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Northern-California native, trying to do as much as I can in the time I have here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Building Character

It has been a while since I have written because I feel like nothing has happened worth sharing. On the other hand, my daily life here is much different than that in the States and when I first arrived I would have written pages about the things I do everyday because they would seem foreign. Now that I have been here two months, everything that was once alien has become so normal that I am almost blind to it. Had I been walking down a street in California and found myself in a Dominican neighborhood, I would probably have pulled out my cell phone and called for the first possible transportation out of there. Some mornings, before the sounds of motorcycles or the music blaring from skyscraper-sized speakers of the local general store begins, I laugh because it hits me all at once that I am living life in a different culture. There are not many ways to experience a culture the way Peace Corps volunteers are able to. You not only get adequate training and integration through staying with host families all over the country for six months, but you also have the support of United States’ government and the country you serve in as well. What piece of mind I have knowing that the government supports and provides for me. The concept of you get what you give may not be true from a fiscal point in the United States but it certainly is in the Peace Corps.
My mind is dreaming big. Before I came I would get asked the question what do you plan on doing after the Peace Corps and I never had an answer because I knew that after two years I would have a much different perspective than what I had coming in. Now I see this as only the beginning. I do not want my adventures to ever stop and there is no point starting a career when learning new cultures and languages is something I would be earning money to do in the first place. While there may not always be jobs that will support my hunger to experience cultures, I think there will always be somewhere that could use my experience and heart for improving the life skills of children around the world. I am already starting to dream of where I can go and what I can do after I finish the Peace Corps. While I write that last sentence, I feel foolish because I have yet to even be sworn-in as a volunteer and have done nothing to improve the quality of life for youth in this country, but if people can be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for simply sharing a vision, it is only fair for me to share my vision with you. With the skills we learn here it is possible to live anywhere and become a valued member in the country of your choice. I am thankful to be part of an organization that seeks to empower Americans by giving them a global view. If we can teach citizens back home anything it is that we have the power to affect real change no matter who the president is, no matter who are parents are, or what neighborhood we grew up in. When it comes down to it, we are responsible for serving others, and we will fail if we wait for circumstances to permit us to do so. How many people chose not to participate in the government and make a change just because they dislike who the President was? How many people choose not to make a difference in their neighborhoods just because they have less than their neighbors? The world can not depend on those who "have" to be the majority of aid to those who "have-not" because those who "have" and those who "have-not" is a relative term that only exist when we focus on what is lacking and not what we are fortunate to have. You can never have too little to begin helping and serve your country. Too many times I heard people talk with passion about what they lacked instead of talking with passion about what they had. Too many times I saw people do nothing because they spent their days thinking about what they could not do instead of what they were able to do. What I am saying is do not wait for the circumstances to be just right because that time may never come or when it does it maybe too late. It is like saving money, the majority of people think they need financial stability before they can start saving. We need to live like we want to live regardless of our circumstances. If you see other people or our circumstances as a means of achieving what you want to do, you have not yet realized the power you already have. It starts with a thought; it is up to you to manifest them onto the world.
I have always believed these thoughts, but until know I feel as though I am actually living it. Here is some wise words from the great Dr. Suess!

The Waiting Place...
...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a yes or a no
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake,
or a pot to boil, or a better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants,
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That's not for you!

More Projects & Good Times

Service Projects

Sunday, September 27, 2009

George Constanza


We are in the middle of Patronales week here in Constanza and it has really added to the overall experience of our training. Every town in the Dominican Republic has their own Saint and once or twice a year they have week long celebrations that are comparable to a county fair back home. There are your vendors selling useless trinkets like plastic jewelry and factory manufactured bracelets and clothes with stereotypical symbols of playboy bunnies and marijuana leafs. Then you have the food vendors selling pizza, beer, and a local favorite; hot dog on a stick. No not the hot dog on a stick where the employees where those tacky multi-color uniformed but the hot dog on a stick where a guy as a charcoal grill and a plastic bag of maybe 50 unrefrigerated dogs. It is only a matter of time before I give in and purchase a salty dog. They have also seemed to skip the carnival games that rob the parents of children of all their money in hopes of a stuffed animal worth less the value of the actual game and moved right on to gambling for adults using a wheel with nails and a spinner with twenty different numbers, basically a makeshift roulette. My favorite part by far is the street dancing. While there are first-class concert stages set up with jumbo-tron-esque screen, the real magic happens when a SUV parks near the festivities, opens the rear barn door completely filled with speakers and blares meringue, bachata, and reggaeton. For the amount of people who dance in this country I was sure that they would all be dancing like pagans but it turns out in large functions they just stand around and as soon as someone does start dancing (like me) everyone stops and stares as if some official side show had began. I don’t mind the attention but I would have loved if everyone would have begun dancing as well. The dancing here has some rhyme and reason to it, and everyone of every age knows how. Tonight is the last night of Patronales week and I look forward to one last night of festivities.

Aguas Blancas

For the second week in a row I have had the experience of a lifetime riding in the back of a pickup truck, throwing caution to the wind and admiring some of the most beautiful scenery the Dominican Republic has to offer. Last week we headed up to the center of the country for a service project and this weekend my sector went up to a famous waterfall to swim in icy waters. Having a better understand of how to ride comfortably in the back of a pick truck going through winding roads and rocky paths we packed pillows and blankets to save our backs from being tortured. I prefer to stand at the very front so I can feel the wind in my face and get a good view of the rolling hills. I brought my iPod this time which really made a difference in the magic of the ride. While I was disconnected from the conversation of the group, I was having a spiritual journey in my own right. When the truck was not whipping through turns I imagined I was experiencing what ancient roman generals felt when being pulled around the country side in chariots. As for the waterfall, it was picturesque and was deep enough to jump off rocks. Some of the volunteers climb to some extremely high points but being so far away from a hospital I thought I would hold off on the acrobatic stunts. From what I hear, the Dominican Republic is filled with day trip adventures and I plan on seeing all of them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strings and Kings

Strings and Kings

Life here can be like living in a snow globe. Being shaken around and everything is flying everywhere and your never in the same place only to land calmly at the bottom only to do it all over again. For now I can appreciate the constant change because it is something a person can get used to and adapt to but I hope at some point I will look back and appreciate the challenges I overcame during training. If anything this is just that first quarter in college and the bucket showers I take and the stomach sickness is all part of hazing. When look at it through that perspective, it makes everything flow better and I look forward to what is to come and the activities I am in now. Like I have written before I am grateful for this position and will never take it for granted.

What is to come!

Our group is taking off to a place that is only accessible by riding on the back of a truck and then a motorcycle so I will be disappointed if I do not come back with stories and pictures worth sharing. This week the city I am living in is also kicking off their patronales week were they celebrate their patrons. I think it is an excuse to sell more stuff and party in the streets. Our director strongly recommends that we take part in everything we can.

Keep reading and send me comments, I can’t get enough of them!!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A few pictures for everyone!

A Day To Remember

Quick note before reading this! My mom asked me to break up my blogs so they don’t hurt her eyes trying to read them all in one sitting so I went ahead and wrote my longest blog yet…sorry Mom but you can print them out and enjoy them on paper. However my mom had a great point and after this blog I will keep them shorter and trimmed to a single subject or experience. I will also be including pictures so that you can not only read all about my time here but see some of it too! Thanks for all the comments by the way!

A Day to Remember

When you start missing home you begin to think of every fun time you ever had …ever. Then you start to compare your past memories to the time you are currently having wherever you maybe that is not home and the comparison is a resounding victory for past memories. If you spend enough time in one place and around the right people, some of those past memories are of times in the place you are now, and if you really do it right home is no longer that place were you once lived but the place you made a new home of.
It has taken a lot of me to cut some strings from the comforts of home but with every memory I create here I feel more and more at home here in the Dominican Republic. Today was a day I will always remember. It would be better to say that the last 24 hours has been memorable. Okay actually I should rewind the tape a little bit more to tell you about a time I hope I never go through again. I awoke at two thirty in the morning with the strong smell of garlic as if someone was cooking a huge caldron right outside of my room. Since it was the middle of the night I thought it was a bit odd but after some of the things I have seen here I didn’t second guess it. I remember prior to consciousness I was dreaming that I shaved my moustache. Waking up to such a strong smell was displeasing but I thought I would be able to ignore the smell and get back to sleep. About a minute later things were escalating and I thought I may be experiencing what people call nausea but having only thrown up twice in my entire life I was not entirely sure. I got up and opened the creaky door that wakes up the entire household of six other people who share a single room and creped into the bathroom. There is no running water so the toilet was completely wet from the back splash of the previous person who flushed it using a large bucket of water. I thought about how pleasant it would be to vomit into the white porcelain toilets with plush shag rugs I am accustomed to in the States but was grateful for a toilet in this time none-the-less. Nothing was happening. I must have surely been mistaken and I was not sick just upset by the strong garlic smell. I sat down on the floor and a wave of discomfort and pain over came me and the feeling was unbearable. The thought of all the horrible viruses they warned us about in training flashed through my mind and at that point I knew I needed to reach out to someone. I stepped out into the hallway and said in my best Spanish, “soy enfermo”, if I was taking a Spanish grammar test I would of failed because I used the wrong verb for a temporary physical condition which is estoy, but it was also a possibility that my body was trying to tell me that this was not temporary and it could very much be something permanent. After the words left my mouth I heard nothing. No voices of confusion or disgruntled muffles but silence. So I tried my Spanish again and as I thought of the words to say I began to lose conscience and fell to the cold stone floor. The next thing I remember is my host Dad helping me off the ground and they quickly got my director who speaks English. While I was waiting for her, I took my own temperature from my medical kit provided by the Peace Corps and it read 93 degrees Fahrenheit. I wrote that down next to the time. 93? There is no way that could be right. I took my temperature again and this time is was 92. I shrugged it off since I did not feel any temperature discomfort. My director showed up and she was shivering. That’s the moment I started to believe what the thermometer had read. I told her my symptoms and she called the Peace Corps doctor immediately. As it was ringing I asked her if she could smell the garlic and after a couple sniffs she said there was no smell in the air at all. Uh oh. The doctor was unsure of the situation as well but was as thorough as one could be over the phone. My director decided to clean the thermometer and take her temperature to see if it was broken. Her temperature was a normal 98 degrees. Now I was really freaked out. I went back in the bathroom after warming up a little and began to make myself vomit. I think it was a good decision on my part because I began to feel a little more grounded. The doctor made sure that my director could stay the night in another room if things got worse. If I was still feeling as bad as I did then we would leave in the morning on a bus to the capital where I would receive full treatment in a hospital. Lucky for me my temperature balanced out but I was drained. I found enough strength to do my first presentation in Spanish that morning in front of my class and returned to my bed to sleep almost 24 hours straight. It was a scary experience to go through but I feel stronger and more prepared for anything that may come my way in the future. In some weird way I think it was all part of my training and something everyone should experience while surrounded by a great support system.
That was a bad memory, now for the one I was originally excited to write when I began this letter. The day after being sick my sector of 16 other Peace Corp volunteers planned a team building night to learn a little bit more about each other. At 8 pm we gathered and walked into the mountains that surround the town we live in. For the first time in the Peace Corps I felt like I was not among volunteers but friends. We shared stories of home, experiences that have shaped us, and plenty of inappropriate jokes and remarks. It was great moment for me personally because I knew things could only get better and we would grow closer as times goes on. The Peace Corps allows volunteers to take rest and relaxation days to visit other volunteers or just get caught up with personal time. I have heard that this is a necessary component of service especially in the first few months after training when we are all alone in our sites. After spending some quality time with other volunteers it helped remind me that we are not just here for work but to make lasting friendships as well.
The next day I woke up early because half of our group was going to meet with our Ecological youth groups to do a reforestation project somewhere in the mountains. The fact that I had never been part of a reforestation project made me all the more excited. We met near a basketball court in their neighborhood and waited for our transportation to take us up there. While we were waiting we got a few games of basketball in and by the time everyone showed up, there were 26 of us in total. Our transportation for the trip up the mountain was a red pickup truck with a large truck bed that fit us all in including our equipment. Finally I would get some real Dominican experience. We were told that the ride would only take around forty minutes so I thought that any seat I chose would be fine. Little did I know that the ride was three hours long all up hill through winding narrow dirt hills with drops of more than 300 hundred feet. Regardless of how dangerous the ride was it was breathtaking to see some of the views as we came up the mountain. You could imagine that an exotic island such as the DR would have plenty of snakes, predators, and other things that would enjoy us as a meal but the island actually has no insects or reptiles that are poison anywhere, nor does it have any large predators. Instead all I saw was large cows and bulls munching on some leaves off to the side and an occasional horse tied to a tree. After being rattled around in the back like a bunch of Mexican beans we arrived to a national park with a statue of a pyramid. It turns out that the statue marked the actual center of the country. I was really excited to see that but even more excited that we had finally reached or destination and that we all got hats and t-shirts for the event we were participating in. It turns out that the reforestation project was a trash pickup project in an area that did not have a residential area around it for more than 30 miles away. So as far as trash went we did not have much to pick up. We spent thirty minutes picking up whatever we could find and then ate a lunch of sandwiches and Tampico which they provided for all of us. As soon as we finished a news crew with photographers and cameras showed up and we then spent an hour acting like we were picking up trash and pretending to plants trees. The absurdity of it all kept me amused. Regardless of the little service we actually accomplished it was a wonderful time to bond with my friends and the youth groups in a outrageously beautiful place that was tranquil and private. The ride down was just as great with even more amazing views. The only downside is that we had to hall the trash back with us. The Dominican youth used it as pillows, as for me I stood up the entire ride in the front of the truck so I could see all the views and not be anywhere the trash bags full of broken glass and other hazardous materials. With the wind in my face and the presence of adventure in my heart I could not believe that the government was paying for this incredible experience. It was a unique trip that I will always remember.
This next weekend just the volunteers are headed to a place called Aguas Blancas which is supposed to be some beautiful waterfalls along with some incredible sites. I hope to share some more stories and provide you with some pictures to enjoy as well. I also wanted to write that while I am making new memories, I am often comforted and warmed by past memories of home and time spent with family and friends. My most recent one was going to get doughnuts late night with Andy, Ben, and Crosby. It is little memories like those that make me smile and provide me joy in an often foreign place. The memories I struggle most with is those of my parents because it is tough not having them to come home to, but my time living at home after college was the life of a prince and I am grateful for it because it allowed me to realize my desire to serve in the Peace Corps. I do not think I will have life as comfortable as I did the two years after graduating college but I am starting to realize the amount of personal growth that can occur when you are constantly out of your comfort zone. Even though I am not surrounded by family and friends I physically can feel the power of their love and support here thousands of miles away. Well maybe a few thousand miles away. My heart is calm here and I am getting used to adapting on a regular basis. May God keep us safe so that we can speak again.