Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Wow, here I am, beginning my second tour with the Peace Corps. I am really looking forward to this-a new country, a new sector, new people, new customs. So, what did I see first? Several things struck me immediately. First, the absence of all those Honduran buses and taxis! Wow! Later I learned that the DR taxis look like normal cars, so there might be tons of them but not obvious. The buses werenít crowded either. I saw a FEW food stands selling peeled oranges like in Honduras, but, in general, didnít look the same. And the streets have street signs!! All in all, I think this country is more advanced than Honduras.
The training is basically the same, but, probably because I have better language skills, I am enjoying it this time instead of being stressed out of my mind.
Itís ďsweater weatherĒ right now, often pretty windy, but not at all hot. So my first ďhardshipĒ was taking a cold shower at my new home. Oooooh! No more morning showers for me! From now on Iíll wait till early evening.
I LOVE the food here! So different than Honduras where everything was fried-fried beans, fried rice, fried chicken. I think they use a lot of spices here, too. Last night for dinner I was served ďmongooĒ (like mongoose) which, she said, was plŠtano (remember thatís the cooking banana), cheese, onion, bit of margarine, bit of milk. Delicioso!! (also probably very fattening, but at least it wasnít fried.)
My host family has both a cistern (so we always have water) and a back-up battery (so we always have electricity). My ďmother,Ē Candida, has a husband and four children in the US (legally) so she probably has a lot of money. She also has two daughters here, living next door with their families. Jasmine, 21, just graduated from college, and is the first in the family to do so. I havenít met her husband because he works from 2:00 to 10:00pm every day. She has a delightful 2 year old boy, Estarling (?). This is an apartment building, kind of, with a different household downstairs and a different family in back. Like Honduras, the buildings are all cast concrete, but, so far at least, they have ceilings.
The country is solidly Catholic, and Candida goes to church about three times a week.
They told us that (unlike Honduras) drunkenness is not tolerated here so I guess I wonít be seeing drunken men sleeping on the street on Sunday mornings. Weíre told that many, most? Homes have telephones (mine does), but thereís no internet cafť nearby.
Oh, I also havenít seen but one gun! Everything is barred up and locked up, but I havenít seen those ubiquitous guards with their machine guns (well, I guess they werenít machine guns, but I canít tell one from the other).
Transportation is quite different here because there are a lot of different ways to do it. There ARE taxis, but you have to call them on the telephone. The ones you pick up on the street are too dangerous. Thereís a LOT of theft here, but apparently (knock on wood) not too many physical assaults. Apparently, under the previous president the economy went all to hell, with the value of the peso going from a stable 15 to $1 to 50 to 1 and fluctuating up and down between 30 and 50, very unstable, to the point where people had trouble EATING. No surprise that theft has increased. Happily, the former president, Fernandez, was reelected this past year so hopefully the economy will improve again.
In Honduras training was in a little town outside of the capital, hilly and touristy-whereas here Iím in a very urban area, flat (thank you GOD!!), so Iím probably not getting a good feel for what itís really like in the DR.
The national pastime here is dominos and baseball (instead of soccer). Already we have been taught to play dominos and I hope to be playing today (Sunday) with my family.
Will keep you posted! Hasta luego (see ya later).
We have finished our first part of training, and next week go out to the countryside for our ďCommunity Based Training.Ē My group is going to the north coast, and I understand that I will be with two others in-once again the lowest Spanish group, sigh sigh-but in a town very close to the beach.
So, what has this month brought? I am still having a much, much better experience in training here in the DR than Honduras. There are probably several reasons--much smaller group (35 as opposed to 60), I think a more serious-minded group, possibly more diverse in age, only two sectors (forestry and education) so we have a lot more in common, more interactive training. But probably the biggest thing is that Iíve done it before so nothing is strange, and finally, my Spanish is much better so I donít worry that theyíre going to fire me.
Still really donít know much about the DR. Iíve spent a lot of time squished into a guagua or caro publico. Imagine a normal sedan-the caro publico wonít LEAVE until there are four people in the back seat and three in the front seat. The guagua is a minivan that has a two-seater on one side, a single seat on the other side and a drop down seat between. Five people have to sit in a row for about two rows. Then itís squish city. You donít need to hold on because humanity keeps you upright. One day it was so full that a couple of men rode clinging to the outside!!
The electricity is a real problem here. That is, there isnít any for several hours every day. Itís rather impossible to run an internet cafť. So what people do is buy invertors, very expensive pieces of equipment that convert the power so it can be stored in batteries. Then they run from the batteries. So here, when you rent a house you not only have to ask if they have a cistern to store water but an inversor/batteries to store electricity.
I have played a bit of dominos. I even win sometimes, but Dominicans are very quick with the computation--that is, they can tell what pieces have been played and so know when no one can play. I think itís a more subtle game than it appears.
The ladies here definitely dress more formally than in Honduras. I traveled to my volunteer visit and felt very underdressed. Iím definitely going to have to get some different clothes. However, weíll see how it goes.
We had a farewell party yesterday for our host families, and I learned something very interesting about the Dominican collective (as opposed to American individualism) culture. My group played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There was a prize for the winner, mind you! Each volunteer was paired with a contestant from his family, so it was a contest between families. So, of course we Americans root for OUR team and try to mislead and misdirect all the other teams. But NOT THE DOMINICANS! They tried to HELP everyone. No misdirection, only help. Itís a collectivist and sharing culture. So I guess Iíll share the two pears I bought the other day at the supermarket.