The End

I write this entry from my mom's house in Oregon as I am working my way back into life in the US. This comes earlier than expected, as my service in the Dominican Republic was not set to finish for another year, but here I am.

Deciding to come home was a very difficult, personal decision, but it was the right one. I could list out all the factors that brought me to this place, but they are many and private, and so suffice it to say that after fighting to be happy for a little more than a year, I decided enough was enough. I had a good hard think, asking myself whether I could change my internal or external environment enough to turn things around for the remainder of my service. My answer to myself was "I don't think so," so, to oversimplify the whole decision making process, I came home.

I am sad Peace Corps didn't work out; I so wanted it to. I was sure. I was committed. I finish what I start. I am disappointed that this amazing experience turned out to not be for me, and I feel like I let my community down. But, I know that I am the only person in the world who can make my happiness a top priority, and I have a responsibility to myself to do that. I have no regrets about going to Peace Corps--not for all it took to get there in the first place or of spending a year of my life there, with all the physical and emotional trials and tribulations. I am glad that I went, and glad that I came home. It would have been a shame to "stick it out" for another 15 months and wind up resenting Peace Corps, my community and the Dominican Republic. I think that might have happened for me. So, I am thankful for what I was able to contribute in my short time, and I am thankful for what I have learned--about the world, about life, about myself.

I am still too close to my experience to be able to prepare my soundbite about being in Peace Corps, but I do know that I am more me now. More comfortable in my skin, more sure of what I want and of who I am. In such an intense environment, I learned a lot about my values and priorities and what I am (or am not) willing to negotiate. The value of this personal growth is not lost on me. I only wish I had been able to contribute as much as I feel I've gained.

That's it for now, for this diary of my time as a PCV in the Caribbean. Thanks for reading!!!!



Greetings from the DR!

Things have finally calmed down from all my out-of-site work trips and travels (and my first visitors, family who came and stayed for a week here in Puerto Plata), and I’m trying to use this time to get a few things back up and running, namely another group of kids for the Actas de Nacimiento in addition to helping the Escojo group get back into the swing of things with school starting, and helping CHOCAL (the chocolate project in Fundelosa) get a hold on their costs/prices and keeping track of things (inventory, attendance, sales, cash flow, accounts receivable, etc).

I’m also trying to help Camino de Luz transition from being a “youth business” to having a community member take over running it and being responsible for it. She’s going to have to take out a loan to buy materials and get production back up and running, and because the loan will be through my counterpart organization, I’ll have more responsibility for it than I’d like, although none legal. People in the community want me to do all sorts of things I don’t want to do, which I usually get out of by explaining that it’s not why I’m here… not my job (and not a hobby I’m interested in) (for example, being the Community Photographer Available At Your Beck And Call). Since Day One, Camino de Luz has been my most frustrating, least rewarding and least favorite activity at my site, and leaving it to run its course is tempting. I’d be happy to be rid of the headache. However, I don’t want to fail, and I hate admitting defeat. I don’t want to be the one who throws in the towel. Although the youth “can’t” (read, “don’t want to”) continue, they do want the business to stay open and operating. The community wants it to continue, and they want me to be involved in it. In addition to the woman who is taking over, there are others who had expressed interest in doing so. The “It’s not my job” line doesn’t work, because, well, it IS part of my official project assignment, and the community isn’t totally ambivalent about its success (although they certainly aren’t passionately proactive about it, either). And so I toil, and stress, and beat my head against the wall.

I think part of my problem with Camino de Luz is I’ve never seen any indication that it will be able to sustain itself without a Volunteer constantly harping and nagging to pay the bills, buy more supplies, collect on money due, have a meeting, look for new business, reevaluate market costs and prices, clean, organize. I believe what these kids have learned is important whether the business itself succeeds or fails, and it’s exhausting postponing the inevitable. Also, and perhaps more to the point, I’ve never felt much camaraderie with the people associated with the business, apart from the mother of one of the girls. They’ve never sought me out, made me feel especially welcome, seemed interested in getting to know one another or been more than minimally responsive to me or what we are supposedly trying to accomplish. I have only felt like I’ve been dragging them, kicking and screaming, forcing them (generally unsuccessfully) to do things they aren’t really committed to. So I’m sure you, faithful readers, can imagine how trying it is to continue with this project, not wanting to let myself, my community, the business or Peace Corps down. It is so tempting, so easy, to take advantage of any opportunity to reschedule whatever activity is pending; everybody shares the blame in this one.

Anyways, now that my summer craziness is over (I thought it was just going to be June, but it ended up also being most of July and half of August!) I am trying to get back into my projects in my site. Already I can tell that the next cycle of conferences, workshops and Gringo Grita is going to be busy again, but now I know to be more conscientious of my scheduling so I don’t get so booked up andaring.

Although I am doing pretty well, still feeling good about being here and hopeful (if not confident) that I will leave my community at least a little better than I found it, I am finding that, unfortunately, guilt and anxiety seem to be the constants in my emotional status here. I have always been a worrier, only just in control of my anxious tendencies. It pains me to think that I might let someone down or not fulfill their expectations (my own included). I stress, worry and feel guilty when I am out of my site, be it for work or pleasure, because my community wants me here. But then I feel pissed off that when I am here, people don’t make much an effort to include me or get to know me beyond the basics (I am reprimanded for not coming to visit, but when I visit, I’m given a plastic chair and left by myself), or engage themselves in my projects. I feel guilty for not participating in more recreational volunteer events, or hanging out/bonding with other volunteers. I feel guilty for not being as neighborly and social as I think my community wants me to be. I worry that they think I’m not working enough, not doing enough, not contributing enough because I don’t work very much one-on-one with individual families. I feel guilty and judged when I take the personal time and space I need to stay sane (which too often negates the positive effects of taking it). I feel like I am constantly being measured by and compared to previous volunteers, and that I don’t cut the mustard (even though I rationally know it wasn’t always easy going for those previous volunteers, this doesn’t seem to help). I am surrounded by many acquaintances, few peers and even fewer friends.

This is not to say that my days and weeks here are without happiness, successes. Moments of clarity and inspiration, of feeling wanted, valued, appreciated, respected do come, and not as infrequently as it might seem, given the tone of this entry. It just kind of all cancels itself out to being “okay,” and I want things to be amazing. I want my heart to feel full with pride and love for my community and my work; I want my heart to be “in it,” but, sometimes, the reality is that it is mind-over-matter here to stay motivated, to keep going, to remain positive.

Aside from that, I miss home. Of course I miss my family, although seven years now of living away from home we are all accustomed to not being in touch on a daily basis. But I so miss my niece (who I haven’t even met she’s so new) and my nephew. I miss my friends, and am missing huge events in their lives—weddings, babies, new serious-seeming boyfriends who I don’t get to evaluate and approve. And then there is a certain RPCV who is making my life difficult, although hopefully in a good way. Life continues at home. Everyone is headed full-speed into the futures, and I have no idea what mine holds.

Yet things are progressing, happening. Time, actually, is flying by. Here are some important upcoming milestones:

- September 13: One-year anniversary In-Country

- End of October: Halfway point of Peace Corps Service

- November 20: My BIRTHDAY

- November 24 (mas o menos): One-year anniversary in my site

Although the days sometimes go by oh so slowly, the weeks and months are flying by. I look back, now, and cannot believe it was a year ago that my mom dropped me off at the airport at some absurd hour of the morning to embark on this adventure. When I reflect on what I have done and how smoothly things really have gone (if I’m honest, instead of super-critical of myself), and how quickly time has gone by, I feel bolstered, surer, that I can do this, that I will do this, and that I will do it well.

When I started writing this, I thought it would be more of an update on what I’ve been doing instead of so much about how I’m doing, but it seems I had a lot to say. One wonderful thing I did do was receive my first visitors of my service. Uncle Dennis, Linda and Lila, and my cousin Jami spent a week with me. It was wonderful to see them and spend time with them, not to mention the amazing HUGE suitcases of goodies they brought me. We went to 27 Charcos, spent an afternoon and ate lunch at my site, went souvenir shopping in Puerto Plata, got massages, cut about 10 inches off my hair, laid on the beach, read, ate, took HOT SHOWERS! Of course, I was really the only one who got any mosquito bites to speak of… just my luck. Also, they got to enjoy the anxiety/anticipation and, fortunately, let-down of Tropical Storm Fay (nothing much happened here).

Anyways, thanks for the continued support. Keeping this blog has been more helpful to me than I had thought, both in terms of keeping in touch and documenting my experience, but also in fleshing out what’s going on in my mind. I find it hard to talk about it, or put my thoughts into words on the fly, so writing about it has been important to make sure it all doesn’t stay inside.

Until next time!



An Avocado a Day, Two and a Half Books a Month

Only the better off Dominicans have the luxury of eating an apple with any frequency—at US $1 each or more, they have got be imported all the way from Washington State (or else from the moon, at that price!). Most families share one or two at Christmastime, and are a surefire hit if you show up with a few after a trip to the city.

On the other hand, it sure is a good thing I acquired a taste for avocados over the last couple of years, because avocado season here runs from mid-July to oh, nearly March I’d say, and considering that fresh produce is hard to come by here, coupled with the fact that between my neighbor and I we have at least eight trees on our properties, I have overwhelming access to and consumption of these fine, Omega-3-rich green goodies.

A normal person, especially an American 20-something woman, would worry that eating up to 2 (huge) avocados a day, most days, might result in some additional poundage. But I like to be different. Attributable to several factors (it’s hot; I walk A LOT; I am BORED TO TEARS of the food here; anything other than coffee in the morning should be a punishable offense) I am as thin as I’ve been in a while, so it’s cool with me I double my daily fat intake comiendo aguacates. It still doesn’t amount to much. My concern is that these, too, will lose their luster long before the season ends.


People ask often enough what we, Volunteers, read, both on the inside and outside of the Peace Corps circle. I just did the math and I have read 31 books since September 13, 2007 when I left the USA. An average of 2.5 per month. What can I say, I’m and Oro…

… in order, with the best in italics:

  1. The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner
  2. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  3. Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway
  4. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Naked by David Sedaris
  7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  8. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  9. Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez
  10. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
  11. Paula by Isabelle Allende
  12. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
  13. The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr
  14. To Feel Stuff by Andrea Seigel
  15. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
  16. This is Not Chick Lit by Elizabeth Merrick
  17. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  18. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  19. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  20. The Namesake by ?
  21. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  22. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  23. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
  24. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
  25. Midwives by Chis Bohjalian
  26. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  27. The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende
  28. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman
  29. In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez
  30. Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keynes
  31. Marley and Me by John Grogan


Last but definitely not least, please give a warm welcome to the new group of Peace Corps Dominican Republic Volunteers who will be working in health, business, youth and water/sanitation (just like my group!). Volunteer groups arrive about every six months, alternating between these sectors and environment, education and I forget the other. Anyways, the “my sector” group ahead of me is winding down (they leave in November) and the new “my sector” group arrived, well, today, I think. This is a milestone for my own group of Volunteers; it means we are nearly at the half-way mark. We are no longer the “new” group. We have accomplished much and are (supposedly) nearing the elusive “lightbulb” moment they tease us with when all our projects and work and frustration come together and we start seeing fruits of our labor.


My First Dominican Car Accident

So I was coming back from Chery's site today (congratulations to her on the inauguration of her community and computer center) and our guagua was involved in a car accident on the highway. Two guaguas and one or two private vehicles rearended each other... I think we were last in line. I AM FINE. This was a hysterical Peace Corps Moment, not only because we were not the least bit distressed or hurt, but we saw it coming and STILL weren't worried because the gugaguas here always ALMOST crash but never do. Until today. I am not sore at all or anything, but if that changes I'll be sure to be a grown up and see the doctor. Anyway, so I was with someone who had a plane to catch so we took advantage of our rubia-ness and got ourselves on a different guagua that was going by, and made the trip, which should NEVER take less than 2 h 45 m, in 2.5 hours, including the lost time in the accident. They were FLYING. Incidentally, this was not the cause of the accident as when that happened we were going a much normal pace in traffic.

Anyways, if you read this and several previous entries, you'll notice that I've had some interesting things happen to me of late here in the DR. Thankfully nothing has been too serious!

Ratoncitos en mi ropa interior

Sunday afternoon, sitting in the neighbor’s enramada, getting good-naturedly chewed out for sleeping with earplugs in because I won’t sentir potential things out of sorts during the night. I sleep with earplugs in because of the chickens cantaring (although I think “singing” is not nearly an annoying enough word), but also because of the critters that scurry and play in my house at night. I have a TON of cute little lizards which don’t bother me at all. I try to ignore the tell-tale little black pellets I find and tell myself that all the scurrying I hear is the friendly lizards.

So, Sunday night I go to bed without the earplugs… maybe I was feeling guilty. I shouldn’t have, because what I need to worry about sentiring at night is rats in my dresser moving my clothes around and pulling things from one drawer into the other. I’ve found rat turds in my drawers all along, but actually hearing them in there was new. Obviously this was not an ideal situation, but I didn’t know what to do at 3 a.m. so I shoved in my trusty neon orange tapones (interestingly, also the word for a traffic jam) and went back to an unrestful sleep.

The phrase in Spanish for “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed” is “Me levanté con el pie izquierda.” IMAGINATE! Obviously I had to get dressed Monday morning so inspecting the damage could only be put off for so long, plus I had somewhere to be. I figured my clothes would be out of ordered, and even perhaps with a few new holes, but I didn’t think I’d pull open the top drawer and find the damn rat STILL THERE. Well, we surprised each other. I squealed, and she ran out the back of the drawer into the safety of the rest of the dresser. I gingerly pulled the top drawer, full of my freshly hand-washed underwear (humph!), and dumped the whole thing out on my cement floor. To my extreme dismay, I heard squeaking. I used the handle of my escoba to fling my panties off the pile one by one. I heard myself let out one of those long, slow, crescendo-ing cries of alarm as I came upon a little, wiggling, pink, furless, newborn baby ratoncito furrowing about in my skivvies.

BEELINE to the neighbor’s house, because I sure as shit don’t want to deal with this. And plus, mom is still hiding in the dresser. So my vecina mandars her 14 year old son over to help me. He whips out my machete (yes, I have a machete, although I feel much less safe with it in my hands than when it’s it the sheath), scoops squealing baby onto the tip (please, please Daivin, don’t poke it and make it bleed it’s baby rat blood on my underwear…) and flings it out the door for the chickens or opossums or whatever to snack on. Then I made him pull out all the rest of the drawers, hopefully finding and getting rid of the mama rat. We found her, but she ran away before he could put down the drawer and arm himself with the machete again.

I just spent 900 pesos (almost 30 dollars, a significant portion of my monthly stipend) on poison… rat poison, cockroach poison, ant traps, Raid spray, and half a Saturday cleaning and placing all this toxic goo. So aside from being totally grossed out (I had the willies all day) I was annoyed that this happened after so much time and financial investment. It was like they were laughing at me.

Well anyways, I really did have somewhere to be and how I was half an hour behind schedule so I had to hurry up and get going, and then my 9 am meeting to weigh sugar (as Claudette calls it) was a mess—literally, the KitchenAid mixer with 2 pounds of melted cocoa butter, 3 pounds of sugar and a pound of pure cacao paste was already turned on when they plugged it in and the whole gloppy mess fell all over the ceramic tile floor (in another entry I will blog about the lovely sanitation resources of our beautiful chocolatera). When we remade the mixture, the women ran it through a machine made for grinding cacao (to make the granulated sugar not feel so grainy, instead of paying for powdered sugar) and sprayed liquid milk chocolate all over themselves, the floor, the walls, the machine and anything else around (I, miraculously, escaped).

Ugh. Jo’s rat story still wins: I make no claims to be able to beat arriving to site to a bed invested by a family of rats, but I now have my own to share. Is it a rite of passage? Something to bond over, or just to laugh at (my mom and Cheryl sure got a good kick out of it yesterday…)?

In other news, the busted part of my toenail (Cheryl also thought that was funny… are we noticing a pattern here?) fell off and I’m on the mend. I handed out the last of the Actas de Nacimiento today, just in time for school registration (a convenient coincidence for me). I thought I had scabies but it seems to have cleared up without taking the medicine, so I’m thinking it was something else, which is good. Other than weighing sugar and passing out birth certificates, I haven’t been doing that much work, but I’ve definitely been busy. Mango season is just about over, but avocado season is off to a delicious, Omega-3-y start. I ate almost two whole ones today… that weight I’ve lost is going to be reappearing de una vez.

Oh yeah, and it’s been H-O-T. How am I going to survive the summer, and is my family ever going to forgive me for letting them come visit me in the hottest month of the year?

Stay tuned!

A New Universal Truth?

Forgive me for oversimplifying the Peace Corps experience, but I can’t believe a paragraph in the book I’m reading, “Nine Hills to Nambonkaha” by Sarah Erdman:

“… Near the edge of the table, she scatters her best-selling item, her backup, since vanity is a luxury for most of these women: Maggi flavoring cubes of all different persuasions—shrimp, onion, tomato, chicken, bushrat. They are the heart and soul of Ivorian cooking, the only source of spice other than dried hot pepper and bay leaves. The magic little blocks of MSG are a cheap substitute for any ingredient.”

Fellow Volunteers of the world (or at the very least, Ivory Coast and Dominican Republic): Know what I mean?


Lost in Space

It sounds worse than it is, but really I just can't remember who I have told what to, including the blog, and I don't feel like rereading. Ha!

Well, so let's start with concrete stuff. Literally. Concrete. As in CEMENT BLOCKS. And MY BIG TOE. They met yesterday, and the result was blood, tears, a busted-in-half big toe nail (so much for my nice pedi) and a seriously pissed-off Kira. Seeing as I was having a rough day (had to turn down an invite to do a tourist day, ending in a hotel and an Indian food dinner in Cabarette with some friends to attend MEETINGS, one of with was a total FAILURE in my community), I'm sure all who know me can imagine I was just Perky Polly after this.

Also, it seems I have SCABIES. Now, there's stigma attached to scabies in the US, but it's really, REALLY common here so don't go judging me. We pass it around Peace Corps like the common cold. Although, I haven't taken the medicine yet and it seems to be clearing up, so maybe I don't have scabies? Or, maybe it just comes and goes in cycles. Either way, I can't take the meds until I can WASH and DRY my clothes, bedding, towels in HOT water and HOT dryer. I don't want to talk about how much of a pain in the ASS it will be if I have to schlep all my stuff into the city and pay and arm and a leg to have everything laundered (including staying overnight to do it) because those things certainly aren't going to happen in my campo.

Moving on from these minor annoyances, I wanted to write about Camp GLOW (Campamento Estrellas de Hoy) and my birth certificate campaign.

Birth certificates first. Although it took, fully, TWO MONTHS longer than it should have, I have in my hot little hands the original paperwork for 18 newly declared Dominican munchkins. The population of the DR grew today. I gotta admit they are a little bit of a letdown--I was expecting thick paper with a four-color DR logo and forgery protection technology and what I got is preprinted forms filled in by hand on half-sheets of photocopied paper. Apparently the "master" is in the books they keep in the office and the "originals" that you have to get for all sorts of things are really just certified copies or something... Anyways, since I've been talking about Actas de Nacimiento since before I even got on the plane, I wanted to announce my success. Thank you, thank you... such applause isn't necessary. :)

Camp GLOW (July 14-18) went GREAT. It was a TON of work. I worked on the fundraising (thanks for your donations, thank you cards are in the mail!). I ended up designing our certificates (you MUST give a Dominican a certificate for ANYTHING they participate in) and helping with a t-shirt design file crisis (file got corrupted and the artist was on vacation). All turned out well though. I also co-facilitated a charla on income generation and the advantages of being a financially independent woman in today's society, including making Mistoline (floor disinfectant) and mentol (Vapor Rub) for all the participants. The two girls I brought, Alex and Yossi, live in the community next door to mine, but they were amazing. Alex is in the Brigada Verde (environmental awareness) group my neighbor volunteer has, and Yossi is in the ESCOJO group Dan (my predecessor) started. We had to fund raise to contribute as a community. The space we used was amazing, quiet, beautiful, breezy. Lots of nature and NO TRASH. It's an ecological reserve. The food was OK, the bathing situation not so great.

Coming into it, I was intimidated by the whole thing. Finding girls to bring had been difficult, and the idea of spending 5 days surrounded by people, especially teenagers, had me a little freaked out. I was excited about camp, but excited for it to be over. In the end, the girls were amazing and none of the drama or craziness that could have happened did. The girls learned about their bodies, about cultural relations, especially with Haiti. They learned how to put on condoms (I got teased for doing it too fast, IMAGINE that with all the action I get... HA). They had an open sessions to ask questions about sex, bodies, relationships called Conversaciones de la Cama, Pillow Talk. They talked about sterotypes, friendship, relationships, self-esteem. Aside from the fact that I was just exhausted, it couldn't have gone better. I'm still glad it's over, but I'm looking forward to next year too.

After a month and a half on the move and out of site, coming back has been a little difficult. My projects are at a standstill, but at the same time I've been able to have honest conversations with FUNDELOSA about redirecting my efforts, so now I'll be focusing on the chocolatera, where, hopefully, my efforts will make a difference. Things aren't going well with the youth candle business I'm supposed to be mentoring, and really look like they are about to crumble altogether. I'm trying not to blame myself, but I feel guilty about it. But then, I'd be willing to say that GUILT is one of the most significant emotions and experiences of Peace Corps.

Also, my mom had major back surgery a couple of weeks ago. Making the decision to stay here was not an easy one, and even though (thank goodness) everything went great and she's already improving, it still isn't easy. I feel awful for not having been there. I am so thankful that my family and friends are so supportive of me being here even though it has already meant missing several really important life events.

Sometimes I don't realize how big of a sacrifice PC is, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I realize all the other things I could be doing, experiencing. I am where I should be, but right now I am definitely aware of what I'm missing.

I feel tempted to move something good down here to the bottom to end on a more positive note, but I'll go with the way it came to me instead. Until next time!!!!