Poop Stories

Everybody poops.

So why are we all so ashamed to talk about it? The first noticeable change in me during my service thus far is not only my willingness but my desire to discuss my bowel movements. I’m not exaggerating when I say that whenever volunteers get together, or even frequently over the phone, the most common thing to talk about is poop. Where you had to poop, what you had to use instead of TP, the imperfect geometry of aiming in a latrine, how often you went in one day, how long it’s been since your last, analyzing the color spectrum and consistency, even the emergence of the dreaded Princesa (diarrhea). Having the Princesa in a developing country is about as fun as you’re imagining it to be… Which is precisely why talking about it with other people makes you feel abundantly less savage about the things that just happened to you. Whenever she makes her dramatic reappearance, it’s almost mandatory to text somebody to inform them that, “She’s back.” Just when you think your poop story is going to scar you for life, you hear someone else’s that makes you feel lucky that you didn’t have to endure what that guy went through. My 6-year-old host sister asked me once if Americans go poo-poo, and just as I assured her, I will tell you that not only do I poop, but it has become the thing around which my day revolves.

Oh, and remember how it was my birthday recently? Let me tell you all about it:

I’m now one year older (and wiser) and back in Monte Cristi. My birthday celebrations were a blast and I’m convinced that Samaná is the most beautiful place in the country. Nevertheless, the absolute best part of the vacation was meeting up with friends that I hadn’t seen since training, swapping poop stories, and simply relaxing without an agenda. The first day we all just chilled beachside, playing volleyball, eating and enjoying speaking in English. We had heard rumors of a beach not too far away that was supposed to be one of the best in the country (and world!). Thinking we couldn’t pass up the opportunity and being far too stingy to pay for a boat ride or a hiking guide, we decided that we could definitely make the coastal hike ourselves, against the advice of many. If this is sounding like the beginning of a horror movie… Trust me, the thought crossed my mind. The hour hike turned into 2.5 hours of bush whacking, pokey volcanic rock stepping, snake-avoiding, coconut retrieving, cliff scaling (and then unscaling when we realized the trail was NOT up that way), sandal breaking, feet cutting and exhaustion. However, it turns out we really did have it in us to hike all the way there. Without our adventure appearing on the local news or the next Blair Witch franchise, we made it to El Rincón safe and sound. Was the beach as beautiful as I imagined? Not quite. Was the trip and the subsequent aches and pains worth it? Absolutely. After all, when in Peace Corps…

Guess what I brought back with me from vacation? Yep, you guessed it. The Princesa.

The next major step for me is to find my own place to live. If you didn’t know, PCVs are obligated to live with a host family for the first 3 months in site in order to help assimilate into a new area. Now that the time is almost up, I can look forward to having my own personal space for the first time since I arrived in country in March. Now, that’s not to say that I have disliked my host families. They have been wonderfully welcoming. But having lived on my own accord throughout college and in the postgrad world, it seems mildly silly to have to call to say i’ll be late for dinner or to ask permission to leave with friends.

You know you’re in the Peace Corps when seemingly every day you find a new hole, stain or tear in a piece of clothing you’re wearing. It used to really bother me. I would mumble swears under my breath as I donned that formerly white shirt or those unscuffed dress shoes. I’ve come to a new stage in my service, though. One that looks on these things as a new opportunity to become more like my surroundings. One that realizes that clean clothes does nothing to make me a better person or volunteer. The people here don’t care what brand your jeans are, they care about the ideas of the man who’s wearing them. I find it refreshing to think (or to not think) about the status of the various clothing items I brought with me to country. Nevertheless, it’s going to take awhile to attempt to shed my materialistic American mentality… Good thing I have awhile to work on it. Twenty-three more months, to be exact.

Talk to you all soon (si Dios quiere)!!!
–Andrés

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Feliz Coffee-Años

Coffee. One of the basic necessities of my life. Thus, one of my biggest disappointments in the DR. Oh sure, they drink coffee. It’s usually nice and bold and piping hot. So why am I complaining? Unless you buy it at a restaurant (and sometimes even then), the coffee is served as a tiny splash in the bottom of your cup. How on Earth does anyone in this country get motivated to do, well… anything… without at least a full cup of joe in the morning? As far as I can tell, they are all just naturally morning people. People are routinely out and about, up and at ’em, twisting and shouting starting at about 7. I imagine the main reason behind the eagerness to get out of bed is because it is by FAR the coolest part of the day, and any self-respecting person would like to get all of his or her errands done before 10am when the sun starts to really get in the way. Quite a smart plan if you ask me, because afterward they Doñas can relax at home with plenty of reason to take a nice long nap after lunch (but only if there’s electricity and you can use your fan).

Aside from being severely under-caffeinated, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the rest of my service here. My project partners are great and very well-connected and have taken me in with open arms. Plus, I set up wi-fi for my office. (Yes, I have an office.) What’s not to love about that?

I’m getting started on my Community Diagnostic, which is a volunteer’s first responsibility. It entails getting as much information as possible regarding the different aspects of the site by interviewing, chatting, sitting and observing with your neighbors. On the surface it sounds like a great way to get to know more people and the lives they lead, but more often than not it turns into them asking me to fix their garbage collection schedule or complaining to me about the neighbor they had 30 years ago. It’s a very slo o o o w w w w w w process since to get them to really open up to me, I’ve got to spend a few afternoons just sitting with them and taking the tiny coffee shots they make for me before I can begin to ask them about their income and what they would like to see developed in Monte Cristi.

It is ONE WEEK until my birthday. Most of the volunteers in the DR all meet up to celebrate Independence Day so I will get to be with some good friends when I cumplo años. Where are we meeting you may ask? This year we are going to the Samaná peninsula… Supposedly the most beautiful part of the island. Getting there will require no fewer than 4 buses as I am located on the exact opposite side of the country. All I know is that based on what I’ve heard from the locals, this trip is going to be well worth it.

I suppose I should get back to interviewing… I’ll write again soon. Promise.

Happy Early Independence Day friends!

–Andrés

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Teach Me How to Creole

For a little more than two weeks now I have been living full-time in Monte Cristi and seemingly every day I find another reason to appreciate this place even more. While I don’t have Internet at my house, I am adept and “stealing” wifi from hotels and restaurants. Keeping in touch with the happenings in the States (not to mention the French Open!!!) is most assuredly maintaining my sanity. During the past week and a half, the city has been celebrating its Patronales festival. Each town has its own patron saint (ours is San Fernando) and it is basically an excuse to have non-stop fun for 12 days. There is live music, food, games, and even a Ferris wheel! I managed to make friends with a vendor who teaches tennis in Santiago, the second biggest city in the DR, and it paid off since he was always willing to give me several extra splashes of rum in the drinks he was serving. All in all, I survived the first Patronales here and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

This past week was a tremendously interesting one. A group of about 25 doctors, pediatricians, optometrists, pharmacists and med students came as a part of a program called Timmy. They save up equipment and medicine all year and do pro-bono work in the poorest areas of the country. In the three days I assisted them as an interpreter, we went to different bateyes (very rural, isolated, poor, agriculture-based, communities) and I got to experience a new aspect of life here. I was honored to be asked to help and I am very glad I went. The entire week we saw 553 patients, some of whom had very serious maladies, and were able to provide some of them with the only access to healthcare they receive. On the last day, the majority of the people who came to the clinic were Haitian, which took our translating to a completely different level. For example, imagine trying to get a medical history on someone when you need to first have someone ask the question in English for me to translate into Spanish so that another interpreter can ask the patient in Creole… Only to go back through the chain in order to get the response. Stressful? Yes. Amazing to take part in? YES! I’m really excited for them to come back next May and do it all over again. It was the first point in my service to date in which I felt like what I was working on was directly benefiting someone else. Instant gratification goes a long way in terms of motivation.

On a different, more sobering note, last weekend I went swimming in the ocean with some friends with my phone in my pocket. And a few minutes later got knocked over by a wave and lost my glasses. It would seem that when you are in a beautiful place with beautiful weather and beautiful people, you tend to overlook the small details. Thank goodness for my second pair of glasses and the fact that the Peace Corps gives me one more phone… But this one has to last me the next 23.5 months, so wish me luck. Entonces, this week I will be making a trip back to Santo Domingo (about a 5 hour bus ride) to get my new phone and my green card. Yeah, I will actually have residency here. Score!

In case you were wondering, yes, it is still really stinkin’ hot here. All that stuff I said about getting used to the heat? Nonsense. Still sweating all day errrryday. But at least now I have a beach to be on while I’m complaining.

I miss you guys! But, in all honesty, I just remembered that I had hidden some Oreo’s in my luggage so I’m probably just going to go stuff myself with them and forget all about you.

Peace, love, and Oreo creme,
-Andrés

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Full Monte

It’s official, folks. This week I took my oath (the same oath the POTUS takes, mind you) and became a Peace Corps Volunteer. With 10 weeks of training behind me, I am so thrilled to actually begin my service. Just before we took our oaths, we sang the national anthems of the Dominican Republic and the USA and it really hit me that this is my new home. The chills our anthem gave me filled me with pride and enough self-assurance to get through these next two years. It was a very bittersweet moment… Leaving behind the world of training and our gated barrios in the capital to disperse ourselves out into the heart of the country. I have made some amazing and surely life-long friends with my fellow class of 517-13-01 and it’s always difficult to say “see you when I see you” without knowing the next time our paths will cross. And now it’s time to make an impact on my own accord… Time to really integrate and become as Dominican as possible. Although, my bachata is still not up to par!

In case you haven’t heard, I will be living in Monte Cristi which is on the far northwest corner of the country (almost to Haiti). It is a beautiful and sleepy beachside city with plenty to keep me from ever approaching boredom. It is exactly what I wanted in a site and I was just lucky enough to get placed here. There is another volunteer who lives just down the road so when I need to get away and speak English for a bit I have the opportunity. I’ll be working with an Eco-tourism group working to increase the quantity and quality of tourism projects and sites in the area. Specifically, I will be working with two hotels, a restaurant and a boat tour company. So WHEN you all visit me I will definitely be able to hook you up. My host family here has been great so far. I have four (count ’em, four!) siblings and they have already taught me some very useful “Dominicanisms.” I am also blessed because not only did I get a site on the coast, but my house has running water and 24/7 electricity… A rare luxury in a life of a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer). The only downside are the omnipresent swarms of mosquitos that seem to like me way more than everyone else. Thank God for mosquito nets or I wouldn’t be sleeping much.

It’s a very surreal feeling being back at my site knowing that there’s no more training, no more info sessions on how to be effective, no more weekly check-ins about how you’re coping. I hope I paid close attention the last 10 weeks because now it’s just me, my notebook, and my mosquito net against the world. Here goes nothing!

If all else fails, I did eat tacos with the US Ambassador yesterday… So I’m pretty sure we’re best friends now. And it’s all about who you know, right?

Until next time, friends. Oh, and would someone see if Jimmy John’s delivers to here? Thanks.

-Andrés

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