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.