Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
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
Sunday, November 2, 2008
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
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
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
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
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
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.
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
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!!!!
Friday, July 18, 2008
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
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
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