Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Like all well planned government actions, they started fixing the roads in every single neighborhood with bad roads at once. No problem if you’ve got the materials and equipment to do it. But this project was short on everything from the start.
When we moved in, I had a little bit of hope that they’d finish the roads – or at least my road, because we live on the principal street. It was, after all, an election year, and there were still 6 weeks until election day. After two weeks living here, though, I gave up. They had come to work on the roads every day for an hour. And mostly what they were doing was fixing the work they had done the day before.
A few days before election there was a protest – complete with news coverage and angry neighbors association members. What had happened was that the heavy equipment was taken to another neighborhood because that neighborhood had burned tires and threw stones in protest of the lack of work. But guess what? That’s what our neighborhood was prepared to do if they didn’t get those trucks back here a.s.a.p.
And miracle of miracle, the very next working day, those trucks were rolling up and down the street doing a whole lot of looking pretty and very little work.
The neighbors were happy that work was being done – but deep down I think everyone knew they wouldn’t finish in time for elections. They had just “inaugurated” streets in the barrio next door even though half of the streets weren’t finished! It’s amazing what poor, illiterate, uneducated people fall for during elections.
After elections they worked for a week. We haven’t seen them since. Supposedly there is a deficit of 25 million Dominican pesos because of the project to fix Santiago’s streets (and win votes on the correct side of the ballot). I’ve heard everything from there is no asphalt to finish to the disaster in the gulf has left us without petroleum to mix the asphalt. Nobody really knows what happens because the government just pretends the situation never happened.
There’s another election – a presidential – in 2012. I’m thinking that by the time that rolls around, we’ll get a paved street. And because it’s that important to win a vote, they might even paint the lines down the middle.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Super nice guy. With a lovely wife. There was just one thing. His wife couldn’t have babies. So, he had another wife. Not a lover. A wife. The mother of his children.
So, we haven’t seen him in ages and we ran into him in the supermarket the other day. Him, his wife-with-no-babies and his brand-new son. A two month old baby. I, of course, assume that something happened and his wife (no babies) was able to have a baby. Yay! So, I say something to that affect but was quickly corrected.
This was not her baby, it was the other woman’s baby. But, wife number 1 got tired of not having any babies around, so she’s going to raise this one. Which I guess isn’t so weird, but then taxi drivers son comes over with HIS brand-new two month old baby. And because the son works too much and the mom (apparently) is a “good for nothing” the wife (no babies) is going to raise this baby, too.
This is no social commentary. I really don’t know what my opinion is about it, I just had to get it out there, because it was just too weird an experience to not share.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
She goes on to tell the tale of a wicked car accident including a dominican-york (a dominican living in the states is called that because, as you might know, the USA isn’t really the name, it’s REALLY new York. What part of New York do you live in? Boston? Oh, wonderful. Oh, your sister is in the states? no, she’s in New York? What borough? Oh, she lives in Miami. Go figure). Said Dom-york had rented a luxury SUV and felt the need to show off his wealth after drinking 10 bottles of Brugal rum and a case of Presidente beer. I don’t know who is worse – the idiot who decided to drive drunk, or the idiots who decided to go with him, but the point is, he crashed (surprised? Me neither).
So, now this poor lady’s brother is getting operated on for a broken leg (or something, I wasn’t really paying too much attention). Where did this happen? In the campo. Yah, but which campo? You know, the one near that place. I tune out in these discussions, usually, because I know very little about the outskirts of Santiago. However, people start talking about these little towns and Dominicans’ radars turn on. Because everyone here is related to everyone else. No lie.
These people in the car start talking about the town the accident took place in, and BAM! The guy in the front seat says, “No way, YOUR brother is Jose?” I’m your long lost 17th cousin three-times removed! Your dad is so-and-so, right?
People sometimes stop me and ask me if I’m Amalio’s wife. Then they tell me their bizarre family lineage and how they’re related not only to Amalio but also his adopted family (Amalio moved to Santiago after his mom died and lived with another family from the same town. He claims both). As if that proves that we’re doubly connected.
Living in a place with such strong family connections is weird, especially since the US is so “immediate” family oriented. I can’t imagine ever having conversations with a random stranger about how we’re related or even knowing who my 14th cousin is. I’m lucky to even know my first cousins (and luckier that I do, in fact, know both my mom’s and dad’s cousins and their kids).
When you first move to a different country and consider the differences it’s always the simple things, and they often seem like hardships. Can I eat the food? Do I speak the language well enough? Can I handle that my 32 year old boyfriend lives with his parents (and grandparents)? Is it possible to flush the toilet paper? Where will I wash my clothes? But there are so many hidden beauties that you never know until you’re immersed – living in a country, doing the day-to-day. And sometimes the differences aren’t hardships, but things you wish you had in your own life and culture. Knowing your family – even if it’s just by stories told by others – is such a gift. And always a surprise to run into your long lost 17th cousin three-times removed on public transportation.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Last night she somehow made her way into our bed. I think that she fell asleep with me and Amalio just didn’t put her in the crib before he lay down. So she was there all night. Tossing and turning and wanting to nurse. But not really wanting to nurse. Just kind of.
So, at 3:30 when Samil knocked on our door because he wanted water I hadn’t slept at all. I got him some water and let him sleep with Amalio, I went and threw Amely in the crib and lay down in his bed. I think she lasted 20 minutes in the crib. She doesn’t sleep well, but she also doesn’t like to sleep with us. So I should have known something wasn’t right. But I didn’t. I was tired and cranky. I put her in bed with me and went to sleep.
I was awoken by a stream of warm liquid streaming down the bed. Pee? No, friends. Amely had diarrhea and a broken diaper. How it broke is beyond me, but there it was. I got up hopped in the shower and came back for her. Cleaned her up and put her – diaper-less, stupid I know – on the floor waiting for the boys to get out of the bathroom where she proceeded to poop 3 more times in 3 seconds. In 3 different spots. Lovely.
Today is my first day back to work after a little vacation. Well, I’m going to meet a new student today and back to work for real tomorrow, but still. All vacation we did all right with the sleep and now, NOW, today we have the no-sleep, diarrhea issues.
Thank you, universe!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The water in the faucet is lukewarm, but even still, it’s so hot that that tepid water feels like ice cubes falling on your head. No lie. And the second you turn off the flow, the sweat comes and the hope of getting completely dry is gone.
Dominican women – pelo bueno or not – wash their hair minimally. And it gets done in the salon. All washed and conditioned and put in rollers to sit beneath that stand-up dryer. Or blown out. It’s a little much for me, but I won’t deny my trips to the salon when I’m too lazy to blow-out my own hair. Except in the summer.
Because not only is the heat enough to fry and egg on the sidewalk, it’s quite possible that there’s enough stagnant humidity in the air to boil an egg there as well. So, even if the salon is air-conditioned and the heat from the blower isn’t able to melt what’s left of you, as soon as you step a foot outside the hair goes right back into that nasty bad-perm curly after you spent an hour and 15 bucks getting your hair did.
The good thing about Dominican summer is that it happens to coincide with hurricane season. And while I’m the last one wishing any more natural disasters on this island (or nearby), hurricane force winds and rain are the only thing that truly cool this place off for more than an hour at a time. Of course it’s a horrid catch-22 because rains here tend to debilitate people here the way snow does in, say, Philadelphia. So, rain brings sweet relief only to be enjoyed from your own private balcony. And, of course, a bad hair day.
Tonight might be the last cool night I get for another three months. If that’s the case, don’t go looking for me in the salon down the street, I’ll be sitting under a fan with my feet in a cool bucket of water. And with no place to go, who cares if my hair looks like I just came in from a torrential downpour and then stuck my finger in the socket.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The middle school I went to was in the middle of the city and because of that, there was limited space. It had a nice gym, but there was no ground-space for an outdoor playground. So we played on the roof. There’s a big fenced in basketball court and two smaller areas to hang out. I don’t know if there still is, but there was a greenhouse, too. Talk about using space!
There are very few playgrounds here – and even fewer quality playgrounds. Getting out is hard. We got to the park and play with balls and bubbles and we walk around the neighborhood, but that is all a lot of effort from me. And sometimes I just want to sit back and watch. You know, without the responsibility of blowing the bubbles or bouncing the ball.
Our last place didn’t have a door to the roof and part of it was open, with no wall. We couldn’t play there. It even scared me to take Samil with me to hang the laundry. But this place has a great roof. It’s completely enclosed with a pretty high wall and the stairs have a metal gate. The only little problem is that it is a mess! There is a huge pile of left-over construction dirt/sand/gravel and every time the wind blows or it rains it gets scattered all over.
It’s my pet project now, though, and we’ve been spending time on the roof almost every day. We’ve moved up some of our plants with the idea of getting more up there soon. I take up some water and toys and the kids play while I sweep what I can and collect bags of dirt. I pulled out the sidewalk chalk and they’ve been chalking up a storm.
The plan for the roof is a little garden area to give Samil and Amely the experience of growing things – and the responsibility of taking care of it (well , Samil for now). I want to put a little plastic pool and have the floor debris-free enough to take the tricycles up there, too.
It’s amazing how creative we get with space when it’s limited. I hope my project turns out and that the kids like being outside more!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
It’s been three summers now since I was home for end of summer sales, and even though I didn’t hit any blow-out clearances, I got some amazing prices on a few new pieces of clothing while I was in Florida last weekend. And thanks to my mom and my aunt, amazing prices turned into free for me since they paid for some of my loot. (Thank you!)
We have department stores here. There’s a good variety of food, toys, housewares, even clothes (see my last post about clothes, though). And even though there are some “super” stores here, it is completely overwhelming for me to go into a Wal-mart. Even Target is extreme. Sometimes the regular supermarket gives me anxiety.
Living in a homogenous society leaves very homogenous shopping. All students use composition style notebooks, so to find a spiral bound is almost impossible. Short skirts are stylish, so a long skirt may be sold at a chic boutique (until they catch on here that long skirts are back in style and so classy and cute, not to mention comfortable). Everyone eats rice every day, but try to find a box of cous-cous and you’re likely to go crazy searching. The worst are shoes. Thank God that flats made their comeback or we’d all be in hooker heels still. Women even wear stilettos and open-toe high heels to work. I like my feet to be comfortable; I can do heels, but plastic heels with platforms are a little not my style.
I think that’s what makes stores like Wal-mart so much for me. You mean I can get white rice, brown rice, cous-cous, wild rice, basmati, and rice-a-roni all in the same aisle for relatively economic prices? And I can choose my own size of clothes instead of squeezing into something too small because that’s all they have? And I can choose between a spiral-bound notebook, a composition book and loose-leaf paper for my binder? And on top of all of that, there is a craft section with more than flower arranging? Things to do with my kids that don’t cost me an arm and a leg? AMAZING!
Some of my friends think I spend too much time in the store when I’m at home, but really, it’s hard to make choices when you have so many. And it’s fun to be able to spend a dollar on something that would normally cost me ten! (Did you know that a small jar of off-brand peanut butter can cost me up to twelve US dollars depending on what the stock in the store is like?)
Appreciate your stores, friends! You never know how great they are (even the horrible, union-less, slave-labor driven wal-mart… ha.) until you don’t have them!
Disclaimer: I don’t hate Wal-mart. In fact, I love it. I think it’s hilarious how Americans go nuts over Wal-mart not having unions and treating their employees poorly because they are American employees. If you really knew how 99% of your merchandise from any store is produced and what the non-american employees are paid in union-less environments, you’d not shop anywhere. I am friends with the general manager of a company here who currently has a contract with Ralph Lauren Formal Wear. A RL suit can cost upwards of 1,500 US dollars. The tailor who makes it gets paid about $200 a month to work 44 hours or more a week in a factory with no air conditioning and poor ventilation. Timberland has factories here, too, and they pay their employees the minimum wage (about $200 a month) for all those wonderful clothes and boots that retail for so much more than that. What I’m saying is don’t bash Wal-mart if you’re not bashing all companies who follow the same practices just because Wal-mart employs Americans poorly. You can’t pick and choose – like it’s not okay to treat Americans poorly in the workplace, but by all means treat those Dominicans/Mexicans/Guatemalans/Philippinos/Chinese poorly as long as I get my stuff CHEAP!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I have yet to unpack all of my school-y type things from boxes because, although our closets are way better (not bigger, just better) in this place, there are no extra shelves in the kids closet. I had paid, a while back, to have extra shelves hung in their closet to store all of our teaching/crafting/playing/random stuff in a more organized matter. This new closet has the basic shelves, but not the extras. Luckily, my dad is coming in July and he can do the job while he’s here.
However, I can’t just sit around waiting for him to get here to get the kids back in the game. So, we’ll probably be theme-less for at least a month and just working on the basics. Samil is a little speech delayed (and we’re a little conflicted on what to do about it. Amalio says it’s not a problem and I say we should see someone now in case it becomes a problem) so I’ve been working with him on some basic words and pronunciations (speech therapist I’m not, but all these languages have got to be killing the kid, so I’m flooding him with as much English as possible right now).
I got a ton of paint chips from Lowe’s when I was stateside, and I’ll tell you I felt kind of silly but now that I have them I’m glad I grabbed as many as I did. I have a ton of ideas for them – a color memory game, color matching, “mosaic” pictures, and of course, I’ve seen them on other blogs with tons of ideas, too. The best part is they’re free. This week, we worked on this file folder game I made from the chips – we matched colors and I had Samil try to say the colors and to find them with his finger. We took it with us to the doctor’s office, too, and it kept him entertained for a good twenty minutes while we waited for Amalio to get an allergy test done
I also got some floral decorating rocks with the flat bottom. I’m still coming up with ideas for these, but for now we made AB patterns with two colors.
Samil likes to paint, but he doesn’t like to get paint on himself, so we’ve been trying different ways to paint without the mess. I got these roller-ball paints from Michael’s on clearance. I had tried the idea before in a DIY version (old deodorant jars – the roll on type – pop out the ball, wash out, fill with paint, plop the ball back in and voila! Roller ball paints!) I think Amely likes it better than Samil.
We’ve been chalkin’ it up a lot, too – both on the chalkboard and on the roof. And our summer goal is to read at least two story books a day (that doesn’t include the baby books or counting books we tend to read a lot of anyway). I’m getting us down to a schedule (think flow chart, not hours!) and it’s working out well so far.
If you want to read other totschool posts, check out carisa’s blog, where you can find tons of simple, fun ideas to do with you toddlers!
Monday, June 14, 2010
The problem is that now I work outside of the house. I actually have to look presentable every single day. And it’s hot and I’m in public transportation and my clothes just get dirtier faster. And sometimes in the morning when I take the kids out and I change out of my ugly, red housedress, I forget to put it back on and end up dirtying up the “not-house” clothes.
So, I’ve got three nice work appropriate shirts and a ton of pants. I could make that work since I don’t work every day, right? The thing is that the pants are all patterned pants. And the shirts don’t match. Well, each shirt matches one bottom. No mixing and matching possible.
Shopping for clothes in the Dominican Republic is an exercise in futility. Most Dominican women wear clothes completely inappropriate for anyone older than 21 and at least 2 sizes too small. It’s charming when you’re on vacation and everyone seems to be perpetually youthful and fun but when you realize that it never changes, it’s not so charming.
Add that to the price of clothes and, well, it’s a wonder anyone who doesn’t want their boobs hanging out of the top of their shirt and their fat rolling out from under (because pants two sizes too small with give anyone a roll of fat) wears clothes at all. I thought it was a fashion thing, like that tight pants were sexier, until I actually went to a department store and realized they were only selling junior sizes. All the way to like size 19/21, but juniors clothing has a different cut and style than women’s clothing. Hence the fat and the boobies for the world to see!
I’ve only ever bought clothes here once – for my wedding. I just wore a simple, white peasant skirt and a brown top. It cost me more than a hundred dollars. A lot of people sell clothes from their homes, imported stuff they got off the clearance rack in the states, but for the prices they sell tee-shirts at I could buy a Gucci purse instead.
Most of my shopping is done in the states. And by most I mean 99%. The only thing I buy here is emergency things – maybe underwear or socks? When I worked in a school I had to buy some pants for the uniform and I’ve gotten Samil some shoes. (Amalio gets all of his clothes here. However, he is a clotheshorse and as per Dominican “teacher” culture gets a lot of his clothes as gifts from students, especially ties and dress shirts. I do, however, have to get his uniform shirts in the states because he tends to buy the cheapest thing he can find in the store, wears it and washes it every day and then wonders why is gets ruined in three weeks).
Some of my students have told me that I can get cheap, used clothes at the Haitian flea market (think Mexican flea markets in the states) but I haven’t been in ages and my outlook is dim. I feel like if there was such quality in the pulga (the word for flea in Spanish) then you’d see some of that quality on the street, and you don’t.
I get asked a lot what is hard about living here. And there you have it. The lack of decent, modest-ish clothes (because let’s be honest, I don’t wear turtle necks and floor length skirts either) at reasonable prices in sizes that fit. If Wal-mart could import their stores and prices down here, I’d be a happy girl (most of their merchandise is made in countries like this; they should at least hook up those low prices to their third-world laborers!)
Saturday, June 12, 2010
We went to dinner at this quaint little Italian place. There was supposed to be a Tiki Bar party for Memorial Day, but it was raining (the by product, apparently, of travelling with my Aunt Lisa) so the party was cancelled. We ate. I had delicious Amaretto cheesecake because cheesecake, REAL cheesecake, is non-existent here. Sometimes you see the frozen mini-cakes in the big supermarket, but they’re not the real thing. I digress.
Remember that key? The fancy little memory stick looking thing for the sexy mini-van rental? It stopped working. We tried every trick in the book to get the stupid doors to click open to no avail. The local police were called, the rental agency was called. Nothing.
I was playing with the stupid thing when my aunt realized I had found a secret key that popped out. A secret key! On a stupid electronic opener! This technology never ceases to amaze me.
Luckily, the ignition worked even though the key wouldn’t open the doors and we made our way home. I was a little worried that on Monday, when I was alone with the car and the baby and without a cell phone, the stupid thing still wouldn’t work. Alas, the next time we left the house (for an important shopping trip; more on that in another post) the opener and ignition key worked without a problem.
I don’t know, I think I’m starting to be with my mom on the simplicity in cars. I’d rather have no automatic windows or locks and a regular old key than to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a techno-savvy car any day.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
I’ve always had this idea of what old is. You know, pinochle and spades, and occasionally an old Italian guy playing bocce ball at the beach. Old people meet in community centers and learn how to play on the computer and maybe send an email to the grandkids.
Old definitely didn’t include whooping ME in pickle ball. Or any kind of ball for that matter!
Pickle ball is like a hybrid of tennis and pingpong (shorter tennis court, bigger ping pong paddle). It’s super fun, even when you get schooled by a bunch of 70-somethings. And not only did they win, but they did it effortlessly. I was drenched in sweat and just a little out of breath and 80 year old Charlie skipped off to church after his big win.
I still don’t think that 40 year old ladies should be wearing junior-style clothes (read: halter tops and mini-skirts), but maybe there is more to life for old people than drinking tea and reading Reader’s Digest. I mean, there’s still the fake knees and hips, and probably a lot of medications and tea, but there can be more than that, I guess.
Before I would never have bet that I’d be beat by an oldie… and I feel a little bad about it. But still, next time I visit, I’m going to win the game …
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I’m not really a reminiscent kind of person. I can’t sit around remembering that time when… or wonder what would happen if I had… There was this boy my freshman year who was into me, and I blew him off ALL THE TIME. What if I hadn’t? Sophomore year I was really mean to someone really nice. Luckily it worked out in the end, but what if it hadn’t? Junior year I went to Japan and wanted to go back. Should I have pursued that? Senior year I slacked off, let a lot of my responsibility slide by. Remember how we used to sleep in the office instead of working on the newspaper?
Ten years. That warrants a little reflection, I suppose. I don’t actively keep in touch with anyone from high school. Sometimes I catch up when I’m back in the neighborhood, run into someone in a bar or at the mall. I don’t even facebook with people from high school. Here and there little reminders of that life pop up, we laugh and smile at those memories. But that’s all they are – memories.
I don’t know if they even planned a reunion. The class of ’99 did and had all types of fundraisers to make money for it. I think the class of ’98 had a reunion, too. Though, leave it up to the leadership that was my student government (two of the “leaders” falsely accused a beloved teacher of sexual harassment because he failed them… because they were stupid, not because they wouldn’t put out… because they would), there probably won’t be anything.
My mom has a nice mini-van. Why she still has such a huge car with no kids left in the house is beyond me, but mini-van she has. Before they used to lease the van and turn it in for a new van every two or three years. The same van, but newer. Usually in the same color. And always with the same features. And by the same features, I mean no features.
No power locks, no alarm, no power windows.
And we make fun of her for it all the time. Because once a long, long time ago a teacher friend of hers’ car broke down on Halloween, and because it was Halloween she was dressed as a clown. The power windows wouldn’t work, so she had to stand on the highway, dressed as a clown, and get people to go around her.
Why the story? Well, I didn’t even know that we had progressed as a society beyond the automatic ignition. And what I knew about that was that you could start the car from far away, but you’d have to insert the key once you got in the car, right? I mean, come on, I grew up with no power windows or locks and now we can start our cars from the house! Amazing.
We rented a car in Florida. A sexy red mini-van with stow-and-go storage (and if I ever get a mini-van it WILL have stow-and-go) complete with power locks and windows. The guy tells us the key is in the car and I’m looking for a KEY. Who knew that they don’t make keys anymore? The damn thing looks like a memory stick. And my aunt tells me that in her car she doesn’t even need to put the key in the ignition, as long as the box is in the car, it’ll start.
I posted on my facebook while I was away that places like Wal-mart are sometimes overwhelming to me because that kind of super-store just doesn’t exist here. Needless to say, smart carkeys don’t exist here either (unless you’re uber-rich). They’re not things I miss but sometimes I just wish this technology would slow down so that it’s not all so overwhelming and crazy when I do go home.There’s another story coming about the stupid smart key, but for now I’ll leave you with my complete awe and astonishment at a little plastic box that can start my car. I’m off to hang my clothes on the line and water the plants with the kids. No technology involved in that!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
with the move and the re-adjusting to mom working outside of the house, we've been kind of lax. that, and i haven't unpacked all of our boxes with school stuff. which is bad on two fronts... because school stuff is samil's stuff AND all the stuff i use to prepare my actual work classes. oops.
so this past week, i finally got some stuff out and we got back into a very non-organized school-y type play. we colored with pastel crayons, markers and crayons. we practiced small motor skills by making sticker collages and putting marbles into a tube.
while i'm in the states i'm going to try to pick up some stuff for the summer if i can and get back into the swing of things a.s.a.p. paint chips and foam shapes and maybe some sorting trays.
and i promise you, blog readers, some pictures now that the camera is back in working order.