Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hello Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Dominican Republic!

Life in the Peace Corps rolls on... I am now nearly 13 months into my formal service and 15 months overall living in the Dominican Republic (DR). I was sworn in as a Volunteer last November 21, 2008, and will depart just about the same time next year: November 22nd~ish of 2009. Just in time for Thanksgiving!

I have had my share of ups and downs (just as any Volunteer does), but overall I am very proud of my work as a Volunteer and am very happy to be working hard for the people of the DR and serving as an ambassador of goodwill from the USA. This country is not an easy place to live sometimes, and I do miss a lot about my life back home in Seattle, but I am doing my best to do what good work I can in the short time I have left here.

To date my biggest accomplishments have been with the youth of my three rural communities, forming youth groups that learn and teach others about safe sex and the dangers of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, and drugs. My fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and I have been very successful at putting together many different events and conferences to motivate kids to keep working in this area after we leave. Additional educational programs that I´ve started and will continue to do in 2009 include workshops for adults on increasing nutrition, HIV/AIDS awareness, and reproductive health.My second year of service will prove to be much more busy than 2008. In addition to my continued work and events related to my work in health education with the youth groups, I have three big building projects planned that will test the stamina and time-management of my little rural community.

For starters, we are planning on re-building several parts of the community´s aqueduct - replacing broken PVC piping, rebuilding the concrete holding tanks that collect water from the natural spring source, and forming a water board to oversee future repairs and maintenance. Second, thanks to many of you who donated to my special fundraiser on the Peace Corps website, I will also be helping my community build about 40 fuel-efficient and clean-burning stoves to both reduce the environmental impact of firewood collection and reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections in families with small children. Finally, our youth group has been busy working on getting support for the construction of a cement volleyball court at the local school, in order to continue the positive force that having a safe, clean play area can have on kids´decisions to avoid drugs and alcohol abuse. I hope to have all three of these big projects underway by February 2009, and completed about August or September -- well ahead of the time we Volunteers need to start wrapping up our work in our communities: about 3 months before we leave the country.

Besides work (which takes a lot of my time), I keep busy with washing laundry (by hand), cleaning my house, and eating hearty Dominican food.

I have done some travelling since being here, but still have yet to go to any of the pristine, picture-perfect beaches that the DR is best known for. On my budget, travel is often limited to work-related trips to the Capital of Santo Domingo and my site.

Luckily, I will be on vacation within country for the holidays this year and have plans to visit several of my fellow Volunteers (some near the beach) and will be hiking Pico Duarte (Duarte Peak), the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. I am going with two fellow PCVs right after Christmas. At 10,127 feet, they say that on a clear dawn morning, one can see the entire island from the East Coast of the DR to the West Coast of Haiti. It takes two days to summit, and one to come back down, so it should be a great way to close out 2008 and welcome in 2009. Wish me luck!

So, until then, please accept my best wishes for una Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

¡Un abrazo fuerte!

-Tod (Teo)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hanna, Ike, & One Heck of a First Year

Hola mis queridos amigos y amigas de los Estados Unidos,

First off, thank you to all who wrote to me and to my family expressing your concern about my safety during Hurricanes Hanna and Ike. The DR in general - and my community in particular - were indeed hit hard by the storms, but, unlike what I saw in the news about Houston, my community only received damage to roads, bridges, and water systems caused by heavy rain. We got no wind from Ike and only mild gusts from Hanna, so any damage we incurred from the back-to-back storms can be repaired over time and with minor effort. Unlike Tropical Storm Noel that hit the DR last October 2007, no additional homes were lost in these storms, thank goodness.

My personal experience in the storms was somewhat typical of most Volunteers: Due to the lack of reliable transportation and continuing heavy rain even after Ike's trip through the island, I was trapped in my community for a few days with no way to get out. However, I was not worried as my house was well stocked with food, water, and reading material to see me through the storm. As the storm raged outside, I was actually very cozy in my little house, wrapped up in a blanket, sipping hot tea and laughing to myself as I read through a book of short stories by David Sedaris.

In the morning on the third day of Ike, and once the rain had let up a little, my neighbors and I took to surveying the damage and making repairs as best we could. Last week was spent clearing branches and debris from the roads and from neighbors' yards, making provisional repairs to the three small bridges that were washed out, replacing damaged pvc pipes in our town's water system, and checking in on friends and neighbors in the community to see if anyone needed assistance.

After a few more days -- and once the three battered Land Rovers that serve as our communication with the outside world started arriving through the mud and puddles -- we were more or less back to normal. Well, as normal as life can be for a tall, bald, gringo Volunteer in this remote mountain community of the DR...


Other News: Believe it or not, yesterday (September 13, 2008) marked the one-year anniversary of my arrival here in the DR as a Peace Corps Volunteer in childhood nutrition, women's reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. I am stunned to think that a full year has passed by in what seemed to be such a short time. To paraphrase a saying I've heard several times about Peace Corps life: "the days can drag on forever, but the months and years just seem to fly by."

There have been a few bad times here and there, including some times when I thought about quitting and heading home to the U.S., but overall, I look back on the past year with a deep sense of pride at what I've been able to accomplish with the support of my community.

Here's to a great first year, and looking forward to continuing through the second year and finishing strong in November 2009!

Best wishes to all of my loved ones back home...


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another Busy Month

Hola mis queridos amigos y amigas...

Sí, it seems that once a month is about all I can handle on the blogging front. I would like to apologize to all of my readers for the radio silence on the blogg-o-sphere, but for those of you who know me, you are probably not at all surprised that I am so flojo (lazy) when it comes to keeping up.

In any case, estoy muy feliz to report again that, at the 11-month mark of my Peace Corps service, my life and work are continuing at a healthy pace this summer and that my spirits (and health) remain high. Julio and agosto were (and have been) busy months for me and my HIV/AIDS youth group. The jóvenes are out of school for the summer here as in the States, so we had several youth camps, conferences, and many other fun outings for the kids these past few weeks that have kept me busy and traveling with kids in-tow.

Julio in particular was a banner month for my work here with the youth group. My community of M----- A---- in Ocoa hosted a regional "summer camp" for kids from my town and from other towns around the three southern DR provinces of Ocoa, Peravia, and Azua. In total, 42 kids were there from 10 different communities along with seven of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers from around the region. The 3-day camp was based around a series of informational charlas about condoms, sex, HIV/AIDS, and teenage pregnancy. For fun, we also included workshops on art, a workshop on making and selling cleaning products locally for funding group activities, an activity that talked about the importance of taking care of the envorinment, and a training session on CPR/1st Aid.

When not learning about health, the muchachos y muchachas had lots of time to swim in the río, play basquetbol and voleibol, and learned the very American tradition of roasting marshmallows over a campfire and trying their skills at making S'mores. Remember that Peace Corps is as much about teaching other people about Americans and our traditions as it is for teaching proper health practices.

Besides having the kids learn and enjoy themselves, what was most fun for me about this event was seeing the enthusiasm of the local community in putting all this together. We had a team of local volunteers who cooked and cleaned for us during our event, donated food, beds, sheets, pillows, and transportation. All in a town that does not have electricity and where most people live day-to-day off what they can gather in their small plots of land. Once again, I am thrilled to be working in a country where the people are so giving of so much, when they have so little for themselves.

I am loving my work here and can't wait for the next big project to begin... Stay tuned...

Un abrazo muy fuerte desde la RD...


Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Numbers

Hola mis queridos amigos de los Estados Unidos...

, I admit - I really stink at keeping up with a blog. Unlike mi amigo Egan and others who post to their blogs frequently, I am not so diligente about keeping up with my posts. However -- please keep in mind that I have NO ELECTRICITY where I live and getting to a computadora with internet connectivity means a two-hour jeep ride down the mountain at the hefty cost of RD$140 (that's about US$4) one-way.

So, a new post once every two months seems about the average for me. In fact, it has been so long since my last post that several of you, my dear friends and family back home, have written to me via e-mail to ask if I'm still alive, and if so, asking what's new in my life since my last post in May.

I am alive and well and enjoying my time here in the DR imensely. I will admit, I still have days in which I often wonder: "what the h*ll am I doing here?" But, overall, those moments are few and don't often last long.

Short story is that I have been busy with work in my community. My biggest work so far has been with my youth group. In addition to putting in several weeks of training and meetings, my youth group and I are working on pestering the Secretary of Public Education to get a volleyball court built in our local high school. We have written letters to the local Síndico (like a county executive or mayor) and to our Senador as well. The kids and I will also be hosting 25 other youth from other parts of the DR for a three-day long summer camp at the end of this month. Our agenda includes lots of information about what they learned in the course on HIV/AIDS prevention, several trips to our river for swimming, and a volleyball tournament to end the weekend of fun and learning.

As for other more poster-child "Peace Corps-ish" type projects, I am working with my Community Council to get money and technical help for a latrines project (yes, latrines!), as well as money for the construction of new and more fuel efficient wood-burning cooking stoves, and a major reparations project for our water system. Updates of these and other events (including everything I've promised in past blogs) to come soon. Stay tuned!

Anyway, inspired by friends of mine who have done so in the past, here's a quick and dirty list of random numbers about Peace Corps life that I thought might be interesting:

months since I first left home to join the Peace Corps
months in service at my community
Dominican families I've lived with since coming to the DR
Months that I've lived on my own in my own house
Volunteer trainees who started with me in September
Volunteers who've quit the Peace Corps since September
Number of visitors I've had since starting service (thanks, Mom!)
Number of fellow Volunteers I've visited in their communities since starting service

Number of youth groups I've formed in my community
Weeks my youth group spent learning about HIV/AIDS prevention, avoidance of teenage pregnancy, alcohol, and drugs.
Kids who started in the group in March
Kids who completed the 10-week course and "graduated" in May
number of grant applications for projects I've submitted since starting work in my community
number of my grant applications that have been approved and awarded so far
Dominican pesos earned for projects in my community by the above-mentioned approved grants
(about 1500 USD - your tax dollars at work -- Gracias!)
Dominican pesos I hope to earn for my community if the remaining two grant applications are approved (about 5000 USD)

Creepy Critters:
Bats who have entered my house in the middle of the night, flown around my room for a while, then exited -- the whole time watching me cower under my mosquito net praying for them to leave
Number of above mentioned bats who visited me at the same time. Yes, imagine 3 bats flying around the inside of your house, and now you'll realize how freaked out I was!
Number of rats I chased and killed with a broom in the middle of the night, after I found the little diablito eating my bath soap
Times I've found spiders and cockroaches in my shoes in the morning since coming to the DR. Always shake out your shoes before putting them on!
Number of live tarantulas I've seen since coming to the DR (not at my house, thank God!)

Number of details I'm giving out as to my luck with the dominicanas - Sorry!

Un abrazo muy fuerte desde la RD...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Poop in a Cup (don't worry, no pictures!)

Hola amigos y amigas...

It has been a tough week for your beloved Peace Corps Volunteer, my friends. I came into la Capital Tuesday of this week after 2 days of very little or no sleep in the campo over the weekend. I was suffering from a new, powerful case of "the #3's" - with a mild fever and abdominal cramping thrown in for fun - so once I felt a little better and was able to get out of the house without the need for an urgent run to the baño, I hopped the jeep for the 4-hour trip to get into la Capital to see the doctor.

Describing my symptoms to our doctora, she did a brief exam of my abdomen for inflamation, found a few tender spots in my large intestine, gave me some ideas of what she thought it might be, then sent me on my way to the clinica in town for a few routine tests that we Peace Corps Volunteers just love: the urine test (not so bad) and the infamous and not-so-fun: "poop-in-a-cup."

Although we Volunteers have fun talking about all of our intestinal challenges that our life in the undeveloped campo throws at us, and can easily talk for hours about the different techniques needed in order to actually poop in a cup, I will leave out the details for you, my largely non-Peace Corps audience. However, you can imagine what skill is required to be able to successfully poop in a cup the size of a yogurt container and what bad luck it is if one fails at it.

Anyway, long story short (too late), I have been diagnosed with a type of intestinal parasitic infection with symptoms and a treatment regimen similar to amoebic dysentry (For more info, take a look here: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Amoebic+Dysentry.) So, I will be stuck in la Capital for a few more days, waiting to take the poop-test again and hoping for an improved bill of health.

Luckily, although a mild case and not too far advanced, these little buggers inside me are painful! The cramps are the worst at night and while eating. Surprisingly, even though it hurts to eat, I am always hungry! Of course, I'm now eating not just for me, but for a billion+ little amiguitos. Also all the things I am craving are not allowed because they aggravate the pain: greasy foods, spicy foods, cheese and milk, tomatoes and tomato-based sauces. I am also downing three types of pills a day: One to aid in digestion with meals, one for the abdominal pain caused by the inflamation of my large intestine, and a powerful anit-bacterial drug, metronidazole (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/metronidazole).

So, I guess you could say that I've arrived as a true Peace Corps Volunteer now being able to add intestinal parasite to my resume of service.

Much promised fotos of my casa de campo to come next... ¡no se vayan!

Un abrazo, - Teo.

P.S. - Egan, on a similar subject: I saw your comment on my last posting regarding my bathroom and where the bad stuff goes... Although the latrine is attached to my house, making it an "indoor bathroom" it is still a true latrine. That is, there is a deep hole in the ground lined on the sides with cinder block that is directly under the floor of the bathroom. The bad stuff goes down there (like a cistern). In theory, eventually the material gets broken down by bacteria that live down there, and the material in then recycled (absorbed) back into the earth over time. The material from my outhouse does not run directly onto the ground or into a stream. -T.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over

Hola mis queridos amigos...

First off, an apology to all of my dedicated readers who had to endure two months of the same picture of me on that damn horse... However, better than big spiders, don't you think?

Once again it has been a looooong time since my last post. Where March and April went I have no idea, but both months were over and done before I ever realized it, and here we are well into May. In short, I am still alive and healthy. However, it is the absolute truth when I say: THE PEACE CORPS HONEYMOON IS OVER... The realities of life here in the campo have set in, my work schedule has picked up pace, and I am BUSY!

Anyway, let's do some brief updating since my last post, shall we? Since I last wrote:

I have (finally!) moved into my own house - a photo my fantastic clean-up crew is attached. It is a great little house, although definitely showing its age and needs more TLC than I have been able to give so far. She's made of wood with a tin roof and cement floor, and she's very typical of most of the housing in my villiage. I have 5 rooms total: living/dining room, "kitchen," "master" bedroom, "guest" bedroom, and "bathroom."

Now, all of those terms are in quotes above because the reality is this: the kitchen is made up of two tables with a dish drainer, table top stove with propane tank for cooking, and a botellón of drinking water. Most campsites have more cooking facilities than I do, so when I use the word "kitchen," to descirbe my little cocina I mean it in the broadest of definitions.

The "master" bedroom consists of a double bed (borrowed from my host family) with springs that poke out and a big sag in the middle, a Presidente beer crate turned on-end for a bed-side table, and a "closet" made up of a tree branch nailed to two wall supports in the corner of the room.

The "guest" bedroom does indeed have a bed (twin size, for visiting Volunteers or relatives) but also serves as a catch-all storage room. Guests of Casa de Teo have to share living space with a big tank of (non-drinking) water, a mop, a broom, cleaning solutions, rat poison... basically anything that I have chosen to throw in there to keep it out of my way. The guest bedroom is also the gateway to the "bathroom," so it is not the nicest place to sleep in the house, thus my determiniation of it as the "guest" quarters and not the "master's" quarters.

Finally, the "bathroom." So, really, my "bathroom" is really an outhouse attached to the house. That's right: a latrine - no toilet, no flushing water, just a hole in the floor that leads to a place no human being ever wants to see, smell or visit in his life. I have seen my share of outhouses in this country and the thought of the smells, flies, and all kinds of other critters that come with outhouses didn't really make me feel "lucky" that I had one attached to my house, so close and convenient. So, as you can imagine, when most of my neighbors would say: "Oh yeah, that house is great, it has an attached bathroom," I was a bit skeptical of just how "advantageous" that would be. Yet, like with most things I've learned about this country, the locals are ALWAYS right, and I have since come to appreciate having an attached baño - especially on those cold, rainy nights when running to the bathroom outside would be worse than my attached alternative. Don't worry -- pictures coming soon!

My biggest project these past months has been the formation and training of 13 kids in the program of "Escojo Mi Vida" - a 10-week program for youth 11-25 years old that gives them information and skills in order to make healthy decisions in their lives: staying in school, avoiding drugs, drinking responsibly, and practicing safe sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.
Although I'm no Chris Farley warning kids about living in a van down by the river (classic Saturday Night Live routine that I've thought of often as I lead the classes), I think the kids are taking to the program very well. We have 2 weeks left of the course, and then the kids will "graduate" and become what are called Multiplicadores - giving presentations and teaching other kids about what they have learned themselves.

We just participated in our first regional youth conference at the end of April, in which three of the kids from my group represented our community in a weekend camp of activities, games, and workshops focusing on the Escojo themes.

At the conference, I presented a 2-hour talk on "Gender, Machismo, and Sexual Health" - basically talking about how a few small changes in attitude about gender roles in the DR (namely, reducing the influence of machismo and making girls realize that they can and should negotiate safe sex with their boyfriends) can help prevent unplanned teeneage pregnancies and spread of HIV. Perfect topic for a sensitive pony-tail man like me... (well, okay, only without the pony-tail.) A photo of the conference is also attached. In case you don't recognize me, I'm the big white guy speaking in front of the screen. And yes, the whole presentation was done in Spanish... I've come a long way in my habla skills.

In general, I am very happy to be here and doing what I'm doing. There are still some mornings where it takes me some time to get motivated to get out of bed and face the day's challenges, but once I get going with my day, all anxieties melt away and I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have the life I have. Most days, by the time I am ready to turn in for the day (which is about 8:30pm as I have no electricity for lights), I feel satisfied that I am doing the right thing by being here and sticking it out, one day at a time.

Health has been okay, but I still find myself getting sick more frequently than I ever did in the US. Mostly colds and coughs - my villiage has very extreme changes in temperature (hot during the day, bitter cold at night), and viruses get passed around fast - and are especially hard on the one gringo in town. Other than that, I've suffered from my share of bad cases of what we Peace Corps Volunteers call "the #3's" (use your imagination and you'll figure it out), but that is common for most PCV's the world over. After all, that's one reason we're here, right? Lone Volunteers fighting those food-borne illnesses one trip to the latrine at a time...
Biggest health surprise so far: I've lost 10 pounds and am now under 200 pounds - the first time I've been this light since I was about 27 years old.
My mom visited me in mid-April, so I am also happy to say that I've hosted my first visitor from the US. My mom was a real trooper: She had to be a good sport when dealing with the rain, mud, bugs, and other inconveniences of my village. I'm planning on writing a separate in-depth blog about her visit on my next post, so stay tuned...

Until then, un fuerte abrazo desde el campo de la República Dominicana...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Catching Up

¡Hola mis amigos de los Estados Unidos!

Hace mucho tiempo since my last post - more than a month! Time to do some catching up:

I have believed for many years that febrero is the single busiest month of any year, and I can honestly say that it is true of life here in the DR as well. I am amazed at how much has happened in the past month and how my work has increased. An update of life as a volunteer:

First, I am now very close to my 6-month anniversary of arriving here in the DR (I touched down into Santo Domingo on September 13, 2007). This is a big deal for me because it represents the longest I've ever been away from the United States in my life in one stretch. True, I did travel to and from Mexico on and off for a long time back in the 1990's, but the longest stretch of time without returning home was only 5 months (mid-August '96 to mid-January '97). This month will be eventful for that fact if for nothing else.

Second, my initial work with my community is finally at an end and I am starting the next phase of my work as a Volunteer: Project Planning and Funding. For the first 3-month period of any volunteer's service, he is required to do community research and produce a detailed diagnostic report of the current situation in the community. This includes hygiene practices, general knowledge about sickness and healthy lifestyle, nutrition and eating habits, and soliciting information about the community in general. All this is done through personal questionnaires, house-to-house visits, formal interviews, observation, and participation in various community events and meetings.

My work in this phase is now complete (as is my report) so it is time to take that data and apply it towards specific projects and programs for the community. Thus, my life lately has been poring over grant applications, figuring out the rules and regulations for funds, and deciding what resources can be used for what types of projects. All this is community-driven, of course, so that means that I've been pushing and prodding (and eventually attending) a lot of community meetings where we talk about the needs of the community and what projects we'd like to start first to address a specific need. It can be a slow and tiring process to get the community's buy-in, but necessary to ensure a project's sustainability and success. Now I know why we're given two years -- we'll need 'em!

Third, I went on my first horse-back riding trip in probably 25 years last month! It was great. I went with my family on a borrowed caballo (white, of course - the gringo horse for the gringo horseman was the running joke all day long). We went up and over the main mountain between my house and the next valley to an even smaller village called Florencio. Three hours up and three hours back - it was a great time, but now I truly know what it is to be saddle sore - I thought 100 miles on a bike saddle was tough! Six hours on a horse clomping along a rocky trail can be much more punishing on las nalgas. Still, I think I did pretty well for never having ridden anything but a tourist-friendly horse in Estes Park, Colorado back in the early 80's. My caballo was old and not very fast, but he was stubborn. Getting him to go took some effort...

Final news: I will soon be moving into my own house! I am very excited about this, because it means I will finally have some personal and professional privacy to work when I need to, the luxury to sleep when I need to and, most importantly for me, I will now have total control over what, when, and how much I eat in a day. Dominican host mothers (God bless them) think the average Peace Corps Volunteer needs 3-4 times the amount of food that a normal human being will eat, and then they feel disappointed when you are only able to finish half of what you are given. This is the Peace Corps, for God's sake, aren't I supposed to be LOSING weight?

Anyway, after a lot of inquiries, a long wait and a lot of patience, I found my new home for the next two years and will be making some repairs, doing some painting, and finally moving in the week before Easter. Details of the new Casa de Teo (and some before and after photos!) on my next post... stay tuned!

Como siempre, un abrazo muy fuerte desde la RD... - Teo.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Niños, Niños, Niños!

February 1st - It sure has been a while since my last post...

Short story: Life in the DR rolls on...and is getting better all the time.

I am feeling so much more a part of my community now - the difference between how I was feeling just a month ago to now is just amazing. I wake up in the morning now feeling great - full of energy, looking forward to getting up, getting out of the house, and visiting the folks in my community. One of the biggest reasons for my change of heart: KIDS! The niños and niñas (boys and girls) are the best friends of the Peace Corps Volunteer by far. They are curious, fearless, and become instant friends with anyone who (like the PCV) looks or acts differently.

To start with, the two kids who have helped me most have been Dayra (9)and Wilfer (2) who are part of my host family. These two supply me with endless laughs and surprises. Two such surprises are pictured above: One day, Wilfer comes clomping out of my room wearing my big hiking boots - with much hilarity. I just had to snap this picture of him with seemingly oversize feet. Another day, he and Dayra showed up to my door with their new "hats:" two banana (guineo) flower petals on their heads. Once again, a picture worth a post here on the blog.
With other kids in the community, I have also made strides in working with them and gaining trust in the community. Two weeks ago I started offering English classes on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (to anyone interested in attending) and to my surprise, the attendance was amazing: nearly the entire high school class of 50 were there on Saturday, and 25 kids, parents, and teens showed up on Sunday. The following week was equally packed and I was thrilled to see the high level of interest by the community.

As I am a health Volunteer, teaching English is not my priority, but since it is an activity that builds interest in my work, and earns me some trust in the community, it is something that I will continue as long as I can.

Como siempre... un abrazo muy fuerte desde la RD... -Tod.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

¡Feliz Año 2008!

Feliz Año Nuevo to all of mis paisanos back home!

First off, in addition to wishing everyone a very Happy 2008, I also wanted to thank all of you who posted comments to my last entry, expressing your concern and encouragement. I won't lie: Peace Corps life is tough, and there are times when it would be easy to call it quits and go back home. However, the tough times have been (thankfully) rare, and for the most part I am having a great time, so please don't worry about me.

In fact, much has changed since that very tough day I had back in early December: I am keeping busy, completing my diagnostic interviews and quarterly report later this month, getting ready to present the results to my community partners and PC colleagues back here in the capital, soliciting funds for specific projects, and beginning the process of moving out of my host family's house and renting a house of my own in my community (photos to come soon!) Lots going on now that the holidays are over, so I am happy to be busy.

New Year's Eve in the DR was fun, but low-key. New Year's (like most holidays) is a time to spend with family - and that's exactly what I did to ring in 2008: A traditional meal with the extended family in the "big" town of Ocoa, watching local kids play with sparklers in the street, waiting for the stroke of midnight by the local radio station's countdown, hugs and felicidades all around, and then joining the crush of people in the town square for dancing, socializing, and a fireworks display overhead. Rolled into bed about 2:30am on New Year's Day...

More later... Un abrazo desde la R.D.... -Tod.