Countdown

The countdown has begun. I have 50 days left in the Dominican Republic – wow!

Mostly I’m excited by that number. Mostly I’m ready. Mostly I’m content with what I’ve done in this country – my Peace Corps bucket list is looking pretty solid. But it’s still weird to actually have a set-in-stone departure date, which I haven’t had since I started tacking on time to my service as the original 2 years came to an end. And it’s weird to actually start imagining the goodbyes that are to come.

I have SO much work left to do in the next 50 days that it gives me panic to even think about it, but going home is the light at the end of this crazy busy work tunnel that I’ll be in for the next 7 weeks so that is very motivating. The water system construction is going pretty well but if I’ve learned anything in my time here it’s that nothing goes as planned so I’m crossing my fingers that we can stick to our work plan and finish digging a little over 1km more of trenches to finish the pipeline and build two gulley crossings, a 40,000L ferrocement tank and 70 tapstands to finish out the project. And I also have double fingers crossed that this crazy drought ends so that there will actually be enough water to fill the tank at a reasonable rate and test the system before I go.

Although I’m a bit stressed about this last leg of my Peace Corps service, I also have a lot of fun stuff planned before I go too! In a few weeks I’m heading down south with friends to celebrate the departure of a few volunteers in San Juan de la Maguana and then heading to a beach called San Rafeal on the south coast that supposedly has the most beautiful beach/cliff views in the country. That will sadly be my last Caribbean beach trip for quite a while. Then during Semana Santa (the week before Easter) I have a short work week so I’ll be able to spend the long weekend visiting my old community for the last time. And finally, just over a week before I fly out I’ll get to attend the inauguration of a close friend’s water system which will be a great chance to celebrate a happy occasion and say some goodbyes to my PCV friends. I also have to spend a few days in the capital in April to interview with various Peace Corps office staff and get medical approval to leave the country and then I have to return to the capital again right at the very end to turn in my motorcycle helmet, water filter, medical kit, mosquito net, etc. Most volunteers fly out of the capital right after all that but I opted to book my own flight for a couple days later and out of an airport closer to my site so that I can go back to pick up the puppy and my luggage and make our travel situation a bit easier. Then Maya and I have a two-leg red-eye flight to get us to NC on May 12th!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this roller coaster experience. I’m so excited to see you all stateside this summer!

Hey there.

Hey there – long time, no talk!

Not much new here, just working and sweating and itching as usual – winter is long gone here and the sun and bugs are back in full swing.

I haven’t posted much lately so here’s a photo recap of the last couple months – highlights were going to AMERICA for Christmas, starting work on the new (and final!) water system and my mom and Janice’s visit to the DR!

Cute puppy + my Christmas house

Cute puppy + my house decorated for Christmas

Every year I have confused more and more Dominican children by making paper snowflakes at Christmas and then trying to explain that snow is actually not that big...

Every year I have confused more and more Dominican children by making paper snowflakes at Christmas and then trying to explain that snow is actually not that big…

Negative 12 inches! This was 2.5 months ago and the little girls in my community still haven't stopped asking me why oh why I would do such a terrible thing like cut my hair

Day 1 in America: Negative 12 inches! This was 2.5 months ago and the little girls in my community still haven’t stopped asking me why oh why I would do such a terrible thing like cut my hair

Go heels go!

Go Heels Go!

Central Park: first sight of snow in 3 years!

Central Park: first sight of snow in 3 years!

Baking inspiration! There were lots of NY landmarks made from gingerbread, like the Empire State Building, etc but of course the one with puppies was my favorite

Baking inspiration! There were lots of landmarks made from gingerbread, like the Empire State Building, etc but of course the one with puppies was my favorite

Feliz Navidad!

Christmas in America!

Sugar cookies and peppermint chocolate cupcakes

Sugar cookies and peppermint chocolate cupcakes, yum!

My 26th Birthday celebrate with mom and Margy

My 26th birthday celebration with mom and Margy

I'm so ready to leave the DR, but this sure is my kind of January - blue skies, pink flowers and warm sunshine!

I’m so ready to leave the DR, but this sure is my kind of January – blue skies, pink flowers and warm sunshine!

Thanks Amy, Chloe and Preston for the incredible Christmas package! We just scratched the surface of all the awesome art supplies you sent on this coloring day with the kids and we used some of the supplies to decorate masks for Carnaval in February which was a huge hit. They are so excited to do more projects soon! Also, Maya loved her Star Wars toys and she has definitely done her part to protect the galaxy by decapitating the Storm Trooper and eating the arms off Darth Vader :)

Thanks Amy, Chloe and Preston for the incredible Christmas package! We just scratched the surface of all the awesome art supplies you sent on this first coloring day upon my return from the States. We have since used many more of the supplies to decorate masks for Carnaval and color many more pictures and they are so excited to do more projects soon! Also, Maya loved her Star Wars toys and she has definitely done her part to protect the galaxy by decapitating the Storm Trooper and biting the arms off Darth Vader :)

A huge thanks to Lisa for the stickers and pencils - such a huge hit with all the kids! All their school notebooks are now decked out in Lisa Frank!

A huge thanks to Lisa for the stickers and pencils – such a huge hit with all the kids! All their school notebooks are now decked out in Lisa Frank!

Installing the plumbing at the spring box... now if only it would rain to fill up those pipes!

Installing the plumbing at the spring box

Not a shabby view for a day of work

Digging trenches for the pipeline

Puppy naptime

Sleepy puppy

Happy Water Inauguration Jenni!

Happy Water Inauguration Jenni!

Mom + Janice

Mom + Janice – Thanks to both of you for such a wonderful vacation!

Las Galeras, Samana, DR

Las Galeras, Samana, DR

Whale watching!

Whale watching!

Momma and baby humpback whales!

Momma and baby humpback whales!

Whale tail!

Whale tail! I didn’t focus too much on taking pictures so for more shots see https://www.facebook.com/whalesamana. Our trip was the afternoon of February 23 where we followed a mother and calf pair and saw the mom breach right by the boat and lots of calf tail flips

So that’s what’s up from December until now. I’ll try to keep posting some over the next couple months but I’m mostly focused on trying to wrap things up and get out of here! The countdown has begun (although my official departure date is still undecided) so, somewhere between 65 and 94 days left!

festive

My community started putting up Christmas decorations yesterday in the center of ‘town’. Once evening came and it started to get chilly, some of the women built a fire in the street and made a huge cauldron of ginger tea for everyone to keep warm and to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. The festive atmosphere and cold weather were enjoyable enough but it got even better when some of the little girls started giggling uncontrollably while playing with a plastic grocery bag. For quite a while they batted it into the air and cracked up as it floated down. They were laughing so hard and just having the best time that I couldn’t help but crack up with them. It was a nice reminder to find joy in the simple things and time with friends and family this holiday season. Happy December everyone!

{pictures of the community decorations to come when they finish putting them up and we have electricity at night!}

Feliz Halloween!

I had a little Halloween shindig at my house this year for the kids. I’m still finding pieces of tape and scraps of paper in every nook and cranny of my house but it was worth it because they LOVED it. I made paper decorations, bought cheap candy and soda from the colmado down the street and carved a slightly crooked jack-o-lantern using an auyama, which is pretty similar to pumpkin, just green on the outside instead of orange. I told the kids to inventar any costume they wanted and a few really went for it, including a witch in a red plastic cloak covered in moons and stars that she made herself and a zombie with cut up clothes (which I hoped she asked her mom permission to do!) but mostly the girls just showed up in pretty dresses and I helped them turn into princesses and butterflies. My site mate Jim taught the kids how to make glasses and mustaches with pipe cleaners which was a great success as well. I wore a free and easy jack-o-lantern costume made from an orange shirt, black paper cutouts and a green headband and surprisingly the kids knew what I was… a pumpkin with face, as they called it. “Mira! Elena es una calabaza con una cara!” Overall, it was a great little crafting party and the kids keep asking when we’re making costumes again… I might just have to have a Christmas costume party to appease them!

the decor

the decor

most popular costumes: princess w/ paper crown and wand, butterfly with paper wings and pipe cleaner antenna, and pipe cleaner glasses were a nice addition to all the costumes!

the costumes: princesses with paper crowns and wands, butterflies with paper wings and pipe cleaner antenna, witches with paper hats, a zombie, and a devil. and pipe cleaner glasses were worn by all!

and then i sent the kids home with candy and soda. feliz halloween!

and then i sent the kids home with candy and soda. feliz halloween!

Lately + Upcoming

Things have been crazy and up in the air lately but now that everything is settled, it’s time to share the news. I’m officially extending my service until May 2014. The funding for my final project has taken longer than expected to come through so for a while I debated staying or not but the funding is promised to arrive within the week (!!!) so I have opted to stay 6 extra months so I can finish everything I set out to do here. I figure I have the rest of my life to have a regular job and live in America but right now, even if it’s hard sometimes, I really do have the best job ever (except not getting paid…) and I’d rather stick it out a while longer than leave with regrets and unfinished business. So that means 6 more months to come visit me in the Caribbean! FYI, it’s whale watching season at my favorite beach in the country (Las Galeras on the Samana Peninsula, look it up!) in February and March. Make it happen people!

Between many trips to the capital to get my project and extension sorted out, these past couple months have been busy in my communities too. In early September we inaugurated the water system in my old community. After living there for over a year and a half and struggling to get the project going due to various issues with funding and land rights, I thought the project was done for when I suddenly had to move last winter but thanks to my PCVL Gabe, our tecnico Raul and my awesome water committee (and my new community for their patience as I traveled back to my old site so often!), we managed to make the project happen still. In late June the brigades finished installing all the pipes and we got the system up and running with plans to celebrate the inauguration in mid July but due to some issues with the electricity, the pump stopped running for a while and unfortunately we had to push the inauguration back. But in early September we finally got to celebrate the communities of La Guamita and Las Auyamas and their huge accomplishment of a potable water system. Many of my Peace Corps friends joined us for a ceremony, a delicious lunch and some dancing. We also took an afternoon trip to La Presa, a nearby beautiful lake with some of my friends from the community. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate the water system that the communities and I have been working towards for 2.5 years!

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Cutting the ribbon for the tap at the school with the director of the funding organization, the mayor and the water committee president

Opening the tap... they sprayed us all!

Opening the tap… they sprayed us all!

Post-ceremony at the school

Post-ceremony at the school

Peace Corps reppin' hard. Thanks for the support, amigos!

Peace Corps reppin’ hard. Thanks for the support, amigos!

To be honest, when I was site changing last year, I really only agreed to it so that I could stay in the country to work on my old project instead of coming home early and leaving the project to likely never be finished. I never thought my new project would mean as much to me and it almost felt like an obligation that I had to fulfill in order to remain in Peace Corps and be able to travel back to my old site. I really thought that I would feel a sense of completion in my service after the inauguration of my original project but I guess over these last 10 months my new community has found its way into my heart and after some hard thinking about if I wanted to stay for the duration of this new project, I really feel that I would regret not fulfilling my promises to the new community who has so graciously adopted me. So here I am, about 6.5 months away from finishing 3 years of Peace Corps service with un montón of work left to do. But it’s a good feeling. Both of the projects I’ve finished so far were huge struggles due to technical issues, living arrangements/commuting and working with the most difficult funding organization ever but I feel confident that this third time around will be easier. I will only have one open project instead of two and there will be no commuting involved other than the short walk to wherever in the community we are working that day, and the new funding org is much easier to work with. Plus I’m surer of my own abilities and this is the smallest/simplest system I have worked on yet. In addition to the water system, we are also in the midst of a trashcan initiative and health promotion activities, and we will be installing bio-sand water filters in all the houses early next year. I am also working with other water volunteers to plan a training workshop for the plumbers and technicians from our communities who will be responsible for maintaining our water systems after we leave. And I hope to visit my old communities as frequently as possible in my last months here. We’re planning a trashcan initiative there as well and some repairs to the community center, which is currently an open-air structure with a leaky roof. We will be putting in a back wall while leaving the other three sides open, fixing the roof, painting the structure and building a table and benches that will remain there permanently so people don’t have to bring their own plastic chairs for meetings. It’s going to be a busy 6 months but I’m excited for it. And I’m glad I won’t be readjusting to life in America during the winter now!

Some miscellaneous pictures from the past couple months:

I didn't believe they could fit all 13 trashcans on one pickup truck but "siempre uno mas"

I didn’t believe they could fit all 13 trashcans on one pickup truck but “siempre uno mas”

Kids painting the trashcans with Brigada Verde (Green Brigade... it's Peace Corps' environmental youth group) slogans

Kids painting the trashcans with Brigada Verde (Green Brigade… it’s Peace Corps’ environmental youth group) slogans

Thanks CIEE Service Learning!

Thanks CIEE Service Learning!

View down the street from in front of my house

View down the street from in front of my house

Best hitchhiking experience: the back of an empty safari guagua with ocean views in the distance

Best hitchhiking experience: the back of an empty safari guagua with ocean views in the distance

My Peace Corps issued water filter in action. Yes, the water from my tap really is that dirty sometimes (usually only after a big rainstorm that stirs up the river where the water comes from), but luckily it comes out of the filter crystal clear and potable!

My Peace Corps issued water filter in action. Yes, the water from my tap really is that dirty sometimes (usually only after a big rainstorm that stirs up the river where the water comes from), but luckily it comes out of the filter crystal clear and potable!

Pictures + homemade frames for my Chicas Brillantes girls from my old site

Pictures + homemade frames for my Chicas Brillantes girls from my old site

Also, because my mom always asks about the puppy, here’s an update and a more recent picture of Maya! She is such a sweet puppy but also a bit wild and crazy, and quite the little weirdo with her crooked ears, which I need to capture a picture of soon before they change. She’s almost 6 months old now and getting so big, at least by Dominican campo standards (>20 lbs). Most of the other dogs don’t like to play much but it doesn’t seem to bother her and she still tries to play with any and all dogs she sees. Her best friends are other Peace Corps dogs so we visit them as much as we can for play dates. She loves toys and treats (thanks mom and Ryan!) and pieces of cow bones she finds out in the woods near the butcher shop. And although I feed her puppy food twice a day, in true Dominican fashion her favorite food is rice, which she eats at lunchtime daily. She is almost fully vaccinated now, just waiting until my next paycheck for her final round and next month we will hopefully visit a vet clinic that comes twice a year to a town just a couple hours away to get her spayed.

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Very impatiently watching the trashcan painting activity… She just wanted to play!

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With two of her favorites: a piece of cow bone and my yoga mat

With my site mate Jim (or Tio Yimi/Uncle Jimmy to Maya) who she loves so much that she's always overcome with excitement and just can't help but try to eat his hands every time she sees him

With my site mate Jim (or Tio Yimi/Uncle Jimmy to Maya) who she loves so much that she’s always overcome with excitement and just can’t help but try to eat his hands every time she sees him