Well here we are at last. It only took 3 months but I finally got myself into gear and became a full-force official “blogger.” If you are looking at this, I have tricked you into thinking that my life is interesting enough to warrant you spending your time reading about it. Either that or you are my mom who has spent the better part of the past 3 months looking at other people’s blogs. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me “hey is your mom’s name Marilyn because she just befriended me on facebook.” Hi Mom! Anyway, whether you are my mom or not, thank you for reading. On my end I will try my best to only include the funnier and more exciting parts of my day-to-day life and leave out all the boring fluff.
To start things off…I am currently listening to some of the choice cuts from the most recent (not the last by a long shot) T.W.O show at Carousel Lounge that Dan sent me and they are amazing! I highly recommend that you make your way to http://www.wonderfulorganization.com/ as soon as possible and check them out! Maybe you can even hear yourself heckling in the crowd. We also did a few recordings just before I left that should be on the website sometime soon as well. Talking about music might be a good place to start in describing my experience thus far because the first thing I discovered upon getting off the plane in Miami was that the fragile sticker on my guitar was out of date or something because the headstock was almost completely broken off of the neck and with it all my dreams. We were informed that there was a change of plans because of the political situation in Honduras and that we would be starting our training in The Dominican Republic. Since we were leaving in three separate groups spread out over three days, I had a whole day to walk to the nearest Home Depot, buy supplies to fix my guitar, and in the meantime spend some time getting to know my roommate Luke who was nice enough to join me on the 5 mile walk through suburban Miami. As it turns out, my guitar is now in working order and I have been writing a lot of music which has been great. I have aspirations to somehow record them in the next couple of months so I can send them to the T-dub crew to make them awesome. Then I’m hoping we can put them down for real when I come home to visit. So that brings us to The Dominican Republic- guitar intact, dreams repaired, backpack busting at the seams, ready to go. In the words of Samuel L in Jurassic Park, “hold on to your butts.”
THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
There’s an old saying that’s probably not very old at all that says that the national religion of the D.R is… baseball and that the national pastime is… gossip. It sounds better when there are real pauses. Baseball, beaches, beer, bachata, babes, busses that are crazy are all things you can easily find in this beautiful country. There are other things that don’t start with the letter “b” but they aren’t worth mentioning. People all seem to applaud us for sticking with Peace Corps even though we have been run around so much but we are actually probably the luckiest group out there because our extra time in the D.R was awesome! We spent the first night sweating through the sheets at a monastery in Santo Domingo and then went the next morning to the training center where we would be spending the next three weeks. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe the madness that is the streets of Santo Domingo. Lots of people yelling, motorcycles racing each other, cars not adhering to any kind of traffic laws, sneers, jeers, and a lot Dominicans wondering what these hordes of gringos were doing trying to navigate the circus. We were set up with host families, which was pretty incredible considering the staff only had 2 days notice that we were coming. A number of us were living in the Los Cocos barrio either in the same little compound or within a few seconds of each other which made the living experience a blast. Most days were spent at the training center doing training stuff but as soon as we all turned the corner into Los Cocos in the late afternoon, we could see our family already sitting out in the street bumping the jams from the nearest colmado (food store/neighborhood hangout), playing dominoes, and gossiping about how weird we were. I loved that street corner. It was the site of many a dominoes game, a couple different late night cookouts of rice and sausage in a big witch like cauldron (a Saturday night tradition called “locrio”), and presidente beverages with the family. Luke and I were paired up again for some reason and lived in the house of Doña Luisa while our friends Christine and Miles lived above us with our host mom’s son and daughter who both had their own families and lived in two separate apartments. Miles played Ultimate in college at the University of Illinois and claims he remembers me. I´m not so sure if I believe it but I wish I had known him! If he wasn’t in the PC he seriously was going to join a circus as a professional juggler. I could have learned to juggle so much sooner! I’m working on learning some of the tricks these days so be prepared to be wowed when I return. On the weekends, we played “pass the pig,” a hilarious game that involves rolling two plastic pigs and acquiring points based on how they land. It’s mostly just funny to see people get really into it and shout out “Oh yeah I got a double-snouter!” We also went to the beach a couple of times and got rained on both times but still had a lot of fun. One of the beaches was mtv spring break Dominican style and was packed and really dirty, but the other was almost completely vacant and really beautiful. The first weekend we were there our family invited us all to a baby shower and told us to get ready for a good time. Remembering my brother’s baby shower which fell just short of being the best time of my life, I was expecting old ladies watching a young lady open presents and then playing games that really get the heart rate going. This turned out to be a completely different type of fun. Baby shower is to the D.R as bachelor party is to the U.S. Huge speakers were set up in a parking lot to blast meringue and bachata music while games were set up on the other side of the dance floor. One such game was a lovely contest where a female would sit on a male’s lap and he would “feed” her a baby bottle full of beer. Take down notes Will because I expect to see this at the next one if you want me to be your wingman again. The last weekend, the family decided that we needed to celebrate my birthday a month early since I wouldn’t be there to celebrate the real thing. So Suel, our host sister, took us all out in a big group of Dominicans and gringos to a fancy bar. Throughout the night, as we were dancing, the dj kept announcing “and don’t forget that there will be strippers here later.” I thought it was strange but when I asked if he was serious all the Dominicans just laughed and wondered why I would even be wondering such a thing as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Well it turned out that it was male strippers who came out dressed as hot cops. As disappointed as I was to see the objectification of the male body, these guys were professionals and really knew how to get the party going. It turned out to be a very memorable night that came to a close around 5 in the morning after a round of locrio in the street. All in all, The Dominican Republic was an awesome place with really amazing and super friendly people. I ate a lot of mangos, plátanos in various forms, and strange meats. I couldn’t understand a word of the Spanish but it was a blast and I was sad to leave. My intestines were probably ready to go though and I was excited to get to our real destination. While in the airport, we were informed that yet again something had happened in Honduras and that we would have to suffer 5 horrible days in the Doubletree Hotel in Miami with nothing to do but lounge by the pool and eat good food. I don’t even want to recall those dark days. But on July 20 something, we finally made it to Honduras. Yea!
We spent the first week and a half just outside Tegucigalpa in a place called Zarabanda up in the mountains where the people complained about the heat if it was any temperature above 75°F which it rarely was. I was put up with a host family that lived in a small little compound just off the highway that ran from Tegucigalpa all the way to Valle de Angeles along which all of the volunteers were spread out. We were really lucky to have the closeness we got in the DR and extra time in Miami because there is no way we would have been such a close group if we had spent the whole time living so far away from each other. My family ran a little pulperia (the equivalent of a colmado) out of their house so people were coming in and out a lot but I spent most of my time sitting out in the little courtyard talking about ghosts with my host mom. “Are there a lot of ghosts in the United States,” she asked one day. “Well of course there are. Are there a lot here?” She informed me that around midnight some nights a ghost came down the street driving a truck that had tires full of skulls. I thought I heard it one night but it was just a flat tire. They were great people and took good care of me. We had a couple days of training all together in Zarabanda before we departed with our individual projects to different “field based training” sites. Youth Development went to a somewhat bigger town called Talanga that was about 2 ½ hours from Tegucigalpa by bus. Busses here are quite the trip. All of them are school busses that I suppose were shipped down from the U.S because they still have the school district written on the side. I can’t wait to find a bus from Texas that I recognize. The drivers also pimp them out with speakers, neon paint, and various religious holograms. It’s great. Talanga was not the greenest of cities but had a nice backdrop of mountains that were best viewed from the roof of the giant mansion I was living in. My host father was the former mayor and provided me with any luxury due to a peace corps volunteer. They decided the first weekend that we were there that we needed to celebrate my real birthday which really was that weekend. I neglected to tell them that I had already celebrated. We were all sitting up on the roof chatting it up when my host mom came up to tell me the music was starting. They had hired a mariachi band just for plain old me! We danced and looked like fools. Luckily for us, someone was video taping the whole thing and it was replayed in its entirety, completely unedited, the next night on “Talangavision,” the local station. Training was actually very busy and we spent most days from 8-5 learning how to work with the youth of Honduras and then going out and giving charlas or workshops to classes of various ages. Dental care to kindergarteners, HIV to high schoolers (I couldn’t stop giggling obviously), Life skills to middle schoolers, etc. My Spanish class did a community project with the local boy scout troup to adopt an area of town and keep it clean. We started with a movie night to raise funds which actually worked really well and was exciting to see everyone coming together. Then we met with the mayor, met with the troup, planned stuff, and had a big clean up day. It turned out pretty well. My host dad also took me out to their farm a lot where I could ride around on horses and feel like a cowboy while he did real cowboy stuff. I grew to really love Talanga but I was ready to leave and get to the real thing. We left after 7 weeks and my host mom cried. This was now the third crying mother I had experienced in less than 2 months (Houston, DR, Talanga). We came back to Zarabanda and came back together as the whole group and moved back in with our original host families. We were supposed to just have a few days going over last minute procedural stuff and then departing for our sites but once again the proverbial mierda hit the ventilador. Ole Mel had snuck back into the country and walled himself up in the Brazilian embassy. There were two straight days of 24hour curfews, the power was going in and out, and all cell phone signals were intermittently shut off. At least that was the case for the first couple hours. But after that it was all calm and nobody was out doing anything. It was like a snow day! Things were only really happening in the city (Tegucigalpa) so we hardly noticed. But after a weeks delay we were finally ready to go to site. On site announcement day I found out that I was going to El Tular, Valle in the southern most department of Honduras. Hondurans could tell me nothing about the place except for the same joke every time that when the devil comes to Honduras he stays away from the south because its to hot for him. Well I was nervous in general but for the most part very excited so I didn’t care. The night before the swearing in ceremony I decided to join some of my friends in shaving a mustache for the occasion. Based on the fact that my family thought me reading in a chair was hilarious, you can imagine how much they laughed when I was shaving outside and then when my friend Josh came over to touch his up with a little hair dye. The ceremony was at the American embassy and we celebrated and said a tearful goodbye to each other that night as we braced for the isolation that was ahead of us. I left the next morning after consoling my 4th crying mother and headed down south to El Tular.
We are almost to present time. Thank you so much for still reading and I promise the next posts won’t be so ridiculously long. I arrived to my site late last week and was picked up at a gas station just outside of town. We turned off the paved road and onto the dirt road that would be my home for the next 2 years. El Tular is very flat and very small but is within 30 minutes of both San Lorenzo, a bustling little fishing town, and Amapala, an island famous for beautiful beaches. The town is surrounded my low lying green hills whose sharp features make me think of that movie Congo for some reason. I really have barely seen that movie but it always comes to mind. It actually does look a lot like an African savanna here. We are in the rainy season so it is pretty green and the giant expanses of grass and flat- topped jícaro trees look straight out of National Geographic. The inedible jícaro fruit looks like a really big granny smith but it grows directly out of the bark and not from the branches. It looks like they were just glued to the tree. I’ve never seen anything like it. I moved in to Doña Francisca´s house where I was immediately informed that I had to go buy a bed. So I went into town and now I have a bed. She is the grandmother of the two little boys that run around in their underwear all day because both their parents are in the U.S just as hundreds of others from this community are. Its really amazing and I have already heard young people talking about wanting to learn English so they can go to the states soon. There is also a great grandmother who is blind and with whom I have now had two horrifying interactions with because she didn’t know I was right next to her. I’ll leave those to the imagination or personal conversation. I spent this week meeting my various counterparts that I will be working with and trying to figure out my best plan of attack for starting. The community wants some really cool things and I am excited to be a part of it but it will be a challenge to get things moving especially since school is letting out for the next 2 months next week. I also walk around a lot. Some people just slow down, but others come to a complete stop to stare at me unable to say anything as they wonder what in the world this giant goofy looking gringo is doing in their town. But everyone is very very nice and I already hear my name a lot as I pass different houses. It feels really strange at times like any new place would for the first couple of weeks, especially when you don’t know a soul. But I am very excited for the present and future. I miss you all very much and think about how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do. I also have a mailing address now!
Eduardo Mathis VCP
San Lorenzo, Valle
No numbers. They’ll call me when something comes that’s why you have to write Eduardo. I’m really getting into letter writing so I promise I will write back. Until the next time. Thanks for reading.