Los Llanos

 

 

July 13, 2005

Moved into my new home in Los Llanos, which, incidentally, is actually SAN JOSE de Los Llanos. A bit ironic considering that I consider San Jose, California, my home town!! I’m living with a husband and wife my own age, glory be to God!! So I feel right at home. Guess they’re not a typical family—the toilet flushes and the shower showers (albeit with cold water). Their daughter is a doctor and a son is a psychologist. Last night I practiced English with a young nephew who has just finished becoming a doctor. So I think I will be spoiled here.

 

The town is very like Yuma—no bank but paved roads in town. Los Llanos doesn’t have internet though—need to travel an hour to get it. (So this will be a goal of my project here!) My house is right in the middle of town, so I can exercise my favorite activity—sitting on the front porch watching the world go by—and get to know the town. A young man has been taking me along as he runs his errands. So I learned that here people don’t buy new 5 gallon drinking water bottles; instead they take their used bottle to a store that fills them up with drinking water. I guess this means it’s up to the homemaker to keep that bottle clean (hah!). Well, I haven’t gotten sick from the water yet…

 

This morning the young man, Armando, took me to buy “Johnny Cakes.” My doña, Nilda, says Johnny Cakes originated here in the DR, and I say they originated in the American West. Whatever; they’re fried dough. Nilda says many people eat them for breakfast.

 

I include a picture of my street. Note the house with sheet metal windows and doors. Oh my! I see a delightful young man and his dog coming and going from there. The white house can’t afford the $5 deposit on the 5 gallon drinking water bottle, so they cart a bunch of bleach-sized plastic bottles to the water store. I think they make a living selling little “icies,” which is a popsicle—flavored sugar water in an oblong plastic bag. You bite off the end and enjoy. Anyway, people are constantly going in there and coming out with popsicles. 

 

 

July 15, 2005  

Fair number of dogs and chickens wandering my street, and the occasional rider on horseback, but no grazing (on asphalt?) mules or horses. Funny that one never sees cats!! I hear they’re prized for their rat catching propensities…

 

Been storming every afternoon. Hurricane Emily is coming closer, but the Peace Corps doesn’t think it will hit the island, so we’re not being “consolidated” to a safe place.  Meanwhile it’s still a kick to sit on the porch and watch the people go by...Lots of soaking wet teenagers. One lady with an umbrella no bigger than a hat; she was VERY wet. Lots of wet hens (who don’t look mad, by the way).

 

Yesterday I was invited to observe the “examinations..” All seniors have to pass  a standardized test to graduate. Two hours in Spanish, two in science, in social studies, and in math. A policeman is in attendance to monitor as well as representatives from the school district.. 

 

I’ve started working on my town map. Los Llanos appears quite a bit smaller than Yuma, but interestingly, has a fire department and a library.. I’ll have to check out that library. 

 

I’m going to be gaining wait here in Nilda's house because I like her food too much. I’ve been making my own oatmeal and coffee for breakfast cause I get up earlier than she and her husband, but she gives me lunch and dinner. Last night dinner was only fresh rolls and cheese and cantaloupe, but the rolls are baked here in town and are crisp and delicious.

 

 

July 16, 2005

The two families across the street get up at the crack of dawn like me. This morning I sat on the porch, drinking my coffee, and watched Carolina (the lady who sells popsicles) hang a load of wash on the fence, put out the garbage, and make four trips to the store. Once she came back with a small cup sized bag of Clorox, then with 3 avocados, then with a can of something, then with a 2 Tbl. Size envelope of tomato paste. I think that’s just the way they do things here. Why plan ahead? Maybe they need things to fill the time anyway. I notice that the other lady starts sweeping the yard and the sidewalk at 7:00 in the morning, but her husband doesn’t appear to have a job; he spends a lot of time just sitting on the porch like me.

 

 

July 18, 2005

This morning I watched Luisa (across the street) prepare rice for the pot. She picked up a small handful and looked for a piece of foreign matter to pluck out; and then, swoosh, into the pot. I swear she was so careful, she might as well have counted the grains. We’ve got LOTS of time…

 

For the first time in my five months here I saw cats (two!) on the street!

 

 

July 19, 2005  

This morning I heard what sounded like a pig squealing; then I decided the sound must be a saw ‘cause I’d never seen any pigs around here. Oops, then the man across the street led a pig from the backyard into his neighbor’s back yard. Then I heard more pig squealing. I figured they were killing the poor guy. Turned out they were cause later three men carried a dead pig from the back yard and put him into a pickup truck and drove away. Oh well. Incidentally, when that pickup truck arrived, the driver said to Luisa “Mrs., a glass of water,” and she jumped up and fetched him a glass of water. No please or anything. Oh well.

 

There’s a bit of trouble in town. Seems that this past Sunday there was a demonstration. Apparently, the Catholic priests have been supporting better pay for the Haitians (remember, here Haitians are the non-citizens who are discriminated against). So the rich landowners organized a demonstration against the priests, supposedly even paying people to demonstrate. My host, Homero, says the Haitians are treated like slaves. However, I guess it’s a topic that polarizes the community because my committee felt the need to postpone a meeting til next week.

 

 

July 24, 2005

Went to a Peace Corps meeting this weekend and met a Health volunteer who lives in one of my nearby bateys. So she told me all about the “trouble.” Seems that there’s a Spanish priest, Christopher Hartley (funny name for a Spaniard), who’s been living here about 7 years trying to publicize the Haitian problem. Unfortunately, he and the landowners are now enemies. So, bateys: the landowners import cane cutters from Haiti. They pay them below market, house them on their private property, charge them rent for the housing and for what they buy at “the company store.” (This is just like California’s braceros before Caesar Chavez). If they complain or strike, they ship them back to Haiti and bring in a different bunch. There’s no transportation out there, no health care, 20 people for every latrine, but some schooling. A teacher takes a motorcycle out to teach through 4th grade. She says nobody checks for identify papers until high school so this generation is getting some schooling; however, the adults in her batey are 100% illiterate!! I asked why they don’t want to go back to Haiti, and she said that however bad the conditions are here, they’re better than Haiti. 

 

She told me that when they have the money they can buy identity papers. She has a boyfriend who was born in her batey. His parents were determined that their children get out, managed to get papers for all the children, one at a time, and her boyfriend is now going to college. (Apparently the father had had some education in Haiti.) 

 

It’s so sad.

 

Anyway, she says that Los Llanos is quite a hotbed. The controversy is ongoing because there are members of both factions here. (It’s hard for me to believe that a town that has five churches and only three places to eat, a town that opens every meeting with a prayer—can be divided on the Haitian issue. Oh well, we all know that human beings have always been capable of being religious while not following their own religious precepts.)

 

 

July 28, 2005

talked with some people, and it appears that I can go out to a batey and teach English. It’s at least doing SOMEthing for them. The only problem might be having the time. My counterparts here in Los Llanos are terrific and have me working like a dog (which I love). Monday I started a 17 day course for teachers. This is the fourth day—cancelled because there was no electricity unfortunately—and it has been going exceptionally well. I am very pleased. The teachers are in love with my practical approach which is great for my ego. I am doing 6 hrs. a day which is rather exhausting but rewarding. When it completes I’ll start doing the course on Saturdays for the teachers who missed this one. Of course, I experienced first hand the Dominican time problem. Class starts at, say 10:30, and people wander in at 11:00 and want to join the class. Or they miss the first day or two and want to join the class. It’s been fun.

 

The counterparts also set up an English class for adults on Wednesday nights as a fund raiser for the Telecenter and, likewise, want to set up an English class for children on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But since I’m going to be doing the teacher class then once school starts up again on the 22nd of August I suggested they set it up for mornings and afternoons during the week. Wow, will I be busy!!

 

 

August 1, 2005  

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the DR. One of my counterparts, Berquis, invited me to her house for dinner. She is 33 years old and unmarried with 2 younger sisters and a young brother. When I got there the girls were all busy doing household stuff. Berquis was washing tablecloths in the washing machine because there was electricity. Everyone here seems to have these little combination washer/driers that hold about two tablecloths. Personally I think washing by hand is easier and less trouble, but what the heck. So everyone waits around til there’s electricity to wash, and of course, if the electricity goes off in the middle of the cycle, you finish off by hand anyway. Plus you apparently have to rinse in a separate bucket anyway (cause you have to pour buckets of water into the machine in order to wash.) Heck, the clothes aren’t that dirty anyway. A couple of swishes in a bucket of soap and water and they’re clean as far as I’m concerned. Oh well. This is all done outside of course. They also washed their dishes outside with a couple of buckets.

 

Dinner was a macaroni salad, some kind of vegetable salad, some fried plantains, some other fried corn puff, and fried slices of eggplant, and water to drink.  I heard mother call father saying, where are you? Don’t you know what day this is? We’re sitting down to eat. He showed up about the time we were finished eating and the son a bit later.

 

Last night there was a concert in the park. The Academy of Music is apparently one of the best in the East (directed by Berquis’ brother-in-law). It has created a youth band and an adult band. The youth band was playing last night. Not bad for high school kids. Mostly boys but I saw one girl musician. But I found the music a bit too much like elevator music and didn’t stay long. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see all the people hanging around, kids horsing around, young girls all dressed up walking around in twos and threes, young men in groups drinking beer. Hopefully, one of my pictures came out.

 

Last week was so hot. On Friday I tied my blouse into a midi, but when I was walking home with some of my girl students, one questioned me about this. Apparently its ok to bare your back, shoulders and chest (strapless blouses), but not your midriff!! I get soooo hot, but not only don’t they have anything that fits me here but they have no cotton polyester either. (All bras—whether 34, 36, or 38—are in size B. If it doesn’t fit, stuff it! I am learning that we Americans (especially Camille) have a basic intolerance for discomfort... We want to be comfortable and do what is necessary to get it. Here people have learned to live with it—being hot, sweaty, tired, in pain, headache, bored, depressed. I STILL haven’t heard anyone fighting, no loud voices, just loud music.

 

Here I sit at 7:00 am in the morning, and I’m watching Luisa across the street sweep the gutter in her nightgown. The ladies are ALWAYS cleaning, sweeping. They sweep the rain off the sidewalk in front of their house!

 

 

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This is a middle-class neighborhood, Las Guasaras. Many of the teachers live here. The other picture is of a colmado.

 

The poor neighborhood, Las Palmas, has much worse dirt roads and many wooden houses.

 

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August 1, 2005

Went to the poorest neighborhood, Las Palmas, to meet with a youth group. They want to be trained on computers and will then become volunteers in the Telecenter. Las Palmas is very different than my neighborhood—no pavement, wooden houses, even pigs!

 

Saw my neighbor across the street going out with his machete and a shovel so I asked where he was going. To his “finca,” (farm) he said. He said everyone has a plot of land to grow stuff—fruit, yucca. He said people are too poor, and there’s no employment, so they do this. I’ll have to go with him or my man-of-the-house one of these days. My man-of-the-house, Homero, goes out dressed in fatigues with a blunderbuss and comes back with a bag of mangos and yucca or whatever but never has returned with any birds.

 

 

August 2, 2005

I found out what all the celebrating was about last Sunday night. The town basketball team won a game against a rival town. So they celebrated all night!

 

A couple days ago I went into the capital to get some medicine. What an ordeal. Travel is so complicated in that city. Anyway, coming back the guagua was packed. I haven’t seen one with people clinging to the outside since I left the capital in July. When we started going 50mph and more, I was a bit worried for the poor guys, but no one fell off, and eventually the guagua emptied out sufficiently for everyone to sit down. I was on a jump seat, and 2 hrs of that left me ready for a back attack! I sat next to a very nice young man who told me he was a member of the Philadelphia Philies (minor team) playing 3rd base. He’s only 20 and his dream, of course, is to move up to the majors. He lives in Los Llanos—coming home only on Sunday during the months they are here. Then he goes to the States for awhile and then he’s on vacation I think.

 

Guaguas remind me. I’ve been meaning to mention that here when someone gets onto the bus they say “saludos” (greetings) to all the passengers. Some people return the saludos but not all. Nice custom.

 

It’s so hot I’m dying. Even though I know it’s not proper to wear anything other than a full-fledged blouse to the classroom, I said the heck with it and today wore a new, strapless blouse. I was halfway comfortable, and no one said anything. After a week and a half I know the students are all comfortable with me and love the class. Yesterday, we had a marvelous time because I spent the hour with a Jeopardy game review. They had never experienced this and loved it. Although I think they found the competition (teams) a bit unusual, they got into the spirit of the thing and got very competitive. Plus it was a great review. 

 

Today, AGAIN, we had to cancel all the afternoon classes because of no electricity. This is a major problem. Even with the inversores; I guess not enough electricity comes to charge up the batteries. Although I must remember to verify that someone is managing the water in the batteries. Nevertheless, I can’t see how we could ever run an internet café nights if we can’t even maintain electricity through a day!!

 

Later: My young doctor and I were sitting out on the sidewalk (where it’s cooler) for his English lesson when a neighbor (also a teacher student of mine) came by to ask him (calling him by his first name, Armando) about her sick daughter. So we ended the lesson, and he went off to take a look at the child. How nice to be able to get a doctor like that!! So now I am sitting here watching a beautiful lightening show far off in the distance. Sure do like this town.

 

 

August 6, 2005  

Yesterday was my birthday and what an exhausting day! The Peace Corps and the World Links organization had gotten a big donation of used but loaded Pentium III computers from Microsoft and were having the Telecenters trade in their old computers for these newer ones. Yesterday was Los Llanos’ turn to go into the capital for the trade. The first problem occurred on the 4th when I learned that they STILL hadn’t found a truck for the transport, so all day Jason (my Peace Corps sector leader at headquarters) and I traded phone calls with the latest news. It was the school district’s responsibility, but in this country (like Honduras) where every statement about the future ends with “if God wishes,” it’s too easy to just drop it, we were very worried. I was prepared to pay for a truck rental myself rather than let go these computers. At the last minute one of my counterparts called to say they had a truck but were 500 pesos short of the rental and…? Of course I volunteered to pay the difference. 

 

Then the computers had to be packed up. Not a single person showed up to help me, and, of course, the electricity picked THIS day to not come on in the evening, so there I was in a rapidly darkening room trying to un-plug and organize the equipment. I finished 10 before I gave up. At 7:00 yesterday morning I went back to finish the job before the truck arrived, and, again, not a single person showed up. Like the day before, I was literally wringing wet by the time I finished. Nevertheless, people showed up to load the truck, and we were off to the capital quite early. But this is Latin America, so after we arrived, we sat and waited for 4 hours before we got our new computers. Being in such a hurry I had skipped breakfast, and now I had to skip lunch. Oh dear. 

 

We got back and unloaded the new computers about 5 minutes before rain drops started falling, but then—exhausted, starving, dirty, hot and sweaty, I learned that all day there had been no electricity AND no water! No bath, tsk tsk tsk. The dinner saved for me was reconstituted dried fish, which I hate, so I celebrated my birthday with some Entenmann's brownies that I had picked up in the supermarket in the capital. They were DELICIOUS!! Then, bless the powers that be, the water showed up at 7:30, and I was able to take a shower. That ended my 63rd birthday.

 

Miscellaneous observations: remember that house across the street with the sheet metal windows and doors? My mouth fell open the other day when I saw the young man lead a HORSE out the front door (sheet metal)!! I think he must be using the house as a barn, for heaven’s sake.

 

I see many poorer men walking on the heels of their shoes, so the shoes are essentially the new fashion with no heels. I think it’s because they’re too small; plus they aren’t wearing socks.

 

 

August 7, 2005

This morning Luisa was sweeping the street! She’s the only person I see doing this, so I’ll bet she just wants something to do.

 

Yesterday morning—probably because there had been no water the day before—Luisa decided to clean. She threw buckets of water on the windows, the floor, the STREET (dust?). She had the spigot turned on full blast, and water was just pouring into the gutter. I was aghast, but what can you do (see picture). Surprise, surprise—again there was no water at midday. However, happily there was water last night, so I could take a shower when I came home from installing the new computers in the high school.

 

…It’s very noisy here. One is bombarded on all sides by the roar-put-put of motorcycles, the crowing of roosters, and blaring radios. The only time it is quiet is at 2:00 in the morning when everyone, including the roosters, has finally gone to sleep, and at 2:00 in the afternoon when they’re all passed out from the heat…

 

 

August 16, 2005

Yesterday there was an unusual event on the street—a man drove by on a bicycle with a megaphone connected to a battery carried in the bicycle basket. On every street corner he stopped and read an announcement! I couldn’t understand much of it, but did notice that he apologized for something (disturbing us?) and at the end said, “And now you know.” I had heard about this process. Interesting way of communicating.

 

 

August 22, 2005

Spent a very exhausting weekend but succeeded in getting all our working computers installed and on a network. Wow!! Of course I did it by myself. The afternoon teacher “can’t come” because she has “little” children (they look older than 9 to me...), and the morning teacher can’t come because she has other “obligations.” So now I am an expert on installing computers and networks, but the community???

 

Here is where the reason for the Peace Corps culture class is really obvious. The Dominicans have no concept of “getting something done.” I had a class on Saturday for which I needed Microsoft Office. The copy the Peace Corps gave me didn’t install, so I asked the computer teachers. You’d think that they would have a copy of office wouldn’t you? First, the morning teacher couldn’t find hers, and then it didn’t work. Then the afternoon teacher said she would make a copy of her own and bring it over Saturday morning, but on Saturday morning I merely got a note that said she was unable to burn the CD. Then, it was my students who asked for the Saturday and Sunday special class because they had had those unexpected meetings all last week; but do you think anyone came? Six came on Saturday and two on Sunday. Now I hear they want yet another special class. I said “no;” they need to learn somehow. So all in all, I had a productive weekend and feel good about it but accomplished nothing “sustainable.”

 

Then last week my morning teacher asked if she could borrow my computer for the day. Sure. She sent someone to pick it up (I think she has a back problem that prevents her from carrying a lap top???) The next day she didn’t return it and said she needed another day, and would return it on Sunday afternoon. Sunday night I called her and left a message—where’s my computer? This morning I went to her house, and do know what she said??? “I was waiting for you to pick it up...” Blew my mind.

 

Nevertheless, it is very satisfying (so far) working with those two ladies. We have had several very productive and idea-generating meetings. I only hope they are able to follow through. If this project succeeds, given the above lackadaisical attitude and the culture of people first,  we Americans can learn a lot from them!! (There are, after all, a lot of problems with our "project first, people last" attitude.)

 

 

Sept 1, 2005

Incredibly hot here because of the humidity. God, I’m dying!

 

The men here walk by my house wearing mid-thigh high rubber boots and carrying a hoe and a shovel. I imagine they’re going to work in the fields. However, the other day I saw a guy walk by with SPURS on his rubber boots! What a kick.

 

Here it is September, and everyone says that there’s always a hurricane in September. Can hardly wait. As it is I’ve never heard such thunder as they have here. Very scary.

 

 

September 3, 2005  

It’s 8:00 at night and 92 degrees in my room. I’m learning why people take siestas in hot countries. (Funny how this doesn’t compare to Honduras—I guess cause it was a dry heat there.) So tonight I decided to try to stay up with the crowd. Especially since the church across the street is planning a concert so I probably couldn’t sleep anyway what with the noise and the heat. 

 

So I took a shower in the warm water and dressed in long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and socks (the mosquitoes are murderous!) and put a chair out on the sidewalk just like the neighbors. Much better. There’s another beautiful lightening show in the distance, and the neighbors are across the street chatting on the sidewalk as usual. The two teenagers took a bath in the dark (there’s no electricity tonight) outside at the faucet. I think when there’s no electricity there’s no running water (except in my house which somehow, some magical way, probably the inversor, can still pump water into the house, if there’s water). Since there’s no electricity, the houses are using their oil lamps which naturally cast a lovely soft light. One gets the feel of what life was like in the United States in the 19th century. Of course it’s very noisy ‘cause everyone’s outside talking or playing. Nothing keeps children from their games! I have some pictures of the kids playing stickball in front of the house. Their “balls” appeared to be the plastic tops of some kind of container; nevertheless, they had a great time and were pretty good at hitting. They had some kind of rules, like strike one and you’re out, and the next player took over, rotating to “the field” or the catcher’s position. 

 

The church is getting ready for the concert. You should have seen the motorcycle arrive carrying a stack of about 10 of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs! It’s truly amazing what they can carry—from 6 people to a truckload of bread. Once I saw a guy (I’m NOT kidding!) carrying some kind of huge piece of plywood balanced across his seat. Obviously he couldn’t see anything in front!

 

 

September 8, 2005  

Ah, September, and the start of the school. The State Department of Education decreed that school would start on August 22. The teachers decided school would start on August 29. The students decided school would start on September 5, maybe. 

 

The local school district, which had had all summer to do it, started painting the school just last week.

 

Monday, the fifth, the principals hung up  a “welcome to your second home” sign, complete with balloons, and it was a madhouse. However, school had definitely “started.”

 

Well, almost. Tuesday, the megaphone man pedaled by announcing that school had started, and the teachers were ready, willing, and able to receive all students.

 

Ana Luisa, my neighbor across the street, is a member of the PTA. SHE attended school Monday and Tuesday—as a representative of the PTA to support the teachers. The students are undisciplined, she told me. They come without their proper uniforms, boys try to wear baseball caps in class and girls bare their midriffs. She threatens them with the police she said.

 

Last week, I questioned Armando, the 16-year-old who hangs around here doing errands and eating and who had told me he attended school in San Pedro, “When will you return to school?” I asked. He said Monday. On Monday I asked him why he hadn’t gone to school, and he said he needed to buy notebooks. On Tuesday he still hadn’t bought the notebooks. Yesterday, Wednesday, he had the notebooks but still hadn’t gone to school. Somehow I get the feeling he doesn’t particularly want to go to school. Want to take bets he’s still here today?

 

Que mas? What else? The Peace Corps wants me to tell them how many men and how many women constitute the population here. My counterpart directed me to Homero (the man in my house) who directed me to the Electoral (the organization in charge of elections) who directed me to the mayor’s office. No one knew. I asked about the census, and they made some phone calls, and one lady said they didn’t collect that information (not true). So, I still don’t know how many men and women live here.

 

Hasn’t rained for about a week, and then, suddenly, yesterday at 12:30 it rained. Luisa across the street reached new heights in broom wielding: while it was pouring rain she started sweeping the rain off the sidewalk! Of course, she also hit the street a bit. Got sopping wet. And, before the rain had stopped, she left off sweeping and went off to do something else.

 

September 15, 2005

Frustrating week. First, the Technology Committee told me it wasn’t safe for me to be in the Telecenter at night. No lights on the street. For sure I’d get robbed or murdered because everyone thinks gringos are rich. Oh well, ok, I didn’t like being in the mosquito-infested place anyway. So I figure since it gets dark at 7:00, I’ll have a class of young people between 6:00 (when school ends) and 7:00. So I go to every classroom and invite students to a technology club meeting on Thursdays where they will learn to produce a school newspaper. And I go to the group of poor kids in Las Palmas and invite them to learn how to type on M, T, Wed., and Fri. So at the end of my first typing class the Technology Committee shows up and says it’s too dangerous for me to be there at 7:00. I say so how about 6:50? No. So how about my students walk me home? No. I’m really more than ticked off. I wonder if they have a problem with the poor kids? Anyway, I called my Peace Corps manager and complained, and he wants a meeting with them. We’ll see.

 

Then I decided to try to get internet for my computer. After all, there’s a satellite over the DR, right? Huh! I call Verizon, and they say, oh sure, but you have to go INTO the office in San Pedro. So I get on the bus and go to San Pedro and get on a moto concho (motorcycle) and go to Verizon and explain everything again to the customer service person who, after a half hour of phone calls, takes me to another person, and I explain everything again. He says, oh sure, but you have to take your laptop into Santo Domingo where they’ll program it and, voila, unlimited internet access for $50 a month. Wow. So I go back to Los Llanos, and the next dawn I’m on the bus for the 3 hr. trip to Santo Domingo lugging my laptop. I go where the guy told me to go but of course am then told to go somewhere else. But now I’m in the middle of God knows where, but I take a communal taxi down the road and lug my laptop a couple blocks to the other place where I explain AGAIN. THEY send me next door where they tell me I need to buy their wireless card for $300 because a normal wireless card just won’t do it. By now I have no confidence that anyone at Verizon knows anything, so in frustration I tell them where they can shove their wireless card and huff myself out to the street. I have no idea where I am. There’s no motos around. I guess I should have sprung for a taxi because I spent the next hour going back and forth trying to get to the Peace Corps office so I could at least pick up any mail,and this trip wouldn’t have been a complete waste of time. Getting from the PC office to my bus stop to go home was another adventure in going back and forth. People are very helpful, too helpful. Sure, take that bus, sure, take THAT bus. 

 

Yes, people are very kind. On the return trip from San Pedro the other day the bus suddenly turned off the highway and drove down a dirt road a ways and pulled up in front of a house. What on earth? Then the conductor helps a physically handicapped man to get off the bus. Door-to-door service! Then we were back onto the highway and off again.

 

There’s a MENTALLY handicapped young man in Los Llanos. The first time I saw him, I called out “hello” as I usually do when someone walks past me sitting on the front porch. But this time the recipient of my  hello came over to me and stood there staring at me for 5 minutes. Very disconcerting one-sided conversation until finally I caught on and ignored him until he walked away. My neighbor said he was “loco.” Since then I have been seeing him constantly walking up and down the street, rain or shine. I’ve seen him walking 5 miles out of town, and this morning I saw him at 5:30 am. I think he must be autistic.

 

 

September 20, 2005

Religion is very important in the DR. There is no separation of church and state. The state is officially Catholic, and, along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, religion is taught in the schools.

 

However, sects other than Catholicism are just as important. Here in Los Llanos at least, I think it’s religion that’s important, not the denomination. For example, in my family, the mother is Catholic, the father is Evangelical, two of the children are Catholic, one son is Pentacostal, a nephew and brother are Adventists.

 

Oh, by the way, Armando didn’t return to school until the second week.

 

 

September 27, 2005

I think it’s gotten cooler (or else I’m getting used to it.) I still put the fan on to sleep—something I NEVER did in Honduras even when I lived in the hot South. No water this afternoon and my don (man of the house) yelled over to the neighbors across the street, “Do you have water?” Next thing I know they’ve hooked up a hose and are transferring water from one house to another.

 

It’s apparently haircut time for men and boys around here. And they don’t really get haircuts—they get SHAVED. 

 

The other day I saw something that scared the &(&(^ out of me. There is a utility pole across the street, and, since I know we have telephone and electricity, I presume (since there are no other wires and poles) that both are hanging there. So along come two men; they borrow a ladder (about 10’) from my don and proceed to LEAN IN UP AGAINST THE UTILITY WIRES! Then one man held the ladder and the other climbed up. Around then another neighbor came by and helped hold the ladder so it wasn’t leaning totally on the wires. Up pops the third man with wire strippers and proceeds to strip a wire and God knows what else. Then they returned the ladder. No one died or anything. I was amazed.

 

That night began a four day revival at the church across the street. So every night from 7 to 9 (Friday was even later) I was “revived.” They blocked off the street and had a platform on which people with microphones (of course) blared singing and praying and exhorting.  Every other word was “halleluiah” and every third word was “glory to God.” The people got pretty worked up. They had guitars, piano, bongo drums, and a tambourine. (The normal church service there includes the drums and tambourine, and I find the music delightful. I would like to try recording it. Once I was walking by during a service and saw people dancing around the aisles of the church, singing.) 

 

Had another failed experience at getting internet. Took another 2 hr bus ride to the capital and then wisely hired a moto concho go take me around. Went to Verizon to buy the mobile card (on the advice of my brother, bless his heart) only to be told they didn’t have any and I should return next week. But the clerk advised me to go to a local computer store (she gave me the name and address) to buy the card. So I went there (again thank God for the moto), but there I was told, no, they didn’t sell the cards, only Verizon. So back to Verizon because now I want their phone number, and next week I will call before I go. Wish me luck!!!

 

I had my biggest success so far! The newspaper club at the high school. Tons of kids are showing up and everyone is very excited. Hopefully, we can get an issue out this month. Monday begins the English classes for the 8th graders. Still have a Saturday and Sunday class on Intro to Computers, and a youth club has been coming in the weekend afternoons for typing class. Started working with 5 teachers of “Commercial.” Will teach them how to give the Business Simulation class that I did in Honduras. So I’m looking to be pretty busy. Still have too much time on my hands though.

 

 

October 4, 2005

 I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to be able to stick it out here—I’m just too BORED! It’s ridiculous to try teaching computers when there’s no regular electricity…

 

Did you suburbanites know that chickens really DO go “home to roost”? I didn’t, but they do! Across the street Louisa opens the gate every morning to let her chickens out, and every night opens it again to let them come home. Next door to her the chickens jump over the fence every morning. They really know where they live!

 

Mail. Well, there’s a post office here (supposedly). Which actually means there’s a safe in the public library, and there’s a postal clerk, who—four times out of five that I go by there—isn’t around and no one else can open the safe. Also it’s only open in the mornings. However, I HAVE received a piece of mail—one, a postcard from my daughter from an island in the Indian Ocean. ‘Course she sent more than one…

 

Somehow the electricity all of a sudden doesn’t go into the telecenter so there’s no power for the computers. I asked whose job it was to take action on this problem and everyone shrugs his shoulders.

 

 

October 6, 2005

More water tales. I asked the doctor who I tutor in English to explain the water situation to me (in English!). A few days ago there was another water crisis here, and Homero, my don, said that the aqueduct was broken. Oh dear, neither water nor electricity! But it seemed that we always managed to have water, so I was confused. Granted, there’s a lot of sharing water via hose, but what’s going on? He said that the aqueduct had been repaired pretty quickly but that without electricity it wouldn’t function. Apparently water comes to the tank, but then electric pumps raise it into the tank where it is treated with chlorine and distributed via pressure to the city. So why can they have water across the street, and we don’t have water? Because their faucet is lower than ours. How many of us Americans are aware of how the water gets into our houses?? Actually, I’m still a little confused. I think there’s also something about the watts, or whatever, that come through the electric wires. I think frequently there’s enough power to turn on the lights but not enough to turn on 15 computers in the center or in a house, where there’s a refrigerator, etc., even one computer. In my house we have to do something with switches if we want to use the iron or the microwave. I guess they use more watts?? Anyway, electricity and water are the great questions here.

 

This morning I used the washing machine because there was electricity. Every other person has a washing machine, but you need to put the water in by hand, gallon by gallon. Originally, I said I wouldn’t bother and would just wash by hand, but I guess we get hooked on the convenience? 

 

I don’t think I’ve mentioned brooms. EVERYONE has a broom au natural I guess you’d call it—a stick with twigs, leaves, or whathaveyou tied on the end. Many people also have a broom with plastic bristles, but EVERYONE has a twig broom. In my house we only have a twig broom.

 

Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned saddles. Almost no one has a standard saddle for their horse. Instead they have contraptions made out of old tires or little seats made out of woven rattan. So they go bopping down the road with their rubber boot clad feet just swinging along.

 

Speaking of water and modern conveniences—during the water crisis a lady pulled up across the street in a late model automobile, took a bucket into the back yard, filled it with WATER, and drove away with it. I thought it was really incongruous.

 

 

October 8, 2005

Last night the Pentecostal church across the street had some sort of event. The result was a wonderful evening of music! Gee, I wish I could record it. Sounds very African, with the bongo drums and rhythm. It was a good day cause I had a whole three hours of work! My newspaper class, English class, and the young doctor I tutor in English. The newspaper class continues to be great, but I don’t know how much longer the poor kids can put up with no access to computers. (The batteries are apparently defunct.) I cut paper into newspaper sized columns and had them print their stories in the columns, figuring we would construct our newspaper by pasting the columns onto a master sheet. Kept them busy. Plus, three or four of them got right into analyzing the stories and planning revisions, etc. (Of course, when I got home and was able to read them, I realized that only one was really a news story with a lead paragraph. And we had been working on this for weeks… oh well.)

 

Today I dressed up and the doctor escorted me to his church, the 7th Day Adventist. Very interesting. Lots of hymn singing. He procured from somewhere a hymnal for me so I was able to sing along, but I think most of the congregation knows the hymns by heart and even by number. They would call out a number to request it! The sermon was also interesting because the preacher involved the congregation, asking questions and listening to responses. I thought that was pretty cool, very intimate and familial. Dr. Armando said they were able to do this only because they had a small church, like 50 parishioners, that they don’t do this in the bigger churches. No sooner had we entered the church then it started pouring rain, and it was still raining at the end. One lady insisted that Armando borrow her umbrella to escort me home! Very sweet.

 

The Spanish language—here anyway: I’ve said the power comes and goes. Well, the expression here is “the light arrived” and “the light went.” The other ubiquitous expression, which is the universal response to any remark about “tomorrow” (like “see you tomorrow”) is “Si Dios quiere” which translates into “If God wants.”

 

 

October 11, 2005

I think the worst of the heat is over. A couple of mornings ago I actually had to put on jeans and a sweater! However, by the time the sun’s fully up, it’s still hot enough to soak my t-shirt.

 

Bills are arriving; of course, since there’s no mail service, the bills are hand-delivered. Today the bill for water and sewage arrived. I noticed that water was less than $10 but that sewage was zero. I asked Nilda, and it seems that they don’t HAVE a sewage system here. The “black water” goes into the lagoon. Oh dear!!!

 

Yesterday for the second time the doors to the public building were locked so we had to have our English class in the park. I taped my flip chart paper onto the fence. Oh well.

 

 

October 14, 2005

The telephone number Verizon gave me was never answered so after two weeks I took another trek into the capital. This time they told me they still didn’t have any mobile cards but that there was a waiting list, and they took down my name and phone number. Oh well. 

 

Homero tells me that there’s more rain this year than they’ve had in 40 years. Coming back from the capital there was a place in the road so flooded that water came over the step of the guagua. The poor bateys are really flooded. Right after I got home it started to rain really hard and continued for the rest of the day. By sunset it had developed into a ferocious storm. Everyone was mumbling “no water, no electricity.” Homero told me no one would venture out in this weather; nevertheless, when there was a brief break at 4:00 I took my supplies and went off to my English class. I wouldn’t want them to come out only to find their teacher had stayed home. However, sure enough, no one came. Everything cancelled. God knows how people in the afternoon buses got across the flooded area. The next morning our patio (which houses the “dining room” and “kitchen”) was flooded in several inches of water. The only way to get rid of it was to bail. Wow, took forever. 

 

The government had cancelled school for the next two days, God knows why. ‘Course there was no electricity and hadn’t been for three days, but what’s new about that? Last night, for the first time since I’ve lived here, Nilda had to light the oil lamps. Wow! However, just about 30 minutes later the lights came on and stayed on all night. This morning I could charge my computer and take a shower.

 

By the way, in Spanish “to give birth” is “to give the light”!! Pretty neat, huh?

 

 

October 24, 2005

For sure I’m in the third world. Today there’s a “strike” in my town. But this strike isn’t like in the US; it’s more like violent disruption. Homero told me that they had one 3 years ago in which five people were injured.

 

Anyway, the first I heard of it was that it would be a protest against the government because we don’t have enough electricity. Then I heard that it would be another paid protest against the priest who works in behalf of the Haitians. Then I heard that it would be a protest against the government over the bad road. Then I heard that it would be all three. However, actually it’s pretty clear that it’s just against the priest. Last night I went to the park and visited my lawyer friend. On the way, a couple of my students told me that there was “a list” and that the police would be coming around at 2:00 in the morning to arrest people. Then my lawyer friend was carting around her cell phone awaiting a call from the district police chief who was going to tell her if she should evacuate the city (because her name is on the list.) She says “every man has his price.” I don’t believe this, but then I’m financially comfortable. How do I know how I would feel if I were a poor campesino.

 

This morning it has seemed relatively normal except that no stores are open and no one is allowed to work. I asked Homero what would happen if someone opened his store, and he told me the strikers would come and cause trouble, throwing stones and stuff. There’s a lot of burning tires (a symbol, says my doña, of disorder). People are congregating in front of their houses and on the street corners, talking, talking, talking. I think that a lot of people are mad at the priest because he is safely in the capital (left yesterday) while they have to endure the problem. 

 

There seem to have been a lot more riders on horseback than normal and NO autos. People said that these people wandering around are in support of the strike. Then there was gunfire. My doña bolted the front gate and shut the front door. But as other people were peeking out their gates, I did the same. I actually saw a soldier running down the cross street firing his gun! A bit scary but exciting. I certainly don’t feel in danger. I heard that the military is actually police that have been brought in to restore order.

 

This and the exit road was flooded over last night due to another storm. The Peace Corps is probably having fits, but I think it’s all blown over now (noon). However, the ladies are complaining that they can’t buy any meat; everyone will be eating “salami” (bologna) for lunch. Bottom line: the people are really ticked off.

 

We had sardines for lunch. And young doctor Armando called me to make sure I knew not to go out for my English class. “It’s dangerous,” he said. Last night I passed the word that I would receive the students in my house today, but I don’t think anyone will come.

 

The other volunteer here, Allison, lives in a different neighborhood. I wanted to bring her a phone charger today (hers is broken so communication is difficult) but was told the entrance to the neighborhood was blockaded.

 

Quiet for several hours, and we thought it was over. Nilda, my doña, decided to go to her mother’s house near the park to check on her (she’s in her eighties). Then there was another burst of gunfire, and she came running back saying that she had seen two gunmen (police?) take aim at someone. I can see four blocks on either side of my house, and once again every corner was full of people looking and talking. There were more bursts of gunfire and young men running. Nilda yells, “get in the house!” Then everyone peeks out again. The guy across the street came running up on his horse with a friend, and they quickly put the horses into the house. Then four policemen, with guns!!!, were walking down the street looking for “the bad guys?” One yelled for Ivan (the horse man) to come out, but Teresa said leave him alone, he’s just in his own house. First time in my life I smelled gunfire!!!

 

A bit later, as everyone was hanging out in their balconies (the fenced in area in front of the house), there was suddenly gunfire right next to me! Scared the (*&^%%#!! out of me, and, like a speeding bullet, I ran in the house. I called the Peace Corps with an update, and they could hear the gunfire over the phone. Very scary.

 

The strike is supposed to over in 20 minutes when it gets dark. Somehow I doubt it

 

 

October 25, 2005

But it was over. This morning when I went to the store I saw a still-smoldering pile of tire ash in an intersection, but as I sat drinking my coffee, the three ladies doing their exercise walked by as usual, and the guagua announced it’s departure with the usual musical horn, the sky is blue as usual, and the kids went off to school as usual. Then the kids came back from school cause no one was there—probably also as usual. The lady who cooks and cleans here came at 8:30 as usual. She reports that there was gunfire and police/soldiers in her neighborhood also.

 

When I thought about it, I was struck with how crazy it was. I only saw two or three young men (of course) running from and taunting the police. They were laughing and appeared to be having a good time. They were, of course, drunk. Maybe they had thrown a few rocks, and they certainly burned a few tires. But it was relatively peaceful until the police showed up and started terrorizing the town with their shooting. Kent State came to mind, but here it was like a movie with the police were going up and down the streets shooting.

 

 

October 28, 2005

There was gossip that there would be another strike today so the Peace Corps asked me and my site mate to “go visit someone.” So I went to a hotel in San Pedro and watched some old movies on TV. Called this morning to verify there was no strike and went home.

 

I’ve learned a bit more. Seems that in the last few months a national political party has been formed whose platform is “expel the Haitians.” Wow. I guess we’ll just sit back and watch what happens. On the bus home there was tons of arguing over politics. The man sitting next to me—active in his church—said that there was a Haitian law saying no matter where you’re born, you’re still a Haitian, so the Haitians shouldn’t claim to be Dominicans…

 

 

November 3, 2005

Another strike is planned for the 10th. The padre and his people set up a town meeting to try to resolve the problems. They invited representatives from every organization in town. I didn’t expect much from it, figuring that only his supporters would show up; and I think that’s basically how it went down. But I learned a lot. Father Christopher spoke at length, telling how he had come here (from New York City where, ironically, he ministered to the disenfranchised Dominicans!!), how he was originally told by a parishioner (I think) that he wasn’t allowed to go into the bateys. Being new in town he didn’t want to offend anyone, but one day a Haitian came to his door and asked why he didn’t serve mass in his batey. So he got involved. Once you start seeing things, you can’t help but get involved. He had lots of stories. Like people living for three days on mangos. Like Haitians not being allowed to go to the state public hospital that they pay funds into from their meager salaries (like FDIC). He explained how he had sat down with the big owner family for three years and tried everything, even driving them into their own bateys to show them the conditions, and they always said, yes, yes, we’ll change things, but they never did a thing. So he went public—and the &(&^%!! hit the fan. Now they demonize him. He directs a hospital in San Pedro, and one day was visiting it when an old woman patient getting admitted pointed him out and said “oh, there’s the bad man I saw on TV. He has that hospital St. Peter’s where they only serve Haitians.” So he says to her, “Oh, you’re a Haitian?” to which she replied, “Me, don’t be silly.” Then he says, “But this is St. Peter’s Hospital.” And she says, surprised and shocked, “THIS is St. Peters?”

 

It’s really sad how ignorant the people are and how vulnerable to slander. My site mate said she was not surprised only supporters attended the meeting because the culture here is so non-confrontational that they aren’t comfortable going to a meeting and saying “I disagree.” They’d rather go out as strikers and burn tires and throw rocks. Anyway, we’ll both be leaving town next Wednesday afternoon just in case.

 

 

 

 

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This is what I might see while traveling by guagua. At left is a not untypical house, and at right the ubiqutous fruitstand.

 

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November 5, 2005

A few days ago the postman delivered (I’m special!) a form telling me I had a package waiting in San Pedro. Wow! So yesterday I got on the bus early so as not to miss the meeting. At the post office a clerk took me across the street to a huge building and into her little office where all these packages were stored. She looked up various forms, asked me for 100 pesos (about $3.25) and escorted me and the package to another office, “Verification.” There someone opened the package, removed each and every item (7 books), another person noted the contents on another form (managing to convince herself to list “7 books” rather than name each book), and took the form off to get 3 more signatures. Wow! Then she gave me 2 copies of the form, one to give to the guard as I left the post office facility. Wow.

 

Forgot to mention that there was an armed soldier at the meeting yesterday… guess there’s more violence in this country than I’m aware of. Seems that we’ve lost another volunteer. She ETd (early terminate) today, apparently because she’d been threatened with a gun. This was her second site—at the first she was threatened with a gun too. Now she’s fed up. I was talking to another volunteer about this and said that no one else had had these problems, but he reminded me that two others in our group had likewise been moved, one guy because he was assaulted and one girl because her host dad was murdered. 

 

 

4 December 2005

Wow, almost a month. Time to send this off. 

 

The big news is that my newspaper club published their first edition, and wow, what a triumph. The kids generated about $1300 (pesos) in ad revenue, so we were able to print six pages. Looks great. I look forward to this month when we can work more on writing. I also plan to teach each of them how to produce their own ad (the one they sell). So far all they’ve done is write their story(ies) in Microsoft Word. I worked up the ads, and the school principal corrected the writing. Everyone’s really excited. I even had a real, live reporter stop me on the street to ask me about it—he thought it was a real newspaper! Of course, I invited him to participate. I called one of the Santo Domingo newspapers to solicit a tour for the club. Hope to pull that off soon.

 

I moved to a new house, rather a new family. Bolivia is a lawyer and much more. Very active with the priest in the Haitian controversy. Her husband, Danilo, has five kids, all of whom are doctors. Bolivia has tons of books for me to borrow. We spend a lot of time talking so I think my Spanish will improve some.

 

Christmas decorations went up here just before Thanksgiving (because of course they don’t HAVE Thanksgiving here!) My house looks like many in the US, with a tree and lights and assorted stuff here and there. Even the stupid Santa Claus with the incessant music pouring out of his stomach. (What fool invented batteries anyway?) 

 

The fire engine is all decorated with lights. Kind of interesting considering that the fire department doesn’t have a phone. One of the newspaper articles was about a fire in one of the barrios—I didn’t read anything about the fire department showing up, and I wasn’t a bit surprised.

 

I went to NY for Thanksgiving and followed that with a week of training in the capital. So, needless to say, no one has shown up for my classes this weekend. Guess it’s just impossible to skip one class no matter how many times you tell them the schedule. Very frustrating. I think everything will come to a halt here until January. School gets out on the 17th and resumes on January 8th. However, the newspaper club elected to put out an edition anyway. I think they’re really motivated.

 

 December 9, 2005

The mother of one of the high school teachers died this week. When someone dies they hold a vigil for 9 days in a row. So yesterday the high school let out early in the morning. So everyone could attend the vigil??? Oh well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My young doctor friend, Armando (same name as the high schooler who didn’t want to start school in September), has waited five months for his license—normal. He is now working at a tourist hotel until his residency starts. He told me all doctors have to do a year’s public service before getting their license. He was put in charge of a clinic in a rather big town, Higuey. He said he had a lot of trouble managing the staff. One of the reasons was that there was a national election. Here, when a different party wins an election, EVERY SINGLE NON PROFESSIONAL OR MANAGER working in a government job is fired and replaced with a person who is a member of the winning party. Professionals are doctors, lawyers, teachers. The school district superintendent will lose his/her job as superintendent but will still be a teacher. Can you imagine the chaos? No wonder they can’t even get a road built.

 

Anyway, Armando was telling me about the Christmas holiday. On Christmas Eve there are no religious services because it is a time for family. Christmas day is not a time for exchange of presents; it is a time to observe Christ’s birth. No Santa Claus. But on January 6 (I think), they celebrate the day of the three kings and give presents to the children.

 

He told me that on New Year’s Eve (which I will be here to see) everyone is out on the street; the fire engine parades up and down the streets, blowing their siren. As the clock strikes 12 bells to signal midnight, the people eat a grape with every clang of the bell.

 

The school district office was so impressed with our newspaper that they sent a copy to the State Department of Ed and are planning a big party to announce it to the town. Wow! Now I only hope that we can come up with another addition. This week I planned to teach everyone how to make their own ads, but hardly anyone showed up. However, two NEW kids showed up, and they’re from a batey. This was really nice to see. Hope they stay involved.

 

I told my English class I’m ready to stop. They are just too young and absolutely try my patience. Student A and B will come one day and student C and D the next day. I assign homework, and they don’t do it. They can’t remember anything for five minutes. It’s really sad, and I really don’t understand it. It’s like they want to be saying they’re studying English but are unable to do anything at all to actualize it. My students in Honduras learned more in a single week than these kids in 3 months, I’m not kidding. Why? I’m told that the literacy rate here is second worst (above Haiti) in the Caribbean or Latin America or something. The lawyer I live with (by the way she holds a doctorate in Law!!) says in the country the kids leave school to go to work after 4th grade. 

 

The director of the school district asked me to be on a committee formed at the direction of the President of the DR to “improve the schools.” My table is supposed to make suggestions for modernizing. ‘Course my lawyer (Bolivia), who is on the same committee, states the obvious: how can you modernize when you don’t have consistent electricity? I’ll try to push for modernizing the instructional methodology to get away from this rote learning. But really, public school is outside of my area of expertise.

 

 

December 10, 2005

Yesterday we lost power just before dark (of course), so everyone lit their gas oil lamps and moved their chairs out to the street. (Many corner stores have generators so there’s generally a street light lit now and then.) Life moves to the streets. Bolivia, Danilo (her husband), and I sat there watching life go by. Danilo says he knows everyone who walks by. People take this time to walk around visiting. Bolivia’s cousin and her husband stopped by for awhile. Muy tranquillo (very tranquil).

 

 

December 11, 2005

Yesterday I went to the farewell lunch for the other volunteer in Los Llanos. Of course it didn’t start until four o’clock... after speeches, or a few words, by everyone in her group (they even made ME speak), they passed out the booze and then the food. I was shocked to see even the children (as young as 2 years old) swigging down their 2oz cups of hard liquor!! Wow! Alison told me this is normal; she thinks they like what it does to them. Wow!

 

 

December 17, 2005

Apparently when the sugar cane sends up a shoot topped with a feather it’s time to cut. Yesterday as I passed by on the bus, I saw the cane cutters at work. There were a number of big wagons, each drawn by 6 oxen. The workers cut down the cane, stripped off the leaves, cut the cane into appropriate lengths, and stacked them in the wagons. Hope I can get a picture of it, but I am enclosing one showing the cane feathers. In front of the cane are some kids dressed up to enact a Christmas pageant. Lots of parties nowadays.

 

 

December 19, 2005

I guess I’ve become a true Dominican—I scarfed up my dinner tonight, enjoying every bite, and it consisted of boiled yucca served with fried bologna and fried onions with a healthy dollop of the oil from the pan poured over it all! AND a big chunk of avocado.

 

On the other hand, once an American, always an American: there was to be a Christmas party at the high school today at 4:00. I was supposed to bring food and a gift for the drawing; however, when I showed up at 4:15 (TRYing to observe Dominican time…) no one was there. I called one of the coordinators and was told that it was cancelled because someone had died. Having gone to so much trouble, I was more than a bit ticked that no one had bothered to tell me. Very irritated is more like it. How American of me! I’m feeling again like chuckin’ it. I’m tired of the meetings that just don’t happen and the commitments that are just ignored. And I’m adapting too much; once in awhile even I don’t get excited if I miss a meeting. I decided last week that I simply can’t accomplish anything here.

 

 

December 29, 2005

Last night the Fire Department had a holiday party. All afternoon I watched Bolivia and her helpers cook food (rice, rice, and rice; potato salad, macaroni salad, yucca salad, cabbage salad; chicken and pork) and then haul it all over to the Fire Department where a million people were sitting around those little plastic tables drinking beer or soda. All the FD personnel wore their uniforms; it seemed like half my students were members of some sort of student auxiliary cause they all wore uniforms, too, but different ones. Of course, also present was everyone’s family including the children and babies. The power failed, of course, but they have an inversor, so the lights came back on right away. I knew so many people, by sight if not by name, that it was a real thrill.

 

 

January 8, 2006

I’ve just returned from a week translating for a medical mission up in the northwest. Can you tell from the pictures that this locale is where Jurassic Park was filmed? The mission was very interesting of course. Again, we can’t comprehend how lucky we are. I saw ringworm for the first time in my life, and scabies. Lots of high blood pressure and diabetes. One man was dying from a brain tumor, but there was nothing they could give him other than strong headache medicine, I mean no morphine or anything like it. 

 

Every day the clinic was set up in a different town, usually in a church. (It felt strange to convert the alter into a pharmacy!!) Once we drove the two trucks for an hour into the mountains to get to the town. No rain thank God. Last year they practically had to push the trucks back up the hill from one town. Everyone had to carry out their stuff.

 

 This mission is a medical school in Maine that sends students down here every six months. Very clever. The student nurses (and doctors I think but I worked with the nurses clinic) are accompanied by their doctor teachers and in two weeks complete their semester’s practicum. So everyone pays their own way plus a little extra which is used to buy the drugs and supplies. The students were simply wonderful. I was working with one delightful young nurse who started crying when we were working with a young diabetic man, who was already essentially blind, living all alone, his only family a 90 year old mother. We affixed little sticks on his medicine so he could tell them apart. I got teary myself when one woman told me about her insomnia, and we learned she lived with only a grand niece because in the last six months her husband, her sister, and her niece had all died—almost her whole family.  Lots of migraines—can you imagine having a migraine and not having medicine? However, coming to the same towns every six months allows them to provide some continuity to the care. One man was the champion on the day because he lost 50#, gave up sugar, drinking, smoking and no longer needs diabetes medicine. We think this behavior is EXTREMELY unusual for a Dominican. We gave him lots of applause.

 

Anyway it was extremely hard work for some reason and very long days, but I’m back in Los Llanos now.

 

 

January 13, 2006

I guess we’re in for more holidays. Children’s Day, The Three Kings Day (when they get presents instead of at Christmas), was supposed to be last week on the 5th, but someone else said the 7th, but the government declared Monday the holiday. So school was supposed to start Tuesday, hahahaha. Maybe the students will come next Monday… Then someone told me that February is a party month because of independence day on the 27th, and March is a party month because of the patronal (founding of the city), and April is a party month because of the Easter holidays. This person told me that in March everyone is drunk all month…depressing.

 

Dian asked for pictures of my house so I’m enclosing a picture of the workers building a new fence around the property. Notice that they don’t use cement mixers here—mix the cement on the street. God knows why they want a new fence; I think they found themselves in possession of some second hand fence tops so decided to make a new fence. Also enclosing a pic of the street where I used to live, very typical of all the streets in the central section; and a picture of a street in a popular neighborhood (where I don’t want to live cause it has no street lights [even when there’s power there’s no light] or pavement.)

 

 

January 20, 2006

This is indeed a religious country. Coming back from the capital the other day I saw a big furniture store, like half a block long, and on one side, up by the name of the store were the words “God is love,” and on the other side the words “Don’t live bad” (which probably means don’t live a bad life, or be good.) Then a few blocks later I saw a man wearing a rosary as a necklace (I’ve seen this before).

 

This morning my family told me they wanted me to move—the money is not worth the trouble, Danilo said. When they invited me to move into their two bedroom house I guess the husband didn’t realize how much he would miss his private room (the wife is somewhat of an insomniac, and he was in the habit of sleeping in the second bedroom). I was really ticked; every three months I end up having to move. So I told the Peace Corps I was quitting. Thennnnn, Homero (the husband where I used to live) had a fit because he wants me to work in a nearby batey where they have just acquired a dozen computers. He says they really need me, and he promises to find me another place to live. Oh well. It was a good idea while it lasted. We’ll see what happens. But this is getting ridiculous. Anyway, this batey, La Paloma, is a special project of Homero’s church (Evangelical). It looks like I could be useful there and work every day, all day. Wow! Well, we’ll see. So I’m still here…

 

 

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