Breathing Underwater & Other Miracles

March 2017

Longest – roughest bus route to Las Terrenas, Domincan Republic. It is a 10+ hour trip from the other end of the country to a beach-town where I take a crash course on how to scuba dive. Honestly, initially I am not totally thrilled about the scuba camp probably because I am stuck on a hot, packed bus ride that seems endless. However, I did not know that what I am going to experience on the other end is going to blow my world wide open!

I arrive to The Dive Academy and meet up with a group of PCVs, and Paul our instructor. Paul cuts a special deal for volunteers because he admires our work and knows volunteers get paid peanuts. I arrive and find the Academy office is in a great location, and the staff is extremely helpful. And the room and board accommodation for my group is workable and a deal for our tight budget (btw anything is workable for volunteers). We settle in and Paul starts is instruction via a book work and a series of videos. He answers all of the questions and gives us very real situations of why the knowledge we covered is critical and how it is applicable.

*Diving is about being safe. Not stupid.

After all of the chatter, we play with the scuba gear. I learn so many new terms and at first-sight the equipment looks complicated. But every single gadget has a use and a very important purpose. We finally load up into the back of a truck and head to the sea to get our fins wet. Paul and his team are patient and thorough. I absolutely have some freak-out moments when we tryout our newly trained skills but Paul helps us stay calm. Eventually I grow comfortable enough to enjoy the swim. Paul takes us out to see a couple of ship wrecks, and coral. We also have the chance to dive in the Lago Dudu and experience diving in fresh water with clear visibility. Each dive is different from the last and it is totally exciting. What will I see next?!

*Every dive will be unique. And every dive you will learn something and/or see something new.

After scuba camp in Las Terrenas, I am officially open-water certified which means I can go 60 feet below the surface. But wait there’s more…

July 2017

Now I can go deeper… My friend Jennifer and her boyfriend Mark invite me to join them on a scuba diving trip in Mexico. Mark also happens to be a Dive Instructor and offers to lead me through my advance training. Win!

*I advise that divers take their open water and their advance training from different instructors. It is like undergrad and grad programs. A different school – different style of teaching. It will make you more aware and receive diverse, insightful tips.

It is a week-long boat diving trip starting off in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico and navigating across the Sea of Cortez. This is actually a big scuba trip. I am one of the more junior divers on the boat which means I have plenty of wisdom to feed from. The 20 divers and a crew of 10 is all the company we need on the yacht. By the end of the week I am a fully trained, and certified Padi Advance Diver – permitted to dive to a maximum depth of 100 feet!

My days on the boat start at 6am for breakfast then our first dive is at 7am. Most days we squeeze in 4 dives and I do not pass up any opportunity to get off the boat. My favorite is my first night dive and now I will share with you a little bit of that magical experience.

The Night Dive

We gear up as the sun is setting and back-roll into the deep dark waters. This is the first time I have a hefty lantern attached to my BCD jacket and under water I can only see what is captured within the scope of my lantern. At night the ocean comes alive! We get to 40 feet deep and the ocean floor is moving with manta rays, a nurse shark, octopus, seahorse, eels, and tons of colorful fish! I hover above huge boulder and swim by a sleeping sea turtle. I think he is just as startled by my presence, as I am by his size (He is about 5ft long). Eventually, Mr. Sea Turtle gracefully drifts up and away from his nook an disappears into the dark. It is magnificent!

I follow my dive team and notice some glitter in the water. It isn’t glitter – it is bioluminescent plankton. When I turn off my lantern and move my hands through the water the water lights up! It is like pixie dust! Magical! I dance in the ocean and it is a total light show! So much fun!

Eventually have to go back up, but I don’t want it to end. As I surface and wait for the boat to come around to pick me up, I revel in the most spectacular view of the stars. The stars are shining down on me and I am shining back as I make the plankton in the waters blink with each kick. The boat finally pulls up and my dive team climbs in. I am completely mesmerized. I watch the boat trail glow as the motor blow the waters back. I dip my fingers into the sea to soak up my last sensation. Is this a dream? I do not want to wake up.

The Shark Attack

The Sea of Cortez trip includes a special visit to Bahia de Los Angles to see the whale sharks. With help from local guides we sight the massive sharks from above water then jump in to the ocean to swim along-side them. So I am so brave to actually get too close but at one point I think a shark sensed my fear and knocked it out of me literally.

I was snorkeling, minding my own business then for a moment, I brought my head out of the water and heard people on the boat shouting, “WATCH OUT!” Then it hit me from behind. A huge 30 foot whale shark ran into my back and swam off. Shocked and a little scared (I am sure the shark was too), I swam out of the way and climbed back onto the boat. When I realized I had no major injury, I jumped back into the water a few minutes later and chased another shark.

I am a survivor of a shark attack.

*Fun fact: Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet.

Extras

I would like to share with you a video made by my new friend Ken Riddick. He was able to capture all the beautiful sea creatures we were lucky to spot during our dives. The frisky whale shark is at the end. Watch it Here On FB!

The Dive Academy in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. Check It Out Here

Rocio del Mar Livaboard on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico Review it Here

Mark Moran, Dive Instructor, Phoenix, Arizona. Message me for his contact information

You can ask about an intro-diving class at Destination Scuba (located in PHX) to see if scuba diving is a hobby for you to invest in. Sea-riously consider it. 🙂

Photos below taken by friends Jenn and Mark and kids

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Haiti Chérie – Beloved Haiti!

I am happy I finally took the opportunity to explore the beautiful country of Haiti. Haiti is resilient, vibrant, kind, and talented! You should give it a second look.

Although I lived on the same island, Peace Corps prohibits volunteers to cross the border. So 2 years later, a group of 7 RPCVs took a bus from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince to visit the land of Haiti.

Below are the highlights of sites we visited in the capital:

The National Museum – Features the history, art and culture of Haiti. On display is the original anchor from Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria. Outside of the museum there is a delicious restaurant worth the pretty penny. Note they only take US Dollars, they do not take the accept payment local Haitian Gourds.

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The Iron Market – Haitian iron craftsmen are so talented. You should stop on the side of the road and check out the art. Pick up a few souvenirs!

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption – a beautiful church that crumbled in the earthquake of January 2010. The roof collapsed and from what remains it is a very powerful structure. It is no longer open to the public but you can pull up nearby and walk around.

 

**We contracted a local transportation company called Chaga Corp. They had reasonable prices, easy to communicate with and reliable. The owners of the company are very flexible and did their best to meet our needs – we were all very satisfied with their service. If you are planning on visiting the capital of Haiti reach out to our friends with Chaga tours email them at chagacorp@gmail.com They will take great care of you!

**We used the Capital Coachline bus service to travel from the Dominican Republic, cross the border and arrive safely in Port-au-Prince. It was a long, but comfortable ride. They gave us water juice and food. Best option if you do not have private transportation.

27 months done – Peace Out Peace Corps

I completed my 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in May 2017! I made it! I would be lying if I said that the two years flew by – but I do not regret a single moment. Two very challenging years and now I am back home in the USA – a new global citizen.

Here are some of the highlights from my service.

Chicas Brillantes! We started a girls club in the campo and it was my favorite thing to do. Girl Power!

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The beautiful mural we painted in the community. For the people, by the people.

Worked with Orange farmers to export 36 tons of orange peels to France. Oh lala

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Extracted sweet honey with bee farmers in the mountains. What a beautiful experience. Buzzz

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A little recruiting message for those of interested in joining the Peace Corps I just want to say – DO IT!

Maybe you think it’s too different– Yes, you will stick out, and it can be awkward but you are not alone. Your cohort of fellow volunteers will be on the same journey. You will be exploring unfamiliar lands and cultures and foods.

You might think it is too hard – I say your PC service will push you to your limits but you will be stronger after. You are even stronger than you can imagine. What is ahead of you might seem like a mountain, but each week you try to be better, you will see your progress and be proud of it!

You may think you should push your service for a future time – I say no better time than the present. No matter if you are 20 or 70 years old, there is a place and a need for you in this world. Your talents and your smile will be appreciated.

Now more than ever, it is important to cultivate international relationships. Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer I have become a global citizen – gaining an appreciation, respect and responsibility to the world community. I finished my service with a community that I can now call my family. My work as a Peace Corps volunteer was just planting a seed that will impact the future generations of the small rural village on the border of the Dominican Republic. I am excited to visit my site in a few years and see what changes have occurred to increase the well-being of the community.

Costal Castle – A memory of Costa Rica

I just wanted to take a moment to write down one of my many adventures in Costa Rica before my memory misplaces the crazy experience…

This takes place in Costa Rica. My college semester study abroad program ends and I stay an additional month to explore the country and do research on my own. My friend Ryan also lingered behind to build his surf skills, and he invited me to check out this amazing beach called Nosara.

Per instructions from Ryan I cought a bus from the capital San Jose to the Pacific coast. On the bus I started chatting with the only young person sharing the ride, her name was Maria. She was very kind and also helped calm my nerves because it was my first time traveling alone in the country without any real idea of where I was going. Maria was a yoga instructor in training, on her way to a yoga retreat with friends. I found her inspiring, and also helpful in my research about women development. Anyways, the time on the bus flew by as we just chatted away. Her stop was before mine, but before we parted she gave me her contact information and I promised to visit her (I did go out to see her a few weeks later).

I sat alone on bus and nervous as I continued into unfamiliar areas. I asked the chofer one more time about the drop off location I mentioned at the start of the trip, and confirmed he knew where to leave me. His response was not fully confident but I had to trust that I will eventually end up at the right place. Finally bus stops and I wait to see what is happening. Apparently it is my stop! I grab my bag and thank the chofer for the safe journey (something I always do because if it wasn’t for the driver, we would never get to where we need to go. We should also be thankful we get to our destinations safely.)

I got off the bus, and it took off. I looked around and it was a dirt path with wild jungle crawling left, right, above and below me. I spotted a post with an arrow pointing “Hostel Solo Bueno” that-a-way. I followed the path and make my way up the hill to see an incredible view of the ocean. A beautiful blue view! The hostel is there awaiting my arrival. I walked up to a friendly hostess, and she guessed I was Ryan’s friend. She said I had a bed waiting for me upstairs. I set up my stuff in the room, get headed to the beach. Ryan was already there.

We hung out and caught up on the beach and watch the most beautiful sunset. I am briefly distracted when I noticed a structure peeking out of the top of the trees in the distance. I couldn’t get a good sight of it, so I tabled the odd figure and continue to enjoy God’s great show. Sun goes down and that means dinner time. Hostel culture usually is very communal, and together with the other guests of the hostel we cooked up a big family meal and enjoyed fun stories.

I climbed up to my bedroom and quickly fell asleep. Traveling is always exhausting, and it was a good day. I woke up in the middle of the night to howling! It was the monkeys wishing us sweet dreams. I’ll admit, it was a little freaky at first but then the sounds faded. You can imagine the set up to be more like a tree house. It was sweet dreams as the ocean breeze passed through the windows.

I woke to a fresh beautiful day. I ordered a simple breakfast and went to the beach. There were not too many tourists, so it was quiet. I took a book and read while my new hostel friends took on the waves. I am not a surfer, and I don’t want to pretend to be one. It was just as enjoyable from my perspective. Later I caught a glimpse of that odd structure again. I didn’t know what it was but I had to figure it out… That is when the real adventure began…

I packed my book and towel in my backpack and walked down the beach heading to this structure. It was not much of a walk down the beach, but at one point I had to go into the jungle to get a closer look. There was no beaten path, so I walked passed the trees and around bushes until it all opened up to see this huge castle!! What was this about?! I was totally confused about what I was facing and the random location.

I walked up to the castle and approached the walls. I saw a spiral staircase on one end, and I made my way in that direction. I passed a couple of rooms with broken windows, a door and inside looked like it was totally trashed with frames, tables and broken chairs strewn all over the place. Now I was very confused about this mystery castle. I made it to the stairs I began to make my way up the steps but then I looked up… At the top of the stairs I saw two dogs, and they are not happy to see me. Yikes! I rushed back down the steps and the dogs are barking and after me. I ran! I made it only mid-way through the huge yard surrounding the castle and I am surrounded by 10 dogs! Where did they all come from?! I am trapped and the dogs are napping at my pull over dress. I panicked and then I heard a man’s voice come from the castle. The dogs stepped back away from me. He was shouting something and I did not understand. I saw him above the staircase and I shouted to him. “Ayudame, tengo miedo” this means, help me I am scared. Totally afraid these dogs were about to tear me apart. The man came down and waved the dogs away.

His name was Jorge and he was about my height. He asked me if I was okay, then why I was on the property. Oh, I didn’t know it was off limits. Or maybe I did; I don’t remember a sign. I told him I was curious about the castle. He laughed and said it wasn’t a castle but an abandoned hotel. Makes sense why the rooms were unkempt.

Jorge invited to give me a tour of the castle, I mean hotel and I accept. We walked up the spiral staircase and the 10 mangy dogs that just a few minutes ago were ready to rip off my skin, are walking behind us. Jorge explained that they are the guard dogs of the property, and he is the guard. I asked why is he guarding it, and he mentioned that the owner still lives on the land in a room at the other end of the building. We walked around and I find what used to be the bar, the kitchen, the lobby and even the lounge with one foosball table. I ask Jorge if he wanted to play a match, I love playing foosball. We played ‘til 10 points and of course I won! Jorge then took me to the roof of the hotel and the view was far and wide. I could see up and down the beach and the jungle for a long distance. It was a like a picture in a magazine. And I was sharing this view with my new pal Jorge, and his 10 dogs.

After a while I decided it was about time I headed back to my friends. Jorge walked me to the edge of the property and we said goodbyes. I climbed through the shrubs to the beach and walked up to my friend Ryan who just got in from a full day of surfing.

Through dinner I shared with him my adventure story and he mentioned he always wondered about that building in the distance. After a nice dinner with the hostel crew, it was lights out early because I had to catch a bus back home the next morning.

A week later Ryan sent me a message about his attempt at exploring the abandoned castle, and he said he couldn’t get passed the dogs. Haha, I guess Jorge didn’t want more friends.

*I took pictures of the castle, the dogs, Jorge, the view, and even the foosball table – with my blackberry. I used to tell the stories and share the pictures to prove it. My blackberry is now in blackberry heaven and my photos along with it. However I was able to find a picture of the castle hotel on google. Check it out.

nosara castle close

 

There are many protected beaches in Costa Rica for the endangered sea-turtles that come up on land to lay their eggs (It is an incredible experience to work with researchers to save turtle eggs. Add it to your list of must-do’s. Did you know that only 1 out of every 100 sea-turtle eggs lives to adulthood? That is something I learned during a visit to a turtle refuge center in CR.) There is a law that does not allow construction on the land so many meters from the beach. The owner of the castle hotel built his mansion within the limit and the government shut him down. #naturetrumpscapitalism

 

 

It’s already mango season

Summer is here and I am in the midst of mango bombings in the campo. May means mango season and so I am stuffing my face to my limits with mangos. Did you know there was more than 2 kinds of mangos? I have 7 types in my community!! What a treat!

So I am taking time out of my mango binge to report what I have been up to these several months. The time is flying by and I am enjoying it more each day.

Hightlight of March

Mom and Dad visited me in the Dominican Republic!! It was a great experience sharing with my parents my life in DR. We spent our fair amount of time roasting on the beach, swimming in the river, and chatting with the locals around the campo.

I think my favorite moment was the time we shared with my neighbors. Every day community members flooded my house to greet my parents, like they were celebrities. And they acted like celebrities. Dad was waving at every person that passed and had a pocket full of jokes that made the neighbors roar with laughter. It was special to share my relationships across families.

And my least favorite moments, were on the road. My dad rented a car to get around the country, and he has sworn to never again drive on these roads because the other drivers are crazy. (that’s a fact, and I’ll leave it at that.) Overall, it was a wonderful time. I didn’t want them to leave and I hope they come back soon.

 

 

Highlight of April

A group of students from my community was invited to participate in a Brigada Verde (Green Brigade) environmental conference in a town called Jarabacoa. We were in attendance with more than 100 other students, a combination of students of a visiting American grade school and Dominican students from across the country. It was a magnificent exchange of culture, language, food and ideas. All the students had a blast and learned so much.

I particularly soaked in the learning moments from the group of kids from my campo. This was the first time they have ever left the campo, and definitely their first leaving their parents for more than a day. It was a cool experience for them, and by the end of the conference they didn’t want to leave. Here are some of the quotes.

“We are going to be eating like kings!” – one boy says after getting served the welcome lunch with his plate stacked high with food

“Is that her real hair?” – one of my girls asks about an American redhead girl in her workgroup. They have never met anyone with natural red hair apparently…

“He must be Dominican, he is our color”- confused after learning an African American kid actually has roots in Africa not the Dominican Republic. (The whole African slavery, and African roots topic is very taboo in DR. Many people claim they are pure Spanish linage… Ok…)

“What is a Kakapo? Where is New Zealand” – my students ask after learning about an endangered bird the American students explain why they are concerned about extinction.

 

 

Highlight of May

Cinco de Mayo! Pretty excited about sharing some Mexican culture with my community and took this day to do it. I decorated the park in vibrate colors, I made horchata from scratch and sliced up juicy mangos then squeeze over some lime juice and sprinkled some spicy chile powder. It was a hit! We had the Mexican music rolling and played games like pin the tail on the donkey. It was so much fun! It was the talk of the town for days after, and people are asking when is the next Mexican fiesta! Haha, soon I hope!

It has been an eventful spring time and now that I am planning activities for a fun, and productive summer!

 

 

*My comment of the “mango bombings” refers to the ripe mangos that fall from the trees at any moment and you have to hunch down and cover your head to avoid getting knocked out by a juicy fruit!

One Year in Service

I have passed my one year mark in the Dominican Republic, and it’s been a learning roller-coaster. The beginning of my service was great, I had plenty of work, getting exposed to cultural and business practice while also exploring my new community. Eventually, I started to become more independent and I moved into my own house after 4 months of living with a host family. That was such a refreshing and relieving event. I learned how to live simply, and enjoy the moment and the beauty around me. For example, many nights I like to sit in the park and just gaze at the billions of stars. The skies seem wider, darker which only makes it easier to admire the glitter of stars. I love to walk off the beaten path and take a moment to appreciate the glorious trees and stand still to enjoy the energizing breeze that flows through the leaves and brushes pass my face. My favorite thing to do is discover new fruits and veggies, and this island is loaded with exotic foods! So far I have tried: cacao, carambola, mamon, guanabana, caquil, various types of mangos, avocados, yucca, platano, chayote, guava, passion fruit, zapota and the list goes on. Most of the time I find something very tasty, a new favorite fruit, but I also have tasted foods that are good to try the one time only…

The beautiful things I find during my service, I use to keep me positive when I hit my lows. After a few months in service the novelty wears off, and it takes my full effort to make the most of everything. Being a PC volunteer is not easy. I uprooted my life, and moved to a remote location. It gets lonely and it gets frustrating at times. And honestly only recently, have I been able to build a local support team to help me during sad moments. However, the best support system is God. Being faithful and reliant on the Lord has always gave me strength to make it through the good and bad days. I have faith that my purpose is real, and my future is secure and I have Jesus to thank for everything I am, everything I have and everything I do.

My volunteer experience is not at all like I had planned or imagined. It has been very challenging year, but also a lot of growth and self-awareness. I set goals for 2016 and it also gives me more to look forward to and work on personally. Being a volunteer I am expected to be available and give a lot of myself to my community. That is why I am here to serve and help. But like everything, it is important to keep a balance. Being a volunteer I need to take care of myself and my community. I have so much more to learn, so let the adventure continue.. I have one year down, and one year to go! I can’t wait!

Patronales

Patronales is the most festive time of the year in the Dominican Republic. It is the celebration of the Catholic Patron Saint Mary, but in DR they refer to her as Altagracia. The days dedicated to the saint are from Jan 12-21, and the festivities are huge and loud!

In the nearby town Loma de Cabrera, they host the activities. Nightly masses in the church, followed by concerts featuring a variety of Latin artists singing merengue, salsa, bachata etc.. I think there are more people attending the concerts rather than the church service, but that’s their style. Dominicans love loud music, and they love to dance. I had a chance to check out the Loma festivities with a couple American friends, and it was a totally different town by night. There were hot dog grills, meats of all varieties, endless beer, fried foods, toys and loads of people. I have never seen so many people in Loma, but these festivals were a place to be. Family and friends come from all over the country to participate in the local Patronales.

The final day of the Patronales is Jan 21, and that is the day of the caminata, or the pilgrimage to the statue of the Virgin Altagracia in a site called Garrapata. It is a sacred promise the people make to the Virgin Altagracia, to walk to her statue every year in exchange for her to grant their prayer. Some people go barefoot, some by motorcycle/car, a few by bike, but all take a candle to light upon arrival to her alter.

I was invited to participate in the caminata, and although I am not of the Catholic faith, I decided to go to witness their beliefs, and for the exercise! I joined a small group of people from my campo and we left at 8:20pm the night of the 20th. It was about an hour walk to the town of Loma de Cabrera. At that point, I still had energy, and feeling good. We took a bio break then continued on. After that break, the trek got intense. It was like the level of intensity on the treadmill went from 3 to 25! We walked a winding, curving, inclined, dark road until we finally arrived at the site at around 12am and it was officially the 21st. The last half of the walk was definitely challenging, but I had a Jlo and Beyonce playlist so I knew I was gonna be alright. It was a beautiful night, and I enjoyed the walk. The only thing I did not enjoy was sharing the narrow roads with speeding motorcyclist, and cars. I think they should considering closing off at least part of the road for the hundreds of people passing through, for the safety of the pedestrians. But in the country the pedestrians never have the right of way. Thankfully I didn’t witness any accidents, but a few close-calls.

At the Garrapata statue, hundreds of people surrounded the statue, and lit up the night with candles. People were standing, praying, and others singing, playing local musical instruments, dancing. It was nice. When it was time to leave I was lucky to catch a ride with a teacher of my community and his family. I rode in the back of the truck and we took a selfie as we were heading home. We passed tons of people still climbing the winding uphill street, the walkers asking if they were close. We shouted back “Muy Cerca” (so close in Spanish) trying to keep them motivated. I could only imagine how far away they started their journey. For many people, as part of their promise to the Virgin, they must walk to the statue, and must turn around and walk back home after they made their prayer. I got home safely, but I couldn’t get much sleep because throughout the night, I could hear the chatter of the people still passing through my community heading to Garrrapata.

On the 21st some families build shrines for the Virgin and have offerings, and prayers. They also made a local specialty called Sancocho, which is like a huge veggie and beef stew. Very good, very filling. I just wish they also had cake. Maybe I will recommend that too.

I survived my first caminata. It was an interesting experience, and great exercise. The next day, all the people of my community seem so surprised when I said I walked the whole way – I feel like I earned a little more respect in the campo. Yeaa!

Hello 2016

2015 was a whirlwind of a year. I carried a lot of joy, sadness, heart-break, excitement, pride, love, a lot of nostalgia and in the end I was ready to welcome 2016 with open arms. Although I think 2015 has been a year of growth for me, I believe 2016 will be even more so. People generally like being comfortable, being safe, and doing what we know. 2015 I changed a lot in my life. I changed where I lived, what I do, what language I primarily speak, who I surrounded myself with, what I eat, how much I eat, how much I read, how much I sit in silence and just watch/think. Change isn’t easy. It can be painful, and uncomfortable for a little while, but taking time to readjust to what is new, will prove totally worth it in the end. I have taken a lot of time to readjust personally, but I believe 2016 will be the year to shine!

10 things I am looking forward to in 2016

10. Being a better farmer. Building and taking care of my huge garden and making bomb food with my harvest.

9. Reading more of everything – in English and Spanish. Always need to feed the noggin.

8. Writing a hand written letter each month to someone I care for in the States.

7. Physically feeling more alive, healthier and energized! Hitting fitness goals!

6. Training my puppy Oreo to do cool tricks! Sit, Play dead! Get my chanclas!

5. Making closer, deeper relationships with the people of my community.

4. Making closer, deeper relationships with my fellow PC volunteers.

3. Hiking to the top of Pico Duarte – highest peak in all of the Caribbean. This is why I have #7

2. Visits from family and friends from the USA. PLEASE COME AND SEE ME!!

1. Learning more about myself, and being more confident in who I am and what I have to offer to this world.

 

What are you looking forward to? Share with me your goals for 2016! 🙂

Creole and Haiti

The Dominican Republic is sharing a tiny island in the Caribbean with its neighbor Haiti. The DR is here, and I live in a campo on the border of the two countries. My campo is the red smudge on the map.

dr haiti map

There is a large population of Haitians living near me, and I interact with Haitians almost every day. For that reason, I decided to take on Creole training for week to try to pick up the language. I already came to this island prepared with Spanish, but I thought I could take on a new challenge that will be helpful in my work.

The training took place in the capitol, and for 5 days a group of students tackled the Creole language. It was a rush of information. It was like smashing a year worth of material in 35 hours. Definitely a crash course but I left feeling more aware. The Creole language is simple in its sentence structures, and the vocab words are a lot of fun to say. The Creole language derives from the French language, so you will see a few words in common. Other than that, it was challenging but fun to learn.

Beyond the vocab and the grammar, we had the opportunity to learn about the Haitian culture. That was very interesting. We learned a little about traditions (including voodoo), history, foods, and music. I am excited to start using my Creole to communicate with the Haitiain families living in my community and learn more. It is amazing how two counties sharing the same island are two extremely different cultures. And because of the differences, there is a huge divide among the people of my community.

There is a strong level of discrimination against the Haitian people in the Dominican Republic. Many Dominicans believe and carry themselves as if they are a better race than their neighbors. It is the hardest thing to hear harsh comments made about these people they do not even know. This prejudice starts in the home with the elders, and they teach the kids. Too many times I hear the kids make negative comments about Haitians students and laugh. I try to make a clear statement that we are all the same, but my lessons can only go so far. Within the households, and on the streets, in the markets, in the stores, in the fields – Haitians are looked down upon. Let me note, that not all Dominicans treat Haitians poorly, and not every interaction is negative. But the remarks about Haitians are disappointing…

A few weeks ago, I helped a fellow volunteer scout out a small house in her community that she was interested in renting. Previously Haitians lived in the home, but the landlord (Dominican man) insisted that she wait a month to move in, so he can have the house thoroughly cleaned, and replace wood panels. Not because it was dirty, or an old home but he explained that Haitians have a sort of poison in their skin and it is unhealthy to breathe… The landlord was totally serious about this and she had to wait. This is just an example of the distorted ideas I come across in the country. This led me to think about discrimination in the USA. We can’t claim that America is free from cultural/racial issues but, I can only imagine how it used to be much worse. Historically a much larger portion of the American population shared similar unfair ideas about different races/cultures and forced them to suffer. But there is such thing as progress. There is a long way to go to diminish discrimination in the DR and the USA. For now I am trying to help change a few minds, one at a time during my time here… Not easy, but not impossible…

For now, “bon nwit ak bon chans” This means good night and good luck!

creole pousika_why

The Burn

My toughest experience thus far in DR. I was scared, nervous, worried, confused, annoyed, embarrassed, and in a lot of pain. A day I wish never happened, but I will always carry a reminder on my leg. I want to share how I burned my leg. I also want to note that these kind of experiences are testing us volunteers every day. We face lots of dangers living in remote communities, with limited access to resources. We are trained in managing issues, and even more so we have a support system set up to help us if we need anything.

It happened on a trip to Dajabon. My host dad drove the motorcycle, and passengers included: me, my host sister (28), and her son (1). The ride on a the back of a motorcycle to the nearest bank was about 30 minutes outside my campo. We finally pulled up to the bank, I was getting off the bike, and another motorcyclist pulls up quickly next to us. I didn’t see him because I had my back towards him as I am swinging my leg over the seat of the motorcycle, and as I stepped back, my leg met with the hot muffler of the other motorcycle. At first a shock, but moments later owwwwie, did it really hurt! The guy just walked off and I was there limping telling him off in my broken Spanish. What a stupid move to park close to another motorcycle when someone was getting off. What still confuses me is with an entirely empty parking lot, why next to my host dad’s bike?! Eventually, I got back onto the motorcycle and my host sister insisted we go to a Photo-center to have pictures taken of her son. I sat in the lobby waiting with my burn exposed, and I began to cry because I just wanted to go home. We waited about 30 minutes for the photo session to be over, then we headed over the local hospital. I walked into the emergency clinic, and there I saw a doctor and three nurses crammed around a small desk on their phones. After about an awkward 30 seconds of staring and waiting, I said, “Can someone help me?” Finally a nurse asked me to walk to the back. The service was quick, and they knew how to take off the dead skin but it was extremely painful. They bandaged it up and I was free to go. Literally, FREE – in DR public hospitals mostly all medical services are available and at no cost to the patient. That was the only good thing about this day.

I made a call to my PC medical doctor in the capital Santo Domingo to let her know what happened, and ask what she recommended. She prescribed a cream to cover the burn as it heals. We drove to 3-4 different pharmacies and not one carried this medicine. That was annoying. So we headed home with an alternative burn cream.

About half way to our home, my host dad insisted on stopping at his sister’s house. We stopped and they drank coffee. I sat by myself and tried to be tough about the situation but honestly it really sucked. This wasn’t a time to give up but really gather all my strength to just finish the day. Finally we were back on the road to go home. Time just passed so slow, but eventually we made it home.

My host mom is a nurse at another local hospital and she is very knowledgeable and helpful. She taught me how to clean my burn. As she pulled off the bandage and started to wash off the burn, every touch seemed to feel like a knife into my leg. It was raw flesh and it hurt so much. This event was shared with my whole host family that crowded around me, and laughed as I cringed at every touch. It was a very invading experience. I hated that they laughed. I just had to remember that this was another culture. On many other occasions I observed that in incidents involving horrible accidents, or death – Dominicans rush to the scene and take numerous pictures and share with everyone. No matter how utterly gruesome, or sad the situation, in Dominican culture it is something to see and share. They don’t give space, and certain reactions are appropriate when back home in the USA, the people would react totally different.

Anyway, after the cleaning I just went to bed early. Hoped that the next day would be better. It wasn’t…

After a couple weeks, I didn’t see my leg getting any better. Community members kept telling me it was getting worse, it looked infected. You can imagine that gave me more stress. Many people who would pass by didn’t leave without providing their special home remedies to heal faster. Those remedies included cleaning with: glue, oil, hot water, plantains, variety of creams, and a variety of plants. I appreciated their suggestions, but I was trying to heal right and heal fast. After sometime, I had a mini melt-down and my friend Jose came to my rescue to care for me and give me support. His presence and care meant so much to me. We have known each other for years and we are both from Arizona. I am very thankful that he was here to give me that support. I think that the small escape from my home environment and all the healing prayers from all my family and friends at home is what turned this healing process around.  I am blessed to have so many people to care for me and send me their prayers and positive comments.

It took nearly a month for my leg to fully heal. The doctors said it was going to be a slow process, and I just had to stick to keeping it clean and airing it out in a clean environment (which is not always easy in a campo). I thank God for giving me the strength to get through this experience. It was not easy, my toughest challenge. I learned a lot from my experience and I hope that others also take something away from my story. Be safe! Be healthy!

This is a photo of my burn after it healed.

burn