Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cat + Cane + Teaching


Yesterday morning, I was making coffee, and turned around to see this little guy eating out of my dog's bowl.  So, I gave it half a sardine, and named it Mir.


Also, sugar cane harvesting is still going on. This is the before shot:


Then, they set fire to the fields. This is somewhat terrifying. It rains ash for a day or so, and the air is thick with the smell of molasses.


Next, machines cut it all down...


...and haul it out. About every 15 minutes, another truck goes by, shaking the ground like an earthquake.


Burn everything again! They did this to the field next to the school during the school hour, so all the kids and teachers went outside and blockaded the road and threw rocks at the cane trucks.


I can see Russia Tamayo from my house! Almost the entire valley is cut and burned now, and the dust storms are bad. The wind blows every day from around 1pm-5pm, and you can't open your eyes outside because of the dust. My red floor is brown, and everything is covered in a thick layer of dirt.


Grass would help hold the dust down in the batey, but people think it breeds mosquitoes. Whatever the goats and cows don't eat, they machete up. I got in trouble with my neighbors for not sweeping my dirt enough. I need to re-read the housing association bylaws.

4 of my kids taught their first computer class. We planned out the lesson, and I practiced with each of them for the big day. They seemed set. It was curious, but not surprising, when they all decided to do completely different things during the class, and ignore any of the preparation we had done. But hey, they got up in front of the students and said something, and that was pretty great. It may not all have been accurate, or useful, but that all can come later. I can rationalize that this counted as teambuilding, leadership skills, public speaking, etc. 

They also critiqued the hell out of each other, which was way better than me telling them those things. They complained about the same things that I complain about--random people in their classroom, kids screaming, people trying to go on Facebook, students not paying attention--and it was pretty satisfying to sit back and see how they liked it on the other side.

Surprisingly, they want to ramp up and teach EVEN MORE. It has been really neat to see how fast they have progressed. Case in point-- Genito can set up Unreal Tournament LAN parties, and kicks my ass. The game is IN ENGLISH, but he figured out how to do everything. Also, his typing has gone from 4 words/minute to 20, probably due to Facebook chatting. I taught some youth how to do basic things in Adobe Premiere Pro, and this one kid spends hours each day cutting dembo dancing clips together. I'll post it when he's done.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Today, we built a network

This morning, Emilio stopped by my house while I was making coffee, and I taught him how to strip. Ethernet cables. You see, today was the day I started teaching my youth about computer networking.


Back before the holidays, I got a 16-port DLink switch, a box of CAT-5e cable, and a little bag of Ethernet terminators from World Vision. I had solicited this stuff because the 3g modem/Wi-Fi router we have been using can’t handle 15 connections (and is really only supposed to support 4 computers). While running Ethernet cables all over my lab isn’t very pretty, it is far more reliable than Wi-Fi, and should hold up better over time. Ethernet cards are much cheaper to buy here than new Wi-Fi antennas and cards if they break—they even sell them in Tamayo.


I showed my kids how to strip wires using a crimper tool instead of a machete or their teeth, and tried to explain the importance of twisted pairs and putting the 8 wires in the Ethernet cable in the correct order before you crimp the terminator. The theory part lost out to the I WANT TO USE THE COOL TOOL part, but all the cables they churned out worked just fine. Also, explaining this all in Spanish was a little hard. “Ok, now press the tool down on the plastic thing, and look how the little knives bite the little wires.”


Emilio measured out, cut, stripped, and crimped cables to connect 5 computers before he had to go bring in the cows. He also showed three other guys how to do it, and they made cables that worked. Every time they plugged a new computer into the switch, they smiled and clapped when the three flashing green lights came on.

Back during college, I used to work in this labyrinth of an office in the basement of Swain hall. We moved around some workstations to make room for more people, and I ran ethernet cables all over the place. Another time, I helped install security cameras in the art building, and had to run cables through the ceiling, across hallways, through offices, and finally to the networking closet. I made cables for new classrooms when we brought them online, and later for the labs when old cables got damaged or frayed.


In high school, we added on a sunroom to our house, so I took the opportunity to install ethernet jacks in the walls, and ran wires through the walls to the living room, new sunroom, my room, and my sister’s room.

I don’t really remember how I learned to do all that stuff. I was geeky (ok, maybe I still am), looked it up online, and did it. That’s the same way I learned to shave and tie a tie. I like creating things and connecting things, and networking does a good job of both.

So, this is a lot of work, but it vale la pena. I use two major programs to manage the lab, and without them, life would be much harder (and has been, since the Wi-Fi is flojo).

1. Control de Ciber (Cyber Control), a decent ad-supported internet café client that tracks time and lets you lock out and disable computers remotely. The new version has huge banner ads and changes all the defaults to Yahoo, which is a pain, but…. it is free!

2. Netsupport School, which lets you display the same image across every computer screen. We don’t have a projector, but this way, we can teach classes and control access to programs and websites during classes.

These work about half the time, because they require a reliable network. When the new network is up, they should be rock solid. Also, we’ll be able to have LAN parties!

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years

I'm staying in my site for New Years.  This will be the first major(ish) holiday that I haven't spent with other Volunteers, and while I like the ability to decline participation in large group activities, the site seems to be conspiring to make me regret my decision.

Let's talk about child abuse a bit. Say you have a kid, and the kid falls and hurts himself. Obviously, you go up to the kid, and start smacking his arms and back. If you are creative, grab a switch and beat him. Maybe throw some rocks. The kid should have known better. Or, let's say one of your kids is picking on his younger brother. The smaller kid is on the ground, being punched and kicked. Naturally, you egg it on, and yell for your neighbors to come out and watch. When it's over, you go over and beat the little kid, because he should have defended himself or have known better. If it is night time, you should probably go ahead and throw the kid out of your house and tell him to never come back.

Every so often, when I'm in my house at night cooking dinner, I'll hear wimpering at the front door. You can't take the kid back to his house, where he'll just get beaten more, and you can't really let him stay at your place, either. So you load up a Spanish-dubbed Pixar film on your laptop, make some chocolate milk, and open a pack of cookies and wait for him to calm down. If your battery is dead and there's no power, you can play the game where you each try to draw a cat/goat/car with your headlamp turned off, and then laugh at the squiggly-lined blob on your paper.  Is his grandma home? Yes. Go to the grandma's house. She starts yelling at him, neighbors come out. Public shaming. He runs away. Go back to your house, pull out the spare mosquito net, and blow up the "self inflating" sleeping pad that you pulled out of the volunteer give-away box. Give him the spare toothbrush you keep for him, and make zombie faces in the mirror with the toothpaste foam.

I can't make parents hug their kids. I can't stop them from hitting them. That's the hardest part of being here--it's not the poverty or lack of water and power and sanitation and American food.

On the other side, I find myself in a great, smiling, happy, welcoming community. Kids run around and play all day, and at lunch, just showing up means you get a big heap of rice. As soon as I moved in, my neighbor decided I needed lunch every day, and I almost had to talk her into letting me pay her for it. Every single person I pass will do a fist pump or wave and smile and chat, including the workers out in the fields. My dog is a rock star, and more people probably know his name than mine. The crazy guy in town, who everyone told me to watch out for, brings me sugar cane stalks and soup, and shouts random words in English. I left a chair outside one night, and a neighbor swooped in to grab it. When I thought it was surely stolen, as soon as I opened my door in the morning, they brought it back and told me to be more careful. I got frustrated with trying to keep order in my lab, and the next time I went back, the youth I'm working with had organized themselves and were enforcing rules, and have worked out almost all the problems in the lab since then between themselves. The organization I'm working with has given me everything I've petitioned for. Little kids sit in my house and draw, and I put the pictures up on the wall. I've spent days with them playing with rocks, teaching them how to pet my dog.

I love waking up, making coffee (and chocolate milk for the muchachos), and chatting with the neighbors who come by to say good morning to my dog. I haven't had a bad morning yet in the batey, possibly because I can hit snooze on my phone alarm as many times as I want to.

So, yeah. Some stuff sucks. Some stuff is good. There is still nowhere else I'd rather be, even on New Year's. This adventure is almost over.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sweating in December

Batey life is going well. I spend most of the day playing with kids, supplying endless sheets of paper to draw on and fold into airplanes, and dealing countless hands of Uno. The lab is doing alright, and is pretty much running itself at this point. I have a group of youth who make sure it is open in the morning and in the afternoon, and while I’ve given up on any sort of work shift schedule, they make it work. We charge 5 pesos for an hour of internet, and don’t charge if you’re there to do school work.  The vast majority of people go to play Unreal Tournament and look at Facebook, which is fine. They’re learning how to use the keyboard and mouse, and in the case of Facebook, I doubt they have ever read or written this much in their lives. I do movie nights every once in a while, which are a hit until the power comes back on.


Every 15 minutes or so, the giant sugar cane trucks roll by and make the ground shake. My batey is off the main road, so we don’t have the sugar cane train, and the trucks have turned the road into dust 4” deep.  Zenia and I walked down to the other side of the canal one day to watch them cut cane, and we came back completely covered in dust. They set fire to the fields at night after they harvest, and the whole horizon turns to an eerie red glow. It rains ash during the day, and it collects in the corners of my house and gets caught in my mosquito net.


I took two kids to the regional Brigada Verde conference, which was pretty fun. We went to the island in the middle of lake Enriquillo, the giant below-sea-level salt lake that is slowly rising, which may make it possible to kayak from Puerto Principe to Barahona in a few years. Thar be crocodiles! And giant iguanas with red eyes!


Thanksgiving was a blast. Three other volunteers and I stayed at the country director’s house in the capital and baked pies for three days. He and his wife told us stories at dinner about all the things they’e done in all the countries they’ve lived in with all the different organizations they’ve worked for. For example—they went to a Soviet bloc country after the fall of communism, and had projects to essentially create a market economy. I forget if that was with Peace Corps or USAID. When he was a Peace Corps Volunteer, one of his projects was to introduce these small cows to the Andes that could deal with altitude better.


View from CD’s apt in Santo Domingo


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Safe Space training

Before she COS’d, Sarah and I started up a QPCV group. Following other PC countries, we may end up naming it Volunteer Diversity and Support. The three main goals are:

Q Volunteer support

Raise staff and admin awareness

Influence new Volunteer training

This past Tuesday, Ellen, Nora, and I pulled off the first Safe Space (Espacio Seguro) training in PCDR! The training director gave us an entire day with the whole training staff and medical officers, without really knowing what we were going to do. The level of support that we have gotten from the administration has been pretty surprising, and we hope to duplicate the training for the rest of the staff and admin.  I think that we were able to start a lot of good conversations, and if nothing else, got the training staff to think about culturally-taboo topics. It was a little strange having the teacher/student positions switched—most of the participants were once teaching us about Dominican culture and how to speak Spanish, and here we were, giving a day-long training session.

The difficulty that we face now is keeping the group active, and trying to develop useful training materials for the admin and new volunteers. Ellen is going to sit down with the training director to go over the curriculum they use during training, in the hopes of weeding out heteronormativity, and making them more open to different voices. The fact that they are asking us to work with them, instead of us trying to convince them, is huge.

So, hopefully, we can leave Peace Corps Dominican Republic more open and inclusive than when we found it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why does it feel like it’s ending?

So.  I have less than 9 months left here. Let’s review!



  • Adult literacy classes
  • Adult literacy computer classes
  • I lost 10 pounds (where’d they go?)
  • Computer repair class
  • American music radio program
  • Ran a half-marathon
  • Got a dog (BEAN!)
  • Sex ed/environmental awareness youth group
  • Taught English in a high school
  • Tons of cholera prevention classes, in high school and rural communities
  • English teacher training workshops
  • I site-changed from a large town near the capital to a sugar cane work camp in the desert.
  • Became a whole lot less introverted
  • Set up a computer lab (awesome project- want to do this in 4 more communities)
  • Shaved my head twice
  • Basic computer classes


  • Water filter project (50 filters) (ongoing)
  • Supervise adult literacy program in new site
  • Finish plumbing and flooring new house
  • Health/sanitation charlas
  • Train lab managers (I miss my UNC Labbies!)
  • Create lab support team
  • More computer repair classes
  • More basic computer classes
  • Get thousands of condoms, and teach how to use them
  • Get internet for 4 labs
  • …make 4 labs sustainable…
  • 27 Charcos (jumping off 27 waterfalls)
  • Climb Pico Duarte (highest point in the Carribbean)
  • Figure out why I can’t feel two fingers on my left hand
  • Apply to grad schools
  • Learn how to cook beans

I’ve been here a long time, I should have been able to do more.  I wasted a lot of time watching the entire Battlestar Galactica series, QAF, and a few seasons of Futurama and The Simpsons on my laptop while in a site that I didn’t believe in. 

My first project partner, Sugeidy, was phenomenal. Seriously, she is one of the most amazing people I’ve met. I felt like I was holding her back, because I thought too small.  She lived for progress, and simply didn’t believe in being stopped.  She could raise money, gain support, carry out projects, and be done before I had fully convinced myself that we could do it. Her mom adopted me, and made sure that I ate a good Dominican lunch every day. 

In the batey I have Eduard and Mirta, and they’re incredibly involved with community progress.  They were working before I got here, and they’ll continue after I leave.  So, this time, I’m giving a lot of leeway.  When I talk about the lab with Eduard, he already hits all the main points I want to make, so I just try to give some oomph to the project, and fill in all the technical cracks.  Mirta is a health coordinator for another batey, and I’ve seen her issue contraceptives to campesinos.  She was the first person I met in the batey, and she completely opened her home to me (she even cleaned out a room, and said I could stay there whenever I wanted).  Her kids are my best friends in site, and are probably what made me decide to change sites. 

The lab project is what I was recruited for.  World Vision donated money for Indotel (Instituto Dominicano del Telefono, or Dominican Telephone Institute, I swear the two languages are the same sometimes…) to build the lab, but no one is actually making it WORK.  That’s what IT for EDU volunteers are for! I’ve gotten the entire lab set up software-wise, and just finished setting up the wireless network.  They can now charge for services, and track usage.

I also, ah, set it up so they can have Unreal Tournament LAN parties… This quickly eclipsed MS Paint in popularity.  Bienvenidos a the newest group of Dominicans who talk about frags! The computers also have Encarta (encyclopedia), and in order to reach the games they have to know how to navigate the file system, so I figure it’s a net gain.



I’ve also been thinking about Eve. This is where her memorial marker is, in the UNC Arboretum.  I didn’t get a lot of stuff back then about service and progress, and I remember her telling me about them. I think I’m starting to get it, just a few years late.  So, Hey. To all my friends who figured this out long ago, I wish I could share all this now with you back then.

New House

I’m finally making progress with the new house! 


The living room/kitchen. I spent a long time sweeping it—the owner was using the house to raise chickens. It was not pretty.


The bathroom. Yeah, no plumbing, but lots of rocks.  Not sure why there are rocks.


My bedroom! It has a window, but it is boarded up right now. Notice how nice and flat-ish the floor is—I spent a few hours with some jovenes digging dead tree roots and stuff out of it. 


The neighborhood!


Mirta, my next door neighbor, has this little window that her kids sell water and lemonade bags out of.