Sunday, December 14, 2008

So been here a year...what do I think(Actually 15 months)

How do I sum up, condense, and then express what I am feeling after being in this Peace Corps lifestyle for a while.  The problem with changing cultures and languages is that your head never can learn all of the new necessary skills without pushing out some of the older ones.  And unfortunately my english vocabulary has suffered.  So...lo siento in advance for the poorly worded jabberings that follow.  And as much as I have changed, I still have enginerding in my blood so I will try to keep this as short and sweet as possible.

Thoughts on PC service:
-Unique opportunity
-Isn't as serious about making a measurable difference as they say
-Isn't as creative as they say-almost everything has been done before and there is a way to do it
-Its just what you make of it(even though that sounds really cookie-cutter its the truth)
-Doesn't do anything but good for the volunteer and it is a great time to slow down, think, and learn

Ways I have changed:
-Daily expressions come out in spanish, not in english, and i have trouble translating them back to english
-Im a lot more comfortable with uncomfortable situations
-I don't care what people think about me
-I make sure I do things to keep me happy
-I expect about 10% of my goals to be accomplished and get excited if more than that gets done
-I don't get frustrated when people say things like "It's just complicated" because I say it a lot now
-I realize how smart I am
-I realize the things I am good at
-I see a whole bunch of things I am not good at
-I wash my hands less, generally worry about hygiene less
-For the first time in my life I am out of shape and am not really bothered by it
-I am more aware of how important strong friendships are
-I see my future as a really cool open opportunity, not as 'the real world' that is coming quickly and forcing me to make a decision
-I realize how short a lifespan is
-My manners have degraded significantly
-I am much more pessimistic about the world without being pessimistic about small achievements
-I am proud to be an American (I can't believe he is our President)
-I have slowed down
-Although I am less happy on a regular basis, I am happier with myself and with my life(ha, it's complicated)
-I realize I am rich, lucky, and priveleged but don't think I need to apologize for it
-The world is a whole lot smaller
-The world is a whole lot less diverse
-I grew up, without becoming even a little bit more mature

Aright, that is a pretty comprehensive picture of what I am thinking after having been here for a while.  And....it's complicated.  When people ask me if I like it here, I don't have an overjoyed reaction because there are ups and downs(these are like spikes on a lie detector, not smooth, gradual changes from good to bad).  Its complicated.  But when faced with the question of whether or not I would recommend the experience-that is easy.  Absolutely.  It is not easy, and its not all good or all bad.  It's a whole bunch of challenges and changes that are hard to put into words.  It messes with your emotions and with your values.  But just as I was told coming in, when one year comes around and you start looking past Peace Corps towards the future, I feel so lucky to be here.  And Peace Corps volunteers are the best group of young people I have ever met.  They are all real people and they all do bad things.  But they are all honestly trying to figure out life and live it in a worthwhile way.  They all get that.  It ain't easy and it ain't all good.  But it's life, this is the world, AND I AM ALL MIXED UP IN IT.  Feels good.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ya Llego La Navidad


X-mas is here!!  So after a couple weeks off of construction due to Thanksgiving and our one year in site conference we completed another week of work.  And now my campesinos say thats it for work before X-mas.  So we finished up the pipeline up until where we are going to build our storage tank, we planned all of our big crossings, and we finished the water intake.  Next on the agenda-plan for 80 high school kids coming to my site starting in February!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Facial Hair, Oh My!

I had a beard for a while and then decided to quitar that face-coat in the humid DR heat, while at the Brigada Verde camp.  Thought you all might wanna laugh at the rediculous before and after(can u see the lack of sleep in my eyes?)

¡Si se puede! ¡Brigada Verde!


Last weekend I brought two members of my youth group (now officially called JARUF-Jovenes Avanzando Rapido Un Futuro-'Youth Rapidly Improving Their Future') to a Brigada Verde camp.  Brigada Verde is 'Green Brigade' and it is an environmental youth group first started in this country by Peace Corps Volunteers about six years ago.  The goals are obvious: environmental awareness, conservation, and improvement.  The camp was three days long, organized by other volunteer buddies of mine, and I learned a lot!  We had activities on water contamination, different biological ecosystems, waste management, and the flora of the Dominican Republic.  

Of course this was not all that we did at a camp full of 40 high school age youth!  We had somewhere around 7,000 icebreakers, although I wasn't counting.  Ha, we had plenty of social time, because that social time is really where the kids get motivation to keep going.  They talk with others youth from around the country who have similar groups and have completed successful projects, and get excited to keep going.  

It was a great camp and I know now that my kids are going to get started with their first real projects!  We have talked about holding a dance-a-thon in the colmado to raise funds for public trash cans(there is no trash service at all in my village) and have also talked about a small reforestation project above the aqueduct spring to protect the water reserves.  

As with every day, the final day of the camp included a shouting session by our fearless leader volunteer Ryan.  It went like this:
 
-All the kids banging on plastic tables as hard as they could to the rhythm of "We will rock you"
-Ryan sreaming "Si se puede!" and the kids responding as loud as they could (translation: Yes you can!)
-Ryan screaming "Protege el Medio Ambiente" and the kids responding (translation: Protect the Environment!)
-Ryan screaming "Brigada Verde" and the kids yelling it back!

It was an amazing sight.  I learned alot about the environment and a lot more about how to really connect with youth and get them motivated.  I am not saying that I have been changed and will be that shouting volunteer any time soon, but I am saying that I was inspired.  I can only imagine how my kids felt!

Work is volando!


So work is just flying right now.  We have worked three weeks straight now with the following progress:

1 partially constructed intake works
74 PVC pipes trenched and buried 3 feet deep in the ground~1,460 ft.
2 suspended stream crossings
5 mainline cleanouts installed
8 mainline respirators installed

But we have a long way to go.  The entire project invloves around 14,940 more feet of PVC pipe(about 750 more pipes), three MUCH LARGER suspended river crossings, one of approximately 180 ft., a 4000 gallon storage tank, and 50 separate tapstands.  But things are looking very good right now.  Besides one setback with an airblock that caused us to re-dig the trench in a small area and install another respirator, things have been going to plan.  Generally I think morale is high and everyone is excited to see the water inching closer and closer to their houses every day.  

Also, as you can see on the funding sidebar, we have a couple updates!  We have recieved a check from a Dominican Savings Bank, Banco Ademi, in support of the aqueduct.  This came after a meeting with the 'Jefa' a couple months ago.  I guess the idea was just planted in her head and one day decided she needed to help!  We have also recieved a promise from a company that previously was considered a 'good possibility' to me.  Builders Beyond Borders, an organization based out of Norwalk, CT. that provides service learning trips to high school youth, has chosen my village to visit on two separate occasions in 2009.  Each trip will involve 40 high school students coming and living in my village for a week, working on my aqueduct!  That is a lot of hands!  These two weeks will cut out months of work from the aqueduct schedule and I am tremendously grateful to be recieving their help.  As you can see, they are also committed to monetarily support the project!  Check out their website with the link in the funding sidebar!  It is a very cool thing that they are doing and something that would be great to get my own high school in North Haven involved with!  

So that is the good news with work!  I feel more fulfilled now than any previous moment in my service, mostly become I come home emotionally, and now also physically tired, but in a good way.  I hope everything back home is goin well and I will keep you all updated on our progress.


One happy PCV.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

¡Ya hemos comenzado!

The day came and it has passed!  I ripped off the bandaid in one fell swoop and after being in this country for 1 year, 1 month, and two weeks, Agua Larga began construction on their aqueduct!  Por fin!  It was an extremely nerve racking Sunday night before our Monday work day.  Somehow I managed to sleep a little and I even managed to wake up at 6:30, drink some coffee, and get goin by 7:30.  the day was pretty successful.  A lack or organization was inevitable but I was happy generally with how it went.  And every day since then has been better and better.  We work Monday through Thursday from 8 to 3, and each day went smoother than the previous one.  Overall, the week produced a half-completed water intakes, about 15 PVC pipes(250 feet) buried three feet in the ground, and a very happy(albeit sore) volunteer.  My Monday work brigade is probably the toughest because they all argue and all try to impress everone else with their infinite knowledge on digging trench.  But each day gets more and more humble and by Thursday the workers were all joking with each other and myself.  

When they try to get serious and it seems like an argument might break out I butt in with my extremely high class humor.  One worker, who has enough money to possibly pay people to work for him, stated strongly that he would not pay more than 1000 pesos for a worker to work the four days in a month required of him.  This started an argument because construction work is usually valued at 300 pesos a day or 1200 a month if working once a week.  So I told him that if it were me I would need at least 1500 "besos" from him a month, but that either way I thought his lips would be extremely dry by the end of the month.  And he isn't that buenmoso (good-looking) anyway.  "Pesos" are the local form of currency.  "Besos" are kisses.  His face immediately changed from serious to strangely embarrassed and everyone died laughing at the gringo who just made a funny.  I laughed at it too, hell, it was one of the first jokes I made that everyone got right away and put them all in a better mood.  More than anything else that I did in planning the past week of work, that joke made me feel like I am doing what I am here to do.  I am helping them get the aqueduct built.  And as I have learned, the technical facets of the work are not the reason they haven't built one.  It is everything else.  Getting people organized, motivated, and 'de acuerdo' is the much bigger challenge.  I have spent a good amount of time designing and redesigning the aqueduct but I have spent much more time developing rules and regulations for the water comittee that everyone was in agreement with.  So the little joke of mine that kept people working and laughing as opposed to arguing was a big deal for me.  I guess I am finally starting to get a hang of this development thing.  Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is crack a joke so everyone just chills out.  Giving water to people is a serious thing and should be designed and constructed correctly.  But no one said work has to be serious. 

Coming up next week are one or possibly two small river crossings and a couple smaller components of the main line.  And for the first time in a while I have an optimistic outlook and don't dread the little challenges that I know will come along.  I'll just have to have a good joke ready...

My house...the 'pista de veyday'

My house...the freeway.  A look into the lack of privacy I have gotten used to.

My house has constant traffic, both inside and out.  Starting at 5 AM there are chickens waking up and turkeys clucking and roosters crowing, all having a competition to see who can make me wake up the most number of times before I just get up.  Then when I open the door they just walk right through my house, with my cat doing nothing but watching them, apparently waging another competition to see who can get furthest inside my house without me chasing them into the woods, chucking rocks like a crazy man.  There have been weeks when pigs and piglets have gotten loose from the pig pen near my house and have made their rounds on the highway that is my house.  I have had horses, donkeys, and mules just walk up and by my house as if it were perfectly normal.  Then I tell someone that the animals are loose and they usually get taken care of.  Usually.  I have dogs walking around my house all day, probably because of the smell of my cat.  There are a million lizards and spiders and little biting, stinging ants.  Some nights I get visited by tarantulas, and although they are poisonous, I prefer them because they are so much slower and easier to kill with a sandal.  The normal spiders are big and really quick.  Just annoying.  At night my solar powered lights make the inside of my house the highway for moths, bugs, and anything that eats moths and bugs.  So yea, animals live with me pretty much all the time.  And I don’t think I even really need to say the word cockroach.  I could be a millionaire selling those things.  If only a market existed.  The latrine next to my house puts them out like a well-oiled assembly plant.  Its amazing.  But luckily my cat kills most of those that are out in the open. (and eats them, mmm)

So that is the animal traffic.  Then there is the human traffic.  Starting at around 6 AM there are people going around my house to the left to bath, feed the pigs, or pick coffee, and going around my house to the right to find firewood ,pick avocados, or dump their night pans into the latrine(which they never seem to really have mastered, leaving friendly splatters here and there).  All day long is fair game for people to go around to the bathroom, and then the afternoon comes and everyone needs to bathe, so they take turns going around my house to the left to the shower area where they bucket bathe themselves less than ten feet from  my door.  When night eventually comes I flip on my lights and, just like the flies and moths, muchachos and muchachitos show up to just look at my house and be bathed in artificial light.  Sometimes they want something or want to do something with me, but the majority of the time they are just passing time in the only lighted house around, with the only white guy around.  They will watch me fold clothes, will look at my pictures on the walls, will check out the DR map I have on the wall and argue over where they are.  They just don’t see houses filled with such ‘weird’ stuff.  Only us gringos  have can openers and paper towels, not to mention all the new cool stuff given to me by a recently ET’d friend: real Heinz ketchup, hand sanitizer, French coffee press, etc.  The kids come to just hang out and then in a bit pass on further down the highway, back out of my house.  There’s a good chance they are headed to the colmado, the only other place that has light bulbs shining with artificial light. 

It doesn’t bother me anymore (well, I hate chickens more than any other living thing on this planet), but I am comfortable knowing that everyone knows pretty much everything in my house.  As I write this I have a muchacho sitting next to me on my bed staring at my computer, wondering what it is I am writing.  I guess that’s just how it is when you are living on the ‘pista’ in the middle of the mountains.  But like everything else, I’ll try to make this a little educational.  Let’s see if he can tell me what this word says: YODALI…...(pointing to my screen and asking the kid if he knows whatthe word is)  Yup, he got it!  It’s his name.  Well, good night from the ‘pista’.  Time to eat some dinner and go bucket-bathe myself into a state of semi-cleanliness.  Asi es la vida viviendo en la ‘pista’.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

!Por Fin! Computer class...with a reality check.


Well, as my last blog says, I now have some money to start with my aqueduct! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the road into my village has been soaked with constant rains and all-but cut off from the outside world by parts of the road falling away. Sooo, although I bought a whole bunch of materials over a week ago, it has been impossible to have them delivered, and we are still waiting.
So in the mean time, during this difficult period of waiting, I have had the chance to finally put to use a small OLPC laptop that was donated to me earlier this year. I went by the small school that is on the other side of the river from me on a Friday morning, hoping to catch the older students. I had talked to the teacher about doing this small computer class earlier and she thought it was a great idea but reminded me that maybe it would be a good idea to start with the higher grades of the school (grades 4 and 5). So I headed over to the school only to find a class of 5 students. I couldn’t believe it. I asked the teacher why there were so few, and she just said most kids weren’t showing up…yet. Classes started on August 18th, kids slowly start to trickle in over the course of September, and by October most kids are coming to school, at least frequently.
This was back in September that I went to the school for the first time, so the kids were still in the trickle-in phase. It was a reminder to me of how little kids and their parents value education, how poor the education system was, and just how incredibly hard ‘development’ is. When I asked parents why their kids weren’t going to school they responded that the kids didn’t do anything for the first month. And the reality is that the kids don’t really do much ever. The teaching system is not even close to that of the US. And clearly, the teachers don’t try to teach as much or as thoroughly when only 5 students show up. This was a class that should be about 15, mind you. Parents don’t tell their kids to go to school because ‘they don’t learn anything’, the kids don’t go, so the teacher is less motivated to teach, so the kids probably do learn less, and the parents are suddenly correct. But the level of education in general is so low that the parents do not see this cycle. They just think that they are correct and their children shoudn’t bother going to school for a while. This was the reality check that I received, and it really squashed all of my enthusiasm after arriving at the school, sweating, and carrying the laptop.
I walked into this class of five students and had to explain to the teacher again what it was I wanted to do. After I had reminded her and explained that I wanted to take one kid aside at a time to show them how the computer works, she agreed, and I got my first volunteer. It was a kid that lives really close to me, Jodali, and seeing his eyes light up at getting the chance to touch a computer made it all worthwhile. Almost all of the kids in my village of this age have never touched a computer, if they have even seen one up close! I showed him how to open it, and he delicately followed my instructions, making sure he wouldn’t break anything. With my instruction, he then turned on the computer, practiced moving the mouse around and opening up different programs. Moving the mouse was really something that took time. It is just something I take for granted, having grown up with computers, but for him it was like riding a horse for the first time. Once he got the hang of the mouse I then had him open up a memory game that included simple mathematics. He started playing, and the smile just got bigger and bigger on his face, that is when he wasn’t intensely concentrating to make sure he had added 10+8 correctly. I spent about 30 minutes with three of the students, and they all told me they really liked it, at which point the computer battery died. Reality check…there is no electricity. Asi es la vida aqui (Such is life here).I intend to go to the school every Friday and let the kids do whatever it is they want on the computer. I also have started talking to the oldest member of my youth group about him going to another small school on his side of the river and leading the small computer class. He actually tried to go one day. He came and got the laptop, and headed up to the school, but it was raining and the teacher didn’t show up. There’s that reality check again. As much as the constant setbacks to any type of project are frustrating and discouraging, I have to keep thinking of the kids. Every minute of practice they get will help them out in the future. And who knows, maybe next fall they will go to school on the first day of class if the gringo with the computer is going. One can only hope

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Online Aqueduct grant full!

Just a quick note to all that the aqueduct online grant has been filled!  I still have to wait a couple weeks for the money to get here, but its full!  With this money we will be able to start construction probably early in October!  Thanks to everyone who donated!  More to come...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Celebrando….¡El Cibao! Celebrando….¡Diversidad!

Ahhhh… Talk about a re-energizing, re-inspiring, fulfilling way to spend three days! Just got back from “Celebrando El Cibao” youth diversity camp and it was amazing! I brought three youth from my campo, ages 16, 19, and 21, all of whom had just finished high school, and I couldn’t be happier with how they came, slowly opened up, and then left camp feeling differently. The camp felt like a lifetime for me and I’m sure the rest of the volunteers, helping to coordinate activities, get kids involved, and take endless pictures of everything, but by the end of the camp it was all worthwhile. The kids had their eyes opened up to real characteristics of leaders by the former Vice President of the DR, Jaime David. They were confronted first hand with the realization of their own country’s racism by a Haitian engineer and his presentation on the beauties and culture of Haiti. They had the chance to learn about other religions of the world and created small skits to show how you might respectfully handle daily problems with difference of religion. They learned about sexual orientation, the importance of respecting and understanding heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals alike. They talked about stereotypes, how they affect the way we treat others, and how hurtful they can be. They experienced firsthand how a disability can make you feel while attempting to eat jello either with no hands, with a blind-fold, or with their non-dominant hand. And we obviously had a whole bunch of ice breakers because Dominicans absolutely love them. They also learned a whole lot about themselves and their confidence after sharing, joking around with, and getting to know sixty other young kids from around the country who were just as open-minded as they are. We had a talent show with some singers and story-tellers, we had a night of dancing and dominoes, and and every day was opened up with yoga to get people going.
It’s a new generation in the DR. The same way it took generations to overcome the racism toward blacks and sexism towards women in the US, the youth in the DR are growing up in a new culture that is slowly trying to change. These young kids come from campos where they are possibly the only people who really know how to read and write proficiently and therefore really are the most capable to affect change. Youth groups in this country have real power because of the up and coming generation that is miles ahead of their parents in terms of education.
All in all I am so happy I got involved in this camp, so happy my kids said they loved it, and really proud to be that much closer to some kids in my community that can help me try to make changes for the year that I have left. Who knows what affect this will make on them 20 years down the road, but just thinking that it will help change the DR the way the US has changed for the better...it makes you feel good. This is a proud Peace Corps volunteer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why am I not building a water pipeline yet?

I need your help. This is not just something I am asking for. It is becoming more of a reality every day. I have had awful luck with my grants. I have applied for funding from 6 separate organizations within the country and they have all either told us no or told us yes and then failed to come through. I have also written countless letters and project proposals to political figures and companies that have showed interest in our project. Nothing. It is becoming a slight possibility that I will not receive all of the funding I need for this project in time, and the pipelines may not be finished. I cannot let that happen to these people.

I need whatever little support you can give to my project, and I need it now! The link to the right will take you to the Peace Corps site where you can donate to my aqueduct. That money is untouchable for me until all of the $5000 I initially requested is donated. I know that economic times in the states are terrible for some right now, and that donating is the last thing on your mind. Therefore, I am asking for a very small amount of support. According to my website, I have had 74 visitors to this blog from the US. If each of you could spare $50 from your lives to help me and my community build an aqueduct the $3250 I still need could be covered overnight. Save $5 in a jar daily for ten days and then donate that money. It will mean the world to my community. That $5000 dollars will be enough to start work and keep going for a couple months.

Help me get started with the project my community asked me here to do. Help me bring WATER to PEOPLE. This is not a save the children ad. It is not another dime-a-dozen NGO asking for money that may or may not find its way to people. You all know me. Every dime you give will go directly into pipes and cement and rebar. I grew up in the same town as many of you, North Haven, CT. I have been to Thanksgiving family reunions with many of you in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, IA. I went to school with many of you in Lewisburg, PA. Now I am living in a small, poor village in the Dominican Republic, and I am asking you to make sure I get water to these people before my two-year service is up. Im asking for support in ending little girls daily trips to the river with heavy buckets. That is all. Thank you all for contributing in whatever small way you can manage. I understand times are not easy. And believe me, my community understands that times are not easy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Trash to bracelets...this is what you do with a sprained ankle!


Recently I bought a five pesos bracelet from another volunteer. It was made of the little plastic bags that the local colmados put everything in that they sell. It was very Peace Corps (cheap and made of something local) and I thought it was pretty cool. I got back to my site and the kids kept asking where I got it. I told them, and said we could make them if we want. Since then I spent a couple days with kids in my house ripping up all the plastic bags I have to make bracelets. They took the idea even further though. They went out to my back yard and gathered up the trash that is just sitting around, and brought those bags and wrappers in my house and started making them. It was just a little tiny thing, but it was cool to see them so pumped, not bored, and having them clean up trash without even thinking about it. Anyways, now I am rocking four bracelets, all made from trash bags. I just need a market for these homemade crafts...and some buyers who have the day long attention span off my kids. Ha. First Peace Corps profit generation project...done.

All because of a CAT!!!


Let me just breeeeeeeathe for a second here before writing. This past week I have felt the worst that I can ever remember in my life. I had that aching in the heart pain when I went to sleep and then got it back a couple seconds after waking up. It was horrible. I never want to feel that again. And it was all because of a little multi-colored kitty-kat!(And I thought I was a man…) Let me explain…
A friend of mine, Joanna, took care of my cat while I went back to the states in June, and when she left on the 5th of August, it was my turn. Her cat was coming up from her site on a “bola”, a free ride with the Peace Corps doctor. So before I met the bola car and the doctor at our designated meeting spot at the supermarket parking lot, I made a trip to the hardware store to buy plastic mesh so I could cover the open door where I brush my teeth at night. The idea was basically to make something like those plastic fence things people use for dogs to keep them in one room. That way I could lean out the door and brush my teeth at night without letting the newbie cat out that would be with me. Then I stocked up on two more 3.5 lb bags of cat food. And on top of that I bought a couple snacks I can’t get usually. There I was, sitting with a big roll of plastic mesh, my crutches (yup, still using them), my motorcycle helmet, my backpack, and 3 big bags of cat food and snacks. The car showed up and I threw everything in the car, realizing at that moment that if I had not gotten this bola, I probably would not be able to walk to the sidewalk, let alone get my butt back into my site. So it was good that the ride showed.
The doc told me she was late and had to go to a lunch meeting with some volunteers immediately, and because of that, I was invited. Immediately I felt like saying, “No, I really need to drop the cat off at my house”, but I didn’t. I said OK and she reassured me that it’d be fine. We got there (a place called The 25 Charcos and site a volunteer buddy of mine)and decided we couldn’t leave the cat in the car, and the restaurant was open air and outside, so we brought the cat in its cloth pocketbook/carrier thing that Jo had bought recently.(dumbest looking carrier I’ve ever seen. Maybe just to make me look like I have a pocketbook) It had been in this cloth purse for the past 4 hours so I thought I should take it out for a second. It’s the humane thing to do right?! Well, my great luck continued that day (remember the broken ear, staff infections, amoebas, unknown sicknesses, and now sprained ankle), and when I took the cat out of its carrier it went nuts, scratched the crap out of my hands, and ran off in the woods(did I mention the restaurant was outdoors). ARE YOU JOKING? I just stood there shocked for about five seconds, thinking that must have been a dream, then immediately dropped my crutches and took off running with the other volunteers there with us. The cat ran right into the sugarcane and seemed to have stopped. I sent the muchachos (young guys) and the other guy volunteers under the barbed wire and told them, “We are getting that cat.” I figured they would just go get it and put it back in that stupid pocketbook thing, and this nightmare would be over. Instead, they chased it farther and farther into the cane and the mountains.
A kid came back with an empty pocketbook about two hours later and said that it had gone “lejos.” That is “far” in Spanish. But ‘lejos’ really means that the cat has left the building, it’s not coming back, and you should probably stop looking. That word hit me like a ton of cement block. (We don’t have bricks here) ‘Jesus. That cat was like a daughter to Jo. And now it’s probably going to get killed by a dog or a person in the mountains.’ That was my inner-monolog while I took the purple pocketbook from the muchacho and tried, unsuccessfully, to eat my lunch. How had things gotten so terrible crappy in a matter of hours? I took her out. She was fine for a second. Then she went f-ing nuts and was gone within a matter of seconds! I was floored.
I heard the doctor offer a little kid 100 pesos if they found the cat, saw how quickly he went looking, and quickly chased him down and upped it to 2000. I didn’t want him to just look. Find that thing! I then went around to all the employees and told them that I had lost a cat, it wasn’t mine, the girl would kill me if I didn’t find it, and that if they found it there was 2000 pesos in it for them. So by the end of that day I had about fifty people planning trips to the woods to find this cat. But I knew she would just run away again, and didn’t feel any better. The bola was leaving, and I had to show the doctor my site, so I had to leave with them. I showed them my site and then when they had left proceeded to tell everyone in my site about the cat that got away. They didn’t care, and I felt like shit. I explained to those closest to me how I was responsible and Joanna was going to die when she heard, and that I didn’t know what to do. They all laughed, told me to forget about it, and reminded me that it was just a cat. But they didn’t understand. That night I barely slept. Llave cuddling up next to me reminded me of the lost cat and I felt like absolute crap.
The next morning I got up and caught a bola out back to the charcos. I asked around and still no sign of the cat. I took a motorcycle to the closest town, bought four cans of tuna, and came back. Then I got muchachos to walk around the woods in pairs with an open can of tuna. If anyone saw anything, the one without the can was to run back and get me with the cat bag, and the other was to let the cat eat the tuna, slowly. An hour of that returned no results. I asked my buddy Todd, the PCV who is placed to work at this ‘charcos’ place, if he thought the park guards would be able to help. (The charcos is a set of waterfalls that tourists climb up with the help of guides. It is a well known eco-tourism spot in the DR, and it is enclosed in its own National Park) He said maybe, and ten minutes later the guy showed up. I told him about the whole incident, and immediately he offered to go look with me after lunch. I was still on crutches but said screw it and hiked around the park for about two hours with the ranger. You already know what happened. I found nothing, and my ankle hurt a lot. While I was out in the woods with tuna sprinkled around me, given up the search, and hoping the cat would smell the tuna and just show up, Joanna texted me and seemed angry for my lack of responses. I hadn’t responded to her since the cat ran away. What would I say? I decided to just call her. I called and told her; she cried a lot; I felt like a giant idiot, and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t ever talk to me again. I hung up the phone in the woods, feeling just awful, and laid down and cried a little. So that night I stayed with Todd at his place and tried not to think about it. I felt so much better having told Jo, but ‘so much better’ wasn’t great at all. Still felt terrible.
The next morning we headed back to the charcos and there was word that the night guard had seen a cat he didn’t know last night! I thought it might be her but probably not. Still, I kept talking to the park guides and found one who knew how to trap animals. He made me a trap that day, and I took a moto back to the town to get seven cans of tuna. He was going to put tuna in this trap for seven nights in a row. He knew about the cat and the money, and I thought he might get her. I waited all day but no cat, and I had to head back to my site. I went to a meeting for my water committee that night, we planned for my bosses arrival the next day, and once again, felt like crap. The next day came and my boss didn’t. I found out he had an emergency and wasn’t going to make it. So I opened up my computer, made a bilingual missing cat flyer with pictures, and caught another bola out of my site to the charcos. (I had really good bola luck, if nothing else) I went to the computer shop to print the flyers, but it was closed because the whole town had no electricity. This is about an hour out of my site and it was around 4:30 in the afternoon. My motorcycle driver took me to another place he thought might be open but it wasn’t. He yelled across the street to the Doña who had the key, told her that I live far away in the hills, and that I needed to print something now. She called for her daughter, who came over, opened up, turned on their diesel generator, and fired up the computer. (Only in the DR! There is just a level of hospitality with some things that you can’t find anywhere else!) I printed out the flyers as well as some other donation request letters for my upcoming youth camp. I thanked them as much as I could, hopped back on the motorcycle and we headed to the charcos.
Now armed with this flyer with pictures and a reward I had upped to 3000 pesos, I was feeling a little optimistic. When I got to the charcos I was told no one had seen anything else, the trap hadn’t caught anything but ants swarming the tuna, and the night guard wouldn’t be there for another hour. I wanted to show him the picture and find out if it was really her who he saw two days ago. So I sat down and talked with the guides. I found the guy who set the trap and we went and re-placed it, and re-armed it with more tuna. At 6 PM the guard showed up, I showed him the flyer, and he told me that was her. He had seen that cat two nights ago and last night at 3 AM. It was settled. I was staying out all night with him until the cat showed up, I would show her a can of open tuna, and that would be it. So once again, I settled down for a bit of waiting. The guides started drinking at their restaurant bar and started to get a little drunk. I was wondering when they would leave and turn off the music to give the cat a chance to come in. But then at 8 PM a guide ran up to me and said he saw a cat off in the cane. I told him to get the guides I had been talking to earlier and go get her. But he said, “No, shes right at the edge of the restaurant. Just come yourself and bring the tuna.” I walked over slowly and there she was, at the edge of the cane field, meowing at the site of me. But she was scared of the guides and music. So we popped open a can, and I went over, called her name(Kitten), and showed her the tuna. She hesitated for a minute but then just ran right up to me and I picked her up! I couldn’t believe it! My heart was going a million beats a minute! I yelled over that I got her (mistake) and all the drunken guides ran towards me yelling and congratulating me and all that. Of course the cat flipped out, scratched the crap out of my arms again, and wriggled out of my hands. I was literally holding with all my strength but didn’t want to bust her rib cage! Anyway I fell to the ground and luckily sat on her. I had one hand on her back and was sitting on her upper body as she tried to get away again. The guides tried to get her pocketbook that was left in the charcos office, but it was locked! It was after hours! So they got a cardboard box and we threw her in. She still half got out, but then we threw that box in a potato sack, and tied it up!
Ahhhhhhh! All the guides went crazy and I had a kung-fu grip on this potato sack while my newly scratched up arms bled down to my elbows. But all I could do was smile and scream along with them while they all congratulated me on finding the cat. To them it was just another crazy thing us gringos do, caring for animals, and I was happier than ever to be the gringo who found the cat after four days of returning with no progress! One of the guides had a camera and the rest gathered around me while he took a picture of the crazily happy gringo holding a potato sack and bleeding from the arms, and the drunk Dominicans around him who were all so happy, drunk, but extremely happy for me.
I had actually found the cat! I got a moto ride up to Todds house, closed all the windows, locked all the doors, shoved shoes in any possible escape holes, and let the cat out of the box and bag. I had extra tuna cans left over so we both ate tuna that night for dinner, and I couldn’t have been happier. Jo called me, assuming her cat was dead and that I must feel awful, and wanted to tell me it was ok, that it wasn’t my fault. But the first words out of my mouth were, “I found your freakin cat!” She couldn’t believe it and I sat there saying it over again and again a couple times until she was completely relieved. She was in the states on vacation and about to go out with friends. She thanked me a million times and then said she was going out. Right before she hung up I heard her yell to her friends, “Rob f…!” It was cut off, but I knew she was telling everyone that the same guy who was probably described previously as the jack@$$ who lost her precious cat had just found it! I crumpled against the wall with the cat and breathed out for the first time in a while. I really breathed. The deep, let go of stress breath that I thought would never come. I found her freaking cat. Sitting there with that little multicolored thing, the whole thing felt so incredibly silly. It was a little cat! And it had completely ruined my life for four days!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

But life goes on...y todavia 'toy vivo!(and im still alive!)

This is like five days after "la mierda choco el abanico" as they say. And just want to have it recorded that I feel great. I recently went to another volunteers site on the beach for our 3 month security meeting, talked to a whole bunch of good people, and got my head back on straight. Then I went to the inauguration of another volunteer's aqueduct yesterday and it reminded me why I am here. Everyone was so thankful and it was just an amazing event. And in the volunteers thank-you speach she made reference to MANNNNNNYYYYY problems in the road to completion. Its not all rosy, but in the end I came here because I WANT TO and CAN and WILL help these people get water in their house. Its pretty simple, when you forget about all the bickering and fights and whatnot. Im here to help them out. And they aren't supposed to understand that as simply as I do. And that makes me happy the simplicity of it. I wanna help!

Also, Im about to go to a meeting for the youth camp that Im part of, Celebrando Cibao. I will have to choose two kids to go with me. And that aint easy! I made up an 'application form' that the kids had to fill out and write some essays for. That way they have to work a little bit, and I don't just pick my best buddies. And I got five applications back! So now I get to pick who did the best job to come with me! And what do you know--the "future goals" of two young guys who applied are to become mechanical engineers so they can help people improve the lives of other people! Ha, literally, writing this my eyes just teared up. Its the youth that really matter, and really get me going! It was just an awesome reminder that some people really do want me here and are enjoying my time. And me too!!!!

Is anyone trustworthy?

Over the past two days I have had basically everyone I thought to be close to me shown in a new light. People seem to joke around with me as the token white guy and very few seem to respect me as the engineer I am. I have had some of those closest to me ask me if THEY had to follow the rules I have put upon the entire community. “But I don’t have to follow the rules, right Roberto?!” Then they have seemed insulted when I informed them that the rules apply to everyone. They seem to have assumed that if they got close to me, the rules wouldn’t apply. Since that moment I have noticed a marked change in attitude, and I have been forced to re-evaluate my relationship with everyone. In a situation like this, the Peace Corps, one finds comfort in thinking that they have at least a few people close to them who understand, at least a little, where they are coming from. And now I am realizing that their friendliness may all have been, to some degree, an act. People may be hospitable to me just because they figure it will make it easier for them down the road. A bunch of village ‘yes-men’ and ‘yes-women’. The fact that I, their rich white person, haven’t gotten together money for the aqueduct, no, haven’t even “started work” as they say, and I have been here nine months, tells them I might not know what I’m doing. My halo is wearing off as I struggle to find the green and people realize that I can’t be bought with friendliness. Now I’m just the young white guy who seems to sit in his house all day (healing my ankle) and doesn’t seem to be giving out favors after all. They say be weary of your first friends because they probably won’t turn out to be the best ones. But who would have figured that they could put on the act for 9 months? Live…and learn.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Help is still needed!

There are two of my projects up on the Peace Corps website right now and you can donate to them over the internet!

One is my community aqueduct that is desperately in need of money. We have been ready for construction for months, but cannot begin without money! Click the link below or the one on the right sidebar to learn about the project or to donate. I am asking for a small portion of the total project cost, just to get a start!

Donate to my Community Aqueduct!

The second is a youth camp that I am involved with. It is scheduled to take place on August 29-31 but will not happen unless all the money requested on the Peace Corps website is donated in time! Click the link below to learn about the project or to donate.

Only a little over a month left to make sure this camp happens! Help!

Donate to "Celebrando Cibao" Leadership and Youth Camp!

With each of these website donation links, the problem is that we will not receive a dime of this money until the full amount requested has been donated. That is to say, don't be bashful! Don't be shy and think that your contribution won't do enough and you shouldn't even donate. A full day of physical labor in the fields with a machete is valued at just over US$7 in my campo. So literally donating enough for a taxi out to the bar or a footlong sub will be equal to a man chopping and sweating all day. We have it a bit easier in the states, spread the wealth!

Thanks guys. Take this chance to donate some modest amount from your life and directly see and read the results of what you donated right here on this blog!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bailando y Tocando...'tamos apprendiendo!

Dancing and playing music...we're learning!

And...look! He's making a video, come here!
video

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fishing


Today I went cell phone fishing like I normally do. I typed up a text message, chose the recipient, then hit send and held it up above my head, hoping the ‘Sin Servicio (No Service)’ would change to ‘Claro (Verizon)’ on the screen of my phone. It’s not a quick thing to get signal on my phone. Usually takes about thirty seconds with the phone in the same place to work. Then if I catch signal I need to keep my hand still for another thirty or more seconds to wait for the message to send. If I am lucky enough for that to happen before the screen goes dark, then I wait another thirty seconds or so hoping to get a delivered message receipt. I did all that earlier today while sitting on my hammock, and I felt like my luck was on the up and up. There are very few places in and around my house that have enough signal to send or receive text messages. So it made me incredibly happy! Good day! But then, when I was planning on napping for a while, all I could think of was-If I put my phone back into signal for a little bit will I get a response?! Did the message really get to its recipient? And if it did had they read it yet? In my life in my house, there is not much more exciting than receiving a text message. It is a message from the outside, in English, and it means someone is still thinking about me. Out here in the campo you start to feel forgotten every once in a while. But every day, at some point, I try and drop my DR bought prepaid phone into the small pond of signal outside my house and hope for a big catch.
Feel free to stock the pond-(809) 857-2216

English

I miss my first language. Just writing this right now makes me feel better. It is now 10:48 PM and I just finished watching a movie on my laptop. I have done so quite a few times while here in the DR and every time I do I forget where I am at some point in the movie. Then the movie ends and the really good feeling I have after listening to spoken English for two hours is interrupted by the realization that no one around me can speak it. More often than anything else, I have pinpointed this as a factor that makes Peace Corps so hard. I just miss English. All those stupid little things you say back and forth with your buddies, or the little accents you use to add more meaning to a joke, or the pace at which you say certain things, all of that is lost in another language. You learn new little jokes and all in a new language. But it’s not the same. It doesn’t fit as well. Kind of how a new shirt can never replace the old beat up one. It doesn’t feel like home. Ha, as much as I have been a traveler since I left for college, and as much as when I am home for brief periods I think about where I can go and what I can do next…I miss home. I really do. And that does not mean that I want to leave here. But it is a new thought for me. That I could miss all of those little things about English I had previously not paid any attention to. I miss MY way of expressing myself. I miss MY language.

I love my cat…and I actually feel good to be back!(At this moment)

I can’t really describe how much my cat has been to me since I have been back. It really is, in the words of a fellow PCV cat owner, “unhealthy” how much he makes me happy. When I went to the US of A I had no choice but to leave my cat with another volunteer, Jo. Couldn’t take him with me. I also had a week of Spanish class right before my trip, and right when I got back Russ was here and I wasn’t going to be around much, so I didn’t pick him up until Russ was leaving. All in all I had not seen my cat for almost a month! And Jo did a great job, even got pretty attached to my little buddy, but I wanted my cat back! And honestly, my first three days back in site have been so much better just because of that little animal. When he follows me around on my crutches, I love it. When he looks at me from 20 feet away and sees me looking back he comes running and, if I didn’t have a cast, ha, I might run towards him. We might make one of those movie hugs where the two people come running together and jump into each other’s arms after years apart. (I know, definitely unhealthy) When he chases cockroaches or lizards, I just get a really deep smile and feel like a proud parent. I always find myself worrying where he is if he’s not just purring in my lap or waiting for me to pet him. I love that little thing, and I really don’t know what I would do without him. Probably be a little miserable…