14 November 2007

Running for Cover

Tropical Storm Noel came and went, and (gracias a Dios) La Joya survived quite nicely. Many people in other communities did not – the South was hit hard, as well as many nearby communities close to rivers that swelled fuller than anybody can ever remember seeing them, swallowing houses and sometimes whole families at a time. All that happened here: no power for four days. It was sort of like a blizzard, where all you can do is stay in your house and play games, talk, read. I had never seen so much rain at once. From Sunday night until almost Wednesday night, the rain was nonstop, sometimes with a little break of drizzling in between the downpours, but always, always constant. I knew something was different when I woke up wet Sunday night from a new leak that had sprung right over my bed, in my normally non-leaking roof! Then it came out on the radio and by word of mouth of neighbors and friends that class was cancelled nationwide, that we were in the midst of an unexpectedly strong tropical storm. Now as the country deals with the aftermath, it’s interesting to see the stories of hope and the others of corruption. Many nations, groups, and families are contributing much to the rebuilding of these lives of the damnificados, or the affected, and just as quickly many politicians are siphoning away money and resources to their own families and political campaigns. How can this exist so blatantly, with everyone talking about it? But the corruption is there. And that amidst families who really were completely destroyed by the havoc this storm wreaked on them and their families. Still some parts of the South are incommunicable by vehicles. The rebuilding continues.

On a lighter note, my nearby city of San Francisco de Macorís hosted a big race Sunday afternoon, the first of its kind here in San Fran. It was (I think) a 15K for the women, youth, and old, and a 32K for the open category – the young men of the bunch who had been training for a long time. The men dominated the day completely, with barely a girl to be found in the crowd, the runners, or the judges. I figured it would be cloudy since it was raining hard when my running partner and I left at 2:30, but the sun came out, and by race time around 3:30 was hot and blazing as ever. It pounded the asphalt and the runners in the hot afternoon without relief. I had to participate, however, since the race ran right by my community; in fact, for my category, it was the turnaround point. Which meant almost the entire race, there were people cheering for me by name! I ended up winning the women’s category, and right away when I crossed the finish line and was about to fall down, a guy stuck a microphone in my face to interview me. All I could get out at the time was a “momento” to give me time to cool down. And even with two different interviews beforehand, they all made me talk during the prize ceremony about the great qualities of San Franciscans etc. – I went blank and had nothing to say, and probably looked like a complete idiot. Who knew I would become a winner in this country?

18 September 2007

Birthdays and Deathdays

Happy birthday to our computer lab, which as of September 16 has been open successfully for a year of classes and other services to the community. ¡Felicidades! Our new round of classes has begun, at the same time that a group of high school boys has been painting the high school with the paint donated by the Secretary of Ed. It makes for an interesting combination of (semi)serious class and the rowdy boys outside who come dashing in to see if we can put on some music… preferably reggaetón (think Daddy Yankee). My bike that sits outside has never given so many vueltas (circles) or popped so many wheelies in its existence. Thank you, painters! I joined their ranks last Friday to help them out on a free day in the lab, and we got the lab painted a sickening combination of a sort of lime green on the bottom half and a light green on top. Of course I exclaimed later how beautiful it was… and it does look cleaner, at least! I was the only female painter. Apparently in this country painting is a male occupation, not to be invaded by the ranks of the opposite sex. Why? It’s not exactly work that’s pesado (heavy). But every girl that stopped by that I invited to help paint looked at me like I was crazy and exclaimed that they weren’t going to do it!

This past week has brought with it a rash of random deaths in our community. It’s really interesting how there will be long periods of time in which nobody passes away, and then all of a sudden there will be a week or two in which there are many natural and unnatural deaths together. My neighbors commented that it’s caliente (hot) right now for dying. I agree! In the group of deaths that have happened recently, it has included muertes (deaths) from old age, a freak accident involving electrocution while cleaning fish in the middle of the night, a couple of crashes on the highway (pretty gruesome, actually), and a few by fights or unexplained violence. While discussing the phenomena of hit and runs here in this country, everyone here is a proponent of it. The reason: if the driver stops to apologize to the family or bystanders and see what happens, those same bystanders or family members will, almost without question, in turn kill that driver. Perhaps we need to see some changes in the judicial system so the people don’t feel such a strong need to take the law in their own hands – one of the many changes this country could afford to make.

My English class had a fun surprise the other week when we received our first group of pen pal letters from my friend Megan’s middle school Spanish class. Unfortunately the excitement did not motivate my students to get their own letters done quickly, and I have had to hassle them now for more than two weeks to get them finished! Also since nobody here really uses the postal system, when deciding what to send them (like the Pixy Stix they sent us), everyone was suggesting rather large or heavy items. Multiply that by 30 and you have quite the expensive package to mail! I think I convinced them to settle on some typical juice mix of GuanábanaYa… that is, if I ever get all the letters in.

30 August 2007

Heat and School Days

It’s school time in the Dominican Republic! A few weeks ago the secretary of ed announced that school this year was going to start August 20, even though it always begins in September. That being said, today is August 29, and the streets are still full of kids playing, the classrooms are empty, and the elementary school is being painted. Parents are indignant that anyone would even suggest going back early… and I agree: no justification was given for the early start to classes, even if one exists. Looks like summer will last just a little longer for us in the land of perpetual summer.

The other day before my run I went to put on my running shorts that were hanging up, dry from the sweaty run a couple days before. I was about to put my first foot in when out falls a scorpion on the ground. I only screamed a little then stomped the poor thing out into oblivion before it bit me. RIP running-partner-that-never-was scorpion.

Cajuíl my kitty recovered well from my trip home (I think because the 8-year-old neighbor taking care of her poured LOTS of food into her dish each day – thanks Eddy) but now is behaving a little scandalously. Yesterday morning she did not wake me up crying outside my bedroom door; instead she slunk in late at 7:30, creeping in quietly. I asked her where she’d spent the night, and then saw her boyfriend behind her, following from a distance. A big ugly white cat: what bad taste has my Cajuíl. At least he was walking her home, I suppose. Needless to say, Cajuíl and I had a little talk afterwards about her bad behavior, and how much the neighbors are going to talk. I think it was to little avail, however, because she invited the novio (boyfriend) over to my house last night. Lesson learned: have the doctor fix your cat properly to not only not have kittens, but to also NOT go through heat! I could have used that advice last November.

18 August 2007

Are clowns more fun in the DR?

Here we are in our consolidation points, awaiting Hurricane Dean to come hit the southern part of the island. Supposedly up here where I am they are only expecting rain and wind. I think they wanted to consolidate my region because it includes so much coastal area, and they probably wanted to get everyone away from the ocean... I am just hoping that it doesn't cause too much damage to the southern part of the country, which is the poorest of the poor areas here, and am keeping Jamaica in my prayers since it looks like Dean is just going to blast right over their island.

Now for camp news. Our camp in La Joya (Campamento Aventura) went wonderfully, and the best part of the week were a couple visitors. Angela, another volunteer, came to teach swing dance, which was a huge hit. Possibly almost as big as when we did the Macarena 5 times in a row on the last day of camp because of how much everyone loved the classic we revisited that day. And the clown did come from the capital to do all of his clowning around, which the kids absolutely loved. I think it was probably the first time in all of their lives they'd ever seen a clown or people walking on stilts. I think I was the luckiest, because after camp that Tuesday in my house, I got to use the stilts and learned a bit how to walk on them. The clown even offered to make me a pair of my own, and I'm very tempted to take him up on that.

We just finished the diversity camp for our region as well that I took 3 kids from my campo to, and thanks to all who donated to make that camp possible! It was a huge hit that included all sorts of speakers (from Hatians to Japanese who did judo to Hare Krishnas who sang and played their instruments to a group doing a traditional and very risqué dance that we all learned afterwards), icebreakers and games, and the fun nighttime activities (that was what I was in charge of).

I'm off to practice swing dancing a stilt walking. Who knows what may come next with a past month like this.

10 July 2007

Summer is flying by, and all I can think about are a couple things: next week's camp that will be a (better) repeat of last year's camp in our campo, and my vacation for the first time home to the US the next week after that. My goal is to see lots of people, stick my face to the tap to drink the water straight from the faucet, and eat mountains of shaved ice. It's always good to set goals before a trip, right?

Our half marathon was a couple Saturdays ago, and only four of us volunteers ran in it along with the many many other runners from here and other countries, and with a total of one cheerleader/fan for us (who was my friend Erin visiting us, so it was a forced situation... but thanks, Erin!). Tri finished faster than any of us, and then I came in at 2 hours and 3 minutes. It seems slow when you figure out the minutes per mile, but I sure felt like I was going as fast as I could, especially in the last three kilometers! At the finish line they hand you a bag with water, a couple little cakes, and an open beer: mine ended up being a gift to an unsuspecting bystander who enjoyed a lot more than I was about to. There were also fireworks after the race that were shot off from dangerously close by, which only increased the sense of excitement. All in all a very good hot humid rainy fun afternoon race.

Erin visited for about 2 weeks, and aside from her getting sick for about 5 days with fever, body aches, and diarrhea, we had a fun time. Exploring a new beach in the South that was beautiful and sort of Jurrasic Park movie-ish complete with buckets of mangos and plenty of my favorite fruit -- guanábana. We stayed in an inexpensive house on the top of a hill on a cliff looking over the ocean (pictures to be updated soon!) and spent our days at the rocky beach where the river empties into the sea. We had a few adventures while Erin was at my home as well, teaching her merengue and bachata (which she found boring) at a teacher party, going to a funeral prayer hour, and being whisked off to a river by my friends driving by. Now it's time for me to get back to reality and have a productive two weeks before vacation home! The biggest question facing me right now: do we invite my clown friend on stilts from the capital to the camp, or is he too expensive?

11 May 2007

Welcome to the house, new tv

Dilemma of the week: my neighbors called me over yesterday afternoon when I arrived. The three year old Tito proudly announced to me, “Mommy wants to give you a TV; come and see it!” as he took my hand and led me into their house. And there was the mother, and the television, both sitting there looking at me. They say they want to give it to me to embullarme, or to entertain myself. I suspect they’re worried about me on those nights that I don’t go anywhere and stay in the house reading, as that would appear more of a punishment than entertainment to most of my neighbors! I pointed out that there may be other people who need one more than me… that if I want to watch any program I can easily go to a neighbor’s house… that I never really watch TV anyway… but all to no avail. They are set on giving it to me. They are even bringing me an antenna for the slight reception we get here in the campo. I have a feeling there may be underlying motives of moving it from their house they don’t live in (the family pretty much lives at the grandparents’ house) so it doesn’t get stolen. So in addition to my protests that I vocalized, I now also have to think about having an antenna visible to all, perhaps making my house more vulnerable to break-ins if I’m ever out of town. I think, though, that I really have to accept it, if I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Oh, this is not what came to mind when I thought of Peace Corps!

The other weekend was committee weekend in the capital, and our one-year teeth and health check-ups. We happened to find out that there was a race going on Saturday afternoon around the botanical gardens, and got a group together to run in/cheer on the 12K. There weren’t a whole lot of people, but the people that were there were in great shape! It was a hot afternoon, and at the beginning they announced that any atajos (shortcuts) were encouraged, as long as you stayed outside the fence of the gardens. I ended up winning our women’s age category and Jenny also placed, so we were given medals and beer, which we promptly shared with all our friends in the taxi going back to the hostel.

It has been raining every single day here in May, which really makes me and most of the population of my campo want to do… nothing! This especially applies to cleaning the house (for me) and going to class (for the students). In spite of this, my kids have decided to put out a sort of yearbook by the end of the month for the high school, so hopefully everyone stays motivated and it works out.

14 April 2007

Beans, beans, the magical fruit

Picture the scene a couple nights ago: Becky on her bed reading by the light of her gas lamp. Everything is calm and tranquil. Then the power comes back. I blow out the lamp to use my lights in my house. Two minutes later it goes out again. I light my candle and my lamp again. The power comes again. I wait a couple minutes this time to make sure it’s there to stay, and blow out the candle and lamp again. Almost immediately after that se fue la luz (power went out) yet again! This time I resolved to leave my candle burning no matter what happened. Luckily the craziness of that night with the power doesn’t happen often, but it was after a bunch of rainstorms and something was not working right. Normally in our campo we have power for anywhere from two to six hours at a time before it leaves us for about the same amount of time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And now I have yet another reason to like the electricity: I have a blender. And not just any old blender. This was a gift from my friend Ney, a Spanish-descended wealthy old man in my community – I think he’s around 90 – who lent me this blender from 1940-something. It’s square! Although it’s missing its lid and only has one speed, it works. My first experiment was to blend guanábana fruit with sugar and a little water to make popsicles in my neighbor’s freezer, an experiment I hope to repeat soon.

Celebrating Easter didn’t end here until Monday, when what seemed like the entire campo went to the beach together. Return to elementary school days: cramming together three to a seat on a school bus to get there. Luckily my seat sharers were skinny! After the priest said the blessing to start us out on the right foot, he declared, Ahora música, má ná! (Now music and no more!) and everybody on the bus cheered… until they heard the religious tunes blasting from the bus’ speakers. Protests abounded and continued the two hours it took to get to the beach. On the way back from the beach was when the priest finally relented to let the people have their say and listen to their reggaeton, salsa, bachata, and merengue. The worst things to happen at the beach were some sunburns and one teen that got really drunk and kept pretending to drown. He would throw himself in the water face down and stay there until the people watching began to get excited. Finally someone threw him into the back of a truck to take him to the hospital, which made him shape up pretty quickly.

Other than the beach, everyone here celebrates holy week by (if not going to the beach or a river) making habichuela con dulce, or a dessert made from beans, batata, milk, a lot of sugar, etc. It’s sort of like the US’ Christmas cookie tradition in that everyone makes a whole lot for the purpose of giving away to all their neighbors, and everyone’s is just a little different from the next person’s. Some have more raisins, some more little cookies on top, some are thicker, some have all the beans processed, and you can eat it hot and fresh or cold afterwards. Now the problem is that it has coconut milk in it, and so sometimes it’s really hard on your stomach. I didn’t have any problems at all the whole week and was even eating it for breakfast cold, until the fateful fourth day of eating it, when something went bad and I had a horrible night afterwards. No more hcd for me… I cogí miedo (got scared!) from then on out.