Posted by: Lydia | April 5, 2010

April 3

I always rolled my eyes when people told me that the Peace Corps would be an endless series of ups and downs that would change me utterly… after all I, who suffered from a bipolar disorder when I was a young teenager, am intimately familiar with emotional rollercoasters and I doubted its further transformative effects on my character. I really didn’t expect this experience to be anything particularly difficult to deal with on a psychological level, and I thought that I already knew and had a good handle on the effects of culture shock. To put it succinctly, I thought I already was a hardened traveler who had seen it and could deal with it all.

All of a sudden I found myself waffling between “the DR is like the 6th borough of NYC, and the only one worse than Staten Island!” (mind you, this is after living in Santo Domingo for 3 weeks, a capitol city so unpleasant that even Dominicans hate on it) and “holy crap I have 8 different kinds of fruit trees in my back yard and I live in a freakin’ tropical paradise with no poisonous spiders or snakes or annoying laws regarding traffic safety or public consumption of alcohol or noise violation like the United States.” Yes, I was suffering through the early stages of culture shock, just like the Peace Corps said I would. How humbling.

I also discovered to my great dismay that it takes me a couple of days to adjust to no electricity, running water, or privacy, and that it actually upsets me a little bit when I see a cockroach on the toothbrushes in the bathroom (note: this does not reflect on my Doña’s cleaning abilities…. this is the subtropics, there are cockroaches everywhere). I never thought I would be one to bitch and moan about my living situation, but… ¡Que verguenza! there I was, bemoaning the fact that I had to live in less than luxury as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, Santo Domingo, how soft you made me! Now that the initial shock has passed, I have been able to take stock of what is really important in a host family, and yes… I’ll admit it, I have changed for the better. So what if the bathroom smells like sulphur? Who cares if there aren’t going to be any maritals for the next 5 weeks because we don’t have full walls or a real door (just a curtain) on one side of our room and our quarters are sandwiched between the kids’ room (where 3 muchachos between 12 and 17 share a bed) and the Don and Doña’s room… What matters is that our family is pleasant, accommodating, and extremely fun to be around.. which is more than some people have.

At any rate, this first week of CBT has flown by despite an almost complete lack of luz, communication with the outside world, and a nasty bout of diarrhea (and my first taste of OTC Dominican antibiotics! I LOVE how easy it is to get medical care in this country if you have the dinero and connections). Last weekend we went to a Brigada Verde conference in Monte Cristi, a gorgeous coastal town in the far northwest, where we got to experience PCV work firsthand while snorkeling on coral reefs and trying not to spear ourselves on sea urchins while examining intertidal ecosystems. The only bad part of the experience was the horrendous food at the hotel, which made several of us very sick during our first few days at our new host families in CBT (shigella, yay!) So far at CBT my favorite activity is making compost structures from local materials, which thankfully involves a lot of machete use, so naturally there are some adorable couple’s machete photos floating around on other PCV’s cameras somewhere.

In addition to learning how to swiftly combat subtropical intestinal disorders, several of us also had the opportunity to hone our interpersonal conflict resolution skills through our dealings with some unpleasant individuals. My experience naturally coincided with my awesome every 20-minutes diarrhea, which in a way was good because it motivated me not to take shit (ha ha) from anybody. Anyways, in order to call the Peace Corps Doctor (let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the Peace Corps medical staff, who have given me the best medical care of my entire life), I had to use a neighbor’s cellphone (this neighbor is also a host mom), and in order to do this I had to buy a phone card for her phone. Naively, I purchased a 100 peso phone card thinking that I could use it more than once. Alas, once the card is entered into the cellphone, it stays there, so I inadvertently gifted this lady 100 pesos of phone time. Fine, I thought, next time I need to call the Peace Corps Staff I’ll just use her phone again. Well, two days later I wanted to call my doctor again to check on my antibiotics dosage, so I sauntered on down to this gracious lady’s home to use the phone again. “What, you didn’t bring a phone card?” she asks me, accusingly…

“Well, I brought you a 100 peso one last time, so there surely are some minutes left for me to use.”

She futzes around with her phone for a while, then thrusts it in my face, staring at me with death ray lazer eyes. When I ask her if she has the number for our training director (which I know she does), she tells me she forgot it, however reluctantly goes to retrieve it when I remind her that she dialed him for me last time I made a call with her phone.

Seriously, lady, if you want to cheat people and you don’t enjoy being a nice person, maybe getting involved with hosting PCVs and staff is not for you. Also, not helping someone out when they are ailing is way un-Dominican of you.

A few days later, some buddies of mine went to buy a beer at a colmado owned by one of the host dads. Well, the beer was frozen, so the colmado owner shook it to break up the ice (genius), and when one of my friends tried to pour it, it foamed all over the place. Then the colmado owner tried to pour it, and the same thing happened. To make a long story short, he forced my friends to pay for the ruined beer while blaming their lousy pouring skills for the fact that half of the beer was lost as foam. Again, I have no idea why you would be rude and blame your (volunteer) customers for your crappy product when you are hosting a volunteer yourself… but hey, man is chaos. At any rate, we told him we wouldn’t be purchasing cerveza at his establishment again.

Luckily, my family owns a fabulous colmado with a domino table that is always open, so I don’t need to stray far from home to have a good time and practice my cultural integration skillz. And again, when I write about my negative experiences here it is not because I want to talk smack about the DR or its people, who are for the most part amazingly kind and generous and always extremely interesting… its just that frankly, the tough and awkward times are what make this blog interesting for you, my dear readers.

On a more positive note, I’m doing my best to culturally integrate through mastering the game of Dominican dominoes. Matt and I play a pretty ferocious game of bones… we even managed to beat a team of viejos twice the other evening, though today we got cocky and lost a bet of empanadas to the other marrieds in the group (in my defense, I was being pestered by a drunk neighbor who insisted on keeping score for us and yelling at us in increasingly unintelligible Spanish the whole time, so my game was off). During our game we were treated to a never-ending parade of extremely stylish Santiagoeños driving up to the campo for their Semana Santa vacation. Look out, Williamsburg, these kids can outhipster the best of them. We also saw a lady in a bikini on a 4-runner, and a motorcycle team riding home from a rally with their gigantic trophies. I tell you folks, there is little in this world as fun as watching highway traffic in the Dominican campo during Holy Week.



  1. “No Worries” – – “No Drama”…as you and I learned
    while roughing it on Lizard Island while learning how to scuba dive back in the day. Great post, Daughter!
    Ma will be esp. glad to read this, since distance makes the heart grow more anxious, not just fonder.Love to you and Dr. M.

  2. Love you!!

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