Saturday, October 13, 2007

¿Cómo tú tá?

Hola Amigos,

A rare weekend off from Peace Corps Service Training, so I am taking part of an afternoon to post some much needed information (and bonus photos) on my attention-starved blog for mis queridos amigos back home.

First off... Spiders... there are a lot of them here. I shook this not-so-little guy out of my shoe this morning, then got the chance to snap a picture of him as he scurried up the wall, inches from my bed. These guys are generally shy and stay out of sight as often as they can, but they like shoes because it´s dark and humid in there. So be sure to shake your shoes out before putting them on! I know that I might have just lost a few friends by posting this creepy picture right off the bat, but I have to record my life here, and this was a big deal. He´s still not the granddaddy of critters I´m likely to see: I am awaiting my first run-in with a tarantula... that will be the highlight of my PC critter-cam experience. Stay tuned!

Training to become a Peace Corps volunteer is a lot like returning to college again, and we are very busy. The first three weeks of training were in Santo Domingo, attending a lot of lectures, finding our way around town, and learning a lot about the history, people, politics, and health of this island nation. Spanish classes have been really helpful, as I needed some practice to kick the rust off my neglected language skills. Here´s a photo of my Spanish Class in from of the Panteón Nacional in the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo:

I am now in the 4th week of training, which is more hands-on in nature. I finally started working on a practice community health diagnostic, doing one-on-one interviews with five randomly selected housewives (doñas) and mothers of young infants in their homes in and around this community. I ask about infant health, general nutrition, knowledge of breast exams (breast cancer awareness) and PAP smears (cervical cancer is a huge problem in Latin America) . At first, I was afraid that I might find women reluctant to answer such personal questions coming from a tall white gringo from the US, especially in such a conservative culture where men´s and women´s roles and are so clearly defined. However, after explaining who I was, who I was working for, and what I was doing with the information, they were very open and seemed to enjoy being able to participate in something like this.

With the information, we were then to synthesize and present the data and suggest recommendations for further educational projects (like health fairs, women´s health groups, etc.) in our community. Granted this is a small sample, but once I am in my permanent site for the 2-year service period, I will be doing 100 to 150 interviews of this type in order to establish a base-line for community health.

Next week we begin work on exploring the choices made by the community´s teens about sex and general knowledge about STD´s. By the end of our training, we are expected to give an interactive, informational talk with youth in the community about safe sex.

Baseball here is the national religion, and with the World Series this month, all talk and heated discussion is all about who will win this year. The community I´m in is all for Boston (a lot of sons and daughters have left to live in Boston and New York). As many of you know, I am not the biggest sports fan at all, but I have made an effort to learn more about what´s going on in the playoffs and the Series so I can chat it up with the youth and community leaders who always start every conversation with: "Where are you from, and who´s your team?" Luckily, everyone knows Ichiro and the Mariners, and although not a lot agree that the Rockies might make it, they respect that I have to root for them because they are a home team of sorts for me.

I will be in this same rural community for "community-based training" until the middle of November, then its back to Santo Domingo (la capital) where I will be sworn in as a volunteer and given my assignment for the next 2 years. Just in time for Thanksgiving!

¡Hasta la proxima!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bienvenido al campo, Americano!

Hola Amigos! Well, it took me a while, but at long last, here is my blog that I promised you all a month ago. With 2 postings already! (well, the first one really doesn't count, since it was an e-mail I sent back in July).

Anyway, tomorrow marks my one-month anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. The last 4 weeks have been very busy, as I am in the middle of an 11-week training period before I am officially sworn in as a PC volunteer and sent to my final community for two years of hard work.

The first three weeks of time in country I spent in the capital, Santo Domingo. Training to become a PC Volunteer is serious business - I really felt like I was back in college. There are 51 potential trainees in my "class" and we would have classes all day ranging from Spanish (obviously), DR history and politics, to merengue (yes, I have become a pretty good dancer so far) and dominoes (the national pasttime second only to baseball). We learned these last two activities in order to better integrate into our host culture - nothing like a good game of dominoes with members of a small town to break the ice and start a conversation about health issues.

I am now in a smaller, more rural village about 2 hours by bus outside Santo Domingo. I will be here another 4 weeks for on-site training, then return to SD for a few more days of final preparations, then swearing in as an offical Volunteer.

I am loving the country. People are very friendly, the food is great, and my Spanish has never been better.

I was hoping to post some pictures, but alas, I am unable to at this particular internet cafe. I will try in a few more days so you can see how beautiful this country really is.

More news later, amigos!