Saturday, January 31, 2009

More photos from the Mirabel's

The porch of the Mirabel's childhood home
Group photo with Dede Mirabel

Susan and I at the Mirabel's

Me in the gardens

El Museo de las Hermanas Mirabel

Yesterday, we went to the Museum of the Mirabel Sisters. The Mirabel sisters were extremely influential in the rebellion against Trujillo. Trujillo was assassinated shortly after they were. The were killed on their way home from visiting their husbands in prison in Puerto Plata and then put in their car and it was staged to look like an accident, but everyone knew they had been assassinated and did not die in a car crash. They are buried on the grounds of the museum along with Minerva's husband Manolo.

Today, one of the four, Dede is still alive and she came to the museum to talk with us and sign books if we had them. I bought In El Tiemp de las Mariposas (In the Time of the Butterflies) which is a novel about the sisters, and had it signed by Dede.

The museum is at the house where the sisters lived the last 10 months of their life. Inside, it is set up with their furniture and their clothes are still in the closet. There was a display of things that were in their car when they were found dead.

Dede still lives in the house where they grew up and we went there after we left the museum. The gardens at both houses were absolutely gorgeous.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

more pictures of the whales thanks to Kori :)

Monday, January 26, 2009

That's it, I'm staying here forever!

Saturday night, we went to a bar where there was a band playing merengue and bachata music. They were really good. At one point, the lead singer asked us where we were from and we said we are students from the states studying in Santiago. He then announced that some had to teach us how to dance! I love how excited people are here to show us their dances. Merengue and bachata are Dominican originals and the people are very proud of them. There were two guys who danced with all of us at different times of the night.
Sunday we did nothing but lounge around on the beach. I underestimated the power of the sun and I now look like a tomotoe, but it was worth it. While floating around in the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean, I couldn't help but to think to myself "I'm sold on this place. I'm staying here forever!"

Las Terrenas is an interesting place. Most of the tourists were European and there seemed to be a heavy Italian influence on the place.We stayed in Los Pinos hotel, which was owned by an Italian man we were all afraid of and was right on the ocean. Despite our fear of the hotel owner, he was incredibly nice to us and patient with us. He gave us a deal on our rooms, organized our taxi to Samana for the whale watching (our driver was amazing!), and let us pay on our own clock. We payed for our rooms Saturday night and all parties involved were extremely relieved and the hotel owner seemed to relax a lot. It was nothing fancy, but we loved it there.

I've been in the country for a little over three weeks, and though I've gotten homesick at time and have missed things like English and cheese burgers, I really love it here. :) I don't know if I've just been talking to people who speak really clear Spanish or if I'm understanding the language better. Either way, I've been having really good conversations with people and I'm less timid about talking to people. My friends and I have finally started speaking Spanish to eachother. Sunday, we spoke in Spanish for pretty much the whole day.
Unfortunately, the only gua gua going to Santiago from Las Terrenas was at 6am Monday (today) morning. I've been sleeping most of the way, for the gua gua was impossible to sleep on. Today is Stacey's birthday, so we're going over there for pizza for dinner.


We had a long weekend this weekend and and so me, Susan, Joana, Stacey, Erin, Cori, and April went to the Samana peninsula to go to whale watching! Friday it was rainy, but luckily it was nice on Saturday, which was when our scheduled tour was. We wandered around Samana Bay for a while looking for any sign of whales and then when some were spotted, we had to wait about 45 minutes before we could go to the whale watching area. Whale watching is highly regulated and only one large boat and two small boats are allowed in the area of the whales.

When we finally were able to see them, they were coming to surface spouting and then diving back under. At first they were in pretty shallow water, but then we followed them in to deeper water and they started diving deep and showing their tale. We watched the same two whales for about an hour. They were gorgeous.

It was fascinating to me how predictable the whales were. They were averaging being under water for six to nine minutes before surfacing again. Kim, our guide was also able to predict what side of the boat they'd be on. She would say "The whales have been down for about seven minutes. Organize yourselves for a viewing at 3 o'clock" and then everyone would frantically rush to that side of the boat. I though it was hillarious how much peolple scurried around on this wobbley boat to get a good view. It was amazing that the boat didn't flip!
I was on the top level of the boat and everyone was as happy as could be. The bottom level, however, had a different crowd. The people on the bottom were throwing up and lying around all over the place. Among these people were my friends Joana, Susan, and Erin. Susan said once that when Kim said the whales had been down for 3 minutes, she had just enough time to run to the bathroom and throw up and get back to still see the whales! The crew was all over making sure people had bags to vomit in and they were also moving things all around to make sure that no ones stuff got covered with vomit. It was amazing how clean the boat remained given how many people were throwing up. Stacey, April, and I were very happy that we felt fine.

While we were searching for the whales, they put on a tape of humpback whale songs, and this may have triggered the entire vomiting fiasco. The humpback whale songs sounded exactly like a person vomiting and the first person to vomit did so during the recording.

Now whenever I hear humpback whale songs on relaxation cds, I'll only be able to picture the infirmary that was the Victora II Whale watching boat. Also, everytime I hear some one say the time or use a clock as a directional reference, I'll picture everyone frantically rushing to one side of the boat to get a good view of the gorgeous hump back whales.
I wasn't able to get a picture of the whales' tales, but Cori was, so when I get the pic from her, I'll post it up here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

El Dia de La Virgen de Altagracia

Today was the holiday celebrating the Virgin of Altagracia. The university was closed and I went to a block party with my family. This party was the livliest religious celebration I've ever attended!

It was held in a community center. Agaist the back wall was an alter full of candles, pictures, and statues of the Virgen. There was delicious food and LOTS of dancing!

I was the only gringa at the event and did I ever stick out! Not just because of my skin and hair color, but my inability to dance as well. The music was primarily merengue tipico, merengue con palos, and some bachata here and there. My host dad insisted that his friends teach me how to dance and that they did.

Merengue tipico is much faster than the popular merengue I've been hearing in clubs and merengue con palos through in tons of complex rhythm that I was not prepared for at all.

I feel like I'm really starting to get the hang out merengue, expect that it's so hard to keep my shoulders still! Last night at the discoteca and today at the fiesta as well, my dance partners would press my shoulders down to keep them from moving.

There was one woman today who was the craziest dancer I've ever seen! Every inch of her body -- including her shoulders -- was in constant, extremely fast motion! Her arms were flailing, she was kicked her legs, shaking her hips, and having the most fun in the world while staying in perfect rhythm! It was amazing.

My host dad told me that most of my music I heard today was folkloric music and that the palo drumming is from the south. I loved it! I though the discotecas were lively, but none that I've been to have been nearly as lively as this fiesta was! I need to find places that play this kind of music!

Un Presidente Para Mi Presidente

It's a pretty big deal to be from the United States from now. The Dominican Republic loves Barack Obama. During lunch time yesterday, everyone who I know was whatching the historical inauguration. I watched it with my host mom and grandma (dubbed over in Spanish, of course), and they are both about as excited as I am about Obama being the president of the United States.

For the past two weeks, people have been really excited to talk to me about Obama when they find out I am from the States. When I told my neighbor that I'm from Ohio, he replied "Obama won Ohio!" Yesterday, since the inauguration, Obama has been all the talk.

It's really interesting that people care so much about our president. Last night at dinner, I talked to my host dad about it and he was telling me about how dependent the Dominican Republic is on the United States. Because our economy is down right now, so is the DR's. I guess is does make sense. The leading industry in the Dominican Republic is tourism and so if people from the US can't afford to take vacations, they won't be helping the tourism industry in the DR at all. Aside from that thought, the fact that Obama is our first African American president is also relevant down here because racism is still pretty high. He's seen as inspiring, intelligent, and what the world needs right now. I'm proud to have been a part of this historical political movement and I think we have a bright future ahead of us. I'm looking forward to seeing what the States will be like when I return in July.

Being that the most popular beer here is Presidente, I had to go out Tuesday night and grab a Presidente for my new president! Good thing I didn't have class on Wednesday! :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Going Out Dominican Style

This past weekend was my first weekend in Santiago (I was in Santo Domingo for my first weekend in the DR), so my friends and I ventured out to the discotecas!

Santiago is a city that never sleeps! Friday night, I went out with my friends from the states, Amanda and Susan, and two Dominican friends from the university, Diego, Viviano, and Amaury. First, we went to a pretty fancy discoteca, to Viviano's house, and then out to eat. Before I we knew it, it was 4am and Amanda, Susan, and I were exhausted and decided to go home, but the guys said that people stay out all night and were ready to keep going! I was really quiet coming in, but then when I was telling my host mom about my night, I apologized for coming home so late. She asked what time I was in and when I said 4, she replied "4 isn't late! People here stay out dancing 'til 6 or 7!"

Saturday, I went to the art and culture museum and did some window shopping. I need to buy art supplies for my sculpture class, but the store was closed. I love walking around the city and checking out all the stores. The stores are also great for practicing Spanish, which I need to do more of. This weekend, most people who I was with, even the Dominicans, spoke English. It was great because I could have a coherent, intelligent conversion (I sound like I have the intelligence level of a fifth grader. On the other hand, though I'm here to learn and practice Spanish. I really need to be more diligent about only speaking Spanish.

The art and culture museum was great. The anthropology and history section was really interesting and will filled with artifacts from the Taino people and the post contact as well. The art section was not that much different that what you'd expect in a modern art museum in the United States.

Saturday was also my host sister's 6th birthday. For her party, we went to Pizza Hut and it was amazing! I have never craved American fast food like I do here. Don't get my wrong, the traditional food here is incredible, but adjusting to a new place, language, and diet all at once is quite difficult and I find myself craving familiarity. Here, the only familiar restaurants are Burger King, McDolalds, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and KFC.

Saturday night, after her party, I went back out to the discotecas, but tired out much earlier. Going out dancing in the DR is rediculously fun, but one of the most exhuasting things I've ever done!

My tummy is growling. It's almost time for lunch, so I'm going to be off.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

China Town Santo Domingo!

Guacara Tiana

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reconstruction of sugar mills Ruins of sugar mills
This is the location of the largest slave revolt on the island and where it was announced that there would be no more slavery in Spanish colonies.

IU vs Purdue... Susan thinks she will win because her biceps are larger than mine and Amy's combined, but I say there's safety in numbers

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Ladies' Street
This is where the very rich and very sheltered women took their daily walk
CIEE Santiago, Republica Dominicana - Artes Liberales Primavera 2009

Group photo infront of a monument for Columbus

Las Aguillas' mascot

Las Aguillas!

Las Aguillas

Friday night, we all went to a baseball game! Unfortunately, the Aguilla (Santiago's team) spirit was down do there horrible performance in the play offs. Music between innings was cancelled and there were many empty seats.

They played and were defeated by El Toros. I guess my dad's saying is correct: "When you mess with the bull, you get the horn!"

Me encanta Santo Domingo

I love Santo Domingo! The history and beauty of the city is overwhelming. Saturday, we went as a group to the city for the day and then me, John, Erin, and Kori decided to stay the night and catch a bus back to Santiago on Sunday.

It was amazing to walk the same streets Christopher Colombus did, stand in the exact location where it was announced that there would be no more slavery in any Spanish colonies, and to see the exact location where Trujillo was assassinated. It was also amazing to stand in the first cathedral and the first hospital in the Americas.

We had so much fun Saturday! We hung out at a local open air bar outside our hotel in the Zona Colonial and learned how to play dominoes (it's an insanely popular game here!) and listened to merengue and bachata music. We were the only tourists there and everyone was nice to us!

After we finished our game of dominoes, we left to go to some discotecas. First, we went to the "semi-legendary night club" Guacara Taina, which is a club 100ft underground in a cave! The place was incredible, but unfortuantely, there wasn't too much going on (perhaps 11:30 was too early to get there! haha), so we went to a smaller night club back in the Zona Colonial which was much more hoppin!

On Sunday, we let ourselves sleep in a bit and then went out to go visit some places we saw on our tour the day before. We spent a ton of time on the roof of an old fort relaxing in the sun and enjoying the view. We also went to the mosuleum that Trujillo intended to be completely his, but the Dominicans wouldn't permit him to be buried in the country, so now it is filled with people who were extremely important to the DR both in history and in recent times. We ate lunch in China town, which was an incredibly fun and confusing experience! We were never taught in our classes how to order Chinese food in Spanish! :) From there we tried to go shopping, but most stores were closed because it was Sunday, so we decided to walk through the city to the bus station instead of taking a cab. Along the way, we were welcomed to the DR by many people and ate at a Baskin Robins with two Peace Corps volunteers.

It was such a fun city! I hope to go back there a lot of the course of the semester!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

La bolsa

Today, Lynne, the resident director of my program told us that despite what Spanish - English dictionaries say and what we've learned in our US Spanish classes, the word "bolsa" does not mean "purse" or "bag" in the Dominican Republic.

It means "sack for testicles".

Had I known this, I would not have said "me gusta su bolsa" or "donde esta mi bolsa?"

I thought I was referring to a purse, but evidently not...

Santiago is in the Cibao Valley. The monument is on a hill the overlooks the city and from all sides you see mountains.

A group of us on a bench at the monument.

The monument of Santiago

This is my Dominican host mother, July

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 3

This is my third day in the DR and so far, I love it! I'm all moved in with my family and I'm really happy. We live right across the street from the university and very close to the center of the city! My host mom is a lawyer and my host father is a docter; they have two daughters, Perla (4) and Julissa (3).

So far, everything is perfect. The people I've met are really nice, the food is delicious, and the weather is amazing.

I haven't had a chance to get out and explore the city yet. My family drove me around and gave me tour yesterday. It looks like a really fun city and I can't wait to go out!

We have orientation every day this week and then classes start on Monday, the 12th.

I wish I had more to talk about, but as of now everything has just been a whirlwind.

I arrived Saturday afternoon, spent the day and most of yesterday in orientation at a hotel, and moved in with my family yesterday evening.

More later