Posted by: Y | January 26, 2014

Return to the DR: A One Year Update

I arrived in the DR on a Thursday afternoon, and as I made the drive from the airport to the town nearest my community, it all came rushing back. I remembered everything. Almost nothing had changed. The heavy, humid air was overwhelming as we sped along, jamming to some bachata and merengue tunes. I got to town and quickly found a motoconcho to take me to my community. We piled my bags on top and went on our way. Ahh the adrenaline of dirt roads and suped-up dirt bikes. The ride started to drag on at about 45 minutes…HOW did I not notice just how isolated I was before? Damn. I finally roll up to the center of town when the moto driver decides he can’t make it any further; the roads are far too bad from recent rain. Welcome home (What’s new?!)! I get off, and begin the remaining quarter-mile walk to my host family’s home with two big bags through 3″ of mud. A neighbor sees me and begins yelling, “Jessica! Jessica!” I run over, give her a hug, and she promptly asks, “So are you married yet?”…”NO?! Oh God!”…”Any kids?”…”No? Oh dear God!” I continue my walk, quickly avoiding a herd of cows, when a kid arrives on horse to help me with my bags. Perfect. Coming on foot, I essentially sneak up on my family. My host dad spots me and begins screaming, “It’s Jessica! It’s Jessica!” I got some of the best hugs I think I’ve ever received. Tight, all encompassing hugs, full of pure love. I grab my little Yameiris and hold on to her, as if she really was my hija. Part of my family and some of the kids had set up a welcome party decorated with pink balloons and all of my favorite things: popcorn, fried plantains, candy, soda, and beer. (These people clearly know me far too well). That first afternoon truly felt like I had come back home; it felt as though I had been gone for only a few weeks.

I spent a few more days in my community. We walked from neighbor to neighbor, spent a lot more pesos than I ever previously had at the one store, bathed in the river like old times (right next to thirsty cows, of course), and just relaxed. As great as it was to return, I did feel some conflicting emotions that I wasn’t expecting. Staying in my old home alone (that was looking rougher than I remember) was a nightly reminder of just how lonely some of my Peace Corps days really were. The constant attention and doting on by all in the community reminded me of those dreadful feelings of being the one person that was different – the one person that stuck out. And going back with different eyes – not living this life every day any more – made the poverty that much more striking. Some of this hurt, but overall it was great to be back with people that I consider a second family.

On New Years Eve I met up with three of my close friends who had served in the same Peace Corps group as me. We traveled to our favorite beach on the north coast to bring in 2014 together with our toes in the sand, sipping President, and having fireworks rain down on us (there was a slight mishap with whoever was in charge of directing the fireworks above the water…not very surprising).  We split about 8 days between two great beaches and a final night in the capital. Having money this time around for good food, drinks, and taxis (!) was a nice perk. Overall, traveling together was a much needed vacation; we relaxed on the beach, danced some bachata, and laughed more than I think any of us have in a long time. Reminiscing about our days together in the Peace Corps, and being there to confirm each other’s amazing, yet slightly painful returns to our communities was nice. Not to be overly sappy, but it was honestly all just a pleasant reminder that there is no bond like the one between Peace Corps Volunteers.

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Yameiri (she’s about to turn 6!). A leader in the making…

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My host mom, Julita, making one of my faves. :)

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Yes, this happened. And I looked absolutely beautiful.

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One of my favorite kiddos.

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Mi casita.

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Sarah, Chelsea, Merry, and I.

Posted by: Y | October 24, 2012

Despedida and Goodbyes

A week before leaving, my community threw me a despedida (going away party).  A lot of my community members, neighbors, family, and kids all gathered in the community center one Saturday afternoon.  My host mom sort of ran the show, giving a speech about everything I did in my site, how much I meant to them, and how much they would miss me.  She had all of my girls from Chicas Brillantes and youth from my Escojo group get up and say a few words. All of them said things along the lines of, “You taught us a lot, I love you and will never forget you.”  It was all very touching and going beautifully until I asked if I could say something.  I get up in front of about 60 people…start speaking of my time there and how thankful I am for their acceptance and care.  I look out at all of their faces, and suddenly burst into tears.  I hadn’t felt that coming at all, turned around to try to get myself together, see my host mom standing there, and lose it even more.  I somehow got some words out, telling them that it was going to be terribly difficult to leave and that I considered them my family now.  I would always be thinking of them and this community, and would return soon.  Although I said little, I hope the tears spoke for more and showed them just how much they really do mean…

After sitting back down, trying to get myself composed, my host mom shares another surprise.  She had written a song for me and wanted to perform it! (So much for staying composed). It was so sweet and something I will remember for a very long time.  A few others got up to speak, and then we passed out the beer, ham, cheese, and juice…turned on some music…and danced!  Later that night, when I got back up to my house, my 72 year old neighbor-uncle called me over.  He had been working on a poem for a few weeks for me, but didn’t have a chance to recite it at the party that afternoon.  Right there, in his living room, he recited for memory a (rather lengthy) poem about our time together, ending with “always remember that I love you.” :)

The rest of the week was spent packing and spending quality time with my neighbors and family.  We made a final trip to the river to bathe, went out to some surrounding areas to see families I hadn’t seen in awhile, made dulces, cooked fun dinners, and reminisced.  On Friday night, the night before I would be leaving, we threw down a few foam mattresses on the floor of my house and had a “sleepover.”  We made loads of tostones, sweet dumplings, and popcorn and watched all of our favorite telenovelas next door.  Not much sleep happened; we got up with the sun, made some mac n’ cheese for breakfast and started clearing out my house.  My neighbor-aunt was one of my first goodbyes.  She had said earlier she wanted an early goodbye, as she refused to be around when the truck came to take me away.  We hugged, cried some really hard tears, and wished each other the best.  I told her I loved her, and walked back down to my house putting on a happy face to spend some last few hours with my host family.  We laughed over the photo album I had put together for them chronicling my time there, and shared a last lunch of rice and beans.  When my truck pulled up, we lost it.  Lots of those heaving, sobbing, types of tears were shed.  I picked up all of my kiddos one bye one, held them tight, and gave them each a top-of-the-head goodbye kiss.  My host dad and uncle even had some tears in their eyes, as I hugged them, unable to get out any words of love or thanks.  I hopped in the back of the pickup with Plum and my host mom, watching my house and family disappear as we drove on.  Families were outside in their yards, waving their goodbyes to me, and as I made that final winding drive through the cane fields, I clung frantically to the views of the land, the rolling hills, and the life that I was leaving.

Although it was exceptionally hard saying those goodbyes, in a way I am thankful for that pain, as it only shows just how much this community and its people have come to mean to me.  Although I am excited for the next stage of my life and returning to the states, it is a strange feeling to be closing up my service here.  I think a piece of me will now forever be Dominican, and my heart will always be figuring out ways to get me back to this island.  This country, my work, the people – it has all become my life, and that is a really hard thing to leave behind.  I will forever be grateful for my time spent here and the opportunity that Peace Corps gave me to ride this roller-coaster of an incredible, life-changing two year adventure.

My going away party.  Group picture with some of the kids.

Going away party picture with the adults.

Love this picture from my party. :)

Playing some final tunes on my front porch with Plum before giving away my guitar.

Sleepover…Plum made herself right at home.

Sleepover, next morning.  Clearly a little tired.

Goodbye house…

Please know that I am incredibly thankful for all of the stateside support and love that I got over these two years.  I could not have done it alone.  See you all so very soon.

Posted by: Y | September 8, 2012

Clinic Update

I apologize for being so terrible at keeping up with this blog recently (although my mom is the only one complaining…).  I’ve been spending a lot of time writing for other reasons (Ahh personal statements!) and spending all of my free time with my host family and friends here.

Two weeks after the clinic was completed we had a medical mission come through.  A team of nurses, doctors, and volunteers came for a day to do general check-ups and provide any prescriptions that they could.  To say it was an exciting day is an understatement.  I waited with dozens of people for over an hour in the morning, and when the caravan of trucks arrived hundreds flooded the doors of the clinic.  I would estimate that over 300 came from my community and the surrounding areas.  The volunteers gave a charla to the kids about brushing their teeth and handed out new toothbrushes and toothpaste. The doctors took blood pressures, listened to concerns, and handed out whatever prescriptions they could.  It was complete chaos, but at the same time a pretty beautiful thing. Hopefully more missions will come through or we will get a more permanent doctor or nurse soon.

My time here is quickly winding down, which brings some mixed feelings.  I’ve been spending as much time possible with my host family – some last minute cooking classes with my host mom, staying up late watching novelas, walking the kids to school, and river trips.  It’s really not going to be easy to leave all of this…

Waiting for the doctors to arrive.

They arrived!

Everyone was literally trying to push through the door.

Doctora!

Leaving the clinic.

My host mom insisted on getting an action shot of me cooking lunch.  Get ready for some rice and beans people!

Posted by: Y | September 8, 2012

A Few Garden Pictures

Getting some fencing…

Carrot marker.

Everyone chose different fencing materials; it was fun building something different with every garden.

Home in 2 months.  Will work for food/housing/health insurance/lift tickets/ I essentially need everything.

By far, the best picture I got during the whole project.  She was a beast.

Posted by: Y | July 22, 2012

Exciting Updates!

I have lots of updates for you all.  First of all, school finished up for the summer, and thus I’ve found myself with a lot more free time.  I gave my final to my 7th graders…it went as expected (terribly).  Trying to get 18 year olds that are still stuck in 7th grade to pay attention to a 25 year old girl talk about sex (in a weird accent) wasn’t the easiest…one would think this would make for a great time, I guess not.  Anyways, I recognized and rewarded those who did well, and called it a day.  At this point the only teaching I’m really doing is with my Chicas Brillantes group…which doesn’t necessarily always feel like teaching, since they actually want to be there and participate.

With respect to my Chicas, we have purchased all of the materials to put in the electricity in the community center and have rounded up a team to help us.  However, like always, it’s been difficult to get this “team” to work for the community (because we don’t have any more pesos to spare to pay labor).  My host dad and neighbor put in the light pole (tree trunk) this past weekend, so we are finally getting started.  Just about every other day, the “electrician” tells me he’s going to do the wiring.  I know it will eventually get done, but I’m just not holding my breath.  But know that when it is done – we are having one big Chicas Brillantes party in the center with loud music and a fan!  And we may even invite the boys (we haven’t decided).

In other exciting news, I have started my garden project por fin.  This project has been put off for around 6 months now.  First, the week I bought some of the materials and had all intentions of starting, one of the tubes to our water tap broke; we were without water for 4 months, and by the time it was fixed rainy season had gone and past and the dry days were upon us.  Now that rainy season is just around the corner, we’re up and running.  I held two required meetings, taught these folks some basics about nutrition, and went over the details of the project.  I had 11 sign up – 2 women, and 9 men.  I am helping with the women’s gardens because I am close with both of them, and one of them lives alone.  The 9 men are breaking their own damn ground.  After 2 days with a pick-ax, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do eleven gardens…in the next 3 months.  Sorry guys.  Anyways, it’s been fun thus far.  I secretly was hoping that this hard labor would turn me into the most tanned, ripped version of myself I had ever seen…but every house I go to, the doñas are feeding me nonstop out of appreciation.  For example on the first day, I arrived around 9am, and had to sit and eat a huge bowl of boiling hot rice, noodle, plantain soup before getting to that back-breaking heat stroke inducing pick-axing.  The American side of my brain initially said, “Seriously? This is a terrible idea,” but 3 minutes later when I had eaten the whole thing, downed some hot coffee, and could have had seconds, I realized I might be part Dominican at this point.

And my most exciting news of all pertains to our health clinic.  About 2 weeks ago, we got a call from a board member of CEA, the sugar cane council who was my very first stop in my quest to finish this clinic.  They let us know that they were going to send a full team of 10-12 men out to finish it up and that it would only take them about 5 days.  Of course we all get really excited, it had to mean something that they were calling us – maybe they would actually pull through this time.  And sure enough, they did!  The team showed up last Sunday and worked through Thursday.  The clinic is done!  And beautiful!  I tried to visit the workers a few times to let them know just how appreciative we all were for their work.  I spoke with one today who was finishing up some cleaning, and he let me know that they were going to return on Tuesday to stock the place and bring all of the medical equipment.

Somehow, things just work out here.  It takes a long time, people ignore you, water tubes break and just when you’re losing faith, it all falls together and people somehow pull through.  I feel like my projects are wrapping up nicely, and maybe I’ll be able to spend my last month or so here just spending time with all of these people, who have pulled through for me.

Some teasers (I promise I’ll post more very soon)…

Some of the kids getting in on the gardening action.

Working on the clinic!

And because it’s not a real post if Yameiri doesn’t make it in – using a chalk medium on my floor, she drew her version me.  Large head, all legs – I’d say she got it right.

 

 

 

Posted by: Y | May 21, 2012

House Tour

A tour of my house for those of you who still haven’t found the time to visit…I suppose I fogive you…

 

I will post a real update soon!  See you soon, America!

Posted by: Y | May 14, 2012

Dear Girl Scouts Troop 217

We received your box of goodies last week and were so excited!  The next day we walked around town visiting our neighbors and hanging out at school during recess; we ended up selling ALL of the goodies in ONE day!  When I opened your card to read it to my chicas, and discovered your donation, we all got so excited – almost speechless.  We quickly counted our money, your donation, did some math, and started screaming when we realized just how close we are to our goal.  My girls have been working hard for a few weeks selling popcorn and candies during recess to raise money, and with the help of your donations, we are now really, really close to finishing this project.  We hope to purchase the materials at the end of this week and have electricity in our community center soon!

I can’t thank your troop enough.  My girls have loved hearing from you, were beyond excited and appreciative for your help with our current project, and can’t wait to hopefully have another exchange with your troop in the future.  You have shared with them a bit of America and shown them just how generous Girl Scouts (and Americans) can be.  Thank you again!

 

And now a few pictures…

Selling at the school during recess.

Even the teachers got in to it!

 

 

 

Some of my Chicas.

Caught them mid bite…

…but then they turned the camera on me!

 

They are introducing themselves in English…and then go on to say “We are Chicas Brillantes!  And we want to thank you a lot for your help.  We love you!”

P.S.  I hope I can meet with you all in June when I come home for a visit!

Posted by: Y | April 21, 2012

Community Center

4/20/12

Life has been pretty exciting recently. Certain things seem to be falling into place and I have really been feeling the love from my community.  We are still working on getting our clinic finished.  We spent this morning traveling to the nearby town of Hato Mayor to meet with the senator.  He wasn’t in his office (surprise), but we did meet with one of his assistants.  We’ve scheduled a follow-up meeting with the actual senator, and things seem promising.  As exciting as these recent meetings with government officials and sugar cane company head honchos have been, honestly the most exciting part of it is the actual travelling with my community members.  (This time my host mom let me sit in the back of the truck)!

The same community members playing a large role in helping me get funding for our clinic, are also leading the push for a new water system for the batey.  We had a meeting regarding this issue in our community this afternoon to which we invited the local Sindico (kind of like a mayor).  Again, we only met with his assistants, but hopefully this project will pan out as well.  During this meeting, at which a good chunk of my community showed up, I somehow managed to receive 4 separate rounds of applause and 6 shout-outs without even saying a word.  It felt really nice to be thanked and recognized for some of the work I’ve been doing, and absolutely amazing to know that I have the support of my people.  At one point, a community leader, friend, and big supporter of mine, Andres, was saying that he wasn’t going to let me leave in October.  The assistant to the Sindico suggested that La Plaza request a follow-up Peace Corps volunteer to continue my work when I leave.  Andres responded, “No, I don’t want anyone else.  I want Jessica.”  (As I wrote that, I realized it may sound a little creepy – especially coming from a 50 year old man – but, I promise, it wasn’t.  It was heartfelt and in the moment, actually made me consider never leaving).

Not to toot my own horn any more than I already have, but I also recently was told a great story by one of my youth’s mothers. She told me that her daughter, who is in my Chicas Brillantes group, was talking with her younger brother.  Her younger brother said something along the lines of, “You sat next to a Haitian – you have AIDS now!”  My (clearly brillante) chica responded, “No!  Jessie taught me that you can’t get HIV that way.  You can’t get it from sitting next to someone or sharing food, plates, cups or chairs!  You get it from having relations.”  Haha!  To which the younger brother looked at his sister and his mom and said, “Relations? What relations?”  After we all finished laughing at the main point/punch line of the story – the little brother’s comical response – the mom looked at me and said, “You’ve taught my kids a lot.  They are really going to miss you.” :)

And now for some long overdue pictures of our cleaned-up center.  Again, parts of my community stepped up to the plate, helped with the painting, and decided on their own to clear out the patio and put up a fence.  Now they would like to put in electricity.  My Chicas Brillantes group has taken on the task (it was their own idea!) of raising the money for all of the materials and labor involved in putting in the electricity.  I am taking one of my chicas into town tomorrow (this is a big deal for her!) so we can visit the hardware store to get an estimate for all of the materials.  To raise the money, we are selling raffle tickets throughout the community for the chance to win a set of plates (30 pesos per ticket, just in case anyone would like to enter).  And for 5 pesos a bag, we are also selling popcorn at recess time in the school.  We’ll see how much we raise, how long it takes, and how much I actually end up paying for.  Regardless of the outcome, I am super proud of my girls for taking the initiative. :)

 

The mural inside the center.  Don’t know if you can tell, but we put the names of some of my groups (Hogares Saludables, Chicas Brillantes, Escojo Mi Vida, and Somos Ingenieros) along the hills.  And the pink house is mine!

Katie, Plum, and I.  Katie helped me with the mural.  We knocked it out in one day, and even found time for a 2 hour lunch/siesta break.

Clean-up day!  Some of the girls mopping…

Cleaning up the paint that we (I mostly) spilt…

Taking care of the trash.  Sorry environment.  Thank goodness Earth Day isn’t until tomorrow.

Everything is done!  Center painted and cleaned :)

The outside, including the fence that some of my neighbors helped put up.

Posted by: Y | April 2, 2012

Sarah’s Visit

The most exciting part of these past few weeks was by far the visit with my sister.  Shoeing off all of the overpriced taxis made for tourists, we left the airport in search of a moto, hopped on the guagua, and made our way to my site.  We spent 3 nights in my community and focused most of our time painting the center.  Although we came pretty close to finishing, considering most of our help was under the age of 10 – to this day, it is still a work in progress.  We also found time to go to the river with my neighbor kids – to bathe, get water for the house, and have some good laughs at the expense of a naked chubby boy.  Next, we headed south, traveling all day to Los Patos, Barahona.  Los Patos is a very small town bordering the Caribbean and surrounded by mountains.  We spent two nights there, wandering on the pebble beach, getting dangerously tossed around by the rough seas (ok that was just me, as Sarah watched on and refused to help), eating some good rice and beans, sharing a few bottles of wine at our hotel “restaurant,” and arguing with the owner of our Italian hotel, Giovaniosjdflkuwera.  We spent the last night in the Colonial Zone in the capital, hoping to see all of the Americas firsts – the first church, the first university, Columbus’ house, etc – but in reality, Sarah spent the night puking.  Welcome to the DR.  All in all, it was a great trip with lots of good laughs, and I couldn’t be happier that I finally got to share my life here with my sister.

Aside from that great mini-vacation, my projects here are the same.  Still working with the 7th graders in the school with the Escojo Mi Vida course.  They are a handful and test my classroom management skills (which are essentially nonexistent) every meeting.  I recently took two of the youth to a national conference for Escojo groups throughout the country.  We went up to Jarabacoa, a mountain town north of the capital near Santiago for a two night stay.  I pretty much had a relaxing weekend with a handful of other volunteers, while the Dominican youth rotated through sessions about leadership, how to give charlas, and as always, HIV prevention.

In other news, the rainy season is finally here!  You would never imagine how happy it can make me to stand in my front yard bathing in the downpour or to collect enough water for the next 2-3 days in one afternoon.  The 6” of mud that is our roads now is a different story, but hey- I’m clean and well hydrated.

In real life, I’m the one that is awkwardly tall…

Our team of workers.

Really, I’d say my strengths lie in management, supervising, etc…not so much in actually painting.

My best friend, Yoscari, with my favorite sister, Sarah.

The beach of Los Patos – some of the bluest water I have ever seen.

The pictures just don’t do it justice.

Everyone that has visited (including other volunteers) has a picture with Plum on their lap.  I really need to start a scrapbook.  She honestly climbs into their laps on her own – she’s just such a lover dog.

My baby!

Posted by: Y | April 2, 2012

Palm Sunday

Before mass, we marched around the batey, singing, and waving our palms.

 

This is the Church band that I used to play with…

 

I’m going to work on a real update, and hopefully post later today or tomorrow.   Happy Semana Santa everyone!  Mail me some Starburst Jelly Beans! :)

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