Friday, January 30, 2009

and the electricity...

i mentioned in a past post that in the campo there is often no, or very limited, access to electricity. i also mentioned that we have pretty consistent access to light. but it's not always been that way, in fact, it wasn't until very recently that we were contracted to 24 hours a day of light - and even that is a misnomer.

it's one of the huge downfalls of living here, and while the situation has gotten better, it's frustrating to have something planned that requires electricity and be without - sometimes for 8-12 hours at a time.

they're called rolling brown-outs - or apagones - and basically, my understanding is that the main circuit boards can't handle the amount of people using electricity. so, the power that is available is shared. and by sharing, i mean, distributed. and not always equally. for example, we almost always have electricity but it wasn't until three weeks ago that amalio's school ever had electricity. night classes were cancelled at least twice a week because there wasn't enough light during the week to charge the batteries in the invertors. (think generator except instead of using gas, they charge car batteries that then power the light when there is a black-out. depending on the amount of batteries, you can run lightbulbs, fans, the tv, computer).

i've been told that the situation is changing - the system the electric companies are using is more streamlined and efficient and soon we will see less outages because the people who are not paying for light just won't have any, instead of everyone paying the bill for their thievin' neighbors. because that's how it works. i don't want to pay, i connect my line to your line - or even just to the general supply - your bill goes up and i'm off scot-free. that's where the unfair distribution comes in. those areas that have a high percentage of thievery get less light. luckily, where we live, most people pay. or at least that's my assumption since we have a lot of hours.

it's not just the light, though. sometimes we lose our water. like yesterday. not one drop. for about 8 hours we couldn't do anything with water. not even cook. well, that was my fault and i'm just too lazy to use bottled water to cook, but i did have great plans to do laundry and clean the bathrooms. the lack of water is more common during the summer dry season - there isn't enough water in the reservoirs, so there isn't enough water to distribute. i blame this less on the water company than on mother nature, but that's me.

so, you can probably imagine that laundry is a bit of a chore - the stars and moon and planets all have to align. no rain (we line dry), electricity and enough water to fill the machine. it's a pain. but really in the grand scheme of things, it's minor. the light goes out? take a nap. read a book. go for a walk. the water? watch tv. take a nap. order in for lunch.

Monday, January 26, 2009

my boy.

this hat phase that samil is in is KILLING me. i l.o.v.e. it.
it's just too bad we don't have more hats lying around for him to play with. but no worries, pots and pans and tupperware work just as well - we just haven't been quick enough with the camera.

the red cap is from the Aguilas - Santiago's baseball team. Usually they're a great team but not this year.

today is Juan Pablo Duarte Day. he's some father of the country or something... but if you do your homework - he's not really the guy who did anything of the "Trinity" of fathers, but he gets a day. the other two get crap. anyway, this is a hat from the parade which we did not go to since it's been raining for a week.

i got this construction hat on ebay along with a bunch of tools. as you can see, not only is the hat good for wearing but it's also good for storing "little people"
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 24, 2009

just because.

our friends emily and richard got married last night. i didn't snap a lot of photos since their photographer is a friend and figured if there were any i really wanted, i'd snag them from him, but i got a few pictures of samil, so here they are.

okay, i know that's not samil, but hey, it was a wedding. gotta have a picture of the bride and groom (and family)

this is samil playing on his favorite (borrowed) car and his uncle's hat between the ceremony and the reception.

and this next one is NOT from the wedding, but i think he's cute. and he LOVES to wear hats. or pots. or bowls. on his head.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

the cost of living...

i'm always hesitant to write about there types of money things - because inevitably my dad will call asking me why i always complain about the cashflow. truth is, he worries more about my monetary situation than i do. there is also a bizarre phenomenon amongst people who live abroad - this desire to live better, more extravagantly than they can in their own countries. a lot of retirees or trustfund babies looking for a fantastic life of leisure. .and that's fair, if you have it, it's yours to spend. but, it's not our reality. and i get frustrated on web forums for expats that talk about the need for thousands and thousands of pesos (or dollars) to live "well". and it depends on who you talk to and what your idea of well is, so i try not to enter into those conversations. but, in the heart of writing about living here, i've decided to bite the bullet and give you all a glimpse of the cost of things. (as we see it)

we don't live extravagantly - but i'd be lying if i said we live simply. i have a lot of modern conveniences that most dominicans don't (most of which were gifted to me, but consume a lot of extra electricity that i'm more than happy to pay for for the easy way of doing things). i work - kind of. my school is small and we only have class two days a week for 3 hours. i try to save most of the income as an investment for making the project bigger in the future. most of my income comes from private tutoring for rich kids and english classes for adults. and, the idea of tutoring is to get kids to their level and move them on. good for their education - a little shaky for our income. usually i have a steady flow, when one spot open it's almost always immediately filled - but the pay is not always the same and neither is the workload. amalio makes a solid salary every month and thanks to the governments generous "performance bonus" this past september, he's nearly doubled his salary.

we are able to go out to eat at least twice a month - we're not talking extravagant, fancy feasts, here. pizza, sandwiches, pasta bar, typical dominican food. we've been out to nice restaurants only a few times this past year, but it's not really something that we miss. we'd rather go out with friends, have a few beers and dance. and that we are able to do.

we bought a car, are able to pay for the gas and the few repairs that it's needed. we'll also have no problem making payments (barring any severe economic emergency) and can travel to visit amalio's family.

samil has everything he needs - toys, clothes, diapers, milk, food and more. thanks to the generosity of my family we haven't needed to buy much, but when we need new things, we are always able.

we have nice furniture, framed paintings, a computer and a laptop and internet. we have a tv with cable, a dvd player and a vcr. i've got long distance on my phone and we've got cell phones.

all of that to say. we have what we need and a lot of what we want. don't get me wrong, i have a list of things i'd like - a new dining room table, a fancy bookshelf - but they'd all be replacements for things we already have. fancy life? nope. but a good one. comfortable with money in the bank.
what does it cost? there's the deal. much, much less than it does in the states. well, the car was unreasonable expensive but that's the market here. i have a friend who is selling a used '95 little SUV of some sort for close to $20,000 AMERICAN DOLLARS. it's insane. but everything else is relatively inexpensive. (i'm putting these prices in dollars and monthly to make it easier to understand)
  • 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment (balcony and laundry area) in nice area of city - $160
  • apartment complex maintenance fee - $14
  • car payments (1998 toyota rav-4) - $185
  • gas - $3.20 a gallon - usually about - $35 / week
  • telephone - $60
  • internet - free (shared with neighbors)
  • cable television with 100 channels - $20
  • electricity (we use all low-cost bulbs) - $20
  • water - $11
  • food (this is the killer) - $300
  • gas for stove (usually every OTHER month) - $25
  • public transportation - 0.35 CENTS a ride

there are the little things that add up, too, i suppose. things we don't think about on a regular basis. we put money in the bank every month in case of emergencies and have some spending money to "throw around." we hope to buy a house some day, we'll see.

i can see how it'd be easy to spend thousands of dollars a month living here - imported food can get expensive and in the more expensive areas, light and water cost more as does the rent. (though you can rent a mansion for less than a thousand bucks a month, go figure). the type of car you drive and the image you want to portray have a lot to do with your cost of living. things will get added in there as samil gets bigger - baseball and karate and school transportation and all, but it's doable.

Monday, January 19, 2009

urban vs. rural

there are no real suburbs in the dr. there are big cities and little towns. but nothing like the middle-upper class suburbia in the states. and life in the city is not really much different than life in the towns - more factory work, more restaurants, but basically the same day-to-day.

i think there is always a class of people - jetsetters, i suppose - who party and do the club scene. there are bars and nightclubs here a la nueva york but it really is a distinct set of people who can go there. rich kids, american students on study abroad trips, prostitutes. no i'm not even kidding. most of the average dominicans head to what are called tipicos - bars where they play typical merengue and bachata music - or carwashes which are not really carwashes at all, but open air dance club, usually with live local music.

the difference - and a big one it is - comes between these little towns and big cities and the campos. most people in the cities have running water (not all, but most) and electricity for at least a few hours a day. at the very least, there is the option of electricity. there's public transportation and factory work, office work, supermarkets... you name it. the dominican republic is far more comfortable than a lot of other latin american countries.

the countryside is different though. some communities have light - but there are still plenty of people living without electricity. and those who have it, have it infrequently at best. running water is a crapshoot and work is usually in agriculture. the transportation? mostly little motorbikes and scooters.

my in-laws are campesinos. my father-in-law has some land and spends his days moving cows from one pasture to the next. he also works as a gardener for some foreigners who live on "their mountain." their house has a water pump that brings water from the nearby stream to a holding tank on their roof. when there is electricity, they fill the tank and live on that water until it's empty. many evenings are spent playing dominoes or cards - though the last time we visited the guys had to go kill some humongous snakes that were killing the chickens.

it's a hard life - wake up with the roosters: milk the cows: feed the pigs: feed the chickens: look for eggs: move the cows: go to work: eat lunch: move the cows... and all of the animals are free-range, there are no cute little cages filled with little chickies. the animals roam free and somehow always make their way back. i've woken up a few times to piglets in the kitchen begging for food like little dogs.

i like to visit. we might build a casa de campo someday. but i would never live in the campo. even with the conveniences that can be bought, i just don't think it's for me. i need movement, i need things to do. samil loves the campo because he loves the animals - he's kind of afraid of the piglets, though, because i think they're too brazen for him.

samil knows how to climb onto the motorcycle. when we're around the bike has to be parked in the shed or in the neighbor's house because samil does everything he can to get up. he especially likes to eat his cereal sitting on the moto in the mornings.
that man is amalio's dad, francisco.
samil is given run of the house when he's around and he's lucky to have a grandpop who 1) loves his grandkids - all of them and 2) is patient and willing to have a little kid tag along while he works in the morning. here, we gave samil the corn to feed the chickens. he was scared at first but then was throwing the feed and chasing the roosters around like a pro.

i think it's important for samil to learn what hard work it is to run a farm and take care of animals. i don't think it's an undignified life, but i want him to know it's difficult. amalio and isaias (my brother in law who lives with us) are the only two of 8 kids who graduated from highschool. the grandkids seem to be on the same track. we want samil to know that education is important, because without one there is no choice but often back-breaking physical labor. now, if he makes the choice to be a farmer from a list of options open to him, that's different.
here he is watching our newest calf (i mentioned before that we own some cows) learning to feed before the cow is milked. samil helped with the milking, too, but we didn't get any good pictures.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

am i a rich american?

most of the issues that i deal with that are problematic for me revolve around the fact that i am an american living in a developing country.

see, eventhough it's not always a fair judgement, being american means being rich. the idea that the country is rich leads to the idea that everyone who lives in the us is also rich. and, really, comparatively, we are.

but once one relinquishes a salary in dollars and begins to live on the same currency as the locals, on a similar payscale, it should follow that the idea of one being rich is extinguished.

but it's not.

and it has taken me a long time to realize that being a "rich american" has nothing to do with how much money we have in our wallets but rather the passport that we have in our pockets. i mentioned when i blogged about medical care that if anything serious were to ever happen to me or my children, i'd leave. i'd pack up and go home and get medical care in the us.

and that's just it. i have that security that if things get really bad here, i can go home, get a job paying me dollars and have the benefit of governmental help - whether or not those types of social assistance programs fit in my political beliefs. it's easy to criticize something from afar, when its not needed.

the point is is that it's there if i need it. and those types of programs don't exist here. people die everyday because they couldn't afford their medicine, children stay home from school because they couldn't afford their supplies or uniforms or even shoes on their feet.

now, i'm not blind to the injustices that happen in the states - the children who don't get fed on a regular basis because mom and dad can't find jobs: but as long as they're in school they get lunch and usually breakfast. i know there are people dying because of the medical situation, but there is help. and hope. you just have to know where to look.

here? there is nowhere to look.

so, the answer to the question? are we rich? monetarily, no. we are comfortable, we have food on the table (and in the cupboard), we have electricity and running water (not a given in this country), we have a car and the money to put gas in it, and the liberty for me to dabble in work that offers no real, steady paycheck everymonth (though, i will admit, i'm doing quite well and continue to grow everyday... but there are months that i don't make even 100 US dollars...) and we have money in the bank to fall back on (and some livestock: some cows, i think there's a pig in the game now and some chickens, but that's another blog for another day).

so no, monetarily, we're not wealthy. but what my citizenship of one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world gives me and my family is a different kind of rich. one that doesn't go away because the economy is bad and (for now) provides a security that citizens of developing nations just don't have.

it's kind of a stigma for me - something i have to deal with when i meet new people, recruit new students (who sometimes think i'm trying to rip them off, until they talk to other private tutors and realize i'm the cheapest...) and live my life. but i know that it's not conscious. people don't hate me because i'm american nor have i encountered (too many) people who want to be my friend because they think i can give them the world (or a visa), but it's a struggle sometimes to know that i have something that can't be counted and can't be bought.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

and the costs....

i mentioned in my last post that we have really great medical coverage. it's sometimes inconvenient since our insurance is governmental - and therefore, until very recently was only usable in the special teacher's clinic. once the "universal healthcare program" took effect, though, we were given more options. theoretically i could use any clinic i want, i think, but we haven't had the need for it...

mostly, we don't pay for anything. some blood tests cost us a few dollars and there are only a certain number of consultations you can have a year for free (i think it's 10 visits, and then you pay the equivalent of like 15 bucks).

but it always knocks me on my feet how inexpensive medical care is, even without insurance. now, i'm not talking about seeing incompetent doctors or getting butchered in a surgery. because i'm sure i'll get some comments about how of it's cheaper because it's inferior.

but let's talk about solid things - that are hard to mess up. MRIs, x-rays, blood tests. i have not seen any test over 100 US dollars. ever. in fact, its a good indicator that there is something wrong in the USA when private health care providers and HMOs are sending people to the dominican to have the diagnostics done. because somehow it's cheaper to pay airfare, room and board in a marriot hotel, and the testing here in the DR than it is to do in the states.

the cost of living here isn't the dirt-cheap price you'll see in mexico or guatemala - things are expensive, and even more so when you consider that the average family of four earns just about 400 US dollars a month. but that's the cost of living on an island where things need to be imported. and medical costs for the typical dominican are expensive. and medicine, while cheaper comparatively, is also budget-stretching.

but when compared to the prices and the atrocity that is medical insurance in the states, i think we've got something on it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

medical care.

i'm starting here because, well, samil had a doctor's appointment today. a horrendous affair that i hope to never live through again...

we have very, very good medical insurance because amalio works for the government. there is a clinic just for teachers and their families, kind of public, but really not. especially not anymore in the times of universal healthcare in the DR.

the same doctors who have fancy offices in the private (read: expensive) clinics do consult hours in public clinics (i think it pays better, but what do i know?), so the very same doctors i'd pay a lot to see, see me for free in the teachers clinic. it's a good deal - if you don't mind waiting around for your turn - there are no appointments, just show up and wait in line.

when i was pregnant with samil, i saw a doctor who only in hindsight do i realize was not a great doctor. she was more concerned with getting in and out of every patient then actually checking to see what was wrong (or wasn't). luckily, pregnancy is pretty universal and with no real risk factors except a naughty kidney, i made it through... only after switching doctors at the last minute because doctor number one would NOT make a real decision about what to do with me. it's a really long story, not worthy of this blog, but let's just say i had a c-section and samil is here, and healthy.

beyond the pregnancy, a few parasites and the universal gripe (common cold) i've been healthy. samil is healthy. amalio is relatively healthy, though a bit of a hypochondriac.

which is good.

because the thought of needing any real, serious medical care scares me. why? well, i can find my veins to draw blood better than most of the nurses, know more about allergies and other common ailments than most of the doctors and am generally a little distrusting of mistolin, the prevalent "disinfectant" used to clean everywhere here. i think it might just smell good. we use bleach.

there are no standards for cleanliness or sterility - no hot water to mop floors, no bleach when blood is spilled, no rubber gloves to clean messes. don't get me wrong. it's clean. just not clean like a hospital in the states.

doctors don't study for as long - and are not as rounded as doctors in the states. now, i have a general mistrust of doctors - anywhere - but i will suck it up if and when it's necessary, even in a remote village of guatemala. what i don't like are people who think that because they are doctors, they are smarter or, in general, better than the patient. the doctors i've met, especially the pediatricians, are cocky to a point where i've walked out of offices EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG. i had a ped. tell me that i needed to give samil formula eventhough he was gaining two-three pounds a month on breastmilk. when i asked her why she told me because breast milk wasn't the best for babies and formula would give him more vitamins to make him grow faster. what? i think the certification process that docs go through in other countries kind of curbs a lot of the cockiness.

sure, there are a few dr. houses out there. and some doctors, specialized, highly trained doctors, who deserve to be cocky. but not every single doctor is the best.

on the flip side of dumb doctors, though, i've never been treated as well as i have been in doctor's offices here. the people are friendly and nice. i'm not going to say they care about me or why i'm in their place of work, but i think there's a little more pride in the work they do and the people served. of course, that's my observation and it could be different for other people. i am a foreigner which is almost always interesting to people especially when we're in a public hospital and not the fancy private one down the road.

so, the break down: negatives- not so clean, not so sterile, not so educated, a little too cocky. positive: bedside manner beats anything i've ever seen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

9 for '09

i'm not big on resolutions. i mean, who actually ever really succeeds in a resolution? it's like an ultimatum - either i do this or i'm crap. and i don't like to think of myself as crap. or a loser.

so, i set goals.

last year my goals were to be organized - i bought an agenda, made lists and did a pretty good job. i wanted to keep a better house - we made a schedule and kept to it. i wanted to start my own school - we started and we're still going, growing the program as we go.

this year.

1- conserve. water, electricity, garbage (DIAPERS).
2- educate. myself (read more, study more), my son and my students.
3- cultivate. stronger friendships, maybe some tomatoes?
4- relax. spend more downtime not in from of the tv.
5- activate. be more deliberate in physical activity for me and samil.
6- prepare. i'm notoriously bad at preparing lessons and such. i want to work on that.
7- worship. find a spiritual center, bring it back to god.
8- travel. see more of the island.
9- create. paint, draw, color, craft and... uh, scrapbook (finish samil's 1 year scrapbook before may.)

living in the developing world.

i get a lot of questions about what it's like living in the "third world." i don't really ever know how to answer on the spot, i should have a canned answer, but i don't. the truth is, i try not to dwell on the differences - because if i did, i'd be depressed.

i never try to get political or even deep about the answers i give though - like that "third world" isn't really a valid tag anymore as it's pretty inaccurate and dated. the term stems from the cold war, when there was a first world. there are tons of new tags - two/thirds world, describing the fact that said countries constitute 2/3 of the earths population - underdeveloped, subdeveloped or developing nations, describing where the country is in a great scheme of a world market... i say developing. it's kind of hopeful.

usually if i talk at all, it's about the quality of education and the opportunities that are given to people from early in life - creativity, logical and concrete thinking skills, etc... but really it's so much more than that.

the questions have been popping up more and more and i think it may be time to address it. i do in fact live here, and i think people are genuinely interested on what keeps me here despite all of their (often untrue) presumptions about living on a poor carribean island.

i'll be writing about the major differences that i experience daily - the things that affect ME. it's personal. i know there are some ex-pats that read this blog, and what i write is in no way meant to offend or take away from their experience. but life is life, and more importantly my life is my life and my values and morals and priorities are not the same as everyone elses. and that's fair.

my hope? to maybe better explain some of the things that i know my people wonder about, to give you a better picture of why we, as a family, are still here and why we think it's worth it (most of the time).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

trustin' the caregiver.

i try really hard, really really really hard to not dwell too much on the crazy nanny upstairs. i think i've finally gotten it through her head that i'm not her friend and that most of the things she does, i'm not so much on her side.

like when her boss was on pre-natal bedrest for 15 days and she left early EVERY day, leaving said bedridden boss with a very active, aggressive two year old without saying anything, ever... or when she asked for a day off the DAY AFTER boss went back to work because, well, she was tired, i wasn't okay with it. but she's not my employee and if she was she'd have been let go a LONG TIME AGO. like the first time she did something stupid, like lock my kid in the house while she was gossipping with a neighbor and subsequently having to break the lock out of the door. yes. it's true.

but like i said, i try not to dwell. that's why you, faithful five blog readers, have not heard so much about her. i've come to peace with the fact that she's crazy and so are her employers. but sometimes i am just drawn in.

no lie, when i first came back from philly baby's mama was complaining that the nanny never takes the kid out of the house and that she's locked up in there, on the fourth floor, all by herself for 6 hours a day. "how hard would it be to take her downstairs to ride her tricycle?" so imagine my surprise when i get a phone call from baby's daddy two days ago asking me if i knew if crazy nanny had taken the kid outside. no, i didn't know, but... out of curiosity, why? well. the kid had a mosquito bite. and there were no mosquitos in their house.

what? my house is filled with mosquitos. it's rained quite a deal lately, but whatever.

yesterday baby's mama and me took the kids outside to ride their trikes. and bm tells me she doesn't trust the nanny to take the kid outside and that she would prefer for her to be inside and only go outside if i take her or if the parents are home.

now, here's the question. would you employ someone you didn't trust to take your kid outside? i don't know, maybe it's me. but that would be the ened of it for me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

who qualified me for this?

i'm always looking for ways to get a book. and a free book is even better. see, there are no public libraries here. nowhere to go to borrow a novel for a few days at no charge, sit down with the kids and read clifford... and i'm sure that even if there were, the english selection would be just as small as the spanish selection in most city public libraries.

so. i found this program through thomas nelson for reviewing books. they send me a book, i write about it here and post it on a consumer site and voila - free book.

unfortunately the first book i've gotten was kind of a dud. i didn't realize it was part of a series when i requested it and it seemed a little more interesting than my other options. so i clicked. it came. i finished it in a few days - it's not a bad book. dreamhouse kings #1, house of dark shadows by robert liparulo might be a good book for a middle schooler who likes mysteries - but i found it predictable, at times boring and while decently written, the writing was choppy, especially during the dialogues.

basically it's about this family that moves into their "dreamhouse" after the father gets a job as a principal in some out of the way, sleepy town. weird things start happening in the house and the kids find a secret room hidden away in the attic filled with doors that take them to other lands. faraway lands. dangerous places. it's actually quite the twist would be okay until the mother gets kidnapped by some mysterious giant and taken into the rooms... and that's where the book stops. just stops. read the next one.

the problem? this book isn't good enough to read the next one. it was kind of a let down and i hope the next book i read is better.

i did a ton of reading over christmas, both obama books, some silly pre-teen novel about amish people, anne lamott, motorcycle diaries, colors of the mountains, some esl textbooks and teaching supplements and of course, trashy tabloids. i brought two books home with me and i'm already done, but i've got a few more lined up. one of my goals this year is to read more intentionally and not just whatever i can get my hands on... and to read more in spanish. we'll see how it goes.

no bang.

i had great intentions to spend this week getting everything into order for 2009. well, at least for this semester. unpack, organize the toystore's worth of stuff samil got for christmas, take down christmas decorations, clean the house and get my schedule in order and the materials i'll need together.

great plan.

until samil got a stomach virus and puked everything he put in his mouth for 24 hours and then kindly passed it on to me, which resulted in two distinct trips to the doctor - one to de-worm samil and make sure that he wasn't reacting to a parasite and one for me for some medicine to stop puking.
our water heater broke - well, it kind of spazzed out and went crazy for three days before it died completely. it seemed like everytime we went into our kitchen it was filled with water. oh, and the night that it must have exploded seven times because the water was into the hallway and living room. not fun.

so. today we're supposed to pick up the parasite analysis from the clinic, but i am so tired of the clinic that we're waiting for monday. now that the virus has passed through the house, we're pretty sure it's not a bug. so i took down the christmas decorations, finished samil's room and am still working on unpacking, uploading photos and getting ready.

hopefully by monday i'll be on track. i still have no clue what my schedule looks like since i cancelled a student, changed some others around and will probably get one or two more as the semester goes along. i've got some goals for the year, i'll post them soon and tons of pictures from our most recent trip to visit amalio's family - let's just say, samil loves animals...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


samil and i have been back in the dr since the 31st, but we took a trip to visit amalio's family and there'd been no internet around here until yesterday.

and i'm not updating now either, i've got a nasty stomach bug and can't stop throwing up - so i just wanted to let everyone know i'm alive. and not dead.