...For two years. I had an crazy week getting to know the ins and outs of the NGO headquartered in Santo Domingo that works in the southern regions of the Dominican Republic—some of the poorest regions. The organization already works with environmental projects like reforestation, education projects like remodeling rural schools and supporting homework clubs and microcredit. My project is their newest, an adult literacy program and I'm extremely proud to be working with a team of two other of my fellow volunteers and friends, Chloe and Becca. Because I work at the headquarters I will have the opportunity to coordinate with their projects in the South.
I spent time with my new host family in an extremely urban barrio about an hour commute from my office. A secretary in my office, Joanna, who has been taking care of me (even though she has her own house and family in the same neighborhood) suggested hosting a Peace Corps volunteer to mother, now my sweet Do~na named Bienvenida (her name means welcome :) . We live in a tidy third story apartment that, thank goodness, has windows allowing lots of sunlight and breeze on three sides. Also making guest appearances: my kind Don, who I don't know very well as he leaves for work before I wake up and comes home after I go to sleep, their daughter Jeisy, her boyfriend and their 5 year old son, and a cast of uncles, cousins, and neighbors who in true Dominican fashion, come in and out of the apartment as if there were a revolving door, having coffee, visiting and using the kitchen to make spaghetti hahaha.
I also became acquainted with the executive office in which I will be spending much time during the next two years. It's not what I pictured when I received my invitation to the Peace Corps, but, everything in my service has thus far defied expectation. My boss is an incredibly driven, progressive Dominican woman who heads up all of our organization's education programs and she introduced me to a barrage of coworkers and Ministry of Education employees. The second part of the visit was allocated for a sweet roadtrip to the south to visit Chloe and Becca's sites. I set out at 6am in a cab (with the help of an uncle who happened to be drinking coffee in my apartment at that time while my Don~a was out exercising) to the office where I was picked up by an amiable driver named Pablo who also happens to own a bizcocho shop--one of my favorite Dominican confections, like a birthday cake, that I hope to visit soon after befriending him. We visited the two offices where the girls were based in varying states of desert pueblos (small towns). They all have hilarious, though not necessarily intentionally hilarious, project partners and coworkers that have become part of our family including Jorchi, Vlad (pronounced Blah) and Dimbo. The most interesting activities included 1. Our visit to a batey: a community consisting of a mix of poor Haitian and Dominican families that developed around sugar cane fields and 2. Our visit to a literacy meeting where a group of women in Becca's village were sitting under a tree outside of the facilitator's home in plastic lawn furniture learning how to read and write. Both of these were rich experiences that will surely guide my work for the next two years. All of us were hosted for dinner at Becca’s quaint little house where we were entertained by a pig, a goat , several dogs and chickens, some very amorous cats and some impromptu english/spanish lessons. The bonding was rounded out as Chloe and I were driven to a hydroelectric dam where our boss explained quite matter-of-factly that we would be sleeping in the employees' dormitories they had rented for us.