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...