Posted by: snzehner | December 8, 2010

Since Thanksgiving

We went to the capital a couple of weeks ago for a Peace Corps Thanksgiving dinner. I actually went a few days before for a TESL class, but Nick didn’t come down for another day because he got the days confused and had scheduled to do a charla (presentation) over cholera to the high school on the same day. I was worried about staying the night without Nick in the capital, but I ended up having a lot of fun with some of the Youth volunteers and other CED volunteers who were in the capital for one year training. We went to a baseball game, which was a lot of fun. Thanksgiving was at a really fancy country club, but it just wasn’t quite like home. BUT we had fun and it was nice to see everyone, visit the capital, and go dancing afterwards. We were also able to Skype with our family, which was really nice. It was a little hard to adjust back to life after the capital, but I guess that’s to be expected. The week we got back we went to the loma (fields) with Ben and Jose (from the cooperative). Ben is a potential buyer for the cooperative who I met the weekend before Thanksgiving when Charlie (the previous volunteer who lived in Peralta) came to visit. Ben is an American who has only been in the DR for a few weeks and is in the process of becoming the CEO of an organic company who mainly buys and exports bananas to Europe and the US. His company is looking to get into coffee, but the cooperative would have to become organically certified first. Ben seems like a really nice guy who knows a lot about coffee and speaks good Spanish. He lives in Azua (about 45 minutes down the mountain) with his Haitian wife and one year old and seems to want to become friends. (He is only a few years older than us we think) It will be nice to have Ben as both a resource and a friend during our time here. Charlie was also helpful during his visit and gave me a lot of material to read over coffee. He also introduced us to several people in the community, including the nun who is originally from Guatamala who seems really nice and helpful. Anyways, the week after Thanksgiving Ben came back to go to the loma (field) and we went with. It was a long trip, but very beautiful. It took several hours, but we went all the way to the top of the mountains. It was so beautiful, tranquil, and COLD! We stopped at several home to meet people and look at the coffee processing procedures. People go and live in the loma during the coffee season and then come back to Peralta or Azua during the off-season. Life is really different in the loma. They have a lot less resources, but the scenery is absolutely lovely! I was glad to finally make it to the loma and learn a little more about coffee. This past week the cooperative had a meeting with CAMRDR (American Chamber of Commerce in the DR) and IAF (Inter-America Foundation) to go over potential funding. I think the meeting was successful, and I talked a bit more with the guy from IAF (he speaks English!). He seems interested in working together and I hope to learn more about the organization through my contact with him. This week I have discovered the Internet on our Kindle as well as the Economist. I think this will be really nice to have during the next two years! In other good news, Lola (our cat) has been killing mice, which have almost disappeared since she has been here!


Posted by: snzehner | November 30, 2010

Life in the campo (during training)

so this blog is going to go back into my life as it was in the campo for the five weeks where Nick and I had seperate training. I am sending emails back and forth with a class in chicago about my experience in the peace corps and thought that the email might be interesting to whoever is reading our blog as well. we are sorry for not updating more often, we are proving to be awful at this! anyways here it is

Sorry for not writing for a while, life has been much busier than
expected! I have so many stories to share so for this email I am just
picking one experience. For part of my training (about 5 weeks) I
lived in a “campo” (countryside) of about 500 people. The homes there
are mainly made of wood with zinc roofs and most houses have a letrine
instead of an inside toilet. My latrine was also made of wood with a
zinc roof.  The latrines have to be a little bit away from the house
for sanitary purposes. This means that during the night you have to
use a bed pan instead of going outside to the latrine. Yes, a real
live ban pan!!! (Basically a little bucket that goes under your bed
that you can use the bathroom in and then empty in the latrine the
next morning.) Another interesting thing about my latrine was that my
family didn’t use toilet paper. Instead, they would use used notebook
paper or pieces of cloth. I guess this is to save money from not
having to buy toilet paper. Luckily, my “dona” (mother of the house),
was kind enough to give me my own roll of toilet paper to use. Since
the roofs are made of tin (and there are quite a few holes) every time
it rains, it leaks! My brothers would climb up the walls and hang
buckets from the ceiling to collect the leaking water.  Also in my house we only had electricity about half of the day, but there was no way to know when you would
have it or not. We also did not have running water inside the house,
but instead had a faucet outside of the house which also didn’t always
have water either. There was a big trashcan size can outside under the
faucet to collect the water when the water was running. We used this
water for cooking, drinking (after running in through a filter), and
bathing.  As for bathing, this is very different than in the states!
My shower was actually a bucket of cold water outside behind the house
and sheltered by sheets. As for the rooms in the house, there was a living
room/dining room area, three small bedrooms, and a kitchen area. The
doors to the bedrooms were actually sheets hung up as curtains and the
kitchen was actually not used for cooking. Instead, there was a
seperate cooking building out back with a fire stove where my “dona”
cooked. I hope his gives you some idea of the living conditions that
can be experienced in the DR! Of course there are other families who
live almost exactly how most people live in the US, but I wanted to
share my experience in the “campo”.

There are pictures of the house I stayed at on facebook, so if you haven´t seen those yet check them out!

Posted by: snzehner | October 24, 2010

Our new home!

We have finally made it to the community we will call home for the next two years! We have spent the last 5 days in Peralta, Azua with our new host family.  We will be living with an older couple (I’m guessing they are in their mid 60s) who no longer has any children at home.  Their names are Tita and Bolo, which of course are nicknames, but we have learned that people don’t even know each other’s real names in this country.  As expected, we have luz (electricity) and agua (running water) occasionally.  Now more about Peralta… We traveled about 3 or 3 ½ hours on guaguas (buses) to get here from the capital.  It is beautiful, we basically live in a pueblo (city) in the mountains! Peralta has a population of about 15,000 people and is really a quite developed community.  It has a ton of colmados (small convenience stores), 5 schools (including a high school), a police station, a hospital, multiple coffee cooperatives, a park, a baseball field, and a huge technology center (where Nick will be working).  The technology center is part of a project that was created by the first lady to build computer/technology centers throughout the country.  It has internet, a library, day care, and a ton of educational opportunities for youth.  Nick’s official assignment is to work with the CTC (Centro de tecnologico comunitario) especially in regards with the youth.  There was actually another Peace Corps volunteer who also worked with the CTC from 2008 until July of this year (Although he also worked with other parts of the community, including the coffee coop I will be working with).  Fortunately the volunteer is still in country because he decided to extend his service another year and is a few hours away from us working with another coffee association.  I talked to him on the phone the other day and he is planning on coming to visit Paralta in November.  We are very excited to get more information about the community from him.  (Weird coincidence too, we have actually met him before! We randomly met him at the Peace Corps office and ate lunch with him one of the first weeks we were here, but didn’t know we would be going to his old site) My assignment is to work with La Cooperativa de Servicios Multiples San Rafael Inc (Yes, they are incoorperated!).  This coop mainly produces coffee, but also produces (or tries to) lemons, avocados, and other citrus products.  Bolo (our host father) is actually the president of the coop. I have visited the facilities of the coop and they are surprisingly very organized and advanced. They have financial records, receipts, and all sorts of archives, which even have an official emblem and everything. They also have several facilities throughout the community for the actual processing of the coffee.  In one facility they have a huge amount of start up coffee trees, which they will plant in a few months.  In another facility they have machinery where they put the picked coffee beans, which get stripped down to the actual bean and packaged in large sacks.  The mountains surrounding our community are filled with lomas (or fields) of coffee.  I haven’t been to the lomas yet because they are quite a hike up the mountain, but I can’t wait to go! There is also a beautiful river in our community, which we walked to the other day.  We feel SO lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful community!


Posted by: snzehner | October 5, 2010

A weekend in the capitol and sex education

Sorry it has been awhile since we have had an update.  it has been crazy  and access to the internet is sketchy for me (nick) and sarah does not have any. in the past two weeks, i have had two qualifying spanish presentations.  The first was a community diagnostic for a total of 15 mins in spanish.  this was difficult as i do not speak spanish (although i am improving each day).  the other presentation was a sexual education lesson for 14-20 year olds.  it was interesting to say the least.  we first gave the presentation to the community in which i live and then last night we went and presented to the local high school.  the students were very gracious in tolerating my desecration of their language.

sarah has been very busy as well.  she has visited a variety  of eco-tourism sites, coffee and chocolate co-ops, and a variety of other local businesses.  between her classes on micro-finance, entrepreneurship, and her 4 hours of spanish each day, she has little time for anything else.

we are able to talk almost each night for a few minutes using our cell phones. sarah has to walk out near her latrine to get reception but it works.  she has to walk 15 – 20 mins each day to her classes, so it sucks when it rains.  fortunately she has gotten good at hitchhiking with the local trucks.

it had been 3 weeks since sarah and i had seen each other, but this past weekend we were “reunited” : )  sarah had a business conference in the capitol and i went to spend the weekend with her.  we ate pizza hut for dinner on saturday and sunday and we ate mcDonald’s  for lunch. needless to say, our stomachs punished us for our unwise dietary decisions but it was well worth it.  we went and swam at the us embassy pool and i tried to buy a guitar, but unfortunately the music stores of santo domingo are closed on sunday.

things are going very well, but we miss our friends and family a great deal.

check back soon.  we are going to find out where we are going to live for the next two years in the next few days.

love and peace to you all


Posted by: snzehner | September 19, 2010

A Hospital, Separation, and Motocross

It has been a crazy past few weeks. Sarah and I each went our separate ways for specific training in different parts of the country two thursdays ago (sept 9th). We will be able to see each other again Oct. 3. Sarah is in the north and I am in the center of the country. Sarah has a latrine and takes bucket showers outside. I fortunately have a toliet in the house, but we use a bucket of water to flush it, which I have yet to figure out. So unfortunately, I sometimes splash my self. Last Sunday (sept. 12th), I began to have uncontrollable and frequent bowl movements throughout the evening. I continued through out the day, so around 5pm, it was decided i would go to a local clinic. Unfortunately, this clinic was not a competent clinic, and the IV I was given was botched. 1/3 of the IV solution concentrated into my elbow, which swelled into a baseball lump. After I realized this, we decided to go to the capitol to a real hospital. I got there around midnight and was there until Thursday afternoon. I am feeling great now, but rapid and frequent bowl movements are not something I would like to experience again. Things are well now, and Spanish is going well. The big talk of the town is the motocross course near where I live. I was talked into going yesterday, not realizing that yesterday was the day of preparation, so I spent my day watering and racking dirt. Today was the big race, very interesting, although I was troubled by the little ones who also were racing. It was pretty intense. I was hit by a flying rock in the arm. Very Rowdy. Things are going well here, I hope they are going well with you too.

Peace be with you.

Posted by: snzehner | September 8, 2010

Heading to the campo

Over the weekend Nick and I went to visit volunteers who have been serving for a year already. I went to Samana, which was beautiful! We went to the beach and swam in the ocean and had a great time. I got along really well with the volunteer so hopefully I will be able to go back and visit her once we are actually on our own. Nick went to San Cristobal, which was not too far from Santo Domingo. When we got back from our visits we met in Santo Domingo, ate pizza hut, and took showers at the embassy. The embassy is right down the road from the Peace Corps office and we can swim and take warm showers there. (Not that we would use the hot water anyways…) We have been back at training the last few days, but are leaving tomorrow to go to CBT (Community Based Training). Nick and I are going to different communities since we are doing different programs, so unfortunately we are going to be living the next 5 weeks apart. Fortunately we are going to be able to meet up for one weekend in Santo Domingo, but we aren’t exactly looking forward to the time apart. Nick is headed to Kanstanza (I don’t know how to spell that) but I guess he has no idea where that is yet! I am going to Altamira, which is about 40 minutes from Puerto Plata (a resort city) in the north. Supposedly the weather is going to be a little cooler there so I am really looking forward to that! The places we are going to are considered “campo” (country) so we will have less access to internet and other forms of communication so we might not be writing as much over the next month or so. We can’t wait to be done with training and get placed in our community to start our service!!!

Posted by: snzehner | September 1, 2010

We’ve been busy!

Okay… sorry this is so late, but we will be posting more regularly from here on out (like once a week or so).  We have settled in to our new lives in the Republica Dominicana as we begin training near Santo Domingo in a small city called Pantoja.  We live with a host family in a barrio called Projeto Crystal.  Our “mother” or as we call her Dona Maria is 56 and has 5 full grown daughters whose children frequent our home.  We spend our days learning spanish, practicing public transportation (carro publicos and gaugaus, “very old passenger vans that hold four or five times as many people as they were intended to”), as well as technical training in our fields.

Transportation is rough here.  Our first day on our own using the gaugau, we got on the wrong one and ended up 20 mins from the training center in an area we had never been.  After wandering around for 15 minutes, we fortunately ran into another volunteer who was able to guide us “home”.  What fun!

Spanish is going well but is especially difficult for myself (Nick) as I am terrible.  A few days ago I was going home with Sarah on a guagua and I should have yelled “Dejame” but instead  I yelled Diablo in a fully croweded bus.  Diablo is the spanish word for devil.  The entire bus got a good laugh at the gringo who yelled devil to get off the bus.

We are still getting used to the luz (lights) and water leaving (we seem to have it for 12 hours or so a day MWF) and the spiders, but things are great. Thanks for checking in on us.

Peace Be With You

Posted by: snzehner | August 3, 2010

Two Weeks Out

Wow! I can’t believe we are only two weeks away from the Dominican Republic! We leave Indiana August 10th to go to Washington D.C. where we will visit with my (Sarah’s) parents and sister for a week before leaving the states. We have “Staging” on August 18th (in DC), which is basically a day of orientation where we will meet the Peace Corps staff and fellow volunteers going to the Dominican with us. We leave early the next morning on a plane to the Dominican! Before we start our official two years of volunteering we have about 8 weeks of training. During training we will be trained in spanish and on our specific job duties. Nick’s official job title is Community Youth Developer and mine is Community Economic Advisor. Right now we are not 100% sure what all these jobs entail, but we will let you know! From what we have gathered Nick will be working with children and helping create or organize some kind of youth organization like the YMCA, and I will be helping organize small businesses and teach finance skills to Dominican families. We have been very busy the last couple of weeks preparing for our departure! We are very excited!