Friday, December 21, 2007

Under My Mosquito Net

Merry Christmas everyone!

I´m writing this right now under the protection of my mosquito net. There are so many mosquitoes and huuuuge spiders! Anyways, how is everyone doing? I hope all your Christmas shopping and preparing is going well. I wish I could be there to celebrate with everyone. I´m feeling kind of homesick right now!

Christmas here is a little different. Every day from the 15th on, there´s a little ceremony in someone´s house at 6pm where someone reads from the Bible and then we sing/chant Christmas songs while clapping hands and banging sticks on used soap bottles in the candlelight. My Spanish still isn´t the best, so I´m not positive what the next few days are going to be like. From what I´ve gathered, I think we go to church on Christmas Eve and then we eat a huge dinner consisting of pork, chicken, beef, salami, platanos, yuca, rice, beans, etc. Then we dance a lot of Bachata and Merengue. I don´t think we actually do much of anything on Christmas Day, but I´ll let you know if I´m wrong. Last night, I was awaken by the singing and banging through the streets at 5am until 7am. Apparently this is a carolling tradition for the next three days, so it doesn´t look like I´m going to be getting much sleep.

I´m settled pretty well into my little casita. The fam is great and they are very protective of me. Sometimes I feel like I´m 5 years old again. My only complaint is the food. There´s not much to buy in the colmados (mini stores) here. Basically, I eat 2 hot dog buns and really chocolately hot chocolate for breakfast. Lunch consists of rice, beans, chicken, water, and coffee. Dinner varies from toasted bread/cheese sandwiches to spaghetti and noodle soup to salami and fried platanos. Sometimes there´s fried eggs and juice too. Other times it´s just 2 hot dog buns and more hot chocolate. One night, I even ate pig heart, chicken heart, chicken feet, and pig intestine. I felt like I was on Fear Factor! Once I start working on nutrition in the community, maybe we can plant a garden here.

My work is going pretty well. I have walked all over my community, which takes hours to find all the hidden houses. There´s about 7 or 8 different parts tothe community. Some places are really difficult to get to because the roads are often really muddy and you have to cross shallow rivers. I thought walking on ice is difficult, but mud is a whole different story. My host sisters love to watch me try to maneuver through the streets. I´ve actually fallen over a few times. Almost everyday I come home with my feet covered in mud.

Anyways, I have drawn a map of the campo and now I´m starting to visit houses door to door interviewing the women about their health practices. Some of the answers I´m getting are really interesting and surprising. Gripe (colds), fever, and parasites seem to be major issues here as well as general nutrition and health knowledge. As for nonrelated health projects, they really want a bridge put in over the major river we have to cross to get from the main road to the campo.

Well, that´s all for now. I´m going to go watch a novela (Spanish soap opera) and teach my host sister some English. She´s really interested! Hope all is well back in the states!

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wow, so much has happened since I last wrote! First of all, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Sorry, I´m a couple days late. I hope everyone had fabulous Thanksgivings and I hope you ate a lot of turkey for me. I was supposed to eat turkey with all the volunteers, but my friend Jenn and I had a late start on Thursday. By the time we got into the Santo Domingo and checked into the hotel, it was getting pretty late. We decided to just relax by the pool and enjoy hamburgers and french fries. It was heavenly! The nice hot shower, air conditioning, and American tv stations kept us in the room too!

Well, I swore in officially as a volunteer on Wednesday. Yay me! I leave for my site tomorrow and to tell you the truth, I´m kind of scared. My Spanish is still not where I would like it to be and I´m not really sure where to start, but I have faith that God will guide me on my journey. All of my training went really well, and I´m going to miss my training group, especially those in the health group that I spent the last 5 weeks with. We learned a lot about working with people in health and giving charlas (health talks). Also, we had a lot of fun too. We found the time to hit up the beach a couple of times and a river once too.

As for my site, it´s pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country and in the middle of nowhere. I´m not allowed to say exactly where on here. If you want to know, ask my mom or dad. I have to ride on the back of a motorcycle for about 45 minutes to reach the nearest small city. Everyone laughs at my helmet on the way because no one around there wears helmets. Oh, how I love drawing even more attention to myself! My site has about 150 houses spread out, and it is very campo. There´s not much to do, but the people are extremely warm and kind. I had the chance to visit a couple weeks ago. My days were spent drinking juice, sitting in the plastic chairs on the front porch, and trying to dance Merengue in the kitchen. My host sister fell on the floor laughing when she saw my first attempts. Hopefully I´ll learn how to dance in two years! As for utilities, I have electricity sometimes but there´s no schedule. I have running water all the time though. Yay for my toilet! Unfortunately, I live in a different part of the house that´s locked up from the bathroom at night, so I´m having fun using my pee pot. Haha. I don´t have a shower head, but I´ve grown quite fond of my bucket baths and my host family is insisting on heating up water for me before I bathe. I´m not very patient though, so I might tell them that I´m used to the cold water.

Well, my internet time is running out. Please wish me luck in my site and pray that I don´t go too crazy! I´m sure it will be one wild adventure...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dengue Survivor

Yes, as some of you may already know, I had the infamous Dengue. Fortunately, it was just a mild case. I didn´t even have to go to the hospital, although the Peace Corps nurse was wondering why I didn´t even call. I´m strong, that´s why! Ok, or maybe just stupid. Basically, I just had a high fever for a few days, a headache, and all my bones felt like they were broken. Now I just have an ugly rash on my legs and feet, which is the last stage of Dengue. Darn those mosquitos!

As for everything else, life is pretty good right now. The health group is doing Community Based Training in the South of the country. For security purposes, I´m not allowed to say exactly where. My host family is really nice, and I have my own guest house pretty much. I´m being spoiled with a full size bed and running water about once a week! The spiders and cockroaches are kind of scary, but I tuck myself into my mosquito net and pretend they´re not there. Spanish is finally starting to make a little sense to me. I can actually understand a few words every now and then. Exciting!

We´re learning a lot in training. Last week, we made a community map with the local youth and I conducted interviews with some of the women of the community about their health. Then I gave my first presentation in Spanish, which went pretty good. This week, I´m working with Jenn (another volunteer) on making a presentation about self esteem and body image. We´re going to present it early next week to a group of teenage girls.

Well, that´s about all for now. I really miss all of you so much. Thanks to those who have written comments or emails. I really appreciate hearing from you! Take care!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Life in Sweat

Saludos everybody!

I made it! I´ve been here for 2 weeks now, but it feels like soooo much longer. I have never done so much at one time in my life. My training group is really, really nice. There´s 52 of us in the group with four different sectors (health, water and sanitation, community economics, and youth). There are 12 of us in the healthy families group. We´ve been training everyday in Spanish, culture, history, safety, and technical training. All of the trainers are wonderful at what they do. The training is quite intense, and we´ve just started discussing our project plans. My Spanish is coming slowly, but hopefully it will pick up once we leave in a couple of weeks for our Community Based Training. This consists of 5 weeks in a rural area near the southern coast. I´m secretly hoping for a little beach time too!

As for living conditions, it´s a major transition, but I´m adjusting like a camelion. It´s soooo incredibly hot here. I have a layer of sweat on me at all times. The temperature on my alarm clock reads from 80-90 degrees, so you can imagine that the fan has truly become my best friend. During training, I´m living with a 30ish year old woman and her 7 year old daughter. Her mom (my Dona) makes me food and washes my clothes. If I don´t gain 100 pounds, I´ll be really surprised. She gives me two mounding plate fulls at every meal. I feel bad when I can´t eat it all. The food is pretty good though...lots of rice, beans, platanos, bread, and cheese. Good thing I love carbs! The house I´m living in has electricity most of the day, but it goes out from 7-11pm. I´m also growing quite fond of my pink mosquito net and cold bucket baths. Next time you´re taking a nice, hot shower, please think of me. I even saw a cockroach for the first time in my room a couple of nights ago! I was on the phone with Jackie, so she got to hear my surprise. :)

Well, tomorrow I´m leaving for the mountains to hang out with a volunteer who has been volunteering for 2 years. Hopefully I´ll get a true sense of what it´s going to be like. I´m a little nervous about using the crazy transportation system, so please pray that I make it there and back to Santo Domingo on Sunday. Unfortunately, the girl I was supposed to visit alone became sick with Dengue Fever, so now I´m going with another trainer to the cooler mountains. I can`t wait to stop sweating for once!

Well that´s about all for now. Right now, there´s an internet cafe close to my house, but the computers are really slow and from the 1990s. There´s also only 4 of them, so it´s sometimes hard to get online for a long time. Right now, I can´t download pics to it, but hopefully I´ll find a more modern internet cafe sometime in the next two years. Otherwise, I´ll have a bunch of pics to show you all later.

Thanks to all of you for you support and prayers. How is everyone doing back home? What´s going on in your lives??

Well take care for now and God bless!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

6 More Days...

Well, as most of you know, I leave in just a few days to become a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic for the next two years. I'm really excited, but nervous at the same time. My flight leaves September 11 from Grand Rapids to Washington D.C. There, I will meet the other volunteers in my training group (about 45 volunteers), take care of any business that still has to be done in the states, and attend seminars to get us started. Then we leave in the middle of the night on Sept 13 for the DR.

I'm not exactly sure what to expect right now, but I guess that's the real adventure. My job title is a Community Health Extension Volunteer in the Healthy Families program. I will be working with local leaders, youth promoters, and health promoters to give information, conduct training, and provide health services directly to mothers (ages 15-44), children (under 5), and youth (ages 15-24). According to my Assignment Description, here's some things I might be involved with in case you were wondering:

a. Conducting community health diagnostics
b. Developing a community action plan
c. Promotion of mother/child health care interventions, including weight control of children less than five years old, and control of diarrhea and respiratory infections
d. Training of community leaders
e. Improvement of family nutrition, including training in principles of nutrition, promotion of food rich in micronutrients , and conducting nutrition workshops
f. Small-scale food production including organic gardening, chickens, and rabbits
g. Conducting presentations on health problems related to the reproductive system
h. Teacher and leadership training
i. Organizing youth groups
j. Training youth as HIV/AIDS peer educators
k. Project monitoring and evaluation
l. Construction of sanitary latrines

And, if I have time, other secondary projects might include teaching English, making map murals, teaching literacy, developing a community library, forming summer camps, and computer training.

Right now, it all sounds very overwhelming. Hopefully, after training, I will have the technical and language skills needed to do an effective job. My training is ten weeks long and starts in Santo Domingo, where I will have language, technical, and cultural training each day. Hopefully I'll be able to say more than "Hola, Como estas? Me llamo Kim" after four hours of Spanish every day. If I pass training (keep your fingers crossed), then I will go to my site, which will become my home for the next two years. I will be living with a host family throughout my training and at least the first three months at my site.

I want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. You don't know how much they all mean to me. I will try my best to keep you all informed on what I am doing. I'm not sure how often I will have Internet access, but hopefully I'll be able to post every now and then. Please feel free to write me letters or send me an email or make comments on my blog. I'm sure there will be times where I feel really, really lonely, so I'd really appreciate hearing from you! Also, I would love visitors! Visitors are allowed three months after I get to my site, so March is probably the earliest anyone can visit me. Email me so we can make plans. As for packages, the Peace Corps recommends that packages are sent in padded envelopes if possible, because boxes tend to be taxed and opened more often. The mail system takes about 2-3 weeks.

Well everybody, wish me luck and take care of yourselves. Thanks again for all your support and prayers. Without them, I'm not sure I'd be able to do this. Oh, and please write me letters!!! You may be my only connection to US news, celebrity gossip, or what's going on at home!

My address:

Kimberly Dykwell, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
P.O. Box 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

My email:

My photos: