Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Antonia's New Kitchen!!!

So, after most of the month of Jan. rained (making it very difficult to build her kitchen) we finished it! And it's green! The top two pictures are the old kitchen and the bottom two pictures are of her new kitchen. Enjoy cause I know she's also enjoying it!

My birthday!

My birthday was actually postponed to that weekend so Yassir (who's birthday is on the 8th), his father (who's birthday is on the 5th) and I (my birthday is on the 6th) could all celebrate it together with a stew and ice cream cake (pralines n' cream with chocolate cake), and a few ice-cold beers!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

So much to be Thankful for!

Christmas Spirits, thank you for making Christmas one of the nicest I have ever had!

My parents finally met Yassir’s parents. My parents, which are not easily surprised, were a bit thrown off by Yassir’s parent’s very humble home but the conversation and the meal were excellent (well, I would have liked mom’s mint glazed lamb rack instead of rice and chicken, AGAIN!). I was very nervous about the two families meeting cause my parent’s are not the religious type and his family are VERY Roman Catholic but aside from those differences there were plenty of laugh and cheer. Thank god that the power company was into the christams spirit and didn’t cut the power till the morning, but like my mom said, the Christmas dinner by gas lamp/candlelight would have been romantic as well!!!

My mom and dad are the bestest parents, just so it is clear! All the groans and moans aside, I’m freaking proud as hell to call them mom and dad!!!!!!!!!!

Mom and Dad gifted two new laptops to Yassir and Antonia’s daughter, Gissell (she’s a university student studying accounting). They also bought Yankee (Jean Carlos), Antonia’s grandson a baseball bat and baseball shoes (we had a deal that if he was an honor student I would get him baseball supplies), and a hula-hoop for Antonia’s other granddaughter, Amy (she’s my little shadow). The last Christmas gift that my parents and Juan, my cousin are giving is a simple kitchen for Antonia, which is going to begin construction later this month. Right now, her kitchen is a couple of buckets of water with detergent. I promise to put up pictures!!!!!

Oh yes, they also took me to the grocery store and stocked me up on some goodies!!!! I just ate my last piece of raisin bread!

Merry Christmas to all!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Great Marshmallow Roast

I was at La Sirena (the DR's version of Walmart) and I bought two bags of marshmallows. I thought to myself, this is going to be so much fun!

Sure enough, we had a blast. We built a bonfire, got a bunch of sticks and I handed out marshmallows. There were burnt marshmallows left and right, the kids screaming, laughing, running around... I almost got my eye poked out a dozen times. Even Antonia and Gisselle joined in!

I forgot my camera, so I plan on doing it again in the next month. I won't forget it the next time!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Neighbors

This article should have been written a while ago but I decided to do it now, which is later…

Back in February I moved into the Barbie House. I don’t know if I mentioned that I was moving next door to a widow, Antonia, her youngest daughter, Giselle, and her grandson, Jean Carlos (tenderly known as Yankee). Well, I am dedicating this article about them because they have helped me tremendously since I have moved in.

Antonia has been the most caring person I have met in my community. There are days were I wake up and I do not care to move from my bed. If I don’t appear out of my house by 10 am, she pokes her head in the door to make sure I am all right. I pretty much consider her my second mother here (Mom you will always be Mommy). When I was having issues with my stomach, which later turned out to be a set of parasites and lactose-intolerance, she would make me teas and juices of all sorts to take away the pain.

When I do my laundry and I walk away to do something on my computer, she’ll step in and, if I don’t interrupt, she’d finish it. Now, I am not abusing her. I constantly tell Antonia to stop doing so much and that taking care of one house is quite a lot of work for her. However, she always keeps helping me.

When I moved in, she would make me food all the time!! Let me tell you, I really do suck at cooking and in the middle of summer here, the last thing I want to be doing is standing in my hot kitchen cooking. So I decided that I would take advantage of her need to cook for me and just pay her, that way I don’t feel so bad.

Lastly, she’s always the first one in my house if I find a frog, toad, scorpion, rat, mouse, tarantula, etc… and she always knows it one of those if I begin to scream at the top of my lungs.

Giselle is the girlfriend I joke around with. We watch TV shows together, we paint our nails together, and I help her with her university homework. I always ask her advice about work or general cultural questions. What’s really refreshing is that she doesn’t poke her nose in my business. If I feel like talking about something I’ll ask her about it but she’ll never ask me.

The really impressive thing about Giselle is that she works Monday – Friday from 8:30 to 4pm and then has an hour commute to get to school come rain or shine until 10pm. This semester she doesn’t have Saturday classes but the last two semesters she would get up at the crack of dawn and be in class by 8am. On top of that, her paycheck goes to support her, Antonia, and Yankee. I wish there was a scholarship for her cause she’s a super hard worker.

Jean Carlos, Yankee, Antonia’s grandson is super fun. He loves animals and always plays with my dog Diana. Antonia and I always scream for Yankee when we find a frog, toad, scorpion, tarantula, rat, mouse, etc… Since he is the only “man” between the two houses he’s always thrilled to come to the rescue. By the way, he’s 11 years old. Yankee is extremely intelligent though at one point his grades didn’t reflect it. One of Yankee’s passions is obviously, baseball. Since Yankee lacked the motivation to study I decided that I should help him find the motivation. I made a deal with Yankee that if his next set of grades where straight A’s I would buy him baseball supplies (they are really expensive here in the DR cause it’s all imported). So far he has a glove and I think he’s going to ask for a baseball bat this Christmas.

If anyone would like to help me cover the costs I wouldn’t mind as well cause they are super expensive on my Peace Corps salary! ;)

Now, for all you that think I am completely taking them for granted, I’m not… I give back!

There are a lot of energy black outs cause the electricity companies suck here so I helped them buy an “Inversor” (its basically huge car-like batteries with a charger) so that we could all keep the lights on and watch TV whenever the power was out. It helps Giselle a ton cause she had to do her homework by candlelight when the energy was out and Antonia can listen to music or Catholic sermons while she does housework. I helped them finish a bathroom that they were building with an overhead shower (it still only cold water). We had all been using a latrine before and that just sucks cause there were always cockroaches.

Now I decided that I was going to make up a Christmas list for them and if you would like to contribute I know that they would really appreciate it:

  1. I want to build Antonia a simple functional kitchen with running water, very similar to mine (refer to my Barbie house pictures). She doesn’t have a sink or running water in her house. The kitchen would cost around $100 USD depending on the market.
  2. Laptop for Giselle (used or new) for her studies.
  3. Baseball supplies for Yankee. I think it costs $50 USD.
  4. Bicycle (Pink) for Amy (she’s another neighbor that helps me when I clean my house). I haven’t investigated the price actually.
  5. Crystal/Glass baking pan for Antonia. This costs around $30.

If you would like to contribute in some way please email me at If you would like to buy a laptop or baseball supplies, my parents are visiting on December 19 so make sure you get it to them by that week so they can pack accordingly.

Thank you for all the kind words about my blog and my recent engagement!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Love found me...

As I left the United States I remember getting teased about finding the love of my life in the Dominican Republic. Some friends said I would find a wealthy Dominican invested in the sugarcane or tobacco industry, others said I would find a Dominican baseball player who would sweep me off my feet, he-he. I know that I had been smiling and joking right along with them but deep down I said to myself that there was no way I would find the love of my life on a tiny island that had so many internal problems.
When I met my fellow Peace Corps volunteers they all were equally hesitant to get involved with Dominicans either from fear of cultural clash or for health issues (DR has a HIGH rate of STDs and infidelity is rampant because it is tolerated culturally). As we moved through training we began interacting with Dominicans and found that our fears were confirmed and/or found that there were indeed the fabled loyal Dominicans (genuine family men).

Let me tell you, Dominican men and women are incredibly sexy despite their obsession with the traditional diet of rice, beans, and chicken. At no point did anyone say otherwise… ha-ha.
At the end of October, as my training was wrapping up, I visited the community that would be my home for the next two years. I met with my host organization, the chocolate factory, my host family (+20 people), and the local organizations. My host mother, who is coincidently my counterpart at the chocolate factory, introduced me to the other two local NGOs. One of the visits was to the local medical clinic, run by short and stocky domineering man (more on this later). The clinic employs about 9 other locals and had two doctors (sent by the Health Department) treating patients. 

That day, I met the love of my life, Yassir, even though I didn’t realize it at that point! My first impression was that he had chubby cheeks, tall, well built, and a smile that made my heart melt. Unfortunately, everyone was busy so I excused myself and said I would come back later in the day to converse with them about their community experience. However, they were STILL busy when I stopped by in the late afternoon so I went home. The next day, during lunchtime, I had a surprise visit at my host family’s house, it was Yassir. He had heard that I had stopped by yesterday but since they were still busy I had left to finish up other things that I needed to accomplish.

We spoke about his experience and what his job was in the community. He asked me about my job and what would be my role in the community. It was a short visit because he had to head back to work but both of us wanted to continue speaking so we agreed that after he got off of work we would meet. Of course throughout that day, I was anxious to speak with him again and it did not disappoint! I think we ended up talking until after nightfall.

What's funny is that my host family though it would be more appropriate that we have supervised visits at their house. So for the next three months, Yassir would come to my host family’s house for supervised visits with me. OF COURSE without letting anyone in my community know, we would also meet outside of my community for ice cream or day trips to Santiago (I’m not a saint...). Even after I moved to my own house, for 5 more months were we never caught inside my house alone and after dark we would move over to my next door neighbor’s house. Crazy, huh?

On October 17, 2009, after a day at the beach with friends and his sisiter, Yassir got down on one knee and asked to marry me…

I said yes. It was the happiest moment of my life.

So, in the end it wasn’t a rich or athletic Dominican who caught my heart. It was a very humble, hard working man, whose smile makes me giggle with glee, whose hugs make me feel loved, who supports me and makes sure I am always following my dreams.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CHOCAL, the chocolate factory!

Photos of my project with CHOCAL (Chocolate de la Cuenca de Altamira) working on marketing and production (quality control).

The machinery of the chocolate factory to make refined chocolate

Refined chocolate, they also make white chocolate!!!

More machinery, we have 5 more around the factory.

Toasted cacao beans.

My project partners, Pascual Silverio (my host grandfather) and Noemi Crisostomo at the grand opening of CHOCAL!

The Doñas (matriarchs) making bolas (chocolate/cacao balls to make hot cocoa)

Smaller bolas

A cacao tree

The ladies/Doñas making bolas and shelling the cacao beans. It's an arduous process and it HAS to be done by hand for the best quality cacao!!!!