Saturday, June 2, 2007

I'm still here!

Hello everyone. I'm not sure if anyone is even still checking this due to my long absence, but I thought I'd check in and let you know that I am still alive and well here in the Dominican Republic. I don't have internet access in my site, hence the lack of entries, so I will probably not be posting. However, there is the possibility that we may get internet sometime "soon" (hah) which would make communication much easier.

Right now I am in the capital checking my mail, using the computer, and taking a little break from my site. Things are going well in my community. I have started teaching english classes and am preparing to start computer classes in 2 weeks. I am also working on my community diagnostic, but haven't really gotten a lot done due to rain (when it rains, no one does everything), the strikes in my town (including burning tires, broken bottles, police, tear gas), and large amounts of time devoted by the town to preparing for mother's day celebrations. I spend most mornings at the high school, afternoons sitting around with the family and sometimes taking walks with my friend (the secretary of the high school), and evenings doing some more sitting or teaching english. Things will really pick up in 2 weeks when I start eaching computer classes every day in addition to english. I also want to try and do some sort of summer camp for younger children because there is nothing for them to do during the summer (we'll see if I have time).

I just spoke to Noah on the phone and think I will be seeing them tonight! I'm very excited. My friend Megan, a volunteer who lives near my site, came and visited the other day for the mother's day celebrations and it felt great to have someone see my community...

Anyways, I think it's gotten to the point where there's just too much to say and it becomes hard to choose what to write about. I love hearing from you all, miss you, and love you.

P.S. Just a reminder, you can still send mail to the capital and I will periodically pick it up there. (I am doing research to see if I can find a way to get it sent closer to me, but we shall see.)

Alissa Mayer, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Av Bolivar 451, Gazcue
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Friday, April 27, 2007

Swearing in and heading out...

Hello everybody, I am sitting using the wonderful free internet at the Peace Corps office in the capital. Wednesday was swearing in and the past two days we have had some time to get ourselves together before we head out tomorrow to our sites. The swearing in ceremony was very nice with lots of kind words from our directors and members of our host families there to celebrate with us. We took our oath (yes yes) in both english and spanish and crossed that boundary between trainee and volunteer! There was delicious cake and juice (although my stomach problems prevented my from partaking to the fullest) and they even showed some slides of us from training. Tomorrow I will head out to my site to begin my service and my life as a PCV. My emotions are kind of running wild. I have gotten used to the schedule of training and having busy days with other volunteers around for support. Life will be very different out in my site, but I am hoping that it will have its own perks and highlights. Well, here I go...

Can't wait to talk to you all and hear how life is going back in the good old US of A. (P.S. Last night we went to the Hard Rick cafe and I have never loved nor appreciated the amazingness that is America so much in my life. It was fabulous and they served real food besides rice and beans! Wow.) I send my love.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Arrival in La Cueva

Hello everbody! I am back in the capital after spending 5 days at my new home in my site! The past few days have been pretty intense but also amazing. Tuesday we met our project partners and spent the morning making awkward conversation and doing different activities. I was one of the last people to meet my partners and was getting really nervous and anxious, but when I met them they were the nicest and warmest people and I felt so much better. There were two people there for me- my official project partner (Ramona) who is the directer of the high school and also the district director of information technology (Francelis). His family lives in my site (he lives the nearest city, about 25 minutes away) and so has a special interest in the town. They were both so welcoming it was unbelievable. She, the high school director, is super outgoing, works all the time, is go go go, always takes longer than expected, so talkative, and already gave me her jewelry. I think the closest comparison I can make is Sue. So yeah, don´t worry-I´ll be taken care of. Anyways, Tuesday afternoon we arrived and even though I was tired, they took me to see the high school. On the way over, Francelis asked me if I cry easily when I am emotional. I didn´t really know how to answer or why he was aksing me that, but when we pulled up to the high school and I saw the 150-200 people waiting for me there, I got it. As I stepped out of the car, I was introduced to so many people including teachers, priests, policemen, and other community members. Then, a group of young kids dressed up in matching (marching band-esque outfits) did a whole baton routine. After that we all moved inside where a table was set up in front for me and other "important" people to sit at and everyone else took seats in the audience. There were so many people that people were standing outside peering in the windows. They proceeded to call people up to the podium to give speeches, present me with flowers, sing songs, and there were 4 or 5 choreographed dance routines performed by high school students as well. Of course, I also said a few (very few) words. It was increadible and I almost did cry. They kept talking about how momentous it was to have me there and how I was now part of their community and all the great things I was going to do. I felt so welcomed and loved and also realized how much hope and faith they have put in me. I almost felt sad that they feel so unable to change their own circumstances that they are putting such blind faith in an unkown person, a foreigner, to help them. It is a lot of pressure and I hope I can live up to it. It was a moment of realization about what I am doing here, what I represent to them, etc. and a day I will never forget.

Over the next few days I talked more with the teachers, was introduced to each classroom of students, visited the elementary school, saw the University in Cotui, went to the baseball field (the one and only form of diversion in my town) and shared with my new family. The family is very very nice...the father is an evangelical pastor and they have two daughters, one about 8 or 9 and a 17 year old who is already married and lives in her husband´s house. The house is nice too- definately nicer than a lot of other ones in town, but has no running water and electricity only a few hours a day. The father told me he didn´t think he would be able to have me live there because of the conditions, because Americans aren´t used to living like that. I feel bad that they are...not embarrased, but not proud of the conditions in which they live. They always apologize for the lack of electricity and I try my best to explain that it´s ok and that I´m used to it now. People also talk a lot about how the DR is not developed and that´s why things are the way they are and that the US is a developed country and that´s why things are better there. The town as a whole is pretty poor and basically every family has someone who lives in the US and sends back remittances. There are not a lot of opportunities for work there and I think a lot of people live off the remittances. Everybody wants to learn english and keeps asking me when I will start giving classes (and is dissapointed to hear that it will be a little while). There also aren´t many diversion activities (just the baseball field, as I mentioned) so I think one of the goals of having me teach computers is to offer a productive activity for the students to participate in outside of class (and also give them an employable skill). I have to say though, I am a little nervous about the state of the computer lab. The computers are super old and only have 3GB of memory on the hard drives. I won´t go into how much that is...but it´s nothing (iPods have 15-20GB). The power situation is also a little tricky but is hopefully being fixed now. They currently do not have a lab teacher for duing the day, just one at night, but he seems really motivated and bright and we will hopefully work well together. SO...we will see!

I feel so much better after settling in a little in my new town, meeting people, and knowing what it is like there. The people are so warm and friendly I know I can rely on them for anything and that makes me feel great. I am also excited to be back here and to hear about all the other volunteer´s sites and experiences! Wednesday is swearing in (yay!) and then Saturday I think I head back out to my site for good...

I miss everyone and send my love...keep writing! (I will pick up mail periodically in the capital, can check internet at my project partner´s house...I think possibly the only internet in town, and will hopefully be getting a new cell phone so that I can have coverage there...the one I have now doesn´t work there. Communication possibilities are looking up.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Project Assignments!

Hello everyone! Today was a big day in my journey as a Peace Corps Vounteer. After much anticipation, we all got our project assignments. It says that the town has about 5,000 people and is about half an hour from the bigger town of Cotuí (where a special education volunteer is stationed) and in the province of Sánchez Ramirez. It also looks about 2 hours or so from the capital, but I can´t really tell. I will be working at the computer lab at the high school which has about 500 students divided into 2 tandas (sections: one morning and one afternoon) and my official project partner is the lab supervisor/encargado. The lab does not have internet but I will be helping teach the students, the teachers, and it sounds like I will be working a lot with the committee in charge of the lab to help develop their skills and have the center function as a financially sustainable resource to the community. Well, I basically still have no idea what it is like or what I will be doing, but I will find out soon! Tomorrow we all meet our project partners and head off to visit our sites where we will stay until Sunday. Then it´s back to the capital where we swear in on Wednesday and head out for good! It all feels like a whirlwind right now and I am a little nervous about going off to my site and actually making this all happen, alone, but this is why I came here so here goes...

And yes, today we all got our cell phones! I think we may be the only country to issue cell phones to volunteers, and the official reasoning is in case of hurricanes (of which the season is rapidly approaching). But, while they have an important offical purpose, we are free to use them to talk as we wish and I would love to chat with you all! If you would like my phone number, email me and I can send it to you... (or you can ask my parents for it)

I will write more after I see my site and actually know a little more! Miss you all and send my love.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Semana Santa

Semana Santa was a nice time off from training activities. On Thursday we went to the same river we had gone to last week. On Friday afternoon I went to a pool with my family in Hato Mayor, a town about 15 minutes from El Seibo. There were tons of people at the pool and it was fun to play in the water with the kids. They also played music and I saw some 10 year olds getting down and dirty to some reggaeton. Also, Dominicans seem to bath in anything…from skimpy bikinis to shorts and shirts to tighty whities. The funniest was a man in tiny underwear dancing meringue. Saturday was a full day. I went to the campo/rio with Angela and John’s family. We squeezed about 20-25 people in the back of a truck along with food, giant pots, a cooler, and lots of other items. I was pretty amazed that we even got there. It was the same river we had been to before, but a little farther upstream. John’s doña has land there and we got to drink coconut water and eat some fresh cocos straight from the tree. They made a fire and cooked lunch in a giant iron pot. The chicken had been washed in the river and I have no idea what water the rice was cooked with (prayed that it wasn’t river water) but we ate it anyways and it was great. There’s definitely a different approach to sanitation…I’m not sure if we go way overboard in the US or if some of the norms here are really unsanitary-probably somewhere in the middle. Also, they leave there trash everywhere and seemed to think it strange when we went around picking up trash. But trash and dirtiness aside, they all still bathe in the river and enjoy it to the fullest. The only bad side affects from the trip are the massive amount of bug bites that I now have…I actually woke up with my legs hurting from so many bites and my ankles are completely swollen. The benedryl I took didn’t seem to cut it so if anyone out there has any remedies, send them my way… Saturday night we went out dancing and had a great time. It was packed because lots of people come home for Semana Santa which means that the capital empties out and the campos get hoppin´. Sunday, Janet, Betsy, and I made banana bread in an “olla de horno” (oven pot) because most people don’t have functioning ovens. It turned out great though and we gobbled it down.

We leave El Seibo on Wednesday and return to the capital for a few more days of technical training. On Monday, all 4 groups reconvene and we get to find out our site placements (and cell phones!) and are then sent off Tuesday to check them out. We are all really excited to find out where we are going and are getting a little antsy. I like having other volunteers around and think it will be hard to be alone, but there are also things I look forward to. For instance, the other day I passed about 3 people I knew while walking 2 blocks and it felt great to have the people shouting at me actually know me and to feel like I was a part of the community, or at least that I was recognized as an individual and not just a strange gringa. Anyway, training is almost over and I will find out soon enough what it is like to be an actual volunteer! Ack!

I miss you and send my love…

Monday, April 2, 2007


Hello everyone! I managed to add a link to my flickr account so go check out some of my pictures...just click on the link on the side.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

More happenings in El Seibo

This week has passed by pretty quickly. We had our usual training activities, I taught a class on how to use clip art (but it was raining that day so only 2 people came and it didn’t exactly go excellently, but it was still good practice), we had Spanish evaluations (I supposedly improved a level but I think it was grade inflation), we talked to our APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director who is in charge of IT) about how we are feeling and what we want in a site (we find out our placements April 16th!), and I got served cow liver which I refused to eat.

On Thursday night we appeared on the local community radio station. The radio is run from the LINCOS center where I did my internship and the guy who teaches the computer classes there works at the radio at night. He invited us on for a sort of “interview with Peace Corps volunteers” and asked us about the Peace Corps, what we like about the DR, what we miss from home, etc. We were on for about an hour and everyone talked, especially John who was the star. I even gave saludos to my family but I only know of one person who listened…oh well.

Saturday was a pretty eventful day. In the morning we went in search of a good place to swim in a river. We had been told there was a place nearby but everyone we asked gave different directions or didn’t know. By asking people every kilometer or so we eventually made it to a random man with army fatigues and giant sunglasses who opened up his private gated road (think, The Land) and we made it down to the river. It was nice but even though the water was moving it wasn’t exactly clear because of all the waste and trash people throw everywhere (trash is a major issue here- people throw it everywhere and often don’t pay for garbage service so it builds up everywhere). Anyways, I was a little wary but it was nice to be next to water nonetheless. At night, we cooked pizzas from scratch which was fun and a nice change from Dominican food. We all hung out, I learned Pinochle (which is awesome), and then later on we went to WOW, the discoteca. When we first arrived it was pretty empty except for a few women who seemed to be “working” on the dance floor with a middle aged man. It was a little uncomfortable but later on more people arrived and the scene improved. The dancing norms/customs are pretty interesting here. If you are seated with a guy, even if there is one guy at a table of 8 women, any man who wants to ask one of the women to dance has to first ask the guy with her for permission. If he doesn’t, it is often considered a sign of disrespect. Also, if a woman invites a man to sit at her table, it means he will sit there all night and that is the only man she will dance with that night. Guys lead you on and off the dance floor by holding your arm and often physically guiding you back to your table. Lots of cultural norms to learn and be aware of. Anyways, it was fun and I’m trying to take advantage of being able to go out at night here because I know once I get back to Santo Domingo I won’t be able to go out after dark.

Today Isaac, the son at my house, turns 9 years old. I bought him some watercolor paints and paper as a present and his mom got him one of those mini pools you put in your yard. They don’t seem to due much to celebrate birthdays- the day is just like a normal one and the kids were playing and watching TV. It makes me a little sad that they don’t do more to celebrate birthdays, but I guess that’s just the way it’s done here.

Anyways, hope you are all doing well and are healthy and happy. I send my love!