Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Impressions

I just got back from a fantastic visit with my Mom and Dad. They were here for a short but sweet one week trip during the first week of January. When I picked them up in the capital we had a belated Christmas celebration and then it was off across the East of the island to my site and then to the peninsula of Samana to visit a my good friend Gabby.

This is a letter that my mom wrote to family and friends about the trip. She explains her first impressions of the country and of my site especially.

I have seen so much cultural variety in just the four days I have been here. So
far we have spent two days of the high life in the capital, traveled by gua gua
(local long distance taxi with up to 15 people) several times with all our
belongings, stayed at a B&B run by an amazing Dominican woman who lets Peace
Corp volunteers stay free, and then traveled by motorcycle into the area that
Alyson has been assigned to. I have met many people she is associated daily,
about 30, all Spanish speaking and I have been diving into my rusty Spanish
skills for the appropriate words to converse. Alyson's Spanish language skills
are amazing in the short time she has been here!

Alyson lives in a very remote area of Hato Major where the environment and
community are so welcoming. We rode on the back of motorcycles with overstuffed
duffle bags I had filled with specific items she asked for, obscure things I was
sure she needed, and stuff in general that can best be described as consumable
comforts. The 45-minute motorcycle ride was on a dirt road that took us past
extensive and well groomed passion fruit & papaya orchards, cattle grazing in
tropical pastures and over semi-dry creek beds that will eventually swell up
during the rainy season preventing anyone from leaving the remote community

Once there, we presented the family with 2 boxes of Sees candy and the decks of
cards Aly asked me to bring as gifts. Her host family has a very humble home,
but like many of the neighbors, they have one blaring television. A favorite
soap opera
came on and seven family members turned their chairs toward the TV and gave
their full attention to the program. We were later asked if we wanted sun-dried
cuttle fish or chicken for lunch. Well, I said chicken would be lovely. So
Alyson, Logan and I were asked to walk to the store and pick up a large one. We
made our way, about 5 minutes away to a woman's house where she walked out to a
corrugated tin shed and brought out a chicken, screeching, squirming and
hanging upside down by his feet, I realized I now wanted the dried fish. Geez,
this Americano is so detached from the actual food source that I didn't even
think about the butchering involved for lunch which I was about to witness. I
thought about the labor involved - to bleed and de-feather, then chop and cook;
but we all sat down two hours later and devoured what ended up being a very
delicious meal. While this was the family PC set Aly up with,
it has not been a good emotional match for her - therefore my pro-active
daughter set out to find a more appropriate living accommodation for herself
which we were
about to visit.

Afterwards, we walked the neighborhood meeting and greeting many local folks,
past the little public school where my Nogales HS English class donated school
supplies of crayons and markers, to the place that will soon become Alyson's new
home, about 25 minutes away - a little haven of her own, which is safely nestled
another family's compound. We stepped over an innovative, thick-branch fencing,
as the family have several donkeys, goats and a horse, onto an oasis of green
lawn scattered with three massive, shady mango trees as well as a variety of
well established citrus trees. Alyson found this place on her own and I was
impressed by the change in scenery, which was rural and less ghetto looking than
the shack on the main dirt road at the end to the road. We met everyone that
will become a part of Alyson's new family, enjoyed coffee with sugar, had
approval to take some
photographs and left with a full embracing of the people that will become
Alyson's world for the next two years.

We are now on the third leg of our journey, at the beach in Las Galeras. So,
we're off with mask & snorkels to see some of the world where Alyson's Peace
Corp buddy, Gabby, is assigned.

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