...

Most Dominicans have a very hard time with the name 'Austin,' so partway through training I started introducing myself as Agustín (ah-goo-STEEN), which is the Spanish equivalent.  Both names came from Augustus/Augustine, they just evolved in different directions in the respective languages.

In the Dominican dialect of Spanish, the 'S' often disappears, and words that end it 'N' sound like 'NG,' so lots of people call me 'ah-goo-TEENG.'  Young kids, who always find their own way to pronounce things, have called me 'ah-gwee-stee' or 'ha-woo-teeng.'

And this glorious two-year-old just cheers TWEEEEN!

'Tween' has caught on, and most of her family calls me that now.  It may be my favorite nickname ever!

"Yeah, I'm awesome."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Every year, most of the PC volunteers get together to celebrate this American holiday with people who actually are aware it's a holiday.  I stayed in my batey, partly to stay with my projects and friends here, partly to save money, and partly because I'm just an introverted weirdo.

My day has been less than cheerful...I woke up to the news that my host cousin, a 3rd grader whom I'd helped practice reading, died early this morning.  First reports blamed cholera, but it turns out that wasn't the case.  Even though she died of dehydration, her only symptom was a pain in her stomach that got worse all night, and she died on the way to the hospital.  They buried her today, and, true to the mood, it rained all day.

Eerily, a few days ago, I had a strange pain in my stomach, and I urinated so much that night that I actually worried my body wasn't processing water.  It's probably just a coincidence, but thanks anyway to everybody back home who's praying for my health and safety.  Also, thanks to everyone who saw my facebook status and prayed for the girl and her family.

Her teenage sister was also taken to the hospital, but appears to be making a recovery.  Since it's not cholera, they're encouraging the family to bring her home.

Anyway, just a friendly holiday reminder that life is short and fragile!

Not wanting the day to pass by with nothing but gloom, I visited the family of some friends who are not related to the deceased girl, and passed out apple slices.  Sixteen of us shared 4 apples (costing about $1 total), and the 5-year-old who had her birthday last month led the chorus in singing feliz cumpleaños to our country!

Tomorrow is my host nephew's birthday, so I can pass out the rest of my apples then and spread some more happy thoughts for America around the batey.  I'm such a good government employee!