16 diciembre 2011

A day in my life….

Awakening to loads of Dominicans screeching singing at 5 in the morning, I put my pillow over my head. The loud predicaring starts, and I drift in and out of sleep, mixing reality with dreams about fiery hell, Christmas caroling, laughter, family, and loud music, with Dominic’s body next to mine, also breathing in and out, trying to sleep through this loud interruption. Alarm clock rings at 6:30 to go running, which we thankfully turn off, ignore, and go back to sleep. A little after, I reluctantly get out of bed to hang my clothes to dry, which we had washed the night before.

For the first two weeks in December, the church on my street does its own version of Christmas caroling, which includes occasional screaming, occasional faints, songs with the theme of Cristo viene!, loud instruments, and pleasant chants and songs about the birth of Jesus Cristo. It is a joyous time for all Dominicans. This singing might seem mildly amusing, and at times, it is, but I should also note that this praising starts at 4 am and stops a little after 6 am. A little too early for my liking. Anyway, it is more of a cultural event than a religious event, as many people join in, including the tigueres/ gansters, who at 6 then go to their respective street corners in the barrio and start playing their music, which is where they will be and what they will be doing until it is time to turn in for the night. After hanging my laundry, I drink my morning tea (gracias a Uncle Dan), and get ready for class.

Every morning, I go to one of the two schools in my barrio and work with the kids who are a little behind the learning curve of their peers. Literacy has become one of my main projects in my barrio. One school is a preschool, and while I am not sure how much I am actually doing to benefit these kids, they are the most adorable kids in the barrio, and I love them. They keep me grounded, which in a high- stress environment, is a godsend. The other school is K-3rd grade. The second school is where I will go today.

I arrive at 8 and ask one of the teachers which kids I should pull out today. She timidly and politely asks if I would mind going with the youngest kids, as their teacher has not shown up. After peering in and all the smiling kids start chanting my name to enter, I oblige. We draw. We color. I read lots of stories about snow and other things that realistically, these children will never see.

I have to bring my own books because there are no books in the school. I also have to break all the crayons into thirds because there are not enough crayons for each student to have one. I then draw things in their notebooks that they can color in because there are no funds to make photocopies or anything of the sort (stars, Christmas tress, snowmen). The lack of resources in the schools here will never cease to amaze me. They have nothing- no type of didactic materials, no games, no visual stimuli. They do not seem to realize the difference between visual, auditory learners, etc. and the schooling system insists that every child learn in the same manner: by copying verbatim whatever the teacher writes on the chalkboard. Because this method has clearly been a proven success.

An aside: 174 years is what it would a child in the Dominican educational system to achieve the same level of average years of completed schooling for a person in the US. 174 years. Average years of schooling completed in the DR=6. The average hours per day a child spends in school=2.76 hours.

Working with literacy projects seems to be a major initiative with many volunteers from my group, and para mi, vale la pena. (Not pene, which I accidentally mixed up once, much to my chagrin and much to the comic relief of everyone else).

After the kids leave, the director inquires about funds I might be able to obtain for a holiday party. After giving her my tried and true speech, I can give you my time, my heart, and my hands while I am here, but I cannot give nor do I have money to give, I leave the school to return to my casita to lunch with Dominic. Yuca y pollo guisado. Mmmmmm. We nap my obligatory afternoon nap followed by coffee. Ya tu sabes. I visit with some neighbors, a tiguere pastor, and finally my friend, which inevitably is followed by more coffee. I leave for my Chicas Brillantes group at 6 pm, wondering where my days go.  I arrive at the preschool where I have my afternoon groups and classes, and, surprisingly I encounter two of my Chicas Brillantes waiting for me. This never happens. We still start half an hour late because no one else was there, but two are on time. Miracles do happen!!!

Tonight in our group, we talk about teenage pregnancy. One in four Dominicans between the ages of 15 and 19 has a child. Twenty-five percent. Wow wow wow. We have some lively discussions about machismo, the culture or sex, the life choices we make, and how we hold the power to our futures. While it is by candlelight that we discuss these themes, it feels almost surreal on nights like this, when I peer into the faces of 10 young, almost women, clutching candles in their hands, and inquiring about things that most children in the U.S. know by kindergarten. They are the future, and for once, I feel not frightened but hopeful.

Deep thoughts by Tina Stavros

As I wrote this title, I realized that many people might not get the SNL allusion. Being 30, I still feel young, youthful, etc. even though I am asked at least 5 times a day why I do not have children for being this old. One of my friends just had her 6th child and finally got her tubes tied (is that what it is called for women?). In any case, no more fertile eggs will be going down her fallopian tubes any time soon. Her age, you might ask. 30 years young, igual a mi. The Peace Corps is filled with college-graduates who more than likely took the 3-4 year route, which means most of my friends, both Dominican and American, are in the early 20s, unless of course they are my age with 6+ children.  I brought up Thelma and Louise with some of my volunteer friends, and my twenty-six year old friend nudged me kindly and whispered in my ear that no one I was with had ever seen it. And in all my 30 years of life thought it was a classic. In any case, this blog entry (as opposed to others) is filled with random thoughts and notes.

Round of illnesses: allergic reaction to wasp sting on right buttocks, numerous infected mosquito bites, pin worm, ring worm, scabies (4 times to date), constant heat rash, brutal ear infection, staph infection (on my face!, also twice), impetigo (from said staph infection), and an allergic reaction caused on my hands from lime enzymes coupled with sunlight (note to boozers and/or citrus lovers: careful with the limes you squeeze in your cervezas while sitting in sunlight). These are at least the things I can recall at this moment, but I am sure there are more.

How do you make an eco-friendly and efficient oven: concrete walls and a tin topping. What is my house made of: concrete walls and a tin topping.

The value of education: The other day I saw a woman walking down the street with her 10-year old son, and he was naked. Completely. He appeared to be somewhat embarrassed by his lack of clothing. She was walking behind him with a stick. I heard her tell a neighbor that people called her an abusadora. I asked her what happened to her son’s clothing. She replied that he was supposed to be at school (it is summer so I am not sure what type of school), and she found him playing in the street. So the woman straight up cut the clothes off her child and made him walk home naked. She apparently forgot that this will hurt her in the long run too when she realizes that she just ruined her son’s one and only school outfit. On the strengths-based side, she seems to realize the value of education, which makes me someone optimistic about the future of this boy, se llama Pollo.

Sometime in June….Round one of English classes: Almost complete.

I am sitting under my mosquitero, listening to some women argue, which might legitimately turn into a machete fight, vamos a ver. I am feeling the nice breeze of my fan, which is a welcomed relief because we now have luz for nearly 20 hours a day. Gracias a Dios. Also, I keep hearing riffs of an MGMT song. I think it must be on a commercial because I am not sure why else I would be hearing it multiple times throughout the day. Maybe it is being played for a political campaign, in which case I will be blessed with hearing it for the next year, similar to llegó papá. My first group of English students graduated Tuesday, and I had a mini fiesta filled with refrescos, crackers, mentas (which are actually Halls cough drops that they sell like candy here), certificados, and dinámicas. Mi fiesta fue bien. I took a lot of photos, and they are eager to start the next class. I had 22 jóvenes graduate. We will start again in a few weeks, si Dios quiere

My life here, similar to winterless (and seemingly seasonless) Phoenix, is not measured in terms of weather or seasons, but rather the activities of the children and the fruit bore on the trees. Also, as the time of mangos continues to grow, the time of chichiguas has ended, presumably because the stifling heat allows for no wind, which takes the fun out of much kite flying.  Por ejemplo, the time of chichiguas was followed by the time of by  the time of tops, followed by marbles ahora. These toys or pastimes seem to ripple through our lives rapidly, but in the short shelf lives of these entertainments, bring enjoyment to all in their vicinity. The new rage is marbles, which remind me of the fishtanks I had as a child (RIP countless goldfish that I never could keep alive). Summer has arrived. Along with the stifling heat, my energy has dwindled. My projects have all but disappeared, and people seem lethargically content doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING all summer long. One mother asked me if I could restart my English class in the fall because her son really preferred to have his vacations without doing anything. My guttural reaction of f*$% no! was replaced with an understanding nod, and gently said, no, my love, if he cannot come for two hours out of one hundred sixty-eight, I cannot help him this summer. I withheld the urge to throw in an “oiste?” One project that is doing well is my group of Chicas Brillantes. After having about 3 months of just hanging out, the direction of our group changed overnight. One meeting, we were all chatting. The girls were chatting about our summer plans, and the discussion went into the direction of helping the barrio. While I live in an extremely poor barrio, and the girls in my barrio are themselves extremely poor, they still realized that there are others less fortunate and they decided they wanted to help. So now, we are still Chicas Brillantes, but we are organizing a cleanup of the barrio, and are going to start going to the houses of people who cannot afford to “do their hair.” And we are going to wash and braid their hair  (apparently this is something fairly common here). It definitely still has a glittery, sparkly, “chicas” ring to it. They also want to help a particular family in my barrio that has a lot of problems. None of the kids are documented, and none are in school. The 13-year cannot write her name and the 5 younger kids do not go to school. Their mother is not documented and as of right now, their future seems rather dim. They want to start helping this family and others in the community. The discussion was so selfless and amazing. I get so frustrated with the “gimme, gimme, regalome” culture, that this was a breath of fresh air. I am constantly reminded that the children truly are our future, and their potential and limitless limitations is beautiful. To see the kids with nothing try to pool together their limited resources to help others is pretty rad. They promptly decided to make our club more official. They elected a secretary who started writing down our ideas, and also the president. We have made a couple of trips to the ayuntamiento (city hall) to see if there are any funds or anyway they can help us. We have also been bringing letters to the local stores to see if they.  

There was a fire in our community. It sounded like a parade at first. I heard sirens for a short while as they approached our barrio and then our street. As soon as the first siren passed, it was as if the president had approached. Tons of motors scurried behind the truck, with people running behind it cheering. From what I saw, it seemed as though there were more people chasing the trucks than there are people who actually live in our barrio. It was like lifting up a rock and seeing a million bugs scuttle away from the rock. That is what it looked like. This same day, I had an intercambio with my Chicas Brillantes group. Seven of us met up with 2 other volunteers and some of their girls. We had a lot of fun! I forget the little things I take for granted having grown up in a non 3rd-world country (I know this is not p.c. terminology, but you get the point). We went on a cultural/ educational excursion to some neat caves not too far from our site. Before entering the caves, we made a final pitstop in the bathrooms, which turned out to be an event in itself. I was leaving my stall, a couple of girls were waiting outside the stall door peering in, which I thought was odd. I asked them if everything was alright, and they asked me how I flushed the toilet. O Dios Mio. These chicas had never used a toilet (outside of a latrine/ outhouse). I showed them how to flush the toilets. I also had to demonstrate how to lock and more importantly, unlock the doors, as I watched a girl shimmy under her locked stall to exit. They were excited by the soap dispensers, and loved the rolls of paper towels. After the bathrooms, the rest of the event went smoothly, and my girls had an amazing time. Everything is going well with the group, thankfully, as everything else is going really slow this summer. Really slow.

25 julio 2011

Aqueduct Blog

I got the chance to work with 50 American volunteers for 10 days in July.  Every year, the same group comes to our barrio to work and build things such as churches, schools, etc. for the community.  For about 5 years now this group has come to our barrio. This year the foundation that they work through decided to collaborate with us since we live here and are on the ground running with the community.  Tina and I researched different projects that were wanted by the community and that could keep the group busy over the 10 days.  If you divided our community into thirds, about one- third of the community’s water supply is very poor.  There are 2 aqueducts in our community that feed water through pipes in the ground to the houses.  The houses with water simply connect to the line of pipes for their water.  We decided that building an aqueduct, putting mother tubes connecting with the new aqueduct in the streets of this one-third of the community, and putting pipes in 30 scattered houses that did not have running water would be sufficient and rewarding work for all.  So our plan of action was to find a piece of land to build the aqueduct, walk around the community to find houses that did not have pipes for water, find a person in the community that had experience in building aqueducts, and get a budget for everything.

I went searching with one of the pastors of the barrio looking for a person to donate a piece of land for this aqueduct.  Living in poverty, people are looking to sell any and everything for money to live.  I thought finding a person who wanted to donate a piece of land for water for hundreds of people, no matter how generous that sounds, would be difficult, but I guess having a pastor on my side helped.  After 2 days of searching we found a woman of his church that was willing to donate a piece of her property for this aqueduct.
Another pastor and I walked around to find the houses that did not have any running water. Without running water, these people (or usually their children) have to walk to a neighbor or friend’s house, sometimes blocks away, to fill up small buckets to bathe, wash, clean, cook, you get the idea. It almost felt like a campaign tour since the pastors have so much power in our community.  After an hour in the sun, the pastor and I decided to call it quits and have a “café”.  Later, in order to get it done, I walked the whole barrio with my wife (she still has the sun burn), and we found the 30 houses that did not have any running water. 

We choose a technician for the project who is a neighbor and who has experience building aqueducts.  He gave me a list of materials, and we later went to the hardware store to get a quote on them.  About a week before the volunteers were to arrive, we were confronted with one pastor being upset because he was not the technician, another technician having a sudden hernia surgery a week before the project, and the owner of the land wanting to move the site to another smaller part of her property 2 days before the project; after we had already chopped down trees preparing the land. 

When the volunteers arrived, they all hit the ground running with shovels and picks, digging trenches for pipes.  While we were working, another person who I had never seen decided to show up and say we were all wasting our time and money because the people already had water.  I felt upset because we had spent so much time walking house to house obtaining information about the needs of the people, and the lack of water was a big concern for many people in our barrio. Now, after 7 months of research and planning, this guy decides to show up with papers in hand to distract. Well, we did not pay him any attention and kept working; he later left.  After two days of digging through hard rock in the ground, a few volunteers decided that renting a jack hammer would save time and callused hands (too late for my hands).  After me riding shotgun in a tractor through the city of San Pedro, a dead battery, and oil spilling through a hose of the tractor, the 4 holes for the base of the aqueduct were done, and the trenching was finally ready for the pipes.

With all the translating (the volunteers did not speak Spanish), walking back and forth for materials, assigning work stations, and delegating responsibilities, I had never been so physically and mentally drained, on top of all that working in the Caribbean sun.  My body has not endured soreness like this in a while.  After the first day my hands were bleeding from calluses.  A few Dominicans said that now I have experience, while one volunteer said I had fragile college kid hands.  I told another person that I left the office to do this type of work.  He looked at his wife and laughed.  Despite all this, I felt good because I was assisting in giving water to a lot of people, getting a full body work out, and gaining the respect of the whole barrio.  When I walk through the barrio now, kids chant my name and people say “Dominic, estas muy fuerte”.  I think working on a project in which people can see tangible results help with your credibility here.  We do a lot of classes with the community, which are also very important, but now we were literally bringing a life necessity to the lives of people. 

At the end of the ten days, everyone was sad to see the Americans leave for many reasons: all of the relationships that were formed, 1/3 of the community laid with pipes for water, an aqueduct elevated with 4 walls and water pumping out of the ground for it, a new church built, and a water purification plant in the community as well.  Only about a week worth of finishing the aqueduct is left.  Once this is done, if I were to leave I would feel like I did something in El Brisal, but I have a year and 3 months left and a lot more to do.  The volunteers were pleased and want to come back next year.  We have been talking about the possibility to build a public pharmacy in the community next year.

So I guess teaching local Dominicans about health, grammar, English, how to run a business and how to make positive decision in life is our day job, and bringing infrastructure or solving basic needs is something we do on the side once a year.  After writing this down on paper, I feel like I am very blessed to be here.      

Giving away free water at the drinkable water plant

Aqueduct site before

A week later aqueduct almost complete

Laying the mother pipes through the streets.

Living in a fish bowl

During my interview to become a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) I was asked: how do you feel about living in a fish bowl?  (i.e. Nothing being private, everyone knows everything about your life, even things that you did not know about yourself, and everyone throughout the community talks about everything you do).  I enthusiastically replied, without even thinking, “Oh, I love living as an example and love when people always look at me. I embrace it.”  My answer at the time was so because I had worked with so many different types of kids and adults.  In my previous jobs I was a leader or a role model so I constantly needed to be aware of my actions and what I said, and I enjoyed it.  My reply to the question was not a lie or a rehearsed interview answer.  I was answering the question with confidence, honesty, and experience.   Little did I know how serious that question was to being a PCV, and how I had no idea how much of a fish bowl volunteers truly are in within their communities.  Have you ever been starred at in public?  Do nosy neighbors always gossip and know where you are, what you are doing, and who is visiting ALL THE TIME?  I have had my fair share of being starred at in Arizona, but that is nothing compared to here. 

Let me tell you about another experience being an “extranjero “in the Dominican Republic. When we got to the DR, there were the usual “piropos” like whistling and “Americano give me 5 pesos” or “taxi, taxi, taxi”.  All this is more annoying than anything.  When we arrived in our barrio I slowly learned how important it was to express who you are in terms of telling people about yourself, in limited Spanish of course.  Sharing our culture and who we are as individuals is very important, this gives our neighbors information about us and also beats them to the punch of making things up about the Americano as well.  “These people” (Tina gets a kick out of that when I say it/so ironic) love to talk.  Everyone calls themselves “hablador.” If a man screams out a “piropo” like “hola linda” and the women doesn’t respond she is called “fea”.  In my opinion I can understand that; she doesn’t have to walk up to him and give him her number, but to just acknowledging his complement is enough.  In the Dominican culture they also point out if you are fat, skinny, dark skinned, tall, or short, and they get your attention by calling you these names. Needless to say, no topic is off limits.  Like when I took a cacoa (chocolate) tour, the guide expressed that this natural food gives you “potencia” (translation= baby making power).  No wonder I love hot chocolate so much J.  While using public transportation, you are likely to have a conversation with the person sitting next to you, or a conversation about religion may break out amongst everyone on the bus.  Everything is openly talked about here, “sin vergüenza.”

So back on topic to being in a fish bowl, it is important to be your own marketing strategy.  By this I mean being a “hablador”, letting people know about yourself and what you do before you give them a chance to talk randomly and make up things about the foreigner.  Whenever I leave or return to our barrio it feels like the walk of shame because I should be living economically like my neighbors but instead I am traveling, visiting other volunteers, and experiencing the culture to the fullest.  I can’t even count the times I have given excuses why I have to leave instead of saying going to recreate at the beach because all work and no play just is not healthy.  Even when I have a legit excuse like going scuba diving to do a research dive for a natural museum, Spanish training in the capital, or presentation planning with other volunteers, all they hear is that I am going to the beach.  When returning from a trip and you’re a few shades darker with a few more bags than when you left, how do you explain this?  Well, you try to run into the house before anyone can see, though everyone usually sees everything.  If I were not to stretch the truth then they would know for a fact that we are “rich” and they would expect things from us.  Choices, choices, choices. 

When Tina leaves, and I am home alone it seems like everyone knows that Tina “dejarme solo”.  One instance I do remember one of the youth came over and grabbed the dishes and washed them for me.  This was such a friendly gesture.  We ended up talking and sharing some hot chocolate that was freshly grown from the “cacao” trees just north of here.  One day around noon I was walking and I was told by a neighbor that they had rice and I should come over.  Later I walked over and he was taking a nap on the concrete floor without a shirt.  He said, “enter, enter no problem.”  He made a slow gesture to get up, but as he was getting up his girlfriend came in.  He then sat back down and asked her to get me a plate of food (rice, beans and chicken).  I then proceeded to indulge in the meal that I have grown so accustomed to; if it’s noon, my stomach feels like it’s going through withdrawal if I am not eating it.  As they watched me eat, they asked how to I eat if Tina is not here.  I told them that I can cook as well.  I might not like it, but I will cook to eat. 

This proves that being a “hablador” is very important especially in trying to accomplish Peace Corps goal #2 “to share American culture with Dominicans”.  A part of the American culture that I have learned and like is that couples work together and share responsibilities.  If my partner is gone then I will pick up the slack.  Because this county has so many welcoming, friendly people, being a “hablador” is easy, all we need to do is work up the courage to use the language and communicate.  You don’t need to talk about anything too technical; just saying that the breeze is nice is a conversation starter.  So now when walking the barrio and I see a smiling face, I will say, “y su family”, and continue my peace corps work of sharing and learning cultures. 

Graduation of my English class

Youth English class

Isla Saona July 4th

08 julio 2011

Next on my wishlist of care package items: Spanish Bananagrams

The title was a hint as well as an introduction to this blog. This week, I am in the capital for a week of Spanish training. More specifically, I am in a barrio called Pantojo, which I am pretty sure is a synonym for hell on earth. There are five of us here, and for the next month or two, different volunteers will come to the capital for some mid-service Spanish training. My training has been great, and I am learning about the different tenses of verbs, as I typically prefer to speak only in the present tense. Drum roll please….. I can now say, “Have you ever…I had….I would have liked to… I shall….” And the nemesis of all English speakers (apologies for lumping us together, but I will assume you all hate it as much as I do): the subjunctive. The people in my barrio drop most of the ends of words anyways, so learning these tenses will be helpful if I ever want to speak non-Dominican Spanish. As a recap, with the Spanish spoken in my barrio, the “s” is dropped, the “d” is dropped, random syllables are dropped, and random letters are added occasionally for emphasis, without apparent rhyme or reason. Needless to say, I have encountered many challenges in my quest to learn Spanish.

During and after every class, we have been playing (another tense I now know how to use) Spanish banagrams, which is conceptually similar to Scrabble except it is a race against the other players and each player can only play off his or her own fichas.  I love this game. I am sleeping in the casa of my original host family. They are all still as cute as ever, sitting on the front porch from sunup to sundown, gossiping and greeting any and every person crossing their street. I can now understand them, which is a pleasant surprise for them and for me as well. Mi abuela is still blind AND is still wearing glasses. The mosquitoes are still terrible. The heat is still unbearable, but things are good. Banagrams has gotten me through this week, and it is welcomed entertainment. Despite all the educational excited, I am looking forward to being back in my barrio. I feel like I have been gone a lot lately with camps, meetings, and trainings. Next week, I have a conference in the capital with numerous organizations throughout the country. It should be really cool (I am slow to post my blogs, and this event already happened without a glitch and I was on the news!).  

                   Despite being somewhat flojo due to other Peace Corps compromisos, I am still really enjoying the work I am doing. I am a little apprehensive about summer as it is the advent of raining season and many youth in my barrio travel during the summer, or so I am told. Raining season presents challenges as well because typically, no one shows up to anything (school, meetings, classes, and even church) when there is a rain. This is understandable when you believe that you might actually die if you get wet. Though if we are going along the lines of Dominican myths, my favorite is that if you iron clothes and then open your freezer, your face will be permanently frozen in a paralytic state or you will die. Another good one is that pregnant women cannot swim because the baby brewing in their bellies will drown. Bueno. Because all of the schools, buildings, and houses in my community have tins roofs, rain is not a friend to the silence craved by teachers, facilitators, and anyone who wants to be heard above the pounding din. My goals this summer are to continue working on literacy so that many of the children who “miraculously passed” (aka there is no way in hell their same teachers would ever opt to teach them 2 years in a row) will be able to start school at the end of summer a little more prepared and literate, si Dios quiere. Other things I have been doing lately include beating all the men in my barrio at their favorite card game, casino, which happens to also be my favorite. I still get annihilated at dominos, but poco a poco, I am learning dominoes as well. Also, Many Dominicans cannot shuffle cards (bridge style) so whenever I shuffle, they get really impressed. One kid asked me if it was magic, and another old man murmured that I must be Italian, though I have never really heard a relation between shuffling skills and Italians. I still get piropos like crazy and propositions from these same church going, casino players who saludar Dominic and I together in their iglesias, but at least I have a little more street cred with them. So friends, that is it for now, and as always, I will try to keep you more updated on the wonderful and exciting news that is my life. Hasta pronto!

05 junio 2011

Tina turns 30. Ya tú sabes.

         I thought about just writing the title and leaving it at that, but what fun is that? Also, before I begin this blog, I need to recognize some dearly beloved friends and coworkers from BBBS. My friend Marianne and I share a birthday, and we usually celebrate together in the form of a birthday lunch with all of our coworkers/ friends. I, for obvious reasons, was not able to attend, so they printed a large picture of me and took it/me out to lunch, chronicling the whole event with photos that are now posted on Facebook. It was really sweet and touching, and while I am not sure who exactly planned it, I think many thanks are needed to Athena and Andrea and all my other friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this a special day for me.

For the rest of you, I recently celebrated my 30th birthday, and decided to do it in an All American way, aka away from my barrio, with other Americans, at a beach, with American music. All the volunteers in the country had a mandatory meeting in the capital so we were all together. We had a “prom” the same week, which was appropriately called, “Tigueres of the Caribbean.” I found a fabulous outfit, complete with a hairnet, lots of cleavage, hot pink leggings, and hot pink nail polish. Also, to those of you who know how truly uncoordinated I am (aka Pamela), you will be pleased to know that I started painting my own nails, AND, I started doing designs, on a very amateur level. I am totally being serious and will post some of my nail work soon. Be ready to be jealous. Anyway, the tiguere party was unforgettable and fun, and I enjoyed celebrating with many other volunteers. The week was replete with meetings and trainings, and then we headed to the beach for a going away party for another volunteer, who is sadly leaving this week for the states to go to graduate school. Watching the interactions amongst friends made me realize how strong of friendships can be forged in the short time (seems long now, but short in the scheme of life) we are here. We need to probachar these opportunities.

Wild nights were had at the beach and a local colmado. Dominic bought me a beautiful amber necklace and earrings, gracias mi esposo. He also planned a delicious dinner (Thank you, Phoebe!) with some of my friends, including my friend Natalie, who was celebrating her birthday with me. While I celebrated more like I was 20 than 30 (dancing, beer pong, flippy cup, beached whale on the beach: you get the idea), I was glad to ring in this decade of my life with some newfound friends and loved ones. While home is where the heart is, our hearts can travel far and still feel at home, beating alongside other kindred spirits. (Can’t you just hear the Lifetime music playing in the background?!). While I rarely namedrop friends and loved ones in my blog, this one contained many names, and while I am not going to name everyone, to all my friends and family, I miss and love you.

            People in my site were disappointed that I was not there with them, but I thought I might be a little homesick if I were to spend my 30th birthday, alone in my barrio, with people chanting, “Happy baby ooo youuuuu” all day long. I did receive some nice notes, words, and one of my chicas (a 13-year old mind you), wrapped up a My Little Pony for me, which was super cute and a little disturbing at the same time, when considering both of our ages. I also scored a nice painting on the beach simply by asking, “Regalomees mi cumpleaños.”

            While I had not planned on celebrating in my barrio, some of the girls from my group, Chicas Brillantes, planned a surprise birthday party for me. It was really cute and special. They had a big theatrical scene planned out where one of them ran into our group, gasping for air and whimpering that Dominic needed me at home immediately because there was an emergency. As I walked to my house, I noticed about 15 pairs of shoes left outside my door, at which point I realized what was happening. The girls had decorated my house with streamers, birthday banners, and mucho confetti, most of which I am still finding scattered throughout my house and yard. They cooked spaghetti and dumplings and prepared juice. We played musical chairs, told jokes, read poems, took lots of pictures, and had a fabulous time. It was the highlight of my birthday festivities.  

One of the girls with whom I work has been struggling with reading. She made me a birthday card that had “te kiero” (kiero phonetically, quiero correctly). The next day during our time together in my sala de tarea (similar to an afterschool program), we practiced “que.” Later in the evening, I received another lovely note, with the neatly written words, “te quiero.” I thought to myself at this moment, igualmente, mi amiga, igualmente.