Peace, Love, & Pig Blatters

Trip Start Aug 19, 2008
Trip End Oct 29, 2010

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Friday, February 19, 2010

MEDICAL MISSION:  I translated for my friend's medical mission that she organized in her middle of nowhere site with 7 other volunteers.  It was a general practice medical mission where we were each paired with a specific doctor/nurse, or in my case her step-dad that is a mechanic/carpenter extraordinaire.  It was fun doing different things other than medical translating (specifically not dealing with feminine issues this time) and working on building tables, fixing the ambulence, and other projects for her association.  She put us up with host families and it was like a blast from the past.  Fortunately for me the host family she put me with was much better than my old one.

WATCH YOUR BUTT! CARNAVAL 2010:  One of the most famous traditions here in the Dominican Republic is Carnaval.  Held every Sunday during the month of February, groups of people dress up in different traditional costumes and parade down the largest streets all of over the country.  The biggest, most incredible Carnaval celebration is held in La Vega, in the middle of the country, where the people go all out with everything.  There is music blasting at all corners, drinks a flowin', and the costumed groups marching down the center of the avenue.  One of the strangest parts of it all is the tradition to hit people in the butts with rock-filled pig blatters.  Yes, I wrote PIG BLATTERS!  And let me tell you, it hurts!  Luckily I was only smacked twice but they left bruises.  I honestly don't know where the tradition comes from so that will be something I'd like to look up.  Que raro!

ROAD TRIP: A few other volunteers (including Fullbright scholar that was able to actually drive) and I rented a car for the weekend to cruise up to the Samana Peninsula in style.  I had never been to this part of the country, which is actually quite aburd for the amount I have traveled here and the fact that it is the prettiest place in the Dominican Republic.  Having our own car was magical; no waiting for gua guas, not being squished between a fat dona and a sweaty old man, listening to our own musical choices, no roosters.  It was clutch that we knew some other volunteers living on the peninsula because they helped us greatly in terms of housing and giving us directions and how to save money.  We hiked to one of the biggest and most famous waterfalls in the country - Salta de Limon.  It was incredible!  We arrived when no other tourists were there, which was just in time considering they flooded the place about 10 minutes upon our arrival.  We then drove across the peninsula to a place called Las Galeras, where we then went to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life, Playa Rincon.  Clear blue water with palm trees lining the beach and the mountains encrusting the water into the bay.  I was speechless.  The whole trip was topped off with the most famous Samana activity - whale watching.  Usually you have to wait in the boat for a few hours only to see a tale of the whale but we lucked out. Right as we got out far enough we saw 3 whales that surrounded our boat (kind of freaky actually) then two more in the distance that were literally jumping out of the water. Seeing a whale blast out of the water is absolutely incredible, not unlike Free Willy, just less Disneyfied.   

GRACIAS A DIOS: I have been to a few church services in the DR, but never in my site. I guess with all the churches I didn't want to pick just one and seem biased.  Lately, I've been working with a married couple who are both Pastors of a church called Buenas Nuevas on a project involving children in the community.  Kids come to eat for free every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and when I found out about it, I figured if they're coming to eat then we should start activities for them as well.  We're in the process of a few activities, but meanwhile, they invited me to a service at their church.  I decided to go since they have been so nice to me and it ended up being a fun experience.  Arriving on time, the service didn't start until half an hour after I got there.  Most of the service they sang songs and danced, which was a nice change from the Catholic services I had been too, but the most interesting part was that the people were so into it. It didn't matter that they looked funny dancing around, twirling with their eyes closed and their hands in the air, they were giving themselves to God.  These people have so much faith in their beliefs, regardless of the fact that their situation might take them away from that.  One of the things I loved was that even though in the middle of a song the lights went out, everyone just kept on singing!  Of course, the Pastor had to highlight the fact that it was a special night since I was in attendence and told everyone to welcome me. I figured it would be a "Bienvenidos, Justin!" But no.  We're in the DR donde nadie tiene verguenza.  Everyone got up and formed a line all to give me a hug welcoming me to the church in the middle of the service!  I had to laugh and just enjoy it all. I mean, why not?

MORE MILESTONES:  After signing my housing contract on the first of February that paid for the next 6 months, I realized that I had officially lived in my humble beach home for one year.  Sure it has its faults - leaky roof, spider webs, lack of electricity, a sink, and air conditioning (not that it would stay inside with all the breaks in the wood), but I love this house.  I love that it comes with muchachos, that I can hear the waves crashing at night, and that I have complete solidarity for the first time in my life. It's beautiful when lit by candles and the fact that it's painted bright blue on the outside and a mint green on the inside gives it character.  I painted two murals on my walls for Christ's sake! And tell me who else can say that they lived on a Caribbean beach for 2 years? No one I know, that's for sure. Sure I've had some scary moments, for example, when there was a tidal wave warning after the earthwake or when I found 2 centipedes, 3 large spiders, and other creepy crawlers INSIDE my mosquito net.  However, this is the third most lived in place that I've stayed in my entire life next to the two houses my family has lived in.  That's a big deal.  Not to mention the gorgeous view from my hammock when I'm laying and reading. Or when I go for a run and see the most epic scene with the mountains falling into the sea with mist that is reminiscent of Jurassic Park.  I don't know how I'm going to leave this place one day; my home.

8 MONTHS LEFT!:  In these last 8 months (can you believe it's almost been two years?) I'm going to be focused on more community themed projects.  In addition to starting a Boy's Group, Sala de Tarea (Homework Room), Escojo Mi Vida (Sex Ed...round two!), Brigada Verde (Green Brigade - environement group), I'm really hoping to get some work down with my artisans.  We will finally purchase the remaining machinery that we need to get the central workshop up and running and will hopefully have the innauguration in the next couple of weeks.

BIGGER, BADDER, & WAY MORE PAINT:  As you all know, I'm very passionate about art and one of my most successful projects to date was the art camp that I gave. Since it went so well, I ended up applying for a Kids to Kids Grant, which gives Peace Corps Volunteers the oppportunity to acquire money to implement programs for youth in their communities. The goal of Kids to Kids is to engage and motivate youth around the world towards happy and healthy futures by empowering kids to make positive impacts in the lives of other kids, and encouraging a new generation of leaders and global citizens.  .  I created a program called Draw Your Dreams (they wanted a corny, creative title, what can I say?) for a 2 week art camp for the kids with art activities ended in a large community mural project.  I GOT THE MONEY!  I'm very excited but all we need now is donations to the program so please help!  The link is posted below!
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