14 Meses

Hi All,

We are back safe in the DR after our wonderful visit home. Keeg and I are so thankful we got to spend so much time with our family and friends back home. I know we missed some of you, but we’ll hopefully see you next fall/winter.

Speaking for myself, it was a bit weird being back. Don’t get me wrong, it was so great being back in Nebraska and seeing everyone, but, it was weird. I have been so used to life here, that the “normal” things back home seemed foreign to me. Don’t get me wrong, though, I did fall quickly into old habits. Here is a quick list of some of the things I really enjoyed: hot water, running water (that I could drink), the beerS!, being able to drive myself (or have Keegan drive me exactly where I wanted to go)/not having to use public transportation, people not being afraid of Luna and the first thing out of their mouth wasn’t them asking if she bites, speaking Spanish at Mexican restaurants, steak (especially when my dad grilled it), going to the YMCA/yoga.

Luna enjoying the Elkhorn Valley River.
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We of course had to get Runza (twice).
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Here is Keeg showing off his new boots he got in Norfolk!
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Another thing that we are both SO grateful for is the book donations! We have received almost 200 books from friends and family, and cannot thank you enough! We are currently working on a thank you from the kiddos, and it will be coming your way shortly. =] Everyone (the principal, students, teachers, parents, other community members) was SO surprised to hear with how many books we brought back! Our shelves are slowly filling, and will post some updated photos soon.

Here is a photo of some of the books that were donated!:

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We have now been back for a little over a week. Since then, we have tried to catch up with our neighbors and everyone at the school. Also, we moved two days ago!!!!! We moved just across the street on the corner, to a little two-bedroomish house with a private outdoor area. Luna is already loving being able to go in and out of the house without having to “ask permission”. The neighbor kids seem to enjoy it more too. Our 6 year-old neighbor Enmanuel comes over daily to play with Luna, and our front patio has already been broken in as the homework help spot. Although our outside area is pretty private with high bushes, people seem to stop by more often since our front gate is right off of the sidewalk and they don’t have to walk up stairs to say hello. Besides the wonderful outdoor area, we also have running water. =] This house has a large tank on the roof that is filled with water, and when a faucet is turned on, the water comes down. Our town usually gets water every 2-3 days, so our tank should always stay full. 

Here is the front of the house.
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Here is a view from the side of the house looking out the front gate.
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‘ll post inside photos once the place is put together a little more. =]

 

As far as work goes, this month will be fairly slow with the school year coming to an end. We will be focusing on planning our summer programs and hanging out in the library with the kiddos. I will update you all on those once we have more solid plans. We also have our one-year dental checkups and physicals so we get to go to the capitol in a couple of weeks. I haven’t been there since Thanksgiving! At the end of the month we have our education group’s one-year in-service-training, where the education volunteers that came in the same time as us get together and talk about the current initiatives in the education sector as well as hear about what everyone has been doing in their sites and share ideas for our next year. There is a couple of volunteers in our group who I have not seen since last May! Of the 19 of us, there are only 14 of us left, but it will be so great seeing everyone. And, now that our group is leading the Education initiatives, we’ll get to lead everything in a way our group sees fit, which is very exciting. 

That’s all I have today. I’ll update you all once we are more settled and back into the swing of things. Have a happy Friday! 

Abrazos,
Cait

La Biblioteca: ¡ayúdenos, por favor!

Hi All!

I wanted to write a quick post about the library. The library is now up and running… but the shelves are still very empty! (I’ll add a photo this weekend). Keegan and I decided to start an Amazon Wish List for all of you back home who are looking to support a great cause! We are searching for books in SPANISH, all levels up to about a 6th grade reading level. Other levels are welcome as well, I just know that children’s books will be used the most at the moment!

Currently, we are working hard to making our programs sustainable, and have been training Dominicans from the community to take over our small reading groups in the library at school. We have had a lot of success, and everyone in the community is winning! The tutors are getting technical training, community service hours, and experience working with children. The teachers are getting more help with their students in their overcrowded classrooms. The students are improving their reading levels tremendously! Remember the low, low scores in reading our school had at the beginning of the school year? Of the about 30 3rd and 4th graders that could not read a single word at the beginning of the year, they are ALL reading at least at or very near to a first grade level or higher! If that isn’t success, I’m not sure what is. =] Please remember, all of our teaching is done in Spanish, and I am talking about the children reading in Spanish, their first (occasionally second) language.

So, what can you help with? If you have a few extra dollars at the end of the week, please send us a book! If you are in Nebraska, there is a very great chance that we could personally pick up the books in APRIL (we will be back for a couple of weeks!!!). If mailing works better, we have an address in NE as well as our address here in the DR. Please email cait.keeg@gmail.com for any questions or addresses!

I am attaching the Amazon Wish List link so you can see the types of books we are looking for. Pretty much everything: Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, chapter books, Spanish literacy games, etc!

http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/16FS1RUAHYI6Y/ref=topnav_lists_2

Thank you in advance for those of you who are looking to donate to our project. I know there are many great projects and organizations locally to you all in the States, so if you do not feel that this is for you, please donate something locally. =] Everyone appreciates donations!

We hope to see you soon! =]

Muchas, MUCHAS gracias,
Cait

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Here are our beautiful shelves! Half of the books are borrowed from the DREAM Project, and the encyclopedias are lent by a local community member. The paper Reading A to Z books are donated from the DREAM Project as well. The other half of the books belong TO THE SCHOOL donated by The DREAM Project, my parents, my aunt and uncle Judy and John, and a distant relative of my mom! Please consider donating. Our goal is 3,000 books by the time we leave the country in May of 2015!!

Also, the shelves are different colors for a reason! Each color represents a different level of book! We also have put a small, colored label on each book so everyone knows which level the book is, and which shelf it belongs to! Each book also has a tag that says who it was donated by and that it belongs to the school’s library!

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Our program Profes Jóvenes at work! The program is for tutors (volunteers from the community, mainly high school or university students) to work with students in 1st – 4th grade. Once the kinks are worked out this spring (which so far, there aren’t many!) we will begin a full program next school year, which will hopefully continue for years after. Sustainability! Woo!

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One of the morning tutors working with a group of students during RECESS. The school day is split into two, so there are two sessions in the school day. Students are in school for 3-4 hours a day.

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The library full of students during the morning RECESS. The kids LOVE the library!

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Another morning tutor working with students under the alphabet tree during recess.

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Keegan introducing one fourth grade class to the library for the first time. He is explaining the rules and the system we have in place for the books.

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This is recess during an afternoon session, with another local tutor. She is a daughter of one of the teachers!

¿Qué estamos haciendo?

Many have told me that after telling others that we are serving here in the DR, that people ask them why. That makes sense. The (most-likely) majority of Americans that have visited the DR have only visited all-inclusive resorts, and let’s be real here… An all-inclusive here looks the same as an all-inclusive in Mexico, Jamaica, any Caribbean location. Anyway, the all-inclusive resorts take up a VERY small, rich percentage of the country here. Many parts of the country do not have running water, have electricity sporadically, and tin roofs. So yes, when you think of the DR, think of the beautiful beaches, but also think about the people who live here and how they live their lives. It is very different from life in the states, but who is to say they aren’t as happy?

So, back to the original questions: What are we doing? We are volunteers in the education sector, one of the four PC sectors in this country: Business Development, Health, Youth and Families, and Education. Specifically, the education sector focuses on childhood SPANISH literacy. We are not teaching English, but working to improve the literacy rates in Spanish here. The reading and writing rates are very low in certain parts of the country, even for those that are attending school.

Last semester, Keeg and I focused on small reading groups in the 1st-4th grade. There are nearly 200 students in these four grades in our school, and about a third of them could not recognize the vowels at the beginning of the school year. I should clarify, Kindergarten is optional, so many of the first graders had never been to school before. In these small groups, we worked mainly with the kids who needed the most help… those who could not read in 3rd and 4th, and those that did not know their vowels in 1st and 2nd. The semester went well, with every single child improving in one way or another. Some of the older non-readers even started reading!

Small group work:
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We also worked on teacher training with our counterpart from the DREAM Project (workshops with new ideas and strategies), as well as ran some other smaller programs, like Deportes Para La Vida, which is a program that focuses on sports as well as health and HIV/AIDS awareness.

DPV Graduation:
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We also built a library! And by built, I mean we converted a large closet space into a library. I wish I had before pictures, but I don’t. The space was piled high full of 60+ broken desks and chairs, and close to 1,000+ textbooks that could no longer be used because they were outdated. Now, we have a beautiful space that looks a little more inviting for the kiddos.

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Here is the best “before” photo that I can find. This is after it has already been cleared out.

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This is a photo of all the broken desks and chairs that were thrown into the space. Notice, many of them are stacked two or three together.

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And here are many of the textbooks.

Now for the transformation…

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We are just about finished for now (in these photos it’s still a bit messy). We could not have done anything without funding from the DREAM Project and the school, as well as help from community members. Our next project is raising funds for children’s books in Spanish. We will be applying for some grants (one will most likely be a friend’s and family donation link) in the near future. Or, if you’re feeling extra giving, send a children’s book our way! Yes, we love getting packages (message me for our address)!! This semester, to raise funds within the community, we are planning a men’s basketball tournament as well as a reading/literacy fair at the school.

So, what will we be doing this semester? We are trying to move into different projects. The teacher training will continue with the DREAM Project. Our small groups will continue, but we’re going to start a tutoring project to have high school students and older take over the small groups for us (more sustainability, yay!). Keeg will be focusing more on youth groups and youth leadership programs as well as some parent education. I will be focusing on some youth groups as well as a mom and toddler program to raise (sidenote: I just sat at my computer for three minutes trying to translate this word from Spanish) education and learning in the household. Keeg also was nominated the VAC representative of our region! That means, he’s in charge of organizing quarterly meetings for about 50 volunteers, as well as making sure everyone is doing well in their sites (an extra person to call for questions or support). So congrats to him! We also are working on a presentation for a national conference for one of the Peace Corps initiatives, Escojo Enseñar, which is the teacher training program where many volunteers will bring teachers and principals from their communities. I am also helping update a small section of the manual for this initiative.

Many of you may be surprised to learn that nothing we are doing has anything to do with teaching English. In the future, we may teach an English class here or there since we live in a high tourist area, but for now, we have our plates full. =]

School has started back up and we’re already starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with everything on our plates. We are eager to make these new changes in our schedules, though! We are looking forward to having visitors again in March and hopefully a trip soon shortly after… Surprise!

Luna update: She can do puppy push-ups now! It’s precious. =]
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XXOO,
Cait

Feliz Navidad

Current Read: Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal by JK Rowling

Happy Holidays from the sunny, warm Dominican Republic! We miss you all back home, and wished we could have been back in Nebraska for the holidays.

We’ve had a couple busy months here. November was filled with mini-vac in Punta Rucia, Language Training, and Thanksgiving in the Capitol. Mini-vac is a time for volunteers living in the same region to get together and talk about policies and happenings within Peace Corps, a time for us to get our voices heard to administration, anonymously, through volunteer representatives. Conveniently, we live in the best region in the country and spent the day after our 1.5 hour long meeting snorkeling around a small island we had to ride a boat to get to. We’re really roughing it down here. Language training is a week long training session for those of us that scored lower than a 7 on the ACTFL (a 1-10 scale with 10 being a native speaker). This scale is internationally known, which is great because when we leave country we’ll get tested again and will be able to put our exact score on our resume. Anyway, we had a week long training with intensive classes from 8:30-3:00 each day. Keegan and I were split into separate classes which was nice to get some practice with other volunteers and our local language instructors. For Thanksgiving, PC goes all out. This is our one holiday that PC actually has an official “party” for us. The day started at 6am with a 5k Turkey Trot for those who wished to participate. We then played some sports (football and volleyball this year) as swear-in classes. My group did pretty well… Then, we went to a fancy hotel to a rooftop pool to hang out for the afternoon. Finally, we had an AMAZING Thanksgiving dinner. There is a baking crew that makes homemade pies and stuffing, and the hotel makes the turkey and other goodies. Each table of 8 shared a full apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie. It was amazing, and such a great taste of home. The dinner was concluded by a talent show put on by volunteers ranging from comedy skits, spoken word, to singing.

After November came December, which meant my parents came to visit! I miss them already! After some flight delays due to the winter weather in Dallas, they finally made it about 18 hours late. We had an amazing time, and Luna got to meet her maternal grandparents! She loves them, by the way, and can’t wait to see them again! We stayed in Cabarete, the nearby surf town. We got to experience a lot: walking the town, watching the kite boarders, visiting our site a few times, hiking a fellow volunteers mountain trail, visiting Dudú Lagoon and Playa Grande, and eating lots and lots of good food. My favorite? The whole, grilled fish. Eyeballs and all. Their favorite? It might have to be the giant avocados we made guacamole with every night, but you’d have to ask them to be sure. Luna’s favorite part was Playa Diomante, where she ran around with a beach dog in the water.
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Here we are, getting ready for a night walk along the beach with beer, rum, and wine.

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A waterfall we visited on our day long tour with our trusty taxi driver Danny.

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Luna thanking her grandparents for such an amazing week.

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Photo from the blue lagoon. Photos don’t do it justice. Keegan braved the zipline into the water, as well as a 30+ foot cliff jump into the water. Dad decided to get in and swim around also!

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Playa Grande… About 1.5 hours from where we live.

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Mom and dad at Playa Grande.

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The end of our whole, grilled fish (caught that day) meal, with avocado, rice, and tostones.

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Of course dad and I found time to do our annual Christmas puzzle. =]

So how was our actual Christmas? I can’t complain. School ended the week after my parents left. We finished up our literacy groups and the school had their Día de los Niños on the 19th. Since then we’ve had some free time. We’ve been hanging out with our neighbors, as well as visiting the beach. The night of Christmas Eve we went to our neighbors across the street. Her brother had roasted a pig, so we enjoyed puerco asado as well as rice, beans, potato salad, green salad, grapes, apples, sweet plantains, roasted mixed vegetables, bread, and much, much more. One things I missed was some frosted Christmas cookies. Christmas day we went to the beach. We found a local beach where we can get internet from a local resort, so we were able to Facetime with family while at the beach. You can’t get much better than that. Although we weren’t physically with family this year, we were able to communicate quite well due to this great thing called internet. =]

I’ll post again soon about what we are actually doing here, which I think I keep missing. I just post about all the fun stuff we get to do. Trust me, we’re doing a lot of work down here! =] We’re also making sure we find time to stay sane and have fun, as well.

Love and holiday wishes to you all,
Cait

Life in Nebraska vs. The Dominican Republic

We have been living here in the DR for more than 8 months now, and I feel as if I can finally fill you all in on some differences. Most of them are not better or worse, but they took some adjusting. I’ll try to put them into an order so things make a little bit of sense as I go on. Enjoy!

1. Electricity
DR: Electricity in this country differs from place to place. We are lucky to have luz for just about 24 hours a day. Usually it goes out 1-2 days a week for part of the day, and when it is storming, besides that it’s rare (once a month) that it goes out more than that. In other parts of the country, there are volunteers that get electricity 12 hours a day, some with three hours in the morning and night, and some with electricity for a few hours every few days.
Why? It’s complicated. Some parts of the country it’s hard to run electricity lines to. Other places it’s expensive to have electricity and people don’t pay their bills, thus resulting in fewer hours with electricity, others, who knows?
NE: Electricity all the time. Unless a line went out in a big storm, maybe once or twice a year for a few minutes.

2. Water
DR: The town where we live gets water three times a week (which is mucho). Our water goes into a large tank under the ground and sits there until we need it. We then have to plug in our water pump for the water to rise into our apartment and through our pipes. At our host family’s house, we had a tank on top of the roof that filled up, which meant we did not need to plug in a pump to use the water. What do you need to use a water pump? Electricity. Which means no electricity = no water. To use the pump, it’s expensive, so we only use it when we’re out of water or we’re doing a lot of cleaning/washing clothes.
In other parts of the country, volunteers get water from rivers, or have to buy water off of a truck. There may be a handful of volunteers in the whole country that do not have a large barrel or bucket that they keep water in.
I almost forgot to mention that our water is never warm, unless we boil it first. I don’t think water heaters really exist in this country except in hotels.
NE: Hot water or cold water? I can get either in seconds, from any faucet I want.

3. Travel
DR: We are not allowed to drive any type of motor vehicle while in country. Plus, I don’t know who could afford one anyway on our salary.
If I am going anywhere within my site, I walk. Nowhere I can’t get within 20 minutes. If I am leaving sites to go somewhere nearby I usually take a carro publico or a guagua. For further trips I take buses. In the capitol, I try to use the metro whenever I can. Oh yeah, taxi’s exist, too, but they’re too expensive to use.
A carro publico is a shared taxi with a fixed route. It drives back and forth picking up and dropping off people as it goes. The fun part? The normal size car holds 7: four in the back, three in the front (including the driver).
Guaguas are over-sized vans that hold 11 or so people in the states. Here? They squeeze in as many as they can, many times getting 20+ during the busy times of day.
The other buses we take are anywhere from a school bus style, to a greyhound bus with a bathroom and air conditioning. Luckily, if I go to the capitol, my 5 hour bus ride is with a reclined seat and AC.
Other forms: Motoconchos are motorcycle taxis. I avoid them. Taxis are common, but on my salary I only use them when absolutely necessary. Some volunteers have bikes or horses to get around. Our site is not feasible for either.
NE: I had a car, Keeg had a car… I could go anywhere I wanted. Oh yeah, or bike anywhere.

4. Electronic Communication
DR: Remember those little Nokia phones from about ten years ago? That’s what we have, but a tiny step up. Ours have colored screens. We have to pay to put minutes on our phone ahead of time-no contracts with these.
Our internet is through a cell phone company. It is a modem that is plugged into the wall that comes through a cell phone company. Luckily, we have wifi, but with two salaries it is easier to afford. We have a 10G plan, and after that it slows down.
Other volunteers without electricity or cell phones have no such luck and have to travel pretty far for internet. Others buy little USB sticks that they can buy a day’s worth of internet through a phone company and use that.
NE: Wifi in the house. Internet on our cell phones.

5. Weather
DR: Hot. Humid. The sun is always out. At least up here on the north coast. I still feel like it’s August… and it’s mid-November. I had a friend that lives in the mountains a couple hours away tell me that she slept in pants the other night! I couldn’t believe it… we can’t get away with that yet. Other parts of the country have had some major rain, but we’ve only had a few storms over the past few months. So far I have not thought once that I am now in the fall when we arrived in the winter. It’s all been the same: hot.
NE: Summers are unbearably hot, winters are unbearably cold and sometimes snowy. Spring is rainy and fall is cool.

6. Bathing
DR: When the pump is plugged in, we can take a shower with water pressure. When it’s not (it’s pretty expensive) we bucket bathe. Let me remind you that we do not have hot water. I consider ourselves lucky, though, because we are in the minority of volunteers that have the option to take a real shower. Bucket bathing is the norm here, and most of the time it literally is in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen or another empty space. Some have rivers for bathing.
NE: Hot shower? Bubble bath?

7. Washing Clothes
DR: We have a washing machine! No, it’s not what you are thinking. Our washing machine has two compartments, a large compartment with moving bottom, and a smaller compartment with a spinner. The large compartment is used for filling with water and soap and clothing. You then set the timer (usually 15 minutes) and the clothing gets rotated around. The small compartment is used for rinsing and drying. You put the clothes (usually half a load) into the spinner (same concept as a salad spinner), and add some fresh water. I then turn the timer to about 3.5 minutes and let it spin, rinsing then eventually almost drying it. After that, I hang it on our clothes line outside. Before we had a washing machine? Everything was washed by hand…. which we lasted about a month then we caved.
Here is a photo:
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The black bucket is what holds our water. The large compartment is on the left. We put it into the shower each time we wash clothes, otherwise in order to dump the water after each load we’d have to use buckets.
NE: Washing machine – I put the clothes in dry and dirty and a while later they come out wet and clean. Dryer – I put the clothes in wet and a while later they come out dry.

8. Cooking
DR: Gas stove. First turn on the gas, next light a match and turn on a burner, cook your food.
Here is a photo of our setup:
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NE: Oven, Stove, Microwave, Toaster, Coffee Maker, etc.

9. Washing Dishes
DR: Hand wash! If the water is off, I take my tupperware of water and fill it up. I wash my dishes then put them in the other side of the sink. After I wash, I rinse with the bucket water, then put them in our handy plastic drying rack. We’re lucky and actually have a sink. Some volunteers have buckets.
Here is a photo:
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NE: Dishwasher.

10. Drinking Water
DR: Water from the faucets here is not safe to drink. PC supplied us with a handy dandy water filter that we normally use in order to have drinking water. When we’re low on water or lazy, we buy a botellon.
Water filter:
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Botellon:
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NE: I drank faucet water.

11. Schools
DR: The school day is 3-4 hours a day, with a 15 minute recess. Each day usually has two tandas or sessions. Depending on the schools, some teachers teach in both tandas, sometimes 1st grade in the morning, and 8th grade math in the afternoon. High schools are only in larger areas, thus meaning it is difficult or expensive to get to. Our community with about 15,000 people doesn’t have one. Class sizes normally range from 30-50, sometimes being smaller because so many of the children do not come, which makes for a class size that is acceptable to teach, but means many are not getting any education.
Luckily, the country is changing currently. While I am here, I am slowly going to see schools around me switch to a full day. This means almost every location needs to build a new school, or double the size in order to have enough classrooms for each grade level.
NE: School day is 8 hours, mandatory until age 16-18, and class size is less than 25.

12. Lunch Break
DR: 2 hours
NE: 30 minutes

13. Wine and Cheese
DR: Wine that is less than US$5 in plastic cups, with shredded cheese (we’re lucky enough to live close to an international grocery store), or weird colmado cheese that isn’t any specific type.
Photo:
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NE: Good wine. Wine glasses. Multiple varieties of cheese. Ugghh…

13. Beer
DR: Presidente, Bohemia, or Brahma. Always a 40 (jumbo). Hopefully with a vestido de novia or wedding dress (you know, that white frost).
NE: Any brand or flavor I want. Even tap!

14. Liqour
DR: Rum.
NE: Anything the mind can think of… Even cake flavored vodka!

15. Food
DR: Rice, Beans, Chicken. Fried salami or cheese. Viveres: Potatoes, Yuca, plantains, etc.
NE: Literally anything I could want. Except maybe extremely fresh seafood.

I think this is a good list to start. When I think of more, I’ll make another.

Ciao!
Cait

Luna Pie

So, you all know that Keegan and I got a dog. It all started one Tuesday afternoon when we went to Puerto Plata to buy a washing machine (no, not anything like washing machines in the states) because we had just gotten paid. As we were walking along 27 de Febrero, we saw a vet clinic. We decided to stop in to see if they had puppies for adoption, and what the process is like to adopt. One of the vet tech’s handed us this cute, little pup that resembled a kangaroo and said, “Here, take this one.” We then paid 400 pesos (roughly $10) for a vaccination and parasite medicine and were on our way home.

She is growing fast. We’ve had her a little over a month and she is now almost 20 pounds. With our googling skills, we have concluded that she is somewhere between 4-5 months old, or so we think. Because she was found on the beach and we have no way of knowing what breed’s are mixed into her, or what her parents look like, we really have no idea how big she’ll get. I’m hoping she’ll stay under 40, but who knows. Keegan thinks she has German Shepherd in her…

Luna is learning quickly. Although she has kind of a teenager attitude, she in now fully potty-trained, and knows ven (come), sit, lay down, show me your belly, and dame cinco (give me five). If I am cooking or eating, she usually goes through all of them if I happen to glance at her or look in her direction, hoping for a taste of what I have.

She loves to sleep:
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(With her friend Porter)

She did like to play under the bed (limited now because it’s difficult for her to get under it now):
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And go to the beach:
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Besitos de Luna,
Cait

El Verano

So, we have now been in country almost 7 months now, and in site 4+. We spent all summer preparing a community diagnostic, figuring out what is going on in our town and meeting people. We spent many days compartiring (sharing, chatting) with the community members. Everyday was spent sweating, and all of July we worked in the first DREAM Project camp in our site.

The DREAM Project is starting to work in our site. They had their first camp in our community with 55 kids from the public school, where we are working. For four weeks, the kiddos came from 8:00 to noon to focus on math and reading. We had nine Dominican teachers, three in each class, and then for an hour each day six kids would work with each teachers. Pretty great teacher-student ratio, eh? The kids also had Deportes para la Vida everyday, which is a sports program with related health topics built into the classes.

Our role in the camp? Help out where needed. We spent our days planning lessons and activities to share with the teachers, dealing with behaviors, or working one on one with students who needed an extra boost. It was a great way for the students and parents to get used to seeing us everyday, and start building confianza (trust) with us.

The highlights? We took the kiddos on a couple of field trips. The first one was to the airport. The airport on the north coast is within walking distance from our community (hint, hint). Many of the students had never been to the airport before, although many people in our community work there. It is a more prestigious job, though. Two favorite parts of the day: seeing the kids go on an escalator for the first time and while eating our snack outside, having one of our students ride up on a horse. When we asked him where the horse came from and were explaining to him that this wasn’t a great idea (although trying to hold back laughter) his response was that he asked the owner for permission first. Makes sense in an 11 year-olds mind I guess.

The second trip we took was to the mountain in Puerto Plata. We took the kids to the teleférico (cable car). Many of them (nor the teachers) had never been up the mountain. We spent a morning walking through the trails and looking at the views.

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Justin and María Elena, the camp directors from the states with all of the kiddos.

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Some of the kiddos on top of the mountain.

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A group of girls showing their community map that they created; a diagnostic activity Keegan and I did with the students to learn more about their views about the community(ies), and what is important to them.

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Movie Club with Ivan Herrera (well-known from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations DR episode).

Once camp wrapped up, Keegan and I went to the capital for a week for our 3-month (3-months in our site) training. We shared our diagnostic information with all of the other education volunteers, and heard about their sites. Everyone brought along a project partner, or key member of their community, to help share the information. We learned more specifics and did some planning for the school year. It was definitely quite interesting with the meshing of cultures. The best part? The talent show. Skits ranged from one Dominican giving a speech about education while imitating Dominican presidents with volunteers clapping behind him, a duo singing a song from a musical, to a skit on a Dominican tale, with having a female volunteer not finishing the skit because she thought it was sexist, to cross-dressing and dembow to Amara la Negra (google it).

It was a relief to get back to site and really start working, since the school year started the following Monday. Or did it? More to come…

Les extrañamos,
Cait

P.S. If you have questions or topics you would like to hear more about, like our weekend routine of snorkeling (have you ever seen squid??), let us know! =]

Nuestra Casa

We have now been living in our wonderful apartment for a little bit over a month now. I took some photos to fill you in. We are living in an apartment above a house. We have a shared balcony with the apartment that shares the second level on a very tranquila (calm) street. We are about a block and a half away from the school where we work, with many of our students as our neighbors…which is a positive, but can be a negative.

We have a zinc roof, but it’s closed off on the inside. We have running water, but in order to use the running water we have to plug the pump into an outlet… so we try to only do this once a day, and bathe and wash dishes from our large buckets. Our town has power normally about 20+ hours a day, usually going out late morning until sometime in the afternoon (or not at all!). Aaaaand, as of yesterday, we now have internet. And a puppy. =]

I’ll give you the grand tour:
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Here is Luna! We have had her for about ten days now, and she fits in quite nicely. She is what we like to call a Dominican Shepherd, which is just a Dominican mutt/street dog. I like to think we found one of the better looking ones! Luna means moon in Spanish. She currently loves to run under our bed and dig tunnels through all of our crap we have crammed under there. The number one question we get from Dominicans about her is whether she understands Spanish or English.
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This is the view of our front door/window. The balcony is outside of this door. You can see our beautiful shelf built from boards and cinder blocks.
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Here, I am standing at the front door. Keegan and I built our couch, which comes in handy when having friends stay over (hint, hint)!
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Further along is the kitchen, with the table that Keegan built with some help from some friends. We have started to let people draw on the table, but keep it covered because we get weird looks from our Dominican friends.
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More into the kitchen. Pretty self-explanatory. Luckily since we are the first ones living here it is nice and clean, and not too many bugs (yet?)!
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On to the bathroom. Fully-tiled, can’t complain. In the shower is our large bucket of water for our bucket baths and for flushing the toilet.
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And our bedroom, which we have done the least amount of work in. Basic, but we have a bed!
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Finally, our closet. Pretty overcrowded right now. Our next project is building shelves and possibly a desk in the bedroom that will help with all the clutter. =]
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AND, if you look reeeeeally closely out through the bedroom window, between the two apartment buildings, past the electrical post, you can see the ocean!!!!
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Peace, love, and pickle juice.
Cait

PCDR House Hunters International

Keegan and I have looked at probably 15-20 different apartments. It’s exhausting. We have been absolutely sure we have found the one about 4 times, only for some reason or another it falls through. We did look at one house, but it’s a duplex next to three men with guns sticking out of their pants so we opted to not rent that one.

SO, where do I start?

The first apartment we looked at was a little, one bedroom apartment that has roof space about 4x as much as the apartment, but it was not very secure with some leaking in the roof. We could afford it, though!
Then I remember looking at a tiny, basement studio apartment that smelled like wet rats and had no windows. Easy no.
Next, we looked at a few gorgeous apartments with ocean views from the balcony, tiled-floors, extra water tanks, glass windows, all the works. These were about 8,000-10,000 dominican pesos, about twice as much as we can afford. This is when I started getting crabby.

Over the next couple of weeks we looked casually, while working on our community diagnostic. Since our community was originally built as government projects, the majority of the original building apartments are the same: three bedrooms, living room, small kitchen, and small balcony. We started exploring these.
We saw a range from the lowest quality (cement floors, kitchen with only a sink, and the old metal, slatted windows) to refinished (tiled floors/bathrooms/kitchens, closet/kitchen cabinets, new sink, glass windows, extended balcony, extra water tank). The bare minimum of these is still about 5,500 dominican pesos. We could pull it off, but having to also pay for luz and agua makes it difficult on our salary.

In the middle of this, we received a call from our APCD (boss). She told us that… drum roll… we’re getting a raise since we’re in a tourist area!! Woo!! This changed things and all the sudden we could afford some of these apartments!
We decided to try for one we fell in love with from the beginning…with an ocean view. We went to tell the owner buuuut, he had just rented it the day before.
Then we went to our neighbors who had a semi-updated apartment with a GIGANTIC balcony… but they were waiting on someone to come sign the lease the NEXT day.
FINALLY, we settled on another apartment for RD$6,000 that was semi-updated, small balcony, view of the park and basketball courts. We went and shook hands, and started waiting the three days for someone from PC to come look at it to OK before we could sign a lease and put down our deposit.

Then what happens?? Our APCD emails and said SORRY, the directors have to think about your raise now because too many people are asking. So now we can’t afford this apartment that we had started picking out paint colors and making plans to fix the kitchen. And we had to break the news to the neighbors who were overly excited to have us rent their extra apartment.

So this was about two weeks ago. This is about when I started pulling my hair out. Being married and trying to fit your whole life into one bedroom while living with a woman and her three teenagers (15, 16, 16) is rough. Especially when you haven’t had your own space for about 4 months.

NOW, we had our friend show us this nice, spacious one-bedroom apartment that is currently under-construction about a block from the school. No view, but it has tiled-floors, open kitchen, removable shower head (NOBODY HAS SHOWER HEADS!!!), and a nice shared balcony. Zinc roof, but it’s finished on the inside so you can’t tell when you’re in there. AND WE CAN AFFORD IT! YAY! So what have we been waiting for the last 8 days? The man to come install the doors and cabinets. When is he supposed to come? 7 days ago.

Sooo… we’re waiting. Then we have to wait for PC to come approve it so we can sign a lease and pay a deposit. Then do we get to move in right away?? No, we have to wait for them to take the deposit money and install bars on the front glass window (the rest are metal slatted windows). =]

This has been our PCDR House Hunter International Episode. We’ll keep you updated on if we actually get the place. I would post photos, but at this point everything could still fall through. =]

Con permiso……your grandmother just squeezed her left breast and whistled at me, by the way do you like to read?

It has certainly been a while since I put down some words, so here we go! We have been living in our site now for about a month, and hot damn we are really starting to enjoy it. We got a pretty sweet set up as Caitlin might have mentioned before: super close to the beach; our community sits right off the main north coast highway, so it is easy to jump from place to place when we need out of our site; our family has wifi; we are in control (mostly) of what we are eating; and primarily, for all of those who were in training with me here, I have been eating the shit out of some cereal, ~ 2 to 3 times a day ( I don’t know if those semi colons were necessary).

The community we have been living in is really neat. And, we have actually found out that it is really 4 communities all tossed into one big salad. We have been getting to know the area mostly by means of wondering aimlessly acting lost so that we have an excuse to awkwardly peer up at all of the tall apartment buildings so that we can find our own place! I am really itching to get out of our host family, and I am super excited to start building some furniture for our new place, because we are poor. But, being poor does not stop us from making a trip to the beach every once in a while, peanut butter and beer in hand. I am pretty excited to get to know the beach area in Sosúa better, even though it appears to be filled with seedy ex-pats, I think those are some interesting people to get to know. After all, we will probably end up being seedy expats on a Caribbean island at some point in our lives…si Dios quiere. Also one of these seedy expats pointed us to a an animal shelter where we hope to get our hands on a free dog every once in a while when we cant afford to buy chicken from the local butcher.

Aaaallssoo., I have become obsessed with pinterest, and trying to make things out of recycled materials. I mentioned before we want to build all of our furniture 🙂 So obsessed am I now with easy domestic hacks, crafts, DIY recycled projects, and what have you, that on my daily 4 km walk along the highway to where we work out, I have begun to pick up all of the loose nuts, bolts, nails, screws, occasional bicycle or motorcycle part off the side of the road, so we don’t have to buy any when the time comes to make our glorious dumpster diving, furniture crafting, apartment furnishing, trash manipulating experience that I suspect will be unbearably pleasurable once we can finally get a place of our own.

The rest of our time has been spent in the school, and starting interviews with teachers, and really planning out a thorough diagnostic of the community. This we really love doing. We both have a certain affinity for collecting data and creating a cohesive representation of what may normally seem to be trivial aspects of culture and community or human nature, but once illuminated in context and tied to theory, is so so nummy. especially when you get to live in that culture for a few years. We ARE excited to get started with more applied projects though, but we really do feel it will be important to put in the research before we start anything, so that which we do start has a better chance of success because it will be based on the concerns and wants of the community.

hm… what else, I guess my good friend Marshall might be tickled to know that I have embraced wearing the ” wife beater” tank top, which is quite popular here. I even tuck that shit in…

As for the hidden candy bar question in my last entry, as some of you might have guessed, there were only two. Got you. I just wanted you all to read and re-read my blog so that my words were etched into your subconsciousness.

well.. so long, thanks for sharing in this post, I know it was a weird one, but it has been a weird week. So, ciao.