Posted by: lilliputian | September 26, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I know I know I know. I did a really, terrible, truly abismal job at keeping in touch this summer. I admit it, okay! I failed. My excuse is that it has been a fun, crazy, hot and hectic summer. Now that the weather is starting to cool (ever so slightly) I guess my How I Spent My Summer Vacation report is due.

Here’s the top ten big events from May – September 2010.

1. May 8, 2010: Move to the capital!

I got offered the youth sector PCVL job, so I decided to move to the capital. It was a hard decision, but I was really excited about the job. And things in my site looked like they were about ready to start rolling on their own. So I packed everything up, said my goodbyes, loaded it all into Peace Corps’s Land Rover, and moved into a new apartment with my new roommate, the environment sector PCVL.

2. May 10, 2910: Start the new job

I now work out of the office doing volunteer support, site development, and Chicas Brillantes (Brilliant Girls). I’m in the office two or three days a week, and traveling the other two or three days a week. It’s a lot of work, but i’m really liking it. It’s different, and challenging in new ways. And I love, love, love designing the new girls program. Right up my alley.

3. May through August: Lili is afraid of everything

Things that were scary in the capital: grates, stairs, tile floors, strange people, strange dogs, chihuahuas, traffic…
She’s gotten much better, though she is still hesitant around strangers. Oh yeah, and she is terrified of chihuahuas. She almost got hit by a car when she leaped into oncoming traffic to avoid a three legged chihuahua. Who happened to be behind a twelve foot tall wrought iron fence. I take her for walks every morning along the board walk. Whether in the batey or the city, walking the dog never ceases to be the best part of my day.

4. June through Present: Claire, Lili, and I wage war against mice

Current score: Mice–9, Claire and Alison–8.5. Lili–2.5
We would be doing significantly better if I could learn how to set a mouse trap without shooting it across the kitchen. Lili seems to have learned that I take my threats seriously. Back in the batey, I told her she’d have to start killing mice or we’d get a cat. When she failed to heed my warning, we got Bomba. This time around, she has killed two mice and disabled a third that Claire and I threw out the window. We get points for dead mice. They get points for wreaking havoc (ie pooping in the clean coffee cups) or getting the bait without springing the traps.

5. Mid June: Mom and Dad Come Visit

An awesome week of travel in a rental car (Dad took to Dominican driving like an armadillo to water. But he caught on we did just fine). We went up North for some beach and pool time, then down South to visit Batey 8 and do some site development, then back to the capital, where Mom and Dad wandered and bonded with Lili while I got some work done. After some initial shyness on Lili’s part, they are now buds. Which is good, as it look like she’ll be going to live with them for a bit sometime next spring.

6. July 26-31: Camp GLOW 2010

We did it again! 54 girls, 18 communities, one awesome leadership camp for Domincan girls. Spending a week doing camp led to one of those revelations that I have from time to time. You know, where I suddenly realize things about myself that should have been obvious. I realized that I don’t want to go to grad school. I don’t even know what I want to study. I do know that I  want to work with girls for the foreseeable future. I love it. And for now, I think I can do that in Peace Corps and post-Peace Corps without my MA/MSW/MPH/PhD/MPP. So that’s what I’m hoping to do.

7. 2nd Week in August: Random Face Infection

Probably my weirdest Peace Corps illness to date. My chin/lip got infected and swelled up. When I closed my mouth, my lips wouldn’t touch. After three days of seriously heavy duty antibiotics (they put me on garden variety at first, and it acted like fertilizer), the doctors tag teamed to squeeze the puss out of the ruptured boil on the inside of my lower lip. One of the most painful, and thankfully short lived, health dramas of my life.

8. August 14-16: Samana with Ligia

Ligia and I finally did it! We’d been planning a trip to Samana for a year and a half, and this August we pulled it off. It was a quick jaunt, but really fun. We stayed with a super nice volunteer who I SHOULD know from Seattle (we know all the same people, and our paths should have crossed at least four different ways), went to the beach, and enjoyed a totally different part of the country.

9. September 19: I turned 25


10. September 27: Vacation!

Tomorrow, si dios quiere/knock on wood, I will be heading out ot Tanzania to see a whole nother side of Peace Corps. I’m visiting a friend from college, and I’m looking forward to catching up, rubbing elbows with elephants, and checking a new continent off my list (three down, four to go). I’ll keep you posted on how that ends up working out.

Posted by: lilliputian | May 16, 2010

Good Afternoon, Mr. President

Today is election day in the DR. The last two weeks have been crazy as the candidates and populace gear up for voting. I met a congressional candidate last week when she stopped by the apartment to talk to the electorate. Kissed her on the cheak and everything. Never done that before.

By far the most surreal experience of my election season came last Saturday (May 8) when I accidently got stuck in a political party parade. They blocked both lanes of the only road through Vicente Noble (a town on the way to the capial) and we were forced to pull over until the parade passed.

A whole school of helicopters swooped in overhead, and moments later a stream of fancy SUVs began rolling by. I stared up at President Leonel Fernandez, sitting up in the sun roof and waving. The total distance between me and him couldn’t have been more than the ten feet. The driver and I started laughing, in total agreement that it was the most interesting trafic jam we’d ever been in.

Posted by: lilliputian | March 30, 2010

Pictures from the Pre-School

We had a little Valentine’s Day party in February in the Pre-school, and the shindig yielded some pretty great pictures. The kids are, well, my pre-school kids. The adult is Milva, the teacher. Enjoy!

Posted by: lilliputian | March 26, 2010


Last week one of my neighbors called me over and handed me two tiny bottles of shampoo. They had pink tops and faded labels featuring a picture of a beach and a lawn chair. The bottles were dented, and dirt clung stubbornly to the scratches, even though they had been carefully cleaned.

“Where are they from,” I asked.
“The hotel. The one in Haiti,” she replied
“The hotel Montana?”
“That’s the one.”

I took another look at the scuffed bottles. The Hotel Montana collapsed during the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, killing at least sixty people. One woman I know, an expert on DR-Haitian relations, was staying in the hotel on the day o fthe quake. She was missing for days before she finally got in touch with her family. She’d been luckier than the bottles in my hands.

“Where did you get them?” I asked.
“My friends’ husband is working in Haiti. He found them. Take them. I have lots.” She held up a plastic bag full of 15 or 20 hotel shampoos.

Unsure of what to do, I took the little bottles home. Holden on to looted trinkets didn’t seem right, but neither did leaving them behind.

I sat them on a shelf in my house. They’re still sitting there; chipped and oddly cheery. A reminder that some things can be pulled out from under the rubble.

Posted by: lilliputian | February 18, 2010

Back from the Border

I got back from Jimani almost a month ago, and I’ve tried several times to write about the experience. Even in my own private journals and free writes, I’ve hit a wall. Figuring out how to communicate publicly about the situation has been, well, challenging.

I’ve been giving it some thought, and I’m going to do something I almost never do: I’m going to post pictures. I personally didn’t take any pictures, but many of the doctors at the hospital did, and they posted their pictures to a facebook group. I’m going to steal a couple, and hope they will speak for me.

Still, I’m hesitant. Over the course of the week in Jimani, I watched doctors shove their cameras into some of the most traumatic and painful moments of peoples’ lives. They took pictures of their patients at their most vulnerable: sometimes half naked, attached to IVs and catheters, in incredible pain, scarred and scared and unsure of their future. They didn’t ask, they just took pictures. Those images, taken without permission, can strip people of their dignity. Those images don’t show people who own homes or farms, who study or work, who speak two or three languages, who have families, who have plans for the future. They don’t show resilience, determination, and resistance.

That’s what bothers me about pictures. They share a little slice of the story and leave audiences to fill in the context. With little information to go off of, we in the rich countries often assume that living in poverty means living in misery, that people cannot achieve or dream, and that the poor are victims, dependents that must be saved. It is so much more complicated than that.

So, when you look at these pictures, look for resistance and resilience. Try to get past the media construction of Haitians as helpless and hapless. There people are in a desperate situation, but they don’t need pitty. They need support. One way to support them is, cheesy as it sounds, to believe in them, their abilities, and their country. Haiti has overcome a lot in its short history, it will overcome this earthquake as well.

Now, the pictures:

Starting about ten days after the quake, really critical patients were helicoptered to other hospitals and the the U.S. Comfort for further care. The patients ended up at other hospitals eventually, but they sometimes bounced around a bit before they could find a hospital that would accept them. The white building in the background is an orphanage building that was being used for the ER and post-op wards.

One night, a 6.2 aftershock rattled the orphange. The patients panicked, and ran out of the shuddering building. They ripped out IVs and dragged family members out on cots. Two jumped from the second story of the building. One man, who was paralized from the wall, said simply that he had been trapped under rubble for five days. He got out once, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

The next morning, people were still not willing to enter the building. We didn’t have any tents, so they set up these sheet structures to block the sun. Eventually, they re-entered the first floor. But as of a few weeks ago, no one was willing to go back up to the second floor.

Posted by: lilliputian | January 19, 2010

Nuggets from the Dominican Press (and one fro NPR)

At a summit with Haitian president René Preval, Dominican president Leonel Fernandez, and Spanish vice-president María Teresa Fernández de la Vega a couple of interesting ideas came out.  In particular, they suggest that debt payments from poor countries go to Haiti instead of their creditors. They estimate the payments would total $10,000,000 over ten years.

Dominican troops will not be added to beef up the UN Peace Keeping force in added. The two countries have a long and contentious relationship, and sending Dominican troops could be interpreted as an act of aggression by the Dominican government

The hospitals in Jamani, a major border crossing on the Dominican side, are full of Haitian wounded being treated. There is growing animosity from Dominicans that Haitians are clogging the hospital beds. More and more foreign doctors are arriving to support the hospitals on the Dominican side of the border.

Questions are arrising about the American military pressence in Haiti. The marines have staged several decades long occupations on the island of hispaniola, supported military coups, and propped up military dictatorships on both sides of the island.

From NPR: People are starting to leave Port au Prince en masse. It’s not entirely clear where they will go, but my guess is that they will head for the Dominican border. Relief efforts may need to begin in earnest on the Dominican side of the border in order to provide, housing, and medical treatment to refugees.

Posted by: lilliputian | January 18, 2010

Relief Work is Hard

**If I was worn out when I wrote Saturday’s post, I am totally exhausted writing this one. Expect the number of typos to sky rocket. Sorry ’bout that**

The last three days, I’ve been supporting the U.S. government’s effort to aid the disaster response in Haiti. It has been an interesting, exhausting, frustrating, invigoration, and educational experience. I’ve learned one simple, seemingly obvious lesson: Relief work is hard.

I think we can all appreciate and understand how hard it is to work at a refuge camp, clinic, or food distribution center. I can only imagine the challenges relief workers on the ground face. Emotionally and physically, it must be exhausting.

Unfortunately for the field workers, the logistical/office bound aspects of relief work aren’t much easier. I spent almost thirty hours over the weekend trying to buy bulk quantities of essential non-food items and get them on to trucks bound for Haiti. We were finally able to make the purchases today, and the trucks will get out within the next 36 hours.

Just spending the money, buying the supplies we need, was a huge hassle. It involved innumerable phone calls to distributors and Costco-style box stores. I had to call and call and call to track down and manage quotes from close to ten different vendors. We ended up buying from four.

Tomorrow, I’m going back to Batey 8. I’m going to hug my dog, say hi to my friends, get clean clothes, and sleep in my bed. Wednesday I head out to Jimani, the main border crossing between the Santo Domingo and Port au Prince. I’ve finished my task at USAID, and it’s now time to start doing hands on stuff. The hospital there is desperately in need of support, and Creole translators in particular. My Creole isn’t that good, but it’s better than nothing. Peace Corps is sending four or five different volunteers and we’re each bringing bilingual community partners to help.

I guess I’ll get to find out just how hard the on the ground stuff really is.

Posted by: lilliputian | January 18, 2010

More Haiti Articles

The BBC has good content and some new angles.

“Haiti quake: Death toll may be 200,000, US general says”

“Struggle to survive in Haiti camps”

Posted by: lilliputian | January 16, 2010

Full Day.

**I’m tired, so this is a bit stream of consciousness. You’ve been warned.**

I’m just sitting down at my old host family’s house after a really long day. Yesterday, after a meeting about girls groups, my boss asked if I would stay in the capital this weekend to help out at USAID (the United States Agency for International Development). They are swamped with disaster relief tasks, and needed a few extra bilingual bodies. I agreed, and spent the day (8 am to 6:30 pm) in the USAID office, doing whatever possible.

Whatever possible turned out to be compiling a list of non-food items that OFDA (Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance) and USAID’s NGO partners needed for the relief effort. After assembling the list (exactly what you would think–hygiene supplies, diapers, blankets, sleeping bags…) I called retailers to get prices. Tomorrow, assuming our funding comes through, I am going to help purchase the items.

It wasn’t the image I have in my head of what disaster relief looks like. I didn’t see a single victim. I used e-mail and google, rather than shovels and megaphones. Still, it felt really good to be doing something. Really good. I kept pausing and realizing that the research, phone calls, faxes, and e-mail would add up to something pretty big: thousands of dollars worth of supplies on a truck bound for the border.

I loved it. It was a series of simple tasks that I completed as part of a team effort. I looked up at the 4 o’clock and realized I wasn’t tired at all. This sort of work, going out looking for puzzle pieces and forming the picture, doesn’t tire me out like tracking down community members, facilitating youth groups, and all the other stuff that I do on a daily basis in Batey 8. The task of rounding up the supplies isn’t any easier than planning a workshop, but each little piece is so much easier. I hit fewer dead ends than I’m used to, and when I wanted to print, I printed. When I had a question or needed help, I walked down the hall and asked. If they didn’t know, they found me somebody who did. As a result, I accomplished more in ten hours than I usually accomplish in several days.

I’m not saying that I like office work and don’t like grassroots work. Obviously, a lot of grassroots work will have to happen to make my office work worthwhile (distributing all those diapers is not going to be easy). And I love facilitating youth groups and talking to community leaders. I did really love that industrial printer. And working with a team of people with established goals was really sweet.

The whole thing was an interesting learning experience. I saw how people with lots of money to spend attempt to figure out how to turn that money into tangible disaster relief. It is hard, and complicated. And it involves a little of tools that those on the ground/grassroots folks don’t have. It’s a different something to do, but at least it’s doing something.

If you feel like you need to do something, check out the links I’ve posted here for more information about experienced relief organizations working in Haiti.

Posted by: lilliputian | January 15, 2010

Still More Haiti

“Country Without a Net” by Tracy Kidder (New York Tomes Op-Ed Page)

“Room For Debate: The Help That Haiti Needs” (New York Times Op-Ed Page

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