Monday, November 16, 2009

Adios mis amigos

Que reuinion! (what a meeting!) My kids threw me the best "despedida" ever! They told me we had a meeting and I suspected something of course, given I was in my final 24 hours of Duveaux, but I did not anticipate what was ahead....I got none other than my own private concert! It was an amazing way to spend the last night in my campo and I could not have asked for anything more. My man, Cholo, got his "grandmother", Muna and Chulo to come tocar palo (traditional haitian percussion music) on my front lawn. I had all my kids there, under the stars as we sang and danced and indulged in my favorite brindis (snack)... chocolate cookies and 7-Up. It was so thoughtful of them and was a great finale to my time in Duveaux.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marco & Me!

Marco and I did a beach day! It was so much fun. We got to be beach babies! We went swimming, rock skipping, you name it! Although it wasn't like when I was a kid.... Mama Rach had a little more responsibility and I was slightly nervous. For the first time, Marco was my and only my responsibility. There wasn't grandpa or grandma or tia or tio around to keep the 18 sets of eyes on him there normally are. I only let him out of my hands to take a few glamour shots!

Muasu a si la vie – Escojo Mi Vida – I choose my Life

I’ll get right to it…. A few weeks ago I went on the viaje of all viajes, the intercambio of all intercambios …. Duveaux goes to Las Pajas, Catholic meets Cristian and Dominican meets Haitian and despite all odds, we had an absolute blast. For so long I have been wanting to bring my kids from Duveaux to Las Pajas. Mostly for personal reasons, but also to show my kids a Batey in the east and potentially put an end to some of the stereotypes their parents, neighbors, etc. have implanted in their brains about Haitians.
This trip was probably the highlight of my entire Peace Corps service and it happened two months before departure! Regardless, I got to show my family from Duveaux, my family in Las Pajas – my two worlds meet! It was such a wild feeling. I was nervous about my campo Dominicans coming to this sacred little piece of my life, as they are teenagers and 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 year olds will be 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 year olds regardless of my emotional and psychological state. Things started off a little shaky, but once we got started, my kids did not want to leave! It was awesome. We did a treasure hunt to get to know Las Pajas and one another a little. Then Duveaux did a charla on desigualdad de genero, we threw in a brindis, a public speaking taller and there you have it! The best part of all had to have been the show de cantos, cuentos y talentos! It was like no other I have seen before and all the educational, cultural activities that were planned did not even come close to the effect show de talentos had on our groups. It was just a Catholic Dominican, Cristian Haitian extravaganza. We heard and saw everything from Escojo rhymes, Haitian jokes, socio dramas, incredible dance moves and needless to say, Brianna and I shared a large cup of wine afterwards!
Total success! Reflecting after getting back from our adventure, I realized what an impact this trip had on my Dominican teenagers. They were in awe of the kindness Las Pajas showed them and the tranquility of a predominately Haitian community. I don’t think any charla on discrimination or guest speaker could have even held a candle to the justice this viaje gave to my campo kids.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What an improvement!

Looks much better? It looks like a old Jewish man's nose to me, but it certainly feels better. It has been a little over three months and I went for my first run since the accident June 11th today! It was awesome. I didn't clock in at 6 minute miles or anything and it wasn't the longest run I have ever been on, but nonetheless, I ran and my knee does not hurt one bit! My modeling career may be over, but sports live on!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dia Internacional de la Lectura!

How awesome is it when a kid reads to a kid? The Asociación de Jóvenes (Youth Association) and I celebrated International Literacy day Tuesday, September 8th. We started the celebration at the Elementary School in Duveaux, grabbed about 6 7th graders and marched through the community shouting such phrases as “Vale la pena aprenderlo, Vale la pena celebrarlo” (If its worth learning, its worth celebrating) and “Leer para Aprender, Saber es Poder” (Read to learn, knowledge is power) The translation might not be exact, but you get the idea. What a hoot! I got these tigueres to read to a huge group of kids! We marched proud to the basketball court and the Elementary School in El Limon, where we read Salta Ranita, Salta and Los Tres Cerdos. My youth group did some dinámicas with the kids and it was awesome! I won’t get all sentimental on you, but I loved that morning and the entire event cost a total of 125 pesos ($3.68). I carried Marco on my shoulders and bought him an ice cream after!

Pasar le blower!

3 lbs Bizcocho (cake) - $RD 1,200 pesos ($35.29 U.S.)
12 Escojo certificates - $RD242 pesos ($7.12 U.S.)
“Pasar el blower al salón” (hair straighten at the salon) - $RD 80 pesos ($2.35)
The satisfaction and happiness my straightened hair gave Julia – priceless Since I arrived to Duveaux, March 7th, 2008, just about everyone who has laid eyes on me has been dying to straighten all life out of my hair. Not one day goes by where someone doesn’t offer to either run a brush through my mop or blow dry me straight. Comments about how beautiful it would look had I gotten my ass to the salon are also a daily remark. One gua-gua ride, I was letting the breeze blow through my curly locks out the window and a big-gutted man from outside a tire shop yelled to me “ven a peinarte”, (come, let me comb your hair). The kids and teenage girls aren’t the only ones with this yearning desire!
Now, I am not going to go into the whole schpeal about what people refer to as “good hair/bad hair” or how the Dominican yearning burning longing to straighten their kinky is just one of the many ways Dominicans seem to negate the black in them. I will keep this one slightly personal so as to evade the heat or conflict surrounding this topic.
What a lucha it has been to keep my bouncy curly cues hang loose around these parts. Up until today that is, August 16, 2009. Peace finally paid a visit to Duveaux for one, hopefully final, Escojo Graduation. Yes, you guessed it….. I spent the morning in the Salon and what a salon! Now I wasn’t exactly expecting mimosas, but nor was I anticipating the communal bobby pins that clamped my straightened mane. No one sent me the byob (bring your own bobbies) memo. I was already slightly disappointed that I couldn’t rest my head on the sink during the wash and that I was going to be sharing combs and brushes with the community at large. But the bobby pins were pushin’ it! I bit the bullet today to say the least. I am sure some in my community were thinking something along the lines of, “finally that girl got it together or at last, she gets it.” I think that getting my hair blown dry today gave some people in Duveaux the same sense of satisfaction I get when anyone throws something in the trash can instead of on the ground or says please or thank you. Neither one of us is really changing our ways, but we are momentarily pleasing the other!

100 days to go!

August 14th marked the 100-day countdown! The group I swore in with, November 20th, 2007 as Peace Corps Volunteers is on the last leg of service. We started out as 53 and to date we are down to 43. We lost 12 and gained 2 (one volunteer from Honduras and another from Bolivia). Some have decided to go home for personal reasons, others for professional reasons and others on account of health issues. Regardless, I will always have a special bond with those 53 that I swore in with and an even closer bond with those whom I have done my entire service with side by side. It is hard to reflect or think about the future when I am knee deep in a stove project, a volleyball tournament to enter, an Escojo conference to attend and about 5 grants to close out, but nonetheless, my C.O.S. (close of service) conference came and went. C.O.S. certainly shed some light on what has happened over the last two years and it is hard to believe things are coming to a close.
We all took some time to think about the drowning economy in the U.S., the job market, Grad school and the comforts and discomforts we will come face to face with in the U.S. for those of us returning. Nonetheless, I am happy I did the Peace Corps and would not trade this experience in for all the money in the world. It has been a wild, wild ride and I look forward to sharing stories with other returned peace corps volunteers, because like they told us at the conference, no one else will really want to hear it! Once a peace corps volunteer, always a peace corps volunteer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reed comes to Visit! Mama Mia

Now, from what I remember, it is pretty common to start having kids around the age of 24 or so. The average age at first birth for mothers has been increasing in many developed nations and today it is 25 years of age in the U.S. as opposed to the 21 years of age in 1970. It seems that women start having children later and later and careers are testing the limits of the “biological clock”. My mom had my older sister when she was about 29 and 29 years later, my sister just gave birth to her first child and my first niece (Olive Anna – Born at 12:48 am September 9, 2009 – 6 lbs 14 ounces, 20” tall)! I am one proud aunt! Back to the point…. If my grandparents were alive today, they would be somewhere around 92. Regardless, the possibility that my grandparents would be around to see their great grand kids never really existed. Things are a little different where I live in the Dominican Republic. Not only do great grandparents meet their great grand kids, they get to know their great, great, great grand kids. Seems outlandish, I know, but not if you start motherhood at the ripe age of 12! Reed and I went around my community doing a mini-photo story on young families and it came as no surprise that we were able to find Yuli the 14 year old wife of my friend, Nappa, who is 8 months pregnant and Mileisi; 16 year old mother of one. Not to mention all the pregnant 16, 17 and 18 year olds who I saludar every day. There are supposedly 9.7 million people living in the Dominican Republic and 32% of them are 14 or younger. Are you all thinking what I rewind over and over again in my head on a daily basis….. doesn’t anyone see the correlation between poverty and birth rate? Or where the hell is the birth control? Or why aren’t these kids using condoms? Sure, reproductive health education is not as easy to access as a Presidente, but the information is out there and people do talk. Granted, there is a lot of hidden “love”, birth control chit-chat is talked about just like deciding what is for dinner. There isn’t much privacy around a callejon (block, street) where people depend on their neighbor for protection, water and sometimes food. It is no secret who has had their tubes tied and who hasn’t.
So why is it that current day Dominican Republic campo has so many young moms and families when the infant mortality rate is 29.6/1,000 ?
There is some rhyme and a little reason behind so many young moms like 14-year-old Yuli and why the age at first birth has not changed much since vintage Mejen gave birth to her first child in 1933 at 12 years old. Although there is TV now, hormones still run wild. The age-old saying goes, “Amarra tu gallina porque mi gallo anda suelto.” Tie up your chicken because my rooster roams free. Just so happens that regardless of accessibility to reproductive health information, tradition and culture, not to mention hormones, are hard to change.
Some girls in the Campo simply just don’t have the biological orientation about the correspondence between pregnancy and unprotected sex. Other Latin teeny bops believe it when their macho man assures them they that peeing after sex is just another form of birth control. More noteworthy than these common cases is the hang-up with marriage engrained in this culture. There isn’t a day that goes by where someone does not tell me I need to have a Dominican boyfriend if not a husband. It used to be that when people called me over to them urgently I thought it was because they needed some help desperately, but now I know it is just because they are extremely concerned about whether or not I have a boyfriend. No one has been even close to in as much of as panic (I was recently in a motorcycle accident) as when people discover I am a single woman.
The peer pressure to start a family and begin motherhood is unbelievable. Before these kids can talk they are asked who they have a crush on and how many children they want to have. Just like bachata sounds all day at the colmado some doña is simultaneously propagandizing that to be anywhere close to a respectable human being in society, one needs to be married. Women are thought of as jamonas (hams) if they haven’t shacked up by their 24th birthday. No matter how modern in technological advances, the Dominican campo has a long way to go to be modernized socially. And will continue to be so as long as the dominating peer pressure is to maintain the hot Latin lover reputation Mejen and Lila raised the bar to 76 years ago.
Mileisi’s mom and youngest grandmother (32)we came across wanted Mileisi married by the time she was 14 and was disappointed when she waited ‘til her 16th birthday to say yes to campo matrimony.
She also told us that her second daughter would get married when she was 13 because she is smart! As long as mothers are promoting their children to have children, adolescence will be quickly replaced by motherhood.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh GLOW, where did you go???
Do you remember camp GLOW last July? Or rather, do you remember reading about camp GLOW last year? I remember writing about it. I remember writing about a camp that flew me to the moon! I remember an all-girls camp that made me proud to be a woman: a 5-day extravaganza where I was proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I finally felt that I was accomplishing something: something that no previous experience could hold a candle to. Camp GLOW was it. Life clicked for five days and I was one happy PCV. Sure it was a lot of work and every second was worth it. Hence why I decided to direct camp GLOW this year. Planning started the day camp 2008 ended. We had meetings to not only raise camp GLOW to its highest potential, but to also launch a year round girls group/ gender equality program. I was becoming part of something big - something bigger than a one off 5-day event. This was huge news for a pseudo professional trying to find her place as a “soft soldier.” My service was finally starting to live up to my expectations. I was driven to lead the best camp GLOW the D.R. had ever seen. Big shoes to fill? You bet. And I was ready to fill 'em. Things started off smooth and steady. We created an application process for volunteers who wanted to be part of this all star opportunity and chose carefully. Formal meetings began in February and Emily (co-director/coordinator) and I made sure even the slightest of details had been ironed out. The goin’ was good and I was in charge of something that I believed in, enjoyed doing and fit in my job description. Does it get better? Well, yes, I could be getting paid, but that is another story.
Steps were being taken to make camp GLOW a GO! Committees were forming; charlas created, supplies ordered, reservations for lodging made and professional Dominicans were contacted to speak to the souls and futures of our young adolescents. It was all happening! Fundraising was in the works and our PCPP was slowly filling up. I remember the excitement I felt when I saw the grant had filled. Granted, my right leg was in a cast from my recent motorcycle accident, but I was pumped as could be! All was good and according to plan until July 19, 2009.
Emily and I just spent a rather epic evening celebrating our friend Jo’s 26th B-Day in Loma Verde. We hitched a bola to Rancho Campeche where camp GLOW was set to take place the next day. Perched on the back of a pick up truck, wind was blowing through our hair and we were smiles ear to ear. This is what it was all about I thought! I couldn’t really have been happier. The next thing I know, we are waiting under the shelter of a colmado for the rain to stop. It eases up a bit and we get back on our motorcycle (with Priscilio, my neighbor & trusted moto-concho driver, former house builder, enamorado and current friend). At the entrance to Rancho Campeche, the motorcycle overpowers Priscilio and our tires loose their grip. Sure enough we fall over going about 0 mph. Emily and Priscilio fall with the motorcycle to their left while I decide to fight gravity and burn my right calf on the muffler. I paid Priscilio 100 pesos ($3) and walked the rest of the way, tears rolling down my cheeks. Camp GLOW was off to a bad start and it only got worse. I had just reckoned with the scar on my right knee and gotten used to the pain & eye sore of what my previous moto accident left behind. And now a muffler burn? Right on top of the one I got my first day in Las Pajas. What does this country want with me? Tough to say, but camp GLOW 2009 will go down in history. Tuesday night, the 2nd night of camp and a Tropical storm comes through. One of the reasons camp has been held at Rancho Campeche in the past is the tents: we can see the stars and give some Dominican muchachas the feeling of camping. Hauling wet colchones (sleeping pads) out of tents at 9pm while dirt kissed my muffler burn sure took the romance out of camping! What is one to do with 60 wet Dominican hembras, their clothes, wet tents and a thunderstorm? PCV’s take action! We grabbed all the mats, bags, clothes, sheets, etc. and had a great big sleepover in Aula Taino! Yoga mats and egg crates became sleeping pads; body parts took the place of pillows and the conference room turned into a sleeping hut. We made do so to speak. Sleep deprived? Yes. So, we got a late start our second day at camp Ser Mujer, but we survived the first storm to hit camp GLOW in 6 years! I became the entertainment committee while half the volunteers organized wet sheets, clothes, pillows and mattresses! We had breakfast and played team building games for about an hour and then the sun started to peak through, Gracias a Dios! (Thank you God!) That night at about 11pm we handed out dry sheets and I got my first taste of disaster relief!
Life was pretty chaotic there on out, but at least the sun was out again and camp GLOW lived on! It was a close call. Needless to say, this was not the camp I was expecting, but así es la vida!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

give a kid a camera

While Reed and I had spent the entire week seeking photos for a story about young families, I totally overlooked some of the most hilarious photos I have ever seen! A gave a kid a camera, but little did I know what he would capture!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Escojo Intercambio!

What is an intercambio you ask???? great question and it could mean a few things in this culture (including a secret santa exchange), but I am currently referring to a union of the forces! The Escojo groups from Loma Verde, Casique and El Ramon all came to exchange charlas, laughs, ideas and phone numbers with Escojo Duveaux on Saturday, June 13th. We hosted about 50 Dominican teenagers for the morning and taught each other about Discrimination, Teenage pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Gender Inequality. Wild, I know. That wasn't all.... there were socio-dramas, snacks, music, lunch and the beach! What a day! Now, this is no small task to throw one of these gatherings together and it came with a price, but in the end it was all worth while. I returned from the day feeling proud of my kids and that I had a hand in making this happen for them. Escojo is a Peace Corps initiative and has over the years developed quite an extensive network of groups in the country. We try to go intercambios with other groups so the kids can feel supported and that they are part of something bigger.
Wouldn't it be great if the explanation of this blog ended there? Its never a dull moment in the Peace Corps, so here you go.... on the way to do the "compra" Odi Luis (Escojo Vice President and my right hand man) and I got in a motorcycle accident. Going down a hill we crashed into another motorcycle that was parked, king of the hill, smack in the middle, ogling at a turned over truck. I ever so elegantly got up close and personal with the pavement. I took a seat, got a first hand biology lesson on the patella and sent other Escojo kids with 6,000 pesos ($204) to the grocery store to get saturday's lunch. We went our separate ways (me to Clinica Abreau and the kids to take care of business) and reunited 2 days, a handful of phone calls, a splint, torn tendon, local Anesthesia and 5 stitches later.
The prep work for the event had been long underway, but my kids worked their ass off to get the cooks cooking, the space decorated and all was a go! If anyone out there needs an event planner who speaks Spanish, let me know! All things considered, they did a good job. This was their first major event organizing things on their own and I would say they succeeded. I won't go into the details, but of course there were a few things that were left to dry and it wasn't as picturesque as this blog may lead one to believe, but nonetheless, Escojo Duveaux pulled it off. They did not short themselves in celebrating either..... chisme (gossip) travels fast and I later found out, leftovers, cookies and spaghetti dinner at my vacant home complimented their evening! This situation may remind you of your kids throwing a house party while you are out of town. It rings a bell for me! Kids will be kids whether they are in the U.S. or the Dominican Republic!

Friday, May 22, 2009


so, it is a little late and I couldn't give this to you in person, but I am thinking about you. I love you Dad. Happy belated birthday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sala goes on!

Sala de Tarea has moved to my front yard! It is kind of a long story, but I will try to keep this breif. Basically, the elementary school is under construction and the school got moved to various spots throughout the community. Thus, the women's center my Sala de Tarea was formerly meeting in twice a week is being occupied by the 8th grade every morning. My Sala de Tarea kids got the boot! We picked up shop and moved to my front yard. I have company when I drink my coffee in the morning now!

Money, Money, Money, Money!

My Escojo kids did what's called a peaje last sunday morning and we raised 1,400 pesos (about $50)! They wanted formal I.D. cards to represent themselves as members of Escojo! They earned it and I was proud!

Mango Mama!

Tis' the season for Mangoes! My mata (tree) is droppin' mangoes like there's no tomorrow! I am starting to invent things to make with mangoes... mango cobbler anyone? They are delish and what would life in the Caribbean be like without a mango tree in your back yard? I don't even want to imagine. So, life is good.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Escojo Regional Conference

Escojo kids go to their first regional conference! We had a blast! Odi, Cholo and Anabel got to meet with Escojo groups all over the Southern Region of the D.R., hangout, dance, listen to charlas and feel part of the Escojo force! They are amped up and we are on a charla roll! We did a peaje recently and raised 1,400 pesos (40 dollars!) wahoo!

Woman makes Fire!

Fire! Fire on the mountain!
When the electricity goes out and the gas tank is empty, whatcha gonna do? Make a fire! And I now know how. I am sure I was taught somewhere along the road, like at girl scouts or something like that, but at the time my belly wasn't empty. This time around, I was starving! So, Julia and I lit the fogon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

My name is Helen

And I am the cutest kid in the world!


We immitate Dominicans all the time and Julia took it upon herself to immitate some of the gringos walkin' around the campo. I had a blast doing this photo shoot!

Hot Shower!!!???

So this is a new luxury that has recently come into my life, thanks Mom! Yes, I am pretty spoiled here in the D.R. Now, it says Summer Shower, but it is summer on this island year round so you better believe I am not waiting til June 21st to use this and nor am I calling it a day come September 21st! This thing makes a world of difference in terms of my bathing. After showering, I feel like a new woman! No, I am not doing promotions for “Summer Shower”, but I would be happy to if they wanted to set my community up with water! Usually a shower involves pouring buckets of rain water over my head, but this new addition to my life is definitely kicking the bucket to the curb!