Sunday, April 19, 2009

4/11- 4/18

4/16- 4/18 Thursday- Saturday: YAAAYYY!!
Today I woke up nice and early with Ali to each head our separate directions. I was to go back to Los Mangos, John’s site and she was heading back to Los Arrozes- her community. When Ali came the day before she happened to get on Noel’s motorcycle and he proceeded to tell her about how he was mad at me still. She told him that no one was perfect, not knowing the story, and that he should really get over it since it wasn’t a big deal. Then he told her that he was already over it and that she should mention that to me. Ali was solving all kinds of problems for me! I have yet to talk to Noel but I feel like it will be a lot less awkward now thanks to Ali.

So, anyways, she went down the mountain with him and I went up and over the other side with Camilo, Ann and Tim’s friend. Camilo is cool because he takes me the whole way to John’s so I don’t have to change motors. It took me about 45 minutes to get to John’s and then another 25 to walk to the aqueduct. I was there with the kids from about 9:30 until 11 working and then we all went up to the aqueduct (a large cement box constructed around a natural spring at the top of the hill) that the kids had done a great job painting and we took some pictures. After that we ate lunch and then headed out to Sosúa where they had reservations at a resort called Sosúa by the Sea. The PCVs who helped were invited and I was really excited I was able to go.

The first day we arrived we didn’t do much. John, Iain and I went to Sosúa to a bar that had free internet while the kids went to the 27 Waterfalls just outside of Altamira. We all met up at the hotel around 7 and stuffed ourselves with the delicious dinner. The hotel is beautiful. Our room has a huge bed in one room, another room with a tv and a bed with one of those pull-out beds-in-a-drawer underneath. I took that room and Iain and John shared the massive bed. We were so tired when we got there that we went to bed pretty early, especially John who fell asleep in his clothes on the bed at 8.

The next day was sooooooo cool. Despite the fact that we brought the PCV plague with us (somehow the water “broke” there was no water in anybody’s room in the morning and in our room there was a problem with the air conditioning so not only did our bathroom flood but the light broke the night before so we had no power in the bathroom) we can’t think any less of the hotel. The service was great and the view was breathtaking. We ate a delicious breakfast by an ocean view and went out on a boat all day. The boat had some really interesting workers who entertained the kids by dancing, singing, doing awkward impressions of other cultures and cross dressing. Dominican humor. We stopped twice to snorkel and the guys on the boat tossed some bread and hard boiled eggs out to the fish. It was awesome because the fish would eat it out of your hands and there were tons of beautiful fish. On the way back we saw some dolphins playing by the boat. It was the coolest boat trip I have ever gone on.

When we got back to the hotel somehow the kids found the energy to hang out at the pool the rest of the day. I went for a walk and bargained a sarong for 300 pesos cheaper than the guy originally told me which made me pretty happy. I walked to the grocery store, which was the most Americanized grocery store I have seen so far, being fully stocked with Doritos, pop in cans and American candy. I found some cheap ground spices and then headed back to the hotel. After a hot shower in a new room (our old room was still flooded) I watched some tv and then went to dinner. I tried to focus and write my blog but I was too tired and too distracted. I went back to the room and read an issue of Cosmo from December while watching music videos in Spanish. Some people may think that is boring but to me it was a relaxing end to a sweet day.

The next morning I loaded up big time on breakfast since I would be skipping lunch. We were all going to meet in the lobby at 11:45 to leave for good. The kids all had to pack up to get ready to go to Santiago where they’ll be spending a day shopping, dropping Iain and I off in Altamira on the way so we can help Mark move into his house finally (poor guy has been living with his host family still since he has been building a house this whole time. His new house is finally done though, yay!) The kids leave tonight to go back home and then Monday they’ll be back to school.

That seems surreal to me, to go back to school in two days after a week like this. I really have to commend this group of kids. I guess the group (Builders Beyond Borders or B3) used to plan two weekends of fun in their trips but the kids would always write on the suggestion sheets at the end of the trip that they would have rather worked longer and played less since they were there to work. Because of that they worked Saturday- Thursday and only had two days very much deserved days of relaxation. They were able to dig enough 2 ½ ft trench line that they put in a little over 100 tubes, with each tube being 19 feet. They dug the trenches, cleaned and glued tubes together, laid the tubes in the trenches and then buried the tubes. Before they left on the last day they were able to put in a tap to a woman’s house and turn the water on. The tap wasn’t completely finished since it still needed to be enclosed in a cement casing but it is usable and now, for the first time in the woman’s life, she has water at her house.

It really is amazing what people can accomplish when they put themselves aside and think of others. These kids are a great example of that and I really hope that they continue to do things like this with their lives. I hope that this made a big impact on each of them they way they will have impacted the lives of the people they have helped.

4/15 Wednesday: Escojo…. Just breathe.
Today was to be the big day: the day that Ali (another PCV who has really great Spanish) was going to come to my site and help me prepare and teach a charla on the reproductive system: something I did not want to talk about at all. She arrived at 12:30, we ate lunch, caught up on things and began to prepare the presentation around 2:30. Normally I have the presentations done a day or two at least a head of time but we were supposed to work on it together so I waited. Vangie had gone to the school the day before to remind the director we were going to have class today at 5. So, imagine my surprise when at 3 Ernie called me from school to tell me that I needed to be at the school by 4. She said I had to have the class early since school was getting out early. That wasn’t going to happen so I asked her to remind the kids that we were going to have class and that I would be there as soon as I could. We had only been working on the thing for 30 minutes, it was nowhere near done! Then, adding to the surprise, at 3:30 Wandi, who should have still been in school still, showed up at my house telling me all the kids had gone for the day so I couldn’t have class. That means that they got out at 3:15! I asked Wandi to tell the kids that I was going to have class at 5 and to have them come back and he said no.

I was getting more and more frustrated since Ali could only help today. She has to leave early tomorrow and so do I since I told John I would be back to help out more on Thursday. Ali and I continued to work on it but were constantly stopped by distraction. Vangie showed up and I asked her if the director had mentioned to her the day before that school was getting out early. She said he did but she forgot to tell me. I guess I should have just gone myself to ask so that was my fault. Then Ernie comes home and starts telling me that I should have been ready because she called me to tell me. Yeah, she called me 15 minutes before hand! Not that it mattered really, I appreciate the effort on her part but the whole blame game is really old. Then Wandi, who for some reason was being AWEFUL starts calling me a procrastinator and says I should have had it done, that the whole thing is my fault. Breathe. I was about to SNAP. Here I was, sitting on the floor in my kitchen/dinning room, drawing a huge penis diagram with 5 people in my house staring at it. I couldn’t even draw the other one in front of them, I had to move to my room. I get too embarrassed about that stuff. And all the while I was in my room I could hear Wandi complaining about how I am a slacker while Ali defended me.

We finished everything and arrived at the school a little after 5. When we were preparing the charla I happened to think of a game where the kids have to match the function with the body part and then have to put up all the names of the body parts on the diagram. It went fairly well but I thought there was going to be a throw down. There were only 9 kids in the class and I thought that they may have killed each other. We made it a competition between the girls, who were in charge of the man-parts and the guys who were in charge of the woman-parts. It seemed like it was going to be fun but they were fighting the whole time about how the other team was cheating. The girls were able to match up what the guy parts and functions were fairly well but the guys had no clue. They didn’t even know where the vagina was. I found out this is because it is largely thought here that the girls are to please the men and should know about their functions but the men aren’t expected to reciprocate. I don’t know how many in my class have had sex but I’m guessing not many of the guys have since they would at least have to know where the vagina was. So, I guess this could either be a good thing or a very disturbing one, explaining why I have a very low pregnancy rate in my community.

During the class Wandi was unbearable. He was angry that I let the girls go first to explain what parts they had and started yelling about how I think men are trash. I know calling him out on this in front of everyone will get me nowhere so I ignored him. He was doing stuff like this the whole time, fueling the negativity of the class. Ernie and Wandi are leaders for sure; people naturally do what they do. Ernie was being very rambunctious on the girl’s side as well. After class Wandi walked up to me with a smile like nothing happened. I wasn’t sure how to respond so I told him I would talk to him after class. I talked to Ali and told her I was planning on choking Wandi later during our talk and thankfully she had another suggestion. She majored in Social Work and her patience shows. She is a really amazing person.

Per her suggestion, I sat Wandi down afterwards and told him that I have higher expectations for him. I said that I felt he is a natural leader and capable of a lot. I told him that I knew other people were behaving poorly in class but that since I have higher expectations for him I was let down by him. I told him I thought that he had the special ability to really influence people around him, an ability that seems to come very naturally to him, something hard to find in people, and that this is why I expect more. I said I wanted to give him more responsibility because of this, and this is why I expect more. I asked if he wanted the responsibility and he said he did. He said he didn’t know when he was acting poorly and so I told him when he told me that I treat men like trash. He didn’t like that the girls got to go first, which I understood but I pointed out that he is always the one telling me, “Ladies first.” Then he said he was really just upset that he didn’t get picked to go to the conference and that I always have Ernie help me with the class. I told him that I would love it if he would like to be a promoter for the new class in the Fall but there are requirements. He would really need to think about things before acting out of emotion, that he needs to be an example. I said that I didn’t bring him to the conference because he hadn’t been setting a very good example during the first few classes we had before the conference. I pointed out that my job is to find leaders who want to be promoters so of course I’m happy that he is interested. The reason I always have Ernie help prepare the course is because he was able to help me with the interviews I had to do during the first three months and I wanted to be able to share my experience with as many people as possible. (Really it’s because she’s the best at coloring of the group) So, I said, this means that if you really want to be a promoter, you need to be a good example to the rest of the course. There are a few other people I have been considering asking at the end of the course if they would like to be promoters and participate in a workshop I’ll have on how to teach and prepare charlas. To my credit, I listed another boy from the class.

All this seemed to really satisfy Wandi and so I am really glad I did it. I have never been one to cater to another’s feelings when they are acting out or acting what I think is overly sensitive. Normally I ignore people, get mad at them or just tell them to suck it up. This is not easy for me but I know that it is the most productive road. I am learning how to look at things differently, trying to be more creative in my solutions and learning how to solve problems doing things another’s way. It’s frustrating and I have to swallow my pride and remind myself to think this way. I think that this will be a very valuable thing for me to take home to the States and well worth the trouble.

4/13 Monday: A Community Meeting
Monday when I left John’s site I was in a big hurry. There was a community meeting scheduled for the afternoon where there were two things on the agenda: the crappy road and the lack of trash pickup service. The meeting seemed like a really big deal since a few people went around on Friday handing out papers announcing the meeting, organization I had never seen from a community in the DR. I was pretty pumped about it, really looking forward to the trash discussion and plan of action so I didn’t want to miss it. The meeting was supposed to be at 4 pm so when I left John’s at 12:30 I thought I was leaving more than enough time because I only live about an hour from him. The problem was that I didn’t leave enough time for the Dominican black hole. I can compare this to when I go to my Dad’s house in the States. It just eats the time somehow and before you know it three hours have passed, and not because you’re having that much fun.

Anyways, I stopped in Altamira to use the internet for a bit and ended up scrambling to get to my site in time. Of course I had to end up on a super crappy motor up the mountain that probably couldn’t go more than 40 miles per hour. Lucky for me, I had just learned how to say that I was in a hurry (thanks to reading the 501 verb book for leisure) and so I relayed this to my driver who dutifully increased velocity to the impressive top speed. I was really dirty from digging at John’s still but I arrived to my house at 4:10 and didn’t have time to shower. I changed my pants at least which were thick with dirt thanks to my rubber boots. When I hurried to the meeting 15 minutes late, I was the 4th one there. I was happy that I didn’t miss anything but thought that it was weird that there were just three women there. Mercedes was one of them and she assured me that the community meeting was still going to happen. While that ended up being true, I wish I had known what everyone else in La Lamota knew: the meeting was going to take place AFTER the Woman’s Meeting. So, I ended up sitting through the Woman’s Meeting but I decided that was ok since I should be going to them anyways.

When the Community Meeting did happen I was very happy to see that there was a fairly large turnout of about 50 people. What was a bummer though was that they were so busy talking about the road and planning strikes for it that the trash issue didn’t even come up. I understand that the state of the road is important but don’t they see how important a trash pick up service is?! People could get sick. It’s horrible for the environment. It attracts rodents. It pollutes water sources. It’s plain old ugly. Sure we can put our trash in the ditches and the rivers and let it be an issue for the people who live at the bottom of the hill but that’s no solution. Not to mention a lot of the community has family at the bottom of the hill. No no no, this is not ok. I obviously need to rethink how to approach this. I don’t think people know how big of an issue it really is so I guess I’ll have to try to get the word out there. I will have to be more proactive in getting people to make the change and move this up on their list of priorities. Hopefully we can have another community meeting talking about the trash issue instead of complaining about how the community closer to Navarrete didn’t help out with the last strike.

4/11- 4/13 Saturday- Monday: A weekend in the shoes of a Water PCV
There is something to be said about being in PC and actually having a tangible project. Educating is a semi tangible project since the students will hopefully graduate and don’t do something demonstrating that they aren’t practicing what they learned- like become pregnant when only being 15 years old. Water PCVs are envied in a way since they are for one treated like Gods for “bringing water to a community” and two, they are the only ones on this little island of PCVs who have a tangible job. They get their assignment, they design a system, get funding, and then put in a system. Easy right? No. I just spent the last 2 ½ days at the site of a water PCV while he was lucky enough to score a group of high schoolers willing to donate their spring break digging trenches to help complete the “put in a system” part of the process. I was supposed to just be a translator but really, what kind of a slacker feels ok just standing there for two days while everyone else is working? So, I was using the pick axe and I was shoveling and getting blisters alongside the 50 kids from Connecticut. The difference was that I was just there for 2 ½ days, they were there for a week and John, the PCV who lives there, does this four days a week! There is something to be said about being able to be a Health PCV. Sure I get blisters but they’re from holding the colored pencils too tight not from digging for 9 hours a day.

The weekend was hard but it was really encouraging too. The kids, as I found out on the first day, had to each raise $2000 to pay for their trip and to largely fund John’s water project. In the short time that I was there nearly all of the kids were working hard and not complaining at all. And these were long days to be digging the whole time. Let me tell you, digging a 2 ½ foot trench in cocoa and coffee fields, or in direct Caribbean sun, or on a steep slope- is NOT easy. It’s especially hard the more days it drags on. We would wake up around 6:30 or 7 after sleeping on a cot which I think was the most uncomfortable sleeping arrangement I have had in country, and then we would go to breakfast. At 7:30 it was off to get the tools (all the picks and shovels) and then we would head up to the worksite where we dug trenches until 12. We ate beans, rice and some variation of meat for lunch that boys brought up for the day so we didn’t have to leave, wasting time, and were able to eat right at the worksite. Then we would return to digging from 12:30 until around 4:30.

The first day when I was pick axing I backed into some barbed wire and cut my hand. The second day I tried to tape it shut and clean it but my whole hand swelled up. Monday, after it was still very swollen, I decided that I would be better Monday if I took it easy and didn’t work too hard. Let me tell you that it was difficult not working that last day but I found a way to do it and successfully only picked up a pick once that day (and that was to pose for a picture).

When I left I went to this dude’s house looking for a hammock. There is a guy who sells them in John’s community for a bargain of 250 pesos. They’re made from rice sacks and a must have for the season you know. I went to his house but he wasn’t there. While I was walking out of John’s site I was lucky enough to pick up a companion along the way, a man who told me it was his responsibility to protect any visitors in the community and he was fulfilling his duty by walking me to the entrance and helping me look for a motor. He also walked with me to the Hammock Man’s house and when the man wasn’t there he told me that he would talk to the man later and get me two hammocks. This will hopefully work out well since I will be back in John’s site on Thursday to help some more. I would like to get the hammocks before my mom and sister get here on the 24th but who knows?

Anyways, the point of this blog is to point out that everything really does happen for a reason. I talked to some other Water PCVs who were there and they were telling me how they would so much rather be doing that work that trying to teach classes to a bunch of kids. Not that I’m a huge fan of teaching classes but I am much less of a fan of digging every day so I guess I’m pretty lucky in that sense. There’s always something to be grateful for isn’t there?

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