Friday, January 31, 2014

You don't see my heart

Piropos. They happen. Sometimes I give come backs in English. My favorite was today when I was leaving the beach. A guy told me I was beautiful, I told him I didn't believe him and that he says that to everybody. His line, "You don't see my heart."

Credit man. That actually was a pretty great comeback.


It's been said that I may be Dominican. This is usually combatted by the way I butcher the Spanish language. Sometimes I am thought to be of Dominican descent, raised by Dominican parents in America who didn't teach me Spanish. Well, that's not true either. I've heard that I speak the Spanish that I do speak like a Dominican. Well that makes sense, because I learned the language here.

The newest explanation as to why I must be Dominican? I speak English the way a Dominican, native Spanish speaking Dominican, speaks English after they've been taught the language by a foreigner.

Thank you very much, I will never be myself.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amanda, how's your spanish?

When I am talking to friends and family back home they all want to know how my Spanish skills are going. I’ve decided that it is time for me to shed a little light on how Spanish works in Peace Corps Dominican Republic, my Spanish skills, and the Spanish language in general.

To start, Peace Corps Dominican Republic is pretty good at teaching Spanish language. Spanish speaking host countries don’t have as intensive a language training as other sites, because it is assumed that all of the volunteers are coming in with some Spanish skills. The assumption is made, but that isn’t the reality. In my training group we had native speakers, speakers who didn’t know how to say “water” in Spanish, and everybody in between. I fell toward the lower end of the speaking level. Peace Corps ranks us on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being native speaker. I came in at a two.

I had taken Spanish in elementary school, middle school, and college and by the end of each year I was able to introduce myself and say my favorite color… verde. I think the American system needs to reevaluate it’s public language education, but that is probably a story for another day.

Once I arrived in the Dominican Republic I was placed in class with other 2’s and spent 3 or 4 hours a day in class for the first 2 ½ months. I was given a language exam at the end of training and the start of my service… I was a four point five. I know that is progress, but it felt desperate.

Recently I went to an In Service Language Training, ISLT with everybody else in my sector that wasn’t a 7 by the time we swore in. That was nice, because I was able to see my friends, but it also showed me how little my Spanish had grown in 6 months. I was in class with one of the girls that started our service as a one. That girls studied so hard during her service that she was an eight by the time we went to language training.

I knew my skills weren’t growing as fast as some of my friends. I was in awe of how much they knew. I was aware that part of this was because I spent all of my time in my house avoiding one particular person, but it all just felt like an excise.

Now that I am in my new site I have spent a lot of time studying. I search for handouts on the Internet and have come across many middle and high school teachers’ Spanish skills websites. They have handouts that I use to study morning and night and I hope my skills are going to get better. I tend to pick a verb tense everyday and focus on it until I feel like moving on to another. Hopefully soon I will be able to focus on some combined tenses. Maybe that is what Harry Potter is for. I try to read a few pages of Harry Potter in Spanish when I feel like my head is too full of studying. This is nice because I am studying, but I feel like I am taking a break.

A lot of my new found studying comes from the realization that my time here is almost over. I don’t know when I will again have the opportunity to live and speak with native Spanish speakers. I want to come out of here fluent in a second language. I want to speak well enough to pass the language on to my children. Language is an invaluable skill.

It’s funny though, because my new site is full of Haitian people who are often also using Spanish as a second language. We are all walking around, not sure if we are speaking correctly, but using this language we aren’t confident it to communicate with each other.

A few notes about Spanish.

1.     Pronouns are frustrating.
2.     Verbs are frustrating.
3.     Language is frustrating.
4.     Nouns are English.
5.     Communication is wonderful .

So this is my life. I study, fail, and study again. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Laundry day

Today was laundry day and I decided to do an update on how laundry is going in the DR. Since I am at a new site and in a new house I do things a lot different than I used to. I'm working on a house update which will hopefully be available in the next day or two.

For now laundry.

My laundry day actually started around noon when I decided to go into Puerto Plata to find a plunger. My friend Conner told me about how she washes with a plunger and I've been interested for a few months. I also came across this method on YouTube on the many homesteading and cloth diapering channels I watch (Don't ask. I promise you don't actually want to know.) It actually took me three stores to find a plunger, but since I wanted a casual day in the city to meander around and find different stores I wasn't upset.

When I made it home I was ready to wash. Michelle had already washed some laundry today so the house was in full cleaning mode. I boiled some water and while the pan was heating I ate some leftover lentil soup I had made the other day.

I gathered my soap, laundry hamper that doubles as a washing machine, dirty laundry, and of course my brand new plunger.

I added some cold water, soap, and clothing to the hamper and started plunging away. When the water had boiled I added that to the pot too.

It should be stated that I like to heat water a lot. I boil water to shower. I boil water to do laundry. Sometimes I even boil water to wash dishes. I just think hot water gets things clean in a way that cold water can't. Plus... It feels better!

Okay, back to laundry.

So I was plunging away. As I was plunging I realized my clothing was super absorbent and I needed to add more water if I was going to agitate anything.

So I boiled another pan and added some more room temperature water. This allowed the clothing to be more evenly dispersed and the bucket, plunger, rope, combination to provide me with an in home, man powered, washing machine.

I was listening to "This American Life" and "Radio Lab" podcasts, while eating papaya and plunging my laundry, so it is safe to say I was a little distracted.

After I plunged everything I rang it out and put all the clothing into another tub. I filled the basket with water again and added the clothing to rinse. I used the plunger again for this first rinse.

I rang everything out one more time and put it all into a final basket to rinse. Rang everything out really well, and hung it to dry.

Now I am a fan of skipping as many steps as possible so I hang my shirts on the line on hangers, and I match my sock and hang them next to each other on the line. This way I don't have to do a lot of extra work later.

My stuff is all on the line now and since it was evening when I hung it I will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon for it all to dry, but it's done.

I'm finding that there are a lot of things that I prefer to so by hand. I'd rather take a bucket bath somedays, because the pressure in my shower is nothing to talk about (even though my new house has a FUNCTIONING water heater) and I think most days I would rather just hand wash my clothes. I like making my own food, and I would bet that if I ever have kids I'll probably be a "crunchy mama". It's not bother though. Laundry day is laundry day and I'm actually getting pretty efficient at it.


I just want to point out a quick fact. My old site never had a single visitor. Since I've been in my new site for one month I have had three separate visitors. Two spent the night for more than one night. I'm telling you, in Peace Corps, it's all about location, location, location.

I'm really glad to have had you on my roof!

Monday, January 27, 2014

An open letter to tourists

Dear tourists from around the world:

I see you up there in your horse and buggy carriage. You have that large camera around your neck ready to snap a photo of my life.

You see trash and children and assume a lot of things about who we are.

You see clothing drying on trees and snap a photo of "all that poverty".

I saw you point at my house in awe before you snapped an unsolicited photo of my babies in the yard.

My sons were playing marbles in the dirt and you wanted a picture for your scrap book.

You point at my zinc roof and wooden walls in wonder, not realizing how proud I am to have a roof over my head to shelter my babies from the rain.

When you pass by my children in school I see you buy candies from the tour guide. I see you entice them out of class to throw the sugary treats. I know it makes you feel good. You think you've done something special in their lives. You don't realize someone else did the same thing an hour ago and all you are doing is pulling my already tourist districted kids out of school and teaching them to beg in the streets. I know you think they have nothing. I know you feel like you have so much and they have so little and spending $5.00 on candy must make their day. They look so happy. What you don't know is that they will fight over who got more candy, stare at the road awaiting the next group of white people with cameras, and continue to make teaching this rambunctious group a challenge for their teacher.

You think to yourself, "Everybody deserves a break." When you think that let me remind you that you are in my home on your vacation pulling my kids out of class everyday. They get Christmas and holidays just like you do. Today is not that day. My children are trying to study and all you are teaching them is that if they wait long enough white people will throw candy at the closest kid they can find.

It seems to me that what you desire is a picture. A picture of poverty to show your friends. Later, you will huddle around a computer looking through the photos. You'll describe the scene as you think it unfolded. "Look at this little boy- he has nothing." And "This little girl, she isn't even wearing a diaper. They must not have parents to care for them. I think the disease is this area is very high." You assume things about my family and myself. Your good deed for the day was looking at that picture and feeling sad. You feel righteous because you have guilt over your own possessions.

I realize that my community looks different than yours, but it is my home nonetheless. I would appreciate if you would first treat us like people and then, if you still so desire, your charity case. It's funny how much time you spend looking at me from behind a camera. You probably don't even realize how friendly my neighbors are. Maybe you should stop by for a conversation. Maybe you should put down your camera and only bring it up again after you know my name. Maybe only take a picture you'd hang on your wall because it's a picture of you with a friend and not a picture for your "look-at-all-the-poor-people-I've-seen scrapbook."

I don't want to discourage you from visiting. I think we could learn a lot from each other. All it's going to take is meeting each other in the middle, as people and letting something better shine through.

Thank you,
From the campo

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bad things happen

Spoiler alert, this isn't about Peace Corps, but it came up again today, and I have to address this for myself.

When I think back on my life, I believe I've only had one time where I let the bad consume me. I had one summer that I don't quite remember. The indecision and confusion in my life was so prominent and the darkness was all encompassing. I don't quite remember how I was able to string together the days, but I do know that I made it out of the hole and am now standing firm in my life and future. All that is left of that time is a grade report I've been too afraid to look at and memories too repressed to allow daily hurt.

Sometimes the story comes up again. Usually when I'm not expecting it. When I'm telling a story from the past and I no longer know how to define my relationship with a person. My... friend, family member, person I used to know, person who used to care about me, person who used to have me on speed dial, person who used to take vacation with me, person I ate breakfast with on a daily basis, person I loved to gossip with, person who was never just a person, person that I loved with more love than I knew a heart could hold... What do you call these people when they no longer wish you existed in the same planetary space.

I think what I am going to leave with, before a blog about beaches turns into a blog about family gone wrong, is that life does move on. Without bad we can't have good. Without horrible we can't have wonderful. Without gut wrenching hurt, we can't have all encompassing hope. I've been in the dark pit, but I left. If you're there, try not to stay too long. You won't remember the days for what they were. You will learn a lot, but it isn't college... you don't gain much by putting in more hours. When you leave that place, you end up where I am: happy and full of hope.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I've decided just to do a short  long photo set to update you on all of the things I've been doing when I haven't been updating my blog. Since it's the new year, I'll probably write a lot of great things about my wonderful friends here, too. Really though, the people you know make your world a better place. 

This is me on New Years Eve.
 I was texting the latecomer here, trying to find out when we could get to the party. 

 Enter latecomer. We is Too. Cool. 

Honestly though, this kid has really made my time on this island better. Sarcasm is never in short supply when we get together, and a better spades buddy may not exist on this planet. From the photo below you can tell how happy he is that I've entered into his life.  

Gosh. This woman is wonderful. I love Conner. I spent a good bit of time with her over the holidays and I am so glad I did. 

Look how cute she looks at the wedding. I'm trying really hard to get her to come to America to road trip with me. Please come.... please? 

New Years Eve. Most of the pictures are staying in a secret box the rest of the world does not have access to. What happens in the last few hours of one year and the first few of another should often stay secret. 

My new site is really close to the beach. I mean... I live on an island, but I walked to the beach from my house the other day, sans problems. 

I get to spend three months getting to know these wonderful people from Canada and I feel so honored that this is true. A German and Italian who live in Canada. So many stories. They've been to 40 countries and have 12 kids between them. You really can have it all. 

My new organization has introduced me to new friends. I am now working with the Haitian population in the Dominican Republic. It's a different world, and I feel honored to be a part of it. 

Swoon. I love my people. 
These are my people. 
L-R: Conner, Serpas, Lobo, Julianna, Me, Courtney, Ashley. 
Really, this is what a PEace Corps service leaves behind in your life. 
These are the only people who are really going to know what you mean when you talk nostalgically about this place. My people. I love them. 


Thursday, January 23, 2014


Hey, check out my Tumblr. For real… it get's updated mote than this. If you follow me on Facebook though, you may not need to. It's pretty much just a bunch of Instagram posts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roller Blades

Apparently roller blades are still a thing in Puerto Plata. I want everyone to know that I now want a pair of roller blades. That way I can roller blade my way to the beach across the street and pretend I live in southern California… or that movie Zeus and Roxanne.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I have a room mate.

In life I always worried that the life choices I made would limit the time I had to have room mates that I chose for myself. I lived with my sister growing up, moved to the dorms, and then hit life running. I've lived all over the country and the world (I feel pompous saying I've lived all over the world when I've really only lived internationally twice now) and I thought I gave up the idea of picking some random girl and having a room mate.

Well look no further world, because I now have a room mate and you know what, I think I would have chosen her if I had the option. The project I am working with realized one mediocre Peace Corps Volunteer wasn't going to be enough and hired a girl to come down and babysit me for the first six months. (All of that was sarcasm. She's just here to take some of the load off of our wonderful leader Caitlin.)

I can tell she and I are going to have a good time together. She likes the food I cook, and I like the fruit she buys. She likes hearing stories and I like to hear myself talk. She likes the ocean and I like guarding stuff while other people swim. She likes washing dishes after she uses them and I like the exact same thing. Really now, she's awesome.

This is us at the beach. We walked there from our house. Really now, life must be tough... the next six months are going to be hard.

Muñoz, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

I am currently looking for a new site. By this I mean, I left my site and am spending my days in the capital while another Peace Corps Volunteer Leader looks for my new site. She told me that both of the site options are in the same region my old site was in (YAY!). She also called me the day before she went to look at the second site to see if I wanted to go with her to do some site development. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to get an early look at the possible site I may go to. What resulted is me typing a post about the trip to the site, because if I get this site or not, I still think it was a wonderful place to be and I want to highlight the work there.

Site: Muñoz, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Project: Working with Project Esperanza

My introduction to the site began at 0800 when the Peace Corps driver handed me the manilla folder that contained the project information. I began reading about a nonprofit with a mission to bring education to the Haitian children that worked the streets of Puerto Plata.  I read through the folder more than once, and each time I began to get more and more excited. The organization is run by an amazing woman who has made this work her life's mission. I read about different projects started meant to increase funding for this school. I read about education, jewelry, a movie lounge, and eco-projects. All things I was hoping to find in a Peace Corps project, but couldn't envision how they would all come together. 

The drive to Puerto Plata took almost four hours. We arrived to the region around eleven, but our meeting wasn't until two, so we had some time to kill. This interruption in site talk is here, because it was an interruption in site development day, and I figure you should experience it as I did. The PCVL and I were looking at the telèferico out the window, and the driver asked if we wanted to make a stop. "Why not!?" We were excited. the teleferico was actually a really nice trip, and the price was very reasonable. 

It was a really nice trip and it took up all of the picture space on my camera which is why there will be no pictures of the site, but that is also why I included all of these nice links for you. 

Okay. Jumping back in the car, grabbing a quick bite to eat at a little cafeteria and making out way to down the road, we arrived around two for our meeting. 

I just wanted to include some links that make me really want to get involved with this project. 

First I will include the TedXTalk the director Caitlin gave about the project.

Update: Tuesday 21 January 2014.... I am just going to post this draft as is. It is over a month past due, and I need to get back into blogging. I am at this site. It is my site. I live here now. Get ready for better blogs.

That is unless I stop blogging again. It's just that all the things that seemed interesting before are no longer interesting because I am just in it. Whatever. I'll try to be better about things. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I got a package today. It was my first package. It was from my mom and it was wonderful.

Also, I'm writing this on a guagua and looking out the window. The girl in the car next to me is driving and reading a kindle at the same time. She has the font up so big I can almost read it through her window. I thought I left America?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A note about tourists

This is going to be a grossly generalized list about what a tourist is. Having been one I can say it's mostly true.

1. White almost pale skin.
2. Packs and packs of cigarettes.
3. Camera strapped to their fronts.
4. Bathing suits in leu of regular undergarments.
5. "Comfortable" foot ware.
6. Sunglasses, always.
7. Piles of money that feels like Monopoly money it's so foreign.
8. From a distance you'd think they were alcoholics.
9. They don't know much about their environment.
10. They think they know everything about their environment.

It's how we act on vacation. I do it to. "I'm on vacation!" We read the Wikipedia page before we travel internationally and decide that makes us an expert. We walk around in a vacation haze that is so relaxing I don't know why I don't just live there.

Disclaimer: I love tourists. I love being a tourist. I just think they are amusing in their predictable attire and actions.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm Beautiful, but so is every other female in your vicinity

Today, I was told by three different guys that I was beautiful and I didn't believe them. Now, before you think this is some body image post let me say that I am beautiful. I'm not all worried that I have no value, so we can relax on that front. I just mean that I didn't believe that they meant it, or that if they did mean it, I don't think they meant it in that moment.

The first was in the road. A guy I've seen in the past stated that he remembered me and wanted my name. When I didn't ask for his name he said I should ask for it. When he told me his name was "Candy" I told him it sounded made up. When he said he wanted to talk and give me a ride into Puerto Plata I said no thanks because I was walking. He said, "Okay, well you are beautiful." I snickered and walked away. I am beautiful, but he didn't mean it that way.

Later, as I am standing under a cosa with some guys I hear it again. We started out debating my nationality. It turns out that being Dominican is less about being born here and speaking Spanish, and more about living here for a hot minute and having the right skin color. (Thanks again for the skin mom and dad.) After we settle the debate about my need for a moto because I had decided I was going for a walk I took off. Turns out I'm crazy because it was still sprinkling, but also, as I walked away a guy shouted to remind me that I am also buuuuutiful. Thanks random man. I believe you, too.

The third was VERY similar. I was walking and the "rain" when a Honda Accord pulled up. Clean, shiny, showing off the money it's owner held. I've seen this before. In high school a friend used to pick me up every day as I walked down the road to work. Here though, it's sometimes creepy. Mr. Smooth invited me into his car. I said no. He told me it was raining. I told him I was taking a walk. He told me to get in. I started walking away. He told me I was beautiful. I rolled my eyes.

It used to make me feel good if someone told me I was beautiful. At least, I think it did. I know I didn't, and then someone let me believe it, but then all the fallacy began and I regressed. Now, I don't believe they mean it at all. What are you guys doing? I guess it works or else they'd stop. I have to wonder if I'm going to believe it when it matters. When someone actually cares for me and wants me to know it.

Is it possible to hear how beautiful you are too often to believe it? Is it just because it's from so many people? Is this what Emma Watson feels like?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Customer Service

I went to a pizza shop today that has a front door sign stating that they are open 7a.m. to 11p.m. everyday. I decided I must be growing in my attitude toward this country's customer service policy when I walked in at 10:26a.m. and was told they didn't serve until 11:00a.m. I sat down in a booth and instead of questioning what they do from 7 to 11 I decided to wait the 34 minutes to order the pizza. Sure, it would make me late for a gathering I was going to, but hey, I'm Dominican now!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Spanish or English?

So some of you know I'm trying to read the entire bible in 180 days in Spanish. I'm at a confusing point.

I don't know if I know that Abraham is trying to kill Isaac because I can read Spanish or because I've previously read the bible in English and know hat Abraham tries to kill Isaac...

A husband

I was walking through the batay yesterday with Nena, the awesome woman who lives in my batay and cleans the house I'm going to move into, when we came across a sick woman Nena knew from church. We went into this woman's home and she noticed I was holding a bible. Boy, did I look like a missionary yesterday! Her advice to me was that since I must be a God-loving woman, I need to find a husband that doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs, because when men do that they give themselves permission to kill women, and who wants a husband that would literally kill you?