$100,000 Bolivian Potato Salesman

3 Apr
Recently, I thought I was on the verge of winning $100,000 if UConn wins the NCAA tournament! Without having really followed the season at all this year, I quickly filled out two brackets – one on ESPN, where in typical “person-with-no-knowledge-of-the-current-season” fashion I’m currently in the top 1.3% of the entries – the top 1% gets entered in a raffle for a $10,000 Best Buy gift card. In that bracket I have Florida winning it all, but since over a million people filled out brackets even if I make it into the top 1%, it would still only be like a 1 in a 100,000 chance of getting the gift card.
Bracket
In the other bracket I have UConn winning it all and the grand prize is $100,000! I’m currently in 58th place, but I don’t think anyone in front of me has UConn winning it all, which would virtually guarantee me the win if UConn wins. However, when I was reading over the contest rules more carefully, I saw only a perfect bracket wins the $100,000 and that 1st prize/1st place finisher only gets $100. … There are 10 prizes, so if UConn wins I should definitely win something but in the range of $5-$100 instead of $100,000!!!
From L to R: Jalen, Me, Natanael and Domi (Jalen's cousin who said he would buy a mansion and motorcycle to drive his woman around with his $100,000)

From L to R: Jalen, Me, Natanael and Domi (Jalen’s cousin who said he would buy a mansion and motorcycle to drive his woman around with his $100,000)

This sparked an interesting conversation with my host siblings and cousins yesterday about what they would do with $100,000. Back in training I remember a young kid saying that if he were to sign a multi-million dollar baseball contract he would buy lots of plastic chairs for his mother’s house (plastic chairs are always in demand at houses in the D.R.), so I figured this question might get some good, non-typical answers. Sure enough,

Who’s Your Vladdy?

28 Mar

 

Vladdy at bat

It was Sunday morning, the last day of my volunteer visit, and we decided to go watch Los Traidores, the eclectic team of former minor leaguers, drunk jokesters, and evangelical sluggers who I sometimes play softball with. Before heading out to the game we were discussing perceptions of race in the D.R., a conversation which brought up controversial comments made by Torii Hunter in which he called out his Dominican teammate at the time, Vladimir Guerrero, as not being “black”, but being an “impostor”. From there we headed out to the game and low and behold I look in the visiting dugout and see … Vladimir Guerrero! “Is that Vladimir Guerrero? What’s he doing here in La Pared???” I ask one of the fans. He tells me that our coach Jonny and Vlad are both from Nizao and that I should go talk to Vlad. As the game was already underway, I figured I would wait until afterwards. This was probably the right decision, as even for an elite pelotero who only a few years ago had played in the World Series with the Texas Rangers, even this game in little old La Pared was important. At one point he came out of the dugout to argue with the local umpire keeping score with chalk on the wall that his team was up 23-11, not 22-11.

As he came up to bat, I commented to Emily, my volunteer visit, how much you would’ve had to pay to be watch Vlad hit from this close up in the states. Johan, the coach’s nephew and neighbor of mine in El Caliche, who also speaks English pondered the price of front row seats at a stadium in the U.S. before asking “How much? Like $5?”

Vladdy at bat 2

Vladdy at bat 3

 

Though not connecting for any moonshots Sunday, Vlad still held true to his roots swinging hard and at everything in sight. As Ron Darling once described Vladdy’s approach at the plate: “If it’s round and has got some stitching on it, he’s swinging.” Disappointingly, he was playing third base and thus didn’t show off his absolute cannon of an arm that led him to routinely lead the league in outfield assists with throws like these:

After the game the teams lined up to shake hands, which in and of itself was pretty cool to be high fiving Vlad on a baseball field. I asked my teammate Jhonatan if he could take a pic of us with his cell phone, to which he replies “With who? Oh, Vladdy?”

One of these guys is a 9 time all star, Former AL MVP, with 449 HR’s and a career .318 BA, but the other had 2 HR’s on the day including a grand slam, leading Victor’s wife to ask if they were going to sign him. Victor’s response “Mami, I’m too old. There’s a better chance of signing our son (who just learned to walk).”

From the field, part of Vladdy’s entourage packed up into a huuuuuge monster truck vehicle with “Vlad #27″ on the back, (everyone on his team actually wore #27 for that matter) while Vladdy, some fans, and most of our team drove over to a nearby hill for lunch.  As is tradition, the home team is responsible for providing food and drink for the away team. We had some sort of greasy pork stew, as popular local merengue singer Muñeco entertained the crowd with the dirty jokes he is known for telling between his songs. Before heading out to the after-after party Vladdy grabbed back a half full bottle of Brugal from some lambon trying to mooch off of him and explained to Jonny how to get to the campo where they were going to hang out some more.

Having always preferred the city in the states, I definitely see the appeal of the campo in the D.R. The landscapes are beautiful, fruit and food is fresh and unprocessed, and in the case of big name peloteros you can escape all the crowds and people selfy-ing themselves with you.

Vladdy

Whiskey!

Hopefully we’ll play his team again in the future, as it was a fun day as a fan and would’ve be an honor and incredible experience to compete against one of the best RF’s of my childhood in Vladdy.

 

My February

24 Feb

Since returning back from vacation, I have had a full schedule. Here is some of what I have been up to:

1. Translating for the MACLA Medical Mission

  • This has been one of my favorite experiences throughout Peace Corps. This year’s experience was definitely different from last year’s, but an amazing experience nonetheless. Last year, I was one of 3 triage translators helping to screen over 800 patients on intake day while primarily working in pre-op the rest of the week.
  • For me, intake day is always the toughest. While many of the people operated on come in with conditions which they have had since birth, many others come in with conditions brought on by poverty (fires caused by candles, conditions either left untreated because of lack of access to doctors, or worsened by a poorly done operation), jealousy (acid throwing is a far too common practice by jealous spouses) or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time with their lives were drastically changed as a result. As the surgeons who come are all plastic or ENT specialists, no orthopedic surgeries are done and preference is usually given to children. Of the birth defects, there are always lots of people with extra digits, ear deformities, cleft lips and cleft palates. There are always lots of motorcycle accident cases (though these types of cases aren’t necessarily handled by MACLA surgeons), and a number of children burned by fires started by candles (necessary to light the house when electricity goes out at night), some who were burned while playing unattended, and occasionally by abuse from a parent (one little girl whose mother is currently incarcerated, was burned by the mother with a percolator).
  • Two men this year both had surgeries done on ears which had been partially bitten off by assailants (one during a house burglary and another during a dominoes game). There are always heart wrenching stories such as the man who entered a burning house to save a woman trapped inside, and ended up severely burned himself. And cases which are hard to turn away, but are either too complicated for the amount of time the doctors are here or too severe to be able to cure, such as the woman who was missing the majority of her face below the upper jaw after being shot during an attempted rape. Dr. Geraghty has taken a special interest in helping the numerous acid burn victims regain mobility (whether it be in a hand, limb, or facial) who come in each year as well. Listening to the stories of so many patients, while having to turn a great number of people away makes intake day emotionally draining. Although it is tough turning away people in need, the amount of people who have been helped by this mission is incredible. In 2013, MACLA performed 274 surgeries in the time they were here and I have heard estimates that over 10,000 people have been helped by this mission over the last 30 years that Dr. Geraghty and MACLA has been operating in the Dominican Republic.
Early morning at Padre Billini Hospital

Early morning at Padre Billini Hospital

Pre-op pics from last year and this year. Pre-op mostly consists of translating basic information and instruction between patient and doctor, cheering up and calming down children and patients before surgery, and giving out toys. After actually performing surgeries, this is obviously the best job.

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Dinosaurs vs. Rabbits – a pre-op favorite

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Jim and his tocayo

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Me and my tocayo

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Giving grown men stuffed animals or little princess toys to calm them down before surgery always wins a laugh

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Unless the patient is like this guy who was serious in his request for a Kermit peluche.

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Proudly walking out of the hospital. post surgery,with Kermit draped over his shoulder

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This woman named all of her stuffed animals after Andy, who was translating for her

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Little girl from a community nearby to mine. Her mother was also operated on by MACLA in the past.

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Playing catch in pre-op

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One of my favorite patients with his wife, after the two learned the meaning of her shirt

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Posing with Harle

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Doctor walking a little patient back to the O.R.

  • This year, I worked to organize and control the crowds outside the hospital, while also screening out the patients who wanted cosmetic operations (even those with severe scarring/burns aren’t usually candidates for surgery unless they have mobility issues due to their scarring), and also spent more time in the O.R. One positive of coming back this year, was that I ran into a number of patients who I had befriended in pre-op last year. Also in contrast to last year where I brought in one patient who was turned away, this year I had 2 neighbors operated on (although a 3rd wasn’t deemed a candidate for her surgery), the neighbor turned away last year got treatment for her keloid this year, and 2 more came in to have their hearing issues checked, and I was even able to take one of my youth aspiring to go to med school back into the O.R!
Daniela, who lives with one of the families to whom I'm the closest in my site, all smiles after getting medication for her hearing issues

Daniela, who lives with one of the families to whom I’m the closest in my site, all smiles after getting medication for her hearing issues

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Prepping a foot to remove an extra digit

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Extra digits

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Taking rib cartilage to make an ear

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Shaping the cartilage

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Matching the shaped cartilage to a drawing of the other ear for symmetry

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With my neighbor Jefer, who had a ruptured ear drum, pre-op

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With Jefer, not feeling as happy as his Dad, post-op

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2. Planning for the Construye Tus Sueños ’14 Regional Conferences

Since taking over as National Coordinator for the Construye Tus Sueños initiative, I have met with donors, begun to integrate into the team at the Fundación Dominicana de Desarrollo, and most recently began planning for our regional conferences in April. As volunteers, and a few past participants begin teaching the entrepreneurial business course to youth around the country this month, the April conferences will be used as a way to help youth better their plans which they will submit in July, before it is decided who will present their plans as part of the national competition in August. The below video was taken during last year’s competition:

3. Licey Campeon!!!

After two straight years of watching the Leones del Escogido capture the Dominican League title, this year my Tigres del Licey won, and I was lucky enough to be at the field for the clinching Game 8. Yes, the Championship Series in the baseball crazed D.R. is a best of 9 series! Licey led the series 3-0, before Escogido tied it at 3-3, then went on to win the next two games and clinch it. It was awesome to be on the field and around a championship winning team as they celebrated. I also saw a number of former Mets: Wilson Valdez, Ronnie Paulino, Timo Perez and Jose Offerman.

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Erick Aybar at bat for Licey

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Zach high fiving a fan, as Licey clinches and fans rush the field

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Celebrating on the field

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Yordany Ramirez (70) spraying cans of President on teammates in celebration

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In the “dogout”

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Me and Eugenio Velez

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Ronnie Paulino

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D’Angelo Jiménez signing Andy’s ball

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Raising the Virgen de la Altagracia

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Back in my neighborhood, Mickey (Left) an Escogido fan getting his comeuppance from Carlitos and Ibelka, whom he taunted ruthlessly as Escogido came back to tie the series.

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Me and four of my neighbors from Haina posing in front of the Port of Haina picture on display, while waiting for the Licey championship parade

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The parade ended up just being waves of cars with dancing fans on top and hanging out the windows, but somehow we missed the players and championship trophy.

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4. Sports Camp / Chicas Brillantes

  • The “accomplishment” I’m most proud of so far in my community, has not been something that I have done, but rather the accomplishments of one of the youth I have worked with. Yudy is a 19 year old aspiring medical student, who is now in the process of teaching her second Peace Corps initiative – Chicas Brillantes. Once attending my meetings as a participant, she is now giving the lessons herself and was recently accepted as a member of the Chicas Comite – which allows her to plan conferences, bring her own chicas to the camps, and give presentations to the girls there, building their self esteem while teaching them to love their bodies and hair, aspire to their professional goals, and make healthy decisions.
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Yudy, far right, holding a Chicas Brillantes meeting

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Yudy and Pilily going over the “Chicas Contract”

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A little chica signing the contract

  • Last week while Yudy took 2 youth to the regional Chicas Brillantes conference, I took 4 youth from my community to a camp run by the Ministry of Sports. While the facilities were amazing (we used the Olympic Center from the 2003 Pan American games), the event itself was poorly managed and the youth ended up spending more time waiting around than actually partaking in activities and playing sports. While it was communicated to us to invite youth who enjoy sports, upon arrival it became apparent that they were trying to scout potential athletic talent and future Dominican triathletes. The thought process behind this was poor – as none of us selected our youth for their triathlete skills but rather for their interest in sports. As a result, we had many non-swimmers splashing up and down the Olympic pool, while they ended up taking the 100m times of our youth running barefoot and in sandals in the Felix Sanchez Olympic stadium. The former Vice President of the country and son of Dede Mirabal, Jaime David, attended a few of the events, but also made some awkward comments to a few of the youth with Haitian ancestry.
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The five of us from Haina, plus two other girls from around Monte Plata

5. Rosa’s Wedding

On Saturday, one of the volunteers who came in with my group, Rosa, got married to a Dominican from her site named Ramon at a resort in Bayahibe. The two are a great couple and it was a beautiful place to host the wedding.

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6. Baseball Field Project

  • As part of an ongoing project to bring a baseball field to my neighborhood, and on the tip of a patient I met at the med mission, I visited Pedro Martinez’s foundation in Manoguayabo. Although we weren’t able to meet that day with Mr. Martinez, we did turn in a letter we had written to him requesting his assistance in helping us to realize our goal of providing underprivileged youth ages 8-12 a safe space to properly learn and play ball, while also lowering delinquency rates by allowing the youth to develop such values and life skills as teamwork, leadership, dedication, respect, punctuality, and more which will serve the youth throughout their lives, whether on or off the field. The Pedro Martinez and Brothers foundation has done incredible work in the nearby neighborhood of Manoguayabo and hopefully will be able to provide us with some advice and/or support in accomplishing our project.
  • I also spoke briefly the other day with Moises Alou, another former star pelotero from our area of the country, but it doesn’t seem as if he will help our cause. Pero na’, seguimos pa’ lante!

Vacation

17 Feb

As part of my 13 month extension, I was given a mandatory month long vacation from Peace Corps. I lined up my vacation with Sushil’s and was able to fly out to visit him in France. Here are some pics from the trip:

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Giant 3lb. arepa given to me by Dominican neighbor to start my trip and get me questioned by TSA

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Reuniting with Sush at the Tour Eiffel

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Extension and Miches

18 Nov

The end of October marked the completion of my swear-in class, 517-11-02’s, 27 month assignment. Of the 32 of us who arrived and swore in together, 11 left before completing the two years, about 12 left on time, and there are still 9 of us here in country (8 of us who are Youth volunteers). I have extended for 13 months in my same community, to continue working with my youth groups, develop local youth sports leagues, potentially build a baseball field, and lead the Construye Tus Sueños (CTS) initiative.

The 2013 CTS National Competition, coordinated by Dora Yaffe, concluded last month and was an amazing success, with 3 winners getting their business plans funded by the competition.

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CTS 2013 Participants

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2013 CTS Winners talking to the local media. From left to right:
-Biblioteca Cafetería Jose Gael, Gabriela Betania, de Los Pinos, Dajabon (Library/Bookstore/Cafe)
- Arte En Barro Ebil, Bianca Perez, de La Ortega, Moca (3D Flower Art)
- Repostería Mi Delicia, Fabiola Fabian de la Rosa, de Palo Verde, Monte Cristi (Bakery)

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Bianca presenting her business plan and showing an example of her  original artwork. The last question one of the judges asked her was if that piece she brought as an example was already sold!

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The two MC’s (Me and Sam) posing for pics after the conference

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30 May
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Los Patos Beach in the Deep South, just outside of Barahona

 

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Goat eating a mango in Sean’s Batey just outside of Barahona

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Los Patos

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Inside the “Magic School Bus” in Sean’s site

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Little kid in the batey

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Outskirts of the Batey

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Piri getting weighed in the colmado

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Piri aka Pichon is my next door neighbor and new best friend. He knows how to open the front gate to my house and walks over by himself now

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Taking my host siblings and Topito to the book fair in the capital

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La Nueva Escuela making an appearance at the book fair.

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I told each of the kids I would buy them a book at the fair. Jalen is interested in geography and nature, but didn’t want any of the books that I thought would interest him and instead finally decided on a Sudoku book. I was kind of disappointed at first that he didn’t get a real book, but after teaching him how to fill it out, it was all smiles as he completed his  first puzzle.

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The entire group

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Jumbita and Jalen in the museum

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Playing softball in a campo de Nagua

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Alonzo pitching us to victory in Game 1

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Alonzo stealing the show on the dance floor

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Alonzo’s dancing: the most memorable part of an interesting trip

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Tomatoes from my plants

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My tomato plants in back of my house

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Tomaticos half way to becoming sauce

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Tomato sauce

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Henry – the son of the owner of my apartment who lives in France but was back visiting for a few weeks

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Picking out some gallos for the fight

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Spitting water on the bird to cool it off after the 15 min drive to Manoguayabo

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Galleros sizing each other up and looking to “casar” / “marry” their birds (ie find a fight for them)

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Comparing size and feeling each other out, before deciding if this is the match they want

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Inside the ring

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Fans on the edge of their seats

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The “Home Play” Cafe outside of Nagua

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Fans getting intense

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A few of our players winding down after the game at the “Home Play Cafe”

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The Lefty getting up in the pen

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“Pica Piedra” aka Flintstone taking the spurs and tape off of the one bird we brought who won his fight

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Roberto, one of the few players who had a good day at the plate that day

Softbol

5 Mar

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Softball culture here reminds me a lot of softball in Hartford. There are a lot of similar personalities from players on my team here and players who I played with in the U.S. The team here is full of Manny Ramirez type personalities: grown men who share a passion for a kids’ game, pulling pranks on one another and are apt to do something you’ve never seen before in an organized sports game at any moment.

[In case you are not familiar with Manny being Manny, here are some of his antics. Some additional Manny being Manny highlights: he once left his paycheck in a pair of shoes in the visitors clubhouse, he peed mid-inning inside the Green Monster; my personal favorite: he climbed the wall and high-fived a fan while the play was still live before turning a double play; he lost his $15,000 diamond earring sliding into third base; he refused to stand with a Little Leaguer for the national anthem during a public relations promotion.]

In both Hartford and Haina, there is a high level of competition, loyal fans, love of the game, showmanship and alcohol are integral to the event, and everything is in Spanish. I’ve played just a handful of games with my community’s team, but each one has been memorable. My first game, I wanted to prove I was a legit player who would help our team win and not just being given special treatment as the token gringo. I played okay, not great, but also not embarrassing myself and our team won easily. My second game, I decided on the way there that I was going to make a statement and hit a home run. Again, playing around so much talent (a good number of our players played in the minor leagues in the U.S., while others were signed to camps in the D.R.) and others who haven’t seen me play I felt I had something to prove and could do so with a home run. My first at bat I popped out to third, but the third baseman dropped the ball and as it kicked away I took off for second, just beating his throw. Later on, as I was on first I mentioned to Chacho how the third baseman resembled “Kung Fu Panda” (a similarly stocky third baseman who plays with the SF Giants – the third baseman also happened to be decked from head to toe in Giants gear). It turned out later that he had gotten all the Giants gear from Melky Cabrera (last year’s All Star Game MVP who is from a nearby neighborhood) who he is close friends with and works as a trainer for.

My next at bat I connected pretty well to the gap in left center, I heard a fan yell “It’s a Home run!” and I slowed into my HR trot thinking “I did it!” until I looked up and saw the ball hit the wall. I ended up with a long single. My next at bat I hit another deep ball, but was again held to a single because Bulin, a chubby jokester whose pants are always falling down, was in front of me on the bases and was not going to go first to third, unless there was a jumbo waiting for him there. My final at bat came against my friend Chacho, one of our best pitchers who we traded to the other team to pitch against us, as we were beating them so badly. Confident from my previous at bats and ready to win bragging rights against one of the biggest mouths on the team, I instead ended up striking out on a foul tip – which Chacho will never let me forget.

Yesterday we played a team from Nagua, which was supposed to be really good. Over 20 of us showed up to play and we ended up splitting the team into two squads, one to start the first game and one to start the second. The Nagua team brought in two vans full of fans and by the start of the game there were well over 100 people watching, with the stands full as well as the entire area behind the backstop. The Nagua team showed up late, which allowed our team full of Mannys to rack up 8 pre-game “fines”. As we broke our huddle, a few more players were fined for not yelling our comical call and response team chant in unison (Chacho/Bulin: “Who made us?” Team: “Christ!”, “What’s our name?” “The Traitors!”). Each fine is $100 pesos, which is the price of one large beer, and where all the fine money goes. The Evangelicals on the team are allowed to buy Gatorade or Malta Morena instead of beer if they are fined. Next to our dugout there was a giant barrel full of ice and jumbos which were opened up for every fine as well as for every home run. Other memorable moments: Chichi hitting the first of his 2 HR’s: a towering home run which he stagnantly watched for a good 5 seconds as it flew over the wall before stylishly flipping the bat and finally breaking towards first base, Roberto (a former Expos minor league pitcher who threw 98mph while still in his teens and still a five tool player today in his late 30’s) threw out a runner tagging up from third base on a fly ball to center – one of the best throws I’ve ever seen live, an old neighbor of mine walked on to the field and threw a crumpled up $100 peso bill at the batter daring him to hit a home run and take the money, Roberto walking up to the batter’s box while having a conversation on his cell phone before sticking the phone in his back pocket, Jonny reaching in his back pocket and taking out his car keys and giving them to the umpire to hold. Perhaps my favorite moment was when one of our relief pitchers – an older more serious looking player – gets out on to the mound and starts to shake before throwing the first pitch. At first he starts to shake out his arm as a pitcher might normally do, but then as the batter is in the box waiting for the pitch, he begins to violently shake his whole body. Other players on the field begin to shake their bodies too as the fans go crazy and cheer for “el temblador” (the shaker). The batter never stood a chance, by the time el temblador finally got around to throwing a pitch, it was the fastest I’ve ever seen in a softball game (albeit I am still relatively new to the softball world).

2nd from Left Roberto, 3rd from Right Jonny. 1st Row Chichi and Raul

2nd from Left Roberto, 3rd from Right Jonny. 1st Row Chichi and Raul

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1st Row: Johnathan was signed as a pitcher to a training camp in the D.R., Raul played in the U.S. in both the Rangers’ and Red Sox system

Being the only white player in an area where few if any, white non-Dominicans ever step foot, I always have more attention on me during these games. I recognized a good number of my neighbors in the stands, and a number of fans knew who I was calling me out by name even though I didn’t recognize them. As I took the field, I heard one fan yell the typical one or two English phrases people generally know “Americano! How are you?”, “Watchya name?”. It is definitely an exercise in concentration, as every little act is magnified. As I fielded a routine ground ball, I heard one of my neighbors yell “That’s my gringo! Daniel is good!!” Where each time I took the field I felt I had something extra to prove to the other players, each time it was rumored among the other team that I was a MLB player brought in as a ringer (never mind that I was batting 8th or that spring training is already underway).

In my first at bat of the game yesterday, I had the bases loaded and two outs as I stepped up to the plate. After swinging and missing, I lined a soft drive into the gap in right center, scoring two before Bulin got thrown out at third. I enjoyed the extra attention and trying to put on a show for the fans, as well as being part of an elite team of guys who are in a sense looked up to and talked about throughout the community. As I walked down the street yesterday, a neighbor called me over and said “You’re a traitor!” I was taken a back for a second before realizing he was referring to our softball team name “The Traitors” or as it is slightly misspelled on our jerseys “Los Traidore”.

As I often have compromisos on Sundays (either Chicas group meetings, camps, conferences, etc.) I haven’t been around to play with the team as often as I would like. I enjoy the atmosphere, teammates, and the competition which I’ve missed in not playing on an organized team in so long.

Every Sunday is a big celebration in the D.R. After the games, both teams and their bus of fans headed over to “El Pailon”, a night club which also brings in strippers and has a pool on Sundays. While 2pm might have seemed early to head out clubbin’, the colmados are already blaring bachata, merengue and salsa by 9 or 10am on Sunday mornings, with the usual crowd out front already drinking and playing dominoes. I look forward to playing more games with the team and will try to get some pictures of the characters on the team soon.

Aside

January-February: A Repaso Breve

18 Feb

I am finally taking a deep breath this morning after running around for the past month. The running around started with bringing my host family and Topito (the little neighbor who is as much a part of the host family as I am) to Family Camp. The camp was organized by volunteers and led by Vicky who did an amazing job! Themes of the camp centered around forming healthy habits: nutrition, hand washing, healthy communication, to name a few.

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A few pictures from the camp, including kids eating gummy worms out of pudding cups without using their hands, Topito eating his first pancake ever, doñas bobbing for apples, playing basketball and partaking in other activities outside their daily routines.

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After 5 days at Family Camp I returned to my site for less than a week before heading to the Mi Futuro Brillante conference in the capital. I brought two of the brightest young women from my community to the conference, where they practiced professionalism skills, toured the oldest University in the Americas (UASD) and had the opportunity to interview and shadow a female, Dominican professional in the capital. This conference was a huge success, as it was nice to work teaching more concrete skills which will serve the young women well in helping them achieve their future goals.

Yudi, Me, and Crisely

Yudi, Me, and Crisely

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Once back from Mi Futuro Brillante, we had planned to host a Deportes Para La Vida Sports & HIV/AIDS prevention camp. However, due to a mix up within the Peace Corps office, our grant was submitted late and I was told that the funds wouldn’t come in until another 3 weeks after our event was scheduled to start. While initially disappointing, this mishap combined with a last minute need for translators allowed me to participate in what has been one of my best experiences in country thus far: The Geraghty Medical Mission. The setback in our camp date will also allow us more time to plan and organize the mothers’ group who will be learning healthy recipes to prepare for the kids during the camp.

Having only been back in my community a few days between the Mi Futuro Brillante Conference and leaving for the Geraghty Mission, I was able to get in a Chicas Brillantes meeting where we discussed stereotypes and beauty standards (why is straight hair or lighter skin commonly viewed as more attractive? Why are nearly 100% of telenovela protagonists and news anchors white Hispanics? etc.). I don’t think the chicas really got as much out of the talk as I would’ve liked, but we will definitely return to the issue again as a main objective of the course is improving self esteem, an integral part of which is understanding perceptions of beauty and each girl being proud of her individual, unique look. We had a Chicos meeting the following night where the central theme was the relationship between one’s thoughts, actions, and emotions. The goal of this charla was to get the boys to think about the consequences of fighting and choose to avoid the fight before it takes place. On the way to our group, we passed two of the group members just coming home from school. Alejandro had a stick in his hand, a scowl on his face and was being restrained from attacking Guanel. I figured the whole group could learn from this experience, but neither boy attended the meeting that night. The lesson was just as appropriate for the boys in attendance who continued to fight themselves throughout the meeting which was orchestrated to teach them non-violent habits. As our boys group is still recently formed, we are still figuring out which boys will continue with the group and which we will have to cut to maintain order, as openly allowing every boy to participate results in constant chaos and deprives those who want to learn. Also, some of the boys who are prone to act out in certain situations, will benefit by being surrounded by more well behaved boys and a more structured environment. On Wednesday, I met with the Escojo Mi Vida / Older Youth Group, The Junta de Vecinos (neighborhood association) on Thursday and then left Friday for the Geraghty Mission.

I will relate my Geraghty Mission experiences in a separate post, as I’m still processing the experience some and there was a lot to cover.

After returning from the Geraghty Mission, I was in my site for a few more days before heading to the capital on Sunday, to get one of my neighbors who had been operated on by Geraghty Mission doctors last October, checked out by the doctors who were just finishing up their final week in the country. Later that day, while looking for one of my other neighbors who has a keloid on her ear, I ran across about 10 members from my community selling flowers for valentine’s day in prime territory just outside Independence Park.

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Yulissa was told that they couldn’t operate on her ear, since the keloid had already been operated on and grown back 4 times. Later on I found out that she could have an injection done to reduce the size of the keloid. However, she does not like needles and did not want the injection which she felt would be too painful.

This past weekend (my fourth consecutive weekend out of my site) I attended my first Chicos Superman camp. Chicos Superman is a relatively new initiative which works with boys primarily 10-14, trying to reach them while they are still in a formative stage, to develop healthy habits, positive communication skills, avoid HIV/AIDS, and overall develop into caballeros (gentlemen). I’ve enjoyed working with my boys group so far and for obvious reason feel like I have more to offer in teaching boys how to be respectful men, then I feel I can offer in teaching girls how to be women. Hopefully, some of the older girls I have been working with will be willing to take my girls’ groups over themselves, which will allow me to work more with boys and sports teams in the community. Sports are a huge part of daily life for both boys and girls here (as I write this, an informal game of baseball is going on in front of me). However, there are few coaches and little formal sports organization here in the community. Baseball, basketball and athletics in general is a passion of mine, through which I feel I am most effective in teaching the same lessons which I learned through sports: how to be an effective teammate, leadership, respect, dedication, persistence, etc.

The Superman camp also touched on many of these same themes – teamwork, positive communication, respect – and all three of the boys I brought really enjoyed themselves. I had a tough time deciding which two boys I would bring in addition to Natanael who not only does not look 12, but also has a maturity level much more developed than even most teenage boys in the neighborhood. My host brother, Jalen, is also incredibly mature for his age and has been one of the few non disruptive members of the group, but he had already been to two other camps and I wanted to give another boy the opportunity to go. In the end, I decided that since Jalen is always paying attention and listening, he would get more out of the lessons at the camp than anyone else would and deserved the opportunity to go. The last spot was a close call between ñingo and Domi, but I ended up going with Domi as I have a stronger relationship with him and knew I could reel him in easier should he happen to get too excited or disruptive.

A few of my favorite pictures and moments from the camp:

During a charla about constellations one of the newer volunteers, Alex, asked the kids to name some planets.

Muchacho: “Saturn!”

Alex: “Good”

Muchacho 2: “Jupiter”

Alex: “Yes”

Muchacho 3: “Singapore!”

Also, during his presentation of the constellations and telling of the story of Orion’s belt (Orion is pronounced “Oh-ree-ohn” in Spanish) one of the kids raised his hand and in all seriousness asked “Doesn’t Orion have a cookie named after him too?” … “No, that is Oreo. The constellation is Orion.”

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Me and my 3 supermen: Jalen, Natanael, and Domi Junior

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Mario and Luigi … What were the odds of us getting a Mario and a Luigi in the same group at the same camp in the D.R. of all places?

The kids trying to get close enough to the giant fogata to roast their marshmallows. The fire was so big and the heat was so strong, that it was a legitimate challenge

The kids trying to get close enough to the giant fogata to roast their marshmallows. The fire was so big and the heat was so strong, that it was a legitimate challenge

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2013

17 Feb

A new year, a new front door (pictured below on the back of a motorcycle), a new bathroom makeover, and lots of roasted pork …

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Chicks

23 Dec

In December, as there is often a little more money, families who have a little expendable income generally tend to repaint and/or repair their houses. Two houses on my block have turned pink within the past week. Although the outside of my house could use a fresh coat and the inside of my house desperately needs to be repainted, I prioritized my requests to my landlord and instead purchased tile to lay in my bathroom. My landlord also offered a new door to put on the apartment. Niño, my woodworking neighbor, was supposed to montar the new puerta on Friday, which turned into Saturday then today …

My day today started off prepping for my landlord’s nephew (who also happens to be the taller of the two barbers in the pic from this post: http://dkinthedr.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/the-barbershop/) to bring his tile cutting tools so we could cut and lay the tile, as he assured me he would be at my house by 7am. By 8am he still hadn’t showed up, so I ended up playing bitilla – baseball with  5 gallon water bottle caps – for a few hours, dominating my little trash talking neighbors. After Carlos Manuel, 11, changed the rules so that any hit into our neighbor’s porch was an automatic HR, regardless of whether it was “caught” or not (if the bottle cap is picked up off the ground while it is still moving it is considered an out), I called my shots and down two strikes rattled off 4 HR’s in a row to hush his taunts. As the kids are much more advanced in trash talking and gamesmanship than in their skills and sportsmanship, I gave them a little post game talk on the subject. 

A few minutes later a truck trading baby chickens for scrap metal drove by and I bought 3 baby chicks for 5 pesos (12.5 cents) a piece, which interestingly is the same price for which an egg sells at the colmado. I wasn’t sure where to put them after buying them, and was actually surprised when they didn’t throw them in a plastic bag after the sale, as is standard with EVERYTHING else purchased from a colmado or truck. So I carried them into my house and set them down on the table while looking for something to put them in.

The first 3 pollitos on my table

The first 3 pollitos on my table

I found a cardboard box, bought some feed, and mandar-ed a muchacho to buy 2 more chicks. While sitting outside with the chicks, Chicken Leen (my 7 year old neighbor, appropriately nicknamed for today’s events) came by with his pollito which he named Juan Pablo Duarte (one of the founding father’s of the D.R.). Juan Pablo, like Chicken Leen himself, instantly was a handful – nearly stumbling into the fire Cecilia was cooking soup over, falling off a 3ft. drop, etc. Darlin, 7,  who bought 3 chicks, Cabeza Pino was the only name I remember of his chickens, left them with me in our hanging cardboard contraption as he knew his mother wouldn’t let him keep them in his house.

Darlin posing with our hanging chicken box

Darlin posing with our hanging chicken box, tied near my kitchen light bulb to keep the chicks warm and away from Tiguere, before the luz showed up

Posing with Chicken Leen, Juan Carlos, Darlin and our collective 10 chickens

Posing with Chicken Leen, Carlos Manuel, Darlin and our collective 10 chicks

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Chicken Leen with Juan Pablo Duarte on his head

Pollito aka Chick Pics: Continue reading

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