I never would have believed I’d be eating fried dough for breakfast! Which is worse: that or the oatmeal and water I had for dinner last night? Welcome to San Rafael del Yuma!! Actually, the oatmeal was really good—I’ll have to find out how it was made. Very grain-y, natural like.
I really like Yuma though. It’s a small town—I could probably walk the whole thing in a couple hours. It has an elementary school with a morning and an evening session (for those who need to work in the daytime), a high school which also has a morning and evening session, and a Catholic school with all grades and one session. No hospital, no post office, three churches, a hardware store, police station. Even a “hospital,” but what it consists of is probably a clinic. It closes at 5:00, but has an emergency room open 24/7. There are sidewalks and paved roads.
Yuma has some of the same problems that Veragua has though. When it rains 60% of the kids don’t come to class. I haven’t observed any classes, but I did see that the facilities are waaaayy better here. No dirt floors and outside classrooms. I do wonder how the night classes work though because there’s hardly ever electricity. Similarly there’s hardly ever water. Where I’m staying now it’s like Veragua in that I take a bucket bath, but it’s worse than Veragua in that water doesn’t flow on the same schedule as electricity, so I don’t know when I can fill my “bucket.” It’s also HOOOOOOTTTTTT here—actually it’s more humid than hot. In the 80’s all the time, but go for a little walk, and you’re drenched in sweat. But this morning I saw a woman wearing a SWEATER!! I guess you get used to it. The worst part about the weather is that this country really dresses up for work. Can you imagine wearing a SUIT here? Well, the ladies wear suits. Most of them don’t wear stockings, thank you GOD,
Right now I have no clean clothes, and I’m trying to decide if I should use my bath water to wash some clothes…
I came here for a 4 day visit last week, and it was interesting. Peace Corps was supposed to set me up with a family ‘cause you’re supposed to live with a family for the first three months (which after Honduras I had decided I wanted to do anyway). Unfortunately, what it ended up being was kind of an in-law apartment so I really never saw the “family.” They brought me my meals like room service. Oh well. After the lady told me what I was to pay for this, I told Peace Corps I had to find another situation. I have since found something much better.
Anyway, during my visit the host lady took me along to a baby shower. Wow, very different from Honduras! Remember, in Honduras all parties are family affairs, and here is no different. In Honduras there was music, dancing, and food, and here is no different. BUT in Honduras the men disappeared, and dancing, what there was of it, was female/female, and the beverage of choice was beer. Here, it is really a PARTY! Never saw a woman dancing with a woman, but the men love to dance. Dominican’s love their music—bachata, merengue, salsa. And everyone’s a good dancer. Also, there was plenty of rum!! Had a good time and actually got to dance twice!! The family had rented (I guess) an open-air hall with bar. The children had a mini playground to occupy them until it got dark.
The funniest thing that has happened so far had to do with a house guest: a chicken. One day I was sitting here working or reading or something, and I noticed a pair of chickens come into the house. This little in-law apartment has a rectangular living room with an opening along one side leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom—or, as I came to realize—three different escape routes!! So I tried shooing the chickens out and failed miserably. I got one out but the other went into the bedroom, under the bed, around the bed, into a corner, up on a table. My GOD. He tried getting out a window but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Eventually I gave up, thinking maybe he’d (I guess it was a her) find his way out eventually. The next day he was still there, however. Nevertheless, being a bit calmer and rational on this day, I outwitted her and am now living alone again with my gate shut.
This time I’m enclosing a photo of kids riding stick “horses.” When was the last time you saw THAT?? In Veragua and here I also saw lots of little boys running with wheels (tires) that they kept upright and moving by hitting with a stick. Sometimes the stick has the top of a plastic bottle (like bleach) attached to form a little cup to more accurately push along the tire. And when was the last time that your GRANDMOTHER’S saw this? Children are amazing.
Raining intermittently, so I mostly stayed on my porch and watched the world go by. I saw a chicken go by with what looked like a long string of skin from a chicken (cannibals?). It was so funny because a bunch of other chickens were trying to get it away from him, but he was very protective. Every now and then he’d put it down and peck at it. I didn’t know chickens were carnivorous, but then again, birds eat worms, yes? What was even funnier was that a dog came along and chased away the chicken. But he thought something was funny about this piece of meat; he kept smelling it and then rolling in it. Sadly, it didn’t seem to change its odor, so eventually he abandoned it. Probably some chicken will pick it up again though.
Wouldn’t you know a sudden cloudburst would happen just as a man and boy were delivering a dinette set and bedstead/mattress set across the street! I watched them struggle to get the stuff off the pickup truck, and couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor home owner. God knows where they got the money for the set of upholstered chairs and double bed mattress set that were probably sopping wet. They live in a poor, wooden house with no stoop, so they’re always putting rags across the threshold to keep the water out. Oh well.
Finally, I watched a little boy cavort under the water spout in his underpants. What a kick. I think his mother was collecting the rain water in a big garbage can. I guess water’s water..
Moved into a different house, half the price but less secure. But at least I have finally unpacked!
Had a real adventure yesterday… with my site mate I took off via guagua for a neighboring (larger town) to pick up some laundry I had left. Then, at the point where the road crosses the river there was a huge traffic jam. Seems that with all the rain (and improper drainage) the river had covered the road. The bridge is at road level, as is the railroad bridge!! Needless to say, it doesn’t take much to bring all traffic to a halt. But, oh no, no halt here. Local farmers hired themselves out at 100 pesos to haul vehicles across with their tractors. Our guagua dropped off his passengers and gave our passage fee to a larger vehicle, and we had no trouble crossing. (You guys in Arizona probably can’t believe this!!) Howevvvvver, when we returned, there was even more water.. AND a truck (the size of a UPS truck I think) had fallen off the road so was tipped at a 45 degree angle into the river and, of course, blocking the road. Not to worry. Just about the time we arrived—and got a half refund from the guagua and asked a BUS if we could hitch across the river—a huge hoist truck set itself down next to the disabled truck. (Now of course BOTH lanes are blocked.) There were tons of people on each side of the river watching this and traffic was backed up on both sides for…God knows how far. The hoist attached lines to the back of the truck, and I said for sure they’re going to tip it over. But no. After a bit, they hoisted up the rear of that truck and swung it back on the road which a tractor attached to the cab of the truck and towed. Wam, bam it was back on the road, and the smiling driver drove off to the cheers of the people! Our bus started across the river, and—by God!—water started coming in!! I was a bit nervous when it covered the entire first step, but then we must have passed the worst part because it started back down. Probably all the passenger’s luggage stowed beneath the bus was soaked. I was sooo sorry that I didn’t have my camera along.
Cars, of course, couldn’t make it across so they were all parked along the side of the road to wait it out. Unfortunately, during all this hubbub my cell phone either fell out of its pocket or was pick-pocketed, but it’s gone and I have to go in to Santo Domingo for a new one.
This is what happens to the houses in Yuma next to the river...
Attended my first Telecentro Committee meeting, and they selected new officers. The old president had been very ineffective so everyone is re-enthused. I gave my little speech and was well received. The new president (a woman) said my Spanish was fine. Today I sat in the Casa de Cultura for four hours to welcome anyone who wanted information about what courses will be offered. Had the visitors fill out a questionnaire and got about 20—a success for Peace Corps standards. So I’ll begin teaching computer classes this coming week. Hope to start a newspaper “club” at the high schools, too.
Oh, one last thing: In Honduras I learned that roosters REALLY do say "cock-a-doodle-doo" and geese really do say "honk, honk." Here in DR I have added to my repertoire: ducks really say "quack quack," cows really say "moo" and donkeys, by God, really do say "Hee haw" (and boy does it sound weird).
Frustrating day. Spent the morning trying to print some announcements for classes that I had worked up over the weekend. Considering that I had personally bought the ink for the printer in the Ave, I figured I’d use that printer. Of course I had to buy my own paper for what amounted to $10 for the ream, my God. Then I had to download a new driver for the printer. While I was doing this I thought I would try to install Windows NT on one of the machines (I’m working on this so that eventually we can network the computers). All I ended up doing was inactivating two computers, but since they didn’t work anyway I guess nothing was lost. It was just frustrating. Then I went to hang up announcements for the computer club and drop in on the President of the Computer Committee to see if there were any plans to schedule a meeting (God forbid). I asked around for her house, but she was gone for the day. Then I went to the Telecenter to post one of the club announcements and begin working on the new classes with the Telecenter manager (whose job it is to do the teaching). The Telecenter was closed. Of course it’s SUPPOSED to be open. She’s SUPPOSED to work 2:00 to 6:00. There are so many things out of whack here it gets depressing.
There is still no water in my house. The owners have been bringing over bottles, but since I used one to wash clothes this morning, there are now none left. Three weeks ago I paid them 1000 pesos to install the water tank, and it was supposed to take one day. Guess I’m going to have to consider moving again.
Yesterday I took the guagua to Boca de Yuma, down the road about 30 minutes, to see the seashore. Big deal. I got off the bus, took a picture, and was ready to leave again. Oops. I swear I waited two hours for another bus. Even though someone verified that I was indeed waiting in the correct place, I eventually walked somewhere else and eventually caught a bus (that did NOT go to the place I had been waiting!). Boca de Yuma is apparently a haven for drugs and illegal emigration (it’s the closest point to Puerto Rico). Just last week there apparently was a boat crash there between two smugglers that resulted in tons of drugs getting washed ashore. Even though the Navy went about picking it all up, lots of “folks” ended up getting some—worth mucho bucks. I hear that the way to get into the U.S. is to get to Puerto Rico and pay someone to marry you. Takes about 35,000 pesos and six years, but apparently lots of people do it.
The other day I cooked my first dinner here—spaghetti with sautéed vegetables. Oops, no salt. So I walked over to the nearby colmado to buy some. She sold me a bag of rock salt. Oh well. Wasn’t too bad until I got a bite of rock salt. So the next day I tried the Super Mercado, and on the shelf found a bag of what looked like salt and was called Monosodium Glutamate which SOUNDED like salt. Unfortunately, I later remembered that Monosodium Glutamate is MSG. Who would have believed that MSG would be sold in a bag big enough to cook 2000 Chinese dinners? Still have no salt.
People here have a big thing about “hair.” It’s a black thing unfamiliar to us blancos, but here there’s “good hair” and “bad hair.” Good hair is not kinky. (It sounds so racist to me but apparently they don’t feel uncomfortable with it. I would just wear my kinky hair really short like those sexy models. But here only the men wear their hair short; the women all want Anglo hair styles.) Soooo they run around in rollers. Remember those big rollers from the 60’s? THOSE rollers. Even at a meeting of the Committee where, supposedly, we should be wearing business attire, a woman showed up in rollers!! And when it rains, everyone and his brother (yes, even the men) run around with plastic bags on their heads. It’s really funny.
Some ponies wandered by my house yesterday, no halters, no owners hovering, just wandering around chompin’ on grass. Donkeys and horses just wander around with the chickens. No pigs like Honduras though.
No child labor either. With the exception of shoeshine boys (who will shine your shoes for 35 cents), there, thank God, isn’t the ubiquitous child labor here like in Honduras. No one comes door-to-door selling stuff, and no one is constantly boarding the buses to sell refreshments and anything else. Here when you get on the bus you're supposed to say “Hello” to everyone. Here coffee is served in 2oz. cups—either nice espresso china cups or little disposable plastic medicine cups (like in the dentist to rinse with). Of course it’s strong and sweet.
The lady who owns the “restaurant” where I eat lunch was unhappy with me because I wasn’t coming every day. She said, “you think my food is bad.” I think someone told her I mentioned that I couldn’t handle eating the same thing every day. She said, “Tell me what you want and I’ll cook it.” I said I didn’t have the right to do this. Nevertheless, I started bringing her vegetables, and—goodness me—she cooked them. So I had eggplant one day along with my beans, chicken, and rice, and okra another day. Okra used to be the only vegetable I didn’t eat, but I must admit that in the DR they make okra taste good.
A kid stopped in front of my house today, and one thing led to another. He asked for water, but I didn’t have any (my landlord has been lax). So I learned he’s fourteen years old and in the seventh grade. Tomorrow he has a makeup exam in civics that he needs to pass to enter eighth grade. However, he needs 10 pesos to pay for the exam or he is held back in seventh grade. OK, so since I was about to ask him to go to the store and buy us both a coke (being thirsty myself), instead I suggested that if he wanted to drink water instead of coke he could keep the 10 pesos for his exam. He told me how the tourists come to visit the catholic school, and they’re always giving the kids money. Once they came to the public school, but there was such commotion when someone wanted to give a kid $5 to buy new shows and pants, that they haven’t been back. “Jorge” told me the public school kids misbehave. He told me about dengue mosquitoes, too. They’re bigger than the regular mosquitoes, and I guess more dangerous. An 8 year old in his school died last month of hemorrhagic dengue. (Peace Corps doesn’t consider it dangerous; you just get horribly sick for two weeks. I’ve heard that you don’t get hemorrhagic until and unless you get infected about four times by different kinds of dengue. Oh well. Peace Corps worries more about malaria because some Canadian tourist died from untreated malaria a few years back. We are required to take weekly, foul-tasting prophylactics for malaria, so we’ll never get it I guess.)
Well after weeks of discussion the Peace Corps has decided to move me to a new site. So starting tomorrow I’ll be in Los Llanos in the province of San Pedro de Macoris. This is still in the East.
So wish me luck. Next letter I’ll tell you all about the new city. (They have no internet so God knows WHEN I’ll be writing.)