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.