Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Post

Well gang, it's been a while since I put anything up. I apologize for leaving that depressing, but accurate, message up for so long. I have been swamped in schoolwork and family for the past few weeks, so doing this has not been first and foremost on my mind.

So, what's happened since then? A lot.

I was able to return to the campo with my dad and brother. This time was much better. Unfortunately, the public transport was not running that day, so we had to take two taxis there, which costs a whole lot more than expected. It was so familiar, yet so different. I was out of my depression/confusion spiral, and I felt like I was able to see and experience more. My family was so happy to see me and to meet my family. At times, it was a bit strained because neither of them speak a lick of Spanish and mine's not fantastic, but I was able to act as a decent translator. We only had an afternoon there, but showing them around and letting them see the place where I had lived and struggled for 10 days was incredible.

The next week, my mom and sister rolled into Santiago as well. It was great to see them as well, but during these two weeks was probably the worst time for them to show up. I was in the midst of writing my 15-page paper for EDP and also taking a MultiCultural Psychology class from 6:30-9:30 every night. Thankfully, I was able to show both sets of travelers my service site at the Cien Fuegos School.

How are those kids, you ask? Crazy as always, but that's nothing new. The past few weeks have been especially frustrating because it seems like the kids have given up learning. Before, there was some spark, some interest, in schoolwork. Lately, however, all of them seem distracted and their fights seem more vindictive. I don't know whether I'm just noticing more now or something has changed. Anyways, it has made it more difficult to keep a smile on and show them that I love them despite almost everything they do. It is hard to stay mad at these kids though. When they consistently converge upon me, hugging me and shouting my name, begging me not to leave, fighting to hold my hand, it's hard to hold a grudge.

Also, if you want a fun image, the kids have found out they can grab onto my shirt now. While I'm walking around during recess, I have about 4 of them holding on to the back of my t-shirt, 4 more clinging to my arms, and the rest with their hands stuck in the pockets of my jeans. I've started playing this game with them lately. It's similar to tag, but I think I'm just "it" the whole time. I can't really understand when they explain the rules, but they swarm around me, touching me, shouting "lito," and then running off. So I run around after them, trying to tag as many as I can, but it's like chasing a school of fish: you have to pick one out and go for it or you get lost in the sea of moving bodies. Also, did I forget to mention that, while this is going on, the rest of the kids try to drag me down by grabbing me and my shirt? They flock around me to the point that I can hardly walk and then start jumping on my back. Honestly, it's like a scene from a horror movie: I'm surrounded by flailing limbs and struggling to maintain my balance before collapsing under their combined weight.

This past weekend, we went to the border town of Dajabon. I can't say much about that now, mainly because it was too much to process. I was standing in the Dominican Republic and looking at Haiti, separated by the narrow Massacre River. As we arrived, they opened the gates on the bridge, allowing thousands of Haitians to stream over into the marketplace that is open only on Mondays and Fridays. Many of them looked happy to have the opportunity to make money, but everyone's face was tinged with a note of weariness. Orphans circulated, carrying loads back and forth across the bridge to make enough money to eat. Men wheeled large carts and shouldered too-heavy canvass bags while women carried crates and clothing on their heads. We stood there for about 15 minutes, and the flow showed no signs of stopping. I could see thousands more milling around on the other side of the river, some bathing in it, waiting for the opportunity to come over. We also drove along the International Highway: on the left side of the road was the DR, on the right was Haiti. Haiti had so much less greenery, a product of the massive deforestation; however, this leaves the people there with little arable land. The houses were packed tightly together, sharing walls to reduce the amount of wood needed for construction. Little kids ran alongside our bus, shouting, whether for money or for us to take them, I know not. It was like a bad dream, and, like the worst ones, I could do nothing about it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ok, here's the low down.

The immersion was great, but difficult. I've been holding in a lot of emotions and stresses and tensions, and those built up to a boiling point in the campo. I'll admit, up until now, I've lived an incredibly sheltered life. I went to public school, but I was still sheltered there. With everything I've been seeing here, especially the kids at the school in the urban slum, it's been a big shock. Also, I came into this experience thinking that I could change things, that I could fix the situation. While I cognitively realized that I can't do anything here, especially in light of so many needs that can be fixed, I still felt that I was expected to fix things. That pressure has been building and building, adding to frustrations that I already had about the whole experience.

Add in the fact that I'm an empathetic and emotional kid, and that just exacerbates the situation. I do well being there for people and try to take away their pain. If you've seen the Green Mile, I'm sorta like that big black guy in it. I try to take on other people's pain as my own. This works well when I can help them get rid of it, but taking on that extra burden as my own and expecting to fix it when I can't was driving me crazy. I've been torturing myself for quite a while now.

I've been trying to make sense of all of the difficult things I've seen and failing. I over analyzed everything about the situation, looking for the solution, only to find none. Instead of accepting it, I kept looking, going deeper and deeper into my head to the point that I wasn't living or really experiencing things here. It was just so painful to confront the realities without being able to make sense of it all that it was much easier to retreat into my mind. The reason why I do so well in school is because there is a right answer, and, usually, I'm pretty good at finding it; however, here, I couldn't accept that until now.

At the same time, I have been edging away from both Blair and Paul. I didn't know what was wrong, but I was avoiding them for some reason and not taking advantage of their friendship and their advice. As a result, I've felt alone, stressed, confused, and overwhelmed for quite some time now. I thought I'd figured out what was wrong a few times, but that only proved to be a false hope. Thankfully, neither of them gave up on me. They forced me to look at what I'd been doing to myself and to the people here in this community. I didn't realize how miserable and depressed I had been until I was forced to look at it.

The bad news is, these feelings aren't going to go away, the situation is not going to magically resolve itself. The good news is, I know what was bothering me and can work to fix it. It's not going to be easy, but at least now I have a fighting chance with both of them and the rest of the community here helping me out. I know it sounds like the ending of a cheesy movie, but I'm so glad to be feeling like myself for the first time in a while. All the stress and worry had me acting like someone else, and right now it feels like I'm relearning how to walk bit by bit.

This isn't my whole situation, but it's the best I've been able to think about and describe it for a long time. Let's just say, it's nice to be back.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Island Paradise

Howdy (that's probably the first time many of you have heard me say that),

It's been an eventful and busy last week or so. So, what's happened. Well, it's nice that you should ask. Last week, I was not able to go to my service site on Monday. It was a national holiday (Juan Pablo Duarte Day, one of the Fathers of Dominican Independence), so there was no school. Instead, I went to another place called El Hospicio. It is a hospice where about 80 residents stay. My job was to walk around and talk to the people there. I knew it would be difficult, since my Spanish is sub-par at best, but I figured I would be alright. I was not prepared for what awaited me. I thought they would want to talk, to chat, even with someone who couldn't quite understand what they were saying. I know that's all my parents want, especially my mom. She usually just wants someone to talk to. (Love you mom!) I tried to go around and make conversation, but most of the people there didn't want to talk. The first man I approached would answer my questions briefly and then sit in silence until I pieced together another. He wouldn't elaborate or ask any questions of his own. After talking to me for about 5 minutes or so, he stood up and hobbled off without explanation. It was a tad disconcerting, but I just wandered about, looking for someone else with which to talk. I soon found another man who I talked to for a while. For the longest time, I thought that he was saying he was 108 years old, but he was actually trying to give me a history lecture about Duarte. So, that misunderstanding aside, it was a halfway decent conversation. Overall though, the place was fairly depressing. The majority of the residents did not want to talk, did not want to interact, did not want to move. It sapped my strength and made the time I was there much more difficult.

On Wednesday, I went back to the school. Despite the wise advice of one Justin McCarthy, I was not prepared. I went to the classroom I was actually supposed to go to last week. Well, to start off, recess was great. I destroyed 5 little kids in tug-of-war, even though I was walking up a steep hill. It was nice to be the biggest kid on the playground for once, even if that made every kid ask me to pick them up and toss them around. It was sobering to realize how small all of the kids are compared to those in the States, and it's mostly because of malnutrition. After recess, I made my way to my actual classroom. It was hard to tell the kids I had seen last week that, while I had said I would be back this week, I had been mistaken. Let's just say the rest of the time was a steep downhill slope. While the class last week was out of control, this class redefined that word. I stood in the middle of the classroom trying to mandate order, which, in retrospect, was pointless, because nothing I did had any impact. I was so frustrated I wasn't smiling. Trust me, that is not a common occurrence. Hopefully, next week will be better and I can have more fun with it.

This past weekend we went to the Capitol of Santo Domingo. We were only there for a day and a half, but it was sweet. We staying in the colonial area, which is fairly touristy. Went to some museums, got ripped off at a restaurant, but, overall, it was a great time. The hostel we stayed at was incredible, especially breakfast. Now, I have to work on the Spanish homework I have. Yay. toodles.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back by Popular Demand

So, it's been a few days since I've posted anything and I figured that everyone is waiting with baited breath to hear about my latest adventures. Well, I went into Santiago this past weekend to pick up a flashy going-out shirt (green, of course) and ended up getting some snazzy pants as well. Together, those two things cost under $30. Score.

I finally made it to my service site this past Wednesday. I'm going to the Cien Fuegos School, where I am helping out in one of the classrooms. The principle showed us around and told us to go into one of two classrooms. However, as I was walking out to recess, I was grabbed and forcibly pulled inside another classroom. Since I was already there and being mobbed by small children, I decided to help out there that day. When I finally did make it out to recess, I made the mistake of giving one kid a piggy-back ride. Instantly, there were 4 more kids crawling over me and fighting to use me as a human jungle-gym. I made it back to the classroom after struggling to get away. I stumbled my way through telling the teacher I was there to help. It was frustrating. The kids in the class didn't stop talking the whole time, even when the teacher would yell at them. Not only were pens and pencils flying across the room, several fights broke out during the two hours I was there. By the way the teacher acted, this was just business as usual. All I could say were the few stock phrases I knew, "sientate," "paga atencion," "silencio," and "pare."

Probably the hardest thing to see was that the few kids who were paying attention could hardly hear above the din of the classroom. By the way a few of them were taking notes (the rest weren't even trying), they didn't understand what the words on the board meant: they were copying the symbols without knowing what they represented. Near the end of the class, I tried to work with a few of the kids on their multiplication. Let's just say, it's incredibly hard to explain in Spanish. By the end though, I think I taught one of them how to multiply by 10's. I just hope it sticks with him and I don't have to reteach it next week.

Things around ILAC have been pretty slow the last few days because people are getting sick. I felt like a nurse, running around and checking up on those people who weren't feeling well. I spent a lot of time with one of the people who was sick, but I'll leave that there. I love helping people, so it was nice to lend a hand when it was needed. Hopefully, no more of us catch what seems to be going around. I'm not feeling too hot today, but I think I'm just tired from the weekend and running around the whole time.

Hasta luego,


Saturday, January 15, 2011

This past week...

This has been the busiest week of my life. It feels like it has been over a month, but tonight marks the 7 day mark. I'll share the two most important parts of my week: dancing and Cien Fuegos.

For those of you that know me, I'm a pretty lousy dancer. I somehow have fun at dances, but I never really looked forward to them. So, when I was informed that we would be having dancing lessons in Merengue and Bachata, I was worried. The classes were alright, and on Wednesday night, we had a little dance in the comedor (cafeteria) of the ILAC center. I absolutely loved it, and I didn't want to stop. I was able to have fun and actually put a pop in my hip movements. During these next few months, I'm looking forward to practicing and getting better. It's the most comfortable I've ever felt on a dance floor.

Cien Fuegos, which translates to "100 fires," is a town built next to a large trash dump. The city is straight out of a textbook describing third-world countries. To see those pictures is one thing, but to experience them is something entirely different. To see wild roosters, wild dogs, and malnourished children roaming the streets littered with debris nearly made my heart explode with pity. I was overwhelmed by the entire city, and, as we stood on a decaying basketball court, I could see the slum extended for miles. The rusted roofs glinted in the sunlight, and the school that we were visiting was comprised of 13 classrooms for over 800 kids. They weren't there that day, because yesterday was a holiday, and the kids usually don't want to go after a holiday. The dirt roads were pock-marked with holes and tainted by an air of desperation. The children were really the only ones smiling. That school will be my service site this next semester, and I hope those children can get me through it. I will need to focus on their joy and innocence to fight against the desolation that surrounds them.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Arrived at last

It's been a busy few days. It actually feels like a month has passed since we first got here. We've only been here two full days, and tonight is our third night. Too much has been jammed into those days. On our first day, we rode into Santiago via guagua (a van). There were 24 people in there at once, and I'm not sure I could even move when everyone was packed in. I can't say too much right now, but it's been more living in these past 2 days than I've ever had before.

Currently, I'm incredibly tired because a rooster outside my window doesn't know the meaning of dawn. He just crows away at 2 and 3 in the morning. This city never seems to sleep, which is a big shock coming from suburbia, where everything shuts down after 9 or 10 at night. I got to sleep to noise outside my window and I wake up to noise outside my window.

The most frustrating thing at the moment is my terrible Spanish. There's a lot more to communicating with people than the language being spoken, but it helps a great deal. I've managed to blurt out some awkwardly prounounced phrases, but not much more than that. I try to keep up with the conversation, but I end up latching onto the few basic words I can understand and can't go deeper.

I'm going to go journal now, but I thought I'd post an update. Vaya con dios


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Before I leave...

It's strange, there is so much to do before I head out on Saturday. I thought I was doing pretty well and crossing things off my lists in a timely fashion, but there still seems like a lot that needs to be done. I feel like this most of the time, but it is more noticeable now; I suppose leaving the country makes you more aware of those types of things. Honestly, I want to read more than anything else right now. I just finished the Alchemist, and, while it was fairly preachy near the end, it was a great book and applicable to my upcoming experience (thanks Elizabeth for suggesting it). Best of luck to those of you packing to head to the DR or to head back to Omaha. I'll write again from the other side of the Gulf.