Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Information Overload

It's three a.m. on a Sunday morning. Today will be my third Sunday and, unbelievably, only my sixteenth full day in-site. I awoke just now in a cloud of unnamed anxiety and while writing is typically a way I process anxiety and refocus attention, I'm afraid to say it plays a roll in the stress I feel at this moment.

As of today I have posted a total of 108 posts starting from the time it became clear I would probably be invited to serve and leading up to today. So far, my blogging efforts comprise the most ambitious undertaking of my time in the Peace Corps given the obstacles to posting updates and the change in lifestyle, but now that I am actually beginning my service, this is about to change.

Like perhaps a lot of volunteers, I feel a desire to capture my experience in writing and share this chapter of my life with the people I love. Unlike most people, though, I begin to feel anxiety every time the date approaches when I will have no new material in the queue to be published. Combine this with the anxiety of feeling like I ought to be doing more at work, and something has got to give.

I hope that in the coming months, I can learn to balance my desire to blog with my need to become a part of my community and be the best volunteer I can be.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Planting Trees in San Victor Part 2

Posing in front of a map of Monte de Oracion

Finally, we all came together and broke into four groups; two to clean up different river segments and two to plant trees in different places. The group I joined went with Megan to a public park called Monte de Oracion (Prayer Wilderness or Prayer Mount). It turned out to be a forested hillside with little shrines and structures and paths running throughout. After a short hike with our sapplings, we found ourselves on a hillside that had been cleared to plant bananas. We were to plant mango, sedro, and tamarind in between the banana trees as a stay against erosion.

I give a lesson in tree planting 101

After a run-through of the planting tutorial I've given to crews for two seasons with the Friends of Trees green spaces initiative, I handed out digging implements to three of the ten or so in my group and roved around in typical crew leader fashion. The soil was rich and dark and lately, it has been raining almost every day, so I have faith our little trees will at least survive the shock of being transplanted. The banana grove is also a ways away from maturity meaning that, for at least a little while, nobody will likely come to harvest, and thus trample the ground where we planted.

Megan looks on as scouts and primera dama youths get to work

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Planting Trees in San Victor Part 1

Scouts wait in Moca at the clubhouse for their ride to San Victor

Earlier this month at the All Volunteer Conference (AVC) I had gotten the ball rolling toward helping fellow volunteers Megan and Jenie with a day of tree planting and river clean-up and on Sunday the day had come. After some time spent waiting while Jenie wrangled a driver to pick us up, I and about twenty scouts piled into a single pickup which deposited us about ten minutes later at the community center in San Victor, a small town just north of Moca.

Just arrived in San Victor: how many scouts can you fit in a pickup?

In San Victor we were greeted by perhaps about fifty youths from San Victor's Defensa Civil and a younder leaders' group formed in association with the Despacho de la Primera Dama (First Lady's Office). for another half hour or so we waited while planting and clean-up supplies were procured during which I tried in vain to arrange a tournament of rock-paper-scissors like the one we had at the AVC. It turns out that when you ask somebody for help demonstrating a dinamica, as soon as they show the least bit of resistance you lose about half of your audience. I learned that in the future I'm going to ask for volunteers so they won't go flojo on me at the first sign of difficulty.

Members of all three clubs before the day's activities

Friday, May 27, 2011

Morning in Las Lagunas

Sabrina and I arranged for Mike, a volunteer in nearby Palma Herrada, to come visit and went for a hike while we waited for him to arrive. As we climbed a hill through part of Sabrina's community, she described to me her situation and showed me some of what she had going on, including a pig that had been promised her to eat when it got bigger a place next to a school where she was in the process of getting a volleyball court.

We caught up with Mike back at Sabrina's house and I helped her make pizza while she and he got acquainted. Unfortunately, Mike didn't have long before he would have to catch the only other ride back to Palma Herrada and I had promised to help him get back. After eating the incredibly delicious pizza, Mike and I bid farewell to Sabrina and set out for Moca feeling refreshed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Moca Night

On Thursday evening, fellow volunteers Sabrina and Heather came from the northern outskirts of Moca to check out my site here on the south side of town. After sharing a zapote smoothie and oohing and ahhing a bit over my accomodations, we got a motoconcho into town where they did some grocery shopping and picked up some teaching supplies. Next it was off to Cofey, the nice bar we went to two months ago during my volunteer visit, for some drinks and conversation.

Next stop was Sabrina's house in Las Lagunas where we passed some time by candlelight with some of Sabrina's neighbors and put on a movie until we were falling asleep. At about four thirty, I awoke to Heather's dog, Mikey barking. I heard some doors open and shut and when I finally got up at six, it turns out Heather and Mikey had gone.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My New Life in Moca

My two year placement, as I've mentioned, is in Moca, Espaillat. It's a regional hub less than half an hour east of Santiago in the fertile farming region known as the Cibao. Moca is known for its high-quality bananas anc produces more eggs than any other city in the country. Though less remote and larger, it is similar in character to Santa Cruz del Quiche. Just outside of town to the north lie the smaller communities of Juan Lopez and Las Lagunas, both of which host a Peace Corps Volunteer, repectively. Another ten minutes north brings you to San Victor, home to two more volunteers. Three more volunteers can be found up in the Septentrionales another half hour or so north in Los Bueyes and Palma Herrada where I had my volunteer visit.

View from the hospital roof facing northeast into town

My new host family is precious. The patriarch, Don Flor, is 81. He once lived in Boston for 3 years. He and my host mother, Doña Antonia, have nine grown children. One lives in Miami and used to play in a rock and roll band called Los Dedos (The Fingers). Flor and Antonia have a daughter who still lives at home and does housework and a son, Cheche, who drives a taxi downtown and shares the upstairs with me. Hilary, widow to another of their sons, lives in the house as well with her nine-year-old daughter Merelis. Their house is on the far end of a quiet loop in a quiet part of Villa Carolina, one of Moca's nicer neighborhoods. The Scouts clubhouse where I work is right next door.

Alvaro addresses the scouts at the clubhouse

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Peace Corps Prom Part 4

The prom was at a place called Frat, tucked-away in one of the oldest parts of town. Built around an open-air courtyard, the place had a sizable anteroom that horses had evidently passed through at some point in history. Once inside, one rounded a corner and went through another door to arrive at one end of long room situated lengthwise along a bar. Everywhere, volunteers mingled and danced. At the other end of the bar was a cramped and sweaty dancefloor. It was ideal.

My work site: Scout Grupo 8 Clubhouse

Being that I had not had perfect attendance at social outings up to that night, it seems my colleagues were pleasantly surprised to see me. After ten weeks of training it was just what the doctor ordered. I hobnobbed with friends new and old and danced to Major Lazer and Miley Cyrus. At just about the time I was beginning to look for a ride home, the cab of volunteers hosted in my barrio happened to coalesce. Prom accomplished, I went home feeling satisfied and ready to face the months of service ahead.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Peace Corps Prom Part 3

Planting a cacoa tree near El Seibo

On our way over we encountered perhaps 20 volunteers on a street corner, warming up at a local Colmado. I wound up talking to two girls who turned out not be volunteers. One of them was a Fulbright fellow training English teachers. The other worked at a ranch I keep hearing about that is owned by Julia Alvarez. As we chatted about grants and living expenses and let more time go by, I looked around and noticed that I hadn't seen another recent graduate of training since I left La Sirena.

The evening pressed on and eventually I found myself in the park in front of the old cathedral. Some local guys, evidently college-aged socialites, chatted me up and offered me a sip of the strong liquor they were sharing. A few drops of rain began to fall, and next thing I knew I was marooned under a patio umbrella in front of Hard Rock Cafe, standing on a chair to avoid soaking my shoes in the stream formed by the downpour that had suddenly erupted from the sky. When it let up, my volunteer friends and I make a break for it.

Cacao drying at a plant on the edge of El Seibo

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Peace Corps Prom Part 2

Between my barrio of Los Angeles and Centro Olympico where I switch buses to go downtown there are three elevados. These overpasses form big, even arches over the thoroughfares of Santo Domingo. Three quarters of the way up the last one, the guagua's poor engine finally gave out. Out went the cobrador (guy who handles the money for the driver) in search of help. No sooner had I begun to wonder what the heck I would do, than along came another guagua to push us from behind. We after the summit, we literally coasted all the way to my stop.

Some of my scouts playing volleyball

As I walked down the Avenida Máximo Gomez and the purple sky flashed with distant lightening, it occurred to me that this was only my third time to make this trip and my first ever to do it alone. I was relieved to find the vespertine streets replete with people in an atmosphere not unlike a street fair. As I went through the Plaza de Cultura, I was reminded that what made the scene more convivial was the annual book fair being held there.

From my last week in El Seibo: Putting on the radio show

Night had fallen by the time I made it to the pension. There I hung in the lobby with some volunteers and watched basketball. Some decided it would be a good idea to go to Hard Rock Cafe a few blocks from our final destination and take in the rest of the game. Being in need of someone to show me the way and feeling no particular hurry, I decided to join them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Peace Corps Prom Part 1

After the All Volunteer Conference, I went to La Sirena, a big box retailer that is somewhat like a version of Target with a more extensive selection of food and groceries. I had a big bill that I needed to break and unlike most places I spend money, I knew they would have change. As I was going through the checkout I heard my name. It turns out fellow volunteers Julie, Scott, and Claire had also come for some last-minute shopping. After a dalliance in the dining area, the four of us said, “see you at prom”.

Back home, I hammered downed some rice and pork and took a momentary shower. I needed to get downtown and I couldn't be on public transit after 7:00. At the bus stop across the street from my barrio I caught the first guagua (a ten-seater bus being made to fit seventeen) to go by. We hadn't gone a hundred yards when traffic slowed to a crawl. The driver kept wedging us into mere crevasses between trucks and cars that just made it harder for everyone to get where they were going. To make matters worse, the engine kept dying.

View facing north into Barrio Los Angeles standing on the pedestrian bridge
over Autopista Duarte.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All Volunteer Conference Part 2

After lunch, we broke up by region. It turns out the Cibao, the region where my community is located, has so many volunteers that it is broken into three sub-regions. In my sub-region I was delighted to find that there are several volunteers located near me who would be interested to have my scouts come help their communities and who can provide guidance in approaching my secondary projects.

Volunteers take in Boriana's health and safety session

For the last session, we had a chance to float around between different areas of interest including the Marine Interest group, a volunteer publication called the Gringo Grita, and medical missions to name a few. With this time, I concentrated on getting plugged in with the PCDR website and the committee in charge of an upcoming conference for RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) to mark the Peace Corps 50th year. After a closing session on health and safety we were allowed to go our merry way.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

All Volunteer Conference Part 1

The day after swearing-in was the all volunteer conference, and event held annually which every volunteer is required to attend. Being the newest arrivals and having never met most of the volunteers already in the country when we arrived, we were each asked to take the stage and tell our names, where we're from, and where our assigned community is located. When I said I was from Portland, I heard several cheers from the crowd.

Team-building dinámica: group rock-paper-scissors

What followed was a number of break-away sessions. The first divided us into those who were newer and those who had already been in the country a year or more. The newer volunteers took part in several dinámicas, activities designed to give youths a chance to get up and move around in the context of learning situations. It was a blast. Next, we broke up by sector and I had a chance to meet all the ICT volunteers that I hadn't already met. They shared some pieces of advice, of which, “don't compare yourself to others”, stood out in particular.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


On Wednesday, May 11, 2011 I took the oath of service and became one of Peace Corps Dominican Republic's 51 newest volunteers. The highlight of the swearing-in ceremony was a speech by Jamie David Fernández Mirabal, secretary of the environment, imploring us to plant a tree wherever we were placed. Mr. Mirabal went on to say that while he loved us all, he had a little extra love of Colleen Ferris who will be spending the next two years on an island, Isla Saona, near the southeastern-most point of the country.

Post-graduation (left to right): Will Dale, Pedro Medrano, Ryan Browning,
Ekow Edzie, Mike Bustamante, Christina Bradley, Mike Bourgeois, Kayla Reynolds

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


While I've learned through experience that it is best to under-promise and over-deliver, it is easy to let the imagination run wild here. My community is enormous compared to the five or six hundred people a volunteer's project sometimes addresses. So is my pool of potential collaborators; Scout Group 8 boasts 160 active members. They live all over town and can likely provide me with useful information and contacts. Scouts is a well-known and respected institution. I feel incredibly fortunate in my present situation.

Though I've only been here about 48 hours, already I've begun to dream big. My first obligation is to my primary project, the clubhouse and the lab. I intend to fulfill this obligation with superlative aplomb. It may very well be that all my time and energy is devoted to this alone given my commitment to making it a self-sustaining project and the amount of time and effort required in order to make this so. All the same, I can't help but imagine working on potential secondary projects.

For example, there is another group of Scouts in town that meets in a local school, it sounds as if they are less established and politically connected, but it would be interesting to see what I could apply with this group that I learn in working with Group 8. Also, I'm excited to see what emerges from my community diagnostic. I wonder if there is something that they may want me to provide outside the obvious computer-related service. Group 8 has a zip line they would like to develop to run through the canopy in the empty green space behind the clubhouse. Also, it seems as though the surrounding area is sufficiently prosperous to yeild a pool of used computers for reuse/recycling. I would be positively thrilled to develop some community-sourced computer education and donation in the spirit of Free Geek. Only time will tell.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finally, a Project

After seven months of waiting to see if I would be nominated for service, eight more months in the application process, waiting to see what country I would get, and finally seven months of waiting for my departure and subsequently receiving Peace Corps training, I have finally gotten my project. For the next two years I am assigned to Scout Group 8 in a neighborhood near the edge of Moca in the northern Province of Espaillat, Dominican Republic.

My project partner, Pablo Ovalles, is a leader in the scout community. He solicited a Peace Corps volunteer to work in the Group's clubhouse which was constructed last year by Indotel on a parcel of public land near the edge of town that was granted to the them for that purpose. My role as a volunteer will be to help the Scouts fulfill their obligation to Indotel to keep the lab open for regular hours as a resource to the community.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Radio Show Part 2

About twenty minutes into our timeslot, with youths still arriving and filling the small on-air room to brimming, Carlos finally finished the final edits and we began in earnest. The show was to contain several segments, each of which was to be presented by a different youth or youths under the guidance of a specific volunteer. There were interviews with the winning team of a local soccer tournament, a couple local rappers, and with us, the Peace Corps trainees interspersed with hit music selected by the youths. In addition, they had invited a candidate for the local beauty pageant, Miss Patronales to do a live interview.

With the aid of the show outline written in two-inch-high print with blanks for each participant who would introduce a song or segment, we made it through what proved to be just over an hour of programming. Everyone conducted him or herself with remarkable aplomb and in the end a cheer of approval went up, accompanied by many high-fives and group photos. Afterwards, the volunteers retired to my place to celebrate. It was hard to believe the practicum was over.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Radio Show Part 1

On monday came the culmination of five weeks of training and practice in education and youth development. At two in the afternoon, I met with the five other trainees in my practicum group. We gathered at the CTC (Community Technology Center) to iron out the last details and go over the radio show outline our youths had developed at their last meeting. As our youths trickled in, we briefed them on the outline and assigned roles. A few minutes before our show was scheduled to begin, Carlos, our faithful group member and DJ took my USB drive containing the pre-recorded portions of the show and began preparing to play them on the air.

By ten minutes after our scheduled start time, Carlos still wasn't ready. "What's the problem?" I asked. "One of the rappers we interviewed used some words we can't play on the radio." I watched in horror as the minutes of our precious air time ticked away and Carlos frantically made edits in Adobe Audition. I began losing my patience until suddenly I remembered that this is the DR where any time less than half an hour behind schedule is considered early.