Monday, March 19, 2012

Volunteer Visit or “Ode to my Water Bottle”

This past weekend, I went to visit a current volunteer, and it was full of adventures.

First, I want to say a few words for one that is no longer with me – my water bottle. I brought 3 water bottles with me to the Dominican Republic, but one was my favorite. It was a Kleen Kanteen, blue, with a wonderful top to drink from. I got this water bottle almost 2 years ago, and it has traveled with me to Ghana, Chile, Nicaragua, Europe, and more. It’s been around New York City and spent many a day in the field hydrating me during sinkhole investigations in Florida. It had scratches and dents, but that simply gave it character. Sadly, my water bottle was lost on a Dominican Guagua when it broke down and I had to switch guaguas. Things happened so suddenly that I grabbed my bag and helmet to change buses while forgetting my water bottle in the cupholder. Dear water bottle, I hope some adventurous person found you and may you travel around the Dominican Republic having many more adventures without me.

Another adventure would be one of the first things that happened during my trip. We were riding on the back of a pickup track, when we came to an intersection where people were all yelling. Turns out seconds before there had been a motorcycle accident. A man was seriously injured, and the only vehicles around other than ours were motorcycles. So, we loaded this man into the back of the truck with us, and he and 2 of his friends rode with us to the nearest hospital. The man’s head was bleeding significantly and he kept trying to go to sleep, like he had a concussion. We got him to a clinic nearby where he received care, and apparently returned home the next day. It was one of the most intense things to happen since I’ve gotten here, but I was glad we were able to get him the help that he needed. If we weren’t there, I don’t know how long it could have taken for him to get to a hospital to get the care he needed.

Other than that, it was a pretty straight forward trip. The water volunteer I visited was amazing and gave me tons of great insight about how it is to be a water volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and especially how it is to be a woman water volunteer. I can only hope that I will be that put together, have an amazing water system almost completed, and have Spanish skills like that in a year! It was really cool to see a water system almost completed. It’s overwhelming to think that I am going to be designing and building something like that, but I can’t wait to start learning all the technical skills I need.

Speaking of learning technical skills, I will be leaving on Thursday for Manabao for our Community Based Training part of training. Myself and the 5 other water volunteers will be up there for 5.5 weeks by ourselves learning technical skills and constructing a lot of cool things, such as ferrocement water tanks, gully crossings, and a toma! I have no idea how my access to internet will be during those weeks, so I may not be posting much.

I may try to post once more before I leave, specifically about how I love motorcycles now (sorry mom and dad!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Running in the DR or "Unexpected Sprints"

So going for a jog in the DR is far different than running in the US. I used to get annoyed on occasion when people would honk at me, but that's nothing compared to trying to run here.

So I went for a job yesterday with another volunteer Barbara. First, we needed to find somewhere that we could run without excessive potholes. That's an adventure in itself, since the road I live on it paved with rocks and dirt. We decided to go and run on a road where another volunteer, Arthur, lives. It's paved and more residential so it's more private. Then, once we were actually running, we had some fun things to avoid. First, we had to avoid vehicles - cars and motorcycles. Traffic laws are not the same here as they are in the US, and pedestrians don't have right-of-way. Second, we had to avoid dogs. Dogs think it's a challenge to keep up! We didn't really have many problems, but one dog followed us for about 5 minutes before it got distracted by a car. Finally, we had to avoid guys yelling "piropos" or compliments at us. That led to a few unexpected sprints!

All in all, it was really nice to get a run in, and we probably ran about 2 miles, plus about a mile of walking to and from the area. I loved getting a bit of a workout in, and I'm sure I will have more interesting running stories soon!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Guagua Adventure or “There’s always room for one more”

I think some of the best stories from countries come from public transportation. This is to be the first of what I am sure will be many public transportation stories during my 2 years here. If you think that traveling around NYC is hard (and I know some of my friends do), you haven’t seen anything yet.

In the Dominican Republic, there are three main modes of public transportation: the guagua (public bus), the carro publico (or shared taxi), and the motoconcho (or motorcycle taxi). This transportation adventure involved the first one. Our adventure was an applied Spanish lesson – we had to take public transportation into the city, find the Peace Corps office, the Clinica Abreu, and the Hostel Bella Epoca, three important places for all PCVs to know (the office, the hospital, and the approved hotel).

First, we took the guagua into the city center. A guagua is the Dominican version of a bus. Imagine a bus that is built for about 8 rows of 4 people, approximately 30-35 people. Now imagine fitting 50 or more people into that bus. That’s how buses in the DR work – there is always room for “one more” person. These buses are hot. We’re talking sweat dripping down your back hot. If you are lucky enough to be one of the last people on the bus, you stand. There aren’t any good handholds. Imagine standing in a bus of 50 people (which is similar to the subway in NYC during rush hour), hanging onto the windowsill for dear life, trying to not fall into the lap of anyone or knock anyone over every time the bus driver suddenly breaks (which is about once every 5 seconds). Oh yes, and it’s raining outside, so rain is coming in through the open window. And then imagine this for an hour straight. That’s the guagua ride I had today! It definitely prepared me for the “worst case scenario”! It’s actually a pretty amusing situation, once you realize you have to have a sense of humor to get through life as a PCT/PCV. I feel fairly confident about public transportation after today, which is good – next week I will be traveling into the interior by myself to visit a current volunteer, so I better be ready!

Also to all my friends from Gainesville, I ran into a group of UF students doing missionary work in the DR> The Gator Nation truly is everywhere!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Week Update

Hello friends and family!

I am writing this from my comfy bed in my host family house so I can be prepared to post it tomorrow morning at the training facility. While we have internet there, it is difficult to have enough time to write a post and post it in the same day, so I thought I would try to do it in advance to speed up the process!

I have officially finished my first week here in the Dominican Republic, and it both has flown by as well as part of me feels like it’s been a month. It has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life, and one of the most exhausting as well. I am here with some of the most amazing people I have had the pleasure of meeting and I can’t wait to learn more about them and all the amazing work they are sure to do in the Dominican Republic during their 2+ years here.

I am living in a small barrio outside of Santo Domingo with my host mother and two host sisters, aged 14 and 15. My house here is very modest. We have electricity at times – usually in the evening, which is nice to have the light. Apparently that is due to a battery supply, but I don’t have all the details. During the day, we are prone to blackouts. Running water is very rare, and the one time it was running was the middle of the night, and it was used to fill up a bit garbage barrel with water. There is an actual toilet, but I have to dump a small bucket of water in at just the right angle with just the right amount of force to get it to flush. We also have a family cat (creatively named ‘Gato’ – the Spanish word for cat). He hasn’t warmed up to me that much yet, but I have faith – today he actually let me pet him! That might have been because he was begging for my dinner at the same time, but whatever works. I have yet to see any creepy crawlies, but I have plenty of time ahead of me, right? I’m hoping they stay their distance for as long as possible! We all know how I am when it comes to cockroaches!

The training facility we have is absolutely gorgeous. It is this little oasis in the middle of this urban town. There are trees everywhere and beautiful green lawns. Our classrooms are little pavilions – there are roofs, but no walls so we have nature all around us. There are small pavilions for our Spanish classes and then 2 large pavilions for our group classes. There is running water and flush toilets on site, so we are definitely spoiled in that regard. Lunch is prepared for us every day, and so far it’s all been great! I was very pleased that I tested into the class I hoped to, Level 4, Intermediate Low. We have to be at level 5, Intermediate Mid to swear in, so I don’t have that far to go to get my Spanish skills where I hope for them to be. I would really love to be a level 6 or 7 by the time I swear in, but we will have to see what happens over the next several weeks. I already feel like my Spanish skills have improved significantly over the past 6 days, and I can’t even imagine the improvement after 8 more weeks. I hope I can listen to my initial interview again at some point and laugh at my sad attempt at Spanish.

That’s about it for now. I have some very exciting posts that will be coming up – A visit to Santo Domingo to learn where the Peace Corps Office, approved hospital, and often used hotel are on Thursday, a visit to the Colonial Zone on Sunday, a visit to a current water volunteer in the interior of the country next week, and the CBT up in the mountains in just over 2 weeks! The life of a Peace Corps trainee is a busy one.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Greetings from the DR

Hello friends and family. I am writing this from my kindle so it will be short but sweet. I have been in the DR for 3 days and am getting settled. I have moved in with my host family and have taken my Spanish interview. I am doing alright with the language and begin serious classes on Monday. I will try to post more next week when I have real internet, but for now know I am safe and sound in the DR