Friday, April 4, 2014

has it been this long?

in january, i made a conscious decision not to blog. i was running out of things to write about - and i find that writing about the day-to-day is kind of boring. 

life is not boring - 
but it's hard to find new content sometimes.

so, i took a little break. i didn't expect it to last three months. but, here we are.

life was busy and hectic and jam-packed with stuff for the past three months, and now - within the next two weeks - it will slow down and we'll start to get ready for summer. my semester is just about done, school is just about over for the kids and it is starting to get hot.

i'm looking forward to a slower pace - i've been running around a lot, and i'm hoping that i can get a lot of next year's school planning done and out of the way while i'm on semester break. i'm not sure that that is going to happen, but i can try. 

and i have a lot of help. (thank you!)

i've been snapping pictures again of things i see on the island and will hopefully make some time to share them. it's not infrequent to see something new and fun in these parts. 

for now i leave you with pictures from the last few months.
this was my favorite VBS group of the year so far - they did a karate class, outdoor games and crafts and then  decorated cookies with frosting and M&Ms before doing a coreographed dance concert with the kids.

i love this picture so much. hair is a really big deal in this country. women spend hours (and tons of money) on straightening and processing and blowing out their hair. it is almost unheard of to see this pajon - afro - so proudly displayed. but we've now had two african american missionaries with natural hair, and the girls have noticed. not only do they come to school with their "puffs", they show it off! anyi told me this day, "look, my hair is just like tia jewels!"

 we don't "do" carnaval. while i find it to be an enlightening cultural event - i don't like the violence and craziness that comes with it. men and boys carry around dried pig-bladder balloons and smack women on the butt. it hurts. plus, there are tons of drunk people and not a lot of control. so, we usually go to the local cultural museum for their "kids carnaval" - but this year was by far the most organized and fun for the kids. only kid dancers performed, on a stage, with a ton of activities for the family.
 we celebrated independence day on february 27th with an assembly filled with poems, songs and dances. 

 this amazing group came to visit from lansdale, pa. we met some of their young adult members this past summer and let me tell you, that i have not met young adults like these ladies in a long time. passionate, driven, kind. i loved their families just as much. they did eye checks and acupuncture. you might notice tia jewel in this picture. she came to visit for a long weekend!  
 while jewel was here, we HAD to go to the beach for a day. it started out rainy - but by noon it was gorgeous. and a much needed respite. 
 it's getting hot. so we bought a pool for the yard. i imagine i will be filling this thing up in the summer, and just laying in there while i grade papers or something.

most recently, we've had chicken pox. amely got them first - a fairly light case and this past week samil has had them. he got them worse than amely, but dealt very well with is and is finally excited to go back to school on monday!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

we still need the village.

i haven't cried over a student in a long time.
we still have the same problems and the same situations and the same stress as always, i think i've just learned how to manage my tears a little better. 

for the past three weeks, i've had a little friend in my office almost every single day. he's fighting. and spitting. and talking back. and climbing fences trying to escape from school. this is a feisty little one, who we had to work hard with last year to break him of some of his habits. before this month, i hadn't heard much from him - or about him. 

today, we both lost it.

he threw a rock at a bigger kid's head and the bigger kid decided he wasn't going to follow the no fighting rule anymore. my little man came into the office - bruised and battered, but still with that defiant look on his face, unbreakable. 

i picked him up and rocked him.
he wouldn't talk.
no answers to my questions at all.
until i asked if his dad was home. had he talked to dad lately? has anyone taken him to visit dad? 

and the big, fat tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his face.
he hasn't seen his dad since july. his mom only lets him talk on the phone "sometimes" and why won't they just let him see his papi? and he whispered "i miss him so much."

sometimes as parents and as educators we forget that everything we do has the potential to affect our babies. sometimes it's obvious - this kid's dad is in jail - but as i held this little man, thrust overnight into being the "man" of the house, i realized that i hadn't hugged him or told him how much i love him in ages. 

tomorrow, we're going to take a picture of little man and his brother and i'm going to try my hardest to get it to his dad, along with a valentine's day card. we're going to meet with mom and see what's up. and hopefully get to the root of all this craziness. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

how you'll know my kids aren't being raised in the USA

my kids are pretty normal. they play outside and like to watch movies. they go to school and do homework. mostly, they speak both languages - spanish and english - interchangeably.

kids are adaptable, it's true. and mine love going to philadelphia to visit our family and jump right into all of the different experiences with glee.  lately, though, i've been noticing a lot of little things that really speak to where they've grown up.

the other day, we drove a friend to get her kitchen-gas tank refilled. it's routine for us - when the tank empties (usually in the middle of cooking), we load it in the car and go to the gas pump. it bothers me and it's definitely not my favorite task. as we got in the car samil says "only at grandma's house is there gas all the time. they only have a little tank on the outside stove."

another friend was complaining that her hot water heater isn't working. we haven't had a hot water heater since our first ever apartment - and we had so many problems with it that we kind of gave up. when it gets really chilly, i heat up water on the stove and the kids take cat-baths. in this heat, the cold water is kind of nice. right after she complained about her heater, samil started begging for warm water for his shower because all americans use hot water to take a bath.

this week, it seems that the winter weather up north took out a lot of electric lines and left people without electricity for awhile. i was telling amalio about it and amely told us that all of those people are babies because look! no electricity here and nobody is crying.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

merry christmas

it is chilly and damp in santiago today. 
we braved the supermarket crush this morning - picked up a turkey for tomorrow and amalio waited 45 minutes in a line to get roasted pork, a dominican christmas tradition, for lunch today. 
we've cleaned the house and taken long naps.
tonight we'll eat more roast pork with friends, dance merengue and celebrate the birth of a savior.

tomorrow, the kids will open presents from friends and family and we'll open our home to those brave enough to eat my cooking. 

it's been a good season, shared with friends and family.
merry christmas. may you all be blessed with the spirit of this season!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

santiago at christmas (part 2)

one of my biggest complaints, besides the warm weather, about getting ready for christmas in the dr was that it seemed contrived. and over the top. the christmas trees that i was seeing were fake pines, decorated in a style i can only describe as "boston." like, victorian masterpiece trees. except, that kind of decoration lends well to hot cocoa, scarves and mittens and light dustings of snow.

not shorts, tee-shirts and palm trees.

when we moved from one side of the city to the other, i discovered a more authentic, caribbean christmas. 
i was stopped on my way through the neighborhood by some kids with a bucket asking for money. i wasn't sure what was up, so i gave them a few pesos. the next day, the skeleton of a "tree" was up. over the coming days, garland adorned the wires, then twinkle lights. a graffiti artist painted santa clause on the street, in the middle of the tree. a huge star adorned the top. 

a few days later, as i arrived from work, i noticed that there was an unlikely group of people on the corner. a recycled 10 gallon tin-can was atop a makeshift fire-pit - a few cinder blocks, filled with charcoal bits with an old fan casing resting on the blocks, the can atop the fan. 

i was too embarrassed to ask what was going on. the group was mixed: older grandparent-types, those pesky teenagers and kids. it seemed like the whole neighborhood was present. 
they were making ginger tea. and sharing crackers. and catching up. 
and it happened almost every night until christmas. 

since that first arbolito experience, i've sought out more. the trees in our neighborhood and close by are simple. a way to bring the community to a central meeting point. but there are neighborhoods completely transformed at christmas into wonderlands (next blog post). 

this year:
 this tree caught me by surprise - the neighborhood it's in has never had such an elaborate display before.
 this little stable is at the other end of the same street - paintings on the wall representing jesus, candy canes, candles, santa and christmas bells. 

 the tree lit at night.

i was also pleasantly surprised this year by the light display at the monument, the one tourist attraction in santiago. there has been a carnival in the parking lot for a few weeks that i've been trying to avoid driving by any time the kids are in the car, so i hadn't been by at night. but last weekend, a friend had an event at the theater across the street. 
 the gardens of the theater were lit up in red and blue lights. with the monument as their backdrop, they were splendid. the monument, which hasn't been lit at night for quite some time, was lit and there were even projections of christmas symbols thrown up in the light show.
i love christmas in santiago. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

santiago at christmas (part 1)

at the end of october, you'll start to see make-shift carts pop up all over the city. at first, they are an eye-sore: put together with rustic poles and blue tarps, covered in cardboard boxes. as the cart is loaded up with christmas goodies, it becomes beautiful. the grapes hang from strings, neatly organized bags of gum-candies hang next to the grapes, twisting and turning in the breeze. nuts in transparent plastic boxes next to mounds of red, juicy apples line the table tops. mandarin oranges are strung together on red-plastic clothesline, and regular oranges, already peeled and ready for consumption are stacked on end-tables. it's really quite a sight.

when i first moved here, apples and grapes were only available from november to january. they're imported from chile and are considered a delicacy. some grapes (and strawberries) are grown in the mountain towns of jarabacoa and constanza, but the rest of the island never chills enough for fall fruits. even today, it is hard to get grapes and apples in smaller towns and villages. but, here is santiago, they line the streets for three precious months.

i love this season here - the decorations catch me off guard sometimes, and i only know one christmas villancico to sing during the aguinaldos but i am forever awed by the sense of community and love that comes out at this time of year. there are entire barrios decorated with recycled materials and donate money (next blog post), and even if they aren't mind blowing, an arbolito adorns many an intersection. around this make-shift tree - usually made from wire or pvc pipes, decorated with plastic bags and twinkle lights - people gather to drink ginger tea and catch up. the nights are cool and the lightness of the season shines through.

last year, a group of teenagers woke us up at 5:30 am with christmas carols played on a drum and guira outside of our window. they left us, and headed to school to drink ginger tea and spend time with their
classmates and teachers outside of the classroom.

i made up christmas baskets for the employees at school, and everything i thought to put in the basket was not "what goes in a basket" - apples for the family, a pound of grapes, marshmallows, gum-candy, lollipops and hard candy. we added a few extras (rice, beans, and oil; hand sanitizer in a cute carry-case; nail polish, a bath towel), but it was the christmas specialties that got the most positive reaction. for me, the simplest things in the basket.

Friday, December 20, 2013

so this is christmas...

2013 marks my second dominican christmas.

i know. right? i've been living here, full time, since 2004. but, see, christmas was our holiday. the whole family got together. and it was my grandmom's holiday, and i loved that woman fiercely. there was no being absent from christmas. 

when my grandmom passed away, things changed, as they tend to do, and it was no longer a whole family get together. both my mom's and dad's sides of the families transitioned into something different for christmas. 

i had never spent a christmas with my husband. my kids had never spent christmas with their dad. he had never experienced the joy on their faces as they opened presents. never got to share roasted pig with them, or the morning choralers in the neighborhood. 

last year, it was time. my parents and my brother came, and we did christmas in santiago. it was nice and calm. it wasn't cold, it didn't smell of pine tree. there are a lot of things it wasn't. but it was nice. we hosted a dinner on the 25th for friends and we spent the evening playing dominoes and cards, drinking wine and rum and eating good food. it was pleasant.

this year, my parents can't come. it's my first christmas without them. but, my brother is coming and we're excited for that. 

because we had never really done christmas, and because i was never here, amalio never really bought into decorating. even last year, he thought it was silly. for him, it was a waste of time to take things out, put them up, re-decorate the house and then put it all away again.

you can imagine my surprise when he came home with a bush and told us that is was for the christmas tree. we would spray paint it, and put it in a bucket (lined with pretty paper) and decorate it with lights and garland. i wasn't sold, but katherine, his cousin, got on board... and then jewel got on board, too. we loaded into the car and headed to the store to buy ornaments. katherine wanted a rainbow on the tree. as she put things in the cart, i put them back on the shelf. we got gold lights and ornaments and green garland. 

i still wasn't completely sold on this thing. i mean, it was a bush. 
when we finally decided on the ornaments and lights, we headed home and tried to figure it out. 
slowly, it grew on me. 

it's not a pine tree*, but it is our christmas tree. made with love. and the kids love it.
i did cave, after seeing the two toned tree. when i hit the store later the same week, i picked up some fuschia colored star ornaments for the tree. katherine was in her glory.

*amalio says that the "bush" is actually the seed "carrier" from a palm tree that is now dried out and no longer carries any of the palm seeds. all things considered, i think it is a perfect plant to use to celebrate the birth of a savior who was welcomed and praised by the waving of palm branches. 
the christmas tree is made from that branch
hanging down off of the palm tree. the seeds have
dropped and the branches were dried out by the sun.

we really got amalio into the christmas spirit this year.
we used some of the cut off branches to make center pieces
for the table (a new table! that seats 6! we can all
finally eat at the same table!) our house is definitely christmas-y
this year.