Thursday, July 4, 2013

How many blondes does it take to build a stove….

Well, more than one I can tell you that much!

I recently received my grant for my improved cook stove project, and now I am working by arse off trying to get it done before I leave. Long story short it took me 6 months to get the money due to some clerical errors made in the office, and I assumed that I just wasn’t going to get to do the project. However, someone up there must really want me to do this project because the money finally came.

Needless to say I am not exactly the “construction worker of the year” type. I would say I relate a lot more to “construction worker Barbie”. I may look good holding a hammer but you probably wouldn’t want to hold a nail for me. Exhibit A: when I fixed my wall after a wood board fell off the wall of my house leaving a big gaping hole next to my bed. Skip to the next day while I am skyping with my friend bryan and it just falls right off again. Anyways, the point of me telling you this is that, not only am I in a time crunch, but I am also very nervous about my skill set.

Ok. So skip to the project. Almost all of the women in my community spend 70% of their day cooking over an open flame. A majority of them do this in a small hut. So you can imagine the amount of smoke they breathe in every day. Also, when the women are in the cooking hut cooking all day what else are the kids going to do but come in and talk to mommy (and breathe in a ton a smoke). I mean all you have to do to realize how bad these things are for you is look up at the roofs of these cooking huts because they are black with soot. I decided that I wanted to provide the women with a healthier cooking option to help lessen the toll on their lungs as well as their childrens lungs. The grant is enough money to build 40 stoves, and I plan to build all of them.

 I took one of my friends to a 4 day training with me where we learned how to make these improved cook stoves. They are basically an enclosed box with a mouth to enter the wood, and a chimney in the back that carries all of the smoke outside. We learned how to make the “Duncan Model” stove which has ceramic parts that help conduct the heat and make the stoves more efficient.

Here are some examples of what people are cooking on right now:

This is an example of what the roof looks like in a cooking hut. This used to be silver metal. 

This is what the improved cook stove looks like

So I thought wow what a great project and it will be so easy! I just have to get the money and then build these things with my trained mason. No biggie. HA. HA. HA. Joke is on construction Barbie for SURE. So far it has gone a little like this….

1.     It took FOREVER to get the money.

2.     My trained mason goes to college in the big city and he was going to take summer of to do the project. When we still hadn’t received the money and it was time to sign up for summer school I told him to just do it. I didn’t want him to miss out on school and then have the money not show up. NOW I HAVE NO MASON.

3.     My health promoter coordinator (farm woman who cooks/cleans all day and has never seen the inside of a hardware store) and I go to the hardware store in the big city. I am not even sure I could navigate my way around an organized hardware store in ENGLISH so as you can imagine we were the joke of the store. Luckily, she can laugh at herself as much as I can so we entertained ourselves as well as the staff at the store.
Favorite Moment:
Me: “ I would like rivets please”
Hardware store man: “ What size?”
Me: “Whatever size will fit this pretty rivet gun I picked out”
Hardware store man: “haha ummm that’s not how it works precious. Who is in charge of the project? Let me talk to him.”
Me: “Um I am. Giggle. Giggle.”
Harware store man: “Ay Dios”

4.     Take my dads pickup truck to go pick up the ceramic pieces from a village about 3 hours away. They don’t all fit so we decide to take half and then come back for the rest in the afternoon. Skip to our really rough dirt road and 6 boxes fall off the truck. 6 boxes of handmade ceramic pieces…. Shattered. A man on a horse stops to help us pick up the boxes and says, “oh who is doing the project”. I tell him that I am and he laughs and says “No but who will be doing the work.” I tell him again that I am and he just stares at me and says “but you cant work that hard you are a woman”

5.     We get home in time to have a 30 min lunch and then we are back on the road. My host dad decides he wants to stop and buy a part for his car. It was some kind of “float” that would make his gas gauge work. We spend 3 hours waiting for him to find the part. Leave the big city to go to pick up the parts and run out of gas about a mile away from our destination. I then had to walk to the destination, find a motorcycle driver, walk around like a crazy American asking families for a big container to put gas in, and then go out to the highway where there is a gas station to get gas for the truck. We finally got home at 10:30pm. We left at 7:00am.

6.     Day one of construction consisted of a whole bunch of men telling me what I could and could not do, and a group of about 10 women sitting in chairs watching me work. They had some pretty interesting commentary but mostly they talked about how I was strong because I do exercise and that is why I can do this type of work.
* Best part of my day: When I was walking home from the construction site I ran into 3 of my women from the exercise and nutrition group teaching another group of women (who did not participate in the group) how to do exercise in the park.

7.     Woke up on day two of construction to find that I couldn’t move my arm. I tore a ligament in my shoulder when I fell in the manhole (see previous entry… it’s a doozie) Anyways, I realized that I definitely needed a mason and I am now in search of someone to help me.

The moral of the story is that this project has turned into the project from hell. I am super stressed about it, and I hope I can get it done before I leave in October. I am also still doing the exercise and nutrition group, the monthly conferences with the rural health promoters and teenage peer educators, English classes, and I have a couple really big papers to write to finish up my masters degree. Lets just say that these last few months in the Peace Corps are going to fly by and work me hard. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Craziest 3 days EVER + Weight Loss Challenge Winner

Hi EVERYONE!! Okay so I want to start out by telling you about my CRAZY weekend and then I will fill you in on the Weight Loss Challenge graduation… So the other weekend I had held my health promoter conference for my 20 surrounding communities (which we are now doing on a monthly basis). It was crazy, but the good news is I think we have it down so the next few months should be a little easier. Anyways, I was doing that all morning/ afternoon and then I went directly to a fundraiser for my teenage peer educator groups. We are doing fundraisers in the community to raise money for a “Welcome to Barranc√≥n” sign. Since we live in such a rural area on a dirt road it is pretty much impossible to tell where our community begins and the fields end. I think since a lot of my teenage peer educators will be leaving next year for college they want to leave something for the community. Anyways, we had this fundraiser and 96 people showed up. We charged a small amount to get in and then sold popcorn and soda. We did have a little problem though because we started the movie too late and it was a Saturday. All of the drunk men from the surrounding communities gathered on the street outside the movie (it was outdoors but there was a fence and we had bouncers). Since the movie was educational it was a bit corny and the drunkards were being really disrespectful. It ended with us cutting the movie short and all of my teenage girls in tears. We then stayed until midnight cleaning everything up….. the next day was the 10k in Puerto plata. We had to leave at 4:00am to get there on time so I think I got a good 2 hours of sleep. I brought 5 women from my weight loss group. They were so excited because they had never done anything like it before. I packed them each a breakfast with a banana, orange juice, and a granola bar and we hit the road. We got there on time, signed in, stretched and warmed up. When they announced that we had a minute until the race started I realized I had not taken a picture of everyone together. I got the women to line up and I was jogging over to get into the photo when…. BAM! CEMENT IN THE FACE! I stepped in a manhole that had no top on it… and ate it. Hard. We shot the photo and I started running. It wasn’t until half way through the race that I realized I really wasn’t okay. We all ended up finishing the race with better times than expected. It was really emotional for a lot of the women especially when they got cheered across the finish line. The mother of one of the girls told her that she was crazy and that she wouldn’t be able to do it so she was sooooo excited when she finished. They all took their shoes (most of them couldn’t afford appropriate footwear) off at the end of the race and their feet were bleeding and swelling all over the place….. but they couldn’t stop smiling. It was probably one of my favorite peace corps moments…. Then I realized that I needed medical attention so I headed to the capital. Two cat scans, Three x-rays, an orthopedic, and an eye specialist later it was determined that I would live and just be really ugly for  a while. I think the only serious damage I did was to my shoulder and neck which was the best case scenario. I still cant think about it without laughing though… I mean come on. I fell. Into a manhole. Who does that????...... ME!
Girls selling popcorn and soda!
Our makeshift movie theater



beautiful face... you should see the rest of my body

Okay now on to the Weight Loss Challenge! We finished the three month challenge and we have the winners! The even better news is that a majority of the women want to continue with their weight loss. We are going to keep doing the weekly individual, group, and exercise meetings/classes until I leave in October. The only difference will be that it will no longer be a competition. We also have a large number of people who want to join the group J

Group Stats:
Total # of participants: 26
Total # of Graduates (people who attended all of the lectures/meetings): 18
Total NET weight loss: 196 pounds
Total NET weight loss amongst graduates: 170 pounds
# of people who lost more than 10 pounds: 9
# of inches lost in waist: 48.5 inches
# no people who were able to stop taking blood pressure meds: 2
100% of the participants report feeling healthier and happier
96.2% of the participants report having more energy

Graduation at the Beach

The Winners!!!

·      Lost 18 pounds which is 11.4% of her initial weight
·      Lost 4.5 inches in her waist
·      Lost 3.7% body fat
·      Was able to start weaning off her blood pressure medication



2nd Place
·      Lost 14 pounds which is 8.38% of her initial weight
·      Lost 3 inches in her waist
·      Lost 2.7% body fat


3rd Place
·      Lost 14 pounds which is 7.7% of her initial weight
·      Lost 3 inches in her waist
·      Lost 3.6% body fat
·      Was able to start weaning of her blood pressure medication



Okay here are some more Weight Loss Challenge photos because I know you all want to see more!!!




Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weight Loss Challenge: Two months and 162 pounds down!

Yay! We have finished two months of the weight loss challenge and everyone is doing so well! As a group we have now lost 162 pounds!!! The program has been drawing in a lot of new people so when we finish the 3 month challenge we are going to continue. Also, it has now been picked up as a national program so all health PCVs in the Dominican Republic will be trained on how to start a weight loss support group in their community! Exciting times ahead!

This month we have been working on the social aspects of weight loss in the Dominican Republic. We have had issues with the community gossiping about the weight loss participants. As I have explained in previous blogs, Dominicans view weight in a much different light than Americans. For most Dominicans (at least in my community) a heavier person is considered healthier. As you can imagine this makes a weight loss support group a very controversial thing. There have been rumors that the people in my group are going to die because they are losing weight too fast (nobody is loosing more than 1-2 pounds a week) or that they aren't eating at all (not true). Obviously this can be very discouraging for the participants. I decided that we needed to discuss it in our support groups and come up with a plan of action. We discussed all of the different rumors people had heard, and different ways to combat them. We worked on changing all of the negative rumors into positive statements. For example, when they hear someone gossiping about them losing weight they can say "I am not dieting, I have changed my lifestyle so that I can live a longer, healthier life." or "I want to be healthy, and in my case that means I need to lose some weight". Obviously this is going to be an ongoing problem that we will have to continue to face, but I am happy to say that so far nobody has dropped out of the group due to gossip.

Besides that we have continued to have individual meetings, group meetings, and exercise classes on a weekly basis. The participants have also started their own walking groups based on where they live and when they have free time to exercise. I can't leave my house in the morning or evening without seeing a women out exercising(its too hot in the afternoon). It makes me smile to see that exercise has become such a strong presence when it so scarcely existed before. Even though I know it is going to take a long time for the community to accept that weight loss is a good thing for some people, at least I know that exercise is slowly becoming an acceptable norm thanks to some brave participants setting a good example. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Weight Loss Challenge: One Month Down

Hi Everyone,
I am sorry it has been so long since I updated you on the weight loss challenge. I have been really busy with all of my work here. Plus, I wanted to wait to update you because, as expected, Semana Santa (Easter Week) was a disaster! A lot of the participants gained weight during the two week festivities of Semana Santa. In the Dominican Republic, Semana Santa is a time when all the family members come home to the campo, everyone goes to the beach, everyone drinks, and eats habichuelas con dulce (Dominican treat- sweet beans). Anyways, I looked up the calorie content of habichuelas con dulce because I was curious to see if the treat was really the problem or if it was just the all around feasting/party attitude. I am sure that it was a little of both, but I thought that I had prepared them really well going into the week. I found out that a 12 oz cup of habichuelas con dulce averages about 500 calories, although recipes vary a little. Now the problem with this is that they don’t just eat one cup… each family makes a giant vat and drinks it all day every day. Anyways, we had a few bad weight loss weeks (but really fun on the other hand). I was really nervous that after a few participants gained weight they would be discouraged and quit the program so we did a lot of motivational activities, and I made some of the stronger group members be mentors to some of the weaker group members. It worked really well, and we had no drop outs after Semana Santa!!!! We did have two drop outs for other reasons (moving and sick family member), but none due to weight gain or discouragement. In fact, we even had a few more people join the group. We now have 21 participants, and I have closed the group off for the time being. I would like to let everyone join who wants to, but it is way too difficult for me to have individual meetings with the 21 I have right now (plus all of my other work!). 

Review of Month 1:
The first month of the weight loss challenge has been a success. Like I said we had a few rough weeks, but overall all of the participants have lost weight, gained confidence, learned a lot, and made healthy lifestyle changes. I think the most important change I have seen is the boost in confidence. A majority of the participants are women, and in a lot of their homes the men have all of the control (or so they think). I have seen the women really step up and take control of their diet and exercise, and I have seen a huge difference in their attitudes, especially in the individual meetings. I think they are enjoying the realization that this is one aspect of their life in which they have total control. Plus, the boost in energy and confidence that comes along with living a healthy lifestyle and loosing weight never hurt anyone!

We continued the whole first month following the same format of two meetings a week per participant. One individual meeting where we get the personal stats (weight, % body fat, blood pressure, blood glucose, body measurements etc. ), talk about the ups and downs of the week, review their food and exercise journal, and make a plan for the next week. We then have one meeting as a group. The group meeting is set up like a support group. We spend time sharing success and failure stories and celebrate the people who lost weight (the person who loses the most according to % pounds lost gets a healthy prize).

In the group meetings we also have a small lecture every week. This month we discussed the emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of weight loss, how to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts, how to eat healthy during parties and holidays, choosing healthy snacks over high carb high sodium snacks, how to substitute with vegetables, the importance of exercise, different exercise methods and how they affect your body, how to take your pulse, your heart rate and what it means, how to make small daily changes that will result in long term results, the importance of moral support, what does “metabolism” mean, how to we increase our metabolism via exercise and diet, etc. I think the most exciting mini-lecture for me was the one about how to take your pulse and what your heart rate means. I can never exercise in this country without someone telling me to rest because my heart will explode. I just always say okay and kept going… but when I started encountering this with my women during exercise classes it started to bother me. In the beginning we would speed walk for 2 minutes to warm up, and people would be telling me that they needed to rest so their heart didn’t explode or so they didn’t start sweating (ps I did medical histories with everyone and nobody has any condition that should inhibit them from walking for 2 mins FYI). Anyways, we calculated each persons Max heart rate, and they all know what it is and how to do it. I love it because when people tell me they need to rest after doing basically nothing we just take their pulse together and keep on going. Later on in the workout when we are actually working hard I have to let them rest, but at least I don’t have people pooping out after the warm up anymore.

The last thing we do in the group meeting is exercise! Depending on how long the meeting lasts we do anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour of exercise. The participants really enjoy doing circuit style training so we have been doing that a lot. We go to the park and I split them up into groups of two. I usually have about 5 stations set up, and they rotate through the stations in 2 minute intervals (this changes weekly depending on the types of exercises). It has been going really well, and the women actually work hard now! They sweat and everything! I think the “heart rate lecture” and the “how many calories do you burn in each type of exercise” lecture really convinced them that they need to work harder J

One of the largest hurdles for the group has been water intake. There is a place in their food and exercise journal to circle a number every time they drink a glass of water. In the beginning I was noticing they were only drinking an average of 3 glasses of water a day (and we live in the Caribbean!!!). In the individual meetings we discussed reasons why they were not drinking more water and why it is important do drink a lot of water. A lot of them asked me how I managed to drink so much water and I explained to them that I always carry my Nalgene with me. A lot of them started carrying around disposable plastic bottles with water to try to up their water intake. Anyways, I decided to buy them all reusable plastic water bottles so they can bring them to the exercise classes and hopefully carry them around so they drink more water.

Below are the group stats from month 1. If anyone is interested in individual stats let me know. I have them all in an excel spreadsheet so I can easily send them out (without names of course). I also have more body measurements (chest, arm, hips etc) , BP and blood glucose. I am just giving you the most important stats below J

Month 1 Group Stats:
Pounds lost: 106
Average pounds lost per participant per week: 1.5
% body fat lost: 24.6%
Average % body fat lost per participant: 1.64%
Average inches lost in waist per participant: 1.13

**Note: Not all stats include all participants due to the fact that some of them just recently started. 

I finally got them to run!!!!!!!!!!

Working out in rolos.

These are the water bottles everyone received. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

chicken in a bed. deuce in a bag.

Hiiiii my peeps. I have two funny peace corps stories for y'all. Get excited :)

Now those of you that have been reading my blog know that I have a serious chicken problem. I share a plot of land with two other families, and they have TONS of chickens. Now this wouldn't be an huge issue except for the fact that when the chickens have little baby chicklets they turn into crazy-mutant-angry-hens. Its straight out of a comic book. You take one step in their direction and its BAM chicken in the face. They also really enjoy coming into my house to eat skeeters dog food. If you have ever been stuck between a crazy-mutant-angry-hen and the door you will know how scary this can be. Imagine a chicken in your face screaming, jumping up in the air, scratching at you with its talons, and trying to peck your eyes out with its beak. Crazy ish. Anyways I take it out on them by eating them and their eggs bwahaha. So I guess the moral of the story is Chickens... you can't live with them you can't live without them.
So back to my real story...The other day I was out on my front porch drinking my coffee, reading my email, and sending all the passers by on their way with a good morning. I was out there for a good long while, and then I realized I should probably go change my clothes and attack the crazy weed situation in my front yard (no joke them weeds are on steroids). So I entered my room and... BAM! chicken in the face! It scared the bajezus out of me. Once I came to my senses I realized I needed to get this thing out of my room. This resulted in a five minute battle that could have been straight out of a cartoon. It left me bleeding, and my room a disaster. I took a deep breath and was a about to laugh when I saw it. A beautiful little white gem in my bed... the crazy-mutant- angry-hen laid and egg IN MY BED! gross.

Ok. Before I start story number two let me say.... please do NOT continue reading IF you are grossed out by bowel movements, you are romantically interested in me, or there is a chance you may be romantically interested in me in the future. just saying.

If you were a peace corps volunteer, or you have ever spoken with one, you know that about 80% of our conversations revolve around poop. It is a very natural, very comfortable topic for us which can be awkward when we speak to people from home. So I apologize ahead of time. Now before I tell you my poop story I have to tell you that ever since I got back from Christmas break my community has not had water. I have a tap in my yard that would get water for an hour or two every 5 days. So during that time I would have to fill up a big 50 gallon drum to use for the rest of the week. Well our aqueduct dried up, and they now have to build a new one.... sooooo we haven't had water for over 3 months now. This means that we have to go to the river to collect water, or the wealthier people have dug big holes in their backyards to use as wells. Luckily, I have a latrine so I don't need water to flush (i only need it to bathe, wash dishes, clean my house etc). People who have regular toilets have to flush them by dumping a bucket of water in them at the perfect angle with the exact amount of force. Now the "clinic" (aka empty building) in my community has a regular toilet. I am lucky because I get to hold my meetings there since nobody is using it.... but at the same time, nobody is using it, so there is no water tank or ANY source of water. This usually isn't a problem because I am only there for a couple hours at a time, and I can go to the house next door to use the restroom if I need to. Well, the other day I was there for a REALLY long time doing the individual consultations with my weight loss program participants. I had a 30 minute break in between participants so I was planning my lecture for the next week when all of a sudden I felt "the drop".... dun dun dun. Now I like to use the term "the drop" when you have had a rumbly tummy for a while, but nothing too crazy, and all of a sudden you feel the plumpfff or "the drop" when whatever craziness inside of you all of a sudden relocates itself right outside of your anal sphincter ... or in other words the " oh sh*%# I need to find a restroom in the next 30 seconds before I explode" moment. Well, it happened. In the clinic. So I ran next door to the latrine... and it was occupied. I knew I wasnt going to make it so I ran, clenching with all my might, back to the clinic. I don't even know what happened next... it was a very stressful time and I don't remember the series of events.... but the end product was a deuce in a plastic bag. I was so shocked, disturbed, whatever you want to call it that I had to sit there (after disposing of the bag of course) and process. I just kept saying "I just shit in a bag. I just shit... IN A BAG" After the initial shock wore off (and a very supportive phone convo with fellow PCV James) I was finally able to laugh about it, and I guess I felt the need to share it with y'all. Im sorry about that haha.

Okay on to serious stuff. We just finished all the Semana Santa (Easter Week) celebrations which include lots of church events, lots of habichuelas con dulce (sweet beans), alcohol (for the men), and trips to the river and beach. Everyone that lives in the cities comes to the campo to visit family and go to the beach which is great for the Dominicans but SUCKS for the peace corps volunteers. Its like the first week in your community all over again. Nobody knows who you are, everyone thinks you know nothing about dominican culture, and they assume you are a lost tourist. Anyways, I took the opportunity to hang out with the kids and explain the american tradition of easter egg hunts. They enjoyed dying the eggs, but they thought I was CRAZY when I tried to explain that a magical bunny comes and hides them in the yard and then all the kids have to go find them. In fact, they thought I was so crazy (even after a few HOURS of explaining it to them and showing them pictures on the internet) that I decided to skip the whole hunt part and just dye the eggs. This worked out okay anyways because the kids ate all the eggs immediately after dying them.... so there wouldn't have been any eggs to hide anyways haha.

My host mom and I making habichuelas con dulce.

Work has been going well. I have been super busy with the Reto de Rebaja (Weight loss challenge). I will be writing a complete update on that shortly. I want to take a few pictures of one of our exercise classes before I write the blog. I am still giving english classes twice a week, working with rural health promoters and teenage peer educators, and still waiting for my grant money to build the clay stoves. If I stay this busy the next 6 months are going to fly by!