Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back in the arctic tundra, unfortunately!

I have been back for over two months and it definitely has been very weird. One of the changes that have been hard to adjust to, is obviously the weather. I lived on a tropical island for 4 months, where it was sunny almost every day and was usually at least 70 degrees. Now I am living in the middle of the United States in the dead of winter where it has snowed multiple times and the sun barely comes out to say hi. Not to mention the fact that I have to layer up and add gloves and scarves every time I step outside. While in the Dominican Republic, my daily clothing attire consisted of jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt.
Another change that I have had to get used to is school. Yes, I was in school while I was down in the Dominican Republic. But, I would have Spanish every day and my EDP class two times a week and service two times a week. Then we would have retreats, would go to campos and go on trips and vacation. The schedule that I lived by in the DR is definitely different than the one that I live by now. I am constantly running from class to meeting to class to another class and lets not forget my job. I have to say that I miss being able to relax throughout the day and have multiple breaks to hang out. It has been weird having more than 3 classes and having a huge homework load that I am constantly working on.
Overall, I miss the welcoming people of the Dominican Republic and how relaxed everyone and everything was. People would take an hour after lunch to relax, play sports with friends, or read. Imagine how happy Americans would be and how healthy they would be if they could have an hour in the middle of the day just for themselves.
I am so thankful for my experience in the Dominican Republic and I wish that I took more advantage of the opportunities that I was given and traveled more on the weekends rather than staying at ILAC.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


My ten days in the campo, Bacumí was a very different experience than the one that I had in Gajo de la Yuca. First of all, this campo was surrounded by rice fields and was a down the road from a larger town, so many of the families had a lot more resources avaiable than the last campo. My family was very different as well considering that my siblings were closer to my age and my family had electricity and water available when they wanted it. The type and amount of work that we did was nothing like the last campo which was a hard adjustment for many members of our group.

My family was just as welcoming as my other family in the last campo. I had a mother, father and 2 sisters and a brother. My mom worked at home just like all of the other mothers in the campo. The women's job was to clean house and cook. Sometimes women in the campos will work in a local town if the husband is unable to, or they will have a side job that does not take away from their household duties. My brother was 19 and he worked in the rice fields. I saw him no more than 5 times because he would leave early in the morning so he could get to the fields when the sun rose and then he would come home late and head straight to bed. One of my sister's was 18 and she is going to college in a town 30 minutes away. She is about as typical a 18 year old could get in a campo. She surprisingly enough had a phone with texting and was constantly on it because she has a boyfriend who lives in Spain. I saw her a lot, but not too often because she was either at school, on the phone or at a friend's house or planning events for the youth group that she was a part of. My other sister is 16 and married. Yes, you read that correctly. She got married at 14 and has been living with her husband ever since. He is 24 years old and is currently not working because he was injured in a motorcycle accident in the spring. She still goes to school, but this is her last year because she is finishing up high school and has decided to not go to college. Surprisingly enough, they seem in love and not as if it was a forced marriage. But, out of every sibling, I saw her the most, even though she lived in a different house. Every night I would go to her house and play pool, and some consider me a professional now. My dad actually owned plantain fields and worked on those fields each day. Our house had electricity and a TV and a fridge and a generator. This was so weird for me because at the last campo, we didn't have electricity often and TV once or twice and no fridge.

Our latrine building group with our first completed latrine and its proud new owner.

During this campo, we built latrines, laid down cement floors and did some house repairs. We built 10 latrines, laid down 3 cement floors and worked on 5 houses. Latrine building is actually a very simple job. We nailed some wood together to make a square that would be the latrine, then we laid down cement and put in the concrete toilet. We would come back later and build the walls and roof. I found out that I am actually very good at mixing cement mix with the dirt and water in preparation for the cement laying. I also realized that if I cannot get a job in the hospital, then I will go work for a construction company and hammer nails into the sides of buildings. That was my job with the latrines. I would mix the cement and then I would nail up the aluminum walls of the latrine. For the cement laying in the houses, I also helped with mixing the cement powder, dirt and water with some of the other students while other students laid down the cement in the houses.

Me with my campo dad and his plantains.

After laying down the cement floors and building the latrines, we helped fix some houses. We actually did a lot of sitting around while the local men from the campo did all of the repairs. That was fine with me because I was able to sit around with the rest of the group and we bonded a lot and learned a lot about each other. I also was able to hand out with the little kids from the campo. The little kids followed us everywhere and were always calling out our names, holding our hands and carrying our water bottles as we walked from work site to work site. The house repairs did not go too well, so it ended up being good that we were not too involved in the repairs because we would have felt awful if some of the mistakes made were our faults. The first house that we helped out on was a complete mess. We started taking some of the wood off of the house (it was mainly made out of wood with the first foot or two being concrete blocks), but we realized that the house was infested with termites. The termites had eaten about 60% of the house. After looking around the property, the locals pointed out the trees that had the termite colonies. The ladies' home and property was termite central and there was no way to fix it because the termites are going to come back it we get chemicals to kill them and we were just replacing the wooden boards with new ones because it is a cheap resource to use. After taking some of the boards out, all of the sudden the house just collapsed. The support structures that were supposed to be holding the house up just collapsed bringing down the sides and the roof with it. Thankfully most of their belongings were out of the house. Only her bed was left and we got it out without it being destroyed. The workers definitely learned how to support the rest of the houses without them falling down.

This is one of the pieces of wood that was destroyed by the termites.

There were some health problems in this campo that we noticed from day one. There were quite a few members of the community (even children) who had eye problems. There were people with lazy eyes and many people who were cross eyed. These problems happened before the child was born. These deformities are because of all of the pesticides from the rice fields. The fields border the campo and they run off into the river and streams that the kids play in, the families sometimes bathe in and the women do the laundry in. Another health problem that quickly became evident during our time with all of the kids was the infections. Many kids had scrapes and cuts on their legs and feet and since they walked around barefoot, these injuries were infected and there maggots that were living inside of the cuts. These kids had so many scars on their legs and feet from such cuts that we saw and the kids were going to have so many more scars because there is no way to stop all of the infections. The kids are going to keep getting infections because they always are going to be in the dirty rivers, walking down the street barefoot and wearing sandals. Their feet are never covered by socks or closed toed shoes.

I am holding a roosted that is used in rooster fighting events.

This campo was very different from the last campo. I connected with my family a lot more than the other campo. It was a very welcoming community and my group was sad to leave, but we will return for a day during our final week here in the Dominican Republic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where does the time go?

This past month has just flown by and it is a scary thought that in 40 days I will be gone from this beautiful and welcoming country and back home in the frozen tundra I like to call home. On Saturday, November 13, I will be going to my second campo, Bucami for 10 days to build latrines and cement floors in the houses in the community of 175 families. This campo will be a different experience from the first campo experience. In the first campo there were only about 30 to 40 families and we were in the mountains. This campo is not in the mountains, but settled in the fields south of Santiago. I am excited and not as nervous as last time because I know what to expect this time around.

Since I never got around to updating the blog after my first campo experience, this one will be dedicated to everything that I have been up to for the past month.

After the first campo, we had fall break and I went with 3 other students to the Samaná Peninsula for the week. We first stopped in Las Galeras for a couple of days. We stayed in a little bungalow about 2.5 km from the beach and town that we walked each day. This town is a very small one and it is considered not a very touristy place, which was awesome! I loved this town, but it might have to do with what we did during our time there. The first day we climbed and walked across these jagged rocks for about an hour to get to Playa Rincón which is considered one of the prettiest beaches in the Dominican Republic and even in the world. On our hike to the beach, a dog led us the whole way without any hesitance. This dog just started following us and when we would stop to figure out where we were going, the dog would continue walking, so we decided to just follow the dog, and eventually we found the beach. We were one of the only people on the beach for the day, which was perfect! You could walk out for about ½ mile while still walking on the sea floor and the water was crystal clear.

The next day we woke up at 4:30 in the morning and walked for an hour and a half to the top of the local mountain, El Firmamento to see the sunrise. This was not the easiest task though. First of all, it started pouring down rain for about half an hour and we did not know where we were going. We only had a drawn map from the hotel owner and the road to follow in the dark. Eventually we found it after treading through fields and past cows through mud and up slippery hills. Through the pain and the exhaustion, it was definitely worth it and one of the best things I have done here so far. The mountain had a 360 degree view of the whole peninsula (Las Galeras is a peninsula of the Samaná Peninsula). After watching the sunset and eating our breakfast, we fell asleep on the ground for an hour and then started our walk back down to the bottom.

On Wednesday, we left for Las Terrenas, which is another town in the Samaná Peninsula. This is a very touristy town and highly populated with Europeans. We got there with nowhere to stay and went into the tourist office and the lady told us of a little place down the road. We stayed in another little bungalow owned by a French woman, who was able to speak some Spanish. The Spanish was French-Spanish so that was definitely something that I have never heard before and it was surprisingly difficult to understand. In Las Terrenas we went to a beach called Playa Bonita, which definitely lived up to its name. Once again, we were one of the only people on the beach. The next day we went to the local beach and then went to a concert on the beach the last night we were there.

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a place called 27 Charcos ( – watch the video to get an idea of the experience that I had) and jumped off of 27 waterfalls. It was extremely exhilarating and I would not histate to do it again! We hiked up to the waterfalls and climbed up rocks and we would crawl up little crevices to get to the other waterfalls sometimes the tour guide would grab our hands and fling us up to the next part of the waterfall. We jumped and slid down the rocks into pools of water and one of the jumps was even 40 feet high! I loved everything about it and would recommend it to other Dominican Republic travelers!

Last weekend we went to Jarabacoa and went to a little retreat center. We swam in the pool, ate a typical Dominican lunch and then rode horses to a waterfall and hung out at the waterfall for a while. The horseback riding was definitely different than the US riding. The saddles are very basic and the people in charge do not adjust your stirrups so on one horse my stirrups were two different lengths and sizes. It was fun to ride the horses at whatever speed I wanted though. Most of the time my horse would walk very slowly, but every once in a while he would start galloping, which I had to slow him down because my saddle was not on very securely so it would start sliding down the side, which was definitely frightening! In order to get to this waterfall, we had to cross 2 rivers and go up and down steep hills, so it was awesome that we were able to get off of the trails and do something different and be free to roam.

On a more serious note, I am sure that everyone reading this is aware of the current situation in Haiti. First off, a couple weeks ago, there was a cholera outbreak in Haiti. Because of this outbreak, the borders that separate Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been closed so the outbreak does not spread into the Dominican Republic. I am sure that it is also because the hospitals here in the DR do not want to have a massive increase in the number of patients. Because of the outbreak, we have had to postpone our weekend trip to Dajabón, which is a border city in the north of the Dominican Republic. The main reason that we go to Dajabón is to see the international market that is held in the city a couple of times a week. Our supervisors decided to not have us go, because the main reason that we go is to see the market with all of the Haitians selling their goods. But, since the market is closed, there is not much else we would do. We are hoping to go at a later date, because it would still be an amazing experience to be able to see the bridge that the Haitians cross over each day and to see Haiti from a distance.

Secondly, Haiti was just hit by Hurrican Tómas this past weekend. Originally it was supposed to hit the whole Hispaniola Island (Dominican Republic and Haiti), but it eventually moved west and hit only the western edge of Haiti. The border is closed still not just for the cholera outbreak, but for the hurricane as well. Even though the country did not get the powerful winds that they were planning on getting, they still got all of the rain. Even here in Santiago, with us being surrounded by mountains, we had constant rain from Tuesday to Saturday. The officials are worried that with the movement of all the refuge camps in Haiti and the new pools of rainwater, that the cholera outbreak will increase and spread rapidly. We are just thankful here that Haiti was not hit worse than it was. Haiti has had a rough year with the earthquake in January, the cholera outbreak and then the hurricane.

------New post to appear after Thanksgiving

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My First Campo Experience

For ten days, I and the 12 other students spent our time building an aqueduct for the small community of 40 families and building lasting relationships with the families in the community.

After a 2-hour bus ride on the gringo bus up windy hills and narrow roads, we hopped in small trucks called camionetas to drive the rest of the way up more winding and muddy and bumpy roads.

Gajo de la Yuca is a rural farming community that is located in the mountains near Santiago. We built an aqueduct in order to supply running water to the families of this small community. The community used to receive their water supply from a nearby community, but the pipe connection was weak and water was constantly leaking, which affected the amount of water that reached the campo. So ILAC decided to build a new aqueduct so the community would always have water and the water would be from their own supply.

During the ten days, we each lived with a family and would eat all of our meals at Juana’s house (the cooperadora). A cooperadora is a member of the community who is well known and usually holds a leadership role in the community. The cooperadora is trained by ILAC to help spot illnesses and make sure the families are healthy.

I lived with my family in a cute little house that I entered through a green door. The house consists of pink bricks on the bottom and blue wood paneling with metal sheets as the roof. The house consisted of three little bedrooms and a sitting area and a kitchen. I had a mom, dad and 3 sisters (under the age of 14). My dad worked out in the fields (avocado, sugar, oranges and yuca), while my mom worked in the house all day. Our latrine was down the hill and past the pig and chicken cages and my shower consisted of a little stall right outside the house where I took bucket showers. Bucket showers consist of a large bucket (typically 2 gallons) and then you use a smaller container to scoop out the water. My family did not have any water system so the water we used came from a hose and we also used rainwater that collected in a large barrel.
During the nighttime after dinner, my family and I would sit outside on our plastic chairs that are present at every house in the community and listen to the music that floats throughout the community and talk to the people that stop by on their way home. The families and friends in this community are so close and loving.

During the first weekend I was in the campo my WHOLE family (extended family) came over to the house for a day and it was crazy! There were so many aunts and uncles and cousins. Everyone was so welcoming and loving, that I felt like I was a part of the family, even though I had been there for only a day! I came to learn throughout the week that the whole community was like that. In the mornings I would go to breakfast and the community members who were at Juana’s house would greet us with hugs and kisses on the cheeks. Even when we would be working, the families whose houses were near our work site for the day would bring us coffee to drink during breaks and the workers would pick oranges from the trees and cut them up for us to eat. (The oranges were the best oranges that I had ever eaten).

One of the other things that I loved about the campo is that everyone is really close with their family and friends. I would just be sitting outside with my sisters and my cousins who lived two houses down would come over and just hang out with us and play games outside the house on the street. I just loved how we would be just sitting inside or outside of the house listening to the music and our neighbors or my family members would be walking by and they would just come by, even though they were heading somewhere else. Family and friends are so important in the campo which is something that Americans have lost contact with. Technology and typical American distractions are nowhere to be found in the campo. When two people are having a conversation, there will be no phone that goes off or someone texting or the TV blaring in the background. When you have conversations, people actually listen to what you have to say and are interested and focused on the conversation.

By the end of the week, we dug 2.5 km worth of trenches, put the pipes into the trenches and then covered the trenches back up. We also built a huge concrete tank that will hold the water. We would work from 9-12 in the morning and then 2-4:30 in the afternoon. We worked 7 days and were shocked when we were able to get farther than planned on the aqueduct. Sadly, we were not able to see the families get their first drinks of water because the tank had to go through a lengthy process of letting the concrete settle and then cleaning it with chemicals before it could be filled up with water.

While we did provide water to the community, the most important and memorable moments of the campo experience was spending time with the families and building relationships with the community members. It was hard for everyone to leave the campo at the end of the week because everyone had become close with their families and the community members.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Santo Domingo

This past weekend, we all went to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo was a complete difference than Santo Domingo.

We stayed in a hostel for a night and took tours around the historical part of the city and local museums. The historical district is very different from Santiago. The streets are quieter and smaller and there are so many tourists. The first moment we stepped out of the hotel and walked into a little store, there were Americans. That was the first time we had seen Americans other then ourselves since we left the United States. There are very few tourists here in Santiago, if any. As gorgeous as Santiago is, there is not much to see or do other than a few museums or monuments.

We arrived on Friday and left on Saturday. The first couple of hours on Friday and the last couple of hours on Saturday were for shopping and just hanging out around the tourist area. So many of us walked around the plaza (many restaurants and old buildings) and also up and down Conde Street which has many shops and eateries. A lot of the stores are aimed towards tourists and sell a lot of knick knacks and typical touristy items. There were also the more traditional and unique items such as larimar and amber jewelry and Haitian art. All of the shop owners assumed that we were tourists and Americans so we were welcome with "hello" and "sale!". I am not used to being spoken to in English outside of ILAC because very few people in Santiago can speak English. I just wanted to let everyone know that I could speak Spanish and that there was no need to speak English.

On Friday and Saturday we toured the streets with our tour guide who attempted to speak English to us. We were able to connect what we were seeing to what we had been learning in our EDP class. Many of the original buildings remain (some are currently being restored) including Christopher Columbus’ home, the famous Cathedral, and several court and governor buildings. The old original entrance to the city is still standing and the wall is still standing around the city as well.

On Saturday before leaving Santo Domingo, we visited Columbus' Lighthouse (ZAFA!). This lighthouse was built for Columbus (ZAFA!) in dedication to his "achievements". The thing is, it does not look like your typical lighthouse. It looks more like a jail. The lighthouse used to use so much electricity emitting a light, that it would cause blackouts across the city. Since it did cause so many blackouts, they have decided to stop emitting the lights. Also, the lighthouse is considered cursed. Every time someone says Christopher Columbus (ZAFA!), you must say ZAFA to reverse the curse. The idea that the lighthouse is cursed comes from many experiences of bad luck. Many bad experiences have occurred such as the amount of money that the city spent on the lighthouse (millions, maybe even billions) and the fact that the Pope got extremely sick right before he was scheduled to bless the lighthouse.

On Friday night, we had dinner at a nice and delicious Italian restaurant and I had my first pizza in weeks and it was delicious. Surprisingly enough, the salad I had was basically the same salads I had all three years in Europe and it brought back such good memories! I did notice though while eating, is that everyone was dressed very nicely and very classy. It was a completely different atmosphere from Santiago and it was obvious that many of these people were tourists or businessmen.

After dinner, we watched a live meringue and bachata show in the plaza. There was a band playing and dancers would come out in their bright and gorgeous costumes and take part in the traditional and widely accepted dancing. Afterwards, we all just walked around and enjoyed the plaza and breezy Caribbean Sea air.

Today (actually in about 1.5 hours), we will be on the road for Gajo de Yuca and live there for 10 days. Gajo de Yuca is a campo in the mountains NE of Santiago about 2 hours away. We will each be living with a family and during the day building an aqueduct. The campo has no running water and the electricity goes in and out. This immersion will be an experience that will take me out of my comfort zone and put me into a place where I will be speaking Spanish 24/7 and taking part in a culture where I will be considered part of a family.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Cien Fuegos
We went to Cien Fuegos last Friday. Cien Fuegos is a little town outside of Santaigo. It is named Cien Fuegos for the fire that hit the town in the 70s and burnt down all 100 homes (Cien Fuegos = 100 Fires). A new community was born that started on the outskirts of Santiago. This town is very poor and has very little water, electricity or anything similar. Many of the citizens are unemployed and struggle to make ends meet. We hiked to the top of a hill that overlooks the town and will soon be a spot for a home to be built on. This little plot of land is probably the size of my bedroom in Omaha and the bathroom.

A local priest told us the story of Cien Fuegos and the improvements that the town is seeing. Many kids are able to go to the local university and eventually choose to come back to Cien Fuegos to open their businesses so they can support their hometown and still live near their friends and family. Also, the town hall is starting up a program that will pay some families to pick up the trash off the streets and just to keep their sectors that they are assigned to clean and trash free. Other than supplying families with much needed money, this will also improve the health of the town. Currently, Dengue Fever is on high alert in the Dominican Republic and the alert is extremely high in Cien Fuegos because there are so many open containers of standing water that attracts the mosquitos with the viruses. If the townspeople are able to keep trash out of the streets and remove objects that collect water, then there would be less people at risk for Dengue Fever. Also, there is currently no vaccine for Dengue Fever. The only way to get better if they have Dengue Fever is to go to a hospital and stay well hydrated.

Many of the residents of Cien Fuegos work at the local trash dump and plastic plant. For the employees at the dump, their job is to find reusable materials in big piles of trash. The employees are scheduled into multiple shifts for each day. For the workers at the plastic plant, the employees make plastic containers and organize the trash that has been pulled out and claimed as reusable.

I actually got to work at my internship today!! It has been an extremely long and tedious process. It all started about two weeks ago when I went in with my Spanish teacher, Edwin, who is also going to be in charge of my internship, and we sat for about an hour in the waiting room of the director's office. When he finally arrived, we were allowed to go in and meet with him. I gave him my letter of recommendation from the Director of the ILAC Center (where I am staying and taking classes). He looked over it quickly and then made sure I knew some Spanish and joked that Americans speak English very quickly, which I argued. After that we were told to come back the next day to meet with a man named Alejandro who would help me get settled.

On Thursday, right after my EDP class, Mary (my EDP teacher and program director) and I rushed over to the hospital (between 20 and 40 minutes by gua gua depending on the time of day). When we got there, we went to the Human Resources office and they said Alejandro was not there to give me a tour so I was told to sit outside the office and wait for someone else to help. About an hour and a half later, we found out that “no one” was available to help me that day. So I was told to come back later.

On Monday, I went in with Mary again and I actually made progress and was able to fill out a basic form for Human Resources and found out that I had to get a picture taken. We walked over to a portrait studio and got a picture taken. Now for 140 pesos (about $4), I got 6 little pictures of my face that had been photoshopped, airbrushed, etc. After we went back to the hospital, I was given an ID card with my picture and it said that I was a “pasantilla” (intern). We even got a quick five minute tour of the offices such as accounting, marketing, welcome center and payroll. But, our little excitement bubble was popped when we found out I would have to come back Wednesday to meet with the Administrator. See, there is a lot of red tape that I have to cross over and quite a few formalities in the hospital. I was not even allowed to observe for the day because I had yet to meet with the administrator.

So, Edwin went back with me on Wednesday and we waited awhile because the Administrator was not into the office yet. After a little while, the administrator arrived and we were invited into his office, only to find out, he didn’t even know who I was or why I was there. It turns out that the director I had met with the week before, never told the administrator about me like he was supposed to. Since he did not know anything about this, I was not allowed to start yet.

Today I went to the hospital and got passed around but was able to start in Seguros de Salud (Health Insurance Office). I met all of the people in the office and did a lot of observing. I learned how they get all of the records together with the information about how long the patient stayed in the hospital, which drugs they were given and their personal information sheet. I also helped at the front desk and observed the authorization of the paperwork the patients were giving to the office. I also helped out with the organizing and sorting of all of the paperwork. I was definitely exhausted by the end of the day and it was a lot more difficult to understand everyone than I thought it would be.

This has been a very on going process, but I know in the end, that it will be an amazing experience. Even though I told the people at the hospital when I be there to meet people and get started, nothing ever was accomplished accordingly. But, that is how things are run in the Dominican hospitals, and apparently it is working out for them just perfectly. My Spanish will improve so much because I will speaking Spanish the whole time and I will get to experience a hospital from another country and see how they run things. I am extremely grateful that my teachers have been able to go with me each time I went to the hospital, because I don’t know if I would have been able to get everything settled like they have been able to. As my teacher says, Bienvenidos a La Republica Dominicana.

Monday, August 30, 2010

FACT: Dominicans L-O-V-E Shakira’s “Waka Waka”

I was warned before I came down to the DR by friends that men will whistle at women if they find them attractive. I was also warned that they would hiss at them as well, if they found them attractive. While I have only heard the hissing twice, I am used to whistling now. We hear it all of the time because there are eleven girls in our group, but also because we are Gringos and Americanos. Gringos are white/non-indigenous people and Americanos are Americans. Everyone here believe that white people are Americans and they think that if they speak Spanish, then we have no idea what they are saying. But, little do they know, that we know that they are talking about us when we hear them say Americanos or Gringos. At least kids have the guts to say it straight to our faces and not whisper it while sitting next to us in the guaguas. By the way, I LOVE GUAGUAS. I honestly wish that they existed in the US. It is so easy to just hop on one and tell them where you need to go. No stress, other than having to make sure that you get the correct change back. I have even gotten used to the heat and constantly being sweaty. I am actually shocked when I walk into a building with air conditioning because the ILAC Center does not have air conditioning, so I am used to just air circulating from the fans.

The one thing I am not used to are the mosquitoes. Those silly little bloodsuckers are just awful! I thought I was good to go because the first few days I had zero bites and now I have about 10 bites on my feet and legs. The thing about the mosquitoes is that you can’t feel them biting you, so you won’t know that you have been bitten until later when red bumps start popping up. My Cortizone and Neosporin have definitely become my best friends so far and they will stay that way.

On Friday night, my group, our Residence Director, Karie, and our Program Director and teacher, Mary all went out to dinner at a restaurant near the monument called La Brasa. I had tacos and they were delicious! But, they had a sweet type of ketchup on top, which actually made the tacos even better! I am realizing that everything here is really cheap! My 3 tacos were about $2.50 and a fifteen-minute taxi ride is about $2 to $4 a person, depending on how many people are in the car.

After dinner we all hung out at a couple of bars and clubs since the drinking age is 18 here in the Dominican Republic. Went to a bar that had music videos and sport games on the TVs and it is just a nice place to hang out when it is too early for the clubs. We then ventured over to a discoteca and also just a small bar like the previous one. It was a great first night out on the town!

Saturday we went to a beach for the first time! We went to Playa Grande, which is a small, secluded beach about two hours away. It was gorgeous and blue and just what one would expect a beach to be like in the caribbean! There were not too many people there and the weather was perfect and the water was amazing! A few of us even explored the forests around the area and found little creeks and other little beaches and coves. I thankfully left the beach with only a minor sunburn, which is pretty good since the sun is definitely stronger here than in Omaha.

The most exciting, yet completely nerve-wracking thing that I am dealing with is my Internship. I was originally supposed to work at the ILAC Center Clinic where many of the people speak English and I do not have to include any transportation time into my day. But, things change as they always do and I now have the amazing opportunity to work in the big hospital in Santiago. I basically had an interview on the spot, without any warning with an epidemiologist and another hospital employee. I was told that it was a simply meet and greet, but little did I know, I would be learning about the job and getting tested on my Spanish and what my expectations are. In the end, I apparently did well enough with my Spanish that they want me to start on Wednesday! I will be presented to many of the doctors and personnel in the hospital. I will get a more in depth training session on what I am allowed to do, not to do, what not to eat, where to go, who to come in contact with and which parts of the hospital to avoid. I will be working with a neurosurgeon who is also an administrator for the hospital. I seriously feel as though I am being presented into society. I will be meeting all sorts of people and telling them about myself, what I want to do while I am working and answer any questions. Thankfully I have had confidence boosts from the director here and my Spanish teacher about my Spanish skills, though there is a good chance I will be asking the workers to repeat their questions or I will need to pause and process what was just said to me before answering.

Yesterday we went to La Sirena after our scavenger hunt around Santiago. La Sirena is a Walmart/Target superstore. They have everything from clothes to food to toiletries. After getting notebooks, food and some toiletries, I made my way upstairs to find clothes for my job. When I was packing, I was planning on working at the ILAC Center, where the dress code is pretty relaxed, but since I will be working at a hospital I decided that I should wear something other than khakis everyday. I decided to get black slacks and some black shoes (think of those white nurse’s shoes) since most of the hospital employees wear darker colors and all I had were white shoes and opened toed shoes. This is a prime example of items down here being a lot cheaper. My pants and shoes equaled a total of $25. It was AWESOME and it felt awesome to spend only $50 at the store on the journals, toiletries and clothes.

P.S. Today I went to hospicio (hospice) and attempted to talk and hang out with the men and women there and on the way there, we fit 30 people in the guagua. I just love them so much!

Hasta Luego!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Experience is what you got by not having it when you need it

I can’t believe that I have been here for a week. I have been going non-stop and it seems like while trying to learn my way around the city, improving my Spanish skills and visiting different service sites. While some days prove to be difficult, I am getting to the point where I feel absolutely comfortable here in the Dominican Republic.

This past week, we have done a lot of reflecting on who we are and what we can do to improve ourselves and figure out who has made us the people we are today. We have also focused on adjusting to change and realizing that this whole experience will be hard on us, but in the end we will feel as though we have accomplished many things.

I have also officially figured out my academics for this semester, which is a huge relief! My internship was set up on Friday and I learned all about my EDP class which focuses on the history, culture, literature and everything related to the Dominican Republic. Spanish classes have already started and I feel as though my Spanish has improved a lot just for the week I have been here. I was never really impressed with the Creighton Spanish Classes because I learned the same things over and over and nothing was ever useful in a real life situation. But here, we are learning phrases and terms that the Dominicans use often so we are able to fit in, understand what people are saying and actually have productive conversations.

Domino! This is the most important game in the Dominican Republic and a favorite past time of everyone. While I knew the basic rules before coming here, I definitely have learned that this is not a easy game of putting the same domino next to each other. Dominicans take this game seriously and it can become very intense. Because of that, I plan on becoming a pro so I can beat everyone I play, even the people who have been playing their whole lives.

I also learned how to dance the Bachata and the Meringue, which are the popular forms of dancing here in the Dominican Republic. These dances are what people use when they are at clubs, parties or just small gatherings. It is their way of life and it sure is difficult! I thought these dances were going to be pretty easy since I did ballet for many years, but the only way I am able to somewhat look like I know what I am doing is to count the steps and focus completely on what I am doing. This has proven to be difficult because dance partners always want to talk. So, WARNING TO ALL FUTURE DANCE PARTNERS: There are two options for the types of dancing quality you will get from me. The first is that I will be able to stay in rhythym, but my eyes will be looking at your feet the whole time so I can stay on count and I will be saying “uno, dos, tres, uno, dos tres, etc”. The other option is for you and I to have a conversation, with me constantly repeating, “lo siento” every time I get out of step or step in the wrong direction.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this week so far have been visiting the service sites that we can possibly go to for our service sites each week. My favorite site is Hogar Luby, which is a home for disabled children. While it is very depressing, I know that when we arrived there to hang out with the kids, they were so happy that we were going to talk with them and play with them. These kids are dropped off by their families and are basically orphans because, like the Hospicio, the families don’t want to take care of the kids or just cannot. These kids are put into large rooms with multiple beds, walk around in dirty diapers and even tied up to their beds so they do not hurt themselves or others. Just like in Cien Fuegos, these children are attention starved because there are only a few workers for the countless kids that are there. I was actually bitten by one of the children because I was paying attention to another kid instead of playing with the boy and talking to him. Yes, it was startling and shocking and yes, I do have my lovely purple bruise forming on my arm, but it made me want to go back even more to just hang out with these kids and get to know them and attempt to make sure that they have a better life.

This week has also had its fun and memorable moments. One day, we went to Centro Leon and heard the Director of the ILAC Center talk about the program and how it started and the improvements made since it was founded. Centro Leon is a museum in Santiago that is all about the history of the Dominican Republic, which has been extremely helpful because we are learning about the history in one of my classes. We also went to a cigar museum and watched the men make the cigars. I found out that a very wealthy family started the museum and cigar factory and contribute largely to improve Santiago and even donate money to the ILAC Center. This week we have also gone to Helados Bon, which is a delicious ice cream place in Santiago and went to the mall to explore and eat more ice cream!

More to Come!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Veinte Personas

For being here for less than 24 hours, I sure have learned a lot and seen a lot that I would never have experienced in my daily routine.

To begin this trip or “stucation” as one may like to call it (study + vacation = stucation), I woke up at 3:20am Central Time and arrived at 8:40 Eastern Time in Santiago. This day included three flights and sitting on the tarmac in Miami for an hour. We then bought our tourist card and went through customs and then found our bags. I was thrilled because all of them arrived, and earlier that morning I was panicked because I thought I was never going to see them again. We then loaded our bags and got onto the Gringo Bus, which is what we call the bus that the ILAC Center owns and transports everyone in. After about a 20 minute drive down a skinny narrow highway surrounded by houses, we arrived at the ILAC Center.

The ILAC Center is gorgeous and everything is open with very few walls and doors. Many of the areas are opened with big cutouts in the walls that have no windows and our bedroom has two windows with screens and blinds and right in front of our desk, there are four windows with just blinds.

The next morning we woke up at 7:30 and had breakfast at 8am. Breakfast is at 8am everyday and there is fruit with bread. There are eggs and meat and cheese. After breakfast we took an in depth tour of the ILAC Center and learned where our classes are and the offices and looked at all of the lounge areas. We then went to the Spanish Mass after going down to the end of the street to exchange our money from dollars to pesos. The mass was difficult to understand, but it will just take time to understand and pick up on the typical words and phrases.

After mass we had lunch at 12:30 and it consisted of rice, beans, meatballs, chicken with pico de gallo and fruit. Every meal consists of fruit such as pineapples and mango. After lunch, we took the gua guas to Santiago. We walked down to the end of the street and climbed into the gua gua. The gua gua to Santiago had about 18 people. The gua guas are similar to VW vans and they just stuff you in and there are no seatbelts and the windows are open and the sliding door stays open the whole time so dropping people off and jumping out are really quick. There is a man who is in control of driving and another who stands in the door way while holding onto the handle and collects money. It costs 20 pesos each way (about 55 cents) no matter how far you go. We were dropped off on a street corner and walked up to the monument and sat on the steps for a while and people watched and looked at the view of Santiago.

On the way back, our group fit into one gua gua and had 20 people in the van. These drivers speed down the roads, since there are no speed limits and honk at slow motorcycles and cars that are in front of them. I can never imagine driving here and have cars zipping around me and stopping inches away from where I am parked.

Once we got back, we had some time to relax and then ate dinner at 6pm, which included lasagna, salad, fruit and bread. After dinner we had a meeting where we learned all of the rules and learned what to do and what not to do. Later that night, we ran and walked around the track and played card games, such as “Ve Pez” (Go Fish). I can't believe I am here and so far this has been an amazing experience.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Contact Information

As I am preparing to leave, I have realized that it would probably be best to put some contact information on here in case anyone ever needs it.


Skype: audrey.l.jensen

Address: ILAC/CESI
Kilometro 7 1/2 Carretera Duarte
Licey al Medio, Santiago de los Caballeros
Republica Dominicana