Friday, November 27, 2009

Ten

I'm writing this by candlelight. Just like dead people used to do. This may confuse you because the internet can't run on candlelight. But I'm writing this in a notebook. Then in the future (right now) I will pass it to the internet using the fancy technology one finds when he descends from his backwards mountain village.
So I struck up a conversation with a deaf/mute guy on the guagua (public transport) the other day. My spanish is OK now, my sign language is limited to spelling my name, but somehow I'm pretty good at communicating with deaf spanish speakers (not actually a spanish “speaker.”) But anyway Alejandro the mudo lives in Pedro Garcia with his two sons. The smaller one is also mute. Dad is alive. Mom is dead. Six brothers. Three sisters. Afraid to fly in airplanes. Then he gave me his phone number which isn't that weird here normally but he's deaf. It took about a minute of silence for the irony of this transaction to dawn on me so when I started laughing I just looked like a crazy person laughing to himself. Later that day I was propositioned by two hookers in Puerto Plata. I told them “No” in English, Spanish, and sign language all at the same time.
The family that I eat my meals with has a kitten. It's very small and it licks my toes when I'm eating. I'm not sure if my feet taste good or it's just trying to clean them for me. If you're thinking that it sounds nice, it's not really. Cat's have dry tongues. And foot fetishes are weird. So I end doing a little dance under the table with my legs while I eat to avoid the cat. Kind of like one of those russian dancers who kicks his legs out while in a seated position but his upper body doesnt move. Except I cheat and use a seat. And I don't flail my arms out because I'm eating.
I just finished a 500 page book about modern philosophy but I don't feel any smarter. Philosophy seems dumber though.
Did you know that 17% of professional baseball players in the United States are Dominican (includes the minors) but 39% of professional baseball players who test positive for steroids are Dominican. (I would site my source but I don't feel like it. Anyway you can't accuse of me of plagarism because I'm in a different country where it's probably OK.) Some of them don't even know it because they're managers just shoot them up with lots of crap and say it's B vitamins. I think the root of the problem is the lack of potable water in this country. That's not true at all but I just realized I was talking about something that doesn't directly involve me and I got bored. One of my volunteer friends is working with youth baseball players here along with a Domincan Red Sox pitcher who comes here during his off season but whose name I don't remember. Anyway I practically am almost friends with famous baseball players.
I finished the surveying of my pipeline. It is very long and very steep which has resulted in a budget that is very expensive. I met with a representative from the local government who didn't promise me any money but promised to help me find some money. That was friday and I still hadn't heard from him by Tuesday so I went to his office to ask him what was up and he was not very happy to see me. He told me he would arrange something for when I get back in a couple days. I'm not going to keep my fingers crossed. He doesn't seem very fond of me. You'd think he would be since it's aid workers like me that relieve him of the responsibilty of developing his own country. But I shouldn't start bad talking too much in case he actually comes through and I have to eat my words.
Well I'm in the capital for a couple days for thanksgiving. We're having a big gringo get together with turkey and fun and games. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, especially Cameron's grandparents, the Schlarbs. This thanksgiving I am thankful that I was not sent to a muslim country where alcohol is prohibited. Check ya later.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nine

I did it. I'm a real live Peace Corps volunteer. We swore in last week, had a little fiesta, and shipped out to our sites, never to be seen again. Until Thanksgiving. Plus there are volunteers that live near me. And I have cell phone service. So it's not THAT extreme but I am living without running water, electricity, internet and English.
My site is very pretty. I'm still not quite used to the idea of walking out of my house and seeing mountains and the ocean but I like it. And I'll be taking it for granted soon enough. It's very quiet here. There are no colmados blaring loud bachata music, ruining the tranquility of the campo, like there was in training. I sound like a cranky old man when I say that. But let's face it. I'm 24 years old and I;m not getting any younger. It's time for me to grow up and start dissapproving of the things I used to do in my youth. Like drinking. I tested the waters on that subject by saying that I drink A beer with freinds on special occasions. They just stared at me so I decided to leave it at that.
I think it's because they're so religious. They trapped me in one of their religious get togethers yesterday. It's the kind where they are so thankful to God that they start mumbling all at once and then they work themselves up into a fervor and they're all yelling "Gracias a Dios!" and then they climax and start to calm down and mumble some more. Then the men pass out and the women try to cuddle with them. All but that last sentence is true. It scared me a little bit. Does religious tolerance mean that I can't make fun of people's religion like that? I think that's religious sensitivity which I'm not obligated to practice as far as I know. Immediately after the service ended they all walked outside and gave numbers to some guy for the local lottery. So much for waiting 30 minutes after church before gambling. They're all going to get spiritual cramps.
Afterwards I started making a community map to get a better idea of where all the houses are located and how many people this water system is going to serve exactly. As such I had to stop in each house and try to make awkward conversation. Luckily they're all extremely nice. And they all offered me coffee and I didn't want to decline so I drank way too much coffee and now I'm wired and writing this and pausing to do push-ups every couple minutes. I probably won't sleep tonight.
Besides coffee they also give me way too many oranges because they all have lots of orange trees. I eat oranges all day and drink orange juice with every meal. It was awesome for the first two days but now I have to make excuses for why I don't want oranges. I really like oranges. There's no reason I should have to be afraid of them. Can you get Vitamin C poisining?
I've been doing a lot of machete practice recently. I wear it in a leather sheeth attached to my belt with my pants tucked into my rubber rain boots. Just like a Dominican. I even participated in some authentic Dominican deforestation the other day to clear way for my garden. I was really excited but full of guilt. Tomorrow I'm going to collect cow poop from my neighbors' pastures to improve my soil. I think it will be a good conversation starter. "Howdy Neighbor. Just here for some cow shit. Coffee and oranges!? Sure!"
As far as the aqueduct is concerned...first of all I know that aqueduct is not the correct term but here that's what they call it so I'm just going to continue saying it. You know what it means. As I said I started visiting all of the houses in the neighborhood to get a count of how many people are living in the two communities. I'm making a rough map at the same time so that I have an idea of where the pipes will go from the water source. Monday we are going to go search for a second source because I did the calculations and the first source that we found isn't going to provide enough water for both communities. So I'm going to find a second source and take water from both and run it to a single storage tank. After the visits are finished and I have two good sources I am going to begin surveying the route that the pipeline will take so I can start designing my system. We are trying to get this done early so that we can develop a rough budget to request some funding from the local government. They have to have it by December to add it to their budget for next year so we are pretty rushed. But if it works out it will be nice to have some of our funding already and to make the local government take at least some responsibility for the development of their province. If I am able to do all that by Thanksgiving then I have all of December and January to do whatever I want since I can't start construction in the first three months. I guess I would spend those months working on my design, looking for further funding, and pursuing other small side projects.

One of these side projects will be teaching english classes which you know is pretty absurd if you have witnessed my public speaking abilities. But we are fairly close to the beach and a lot of the youth here want to learn English so they can work in tourism. So I'm going to start in a couple weeks and see how it goes. Speaking of which I'm retyping this in an intenet center near the beach. So I'm going to leave here and go to the beach. Suckers...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eight

Two posts for the price of one! I wrote the post below a week ago but I never posted it. So read it a week ago. And read this one today. Today is Sunday. A good reading day.

I got back from my site visit yesterday. The site is pretty spectacular even though it's not on Pico Duarte. I'm way up high in a mountain in the north but I'm pretty close to the beach in Puerto Plata so I have huge panoramic view of the ocean and the city below me. Cars and motorcycles can't make it up that high, or at least I've yet to see one up there, so it will be interesting carrying all of the aqueduct materials up on mules. I've got my own little casita next to the family of my water committee president. I would tell you that the the casita has dirt floors but it's against Peace Crops policy for volunteers to have dirt floors so I don't have dirt floors.(wink) We had a community meeting while I was there and I gave a less than impressive speech. Those of you who know me well know that I'm the worst speech giver in the East. Well I'm even worse in the Carribean. They speak spanish here. FYI. But anyway we got our water committee formed and things are underway so I'm excited.

I don't know how much people actually care about the actual work I'm doing here so I'm going to write about it in it's own paragraph in italics so you can skip it if you want. So a provisional water committee has been formed. This is basically a group consisting of a President, Treasurer, Secretary, and two people called Vocales who do very little as far as I can tell. My presidenta is a Woman named Maxima. She's awesome and is super gung-ho about the project and also wants to do some health promotion stuff so I think I'm going to do a gardening/nutrition program with the women there. So in the next three months I will go around to each family in my community (actually two different communities, 68 houses in all) and interview them about health, water, sanitation, etc. I will also determine my water source(s) and make sure it has sufficient flow. And then I will start my topographical survey to make sure that there will be significant pressure in the pipes for water to arrive at each house. As soon as that is all complete I can begin designing my system. It is going to be challenging because the communites are really spread out so I'm not sure where to run a main line yet but as I get to know the community better this will become more evident.

My house brother is really into cock-fighting. He has a cock that he's training right now that lives next to me and wakes me up at 5 am. I think I might fight it. He plucks all the feathers off of the cock's legs and back because he says it makes them look better or fight better or something. I think it looks ridiculous. Then he chews tobacco and spits it under the cocks wings. I haven't figured out what this does yet. His name is YuÑo. The guy not the cock. The Ñ is actually lower-case but I can't figure out how to do that one. But if I just wrote Yuno it would probably completely change your opinion of him so I'm going to stick with YuÑo. YuÑo is 25. He and his father have land where they plant corn and lots of fruit trees so I have fresh fruit juice with every meal. And avocado. I'm not sure I've gone a day in this country without eating avocado. But it's ok because Nurse Jo says avocados are healthy fat so we can eat as much as we want. But Nurse Jo is Canadian. Like Mike Myers and Pamela Anderson.

The first night I was there YuÑo handed me a bowl with ten oranges in it and a knife but didn't say anything. So I stared at the oranges for a bit and then I asked what he wanted me to do with them. He just looked at me like I was an idiot and took the bowl away. Then he started peeling them and halving them and handing them to me. So I said, “Should I eat them?” and he looked at me again like I was an idiot. So I ate three of them. I was pretty sure he didn't expect me to eat 10 oranges because that's a lot. So I stopped at three. Then he made juice with the rest of them. I still don't know if I was supposed to eat the three oranges but I think it was a test and I think I failed miserably.

But things got better the next day. We were building a little caseta behind my casita for me to take bucket showers in. I proved to him that I know how to nail stuff so he lets me nail stuff now. He still doesn't trust me with the machete. Somebody who can't peel oranges obviously can't cut down trees with a machete. Also he tells me not to go into the forest because I'll get dirty. I just go anyway. So I think during thefirst few weeks at my site I'll have to prove to my host family that I am not completely imcompetent. They let me go to the bathroom by myself so I think I've made a good start.

I'm back in the capital for a week now wrapping things up. Wednesday we have our swearing in ceremony where we officially become volunteers. It sounds like a bunch of pomp and circumstance for nothing but I've been told recently that I'm too cynical so maybe it's nice. Then thursday we're going to get down and party. One last dose of gringo before we head out to our site for good.

Do something out of the ordinary this week. But not cock-fighting.

Seven

And I'm back. In the capital. It's hot and stupid here. But its great to see everybody again after five weeks of sector segregation. We went to the Car Wash Saturday night to celebrate our return, with Presidente and dancing. Great fun.

Training wound up very well. We taught the Donas how to cook pizza on stones, over a fire. It was a pizza marathon. Eleven pizzas in all. It was a great success. Until the next day when my Dona made me dinner with the leftover cheese that had been sitting out since the night before. That made me vomit four times. But nobody said bringing pizza to the Dominican Republic was going to be an easy job. Pizza Corps.

Oh and we also did some work on their water system while we were there. But that didn't make me vomit so it was much less rewarding.

One day we hiked for 6 hours to get to another town that was slightly less interesting than the one we were living in. Then we hiked back. But the in between parts were really beautiful. Every couple hours it was like we were in a different country because the landscape is so diverse. And we passed the town where the guy was murdered.

Oh yeah, a guy was murdered near us. He got shot. Apparently he was suspected of a different murder but he got let off, but the family of the dead guy still thought he did it so they came and shot him. They brought the body down through our town because you couldn't reach that town by car. It was wrapped in a sheet but the foot was sticking out. I didn't see it but Justin saw the foot and he confirmed that the foot was in fact dead. As for the rest of the body we'll just have to assume that it was dead by association.

We had a going away party with the community on our last night. They got some traditional drums called palos that they banged (banged? it's definitely not bung. but banged sounds funny) on and people chanted. It was cool. And the thing about the campo is that when people hear about a party, word spreads at the speed of sound. It would spread at the speed of light but they don't have the internet. So pretty soon the small community of thirty houses was swarmed by motorcycles and trucks and horses and it turned into a really big party. I don't think most of the people there knew how it started or even realized that there were six gringos there but it was fun nonetheless.

And now we're back in Santo Domingo again. Tomorrow we're getting cellular telephones. Have you heard about these things? Really impressive. So now you will be able to reach me by phone. If I give you the number. And tuesday we're going to visit our new sites for five days. My site got changed at the last minute so I am no longer going to be in a beautiful mountain town near Pico Duarte. I'll tell you about the new one when I get there. It's still on a mountain I think.

I've also developed ridiculous dreams of bringing soccer to the mountains of the Dominican Republic. It doesn't make any sense culturally or geologically. But culture and geology are just imaginary barriers engrained in our minds as young, impressionable children. We need to do away with the cultural stereotype that soccer balls don't roll up steep inclines.

I posted some new pictures from Training in Mancebo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/42992225@N06/

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Six

Okay. So I realized that my character development has been lacking. I think I should introduce you to the major characters in my story thus far. We are six water volunteers in total. I´ll describe them briefly and assume that they´re ok with it. Plus they´re probabaly fed up enough with me from the 12 hours we spend together everyday so I don´t think they´ll read this. So we have, in no specific order: Gabriel (Grabiel), lived in Ghana, Egypt, Nicaragua as a youngin, hydraulic engineer, pretty much a poster child for the Peace Corps Water volunteer. Jennifer, history-poli sci major, enjoys sharing her feelings and hugging people. Ryan(Bryan), appears to be your average environmental engineer just out of college but then he plays the guitar and dances like a latino. Justin (Yotin), civil engineer but you wouldn´t know it, likes the guitar, beach, beer, babes, San Diego, etc. Amy(Emily), small in stature but the strong, outdoorsy type . Me (Donkey). OK now I can use their names and you´ll kind of know who I´m talking about.

So first off the big news. I got my site assignment. I´ll be spending the next two years of my life up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Well not really, but kind of. My site is equidistance between Pico Duarte (highest point in the country) and Jarabacoa. The closest town you might find on a map is called Manabao. It is supposed to be incredibly beautiful there so I´m pretty excited. The only drawback is that all of the other water volunteers are going to be living up north near the beach. But I´ll get to visit them and go to the beach and it´ll be lots of fun and stuff.

We decided as a group to see how long we could go without speaking english. It´s kind of like fasting except you´re allowed to eat but only food that you don´t know how to cook that well. So you´re still getting the food you need but it doesn´t taste so good. Maybe that metaphor sucks. Well anyway it kind of turned into more of a Ramadan fast because we´re pretty good about speaking only spanish during the day but if it´s just us americans hanging out at night English starts to find its way into the conversation. But Ramadan is cool too. And my spanish is improving maybe.

Thursday was Amy´s birthday. We cooked pancakes and went to the colmado and drank Presidente and danced. Amy danced the entire night because there were three women and 40 men there. Except she likes the guy who wears the blue shirt who is named blue shirt guy, I think. Last night they may or may not have kissed. I´m not sure if that´s a ridiculous invasion of privacy to share that with a bunch of people but you don´t know her so it doesn´t matter really. When you spend all your time with the same people you just start to talk about their lives as if they were your own.

Other than that it´s just been a lot of building stuff. We built a springbox last week and started on a water sedimentation tank. We´re going to finish that up this week and start on the aqueduct river crossing. I´m learning a lot and hurting my back carrying cement and gravel. My two year old host sister continues to yell at me while I eat. Some poeple reading this have told me that I am being too mean to the children. But I really like all the other children in the town. I just happen to have gotten stuck with the most obnoxious ones.

OK happy autumn. I hope you are all psychologicaly well and practicing good hygiene. Until next time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Five

Halfway through tech training. Sad news. Our trainer Ryan got really sick and had to head back to the United States. We´re not sure exactly what is wrong with him yet but we´re hoping the best for him.

Happy news. We built a latrine last week. One more family will now be able to poop in privacy. This week we´re going to build a springbox for the aqueduct that they already have in the town. Then I think we´re going to build a ferrocement sedimentation tank. Exciting stuff.

We have a meeting this afternoon to try to establish a Water Committee in the town. We´ve prepared some ridiculous skits to illustrate the importance of water governance. I´m not sure how a bunch of gringos making asses of themselves helps make a water committee but I´m all for it.

Otherwise not much has changed in Mancebo. Last Saturday we drank some rum at the colmado and started dancing and the whole town showed up to watch us. I sometimes feel like a zoo animal here. A dancing zoo animal. But eventually they started dancing too and it was great fun. Everybody was talking about it the next day.

We decided to get out this weekend and so we´re here in Ocoa using the internet and stuff. Yesterday we went on a sweet hike to the top of the loma. We could see the ocean from there. On the way back we stopped by some giant waterfalls to bathe ourselves. We did a photo shoot there. Then we hiked the rest of the way in our boxers and hiking boots. It was pretty funny, I think.

The two year old who yells too much in my house decided that she likes my name so she stands next to me at every meal and yells it at me until I run away. I try to answer her but she doesn´t want to have a conversation with me. She just yells my name for 15 minutes straight. It´s absurd. One time I threw a balloon at her face.

I´m trying to load photos but the internet is too slow here so I think you´ll be left photoless once again. Just know that where I am is more beautiful than where you are and that I have gotten much more attractive. That´s what I wanted to show with my pictures.

Ummmm....huh. I don´t have a whole lot write about this week. I´m sorry this post is so uninspired. I´ll try to stir something up so I can write a more interesting post next time.

Here´s a link to a few photos my friend put up:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/42992225@N06/

The first two are of the place in town where there´s a waterfall and we rock climb and stuff. The next two are from our hike yesterday.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Four

Hello. I found the internet! It was right here all along. I´m in the nearest city to my training site right now for a day of R&R. Unfortunately there is no rest for me because I have so many people counting on me to update my blog.

I´ve been in Mancebo for 1.5 weeks now. It´s a tiny community at the end of the world with a population that changes every time you ask somebody. I´m going to go with 250 people. That might be way off though. There is no electricty or cell phone reception or McDonalds. An organization came in and put solar panels on all the houses about 10 years ago but all of the batteries have died and almost nobody replaced them. I guess they didn´t really like electricity that much. But there are two colmados (bar/liquor store) in the town that have generators so they can blare bachata music. Even the most quiet, peaceful spots in the country play their music way to loud.

One thing that is pretty wierd is that a lot of 14 year old girls get married to 30 year old men here. I know I´m supposed to be undertanding of their culture but that´s a little disturbing for me.

There is a sweet river at the end of town that has carved deep valleys into the rock. We go there a lot and rock climb and fall into the river. There are also waterfalls to jump off of. It´s very cool. We go every day that it doesn´t rain which is about half the time we´ve been there. We´re usually followed by twenty little kids, until the deep part because most of them can´t swim. That´s the only place you can get away from the kids in town. Also bathing in the river is way better than bathing in the latrine. Something about cleaning myself next to a smelly shit pit doesn´t seem right to me. I think its the shit part.

I think my Dona is trying to kill me via carbohydrate poisoning. She feeds me enough for 3 people. Every time I eat I sit sit around, comatose, for an hour until I´m sure that I can move my body without exploding.

There are three kids in the house. A 10 year old niece, an 8 year old boy, and a twoish year old girl. The 8 year old is really obnoxious but I think we´re starting to work somethig out. Whenever he is really bothering me I just say mean things to him in english. I´m not sure if that´s immature or not. Then I just tell him to go away in Spanish and he usually does. Then he comes back 20 minutes later. The two year old is really cute but she has trouble controlling the volume of her voice. Usually, in spanish speaking countries, my name is pronounced Dooncon but for some reason in this town they call me Donkey. I´m not sure how that happened or if I should be insulted.

For now I will go go eat lunch and then jump in the back of a pick up truck. It takes about 1.5 hours to get back to Mancebo and most of the way is unpaved. It´s really uncomfortable and I think it´s causing me brain damage.

Pictures will come soon. Or at least I will keep saying that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three

Tomorrow is the last day in Santo Domingo. Thursday we ship off to the mountains for technical training where we'll learn how to build all the stuff we'll need for the aqueduct and how to set up local water governance. The place we're going is called San Jose de Ocoa and I've been told it's one of the most beatiful places in the interior of the country. So that's promising. Especially since the group I'm going with is mostly male engineers. I'm going to need something pretty to look at.

Over the weekend I went on a three day visit to a water/sanitation volunteer who has been here for a year now. I got to see how he lives and what his work is like. He's a pretty cool guy. Kind of like the Survivorman of the Peace Corps. He has a little wooden shack in the mountains in a community of about 250. He has dirt floors, no electricity, no water, and the nearest town is a 30 minute walk. He builds stuff out of wood and bark and stuff that he chops down in the woods. And he cooks over a wood fire. I told my director that I wanted a site like that. I might regret that a year from now but for now I'm real excited. He also has a horse named Zap that he rides into town. I want a horse but with a better name. Anybody got any good horse names to suggest? Except I don't really like riding horses and it seems like more responsibility than I can handle. But besides that I think it would be fun to have one. Maybe I'll just get a cat. He also has tarantulas living in his house. I'm less excited about that. He bathes in the river with the other men and their animals. It seems less than higienic if you ask me.

I found out that my site is going to be somewhere in the north of the country, in or around the province of Puerto Plata. There are nice beaches up that way. So start planning your vacations to come visit. Everybody's welcome. Even if I don't know you. Unless you're weird or a serial killer or something.We can go surfing and drink Presidente. We don't have to stay in my shack if you don't want to.

I think my family here was trying to get me to marry the daughter of the dad from another marriage. It made for some very uncomfortable situations. Apparently “Do you want to come over and use the internet?” doesn't just mean that. Anyway my mom said I can't marry anybody who doesn't speak english. That still leaves like a billion people so it's not so bad.

I got a sweet new motorcycle helmet because some parts of the country can only be reached by motorcycle taxi. I haven't gotten to use it yet but I look pretty cool with it on.

Today the nurse told us that we will be spending approximately 2.6% of our lives in the Peace Corps based on a life expectancy of 85 years. And since I'm 24 that means I still have 69.2% of my life left to live when I get back to the states. She used it as a reason not to get AIDS while I'm here. I wasn't planning on getting AIDS anyway but it's nice to put things into perspective like that. 2.6% isn't really that much.

I have two exams tomorrow to see if I've been paying attention for the past three weeks. I haven't really, but I think it was mostly stuff about helping poor people and not getting diseases. It's probably easier than quantum physics. There's no Hilbert space in the Dominican Republic. That was a physics joke.

I'm going to put up some pictures when I have a chance. I forgot the cord for my camera so at the moment I have no way to put the pictures on my computer. Luckily my writing is very descriptive and pictures aren't really necessary.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two

Bean Smoothie Recipe: Cook beans. Put them in a blender and make them liquid. Add milk, cinnamon, and a crapload of sugar, give or take a teaspoon. This is how you make habichuelas con dulce. I made this with my family yesterday. It's actually quite tasty despite the fact that it kind of looks like what would happen if I drank the tap water here. It's pretty filling too. I drank two glasses and that was dinner.

Last week was the first full week of training. 8 – 5 everyday. My spanish is improving slowly. I think that it will continue to frustrate me until I can speak it perfectly. I wish I could just take a pill to speak spanish. They have pills for everything else.

We learned how to get around the city using public transportation. Here you either take a carro publico or a guagua depending on where and how far you are going.. The carro publico is like a taxi except that it follows a route and picks up passengers along the way. So rather than yelling at you if you try to squeeze in one extra passenger they require it; 4 in the back and 3 up front, including the driver. The guagua is a small bus that travels a specific route. There are about 25 seats but on one trip we counted as many as 54 people in the guaga. Some people were hanging out windows and doors while we drove on the highway. The rest of us were contorted in uncomfotable positions with armpits in faces and worse (the phrase “awkward boner” was shouted a few times). It's a pretty fun way to travel.

Friday night I went to the car wash with a bunch of other volunteers. But you don't just wash cars at the car wash in the Dominican Republic, which is good because none of has a car. Here the car washes also have a bar and a dance floor so if you bring your car to get washed you can drink and dance too. That way when your car is clean you're sweaty and drunk so you can drive better. It's pretty much brilliant. I think I'm going to open one up in the United States when I get back. I'm trying to learn to dance merengue but the tall, awkward, white part of me keeps getting in the way.

The Dominicans never pass me the ball when I play basketball with them. It's kind of like playing pool basketball after the first 10 minutes because I sweat so much. Although the Dominicans stay pretty dry. I think it's because they play a “zone” defense which basically means we're gonna stand up top here while you try to guard three people. I need to find a soccer field.

Sunday we took a tour of the historical district. It's actually pretty cool because Christopher Columbus hung out here a lot back when he was disovering shit. Did you know that he never even stepped foot on the North American continent? But we still have a holiday for him (Easter). After the tour we went to the see the Carribean ocean which is right there but it was depressing because the beach is literally covered in garbage. But there is a fun game there where little kids with wooden boxes and soap try to clean your shoes when you're not looking and if you don't run away fast enough you have to pay them for it. Except I was wearing sandals so I had to play Don't Step on the Syringe instead. In that one you either win or you contract AIDS (That might be an insensitive thing to say. But somehow my stating that fact makes it ok to leave it there).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One

5 days down. I can't believe it's almost over. Only 26 months and 25 days to go. Time really flies when you're sweating profusely all day, everyday.

I got to oreintation in DC on Wednesday and they tried to scare us. “Whatever you imagine could go wrong is something you should be worrying about.” I wasn't scared though because I'm not scared of anything. Except snakes and girls. Also they made me change my clothes because they didn't meet the dress code. Not so much fun really. But a good chance to get to meet all the new volunteers. There are 50 other volunteers who are going to be working in the country in all different sectors. Five others are Water and Sanitation Engineers like me.

I was told I have to be very careful what I say in my blog because I am an ambassador of the United States or something and there's probably close to a million people reading it everyday. It's really stifling my creativity. So much for my Pulitzer. So I'll have to decide what to do about that.

Anyway we arrived in Santo Domingo the next day and I started sweating. We went to a retreat which, to my dissapointment, had neither trust falls nor high ropes courses. So I don't think it officially counts as a “retreat” but I did get a rabies vaccine so it wasn't all dull. Every time you get a vaccine here they give you a lolli. That's not a joke.

So the past few days have been more orientation stuff and vaccines and lots of boring paperwork. On the plus side they did give me a pink notebook with women's shoes and purses on it. The 8 year old daughter in my host home is really jealous. No way she's getting her hands on it.

The next three weeks will be spent in the capital, mostly doing spanish classes. I had an oral exam to see what level I will start at. I talked about delivering pizza in high school and playing rugby, which she thought was a dumb sport. I guess in this culture they don't like to run around in really short shorts and drink beer out of a shoe. Talk about culture shock. What do these people do for fun?

Saturday we had a half day at training and then I spent the rest of the day hanging out with my host family. The woman I'm living with, Dona Elba, has a husband and six kids but only four that live in the house. There are two girls Lili (8), Kati (11), and two boys, Fradul(14) and an older one Frendi(?) whose age I don't know but I would guess 18ish. He's not too interested in my being there. And that's not paranoia, my Dona actually told me that. I guess I'm the 18th volunteer they've had in their home so he's probably had enough with the Gringos. Lili likes me though. She talks to me all day and I understand about half of what she says but she doesn't really seem to notice. Then I say something and she stares at me funny for a second and then laughs and starts talking about something else. You know your Spanish is good when 8 year olds laugh at you.

I gave them a pack of cards with a different US state on each card and some interesting facts about each state, such as the population and the state bird. That way they know what a fun guy I am. We played cards and gambled with mints. I kept losing but they gave me more mints because they felt sorry for me. Or I have bad breath.

There are other volunteers in my neighborhood. My host mom said I could have friends over whenever I want, which is pretty neat. We went to another neighborhood to play baseball one time. I still think baseball is a dumb sport but they all love it here so I'll just have to learn to like it.

And Sunday my family and their aunt and cousins and friends and I all piled into a pick up truck and drove to the mountains and hung out by the river. It was pretty awesome. We swam in the river and cooked pork in a big pot on top of three rocks with a fire made from sticks. Just like I learned in my sustainable engineering class! Learning is fun.

The End

Monday, August 17, 2009

What's this all about?


Disclaimer: I did a lot of science in college. But I did it in a cool way, not in a nerdy way. I was going to take a literature class once but it had too many presentations in the syllabus so I dropped it. So I'm not the most gifted writer. I don't really know anything about writing except that when you try to write in a way that isn't natural to you, you just come off sounding like an idiot. So I'm just going to write this blog the way that seems natural to me which, coincidentally, makes me come off sounding like an idiot. But a really genuine idiot which is the best kind.

I have bad news for me. I won't be staying in a resort in the Dominican Republic. Turns out there are people who live outside the walls of the resorts in the DR. And some of them don't have reasonable access to clean water or proper sanitation. I know, I didn't believe it either but I Googled it and it's true. You'll notice I use DR to say Dominican Republic. Its just a little trick I picked up. But then you probabaly got that right away because you're pretty smart people. (That's not necessarily true but it's a good way to pay everybody a compliment without having to be too specific or thoughtful about it. This part in parentheses will only show up on your screen if you are one of the smart ones.)


So here is what I will actually be doing for the next 27 months of my life. Shit, that's a long time. On Wednesday the 19th I board a train for DC where I spend one day having orientation and meeting all the other volunteers who will be entering the DR Peace Corps at the same time as me. I'm going to wear sunglasses so they all think I'm cool. If that doesn't work, I know how to juggle. The next day we will fly to the Santo Domingo, DR and have a one day “retreat.” I don't know what that means but hopefully it involves trust falls and a high ropes course for team building and comeradery.


Then training starts for three months. Traning consists of intensive language training (French, I think) and technical training. Technical training will focus on my specific job as a water and sanitation engineer. During training I will be living with a host family in Santo Domingo but I'll be traveling throughout the country for much of the time.


After I complete training I'm sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and I'm shipped off to some rural location to start my two years of actual work. The majority of my work will focus on developing some sort of water governance in the community and designing and constructing a gravity-fed aqueduct system. During and after that project I can also try to implement other water and sanitation projects like sand filters or latrine projects. That will all depend on how motivated I am. For my first three months in my new community I will live with a new host family so that I can better integrate into the community. After three months I can begin to look for a place of my own. I'm thinking seaside, 4 br, 2.5 bath, tennis court, 3 car garage; but I'll just have to wait and see whats available. But seeing as I am going to the community to build an aqueduct system I can be pretty sure I won't have running water.


These two years in the Peace Corps are also part of my Masters program in Environmental Engineering. (http://cee.eng.usf.edu/peacecorps/) While I'm there I'll be conducting research on a topic of my choice to be used for a thesis when I return to the US. I haven't chosen a specific research topic yet but I think it's going to have something to do with renewable energy use in rural areas of the Dominican Republic. Or steroid use among Dominican baseball players.


So that's a very basic overview. And with that I invite you all to join me on this wonderful journey of cultural exchange, self-discovery, and gastrointestinal problems.


“Adventure is a path. Real adventure - self-determined, self-motivated, often risky - forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind - and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” - Mark Jenkins


That quote takes itself a little too seriously maybe but you get the idea. Adventure. Learning. Humans. Etc.


See you all in the Caribbean.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Membership T-Shirts

There have been some questions about the member t-shirts that you were all promised. Unfortunately there was a mix up and now I'm stuck with 30 t-shirts that say "I got Crabs at Bill's Crab Shack." Not what I was hoping for, but it'll have to do. You'll be receiving yours in the mail shortly. You are still expected to wear them to the mandatory member meetings on the first tuesday of each month. If you're going to miss one you'll need a note from your mom.

I wonder how many pairs of socks I should pack.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hey, Look what I'm doing!

I'm going to the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. I leave Wednesday the 19th of August. I'm going to keep a blog because everybody else is doing it and peer pressure is kind of my thing. Also it's less obnoxious than a mass email because you don't have to read it if you don't want to.

So I haven't read through any of the boring pre-departure crap that they sent me but I think the basic gist of this trip is that the US government is going to put me up in a resort in the Dominican Republic with lots of spending money for two years to try to bolster the Dominican tourism industry. Or something like that. Hey, as long as they aren't sending me to live in poverty and help people with water and sanitation issues then who cares, right?

My attention span just ended. More details to follow.