February 12, 2014

I'm Back (well, almost)

Well this post is a long time coming. Let me tell you. Being home has been wonderful, minus the two Polar Vortexes. I get the question almost daily, of when I will be returning, and it has been hard not having an answer to that question.  But I have always had the intention of returning to the DR. And after months of waiting, countless emails and phone calls, Peace Corps has finally given me an answer. They are allowing me to return to a new site. What site is that? I have no idea. They are currently working on that, and said it could take a month or so.

More waiting, but at least I know what I'm waiting for. And even better, I will not be returning to my old site, Cotui. With that being said, being home does not actually extend the time that I have in the DR. I will still be eligible to end my service in May of 2015, which is why I really want to get back as soon as possible. And get on a beach as soon as possible. This post is brief, but I will keep you updated when I find out more!

Still waiting,

LJ

November 28, 2013

Being Thankful



I said I wouldn't write until January, but alas here I am. Kudos for whoever actually checks this on a regular basis! Let's get sentimental, if you don't want to do that you should probably stop reading now! Anyway, if you're in touch with me, you know I've gotten back to the great state of Minnesota. It is so COLD here. But it's really great to be home. I have been welcomed home with open arms and ears and it's been wonderful. I am SO thankful I am back--and for my AMAZING family and friends.

BUT culture shock is an actual thing--I figured I would just fit back into the life I left. I was very mistaken, living in a country for 8 months can really change how you view normal. It has been hard to try and make my family and friends here in America really understand--not that they don't want to, they just can't. 

I landed exactly a week ago today. I could start making a list of all of the things I am thankful for but it would be so long, probably even endless--and it would start with my family friends, electricity and water. I know my culture shock will diminish and I will begin to once again find myself fitting in here. 

But, I wanted to take this blog to say a special "thank you/I am thankful for" to my fellow volunteers--better yet, my PCDR family. Since I have been home; they have been checking up on me, calling me, letting me vent/cry/yell/complain, and also reminding me that they haven't forgotten about me. Today they celebrated Thanksgiving together. I received many messages saying how much they wished I could have been there and that they miss me--and trust me, that rooftop pool looked pretty great.

Peace Corps, thus far, has been a crazy experience. If it weren't for them, I doubt I would have made it past the first week. But here I am, 8 months later, back for a bit, but not down and never out. We've gone through a lot and made some really great memories--517-13-01, Sanchez Ramirez kidz, as well as my other DR volunteers. And here's my big THANK YOU/HUG/I LOVE YOU from across the ocean, cerca de Nueva Yol--obviously. And I could not let this day go past without saying something. I also made this pretty sweet collage of a few of our memories together, because, why not?! Here's to many more, si Dios quiere, and I am really hoping he does!



Learning to be American again and remembering to speak English,

LJ

P.S. If you're in Minnesota and would like to see me and/or hear me talk about my PCDR life, let me know, I have the same numero.

P.P.S. Family and friends in America I am also SO VERY thankful for you--just feeling sentimental--ya dig? Also, you get real hugs from me right now, so you win ;)

November 17, 2013

See you later, alligator

I’ve been regretting writing this or even posting anything at all. But here goes nothing. On Thursday I will be getting on a plane to fly home. I know what most of you are already thinking…what?! It’s not December yet. And you’re right, it isn’t. I’m not coming home for vacation anymore—I am being medically evacuated. After a series of events happened in my site and with my women’s group, I decided that it was in my best interest to leave the country for 45 days to focus on my health. This was entirely my decision and Peace Corps is supporting my fully in this decision.

Currently I cannot say for sure if I will be returning to the country in January.  A lot has happened in the 8 months that I have been here, and I know a lot can happen in the month and a half when I’m at home. After the 45 days Peace Corps will evaluate me and will either medically clear me (if they do that I can choose to go back or not) or they will tell me that I need more time to focus on my health and I will be medically separated.

Before I end this brief post, I want to thank my Peace Corps DR family and those in my community,  first and foremost for supporting me in my decision to return home; and also for the continued love and support through messages, phone calls, and visits. I also want to thank my parents, family and friends at home for their willingness to welcome me back and support me in this. This has not been an easy decision, but I know that it will be best for me in the long run.
So this blog will be on hiatus until January. And I’ll be trying not to freeze to death in Minnesota ;)

Preparing for winter,


LJ

October 21, 2013

Business Talk

It has been awhile. It seems like I am always saying that when I sit down to write another blog post. The truth is, the pace of life is slow here, and sometimes there’s just not much to say. But this past month has been busier than normal. I just returned from a 5 day trip to the capital—more on that later.

Two weeks ago I partnered with a bank in town called Banco Ademi and gave a savings charla (talk) to over 50 seventh and eighth graders. It was my first time working in the schools, and surprisingly I enjoyed it. After the talk, we  got to go on a field trip to the bank—the kids really enjoyed it, probably because they were taken out of class. In November, I will hopefully return to the school to start and give recycling talks to every class. I am not only trying to get more plastic bags for our women, but trash is a HUGE problem in our community and the country in general. Trash pick-up is inconsistent; many of my neighbors just burn their trash or throw it into the nearby river or wherever they feel…it’s gross.

This past weekend was the Construye Tus Suenos (Build Your Dreams) national conference. CTS is an initiative from the business sector. It is a class that teaches jovenes (ages 16-29) how to start a business and write a business plan. The national conference is when students come and present their plans and compete for money to actually start their business—the maximum amount of money given is $50,000 pesos. Since no one in my group has started teaching the class, we were invited to attend and help out at the conference. There were about 70 students from all over the country that came, with their volunteer. It was amazing to see all of the potential and innovation that the young kids have. There were three winners (this year all girls!) that will be able to start their own business, with the help of their volunteer, monitoring their funds. There were also just general talks and lessons given about business. I will start teaching this course in January and am currently starting to recruit potential students.


Another plus of this conference was that it was held in Santo Domingo in the Sheraton—talk about luxury. The food was amazing, as well as the hot showers, A/C and internet access. Many of the jovenes that come to this conference have never stayed in a hotel in their life—much less one like this. And for us volunteers it was a nice little break from our volunteer lifestyle. I honestly have not eaten food that good since I have been in country. Overall it was a great experience and I cannot wait to start teaching.

After the conference, we celebrated my site mate and good friend, Sam’s, 27th birthday by eating chicken wings and watching the FSU v. Clemson game and then went out dancing at the Car Wash (car wash by day, dance floor by night) until 2am. Needless to say it was a good end to a weekend in the capital.

I am now back in my site, waiting for one of my women to come by so I can teach her how to set up a Facebook page for our business. She said she would come by this afternoon, but evening is soon approaching. And this is the current problem I face—my women’s group. They want everything from me, and expect me to do all of the work while they aprovechar (enjoy) the fruits of my labor. Ready for this rant? (If not, skip to the next paragraph) Well here it goes: my women’s group was started by an American, who used to live in Cotui. This American has a great heart, but she does not know the first thing about development work or sustainability. Since the groups existence, she has been giving the group support (mostly financially), and the group has not had to do much work, other than crotchet to make the purses.  The problem? This is not sustainable, and this is not what I am here to do. But the women are so used to being given things, that when I push back, and ask them to do some work; they get angry with me. I have explained to them every week this past month, that if they are not willing to work with me, I will not do anything for them—it has not gone over well. Development work is a long, hard, slow process, friends. And when you’re working with a group that wants things instantly, it makes your job even more difficult. 

The thing that makes my job so great is that I can do what I want. So the women’s group isn’t working out, well that’s fine! I’ll just teach a youth group to girls, or give recycling talks and work with the environment office in town to better this community. Peace Corps is my experience, and whatever I put in, is what I will get out of it. I am currently working to find other projects to occupy my time, and things are working out. When the women’s group is ready, I’ll still be here, but until then, I’m going to find things that are a good use of my time. This woman hasn’t shown up, so I guess I’ll go post this to the internet.

Doing what I love,

LJ

September 7, 2013

Here's to you, Minnesota

I have now been in country for six months. It seems like it has gone by so fast. But at the same time, some days seem to drag by.  Since my last post life has changed a bit. I no longer live with a host family! I moved this past Wednesday, but I live a two minute walk from where my host family resides. My house is a small one bedroom. It was newly re-done with new tile and paint, so it looks really nice. I live in a quiet area of Cotui, but it’s still very close to the center of town. I also splurged and bought a queen sized bed to fit all of my visitors that will now be able to come and stay with me (hint, hint)!  I will post pictures eventually, but I don’t have very much furniture yet and the d├ęcor is lacking.

My first night at my house, I had three other volunteers sleep here—Tal, Seth, and Sam. Not that I needed three, but they all helped warm my house. My landlord lives right next to me and owns a water company—so I can get my water jug filled up at a discounted rate, and there is a colmado across the street where I can purchase things like eggs, veggies, and fruit.  For Dominicans it’s strange to them that I am a single girl living on my own. Usually you don’t move out of your parents’ house until you’re married. And so I constantly have my host parents and other women in my group coming to check on me. It’s nice that they care but at the same time, I’m glad I finally have my own space.

Another one of my women in the group, Nena spends half of her week right down the street from me. Recently I have been going over and spending evenings with her, learning to crochet the purses and talking about life.  (Side note: crocheting plastic bags is pretty difficult. Mostly because I’m so strong and usually rip the plastic.)

Currently I am working on a grant for my women’s group, which occupies a lot of my time. Since I want the grant process to be a learning experience for them I have to translate the entire grant. I could do the whole thing myself but I do not want them to have the mentality that because we have an American volunteer, she just gives our group money. I want them to want to work for it, as well as teach business lessons while we go through the process.  We will be planning on using the money for marketing purposes. They have minimal funding for marketing—which is not going to help sustain them in the long run.

We are also trying to decide on a new logo—which is another long, frustrating process. Sometimes I just want to do everything for them because I know I can do it better and more efficiently but then I realize that’s not why I am here—it’s to empower them. I hope by the end of these two years I become a more patient person through this process…some days I just am not so sure.

I don’t usually want to talk about the weather on here, but I have seen enough statuses from MN about the “heat wave” that you had. Well, let me tell you. One hundred degree days with 90% humidity is normal here for summer months (June-Sept). Let’s pair that with no A/C and inconsistent power.  Welcome to my reality.


And now for some really exciting news…I will be in Minnesota! December 19-30. Why?! Because I have the best parents a girl could ask for! So, I want to see you! Let me know if you’ll be in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area and we’ll make plans. So there’s that. I really hope Minnesota has snow, so if someone can make that happen, that would be fantastic as well.

Ready for summer to end,

LJ

August 13, 2013

#myjobiswaycoolerthanyours

It has been a crazy month--sorry for the lack of updates! I’m trying to think of where to even begin. I could bore you to death with every detail but I will give you the short version.

After the Fourth of July, I really wanted to focus on completing my diagnostic. Easier said than done. Let’s just say I waited until the last minute…like usual.  Distractions here are so easy to find. Including going to visit a fellow volunteer in Fontino (30ish minutes north of my site) and then going to Santiago for another volunteer’s birthday. And then Sam, the volunteer who lives closest to me comes to Cotui at least once a week, and we find many things to distract ourselves with. One day she came over and we made tacos for my host family. They were so good and reminded me of home.  And my host family surprisingly liked them.
Peace Corps!


Towards the end of July the woman who started my group, Rita, came for a visit for a little over 2 weeks. She is from the DR but she moved to the states when she was a teenager and has been their ever since.  She started an NGO as well as my women’s group and still plays a major role in helping them sell the purses. For example, she went to an Artesan's fair in Santa Fe, New Mexico and represented our women (since most of them cannot travel to the U.S.). Our group sold over 300 purses at a fair! Here’s a news article if you want to read more about that: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/article_4e96bfc6-9a7b-5a2b-a742-1f9f4ed797d9.html

Shirts and bags from the fair! ...we need to work on group shots.

Trust lessons!
Anytime Rita comes, we use the money that the women had gotten from their sales to go on a retreat. This time we went to Rio San Juan and stayed in a hostel. We just stayed one night, but we packed so much into the two days.  We spent a lot of time doing self-esteem type exercises and trust exercises.  It was a great weekend and I was able to get a lot closer to many of the women I hadn't known very well. And learn about their background and lives. We all were able to laugh, cry, and talk about things we normally don’t talk about in our meetings.
My Dominican host mom!

View from our balcony of the ocean
And on top of all of these things that have been happening, I have been house hunting and I think I have found an apartment! It was newly remodeled and is fairly close to the main road. I am just waiting for Peace Corps to come and check it out and make sure everything is secure and safe.  So I will post pictures once it becomes official!

So where do I go from here? Well there are some really exciting things on the horizon for my women’s group. We have been invited to another artisan’s fair in PUERTO RICO! This means I’ll be getting to go there with them! It’s not until next year so we have a lot of planning to do as well as purses to crochet! Also, we want to be able to take some of the women with us, so I will have to work on getting them passports—which is a lengthy process.  I also have many other business classes and marketing things to work with for this group—so it looks like it will be keeping me busy.

It won’t be all work though. I am also planning on starting a ballet class for girls in the barrio, La Colonia. Which for me—is more fun than work. Currently I have a sign-up sheet with 15 names of 6-8 year olds that want to learn how to dance. Now, I just need to work on setting up a space to dance, building a barre, putting mirrors up, and finding them shoes. I also am starting to take up soccer again. There is a group that plays by my house every evening. Unfortunately, I left my cleats and shin guards at home, so I am on a hunt to find cheap ones. All in all, I have a lot to look forward to—and time to do things I want and love.

Loving this job,

LJ

July 13, 2013

My 4th of July in Photos

For the 4th of July about half of the volunteers in country went to Las Galeras, Samana (northern peninsula) and spent a few days on the beach. Sometimes I forget I live on an island. But then I take a bus for a few hours...and there it is! I thought this post would be better in pictures then me describing how beautiful everything was.
La Playita. Soaking up some sun and swiming!
Playing some volleyball. (That wood pile to the left was our bonfire that night!)

Barbecuing. Amerikan style.
On the 5th we took a boat to Playa Fronton. 

Playa Fronton. Only way to get here is to hike or boat--less people and no vendors!


There were a lot of reefs. Could snorkle, couldn't swim.

Site neighbor Sammy on the boat!
Susan and me leaving Fronton..with a little more sun than we came with:)

All in all it was a great few days with other volunteers. It was the longest time I have spent out of my site since I arrived in May. And these beaches made up for not being at Rainy Lake.  And now I have less than a month left before my diagnostic presentation. Better get to work!

Back to reality,

LJ