23 August 2007


Well, time to bring some closure to this blog. In June I found out I was pregnant, which brought an unexpectedly abrupt end to my near 2 years of Peace Corps service. Once Washington heard I was having twins, they wanted me on the next flight back to the good ol' US! (At least by then it was July.) Realistically, it took me an extended weekend of packing a saying goodbye, and another 3 days of paperwork in the capital before I was on a plane. Saying goodbye under pressure is NOT the ideal way to leave people that have been your family for the last 2 years. To boot, there's no phones up there, so not much communication with them. On the plus side, my boyfriend keeps me posted on some of the happenings.

Speaking of Hito... it's been a challenge to be separated. We have been together for over a year and half... and for the last half year, we've been inseperable. He was my support and my sanity during some of the crazy projects I was undertaking. We're working on his visa, but it's proving to be a serious test of our patience. It's strange to be experiencing so many of the things I've been missing (like washers and dryers, and Starbucks, and Target, and hot water), and in a few months or a year, I'll finally get to introduce him to all that.

My friends back in the DR are all starting to think of their last big hurrahs of projects as their time is quickly coming to a close. I'm hoping to help a couple friends with the high school computer lab project we started. They've gotten some of the funding for Phase I (hurrah!), so hopefully the computers will be purchased soon. Over all, I'm very proud of Courtney and my work on the Birth Certificate project, pleased with how the youth camps went last year (and sad I couldn't be around to do them again this year), and super excited for the future of this rural computer lab. Good luck Megan! It's been a good service overall, even if it did end a bit early. And thank you for all your reading and support!!!

11 May 2007

Another ¨typical¨ day...

With all the visitas and traveling I've done this last month, I've spent very few days in the coffee association's office. Last weekend, I stopped by with my cousin's group to give them a tour. With the best intentions, I told Arelis I would see her Tuesday. So, why is it Thursday and I still haven't set foot in the office? Simple. I'm a volunteer and nothing goes as planned or intended!

On Tuesday, after declaring Jajhaira, I met up with Courtney since she begged me to help her create certificates for a course she's giving. As everything is closed from 12-2 for lunch, I agreed. Halfway thru, it began to pour. We finished up shortly before 2, just as the rain let up. We prayed that it would hold, and we made a run for town to get lunch. Luckily we both found bolas (free rides) fairly easily and got lunch quickly. After running some errands, Courtney was going to head back home and me to the office. But it looked like rain again, and we passed a friend who said the truck was just about to leave. So, although it was early, I headed home also.

Arriving in Manguito, I found people were working on building our computer center, so I hung around doing the only thing I was qualified for... carrying the buckets of mixed cement! Go figure... the rain decided not to return that afternoon. But it was a good thing because we got a lot of work done on the building! (The walls are half up; hopefully we'll be finishing the walls this week.)

Wednesday, I awoke to the dual sounds of my cat crying to be let in... and pouring rain on my zinc roof.... at 5 am. Grudgingly, I let the cat in and went back to bed, hoping that rain would end by the time I woke up. The next thing I knew, it was 9:30... and still dark and rainy out. I knew there was no chance of making it to town, at least not until the afternoon. And sure enough, it rained all day.

So, I did what I do best on rainy days (and hadn't had time for in weeks). I washed and cleaned. Although I pay someone to do my laundry, Dominican culture says each person is generally responsible for his/her own underwear. At least, this is what they told us during training. So I hand wash my underwear and the few hand towels in my house when I have the time. My other favorite stay-at-home activity is mopping. Somehow I managed to grow up without mopping, so this was something I had to learn here. Luckily, over the last year and half, I've managed to perfect my technique. :o) (Naturally, it involves putting on some good music!)

And lastly, to complete my stay-at-home doña day, Hito showed up with some beans that had already been ablandar-ed (the main reason I haven't learned to cook beans... it takes several hours on the stove to soften them before they can be cooked!). He taught me to make moro (...again... maybe I'll try my hand at making it next time). :o) By that time, the rain had cleared, but the day was spent. We passed the rest of the evening playing cards (Dominican 21), and (si Dios quiere), I'll head down to the office tomorrow...!

09 May 2007

Why are birth certificates so difficult?

I was thinking through my blog the other day, and I realized that I have a tendency to write and take pictures of the extra special happenings. So, although I planned to write all about my parents' visit and my hike to Pico Duarte, and although I would love to tell you all about my cousin and her classmates' visit - teaching English and passing out toothbrushes at the school, a rafting trip, our attempt at helping build a computer center (the rain put an end to our efforts), and our various soakings in the back of pickup trucks - I will let the pictures tell their own stories and relate instead a ¨typical¨ day in the life of a DR volunteer.

Yesterday was a super important day. Jajhaira and her family, after 10 months of pushing and reminding and pleading, were FINALLY going to go to the hospital to get Jajhaira's papers so we could proceed with the birth certificate process... 17 years late. For me, Jajhaira's case was special, yet so telling of how people here live and think. When I began the birth certificate process, her father said his 2 girls needed to be declared; apparently he wasn't so neglectful with his sons. Unfortunately, the youngest was born in a different town, and Jajhaira was over 16, making both cases special. As time went on and I searched for hospital documents for various families, we discovered that birth records from before 1991 had been destroyed by the previous hospital director. Since this was the case for Jajhaira, I was told to bring her mother and 3 witnesses from the community and they would give us the paperwork. Glad to hear it wouldn't be too difficult, I went home to tell the family and they said they would look into it.

As time went on, my work progressed. We got Jajhaira's sister declared in the other city with much support from her father. But whenever it came to Jajhaira, I was put off. Finally her father told me ¨I helped you with the other one. This one is us to her mom.¨ Naturally women don´t leave their communities often, leaving me with little hope.

That was back in October. About a month ago, it was called to my attention that Jajhaira was pregnant and due shortly. While I had wrapped up most of my birth certificate work, I decided to give it another go for the baby's sake. (A mother without a birth certificate cannot declare her children, continuing the cycle.) I made another attempt at talking with the family, but they were still unresponsive. So, a week ago, I made my last attempt. I approached somebody from the community with the situation and asked her to organize some witnesses and a date. Then I told Jajhaira what I had done. And lastly, I told her parents that next week they would need to go to the hospital and I had organized some witnesses. All they had to do was tell me the date. After 10 months of waiting for action, the date was set for Tuesday.

So yesterday, bright and early, we headed down to the hospital... Jajhaira, her parents and me in the back of the truck of one witness, Jajhaira's ¨husband¨ trailing along behind on his motorcycle. Apparently the other 2 witnesses, none of which I had arranged, had gone on ahead. The hospital was its typical bedlam, and we were told to wait... and then to wait some more for the director. Hot-headed folk that they are, when the waiting got to an hour and half for the director to show up, Jajhaira's father went to say a few choice words to the office. This easily could have been the undoing of the whole day! Fortunately for Jajhaira, I have been working closely with the hospital office, and she announced that she would only give the papers because I was with them.

Next thing I know, I´m outside waiting for the director to drive by in her car and sign various papers because, sure enough, she wasn't coming in to work today. By the grace of God and my belief in patience, we were finally given Jajhaira's hospital document stating when she was born. (And we didn't even need the witnesses!) Now I could finally collect the rest of her paperwork in order to get her birth certificate.

Since I had the family with me and transportation, I decided to drag them along to the church. There we requested a funny little document that has driven me crazy during this process. In order to declare someone late, the state requires a document stating they are not baptized. However the church cannot legally baptize anyone unless they have a birth certificate! Anyway, with the new church document in hand, we headed to the oficialia to see what they would say about Jajhaira's case.

I handed the papers over to the judge, and to my surprise she told me they could be processed there! When we had started this process, any declarants over 16 had to send the paperwork to the capital for processing... something that can take 3-6 months for an easy case. Apparently some changes had been made in the law, namely making declarations free nationwide, but also changing the age to 18! Using all the gringa power available to me, I told the judge that the papers were all there, but one had a small error. As the family was all there, if she would process it now and have them sign, I would get her the corrected document this week. To my surprise, she agreed! Again, with much patience, we waited to be called to sign the paperwork.

By 11:30, only 4 hours after leaving, we had done far more than I imagined was possible! In a mere 15 more days, Jajhaira should have her birth certificate in hand... and then we can work on declaring her child that's due any day.

02 April 2007

I love getting the occasional update from home! I thought I'd share with the rest of you what showed up in my inbox today. I can't believe this little bugger is almost 2 years old already. Where does the time go??? I'm looking forward to coming home and meeting and re-meeting all my friends' kids... :o)
Ian Cooper Standring

17 March 2007

Updates and Travels - PICTURES ARE HERE

It's 9 am on a Saturday morning. Now that my house has been partially cleaned and things put away, I sit here with my bowl of Lucky Charms that I sprung for this week, with the powdered milk that I hate the taste of (a little extra saved for my cat of course), and contemplate how to update you all on what my life's been like lately. Since January, I have been working at the association office daily, as well as doing several coffee sale days in the capital (see pic of Katie, me & Kat selling coffee at the PCDR 45th Anniversary), which leaves limited time for internet related activities such as research, news updates, and keeping my blog updated. The last few months have also been full of fun activities as well as rough times.

In January, my boyfriend, Hito, quit his job and moved back to my community. Now he works in construction nearby and spends free time taking me places on his moto and playing baseball with all the other local guys. It's been nice to have him nearby, although it's meant some adjustments for both of us.

A week ago, one of my good friends got in a motorcycle accident. He has 2 head injuries where he hit his head on the back of his motorcycle, as well as a busted mouth where the tire hit him in the face. In the last week he has healed remarkably well, and we are hoping that he continues at this rate.

Also in January, I re-started and English class. This time around there have been few students since it's during school months and the evenings are dark. The session will end at the end of this month, to start again in May or June. I continue to find teaching English frustrating. I don't have a curriculum, and although I have a few excellent students, many Dominicans have been taught bad pronunciation, so a lot of time goes into trying to re-teach them. Later this week I need to put together their final exam, which I think I am dreading more than they are!