A few thoughts on returning to America after serving in the Peace Corps..

My last months of Peace Corps passed by quickly, as I finished training other volunteers, their masons and health promoters on Ecological bathroom construction and behavioral change with USAID funding. I feel confident saying that masons have really loved having a construction manual to take home with them after training to refer to as they begin projects in their communities. After saying my goodbyes to Villa Clara, Los Miches (my two sites), friends and Peace Corps staff in the capital, and purchasing some more beautiful larimar, I arrived at the airport 2 hours late. I'd never missed a flight before, and I suppose it only meant that after 33 months of living in the Dominican Republic I was officially on "island time". It's definitely not the first thing that I wanted to have to spend money on in my state of unemployment. I guess thank you Peace Corps for the readjustment allowance, but you should have reminded me that I needed to show up to the airport on time! Kidding..sort of.

 I arrived in Chicago to be greeted by my roommate from college, Mel, who is a P.E. teacher and volleyball coach for the Chicago Public School district. I took a run along Michigan Avenue that next morning when I woke up, and things did not feel too much different. It felt like the Santo Domingo Malecon and looked a lot like it too. It was not until I entered Target and was dumbfounded by the card swiper thing at the cash register that I realized there was a thing or two I would need to brush up on besides my English. It had been awhile since I'd swiped one myself and was a little caught off guard. This is when Mel decided to nickname me FOB, "Fresh Off the Boat". That nickname would stick for the entire weekend. 

 Mel had to coach a game later that afternoon, so later that day we headed over to Kenwood High School to load the team onto a school bus and head to another high school. First day back in America and I get to ride a school bus through Chicago! I was absolutely thrilled. I felt like a little kid in a candy store. The boys on the bus are all chit chatting about their girlfriends and where they want to go to college and how they are going to pay for school. We arrive at the other school where our competitors greet us. I head into the bathroom, choose one of the eight bathroom stalls and then wash my hands with the warm water. I am probably thinking to myself, "Dios Santo, agua caliente, inodoros, yes I am at a school in America." I am not quite having a "reverse culture shock" moment yet. I walk out of the bathroom and am asked by a few boys from the opposing team, "HEY..is our school nicer than yours?? Is it bigger??" I look at them and do not really even know where to begin. So I don't. How can you begin to explain that they have eight stalls in their bathroom and somewhere to wash their hands after they use it when there are schools that do not have a bathroom, let alone an indoor bathroom with eight stalls? How would I even be in the place to decide whose school was bigger or better. They both had swimming pools for crying out loud! I responded "Oh, I am just a friend of the coach and I honestly really do not know whose school is bigger or better." 

 This is not the only situation that I have found myself in where I have no words to describe the different mentality that I have gained by living in a developing country for the last 2 1/2 years. It happens everyday. I have only had a few break downs since coming home and every day my normalcy is returning more. Things that made me sad the first week make me smile now because I do have a whole other world to compare ours to. Sometimes it all feels like it was a dream and I am saddened in a way that slowly America is growing on me, although I am happy to be home.


.Home sweet home.

At the beginning of February, many returned Peace Corps volunteers from 1962 forward came down to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps DR . Above is a video I made to present for part of the Appropriate Technology sector presentation at the celebration at the beginning of February. It gives a good idea of what the construction of the project entails.

I am back at my apartment after a week and a half stretch on the road (and the sea you could say) to help other volunteers with composting latrines. I trained 2 masons in Las Galeras on the construction of Peace Corps DR circular composting latrine. Now..that is not to say that didn't come with some stressful moments and problems that made me wonder if I should be training on construction without my mason from Dajabon. I knew it was at least something I had to attempt before I left. To the left is a picture of one of the bases we built while finishing the stairs. Soy ingeniera YA! =)

We had a little fiesta at the end of the week and Gaby, the volunteer in Las Galeras, surprised her masons with cake and certificates. They went home and cleaned up after we had finished our 2nd latrine and came back looking sharp. Muy Dominicano.

Next stop, Isla Saona, in a small touristy Dominican village Mano Juan. An environment volunteer, Colleen, used a mixture of community fundraisers (selling Empanadas and movie nights) and a grant funded by Water Charity to plan for the construction of 2 ecological bathrooms at the school. Below are the materials being loaded up in Bayahibe.

After traveling to Isla Saona from the capital with a 20 pound toilet bowl fiber glass mold and arriving soaking wet, a few destroyed items (my phone!!) that were completely swimming with water, we were exhausted. Some community members showed up soon after our arrival and helped to carry the materials to the school. Students whom had volunteered to carry materials ran hiding so that they could get out of the work they had promised. That was our first red flag to stopping the construction this past week. The community showed little to no support in the construction of the bathrooms. Before my arrival, Colleen had made a schedule of volunteers for the week. After no one showing up to work on the first day of the project, the teacher tried to pay a Haitian to help us with the construction. He ended up bringing us sand that looked like dirt and then he said he would not bring any more because the teacher had only paid him for what he had done. We told the community that they had to send us a list of the volunteers (who really would show up) for the week so that we would be ensured that we would not have to stop mid-construction. This could be partially because it is for a school and not for an individual, but in all reality--why would parents not want a bathroom for their kids at the school? Why would they not fight for changing the sanitation and habits of the youth in the community? Beats me. I was pretty bummed that we couldn't build, but I know we made the right decision to not dump a bunch of resources on a community that just wasn't ready. If they were not willing to work, how can we be sure that they will remove compost from the toilets in a few years and keep the bathrooms clean?(Below: picture of the school).

(side note: I found it very weird that tourists go through here in their bikinis and look through the windows..I would find that a bit distracting if I were trying to learn...)

Although trying to be a volunteer on this isla "atrasada" is somewhat impossible, it is still paradise. I felt grateful to be able to make it out there before I close my service in April.


and the journey continues.

These last few months have just flown by, partly because I spent 17 days in America, partly because my work is finally starting to pick up.

Let me start with my trip to America. It was so nice to be back to Iowa to visit my family and friends over the holidays. It'd been 3 years since I'd been home during the winter months and I was more than slightly disappointed by the good weather. I had hoped for some serious snow/ice storms so that I could cozy up in my basement with a book or movie by the fire. Well, no storms meant that the roads were not bad and that made it so that I was able to drive and be extremely busy trying to see as many people as possible in my week in Iowa. I love being home, I love all of you friends and family and seeing you but being home just doesn't feel like vacation to me because to me vacation should be relaxing.

So, knowing the person that I am at home (constantly on the go making plans with back to back and maybe even breaking plans with people because I make too many plans), I knew I needed to make plans for a real vacation which is why I ended up in Denver/Copper Mt. with a few friends from college for the last part of my vacation. Good choice on my part because it really did feel like a vacation, and I wouldn't have even seen snow on my trip if I wouldn't have made these plans. Even if it was man-made snow because there hadn't been any snow, it felt real. Part of my reason for choosing Denver as my vacation spot is because I have always had it in the back of my mind that I would end up there someday.

So that leads me to my current situation. I spoke with a fellow volunteer friend that is back in the States now. Turns out she has an excel sheet with 71+ jobs that she has applied for in the last several months of being home. Only a few interviews and nothing. The good thing is that I know how to live on bare minimum if needed. I know how to not buy things when I don't need them. But....that doesn't mean I don't want a job that I can get some get some new shoes..a ski pass in Denver..and real vacations and this and that and yeah that's my mind telling me it's time to find a real job. Because I deserve those things, I'm a hard worker and 27 months (well I guess 30 something months now) not making enough to even get what I need (sorry Peace Corps..but I can hardly afford to eat what I need and neither can my friends as we have both lost some poundage and LUCKILY you are giving one of my roommates protein powder so we can survive at the end of the month when things are tight). I have friends here that literally things are so tight at the end of the month that they eat oatmeal everyday until pay day 3 meals a day for the last 4-5 days of the month. I shouldn't have to rely on a friends protein powder with a splash of carnation milk to feed myself. Nor should volunteers have to survive on oatmeal for so many days.. And I don't want to live like that anymore. I want a steak and potatoes with a side of brocolli and cauliflower with cheese drizzles over it or something and some birthday cake or something here and there to make me feel human dude. Like a three course meal. I am not saying I need that everyday.. but it'd be nice to feel like I could splurge a little to widen my food options.

So..the job search has begun. I am looking at some teaching fellows in Denver where you can get your teaching certification while teaching elementary Spanish in an under-served community. My heart kind of flutters and it is the first application since my applying to Peace Corps that I actually feel excited about. So I think to myself, am I going to have to feel this way about 71 jobs like my friend or is there someway that I can continue harassing people where I am applying and convince them that yes, I am awesome and will blow you away once you give me the chance to. and the kids will love me. Actually, if I don't get this job or a job like it I think I'd be a good photographer for kids. I always can make them smile for some reason for pictures. That's a skill for my resume, right?

Work here..well, my to-do list is longer than it ever has been. I am excited about my work, but would be more excited if the Appropriate Technology sector wasn't being done away with. My director of AT, Tim, is being let go because of budget cuts to Peace Corps. It makes me sad because I've never seen someone so passionate about their work, so passionate that it has also made me passionate about bathrooms, composting ones at least. So passionate that he took his last week of vacation time that he hadn't use to spend it at the office working. Working because he loves it and working because he knows we need him and he wants to make sure we get everything we need from him before he leaves.

My USAID grant (US$5,200) is finally here. I will be planning 3 training conferences on composting latrines in the Samana peninsula. I already went out to Las Galeras and started planning for our first training conference. My friend Gaby lives out there and has funding to do 20 composting latrines. I am helping her smooth out her budget and figure out where to order her materials to make sure that she will have enough funding for at least her planned project. Her budget is looking great, and it looks like she may have funding to do even more than originally projected.

Budgets don't always work that way I have found out over the last few weeks. My other friend is doing a composting latrine project in Monte Cristi and when I had originally planned for her budget, it was before all of the changes that occurred in our design, and her budget ended up being slightly off. Also prices of materials have gone up even more because her grants were applied for much longer ago than my friend Gaby on the peninsula. She is hoping to score some materials for her project from some politicians, city hall or some local NGO's to balance those miscalculations. It wasn't too terribly off and if she gets a few bags of cement and sand donated the project will be completed. It isn't such a terrible thing after all and it gives opportunity for a little local funding to happen. Afterall, if local people have to step it up to make this happen, maybe after my friend is gone the community could do another small project with the help of politicians/NGO's/ect. Thankfully there are always solutions when things don't go as planned, which is what Peace Corps is all about is learning how to work around problems and find the best solutions to get things done in a most of the time disorganized, running around with my head cut off kind of environment.

Besides helping other volunteers get things off the ground and planning the training conferences, I am still working on perfecting the construction manual and have taken quite a bit of video footage for a video project. I plan to have a mini-video for the AT sector presentation at our 50th anniversary presentation that is coming up in a few weeks. I want to show how this project has grown and developed over the last 3 years. Many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from the States are coming down to celebrate the 50th and want to hear about each sector.

That is all. =)Ohh..and I may be getting a few more visitors in March--my dearest friend Erin and her boyfriend Gabe are trying to plan a visit. I hope it happens.

Cuidanse mucho!


More on working life in the capital...

Three toilet bowl molds officially arrived this past week, which means construction time is nearing for some of the volunteers that I am helping. This next week I will be headed out to Isla Saona, a small, beautiful island located off of the south of the island. There, we will be building 2 ecological bathrooms for a school that currently has no bathroom. The volunteer and mason from the island attended the training that was held out in Santiago several months ago, but the latrine construction is somewhat complicated so I will be going out to assist them with construction.

I am now realizing the importance of having a construction manual (in addition to the health promotion manual) for volunteers. Especially for volunteers who are in an isolated area with no hardware store nearby to get last minute materials. Fortunately the time that was spent writing a construction manual over the last few months will be paying off. The manual gives the materials needed for each of the 4 days of the construction of the base and the exact tools that are needed. This will prevent us losing an entire day of construction to have to go off of the island to look for any missing item that can not be improvised last minute. Even if it was not an isolated site, this manual is a guide that makes room for error or time wasting little to none.

The work in store for us over the next week is not just construction. I will also be collecting video footage, pictures and re-taking notes on the project. This will all be used to continue the construction manual (adding in sections on how to use our toilet mold, how to build a caseta, ect.) and to double check the accuracy of the measurements in the manual. The video footage is for a video project that I will be undertaking with some of my fellow AT volunteers that will explain the entire composting latrine project.

I am working on an outline for the video that begins with the community diagnostic phase and finding that your community needs composting latrines, health promotion, construction, removing the actual compost, using the compost, ect. This will be used as a tool by volunteers doing this project in the future to give families a visual of exactly how this project works. My roommate Gabe (the AT PCVL) found a GREAT picture that represents what a compost latrine IS NOT, which is a picture of a compost latrine with no caseta with plants growing out of it that is not being used by the family. The picture will be going into the video.

The notes that I will be taking will also be useful for a facilitator's guide that I am writing about composting bathrooms projects. The facilitator's guide will be useful for volunteers that want to implement bathroom projects within their communities and will be a "how to" manual on project implementation.

Besides that, we poured a toilet with our mold today so that I could give it a test drive before taking it to Isla Saona this weekend to pour. Our plan is to pour the molds in Bayahibe and bring the actual toilets with us on the ferry to the island. I have recruited another AT volunteer working with composting toilets to assist me in this venture because as much as I hate to admit, I am still a woman (with a herniated disc on top of that) and I am not about to be lifting and grunting and mixing cement alone trying to show people how to do this stuff. :) A pair of man hands will be greatly appreciated.

Que mas..A friend of mine from the peninsula is getting a site change to the capital, so yesterday we went back out to Samana to pack up her things and did a quick stop at my old site, Villa Clara. I was happy to find my women's group slaving away at their new oven and picked up some fresh baked bread to bring home to the capital. They seem to be loving their new oven and are baking and selling more than before, so that was great news! I plan to do a trip out there possibly in January to do some more work with them on the side.

Stayed tuned, sorry to bore ya'll with all work and no play. :)


Campo girl steps off the metro..

I’ve officially been living in the capital for a month. As much as I would love to admit my days are completely full of work, I will admit guiltily that this month has served more as me adjusting to life in the capital. I’ve realized that my Spanish is slowly going out the window, due to speaking mainly with just Americans. My clothes are getting looser as I sweat my way to the Peace Corps office nearly every day. Walking a lot more and getting away from arroz and habichuelas (rice & beans) will make that happen apparently. I have officially lost all of the weight that I gained here in the Peace Corps. I do not want to lose any more--so pass me my presidente, that blue cheese bacon cheese burger at the embassy that I had for lunch last week and a chocolate bar por favor.

Speaking of food.. The other night I made a delicious eggplant tomato pasta..just throwing everything we had available into it. It turned out well considering the ingredients on hand..I believe it was a success and could tell by the quiet but very happy munching that was going on. Our apartment has an actual oven as well so I’ve been doing some baking as well, my banana bread and brownies have been mastered without a measuring cup. Cooking with friends or for friends is so enjoyable. Cooking is meant for more than one person and eating with other people is probably one of the best things in life. On my list of things to buy this payday—a large baking pan.

The Metro. Phil showed me a new way to the Peace Corps office. I can take one public carro (carro public) down to Maximo Gomez, where there is a metro that drops me off 4 blocks from the Office. The other way is taking 2 different carro publicos. I like to switch it up, but this morning I took the metro. I’ve road metros before but something about this morning was different for me. It was a great morning. I left the house around 10am and took my carro to the metro. I realize I’ve forgotten the IPod..but, that’s okay, I have a song in my head (It’s a Brand New Day-Joshua Radin) and hum it the whole way there. I look around at all of the people, everyone from such different backgrounds, everyone with their own lives and problems and I am just another person riding the metro and walking on the sidewalk. I look up and trash is blowing in the air. Somehow even that is beautiful to me at that moment. When I look around it kind of makes me feel bad for getting stressed out about my own problems because God only knows that everyone has their own issues that they are dealing with. I am one person and when I am gone, the world will keep spinning. And trash may or may not continue to fly from the tops of buildings like rain drops in the Dominican Republic.

Music. An typical night in our home consists of Phil rapping strumming a few strings on the guitar or to mixed beats that he creates on his computer, my attempts at the guitar (which…is actually decent, even playing a little bit that I’ve made up myself), teaching Marite the little I know on the guitar (and she is sounding pretty damn good I might add). Gabe, Marite’s boyfriend just moved in and we really would like him to pick up the harmonica so we can start a band here at the house..but...unfortunately he does not think that this is as great as we do but we have decided that we can totally picture him out on the field building water systems in the middle of nowhere and just whipping on his harmonica to play a tune… I think we all have a little bit of talent that is going to be unleashed throughout the months to come.

Water. The water situation here at the house is unpredictable, a reminder that I am still living in a developing country. Last night there was no water. We have two big tanks in our bathrooms to fill with water and last night we hardly had any in our tank but needed to do the dishes. My friend Jose and I washed the dishes with the absolute minimum of water and I am thinking—this is a skill that if for some reason the electricity goes out in the states for longer than a few days and there is no water, I will be the first to step up to the plate and show everyone how to minimize their water consumption and get their dishes spotless.
Reading. I find myself being able to focus more and read guilt free. Well..mostly guilt free. My director overheard me talking about a few books I had read and I quote him, “If you are reading that much..you aren’t working enough”. I laughed. He laughed..kind of. A good book recommendation for anyone interested in learning a little more about China’s Cultural Revolution should consider reading Life and Death in Shanghai. I haven’t finished it just yet, had to put it down a little over halfway through and start something a little lighter. It really makes you feel like you are there as you learn about one woman’s (who is considered capitalist because of working for Shell) experience.

Laundry. Laundry is a half day event. It might be another reason for the pounds shedding away because it consists of going up and down 5 flights of stairs with the laundry basket. Between that and mopping the house I think that my arms may get some definition over the months to come. Vamos a ver. My roommate Marite was a little appalled by me putting my underwear into the laundry machine. I was surprised because I didn’t know that it was all latinas (she’s Cuban) that handwash their underwear. I thought it was a Dominican thing. Well…now that I read that aloud she says it could be just a Carribean thing. Regardless, I am done hand washing my underwear after leaving the campo…I paid my dues and lived like a latina for long enough. Sorry Marite.  I know you still love me.

Closing our service. Things are going to start feeling different around here as some of my group is already beginning to leave. We had a few early COS-ers, including my roommate from my hotel room at staging. We still have memories from our first weekend together and it was strangely unreal saying our goodbyes. I hope it is not forever. I admit that I teared up the other night thinking about another friend leaving me. I expect that we will have a reunion all together within the next few years even.
Work. As I look at all of the things that I would like to accomplish, 5 ½ months is a very short time. I am pondering a 13 month extension instead of my original 5 ½ months. I am not ruling it out, but am waiting a little longer to make my final decision. I have around 10 volunteers that are going to be working on composting latrines, although a few of these will only be constructing 1-2 at their sites to get the idea of excrement composting in the air, and to better determine if this project would be a success.

Monday we traveled to Bonoa so that I could meet Yovanny, the man that is designing and making our molds for the toilet bowl. He is doing a great job and we finally have the mold we have been perfecting since I first started this project. I will be coordinating with him and other volunteers with the ordering and transport of the molds to sites.

This weekend I will be headed out to a campo outside of La Romana to present the project to a site that is in need of composting latrines. There is no projector so I plan to just put together a small photo album of pictures for people to see and an informational handout.

I submitted my proposal to USAID to hold three training conferences over the next months in Samana. I have a feeling it is going to be awhile before I receive any support, so am planning to hold training in the South with some left over grant money of another volunteer.

The construction manual for the project is looking sharp and my goal is that anyone could pick this up and build one with these instructions. Another goal of mine for the months to come is working on a video project for the compost latrine. I am going to be collecting footage of the construction, the swivel toilet seat (a new invention that the AT group came up with during training), health promotion and the actual removal of the compost. In December, we are planning a trip out to Los Miches to see the removal of the compost from one of the composting latrines from my project.
Fun. Peace Corps “Homecoming” is this next week and we are also going to have a little Halloween celebration at our house. My sister is coming down next week and I am so excited to spend time with her and share with her everything that I have learned about navigating in the capital. 


Culture shock?

Is reverse culture shock possible if you are in the same country but in a different area? The last week and a half has been super intense for me (in a good way), which is why I ask. I have come to realize that I made the best decision by moving to the capital and adjusting to this before returning to the United States. I think that living with other Americans and also adjusting to a more "consumer" society you could say will make my transition to the States much less shocking when April arrives.

I do have to say that one of the most enjoyable parts of being in the capital is not having to feel the need or obligation to socialize with my neighbors constantly. Don't get me wrong, I am a social person but I think 2 years of campo socializing was about all this girl could take. I realized that now that I am living with people that understand me, where I come from and people with many of the same values that I have..I am so much happier. I can finally laugh constantly throughout my day to jokes in English..really, long, hard laughing. I get to play scrabble with my friends in English and finally get to break in a Scrabble dictionary that I got.

We were all talking about it the other evening and someone said "We can never see this but any outsider who comes realizes quickly that volunteers as a whole are depressed". I agree to a certain extent..you definitely are leaving a certain part of you, your sanity and your happiness upon your decision to join Peace Corps. I don't think that I quite realized just how much I need other like minded and awesome individuals in my life until just over the last week and a half. I feel like a new woman.

So. Living in the capital has been super interesting because the view behind our apartment is an impoverished neighborhood (barrio) and the street next to us is an extremely wealthy area (I mean..were talking 5 minutes walking from Louis Vuitton..and tons of other designer type of things I have never heard of). I have had Krispy Kreme donuts twice and Burger King in the last week..I don't even like those things all that much but it was so incredibly wonderful. Burger King was just an all around terrific experience..and it wasn't just the food. Friday night 4 friends and I were hanging out at the apartment and we decided lets go to Burger King..little did we know how incredible burger king is now! We go in..and the first thing I notice is, WOW this is spotless clean. It isn't that cleanliness isn't common here in the DR but in most business it isn't exactly up to par with U.S. standards. Then, the kids play area--incredible. Brilliant. They had super cute big couches in the place..genius. THEN, I am wondering--why are there no salads on the menu? Well..it just so happens that there is a flat screen television, yes..a flat screen television, with a menu that is constantly changing and I just hadn't seen the salads. I was completely blown away. I feel crazy finding all of these different things crazy, but I am not.

So, other businesses within walking distance from the apartment.
-2 shopping malls--not just any ordinary Iowa shopping mall..were talking like wow..I didn't even know Dominicans could shop here. Did I mention that the food courts have cinnabon, sbarro, sushi, papa johns..ect the list goes on.
-2 grocery stores..with mostly anything that I could ever dream of.
-5-6 liquor shops..
-A Naturalizer shoe store..still can't stop thinking about the shoes that I tried on last week that were soo comfy (and all of my shoes are broken except 1) but oh so almost half of my Peace Corps monthly pay.
-Taco Bell
-Outback steakhouse

The list could go on and on.

American society and the way that we live is absolutely insane and out of this world. I am not saying it is a bad thing..I was quite excited about all of the wonders in Burger King, trust me. It is bad that it has let some of us become these greedy, unconscious human beings.

Why is it that I feel ashamed/guilty about feeling the consumer and wanting feelings for the first time in so long? Even wishing that I made more so that I could get the things that I want. Not just the things I want, but need as well. I barely get enough money to get all of the food I need here in the capital let alone get shoes that I am in need of. I can't help but feel that it is wrong to feel this way toward things after seeing some very impoverished parts of this country, and people that struggle to put food on their table or don't even have a bathroom or running water.

Work is slow but coming along. I am currently working on a budget to submit to USAID to get money to train volunteers, their masons and health promoters on composting latrines and health promotion. I will be sending that to a contact that I made at a tourism fair last week to see if there is funding available. Also, the toilet bowl mold that we have been working on since we first started developing the composting latrine project is FINALLY perfected and the AT PCVL Mark and I mixed up some cement and poured a toilet bowl at the office today to test it out. I am super excited, because now there are going to be around 5 volunteers doing this project and they will all have actually cement toilet seats with real toilet seats and lids for these latrines. :)

In a few days my director, the PCVL and I are headed out to the border near El Cercado to an AT volunteer's site that is going to begin a compost latrine project. Over the next few months I may get the chance to go to Isla Saona and a few other places to help out another volunteer with composting latrines which would be incredible.

Other news..chopped a good 13-15 inches of my hair off for Locks of Love. No regrets, it is so refreshing to not have to worry about all that hair! :)

and best of all.. Coming home for Christmas on December 20th-January 7th.


So, I am an AT volunteer now..

The clay oven for my women's group is finished. It took 4 days to complete after we had a table built with blocks. I can now say that I could build one on my own. It was a lot of work though, and we had to make due with the materials that I was able to locate here in Samana. We had originally planned to use all yellow clay for the oven because it is more flexible for building than red clay. Unfortunately, the yellow clay that arrived from the hardware shop was full of rocks and we only had a little after sifting. The oven ended up being built mostly with red clay. Here is a brief description of each day of work.

The table we built was supposed to be 2 meters by 2 meters, but the women were quite sneaky and added in extra block to make it larger because they wanted an even larger oven.. This was the biggest oven that Duncan had ever built, and he didn't really want to go much bigger than 2mx2m. After building the table, we filled it with dirt and left a small amount of space at the top.

Day 1- In a 2x2 meter space, we put a layer of sand and then broken glass on top of it (for handling the heat from oven), with salt over that to fill in the space between the glass. Then, another layer of sand. After we put in a brick floor and built a mold for the oven with block and sand.

Day 2- We covered the sand/block mold with newspaper, and then made our clay mixture. The clay mixer had red clay (which was supposed to be yellow), the yellow clay that we had available, koalin (which is a clay like substance that helps the oven not crack) and water. We formed blocks with the clay and then proceeded to put them around the oven and smooth them together. We built an arched entrance to the oven with bricks and clay. I added sea shells to make it more beautiful. :)

Day 3- Another clay mixture with sawdust, kaolin and clay. We formed balls out of the clay and put them around and around the oven smoothing them and packing them in until it was finished. The sawdust is used to make the oven stronger.

Day 4- A layer of pure clay and water to give the oven a nice finish.

Little by little we have taken the sand mold out of the oven and now are making fires each day that have started with a small fire and will grow into a roaring fire after about a week which will finish the curing process. The oven will reach full baking potential after using it for 3 months. I want to give a shout out to my co-volunteers Duncan and Gabe, who taught me everything I know about clay ovens and assisted me so much throughout this project! :) I couldn't have done it without you guys.

More news on the latrine manual. I finished updates on the manual, but it is STILL a work in progress. It is much, much better than before and is the official copy that will be used with the new Appropriate Technology volunteers. I included a section on how to form a latrine committee and updated the construction segments and various other parts of the manual, along with adding in the new drawings that had been done by a few of our more artistic volunteers.

This next week, I will be training a group of 15 volunteers and their masons on composting latrine construction and the BIBOBSI latrine manual (the one from the last paragraph). My mason that I used in Dajabon will be joining us in a mountain outside of Santiago for the 4 day training to build 1 latrine. The goal of the training is so that these volunteers will learn how to implement a composting latrine project at their sites and have a mason who is trained to construct them.

And..finally, the BIG NEWS. There are still people here in the Dominican Republic without a place to poo...so, on September 15th, I am officially an Appropriate Technology Volunteer and will be moving to the capital. I will be living with 3 other close friends that I have made throughout my service 2 carro publicos from the Peace Corps office. My new Close of Service date is April 15th. My work plan is as follows...

"In my extension as an AT volunteer, I plan to move to the capital on September 15th, 2011 so that I can serve as a “consultant” for the ecological bathroom project. I will begin by immediately reaching out to volunteers that are trying to implement composting latrine projects at their sites so that I can begin to plan for cross-sector training for ecological bathrooms. I will use October to search for funding and the means to hold an ecological bathroom training event for volunteers. In the following months, I will be planning and hosting the training event. Throughout my 5 ½ month extension, I will also be working on developing a more systematic approach to the project which will include learning objectives and lesson plans. I will also be visiting volunteers at their sites to help them with the BIBOBSI method and their projects. Throughout these visits to volunteers, I intend to continue updates on the latrine manual as needed. At the end of my extension in April, I will present during the training sessions for the project to the incoming group of AT volunteers in CBT."

Don't worry friends & Fam--I'll be home for Christmas most likely for a visit! :) I love you all, and thank you for supporting my mission here in the DR!