Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adios la RD...

This has been the most difficult blog to write, which is why it has taken me four months to do so. There's not a great way to sum up my experience in the Peace Corps, nor could I easily convey what this experience has meant to me and how it's changed me - it's just something you have to live to understand.

It was tough to leave - I cried my eyes out when the Peace Corps van drove me away from my site. And it wasn't easy at first being back home. Adjusting back to the US has definitely been a process. While some things - hot showers, por ejemplo - are welcomed changes, I have found myself, on occasion, longing for the DR way of life. I miss my Dominican friends, speaking Spanish, the sense of community and belonging... But I know that I will carry much about what I lived and learned with me for the rest of my life.

Each time a group of volunteers finishes their service, the Peace Corps DR magazine, The Gringo Grita, sends out a survey to the COSers (COS = Close of Service) to publish in their latest edition. For my last blog, I've decided to share my survey with you.

Thanks for following and please let me know if you're ever in New Orleans!

Paz y Amor,

Grinto Grita COS SURVEY

Name: Tara Loftis

DR apodos: Sarah, Kara, Clara, Rita, Carolina (or the name of any other white girl living in Bayahibe)

Site: Bayahibe, baby!

Program: CED [Community Economic Development]

Project assignment: Artisan Group and Ecotourism Route

Project reality: Putting out fires among artisans, organizing and attending artisan fairs, selling artisan products, giving Ruta tours to American tourists, Ruta trash pick-ups, too many English classes, GLOW, Escojo Mi Vida, volunteering at a clinic in La Romana, venting to and listening to Dilana vent about “el diablo lleva TJ Max”, babysitting, living in a hotel for two months, going to the beach, hosting PCVs, trips to Isla Saona, and spending my savings just to get by.

Most useful thing brought into country: Open-mindedness, laptop, collection of dvds

Least useful thing brought into country: A boyfriend

Best “I-know-I’m-in-the-Peace-Corps-now” moment: Probably one of the many times I had diarrhea during CBT: When I showed up to Spanish class (about 30 minutes after I had told my host mom why I didn’t want coffee that morning), the first thing out of Alissa’s mouth was “so I hear you have diarrhea.” Of course, the chisme [gossip] made it to Alissa in less than 30 minutes.

I knew I was Dominican when: I started showering after lunch.

Funniest experience in country: With Dominicans: During CBT, Danny had just taught us a new phrase in Spanish class, so I tried to use it. I said to my host dad “Voy a echar un porvito,” [I'm going to take a little... well, it's slang for intercourse] instead of una pavita [a nap]… I’ve never heard any two people laugh so hard at me as he and my host mom did. Also, there was the time that this Dominican guy wouldn’t leave Rachel and me alone. He started to get touchy, so Rach slapped him. That pissed him off and he threw his beer at us. We had to take off running to avoid getting pegged by the rocks he then tried to throw at us! With volunteers: Any time I spent with Rach (who doesn’t laugh when she’s around?), the 4th of July in Bahía with G-Funk, sneaking into an all-inclusive with Erica twice in one day, Dilana’s diatribes, skinny dipping in the ocean at midnight on New Year’s 2008 and the chaos that ensued when we thought the police had stolen our clothes.

Most memorable illness or injury: Dengue during training, after only 10 days in the country. I had to go to Moca anyway for my volunteer site visit, because the med staff didn’t believe me (I was told it was probably just sinuses). A few hours after I arrived at Cat Wood’s house, I received a call from Boriana [one of the Peace Corps doctors] telling me to get on the next guagua back to the capital because I had Dengue. I could barely walk the next morning when I left Moca, but I eventually made it back to the capital. I made it all the way to the intersection of Gomez and Bolivar, when I realized that I didn’t know which way to turn, and of course, as a trainee I didn’t have a cell phone to call and ask directions. So I asked random Dominicans for directions in my choppy Spanish. Not wanting to quedar mal, they sent me in the wrong direction on Bolivar to a church with a Jesus statue. When I realized that they thought the church was Cuerpo de Paz, I decided it was best to look for the office on my own. I ended up walking my “bone-breaking” legs, overstuffed bag, and helmet, back and forth on Bolivar for almost hour before I finally found the office. When I got there, Lisette said, “oh, you already have the rash; you’re almost over it. Go back to your host family’s in Pantoja and rest.” On the way to Pantoja, the guagua broke down and I ended up walking another half mile or so to get home. ¿Y es fácil?

Most Dominican habit you’ll take home with you: Coffee-drinking, hissing, improper Spanish. “Coño, pero que vaina.”

Most beautiful place in country: The airport… only kidding… my host family’s house in Los Camacho, Moca, the mountains of el Cibao, and the beaches of Bayahibe.

Most creative way you killed time in your site: Watching ants march around canela [cinnamon], experimental cooking, picking ticks off my dog, making a vision board, trying to see auras.

How have you changed during your service: I finally know what I want to do with my life, and I believe in myself enough to do it. Also, I am less idealistic and more skeptical about development work in general; less stubborn, more laid back; less materialistic, more appreciative of what I have and where I come from; less concerned with my social life, more focused on my family; less of a push-over, better at watching out for me… and I know I never want to work in negocios [business] again!

What are you glad you did here: Became friends with some awesome PCVs, met Lenis, dated a Dominican, invested in some good spices, GLOW, Escojo Mi Vida

What do you wish you had done here: Changed sites, done more youth projects, not attended so many meetings, built furniture, planted a garden

What will you miss six months from now: My friends, my lazy days, not having to study or write papers, speaking Spanish, fresh mango and aguacate, and the beach

What won't you miss six months from now: Cold showers, sweaty guagua rides and polvo [the dust from the dirt roads].

What next: Demasiada escuela… pero mucha! [lots of school]

Big plans for your readjustment allowance: ha… that’s funny.

Advice to a new Volunteer: Just breathe.

Algo más: I miss you already, 517-07-02!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Girls, Girls, Everywhere!

Sometime around last year I applied on behalf of my community to be involved in one of my favorite Peace Corps initiatives – Camp GLOW. Fortunately, Bayahibe was granted the opportunity to participate, and I was lucky enough to bring 3 girls from my little fishing town to

learn all about GLOW – Girls Leading Our World. Of course “GLOW” is what we call it among the gringos; as it doesn’t easily translate, we call it Campamento Ser Mujer (Camp Be a Woman) in Spanish.

Just imagine, if you can, about 20 volunteers, 60 Dominican girls, 5 days, 1 bathroom, 20 tents and a tropical storm. It was quite an adventure, especially for my Bayahibe princesses, who are not exactly used to daily water and electricity outages (they aren’t your average girls from the campo). Needless to say, they weren’t very excited when I told them they could only shower once a day and at a specific time. Fortunately, they made it through the week and hopefully learned a thing or two.

Ser Mujer is a volunteer-led annual summer camp that brings young Dominican women from around the country together to learn about… well, being a woman, which isn't as easy as it sounds in the very machismo DR culture.

This year it was held July 20-24. The girls received charlas on all kinds of topics from goal-setting and career paths (with a panel of professional Dominican women) to nutrition and healthy decisions; from learning about women in different cultures to learning about their own bodies; from income generation projects to volleyball lessons and more. Basically, the Peace Corps volunteers offered a assortment of educational talks and activities, through which the girls learned new perspectives, ideas and hobbies that they can take back with them to their communities. It was wonderful to see them absorb the information and reflect on it; it was as if we could watch them grow as young women in just those five days.

Apart from learning, the girls had some time to divertirse. There was a swimming pool, of which they took full advantage, dance and yoga classes, scrapbooking, arts and crafts, sports, a bonfire, and more. Of course, we had a few photo shoots as well (Dominicans LOVE posing for the camera), which I was more than happy to facilitate.

We did spend a couple of days trying to avoid a nasty tropical storm, including one night of sleeping in a pavilion on mattresses because our tents were soaked! It was somewhat stressful, but the fun we had outweighed everything else. In the end, my girls were so thankful that they were able to participate, even if it meant roughing it for a week. I was also so glad to have had the opportunity to help plan, participate in and execute such an amazing event. A huge thanks to Rachel and Emily and all volunteers who participated for making it an experience we’ll never forget!

Mujeres... Whoo!

We can do it!

Fiesta de Condones! (Condom Party!)

Me and my girls in our tent.

Pool Time!

Making vaginas

Happy girls

Painting a Mural


Camp coordinators (aka miracle-workers)

Volleyball lessons

Butterfly Ceremony

Ser Mujer

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mi Gente, Mi Pueblo

Me with two youth I brought to an Escojo Mi Vida conference in San Cristobal and the two Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders who organized it. What you can't see is the staph infection on my face. Yikes!

My neighbor coloring in my big "Finding Nemo" coloring book.

My favorite little girl

The story of my life.

Mother's Day Celebration

Easter Eggs!

Sunset in Bayahibe

Mi niña.