Monday, September 13, 2010

Aug 23rd (ish) to September 12th

9/12 Sunday: So much for the beach…
This will be a short but sad entry. Today I was planning on getting away with friends to go to the beach and a stupid tropical depression or something decided to storm in and ruin my plans. Trips to the beach jinx the weather. Boo.
9/8 Wednesday: Meeting with Miguel, Ernesto and Community
I was pretty worried about this meeting because I was imagining the worst with community members turning on me. While that’s not incredibly common, it happens and it’s obviously very upsetting when it does happen. With everything that has happened with my neighbors, this thief thing is a pretty serious accusation. I was worried that Miguel wouldn’t do anything about it or that he would kind of take their side. After that conference in May I’ve decided I can’t exactly trust his judgment. Today I went to Santiago for our meeting, which was supposed to be at 11. I was running about 30 minutes late (American Time) when Miguel called and said he was running about 30 minutes late too. He met me around 1pm: 2 hours after our original time. (Turns out he was running 30 minutes late Dominican Time) We had our “meeting” while he sat in the front seat of the SUV and I in the back, in a supermarket parking lot and then like that but driving- on the way to my site. I was kind of conflicted because while I am open to criticism and suggestions, he wasn’t putting any of the blame on my neighbors. He was saying that it was my community that was saying all this stuff and that the Ruales wouldn’t be so stupid to say all that. He seemed to have already made up his mind about this. While I sat there thinking about it, I realized that no one in my community tell aside from Margara and Noel had told me about their gossip. I place full trust in her but it doesn’t make for a strong case against them when trying to convince Miguel that his friends are that stupid, rather, not stupid but malicious. I don’t think for a second that she would lie to me but how can I back up what I’m saying when I say that only two people have told me?

The meeting with Ernesto went ok. I was a little annoyed that Miguel and Ernesto spoke the entire time, and at the very end Miguel asked my thoughts. I don’t like to interrupt so I let them talk thinking that Miguel would give me my time but, true to form, Miguel was in a hurry to get out of here so I felt very rushed. Unfair since I have been waiting to have this meeting for like two weeks. Ernesto told Miguel that he would never call me a thief and that when I came back from the States it seemed like I was angry with them. (Right because angry people give gifts and cookies) And he said that I had said I was going to have a meeting to talk to him about the receipts and then never went back. This again, was not true. I went to his house and asked him if he wanted to see the receipts and he laughed and said it wasn’t necessary. And now I’m freaking out because I called the grants manager in Peace Corps to check on three packets of receipts that I accidentally turned in early and he found all but the one I really need: the library one. Fantastic. It’s going to look really bad and it’s the only inventory I have of supplies bought. It would be a HORRIBLE thing if I don’t have these receipts. It figures too, 10 grants later and this is the one that goes missing. Another thing that really bothered me was that Ernesto told Miguel that the reason we don’t get along is because I have a new “family” now- Margara’s- and that of her family one likes money a lot (offensively referring to Minga) and the other likes to gossip a lot (referencing Margara here). First of all, it was Ernesto who told Minga to charge me more when I moved out and also it’s
Ernesto who has all of his kids working on the library meaning that they are all getting paid and so out of the 6 people working on it daily, 4/6 of that total money is going to Ernesto’s house- $1850 pesos/day. Secondly, Margara is seriously one of the nicest people I have ever met!! When I was angriest and wanted to go tell the Ruales how I felt it was to her that I went to calm me down. I have never heard her say a bad thing about anyone! During this meeting I wasn’t taking notes or anything and Ernesto was going on and on and I forgot to mention everything that he said that was wrong. I told Ernesto that I think the issue here, if he really didn’t call me a thief (highly unlikely), is communication: we have none. Miguel wants us to meet in the women’s club each Monday to talk about the progress of the library so people don’t gossip. He says that whenever people ask about the progress to tell them to go to the meeting with any questions and that’s that. It could be a good idea.

Also Miguel told Ernesto to come to my house later that night and Ernesto said “I don’t have a problem with that.” And guess who never came over. I specifically stayed in my house with the door open, and was full of children (so no debating if I was home or not) until the power went out around 8:30 or 9. I was secretly hoping they didn’t come over though. It’s obvious that they don’t want to make this work and that’s fine. I am really bothered by the fact that they are going to keep on working with Peace Corps name and money for the foundation, more or less as the face of Peace Corps. People in charge of that foundation should be good, honest people who are a good representation of Peace Corps: pretty much the opposite of my neighbors.

Then we had the community meeting. This went ok, sort of. Miguel was all over the place. He was talking about Satan and having a cold and all kinds of stuff. Then he brought up the thing about meeting every week to talk about the library and everyone was in agreement. I got so lost in all the rambling that I didn’t notice that he never said in the meeting anything about where the project money went and how I’m not a thief! Ugh, great. Just when I don’t think it can get worse... Now people will be wondering why Miguel didn’t mention anything about me being a thief or not.

I am upset. I feel the same as before the meeting but at least not stressed that my community will kick me out. Ernesto kept talking about how crappy the family is that I hang out with and Miguel didn’t ask me about it but rather was like, “They are a pretty crappy family Betsy.” How would he know?!

Also, I found out that Brittany is the PCV who is going to be placed in La Coyota (site close to me) and there isn’t going to be one placed in Villa Nueva. I’m happy it’s Brit because I feel really close with her already and she has an idea of what’s going on here. But makes me feel protective of her and I want to get this foundation set right so its not something she has to just be dropped into and deal with.

What I would like to know is what happened with Miguel? He’s normally so good about picking up on things in Dominican culture but this time I felt he was turning a blind eye to it and telling me it was Margara, Minga and a power struggle within the community instead of placing any responsibility on Ernesto and family. An example of an outright lie: Ernesto told Miguel that he saw me in Santiago (when I was with Brittany) and he said hi to me and I ignored him. The truth is that I saw him because Brit and I were already sitting down and I said “Hi Ernesto” and he responded. Then Brittany asked if that was “The Ernesto” and I said yes and how weird it was that in that moment he acts like nothing is wrong. All this seems so petty but it’s the culture here. Saying hello, not saying hello, the order of saying hello- its all noticed and there’s a wrong and right way to do it. I wrote a 4 page report to Miguel and Romeo before the meeting explaining everything but I feel it didn’t help in Miguel’s case. What to do now? I’m going to call one of the PC doctors, Lissette to get her advice, and I’m going to call the grants man and see if he has my receipts! I’ll do what I can and I guess that’s all I can do.

9/6 Monday: The kittens have moved
Kouldbie didn’t seem to like that tarantula at all. She moved her kittens to Ernesto’s house again. Then I sent a kid over to get them and they had already given one away- which I was actually grateful for even though it was rude of them not to ask/inform me. Then Wandi was threatening, loud enough that I could hear, that he was going to kill the kittens and the cat if she brought them back over again. Well guess what, the next day- Kouldbie moved her kittens there again. So take that Wandi. Hopefully she is sleeping under your bed.

9/5 Sunday: Setting a meeting with Miguel, Do tarantulas eat baby kitties?
It’s Sunday night. I just got back from Santiago. Noel dropped me off at Ernesto’s driveway and we had a debate about equal rights between men and women. This is my doing because one man in the neighborhood was calling a young girl a slut. At first Noel seemed alarmed but then when he realized who was being called a slut he shrugged it off. I said that it was pretty crappy of her dad to be yelling at her at someone else’s house calling her a slut to which Noel responded, “Well Elizabeth, a slut is a slut. It’s a fact. Non debatable. If she’s a slut, then they can call her that.” I asked why she was a slut and he said it was because she had more than one boyfriend. Then I asked if Tolo was a slut- having more than one wife is worse than having more than one girlfriend right? He laughed and said of course he wasn’t a man whore, that it’s different for guys. Men are different from women. His examples of this included how men can walk around without their shirts but women can’t, how men are the ones that work… If people call the woman a whore, its ok but there isn’t even a word that exists that’s so ugly that people use for men. I said that in the States there is more equality than here and he said that’s why there are so many problems there, with divorce and all that!! I laughed. So then I asked about professionals. What about people who are educated and both are making money? He said, if they’re making the same, fine. If she’s making more and she leaves him, it’s kind of his fault and he should get a better job but that she is still a whore. Everyone will think she’s a whore but they’ll think she had a good reason. How messed up is that?! After having further conversations on this, and calling him ancient, he seems to have come around a little bit to my point of view. I find that, once given good reasons and not being rude in the debate, most people come around to a more developed way of thinking here. It’s like they begin the debate with you with the point of view that everyone has always had and they have it because they were never asked to think about it. Once they think about it and are presented with a more rounded fact base, they’re like… ohhhhh, that’s true. I think with time, I can convince Noel that equality is the way to go.

After our little debate I went up to my house to shower and get changed. I went into the bathroom to greet the kittens and Kouldbie and then I saw the first huge tarantula ever in my house, right next to them like it was stalking them for dinner! Sure there have been baby ones and one time there was an adolescent but this was a full grown adult. I don’t remember jumping over it to get out of the bathroom but next thing I knew, I was out, trying to plan my next move. I called Noel because I figured if men and women don’t have equal rights here, he should automatically be the one to have to kill this spider. No answer. Diablo. I waited outside and then decided to start making cookies until he showed up. When he arrived back he was disgusted to see that I still hadn’t showered but I asked how in the world can I shower when there is an 8 legged, fanged mammal in my bathroom? One that when it flips onto its back can spring upwards of 6 feet. My bathroom is less than 6 feet wide. Not that it could really hurt me but I swear if it jumped on me and I felt its nasty straw legs crawling around with their stiff little hairs…. SICK! Noel happens to be afraid of tarantulas as well but, like I said… men can walk around without their shirts and all that sooo…. When I showed him the spider he freaked a little. I said I would go and get Minga to kill the spider and he scoffed at me, he is a macho man after all… right? He isn’t afraid of some giant tarantula, who would be scared of that!?! Maybe a wuss, that’s who. While saying this, I think he looked a little panicked. Then, he got it together and said, “Get the machete!” I just stood there and stared at him until realization crept into his face as he remembered that I do not own a machete. (why would I when then I would have to use it?) It was then decided that he would kill it and I would hold the headlamp. I wasn’t really found of this plan as I didn’t want to be close to it but hey, compromise is what relationships are made of. Did I mention there was no power; I was out of candles, my oil lamp had burned the entire wick and my headlamp had stopped working. Fantastic!! Anyways, long story short, I seriously thought about getting Minga (or any other little kid over the age of 7 for that matter) to take care of this for me but then Noel showed up and spared me the walk around the neighborhood, killing the scary spider with my broom. And while he broke the broom I have had my entire service, the spider is dead and I am safe and showered. Whew!

9/2 Thursday: I finally get a Volunteer Visit!!!
I am super excited because after two years of service I finally am getting a newbie!!! I don’t know if you all remember how excited I was to go on my PCV visit when I was in training? Then a hurricane came and it got canceled and I was super freaking sad. We were able to reschedule the visits but it sucked because Kenzie and I went to visit this business PCV and we didn’t do anything except see an old man masturbating. It was so boring, well apart from that. Then last year this time when I was supposed to get a PTC I was in the States for my friends wedding. Thus I was sooooo happy when I got one this time around. I tried to plan things with her here. We nearly finished painting that mural outside of my house I have been trying to do forever (nearly finished because it was raining a lot while she was here), we were going to do the last stove but it fell through because the family didn’t bring the sand to their house (still), we went dancing, we had my art class, corrected/translated thank you cards, baked cookies... all the important parts of service. She is super fun and hyper. Also her name is Brittany- which no one can say in Spanish (sounds like Bree-tan-neey or Bree-nee)- so we’re going to open a new name up for voting. I think the top four should be (1) FlorLinda aka pretty flower (2) Milagros aka old doña name meaning miracle (3) Shakira aka, hips don’t lie (4) Paloma aka dove. Also I felt it was a huge success because she looooooooooved the visit and it renewed her enthusiasm. She is going to try to be the PCV placed in La Coyota, a community a little higher up the road from me. It made my week that she loved my life so much:)

8/31 Tuesday: Meeting with Miguel= failed
After I found out my neighbors were still calling me a thief (the amount I supposedly stole to pay for my 4th of July trip and Noel’s motorcycle I guess just wasn’t enough so they doubled it to 100K and it now includes me paying for his college), I called Miguel. I was super mad about all this and he agreed that this couldn’t continue. We set the date for Tuesday of last week to have a meeting but what I didn’t know was that Miguel thought it was for the capital and I was sitting on my porch waiting for him show up to my house. Adding to the badness of the situation, I told my neighbors that Miguel was going to come for a meeting on Tuesday and so they were waiting as well. The day before a milk truck drove through my community ripping down the power lines thus making us without power for 4 days or so until the community paid Oney to fix it (I contributed 50 pesos). The point of this is that my phone was dead so I sat at my house waiting until around 4:30. I was able to call Miguel the next day thanks to the fact that Minga has a generator, and I asked him what happened with the meeting. That’s when I found out that he thought it was in the cap and I thought it was at my house. I figure my neighbors had called him to confirm this meeting because Noel and I saw them leave their house around 1pm and didn’t come back until after I left at 4:30. Did they bother to tell me that Miguel would not be coming? Of course not. Anyways, I have a new meeting with Miguel next Wednesday at 3 pm in the community and we’re supposed to meet beforehand at 11 in Santiago to discuss. Hopefully all goes well.

8/27: Friday: Why the rush with my life?
So this whole time I have been freaking out about extending. I want to go to med school and that takes forever so I wanted to get started on it STAT. I just kept thinking that my 20s didn’t last nearly long enough! Well, the thing is, once I start med school there will be no traveling for a long time. And then I started thinking: I have to get this library on its feet. I may stay here in the DR be here until the spring to finish it- Who knows?! On top of that, I really would like to extend to another country for a year. I mean, it’d be so neat to compare the different Peace Corps experiences and I think I have learned so much in these two years. Plus think of how my Spanish would get so much better in another year where they say their “s” in their speech! The thing is though; I may be too late to apply for an extension for another country. That little concern aside, where would I like to go you ask? Well, as 3rd year PCVs get a LOT more freedom in picking compared to the newbie PCVs who don’t get any say at all really, I would like to go to (1) Nicaragua (2) Guatemala (3) Ecuador with a big lean towards Nicaragua. I figure that I may as well put off going to med school another year to get another great experience fit into my life. If I get into med school, I’ll be in it for so long, what’s another year?
Good news!! I just called Romeo, the Country Director for PCDR and he said there’s still time to extend to another country!! I told him I would like to Central America and he’s going to call me back so we can get the process started :) Ohhh, excitement!! If I go to CA, who’s going to visit me??????? :D

8/26: Thursday: A malicious rally conspired by diabolical neighbors.
When I left for the camp on Monday I saw Ernesto in the street and I stopped and said hello. His partner in crime, Oney was there and ignored me. I assumed he was mad at me again for one thing or another despite the fact that I haven’t seen him since he randomly came to my house and gave me a hug. I don’t really care if he’s mad at me. I don’t think about it more than noticing it and then I brush it off and don’t even try to understand it. Nor do I care if my neighbors fantasize about ways to kill me each day, which they very well may do. There was a time where it bothered me but I have come to terms with it. Recent news has pushed me past my point finally and I can cheerfully and honestly say that I hate them. I have never hated someone before. I’m pretty sure they hate me as well and their façade of being nice to my face while planning conspiracies behind my back will no longer be effective. I won’t be mean but I won’t put another ounce into being nice.
Before I completely felt this way, on this particular Monday morning, when I said hello to Ernesto he said hello back. I asked what they were working on and he answered. I stood there a moment, then realized I had nothing else to say to him at all and walked off. It seemed that maybe there was a residual resentment emanating from him but aside from that, it wasn’t so bad.
When I got back from camp on Wednesday I was so tired from sleeping about 5 hours the last three nights that I went to bed at 9:30 pm and slept in late the next day. Noel came over and told me that my creative neighbors had been up to no good while I was at camp and that his mom wanted to talk to me about it. Great I thought. What surprises await me now?
It turns out, while I was away, Ernesto went to a part of the community that doesn’t know me very well and told them that I was stealing money. Now he’s telling people that I have stolen $100,000 pesos from the library and I used 50K to pay off Noel’s motorcycle and the other 50K to pay for Noel’s school and our 4th of July trip. (In reality Noel’s school is about 6K pesos/semester- so he’s going to pay a little less than $2000 pesos/month and our trip was about 4k each; he paid most of his part and had to borrow a little from me. He owes me about $1500 pesos or about $35 USD and is paying me back in motor rides.) On one hand, at least they accuse me of sharing the stolen money, so I’m what? A generous thief I suppose. On the other hand, I’m mad. I have been patient. I have turned my cheek. But enough is enough. There is a balance between being tolerant and being a pushover and that line has definitely been crossed, probably a while ago but I like to give the benefit of the doubt when possible. I deserve respect, dang it. I’m a professional. I came here to help, I didn’t think to myself as I was about to finish college with my entire life ahead of me: “Ohhh, let me join the Peace Corps and steal grant money because that’s where it’s at.”
I don’t even want to talk to my neighbors; I don’t want to look at them. And I sure don’t want them to talk to me or try to be my friends. I want to walk in front of their house each time I come home just so they can see me. I want to go out of my to be nice to other people in my community just to make them look even more crazy. There are several things that make me mad about this so why don’t I point them out:
1) Noel works really hard to pay his way in life. It really bothers him that people now think he’s taking handouts. I can see where he’s coming from.
2) I told Ernesto when I got back from the States what happened with the finances. I offered to let him look at the receipts and he laughed and declined saying there was no need. Then he goes behind my back and tries to rally people?
3) He’s trying to get people in the community to turn against me. This isn’t just between us anymore. I don’t want the community remembering/thinking of me as a thief!
4) He told some woman who works for the Mayor to tell the Mayor that I am a thief and not to give any money to the library. WTF?!? Does he just NOT want a library?
I called Miguel and I told him all of this. We have a meeting set up for Tuesday at 2 pm. I can’t wait. When I called my friends Kelly and Rachele they were both like, “And why do you want to extend again?” Jessica told me she would have said to hell with the library and quit working on it. I thought about doing that but there is no way I’m dropping this project. I have worked too hard on this for too long. I am extending in my site to finish it and if they throw rocks at me at every step along the way as they seem hell bent on doing, bring it on. This library isn’t for them. It’s for the kids that need a place to learn and grow and it’s for the kids that I’m going to do this. Not just throw it together but finish it in a hurry but do it completely and finish it well. Despite the rumors my neighbors start on a weekly basis saying that they’re going to get Miguel to fire me, I ‘m not going anywhere. I talked to Miguel after my COS conference and he told me he would love it if I extended, to revamp Escojo, to plan the Escojo National Conference, to tie up stuff in my site. So there Ernesto and family. Take that. (sticking my tongue out)
Oh yeah, another thing. Tonight I noticed that I must not have shut my bedroom window all the way so it locked and someone stole my money box. I’m pretty sure there was just about $100 pesos in it but guess who I think did it? None other than the wonderful, consistent, shameless thief: Geraldo! Who lives with whom? One guess… that’s right! My neighbors!
8/25 Wednesday: I love youth camps!!!
It’s true. I love youth camps. Like I said, this year it was Rachele, Kelly and I planning this three day camp for 75 people and while at times stressful, I really enjoyed planning it. I like being in charge of stuff I suppose. We plan fun nighttime activities and this year we were lucky to have really interactive presentations from each PCV. I was only bored like 2 times during the entire camp whereas normally I peace out to take a nap several times during conferences.
I was really proud of one of the youth I brought, Randi. He’s Noel’s little brother and I was hesitant to bring him at first because he’s at that age where he sometimes listens but other times gives an attitude and walks away. Also I wasn’t sure because Celebrando typically has older participants- like 17 years old. Randi is 12. But seeing as he always calls me Haitian as an insult I figured he could use the diversity camp more than other kids.
I also brought a younger girl, Anyi who is 12 as well. I hadn’t ever brought her to a conference, not because she is a bad kid but because her personality bothers me. Rude to say I know. But she makes stuff up when she doesn’t know the answer (such as telling a group of people that I am home, just locked in the house sleeping when I’m actually in Santiago for the day) and she bosses the younger kids around a bit. As this was my 10th conference I was running out of options so I decided to go for it and take them. Randi was super outgoing, a real crowd favorite. All the other PCVs were asking whose he was and saying how cute he was. He won an award for being the best participant in the group (and I didn’t even vote!) and when he accepted his award he did a little Michael Jackson dance in front of the crowd upon request. It was hilarious.
Anyi however did not seem to enjoy herself. I realize that to a shy 12 year old 3 days away from mom and dad can seem like an eternity so after I found a note she wrote to her mom the first night saying she missed her and that she was different that everyone else, I asked all the other PCVs who have girls to please have their girls go out of their way to talk to Anyi. This didn’t help. She didn’t try to interact with any of the other girls at all. I felt bad for her but was also annoyed at her lack of effort. I also think that maybe she felt bad that Randi was so popular and she wasn’t.
As a last ditch effort for fun, on the way home on the last day we went to the big mall and ate pizza and ice cream in the food court. It was their 2nd time ever having pizza. Then I gave them some money and let them play in the arcade. After that we went into the big grocery store, Jumbo, and looked around. Anyi finally seemed to be enjoying herself once we began to check out the clothing:)
Overall, it was one of my favorite conferences. I’m to miss taking kids to something that they would never get to experience if it weren’t for these groups. I doubt either of them will be able to go back to Jarabacoa where the camp was, for several years but I’m sure they will always remember the experience fondly as I will.

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