Merry Gringomas

Here we are again… Christmas time. The lights, the candy, the music, the mosquitos, the sunny days, wait, what?

In honor of the holidays, I’m going to give you a breakdown of how daily life was different back in the States compared to my new normal:

Electricity

Ohio: 24/7. Except for small outages from storms, electricity was regular.

Montecristi: The electricity here is called “la luz” and the luz goes out everyday. In my neighborhood, we generally have luz all morning until around noon or 1pm at which point it goes out until 6. While this generally means going the hottest part of the day without a fan, I’m lucky enough to live in a building with a generator that provides me with 24/7 luz. I know, I know… I get enough grief from the other PCVs already for it.

Average PCV situation: Each community has an unique luz schedule. It can also vary depending on the day of the week. Most volunteers do not have generators and go most nights without power.

Water

Ohio: Even more regular than the electricity. Plus hot showers! You can make ice cubes with it, you can cook with it, you can even drink it straight from the tap!

Montecristi: We have water most days of the week. There is a tank on my roof that holds extra water for the times when there isn’t any coming out of the tap. However, this water is strictly for bathing, washing clothes, and cleaning dishes. More often than not, I make use of the PC-issued water filter to process this water for drinking. I do have a shower in the bathroom, but all bathing is done with cold water.

PCV: Some volunteers have running water, some do not. In the communities without, they use river water and rain water for everything short of drinking. This means bucket bathing and storing all the water outside in big tanks to use as you need. For drinking, you can purchase a 5 gallon jug for less than 30 pesos.

Bathroom

Ohio: Clean bathrooms everywhere. Public and private. Ample and soft toilet paper.

Montecristi: There are some clean bathrooms at a few restaurants. No more than 4. I have a toilet inside the house with a magazine rack and a sink.

PCV: I would say more than half of volunteers have a toilet inside their homes. A few have bathrooms that are just separate from the house, and some have latrines. Obviously, in the communities without running water, latrines are the norm.

Laundry

Ohio: Washer and dryer. Dry cleaning if necessary. Sometimes the instructions say to hand wash, but nobody ever does that anyway.

Montecristi: I have a two sink set-up in the patio behind my house. That’s where I wash all my clothes by hand, once a week. Saturday is always laundry day. I hang them up on the clothesline in the sun and wait for them to dry.

PCV: Several PCVs have people wash their clothes for them. Whether it is their former host mom, or a nice lady across the street, many volunteers opt to pay someone of confidence to do their laundry for them. This is very common for male volunteers since most of the doñas don’t believe that we know how to do it. Female PCVs do it too, but usually not as frequently. Others have their own washing machine that they use at their houses or they borrow one for the afternoon. Dominican washing machines are small and portable and you just plug it into the wall and go. Nobody in the DR has a dryer. Maybe even the president himself air dries his boxer shorts.

Food

Ohio: Typical Midwestern diet. You have your choice of supermarket, farmer’s markets, the whole gambit restaurants, and fast food chains.

Montecristi: Dominican food always and forever. I sometimes eat with my host family but mostly I cook my own food. While I actually enjoy the food here when someone else is cooking it, I have never once made myself rice and beans. I eat a good variety of root veggies (potato, yuca, batata) and lots of plantains. No wonder I’m always constipated. These goodies are called víveres and they are commonly served with eggs, salami, fried cheese, onions, or some combination of the like. Dominicans traditionally eat a big lunch and a small dinner. A lunch is always meat, rice and beans, and a green salad. Always. The type of meat and the preparations are constantly different, but the basic components never change. Dinner is usually very casual and in my host family’s house it was either víveres or bread and a smoothie and TV time.

I have a little four burner gas stove that I use to cook my creations. There is an oven, but it doesn’t work. I found that out after trying to turn it on one night after already having mixed up brownie batter.

I have a choice of two grocery stores in the city and their are various colmados around where I can purchase small items.

PCV: You’d be hard-pressed to find a volunteer who actually cooks rice and beans in their house. We get plenty of that. Most PCVs end up cooking their own food on stoves or eating with their former host family. Some families without gas stoves use wood or charcoal fires to cook their food.

Few PCVs have grocery stores in their communities. Most have to take public transit (or hitch a ride) out of their sites and ride anywhere from ten minutes to two hours to get to the closest grocery store.

Transportation

Ohio: I had my own car, just like most other people my age. Walking was purely for exercise.

Montecristi: Walking is pure necessity. I walk everywhere. Since my house is on the top of a hill, some days when I’m feeling particularly sweaty I’ll take a moto taxi the rest of the way up. But only when I have my helmet, of course. Nobody else walks. Most Dominicans use a motorcycle or a scooter for transportation in the city and they think I’m the weirdest kid ever for not owning one.

PCV: Everybody walks. The ironic thing is that most people we interact with have the misconception that all Americans like to walk everywhere all the time. I let them think that. Transportation between parts if the country is effective, if not chaotic. There are several different sizes if public buses around, and there is always room for one more person. Always. I once rode in a 13 passenger van with 27 people in it. Including the two babies who were ostentatiously breast feeding the entire time. In the more urban areas, there are regular taxis and public cars. Public cars follow a specific route and can carry 6 passengers (four in back and two sharing the front seat).

And now ya know. I never thought I would miss the cold… And I was right. Winter in the DR has treated me well this far. The only things missing are my family and the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story.

Happy Holidays everyone! ¡Y un próspero año 2014!
-Andrés

Peralvi-Bro

I’ve officially spent as much time here in Peralvillo than I spent in Santo Domingo, and yet the time has gone by twice as fast. It seems a bit counter-intuitive that in such a tranquil, relaxed town that time can somehow speed up, but time flies when you’re… You get it.

My new host family is AMAZING! My Doña runs a cafeteria out of the house and so I am consistently getting force-fed some of the best food available in town (lucky me!). Across the street from is a big colmado, or corner store, with tons of tables to play dominos and a never-ending stream of bachata flowing from their huuuge speakers. So naturally, I have no option but to play (and lose) dominos and dance with the neighbors every night. This place has me feeling more and more Dominican… Even if I am still the only gringo in the neighborhood. Peralvillo is a tremendously beautiful town in the interior of the country and the economy here is based almost exclusively on cacao. Yes, that cacao. The one chocolate comes from. Never have I ever had such rich, natural, flavorful chocolate! The fruit itself is also quite tasty, and they use it to make cacao wine… Also delish. And strong. It’s almost as if they decided to make our training site based on a list of my favorite things. So before you get carried away, we really do have work to do here. Between our technical sessions, Spanish classes (and projects), community diagnostics, and business interviews, we have been quite busy. A few of us are enjoying ourselves here so much that we are taking our business training and turning it into an excuse to open a business of our very own after our service. Good thing we still have 25.5 more months to brainstorm!

We find out our permanent sites and our projects in 17 days, not that I’m counting or anything. The suspense can be kind of overwhelming, but we have had several meetings with our CED director to figure out our skills, projects of interest, and general desires for service so I’m confident that I will get placed in a site where I will be successful (and hopefully beachside). In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter where I’m located because I haven’t stopped sweating in 6 weeks. They say that you get accustomed to the Caribbean heat and humidity, and I sure hope so. It doesn’t matter that you’re wearing business casual clothes if they’re drenched anyway, right?

This week I got my first package from the states (thanks Mom!!!!). Some clothes, shoes, candy, but most importantly, hand sanitizer! I never knew I could be so dirty all the time and that shit is like absolute gold here among us volunteers.

As frustrating as it can be sometimes to be constantly so busy (and don’t forget sweaty), all I have to do is look outside my window at the palm, mango, cacao, and banana trees swaying gently in the island breeze to remind myself of how truly blessed I am to have a chance to take part in this adventure. Speaking of trees… Gotta go get some firewood for our bonfire down at the river tonight!

I can’t wait for some visitors! (Hint, hint)

Until the next time, everyone. Besos y abrazos,

-Andrés

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Si Dios Quiere

It’s the tagline of every Doña and otherwise God-fearing person in the DR: Si Dios Quiere. Literally translated it means “if God is willing,” but it’s also a handy way to get out of doing things you would rather avoid… “Sure I’ll take your dogs for a walk, si Dios quiere.” The people here are so independent of time, that they even use the phrase when setting a time and place to meet up. While the tardiness can get old, I highly doubt this phrase ever will. It’s an elegant way of saying you might not come good on what you promised while still not claiming any culpability.

While the honeymoon phase may be past, I still find myself in awe at the beauty of this country and the people who have come to serve alongside me. It’s an amazing feeling being surrounded my so many like-minded individuals… It’s like having someone pre-select 32 best friends for you. The only caveat is that this is the last week of training here in Santo Domingo. Beginning next week, we will be separated into our sectors: Community Economic Development and Education. My group (CED) will be heading to a smaller town called Peralvillo where we will be focusing on the specific skills and training we will need to be effective volunteers. From what I gather, this community-based training will be much more intense and detailed than what we have experienced thus far. It is 5 weeks of presentations, hands-on projects and lectures. At any rate, I’m thrilled to see a new part of the country and meet my second (of three) Dominican host families. It will be a great test of how we are progressing, and we may even still have Internet and running water… si Dios quiere.

This last week has been quite a challenge. They tell you in training that the word diarrhea makes you giggle until it actually happens. Welp, it happened. Often. Some contaminated Chinese food that was catered in to our training site affected several of us. The worst seems to be over, but what made it really interesting was that this weekend, I had to travel waaayyy up in the mountains to visit a volunteer site to get an idea of the different types of projects CED volunteers are involved with. With my antibiotics and oral rehydration salts in tow, I managed to make a successful trip. I’m sure this will not be the last illness I will have while in the Peace Corps, but I will definitely remember it as my first.

Tomorrow is my first written exam and Spanish evaluation… So perhaps I should go crack open the books. Plus I just really want to go try and catch one of the many lizards who keep darting past me on the porch.

I love you all and miss you like crazy, but I wouldn’t change places with anybody in the world right now. I will try and give you one last update before I head up to Peralvillo… si Dios quiere.

Paz y amor,
-Andrés

Spit, Spit… Think about it, Spit

Well here I am… In the country I have waited for months and months to experience. They say that the DR is the third loudest country in the world, and I surely believe it. If people aren’t singing at the top of their lungs, they are shouting for their neighbors to come join them in a game of dominos or to have a little coffee and chat. If they aren’t blasting their bachata or reggaeton, the rooster songs take their place.

The very first thing we learned was how to safely drink the water… Which was basically not to at all. Even when brushing our teeth, we were instructed to spit twice and then come back to the sink later on to spit again just to be sure. So far so good! As long as I fill up my water bottles at the training center during the day, no pasará nada.

I have only spent 4 days here, but I already feel completely at home. Within minutes of meeting my host Doña, I was her son. She took me by the arm and proceeding to introduce me to all of the neighbors that would listen. Then, she asked me if I knew why she would do such a thing. She said that now if anyone gave me any trouble, they knew exactly who they would have to deal with as a result! I will never forget when she asked me which foods I prefer. I told her that I will eat anything that she prepares me and she began to chant and sing and dance wildly, saying “Andrés come de todo!!!!!” Evidently, all of the previous volunteers she has had in her house have been vegetarians… Something Dominicans do not understand well. But I promise you that the food here is FANTASTIC! I have tried yuca, plátanos hervidos, mangú, cacao, and so many new delicious foods that my taste buds are dancing with excitement. On top of all that, they have the absolute best fresh orange juice I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Maybe I will gain weight here after all.

I’m currently living a short 15 minute walk from the Peace Corps training center in the Pantoja neighborhood of Santo Domingo. Perhaps the most difficult thing I have had to deal with so far is simply hanging my mosquito net… Some instructions would have helped! Although everyone keeps remarking at how white I am, I’m confident that once I get a tan and learn to dance, I will fit right in. These are some of the nicest, warmest people I have ever encountered and I cannot wait to see where this adventure takes me next!

Until we speak again,

¡Nos vemos!

–Andrés

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