Friday, May 27, 2011

... and all that Jazz.

I am wearing a fleece coat and sequined flats. It’s time to end this blog. On May 13th, I arrived to the SEA/TAC airport excited and hungry. Ever since, I have been cautiously comfortable in my old life and so happy to be with my family. I am remembering things that I had completely forgotten like car seats, artichokes and heaters. I bop to music that brings me back and rave about whole grain cereal. Although my conversations are still a little tainted with my own self consciousness about proper English syntax and appropriate but not excessive mention of Peace Corps, I am gradually returning to a version my American self. It was inevitable that my time in the DR would change me. I have more judgment of petty complaints and impulse spending and less patience for reality TV. I also have what I hope is a temporary staring problem. Although Peace Corps is bound to fade from my life, I hope I will never completely take for granted the ease of life that I was so lucky to be born into.

I am spending the summer enjoying comfortable couches and food variety in Washington before moving to Connecticut in August for a graduate program at Yale's School of Public Health. I will embark on another two year stint at least partly enjoying the discomfort that comes with doing something I don't know how to do. Take care and thank you for reading!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I am currently staging for my departure back to the land of the big. Saying goodbye was emotionally draining and unlike anything that I have ever done. I had expected to be sad but I selfishly hadn’t really even thought about how people in my town would feel. Friends and kids crying to be left behind didn’t flatter me so much as make me evaluate my service and recognize a bond I was breaking. I left my town after a sleepless night on an early morning guagua with bachata blaring and tears dripping. Two university students were watching the inappropriately public display as blatant spectators repeating, “two years… and she was accustomed, for two years.”

I arrived to the Peace Corps office feeling and looking dumpster bound. I was tired to the point of delirium with so much vertigo, I was almost convinced I had vision issues. With a combination of adrenaline and regret, I continued to travel. I said goodbye to a training host family on the other side of the country, printed more pictures for my community and brought them to be sent back on my bus.

After a monumental purge, I have packed everything I am taking home into three bags. I have a thirty pound mountaineering pack, a smaller daypack and a messenger bag all filled with my little remaining unstained clothing and sentimental items I just can’t leave. I have even separated my travel clothes, the bulky warm stuff, ready to be worn on Friday the thirteenth.

Going back sounds delicious and daunting. I know I will have face time with my amazing family, the people who have paid an incredible sum to talk to me through a static connection. I know I will have electricity, running water and bomb food. I can’t decide what meals I am looking for most but the ability to make diverse salads and refrigerate leftovers have been frequented subjects of my group. I also cannot stop thinking about the breakfast food. I haven’t had French toast, bran muffins or cottage cheese this whole stint. Even a bowl of shredded wheat with blueberries and milk sounds incredible. I’m clearly secure in my taste buds.

My confidence in my state of mind, however, is another story. I don’t know if stores like Target will inspire episodes of panic and rage as I miss my life with my Dominican and Peace Corps friends. I question whether the brightly displayed excess of choices in malls and supermarkets will make me think about poverty and flip. New clothes, fancy phones and all of those movies and songs I have missed seem from here like a fun party. We shall see if my Spanish speaking, dirty feet, river-bathing self is going to like that crap. We will see!

Because I am checking out of the Cuerpo de Paz tomorrow with the seemingly simple cell phone turn in, I should end this blog. I am thinking, however, that a better fit for a last entry would be written in the states. Maybe I am just avoiding yet another goodbye… so be it!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soaking it up!

Two and a half years ago when I thought about doing Peace Corps, I equated it to a marathon. The twenty six miles correspond quaintly with the twenty six months. I knew I would surely have muscle-burning, torturing ups and the still uncomfortable yet breath regaining downhills. I would probably be hot and tired and have those moments when I would wonder why I was doing it. It was a little scary. Like a long distance race, I didn’t know if I’d make it but I knew I wanted to try. No matter what happened, I would probably be glad I did it, maybe a little sick and sore, and certainly ready for a big meal.

As it turns out, my experience has been almost nothing like running a marathon. It is not a competition, it’s way more messy and no clear lines are drawn between my life in the DR and in the states. Plus, the end is much more bitter sweet. I am six days from leaving town and have been relishing in my lasts. This is my last visit to the big town to use the bank and internet and buy tomatoes. I’m hoping Easter day marked my ultimate household drought when I couldn’t so much as wash dishes or flush my toilet. The other night may also be the last time a cockroach runs across my face when I am sleeping, a total violation of which I have become almost accepting. I probably already had my last trip to the river in my semi formal dress (which I also wore to Peace Corps prom) where I impressed my friends with my mediocre swimming skills and then cut the bottom of my foot on a piece of garbage.

My current business has been packing and giving my life away in neat little packages of hotel shampoo, glitter and ibuprofen. I have been passing out boxes of crayons and a few coloring sheets to kid-ridden households. I printed out pictures for some of my closest people. I also have a stack of photos of my big face with a touching message and my email address printed over it. These are so embarrassing, I plan to distribute them the moment before my departure. I am taking down phone numbers, finding internet savvy people and figuring out how I could send something physical with no postal service in my town. Finally, I am awaiting my child planned going away party. It will take place in the church but I was laughing yesterday when I overheard them practicing their dance to a Dominican rap song. I am in charge of providing brightly colored soda and, I presume, looking sparkly while giving a goodbye speech. I want to prepare this ahead of time to say what I want to say, avoid Spanish mistakes, and hopefully not get as red-faced and choked up.

If this was anything like a marathon, my face would be contorting pleading for the time to pass. I wouldn’t be hugging, tearing up, and realizing with sadness that things will never be like this again. I will never be so comfortable mopping in my skivvies or belting out songs in Spanish on the bus. I will probably never be so famous or special just for being me. It is the end of an era, not the completion of an excruciating undertaking.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Unsolicited Advice

I might not have authority to give advice. However, for the past two years, I have been in the Dominican Republic having countless conversations about struggles I can’t solve, found cockroaches in the worst of places, flushed my toilet a bucket of water, and read 120 books. I give myself permission. Plus, this blog is almost reaching its destiny.

1) Take off the blinders. While thinking of starving children in all those African countries every time you sit for a meal would be excessive (although perhaps slimming), it is important to stay grounded on the planet. Ambition can be admirable but the wanting-more tunnel vision isn’t usually as satisfying as it aims to be. Going about our daily business without acknowledging that we are world citizens is counter productive and irresponsible. We live in the tippy top percentages of wealth, resource consumption and environmental impact. If everyone lived like us, ...they couldn’t. We would need more planets for all the oil and water we use and space to grow the grain to feed all those cows. We should spend brain energy on these issues. The worst that can happen is a little well-deserved guilt, easy behavioral changes and maybe a more svelte figure.

2) Buy local. If closed-eyed dancing at your farmers’ market’s drum circle is not your thing, get your food and get out. Here, I am forced to buy my veggies at a street market. The vendors comment that I must have somewhere to be because I don’t like it and I don’t linger. Farmers’ markets (buying from the grower), independently owned shops and even local music venues are real solutions to economic crises. Decentralizing a very globalized monster is more secure and increases the quality of life of more people. Walmart’s Chef Boyardee boxes and packets of T-shirts are destroying communities, jobs, and the environment like the stone killing multiple birds. Products that are local, fair trade, and organic are more ethically sound than their alternatives. Shop responsibly. It’s not more expensive if you buy less!

3) Eat less ingredients and less meat. Dominicans are not perfect role models of a sound diet. However, the amount of preservatives, food coloring and trash produced from their grand midday meal of rice and beans is close to nothing. “Eight ounces of beef takes 25 thousand liters of water on average”(McKibben). Not everyone has the time to grind their own wheat to bake a loaf of bread. Most don’t want to completely cut out their sloppy Joes. Just make the changes that you can, instead of excuses. Eggs and toast trumps an Egg McMuffin from our favorite clown corporation in almost every way. It just doesn’t take that long. A breakfast of real oatmeal with fixings is considerably better than a strawberry and cream flavored instant oatmeal package with its novel of inputs, processing and packaging (check the ingredients). Feeding kids healthier meals can also be beneficial for behavioral issues. Word has it ADHD is linked to food coloring. If your grocery trip is mostly full of produce, bags from bulk bins (pasta, cereal, and nuts for good prices), dairy, bread, condiments and even meat from the deli, it will be cheaper and healthier than the box and baggy mountain of the person behind you. No one is perfect and vegans living on soy fake meats are a part of the problem. Frozen meals suck. Just be better.

4) Tune out. When we get electricity, I can hear Spanish soap operas in every TV owning house in my neighborhood. It is tempting, relaxing and easy to watch Mario and Claribel make eyes at each other rather than think about our own lives or worse yet, talk. In my time here, I can see American technology flourishing from the internet center in my very town. Media can be cool, useful for great change, and straight up fun. However, our favorite tech indulgences are also addictive, a huge waste of time and impacting children in very big ways. I think it is one of those less is better things like makeup or certain spices. Four media hours per day is better than the kids’ current eight. If 64% of Americans didn’t have the TV on when they had dinner (Reinberg), we might actually enjoy the meal more.

5) Be nice. We won’t ever regret restraining our road rage, bringing cookies to a picnic with a friend, or complimenting an author. The argument that altruism doesn’t exist because doing good things is too self-satisfying is exactly why we should do it. Showing kindness is rewarding for everyone involved. In my time here, I have been the recipient of tiny strong cups of coffee, home-made juice, large vegetables, and dishes often including special fish, chicken, or salami which I have to swallow with a fake smile (because I am normally a vegetarian). I have met astounding generosity and tenderness from people who have much less than me. While it may be humbling, it makes sense. They depend on each other more. Families are the units of support and individualism and privacy are prioritized less. Dominicans or any other group of people are not inherently nicer or better. Everyone is greedy, moody and selfish. Try to reign the beast and be open-hearted!

6) Volunteer. My Peace Corps friends and I complain when people in our communities want things but don’t show up for the meeting to work for it. One might ask when we have attended a town or neighborhood meeting in the U.S. The embarrassing answer is usually that most of us haven’t done much of that and may not even know what there is to do. How much more time do we spend talking about local problems than actually doing anything to change them? Community service falls into the category of things we don’t do even though studies show it makes us happier. Play cards with the elderly, plant trees, write poetry with a veteran, organize cans, read to ESL kids, find your thing. Do it because you can.

When lecturing runs its course, I have more to say. Thank you for donating to the filter project! We have enough for 35 families to drink pure water and there is still time to donate as more filters can be bought. We gave one class, we have seven filters delivered and the others ordered. As my service is coming to a close, I am giving away my ant-eaten clothing and pulling myself out of my projects. I am helping my faithful art students plan their own art camp for this summer. They are also planning my going away party complete with invitations, a choreographed dance and special meat pie. Leaving here will be wrenching and tearful but I am also so excited. After 2 years and 2 months, I get to fly to Seattle and spend the summer with my family. In doing the Peace Corps, I sacrificed things like being with my nieces for huge chunks of their lives. In the fall, I will move to Connecticut to study in a Master’s program at Yale’s School of Public Health to study Epidemiology of Microbial Disease... fancy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Evironmental T-Shirt Designs

Some of these drawings have been used for T-shirts, certificates, and totes to substitute the copious use of plastic bags in this country. I have loved designing images for the Peace Corps DR environmental education program called Brigada Verde (Green Brigade). Volunteers work with youth in classes, community projects, ecological awareness and appreciation. I am sure the Dominican Republic is a far cleaner place due to the number of trash cans distributed and clean-ups implemented in the name of Brigada Verde! While we may have become numb to the site of hillsides and rivers caked in garbage, it is a problem with detrimental health and ecological externalities. One should never take for granted the impact of functional waste management. Ode to our solid waste infrastructure in the states!