So, I see that my app which I can write this blog with on my phone got an update today and seemed to fix some of the weird stuff that was kind of preventing me from writing on here. Of course, a big factor still remains that I only have my cell phone to access the Internet and write on my blog, which isn't the most convenient or the fasted way to type. Anyway, I wanted to write a post tonight not only because the app is fixed but also to tell about my Guagua experience tonight.
As a reminder, Guaguas are the little mini buses that drive all over the cities here. They are one of the main forms of public transportation in the Dominican Republic. The buses that are even smaller are called Guaguitas.
I would say that an average Guaguita has 10-12 manufactured seats in them, not including the driver. However, that does not mean that only 12 passengers can fit into the vehicle. The conductors of each Guagua will keep recruiting people to get on, even if the person has to sit in other people's laps. (The conductors are the guys who usually hang half way out of the doors hollering out to people on the street trying to get them to get on their Guagua.) Almost ever Guagua or Guaguita I have ridden here has been completely packed at one point or another during my trip from point A to point B. I found some good images of Guaguitas on the Internet to give you an idea of what they are like - and yes, these are really what they are like. They are not exaggerated photos.
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Image from http://www.sosuanews.com
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Image from http://members.virtualtourist.com
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Image from http://www.isvolunteers.org
As you can see from the image above that there is a woman in the front seat sitting on someone's lap, and in the back there are two people trying to squeeze their way in while there is already a guy sitting on the edge of the seat next to the door. This my friends is how I get around Santo Domingo on a daily basis. And in all reality I think it is quite fun and entertaining. If nothing else it is a great experience to see how other countries and cultures are conducted in their everyday life.
Speaking of entertaining, onto the story of my Guaguita trip home tonight from Zona Colonial and why I wanted to write this post. A group of us were on our way home tonight and we were spread throughout the vehicle. Courtney was in the front by the chófer (driver), Alex and Alicia were in the first row, John and I were in the next row and Sonni was in the back.
By the time we got to Avenida Abraham Lincoln the Guaguita was packed. Shortly after we passed Avenida Abraham Lincoln I felt some brush up against the back of my head. At first I didn't think anything of it because people are so crammed like sardines that people don't really have personal space and are always brushing up against you. Well, a few seconds later I felt it again but only this time it felt more like someone had pulled on my hair and not just brushed up against it.
I turned my head slightly to see if I could see what was going on. Between the fact that I was squished with John on one side of me and some lady on the other, I couldn't really turn around very easily without being obvious I was wanting to see what kept touching my hair. Seconds later I felt another gentle tug and brush against my hair. (What the heck?)
At this point I was a little weirded out wondering who was doing this to me and then the thought came to my mind that it could very well be Sonni since she was sitting on one of the seats behind John and me. I thought she was maybe trying to get my attention. So, I turned around a bit more and looked at her. However, she looked back at me with an odd look on her face, shook her head and while pointing to the people next to her she said "it wasn't me, it was them..."
Okay, I was back to being weirded out. Why was my hair being stroked like I was a dog and also slightly pulled? I looked at John and told him that the person behind me kept touching my hair and that it was quite awkward. As he chuckled it happened again. Sonni said my name to get my attention and so I turned around. She said that the lady behind me really liked my hair and that's why she was touching it. Although I was still a little weirded out I turned to see her, smiled and said gracias.
I couldn't understand what her and her friend were saying, but aparently this woman really liked it because she kept playing with it. I turned a bit to try and be involved in the conversation they were having with Sonni. All three of them were giggling although I didn't understand what the woman said. Sonni then looked at me and told me that I should be flattered and that I should enjoy it because people in the states don't just randomly stroke another person's hair and compliment them in how much they like it while riding public transportation - at least not very many people, especially in Utah.
For the next ten minutes or so before I needed to get off the bus we were making friendly conversation (mostly them and Sonni because I had a hard time understanding many of their sentences). Meanwhile this lady kept playing with my hair and making comments on how she loves the color, etc.
By the time I got off the Guaguita I was no longer weirded out, but rather glad to experience such an odd event like that. Sonni is right that I should have been flattered and the fact that it most likely will not happen back in Utah. It is just another thing that I have experienced here in the Dominican Republic that has helped me understand and appreciate different cultures, people and personalities.
 
 
¡Hola amigos! I know it has been a while since I have posted on the blog. I really wanted to make a post every day, but I have been really busy and a tragic thing happened - my iPad broke with days of me arriving here in the Dominican Republic! (don't worry, nothing tragic has physically happened to me or any of my fellow students)
For all of you with a Smart Cover for your iPad, beware! They day my iPad broke I was simply laying in bed before going to sleep, checking Facebook, reading blogs, uploading photos to my Flickr account, etc.  Everything was fine. There was no sign of any kind of damage to my iPad.
Then, when I was ready for bed I simply attached the Smart Cover to my iPad. For those of you unfamiliar with iPads and the Smart Covers you can buy for them, they are a magnetized cover that connects to the side of your iPad (which also has magnets that line up with the Smart Cover magnets) The Smart Cover is an Apple product - it is not a third-party product. Apple designed the iPad and the cover to compliment each other.
Well, as soon as I attached the cover to my iPad the screen started freaking out! The screen started flickering with all sorts of lines, colors, dots, etc. It reminded me of the olden days back in the 90's when there would be nothing on the television late at night and every channel was just static. (Yes I know, the 90's is not the "olden days" but give me a break; I was born in 1987 so the early 90's is considered old for me.)
Needless to say, I said a few choice words! I spent the next hour trying to fix it or figure out what happened. Luckily I had my cell phone, so I connected it to the wifi and searched the Internet for similar instances. I ended up finding some posts where the same thing happened to their iPads, also caused when they attached their Smart Cover to their iPad! It appears that it is a rare hardware issue and that I need to take my iPad into an Apple Store and have them replace my iPad. Unfortunately there is not an Apple Store here in the Dominican Republic so I have to do it when I get home... I did not bring my laptop on the trip - only my iPad and cell phone. I figured I would be just fine with my iPad since it was able to accomplish everything I would have needed over the next 5 weeks. Well, just a few days into the trip it broke...
Why couldn't this have happened before I came here, or even a few days before I leave to go back home? No, it had to happen at the beginning of my trip leaving me with only my cell phone for Internet and my homework in class - which is absolutely horrible to do on such a little device as my phone! So, Im know what I am doing on the morning of Saturday, 29th of June - I am going down to the Apple Store and and going to tell them that they need to replace my iPad since their own product broke it.
Anyway, enough about my iPad... I just wanted to vent a little bit. Now, onto the more interesting stuff. The past few weeks have been... what's a good phrase... eventful and enlightening. More to come in my next post.
 
 
 
 
Today was very hot! I have never sweat so much in my life! This morning when I went outside it was very humid and hot. I'm not sure what the temperature was, but it was quite warm!

Today we learned how to dance some of the popular dances the people here in Dominican Republic do. The first dance was the Salsa, the second dance was the Merengue and the last dance was the Bachata. Our dance instructor was a nationally award winning dancer from Dominican Republic. Needless to say, she danced very fast and it was hard for me to catch up!

I always tell people that I am too white to dance, which most of the time is true! But once I get warmed up and "broken in" I can swing my hips almost as good as the instructor! Ok, maybe not even close to as good as her, but she was quite impressed with my hip shaking abilities! Haha. After the dancing I swear I probably looking like someone dumped a bucket of water over my head! I was so sweaty and gross!

Right after class Sonni, Alex, Jordan, John and I got on a Guagua and headed down Independencia, the main avenue by where we live, and planned out our long weekend this week.

On Thursday there is a holiday here, so we have a four day weekend. A group of us are going to go to the north side of the island to Cabarete, a really nice beach town where people do surfing, kite surfing and wind surfing. We are going to rent a room or two at a beach resort. I haven't been there yet, so I don't know all the details or amazing things about it. Those posts will come later this week! :)

When I got home tonight I had chicken and plantains for dinner. After dinner my mom wanted to see photos of my family, house, friends, etc. back home so we spent time going through my pictures. It is times like this where I am really glad I use Dropbox and keep all my photos there so I can access them any time I want!

Later Joca helped me get some pictures onto my Dropbox from my camera. So, I will be posting some photos - finally!!
 
 
Today was awesome!! First, I woke up at about 6:30 so I could go to the Santo Domingo LDS Temple! I went with my new friend Sonni. I took a Guagua a few blocks west to Sonni's house and then we took a carrito (a taxi) to the temple. We went to the 9:00 session. The temple is so beautiful! As stated in a previous post, people don't have grass here in Dominican Republic, the the temple grounds do, and the landscaping is so gorgeous.

After the temple Sonni and I went and met up with some other classmates who went to Zona Colonial, the old historic part of the city. It took us a while to get there because we had to walk a ways and then take a Guagua. I bought a really awesome "Double Sixes" dominos game that is hand made! I'm excited to show it to Grandma since she is the one who taught me how to play it!

After Zona Colonial our group went to the beach again! But this time we went to Juan Dolio instead of Boca Chica. Juan Dolio is a bit further than Boca Chica, but the extra 15 minutes is worth the drive! That beach is so much more beautiful, less crowded, less people trying to sell you stuff and it has waves!!

We spent the afternoon there until about 7pm. Not everyone in our group went, but I think the was about 15 of us. I took some awesome pictures of this beach, but again, I can't upload them because I can't get them off my camera until I can use Joca's computer.

Our taxi driver dropped us off in Zona Colonial and then we took Guaguas back to our houses. If the taxi driver took each of us back to our individual houses he would have charged us about 400 pesos more per person. So, instead we only paid 25 pesos each and it probably took us about the same amount of time it would have taken with the taxi - maybe a little bit longer.

When I got home last night there were more family members at my house again. I don't think there has been a night where I haven't come home and had more people to meet and visit. I feel bad, but I don't remember hardly any of their names... But, if they are over as much as they were this last week then I'm sure ill have it all down when I leave at the end of June.
 
 
Today was really fun! We had class as usual from 9-2:30, with a one hour lunch break at noon.

Class today was kind of interesting. Like I said yesterday, I think my teacher is just getting a feel of how much we already know and what we need to learn next because there wasn't "teaching" that really went on in class today, but rather we just sat in a circle, reviewed our homework assignment from yesterday and then just talked until lunch. The teacher said we could talk about anything, but of course it had to be in Spanish. If anyone said anything on English she would stop them and tell them to say it in Spanish. After lunch it was pretty much the same thing.

After class our whole class went to Boca Chica!! We were all anticipating going to the beach ever since we got there! The car ride, which we rented three large taxi-vans (actual taxis and not Guaguas, the buses I talked about before). The car ride was about 40 minutes but thankfully those taxis have air conditioning!!

The beach was fun! I was a little disappointed because Boca Chica is more like a lagoon than a beach. There is a large rock wall that has been built a couple hundred yard out in the ocean which keeps the waves from coming in to shore. The waves are actually one reason I really wanted to go to the beach! I like it when the waves crash up against you and push you back.

There was also a ton of people walking around trying to sell us stuff. They would just walk up to us, hold put their products and try to get us to buy them. We would tell them no, but they would still just stand there. I think they stood there because they were looking at all of the "white girls" in their swim suites! Haha.

I took some pictures, but I forgot to bring my SD card adapter from home that connects to my iPad... I will have to wait until Joca, my host brother, gets home and I can use his laptop.

When I got home my family had some of their relatives over again. I sat down and visited with them for a bit. They speak so fast though! I have a hard time understanding them. I can pick out a couple words or phrases in their sentences, but it is hard to follow the conversation with only a couple words here and there.
 
 
(This post was written in my journal and I just copied it over. I say "today" but it was on Thursday)

Today our first day of having our actual class. We met at the library and had immediately got inky our classes.

My teacher's name is Veronica. I like her a lot. She is really funny and I feel like I will be able to learn a lot from her. At the beginning of the class she wanted to get to know us all better, so we went around the room and introduced ourselves and said what we like to do. Each person had to start with the first person who introduced themselves and go down the line repeating what each person before them said until the got to themselves and introduced themselves.

For lunch we went to La Sirena again. We only have an hour lunch before we have to go back to class, so we weren't able to walk around a ton.

When we went back to class our teacher had us write paragraphs about ourselves, again to get to know us better. I think she was also wanting to get an idea of what we already know, what we need to learn and want we each need to improve on.

After class our whole group decided to go down by the ocean to the park and play volleyball. Although we were right next to the ocean, there is no beach directly in the city - at least not big enough or clean enough you would want to swim in. It is really sad because there is so much garbage in the ocean in the city. The closest beach is Boca Chica, which is about 30-40 minutes east of the city.

When we were at the park playing volleyball some of us got ice cream, which was so good! The volleyball court is directly next to the main street that passes the park, which is a bad idea... Needless to say as they were playing the ball went into the street and a car purposely ran over it! It made quite a loud pop noise too!

After we couldn't play volleyball anymore most of the group decided to go to Zona Colonial, the historic district of the city. Three of us, Alex, Sonni and I decided not to go. Instead, we went to a movie. Alex and Sonni wanted to go see the new Star Trek movie. I saw it in Utah already, but since it was only $150 pesos (a little over $3) I didn't mind seeing it again. Also, on Wednesdays the movies are only $100 pesos! It's awesome that movies are so cheap here!!

That was pretty much my day on Thursday.
 
 
It has been a few days since I have made a blog post - sorry about that. I'll give an overview of the last couple of days in another post. Right now I want to focus on my house and family I am living with in the Dominican Republic.
Below are some photos of my house/condo I live in. I must admit, the houses and buildings here are not what I am used to back in Utah. Not very many people live in houses with yards, but rather live in multi story apartment buildings or multi story condos. Also, people here do not have grass; they have concrete, dirt, rocks or sometimes other types of plants.
I am very fortunate to have the family I do here in Dominican Republic. My family is very kind and welcoming. I think every night this week there have been other family members over to the house. My mom, Fifi, has eight siblings. Some of them have been over every night and tonight since it was Mother's Day here, I think all of the siblings and a lot of their families were here. It was crazy to have so many people here! I try to listen to their conversations, but they speak SO fast it is hard to comprehend much. Like I said, today is Mother's Day and so we had a TON of food! Below is a picture of my plate with my host mom filled!
I thought I was maybe going to lose a little weight while I was here - thinking that I wouldn't be eating as much, sweating like crazy and walking a ton. Well, two of those are correct, but as far as eating I think my host mom feeds me more food than the families on my mission! I have a hard time finishing it all. (note: just a minute ago while writing this my mom just asked if I wanted more food right now... we literally ate about 2 hours ago. Haha) As far as sweating, I have never sweat so much in my life! I shower in the morning, which by the way is with cold water, and as soon as I get out and dry off I feel like I had just taken another shower! My clothes stick to me like none other and I can literally feel the sweat drip down my back! I know, you wanted to know that much detail, right? I also don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I actually don't mind it and I would so much rather have this kind of weather than freezing snow and ice in Utah winters! Haha. Below is a some pictures of the big family today eating and visiting.
 
 
There is no better way to learn a language than to be immersed in it! I have been here for one whole day (since most of yesterday was spent at the airport) and I feel like I have learned so much!

First, I have been reminded just how much I DON'T know about Spanish, other countries, cultures, etc. I don't understand most of what is said by the locals. They speak REALLY fast and everything they say in one sentence sounds like one really long word like supercalifragileisticexpealadocious... (I probably didn't even spell that right...)

This morning I had fresh watermelon and mangos for breakfast. Can I just say that fresh mangos are probably my favorite, and any mangos or mango flavored things I have ever had in the states doesn't even come close to how good these things taste here in Dominican Republic! My host "brother" told me that it is mango season, so I'll be eating mangos everyday - fine by me! (don't worry mom, I brought plenty of anti-diarrhea stuff if I eat too much fruit)

After breakfast Carlos, my host brother, left for the university. I rode on what they call a bus - but it was unlike any bus I have ever ridden. When I was in elementary school I rode the bus almost every day. When I hear the word bus, I think of a long, yellow vehicle that fits a lot of people and has brown leather-like seats. Well, that is not even close to what these "buses" are like.

We walked 2 short blocks from our house to Independencia Avenue to catch the bus. We crossed the extremely busy street and waited for the bus. We were only there for a matter of seconds when cars and van-like vehicles started zooming by us and calling out to us. Carlos kept yelling back, "No!" He then said that they were calling out to us to see if we wanted a ride. Yep, those cars and van-like vehicles are their bus/public transportation. There are no "bus schedules" like in Salt Lake, or any major city in the United States. There is no need to make sure you are at a "bus station/stop" to catch the bus. Pretty much, you just have to be on a street corner and stick your hand out, pointing your fingers a specific way to show the driver where you are wanting to go. If they are going in the direction you are needing to go, they will swerve across traffic, almost hitting others and getting about 5 or 6 honks as they do so.

You then hop on the "bus" which can usually hold a dozen people. A bus ride costs 25 Dominican Pesos, which is probably about 55-60 U.S. cents.The bus has a door, but it does not close once you get on. Instead, it stays open and a guy stands on the edge of the doorway calling out to people as the bus driver continues down the street. When the bus stops, they guys gets out of the bus and tries to get other people who may be waiting for another bus to ride his instead.

When you are ready to get of the bus you can just yell to the driver "Aquí" which means "here." As soon as he can, he will pull over and let you out. And when I say as soon as he can, I mean that he will swerve across traffic like before when he picked you up.

We had our orientation this morning at the library of the university and me out instructors. After the orientation we went on a tour of the campus. I took pictures, but now I need to figure out a good way to get them from my digital camera onto my iPad since I only brought that and not my laptop... I forgot to bring my nice camera adapter for my iPad and digital camera... :(

After the tour of campus we had lunch. We walked across the street to La Sirena, which means "mermaid." La Sirena is an equivalent to a Target in the U.S. we had lunch there, and then took a bus tour around the city. This bus however, was a bus owned by the university, so it was an actual bus with air conditioning and everything!

On our tour of the city we drove in the colonial part of the city which comprises some really amazing architecture, military forts and even Christopher Columbus's house! We are actually going to take a Friday in a couple of weeks and see colonial Santo Domingo in more detail.

After the bus tour we had about two hours of free time until we met back at the library for a little fiesta with our host mothers. During this time some guys and I went to a little market and got a Coke, made with real sugar, unlike those made in the U.S. shortly after it started to rain. It is monsoon season, so it didn't just rain - it poured!! It was awesome.

Later in the evening my host family had a bunch of her family over for dinner. She has a really great family! They all are very nice and friendly. I sat there not understanding 90% of the conversations, but it was great practice for me to just listen.

Now, I am extremely tired, so I am going to go to bed!!

(I'll post pictures as soon as I can!)
 
 
Well, it has been a long 24 hours. I departed last night from Salt Lake City at about midnight. The plane ride to JFK seemed really long. I dosed off a time or two, but didn't really seem to get much sleep.

When we landed at JFK it was really foggy. So much that I couldn't see any of the skyline surrounding the airport. However, as we were flying towards the airport I was able to catch a glimpse of the Hudson Bay and some of New York City. For a brief second I saw the Freedom Tower and its mighty height and strength it brings to that city.

The next flight, only and hour after the first one landed, departed around 8 am. It too seemed like a long flight, however, I was able to get some sleep on that flight.

When I woke up I gazed out my window onto the ocean below. We were so high in the air that I'm sure the little white spots that would appear and then fade away were actually decent sized waves crashing and swaying on the ocean's surface.

As we got closer to the island, I could see its coastline of the north shores in the distance. I don't know why, but in a way it reminded me of Jurassic Park; and I was on my way to some mysterious island. Well, that isn't too far from the truth.

We landed, unloaded the plane, exchanged our U.S. dollars for Dominican Pesos, went through immigration and customs and finally met up with our trip coordinator who had already been here for a couple of days.

To make a long story short (about 6 hours short), we finally got everyone who flew in today (about 20 of us) into our taxis and off to our host families.

The taxi I was in had 6 other students, not counting me; Courtney, Katty, Jordan, John, Aaron and Lincoln. One by one we were dropped off at our host families, meeting them for the first time.

My family I am staying with is the Buenas family. The family consists of my host mother, her son and her sister. Oh, and don't forget the Chihuahua.

Fifi, my host mother's nickname, and her sister made me a delicious dinner consisting of rice, beans, vegetables, chicken, fried plantains and the best freshly made mango juice I have ever had!

Tomorrow morning I will go to the University for the first time, go through orientation, takes tour of campus, meet my Spanish instructor and get better aquatinted with the city.

I haven't had a chance to take any photographs yet (unless the 6 hour wait in the airport or inside of a taxi cab with homemade curtains on the windows) would have interested you, then I would have. Once I am able to walk to the ocean (which is only several blocks away from my house) I will get some good photos and post. Until then, I am going to bed! I am exhausted!!!