Wednesday, November 23, 2011

En el Autobus

I am en route to Santo Domingo, the capital for my third and final Thanksgiving in the Dominican Republic. Volunteers agree, Thanksgiving is probably the holiday that pretty much all Americans agree upon as a good time, with little reason for debate, conflict, or stress, (unless, of course, you are the aunt or uncle hosting the event). As such, it is a holiday best enjoyed at home with the family, however, it is really pretty hard to imagine any thanksgiving that could beat out Peace Corps DR as second best to Moe and Jim’s house back in Michigan. Aunt Kelly does not send us chocolate trifle, and I have to pay for all my own beers!!, so there is no way that it could take first. But the event is a very good second. This year it is even more special for me. I am ‘aprovecharing’ = ‘taking advantage of’ the holiday by combining it with my Close of Service Medical exams. So, perhaps, the climax of the week will be running a turkey trot Thursday morning, playing soccer, eating turkey and any one of 20 or so pecan pies, and living up to my Peace Corps superlative “The Whitest Dominican” by destroying all competitors on the dance floor. However, there are other hidden treasures in this package deal. First the Close of Service Medical and dental exams:
Today: I will visit the doctor, put my head to the side, and cough.
Tomorrow (Wed.): Drool all over as the Dentist confirms (miraculously) that I have not gained any cavities during my second year of living on a diet of brown sugar and carbohydrates.
Marathon event: For three days, I will poop on command into a cup, once a day. The doctor’s want to know what is or isn’t living in my stomach that enables it to eat or drink almost anything with no detectable negative consequences. If they do find something, I’m not sure if I’ll want parasite medication, (perhaps it is a symbiotic relationship).

Besides the medical, I will also be taping hundreds of hardware store receipts individually to sheets of copy paper and turning them in with reports to close out grants for funding of our water project. I would prefer to use that cup a few more times and be double-checked for hernias rather than fill out grant reports, but they won’t let me.

My final extra fun in the capital?: Developing a hundred or so pictures of Dominican birthday patis, baby showas, beauty pageants, and generally ridiculous portraits for neighbors and other kids in my community.

There are a lot of annoying tasks and details like these that have to be taken care of at the end of Peace Corps service. I also have to decide what from my house I will give away (and to who) and what to sell. My community has also started preparing for my going away party (December 17th or 18th) it is likely to be over the top and a good time, but I expect it will somehow cause me a couple stressful days in the process. Amidst all of this, I am FINALLY getting data collection done for my master’s research. I have interviewed 60 homes in one community, asking all sorts of questions about where they get water and how to make their lives’ better (with respect to water). I have to visit another community next week for another fifty surveys, this time on the beautiful peninsula of Samaná. I’m hoping to get those done with a day or so to spare and go to a waterfall and some famous beaches over there. I have become very good at saying some tricky, long words in Spanish by repeating the questions so many times. My favorite is ‘Disponibilidad’ = Availability. Anyways, those of you who feared I may never return home, I am. I have already bought my ticket. I will once again see the sunny skies above Detroit on December 22nd – briefly, before the plane plunges into the perpetual winter cloudbank for landing. I am on schedule for getting my research work and everything else essential done here. I also think I learned my lesson about arriving on time for international flights, and do not plan on pushing this one back.

That’s enough of the boring details of what I’m actually doing here though, as I wrote in the beginning, I am on the way to the Capital on a ‘Caribe Tours’ bus. It is no tour, although it is comfortable enough – currently. I’d like to explain the unfortunate chain of events that has allowed me to sit here and write to you today.

I tossed my backpack filled with a good 30 pounds of books to return to the office in the luggage hold, and got in line to get on. As I waited in line to pass some random kid my ticket stub, I realized that the attractive woman who had been waiting for the bus as well was in line behind me. “Perhaps I can maneuver to sit by her and talk” I thought. There was no one else I saw walking down the isle that I felt like sitting next to, so I got my seat with an empty one to my left. The woman, of course, came almost all the way to my empty seat and halted one row ahead. After some milling about she sat down next to this old guy with goofy hair. Just my luck, fukú, I thought. Then I realized that he was the guy I saw getting on with a guitar and also realized he was a foreigner (from somewhere in South America perhaps). I forgave her for not sitting with me, deciding that he was a reasonable choice as someone better to sit with than a 6’3” gringo that - if one had to bet- would be incapable of communicating with a Dominican.

So I sat, happy at least that I’d still have some space to use my computer. Then she reclined her chair, I wasn’t going to complain, but now my chance to work depended on maintaining the open seat. I considered intentionally putting on that face that I imagine all American travelers have that says:
“I’m too big for this seat, look at my backpack!, I’m afraid you’ll steal my laptop. Hablo ‘un poco’ de espanyol. I’m afraid, I probably have B.O. Be afraid of me, don’t sit here!”

So, I was working up that mean, frio, face, when another girl came down the aisle looking for a seat. I was unprepared. She sat down in the Bolivian guitar virtuoso’s seat first – he’d gone to check on his guitar. Woman #1 politely informed her that the seat was taken. Again, I was unprepared, already having turned on my Mac Book, staring uselessly but intently at the screen, what I should have done was immediately offer to girl #2 that she sit next to me, but I couldn’t about face quickly enough from my cold, shy American persona I had been working up to deter other passengers. She found a seat one or two ahead. Failure again! At least I had the space to work.

Immediately he was upon me – an overweight man in a tucked in plaid shirt (all they wear here these days), seeking a seat to sit near his wife who had sat in the aisle across from me. He sat down next to me; I was hemmed in, by the reclined seat of Lady#1 in front of me and plaid shirt to my left. K Vaina- fukú – bad luck. This would be my journey. I tried to make the best of it. Somehow in about an hour I typed (at the speed of a second grader) two useful emails. As I typed, my left elbow jabbed into his chonchas (spare tire/ love handles). That must be annoying I thought, but I was almost done. When we stopped in La Vega (about halfway on the journey), some spaces open up and the couple found somewhere to sit together.

So, it is worthwhile to be persistent and look for any way to save a situation. I completely struck out in my efforts (or lack thereof) to get either woman to sit next to me. But with a couple emails and a couple elbow jabs, I secured my own seat and thus wrote you this horribly organized blog. I’m about done and we are entering the capital. A little short on time, so I’ll have to hurry to make sure I get a thorough hernia check.

I need to put things in perspective though. I have never ridden a greyhound bus in the US. I think if I did, it would be unlikely I would be looking for a date on one. So So why am I doing so here? I should also admit that Lady#1 had some sort of leopard print dress on – this is forgivable in Latin America, of course… but… It comes down to two truths. 1) Busses in the D.R. and Latin America are simply more mainstream and popular than at home, which means that there are actually good looking, well educated women to be found on them – going back and forth from university, etc. 2) Living in the campo (middle of nowhere, rural town) here is sort of like living in a small town in the Great White North (be it Houghton, Paradise, or the North Pole) – there are a lot of men and only so many women. So, you get on a bus to Santo Domingo (or imagine, a Greyhound to Detroit) and suddenly the prospects improve.

So, I couldn’t completely finish the blog before getting off the bus. I have since begun the process of my medical exams. I went to a very fancy building to see the Doctor, who gave a quick, painless exam. However, the building itself gave me quite a few challenges. I got in the Elevator – I guess that’s what they are called. Six or so Dominicans got on after me, each of whom probably spends more money on clothes monthly than I am paid, and we had a cramped ride up to the sixth floor. I wished I didn’t have my backpack with me -- as if I were going to scale the building and camp on its summit. I would have felt almost as a peer without the backpack. After escaping the elevator, I found the office of Dr. C. The door was locked. I puzzled momentarily until someone else said I had to push the buzzer. When the door unlocked, I walked through and said a mumbled gracias – either to the electric door opening mechanism or to the waiting room of people (they were sitting very nicely). After the visit, I had more issues with the elevator, clearly a novice compared to the other passenger. In conclusion, once again, it is time for me to go home. Elevators and door buzzers should not be cause for stress in one’s life.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving! I will certainly enjoy mine. If I can work the elevator to get to the roof of the hotel where apparently there is a swimming pool. Yes, it’s true. One more time - turkey at the pool.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

pictures - water tank in the desert

girls playing baseball

puppy pictures

To do list

This past week, my group of volunteers who all arrived in country in August of 2009 held its ‘Close of Service’ Conference. It was three days at a nice hotel near the airport in the capital (closer to home?) eating good food, sharing with friends, and thinking about what has happened in two years here and what will happen in our futures. At one point we broke into small groups to give each other advice on career choices based on our strengths, skills, and interests. When it came time for people to give me ideas, a good friend told me “Ryan, what you do here as a volunteer fits you perfectly, you simply need to find a way to do the same thing, but get paid more for it!” I agree with her in many ways, I have enjoyed immensely being the combination of a municipal engineer and celebrity superstar in the small community I work and live in. I think I also prefer working with a community and getting my hands dirty on a daily basis rather than work for a large organization filled with polo shirts and vague objectives. However, as much as I enjoy sitting on my porch listening to the neighbor’s blasting bachata music while contemplating the minute differences in flavor between a plantain and a banana and slipping on my boots to troubleshoot the latest repairs to a water system, I also miss greatly sunny days on the beach with my family, skiing in the woods, acoustic jam sessions at school, and even the structured comfort of working at a desk in an office, with no distractions save facebook. So, although I probably would be relatively happy sitting around here in Rio Grande developing one community project after another while perfecting my dancing skills for years to come, I would also like to go home. I will be going home on December 20th , 2011 or a couple days after. So, please excuse me for not writing much, as I’ve been busy working and enjoying, and will keep on doing so until I leave in December. If I don’t stay busy, I won’t be able to come home. And I really want to go home. Before I slip into non-communication for the next few months, I thought I’d share a list of things I need or want to do before leaving (or so I can leave) the island.

• Buy plane ticket (this way I have to leave). Will someone come to Detroit Metro to get me in December? I might be cold.
• Finish collecting data for research report. Doing alright, a lot left to do.
• Keep supporting my community, especially as the Water Committee learns to take care of its own responsibilities.
• Finish site development for (at least) three other water systems.
• Visit more volunteer friends
• Go windsurfing at least once in Cabarete
• See at least one good Bachata Band in concert
• Enjoy one last Thanksgiving poolside
• Find homes for eight puppies and one permiscuous female dog – just after getting them all fixed.
• Make lots of banana bread
• Learn to cook rice like a Doña does (why are Americans so bad at this?)
• Buy more ridiculous clothing – for instance, the t-shirt with President Obama’s head sort of glittering as if it were made of sequins and with this sort of Egyptian or Mayan bordering (it’s 4 U, Grandpa).
• Learn to drive a motorcycle – will do the day I officially become Not a Volunteer
• Roast a bunch of coffee to bring home
• Stop worrying about so many things, sit, smile, and laugh with Dominicans as if it were just my first day here.
• Don’t miss the plane (again). Haha jaja haha!

So yeah, a long list, but very possible. In any event, if I don’t feel like I have completed my work after going home, and don’t find that other job that pays money proportionate to the workload, I could always return to keep volunteering with the 70% of my fellow volunteers who have decided to just stay on as volunteers for a year or two more until the economy improves or we revert to a hunter-gatherer and trade/barter system.

I can literally hear various neighbors snoring right now, so it is time for me to call it a night. Take care, Ryan.

p.s. I posted a bunch of pictures with stupid comments as well in Picasa, you might look at them.