Trip Start Oct 11, 2008
9Trip End Dec 06, 2008
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CSA picked me up in Neyba on Tuesday afternoon. Luzlanda had a course she was attending at the national World Vision office in Santo Domingo on Wednesday and Thursday, so we were able to make the trip together. We spent Tuesday night with Marla in her very nice apartment in the eastern part of Santo Domingo. I really enjoyed having that last bit of time with Marla and Luzlanda, but I think one of the best parts of that visit was an amazing, silent night of sleep without roosters or dogs. (Watch this video clip of a morning in Neyba and you'll realize why silence really is golden: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/akb2ic/4/1228163820/tpod.html#pbrowser/akb2ic/4/1228163820/filename=library_-_9217.avi)
I spent Wednesday and Thursday at the CSA office completing evaluations and sharing my reports with Rigil, the boss, and Antoine, the program coordinator. Everyone is really happy with the work I did and it sounds like some really good stuff can come out of my work. Antoine told me that I did more with in six weeks than most people in Neyba do in a year. That's great for my ego, but incredibly depressing for World Vision's prospects. Antoine wants to compile my work with the work of two previous interns to try to get funding to start a permanent, one- or two-person office in Neyba. The purpose of the office there would be to carry out some of my recommendations and those of the previous interns. While World Vision also has my recommendations, there's question of whether they will do anything to act on them or not. CSA would be a much better guarantee that work would be done there. I think both World Vision implementing my recommendations and CSA's new office there are probably long shots, but both are exciting prospects. At the very least, CSA will use my recommendations as the basis of a short-term group project there in Neyba. For example, send a group there to help families build and plant gardens to grow the vegetables they are so severely lacking.
On Thursday I had a chance to see my Santo Domingo mom Ileana one last time. (I've been staying with a CSA employee for the past few nights, not Ileana.) The visit with her really made me realize how much my Spanish has improved. When I first arrived and was living with her, she could chat at me and I could understand a good portion of what she was saying but I didn't have the speaking skills to really actively chat back. I had to concentrate on her voice only; any other noises or voices could throw off my comprehension. During my visit on Thursday, we were able to chat together for an hour and a half. There were still things I had to ask her to clarify, but I was able to hold up my own end of the conversation. (CSA evaluated my Spanish again with the same written test they gave me when I got here, and I only scored just a little bit higher. I think that proves I knew the grammar rules when I got here and I could write well if I had time to think about what I wanted to say. The big difference now is that I have the ability - and more importantly the confidence - to speak, not just write.)
Thursday night I had the chance to see Mark, one of the other volunteers who was living with Ileana when I was staying there. We went out to a very cool, arty bar/club in Santo Domingo that Antoine had been recommending to me since I got here. (You could tell it was a place that was a bit less Dominican because the volume of the music was approximately 2% lower than the music in colmados and discotecas.) It was great to catch up with him and have someone to share my experiences with in English. Mark had been home for Thanksgiving, so he had some advice on what to expect in terms of reverse culture shock when heading back to the US.
It was great to catch up with him, but the best part of the night was ending up in a photo with stilt walkers and a mime. This little story just serves as further proof that you just never can predict what's going to happen in this country. While we were waiting for a cab in the bar's little secluded parking lot - a place where tall people like stilt walkers should have a hard time hiding - a mime and his two stilt-walking buddies appeared. (Still not sure exactly where they came from.) We weren't really phased by this - in fact I don't think we even broke conversation at first. I guess you just get used to the bizarre. Pretty soon a girl was hauled out of the bar by her friends, and the stilt walkers and mime wished her a happy birthday. (Well, not the mime.) The birthday girl, who was several drinks into her celebration, insisted that the American by-standers be a part of her photo. So Mark and I are probably now on some Dominican girl's desktop wallpaper.
These random events are among the things I'll miss when I return. Random moments can happen anywhere, but the Dominican ones just seem to have something a little more special. Other things I'll miss: an amazing assortment of fresh, organic fruit; homemade juices from those fruits; Dominican kids; the clouds there; people who are friendly and hospitable no matter what the circumstance; rice and beans; and of course the sunshine and warmth. I've decided I'm just too Type A to ever fully appreciate the lack of punctuality and organization in the Dominican Republic, so I'm happy to be leaving that behind.
While returning to upstate New York in the middle of December will be a tremendous shock to my very warm blood, I'm excited to come back in the thick of the Christmas season. Dominicans take decorating for Christmas very seriously (two people at World Vision did nothing but decorate the office for a solid week), but I just couldn't get into it with Christmas trees next to palm trees and fake snowflakes hanging in tropical breezes. Christmas has always been a cold weather event for me, so for it to truly be the holiday season in my mind I need chilly weather, incessant holiday music (in English), obnoxiously large down jackets, and mugs of hot cocoa. Watch out Christmas - here I come.
So what's next for me now that my Dominican adventure is over? After I manage to chip my frozen self off the plane in Rochester, I'm putting my head down and focusing on finding a job. I'm planning to move to Washington, DC and find a communications-related position in the human services non-profit sector. Given the state of the economy and that I can't imagine any organization hiring in the middle of the holiday season, I think it's going to take awhile. Figures were released yesterday stating that the US just experienced the highest one-month drop in employment in 34 years. (Mom? Dad? You missed me enough to let me keep living at home, right? More quality family time?) Please keep your fingers crossed for me, or send up a prayer, or fire someone in your own organization and give me a call. I accept all types of support.
While I'm talking about Christmas and non-profits and while I have you as a captive audience, I have a request to make for this holiday season. If you find yourself stumped for what to buy a friend or a family member for a gift this year, please consider making a donation to a non-profit in that person's name. This year more than ever non-profits need financial help. With our lovely recession, the usual donors have less to give and as the unemployment rate goes up, more people are relying on social services that operate using donations.
Well, I think that's all for this blog. Thanks for joining me on my Dominican adventure and sharing your comments throughout my two months there. I'm so happy so many people have enjoyed following along with me. I feel like at times I had a tendency to report on the negatives, but I just want to reinforce that for every gripe you read about, there were a million more good things that I didn't write about. This has definitely been one of the most valuable and most meaningful experiences I've had in my life. Unfortunately, it will also probably be my last adventure for a while. I don't have any trips planned for the near future, but I will revive the blog when I hit the road again. (Next stop: China!)
Time to adios!
PS: My cut has finally closed up. I'm returning home without medical tape or even a bandaid!