Friday, December 14, 2012

in a rut.

there are so many things that i just have a really hard time dealing with. my cultural-frustration threshold rises and falls depending on how much sleep i get, how often i have to deal with ridiculous messes, and the weather. (no really. life is complicated here in the rain. it kills my ability to be understanding).

lately, i've been in a rut. the cashier can't ring up my item and suggests i just forget about it? normally it wouldn't bother me. i'd make a snide comment and move on. nowadays? i'd call the manager and make a complaint. the concho stops at every corner and beeps, waiting for non-existant passengers? normally, i cherish the extra time to catch up on my novel-reading. nowadays? complain loudly to the driver about how late he's going to make me for work.

the rut lasts a few days (or weeks) and then something happens to snap me out of it.
i do live in a tropical paradise, afterall.

i was hoping the christmas cheer would do the trick, but with a new fiscal reform in store for the new year - raising taxes and prices of the "family basket", people are less cheerful than they normally would be.

so, this weekend i'm going to force some cheer on us all - christmas music all around, decorating the house and getting ready for visitors. it helps that i won't need to take a concho for awhile and yesterday finished most of my food shopping for at least a week.

any suggestions to raise my cheer?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

our little garden

notice the lack of plants along the path


note the blue cinderblock seat
 the first thing amalio started doing when we moved in august, was to plant things in the desolate backyard.

the front and side yards have grass (a rare entity in this caribbean nation) and look nicer than the rocky backyard. but. amalio wanted to be able to plant and not have to cut the grass (with a machete or garden sheers) every week.

there are a few problems with putting so much into the backyard. the first being that the house is ALWAYS a mess. it gets neglected. but, who wants to stay inside when they've got this much beautiful space outdoors? beyond that, though, the house isn't ours. so we're not going to pour money into something that we might not be in for awhile. (our plan is to stay in this house for a long time, but who knows... the owner has like 17 ex-wives and one might show up someday wanting her place back!) we also haven't had a ton of time. so, we're working on it a little bit at a time, re-purposing things we have laying around or that we can get easily.

the green blocks are the new fat girl chair!

the first thing that i did, was to pull these two cement "benches" out from some corner and put them to use under the avocado tree. we picked up some used tires at the tire shop down the street, bought a few plants  and made a little sitting area.

two benches weren't enough, so we piled up some cinder blocks for seating. this past weekend i swapped the wobbly blocks out for the new "asiento de chica gordita" - a fat girl chair! it could be a love seat if you are willing to share

i also got to know our machete last weekend digging out a rut for the cinderblocks lining the mini-gardens. i tried just laying the blocks out but they looked ridiculous, so i dug them in a little bit so they weren't towering over the flowers. i was sore for two days, and since i liked it so much, i did it again to make another mini-garden. amalio then got the impatiens and some other flowers into place. now the back of the house isn't so lifeless.
we've got quite a bit left to do - but it's coming along nicely and it's a good project to get us off our butts in these winter months (ha!) hopefully we'll get the wall painted during vacation and another raised-bed type garden out there and then we'll wait for everything to come into bloom!!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

the hardest thing

stepanie. i miss you!
 people often ask me what i miss the most about living in the good old u.s of a. and the answer is... not much.

i miss real pizza, hoagies and tastykakes. i miss my family, obviously, and most of the events that are important - like my grandfather had heart surgery at the same time my eldest cousin gave birth to twins a few weeks early and my goddaughter broke her back. it would have been nice to be there, right?

i miss hot water and never having to worry about if the lights will turn off when i'm doing something important. and i never ever thought i'd say this - but i miss SEPTA and the CTA.

but what is most difficult is not what i miss from home... but what i miss from here.
not everyone who decides to pick up and move to another country plans to stay there forever... or even for a very long time. so, sometimes you meet amazing people, spend time with them, and then. well. then you're left to find new friends.

well, not quite.
but it is really hard to let people go - there is way more coming and going than there would be in a stateside life. and, believe me, when new people come around, you have to deal with a lot of newcomer crap. so, i've found, it's about figuring out how to choose people. which is not necessarily about choosing the people who are coolest, or richest or the most fun - sometimes the crazy is good, too. and sometimes you get it right and you know that the time that you spent with that person was worth it... and, well, sometimes you get it wrong and you feel like you've wasted a lot of time.

working at the university has brought a lot of newcomers in and out. working in ministry is also a revolving door. but, i think my life is enhanced by these "visitors" even if it sucks when they leave.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

are we there yet?

this has been a crazy past few months. new job, old job, new projects, old commitments. at one point i bit off more than i could chew, and had to re-evaluate.

in fact, i think i'll be in constant re-evaluation. what is too much? what is not enough?

now, this first semester is winding down... and in sheer craziness, i signed up for more classes at the university next semester (because i think... maybe... i'm ready to jump into that? for a semester? maybe?)

i'm preparing a ton of materials in hopes to kind of swim through the semester instead of doggy paddling along. and it's made my past few days kind of hectic in my mind.

not in my real life because i've just been pre-planning all the stuff i'm supposed to do. not actually doing it. and tomorrow i plan to dive in and get it going.

and all i keep thinking is.... are we at christmas vacation yet?

Friday, November 23, 2012

hitting the wall

i spent a good chunk of my morning in this hospital today.

and i'd like to reiterate here how horrible the public health conditions are.

i avoid public hospitals when i can – not because of the doctors, but visiting is just an exercise in futility. this morning we took a student for a fairly routine visit, but every where we turned we hit a brick wall. first stop, emergency room to get a referral.

i’m sorry, we can’t do that. you’ll need to go to pediatrics.

there are no appointments left today, you’ll need to come back on monday.

look lady, this is kind of urgent. could you please just indicate the analysis that she’ll need? maybe some medicine? something?

no, ma’am, you’ll need to go the pediatrician.

i don’t really know how we did it, but we got the indication for analysis and headed up to the pediatricians. after arguing with the secretary about why we needed to see the pediatrician – eventhough she was “full” – we got permission to “talk to the doctor” to see if she’d made an exception…. except when we made it to the doctor’s door, she had already gone home for the day. nice. and no doctors were available for the afternoon, either.

they drew some blood and did the obligatory pee test (had they given her an iv drip, the visit would have been complete!) and sent us on our way, ready to see the doctor on monday, test results in hand. we head to the pharmacy only to find they have nothing that was prescribed.

we spent two hours in the hospital and accomplished nothing.

sometimes it’s like that. hurry up to wait. break through the red tape just to get held back by something else. luckily we don’t have to do this every day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

the wicked witch returns.

remember when i first told you about the wicked witch? i almost peed my pants trying to hold in my laughter... but over the past few months, i've confronted beliefs that scare me. the absolute lack of light in some of the things i've seen and heard hurt my heart. so i'm always trying to infuse some humor into my days.

this morning, as i stood welcoming students and speaking to our doorman, i noticed the local witch standing across the baseball field - she usually walks her granddaughter just far enough and then watches her until she reaches school. i waved, eventhough she wasn't looking in our direction.

a mom standing at the door says, "she can't see you. she's probably flying".

um, excuse me?

"yeah, she's probably flying."

but she's standing right there, i can see her.

"no no, she leaves her body while she's flying. it's her soul that floats around."

ok. so, does that mean she doesn't really need a broom to fly?

Monday, November 12, 2012

the menagerie.

it's no secret that my husband loves animals. and plants.
i think that the last seven years, stuck living in a third floor apartment sucked life out of him.
we joke about how the day after the big move, the house was filled with stacks of boxes, but all of the plants from the apartment were already lovingly planted in the backyard.
it wasn't more than ten days when henry and mickey came to live with us - and two japanese chickens that flew away (or were stolen) within the first 24 hours. the morning doves we had in the apartment came along, and soon we had a little dog, pongo, as well.

mickey the hen dropped some eggs within the first month, but they weren't viable and never hatched. when she started dropping eggs this time, amalio ran to the campo and picked up some that were sure to hatch.
he claims that mickey was depressed because she lost the last batch and didn't want her to be disappointed again. (i am not kidding).
welcome to the zoo, henny penny (yellow - and รค girl"according to amely), bambi and brownie.
up next? a rabbit for samil.

Friday, October 26, 2012

turn it off.

i just sat through three hours of... something. i'm still a little bit confused. but i'm not here to pontificate on what i learned.  i just sat through three hours of lecture, presentation and academia with people who were so obviously not prepared for it.

as the audience filtered in, i made a joke to my coworker about how i could pick out all of the public school teachers. it's kind of a game i play in my head when i need to waste time. or amuse myself. it's not a hard game, because it's so easy to pick them out.

the pants are too tight, the makeup too garish and the hairstyles too childish. even when in uniform, there's something that stands out as escuela publica.

it bothers me. because it's not just about the clothes. or the makeup. or the hairstyles. it's about respecting yourself enough to not be the laughing stock of the country. if we want to be treated as professionals, then we need to at least dress like it. our pants should not allow our coworkers to see the dimples on our butts. and bellies should always remain hidden by clothes. borrowing your five year old daughter's hair bows is also a little unacceptable.

as the presentation went on, i took note of all of the "publics" - every time an alcatel* rang, everytime it was answered and every time the group of ladies sitting behind me talked too loudly, i felt it. not embarassment. but disappointment. as the larger academic community turned and looked, only to see, that it was, in fact, not one of them.

amalio is a public school teacher. most of our friends are public school teachers. and it is something that we discuss frequently. we can't demand respect until we act like we deserve it - dress your age and turn your damn phone off.

--steps off soap box--

*alcatel- cheapest, little, disposable cell phone on the market

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ring ring.

i am so bad at phones.

we had a house phone for a long time at our old place and it was the only phone id even bother to answer. i dont mind carrying a cell, but please dont expect me to answer it whenever you call.

not only do i not really answer my phone, im notorious for breaking phones. ironically the only phone that has ever lasted me more than six months was a little cheap alcatel that cost eight dollars. everyone made fun of it, but i loved that thing. i could drop it down the stairs and it would keep ringing.

i've had a blackberry for the past year and a half. it's falling apart and about two weeks ago, the keyboard malfunctioned. the little love of my life alcatel also decided to breathe it's last breath. i've been sans communication ever since.

on some level i hate it ... i can't call to check up on anyone, and i lost all of my contacts. but the freedom, oh, the freedom.

no phone ringing incessantly during class - only to figure out that it's not an emergency and my kids are alive. (seriously, if you call a mom you know she's at work more than once, you deserve whatever tongue lashing you get). no annoying telemarketers and no need to selectively screen calls.

sadly, my phone freedom is coming to an end, and tomorrow i will be picking up a little throw away (because, seriously, why waste my money on something that i'll end up breaking anyway). my number will be the same as it's been for awhile. it's just a question of changing up a chip.

happy chatting!

Monday, October 22, 2012


i've never had more than 2 keys at a time. now, the new house has about 8 doors that need locks and that doesn't even count the inside doors, the cistern or the shed out back. while it's not a dangerous neighborhood, it's never good to tempt fate, so each gate has a huge padlock and the doors all have deadbolts.
and now you probably think this post is about my housekeys. but it's not. when we moved, we also invested in a car (i know, 'we're really moving up in the world). the car came with one key. who does that? and because we're procrastinators by nature, we didn't get a spare made.
you can imagine what comes next.
on our way to work one saturday afternoon, we go to grab the key from it's place. it's not there. we look all over.amalio leaves for work in a public car and i take a nap. we had looked everywhere and nothing. i yelled at the kids. samil cried about how a thief came and stole it from the house and how scary that was. amalio sent a friend to help. i sat on the couch. i don't know why but i checked in the toy room and sure enough, the key was stuck in a toy truck.
you'd probably think that we went and got a key made.
just one week later, i noticed the car outside as i walked up the hill from work. then i noticed that it was on. so, when i reached the house, i tried to open the door to turn the car off. ha! it was locked. amalio had run in the house and was planning to just run back out. unfortunately it was lunch time and the locksmith/car electrician wouldn't come until he had finished eating.
and still.
no key.
a few weeks ago i headed to the hardware store to pick up a few other things and by chance remembered to get a key made. i know! it should have been on my list.
it might be because i knew that this would be a huge long process. it took the kid about 15 minutes to even find the right key. after he messed up one, i left him alone to try again in peace.
he never got it. when i got back another guy was working the machine and this guy was nowhere in sight. luckily the key worked and hopefully we won't have any more problems!

balancing act.

on my kitchen table there is a pile of already graded midterms. in my bag, another stack of ungraded tests. i've got unit quizzes and writing assignments on the side burner waiting for a few minutes of my time.'i need to fit in time to visit someone elses class at the uni as part of our professional development, get my students to finish their evaluations.

and then there is a list eight miles long of things that need to get done at school - made even longer by the virus that ate the students' data sheets from the memory stick. plus the serious and not-so-happy side of being a principal that needs to happen on a few occasions this week. we need to visit the other school plants and have a leaders meeting.

it's a busy week. sometimes it's hard to figure out how to lay it all out so that everyone gets what they need in the end. the priorities change from week to week and in the end, what matters is not necessarily whether it gets done or not, but whether all the balls stay in the air.

sometimes it means putting a movie on and marking papers while everyone is quiet.

Friday, October 19, 2012

i want to be korean.

these past two weeks have been a lot of scurrying about trying to get our students information in order - we have a shot at joining part of our program to a much larger international organization and in order for it to happen, we need data. who are our kids, where they come from, why donors might be called to help pay for their education.

at the last minute (i'm a slacker) i had to bring all of the folders home and finish the data sheets for the kids i hadn't gotten around to. except, when we got home, we discovered that a horrible virus had deleted everything on the memory stick and left us some trash called "porn" and "sexy". nice.

it was a long saturday - and thanks to the help of jewel - it all got done, just in the nick of time.

sometimes, when the pressure is on like that, i lose the fact that these are children - not data. it becomes a rush to get things together and type things in and answer all the right questions, it's no longer about forming relationships and getting to know our kids so that we can answer the questions.

in the transfer from the computer i wasn't just left with lovely porn apps and erased files, i had lost most of the heights and weights we had taken and the "dreams" of our kids. so i got to do it again - and i'm so glad that i did.

in the three-year old room, the kids want to be lightning mcqueen and "trucks" and some of the girls want to be mommies. their dreams are the dreams of so many others - not really understanding what it means when you ask them what they want to be when they are "big." a little guy told me, "but i am big. i take care of my baby sister."

the four-year old room was similar - i want to be a car. i want to be a truck.

and then it got sad. a kindergardener told me she wanted to be a prostitute, mouthing the word with no sound and then changed her mind and told me, "no no, i'd rather be a teacher." one of the boys told me nothing. when i dug a little deeper he said he doesn't want to work, he'd rather stay at home all day long. he lives with a dad and an aunt and mom sends money from some foreign country to maintain them all - just barely not-in-poverty.

the little girl who wants to be a nurse that gives needles and the boy who want to work in a skateboard shop were overshadowed for a minute by those dreams. we want these children to know their potential - and while that might not mean becoming a doctor, it's not impossible. and if the girls want to be mommies, that is more than fine.

my favorite response was from one of my favorite students (i know we're not supposed to have favorites but....) he's been with us for two years now, and we've been able to see such an amazing transformation in not just him, but his family as well. where dad was only semi-present before, he is involved now in many processes of this boys life - from paying for school and doing homework in the evening. mom stops by to chat. and the interest they've re-taken in their son has made all of the difference. but, this sweet boy has an identity conflict - his mom is haitian and his dad is dominican, and he just doens't know where he fits into all of that. he explodes when the other kids call him haitian at one moment and defends his haitian roots at others. he tells me he can't get a birth certificate because no country wants him (it's really way more complicated than that, but that's what a child sees).

so, when i asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up, i had to suppress a laugh when he responded, "coreano." he wants to be korean. what? he says that it would be better for him - he'd know where he was from and that he could help kids like him, just like the koreans have helped him so much.

on the list of things we want to be when we grow up, that has to be the most profound. this child who doesn't know where he belongs, knows that he wants to help other kids who don't belong.

not data. children. with dreams.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

looking toward the future.

 i had planned to begin another series of pre-natal classes in cienfuegos this morning. things got out of control this week, though, between a short-term mission group staying with us and some unnecessary pressure about my schedule from the university and i just wasn't able to make it around the neighborhood in search of the ladies.

it takes so much more than a poster on the wall or a mass email to past members. in order to really connect, it takes foot power - and honestly, at noon, when the sun is highest in the sky in the hottest month of the year, i'm not looking forward to walking streets with little shade. and beyond that, i hate having to face the poverty - to look at people in their eyes and keep walking.

 while i feel like our humble little school can change lives, i know that it is a long term plan and now, right now, people are still living surrounded by garbage, breathing in toxic fumes of burning plastic and tires. and it is ohsomuch easier to stay in our school, where i don't have to confront the truth of this place.
 i dread looking down into the valley filled with trash, to see children bathing in contaminated canal water, drinking from the water where others relieve themselves. to see men and women and children carrying packs in the hot sun, working harder than i ever will to provide for themselves and their families.
but. once i begin to walk, i remember how much i love to be here. men sit in a colmado playing dominoes, stop their game to shoot the breeze for a few minutes, giving directions to find women they think might be pregnant - sending me ways i've never been before to meet new people i might never have had the chance to come across. women offering to spread the word, god bless you! 
and in the midst of all this lack of material wealth, i find hope. friendliness. joy. 
 this guy, felix, wanted us to take a video of him running up the hill with his sack of plantains. we talked for a few minutes - he's 35 and has a 19 year old daughter. teenage parenthood is a generational epidemic. his smile met his eyes, and it wasn't just because he'd met a group of sexy gringas.
 i hate that i have students who suffer from chronic respiratory problems, who have rotten teeth from lack of clean water and toothpaste. i hate that i can't turn on computers and pull up educational games - because they don't exist and there are so many barriers. this is not an equal playing field. but then.

i see that it's not the end of the world. there's still love and community and hope. , we've got the whole future to look forward to.

Friday, October 12, 2012

working the earth

Our new place has a humongous back (and side and front) yard ready and waiting to be transformed into paradise garden. we got this place because it was finally the compromise we could live with - amalio's huge backyard and me not living in a tin-roof hut. (the house is pretty nice, too, but the yard is the crowning glory).
the day after we moved, amalio already had our potted plants in the ground, watered and was running to the nursery to get more. i was, less happily, surrounded by a hundred boxes wondering when in the world i'd ever even make a dent in the unpacking.
in an attempt to actually contribute to the backyard, i bought a bag of soil and had the kids plant tomato and pepper seeds. i forgot that we have chickens. 
no tomatoes and no peppers, but the kids had fun. 
(amalio has since partitioned off a part of the yard for vegetable plants where chicken-chicken, henry and mickey can't get to them)

we also let susan spray paint. i'm sorry if she turns into a delinquent.

the yard is taking shape - it needs a lot of work still, but once it's "see-able" i'll post some before and after pictures here!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hello, Chicken

people ask me fairly frequently what we eat in our house. it's more than common curiosity - it's the opportunity to confirm that the american diet consists of nothing more than pizza, mcdonalds and coca-cola. 
when i tell them we eat rice and beans almost every day, it's like i've killed their childhood dream. i assure them, however, that just because we don't eat pizza every night and my kids don't have every single happy meal toy ever made, doesn't mean that i actually cook.
during the week, i can't cook. the heaviest meal of the day here is the mid-day meal and i'm not in the house to prepare that. our babysitter takes care of it. she cooks much better than i do.
and by the weekend, i'm not in any kind of mood to cook. and when i teach on saturday mornings, forget about it. 

i refuse to frequent the american chains, but that doesn't mean i'm immune to some "fast food." our favorite place is ola pollo - walking distance from our house and super cheap. not really that fast, but quicker than me cooking.

they specialize in rotisserie chicken - you can get a whole bird with fried plantains and a bottle of soda for less than 10 dollars. 

on saturdays they pump these chickens out like nobodies business. and for good reason - DELICIOUS.

i'm always kind of reluctant to smash "nueva york dreams" - (your kids can go to college for free, free-housing is a dream, dominicans are treated with much more pride and dignity than haitian immigrants here, etc...) and even this one kind of kills me. i see their faces drop when i say no, i don't know the last time we ate mcdonalds. 

but at least i can cheer people up with out constant consumption of fast food .

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Check Us Out. (pretty please?

if you follow this blog, you'll have noticed that 2012 has been a year of transitions and changes.
amalio completed his masters (in applied linguistics) - he actually graduates the 19th of this month. while i'm super proud of him, any grad-school wife will agree, i'm extremely happy we're past this.

i began teaching pre-natal classes and became more interested in women's health and just women's situation in general. the dominican republic has an intense rate of "feminicide" - women being killed by men - usually husbands or boyfriends, but often fathers. my heart was changed and i needed to do something to help.

and lastly, i was offered my dream job - working in a mission school that offers quality education to children who otherwise have little possibility to study. of our 92 students, 30 are undocumented - which means they wouldn't be able to study in a formal school.

i'm tired. really. but it's that good kind of tired of doing something that you love and really trying to make it work.
 our school, futuro lleno de espeanza, is located in cienfuegos, santiago. we have 90+ students from 3years to second grade. it's been a rocky start for sure, but we're working hard to make it work. you can check us out on facebook to see more about our foundation (in general) and our school (in particular).
and! poderosa mujer- powerful woman.
during the fall semester i worked with a wonderful woman named rebecca. she and her family are here in the dominican republic as representatives of their bahai'i faith (you can read more about that on her blog). together we came up with the idea to equip women with some skills, sell their handiwork and use the profits to a) pay the women and b) offer services of necessity to their communities. 
from here on, the pre-natal and community health classes will be under the name of poderosa mujer along with crafting workshops, literacy classes and more!
check us out on facebook. we have some "start up" jewelry in the states right now waiting to be purchased and shipped. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

monumental museum... and amely.

the tourism-factor is low in santiago. we've got a cultural museum... and a monument.
i'm always at a loss for what to do with visitors. there are some rivers to swim in and some of the scenery outside of the city is gorgeous, but the museum gets old. i've been there ten times since may. and the exhibits haven't changed. and it takes about 30 minutes to see all there is to see.

and the monument used to be fun,but now it's not. the craziness was taken away when the city government decided to spruce the place up and get rid of the riff-raff. the fun nights of merengue dancing in the streets are over, but don't fret! it's been replaced by a museum documenting the restoration of the republic. 

what's that? you ask. i have no idea. really. there are some two or three independence days and i get them confused. this one has something to do with haiti. or france. or spain.

the museum is filled with old-school dioramas and confusing explanations. the stairway to get to the top of the monument is worse than the spiral case in the statue of liberty.  but on the top floor, there are statue-replicas of carnival figures. each character of carnaval tells a cultural story - from the robalagallina woman with children hidden under her skirt to the lechones meant to scare evil away.

amely loves it. and since we don't do carnaval, this is a safe place for her to see her characters.
this woman is marchante or a market-woman. she strolls through the streets selling fruits and vegetables from the basket atop her head, flowers from her basket and beans from her apron. amely thinks that's too much work. 
the lechon wears a different mask in every region of the country. he carries a dried pigs bladder to beat people up with, and a rope whip to make a lot of noise. of course, he's amely's favorite.

the robalagallina is a man, dressed as a woman, with lots of little-ones hidden under the skirt. when they enter the colmados the children steal things - like hens (roba: steal, la gallina: hen). amely thinks it's funny.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

in stitches....

let me just be completely honest from the start of this post.
i have never bought clothes for my childrens. i purchase very little of my own clothing.
that said. 
i am thankful to my mom and aunts and a plethora of other people who maintain us covered up. 
clothes here are just plain overpriced and under-quality. when samil was a baby, i stressed over it, got angry and then just gave up. i would got to "boutiques" and find just one year (carter's walmart brand of baby) clothes for astronomical prices - and i knew just how much they really cost. 

and then i don't wear small sizes- and anything over a size 12 is triple the price of normal.
if you can find anything over a size 8 to begin with. (which explains the sausage-roll phenomenon)

sometimes we needs clothes. or we need something fixed. or are just interested in how people make money here.

amalio had a suit made a few years ago for about 200 dollars - it is a gorgeous, tailored masterpiece. i had dresses made for amely and my niece. excellent.
like i mentioned - i don't buy my children's clothes. my mom took care of all of the children's school pants this year and they needed to be hemmed. being sewing-machine-less, i cried to amalio in an effort to avoid hand-stitching 12 pairs of pants.

why do you cry, wife? there is a tailor just three houses down!
this guy is amazing - he hemmed up 7 pairs of pants and tightened the waist of one of amely's skirts - for 200 pesos! that's under 6 dollars. he has a machine and all of the fixins' on his barred-in porch. 

i passed by the other day to see if he makes clothes. well, duh, of course he does. he's going to make me a dress based on the pattern of one i already have. amazing. without a pattern. astonishing.

he's got this sign parked in the doorway to his porch - there is no real sidewalk to speak of to get into his house - but he's proud of his work and tells me he'd like to move out of the house someday.

if you're in santiago and interested - he does great work. email me and i'll let you knw where he is

Monday, October 1, 2012

in the midst of death..

our school year began with a death. just days after our staff reconvened after summer vacations, the father of our dear teacher doris passed away. he was old and suffered from high blood pressure, but his death was unexpected and he left behind his wife of nearly fifty years. it was a hard time for all of us, and due to familiar concerns, dear doris resigned her position. what a blow.

on the first day of class, a mother approached me to see if i knew anything about fetal demise, and "is it normal what happened to my newborn?" i don't know, mama, i'm sorry. she had carried that baby for nine months in her womb and he lived for seven hours outside of her. 

the baby-school teacher's brother then passed away from diabetes-related illnesses and left a hole in his family. we traveled out to their campo and paid our respects. even after eight years, i'm still unsure what to do at this make-shift wakes, bodies laid out in living rooms for everyone to see and touch. 

death is such a natural process, yet it's so foreign, so unwanted. and while children often deal with lost lives a little bit easier than us adults, today my heart was broken by our sweet little 3 year olds understanding of death.

two brothers, juan and jose, recently lost their 15 month old brother. when they arrived to school - three weeks after our start date - their mother explained to me that neither really understood what had happened because the family hadn't actually talked about it. it was evident from the first day, both boys crying and needing to see each other. there was no verbalization, no words that told us that these brothers did, in fact, understand that baby brother wasn't coming home, but their actions showed us that their little hearts were filled with grief. 

two weeks later, and bigger brother has since calmed down. he can sit in his seat and pay attention and only occasionally asks to see his little brother. however.

i was making copies this morning, talking to our SPED teacher about her class for the day and in walks our baby-school teacher with little brother. "show the principal what you've made, sweet boy". "it's a dead guy."  

heart breaks. just this morning i had spoken to the grandmother about getting this child some more emotional support. 

"is this dead guy someone you know?" "yes, it's my chichi.*" 
"what happened to your chichi?" "he's in heaven with papa dios. he went to the hospital and never came home, but i still have my big brother, right, directora?"

breaks again.

"yes, and you know, he's not going anywhere, right? and he loves you very much." "i loved my chichi so much, directora."
"i know you did, buddy, and he knew it too." "can i go now?"
"yes, sweet child, go to class."

we cried.
then wiped our eyes and kept on. life keeps going. let's take time to nurture relationships and love each other. hug your kids a little tighter tonight. 

*chichi (chee-chee) is a term used for the youngest baby in a family. papa dios is the familiar term for "father god" and directora is my title - principal, most children and parents called school staff by their titles as a sign of respect.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

call u-haul

this summer we moved. it's the second large move i've had here in the dominican republic - and hopefully the last for a long time. when we moved into our first apartment, we relocated in a mini-pick-up - all we had was a bed, a couch, some plastic bookshelves and our clothes. while i cleaned the new place, amalio and his brother ran around town buying a dining room table (hideous - but we still have it), a stove (since replaced), a refrigerator (in need of replacement), a dominican style washer (sitting outside collecting dust) and an iron (since replaced at least 4 times). 

by the time we moved into our second place, we had two babies and three years of life under our belts and needed something bigger than a pickup to move. luckily amalio's students and some other strapping young men were willing to move us for the promise of lunch. it's not easy to move from one third floor to the next.

this move, however, was easier. we were moving from a third floor to a house. on ground level. and i had purged a ton of unnecessaries from our lives not too long before - so we had less boxes of junk (still, the boys will point out, the same number or more of heavy, heavy books).

luckily we were able to practice the patience needed for a move in this country when my dear friends rebecca and josh moved to san francisco de macoris just days before our big move. somehow, i avoided their packing chaos and made it just in time to witness the most incompetent truck packing i've ever experienced. 
You can read more about this moving hilarity here
see that big piece of furniture going on the roof of that truck? well, the basic consensus amongst the movers was that the big, bulky furniture needed to go in the truck last - despite the fact that it isn't a big space taker - tons of things could have been nested into its open spaces. alas, it took a 1.5 hour drive to san fran and didn't kill anyone.
once it got there however... it didn't fit up the stairs to the new place - so it was cut apart, carried up the stairs and then put back together.

since all of that moving nonsense wasn't enough for us we decided to move into our house without our water connected and without the permission of the owner. i know this sounds sneaky, but we had signed our contract one month prior and were still waiting for this fool to get his act together. ridiculously, he gave amalio the keys to let the alarm guy in one day - we took advantage and called the strapping young men and amalio's students to help us move in the next day. we would have moved in that very very day except i had just helped rebecca move out and was pretty tired. besides, our cistern was empty and i refused to move in to a house with no water at all.
i paid this kid 1,000 pesos (about 25 dollars) to fill up our 2500 gallon water tank so we could survive until the water company resolved their problem.

the following day we were ready. all the boxes were packed (mostly) and the boys were ready to carry heavy things. one of amalio's ex-students had access to a flatbed, and since that would be cheaper than hiring a truck, we loaded things up
of course, it made perfect sense to start loading from the back to the front, right? hence the logical packing in the back and haphazard packing in the little bit of space left to them near the front. it took two trips, and each time 10 boys rode around on the back like kings.

we've acquired furniture over the years - we have way more than a bed and some shelves nowadays. not too long ago we got this beautiful tv cabinet from a coworker for a really great price. it took a lot of work to get it into the apartment. i even promised the guys who carried it that i wouldn't move for a long time. alas, two months later, we were trying to get the thing out again!

we've been settled in for about two months now - the house still feels like a wreck and the backyard is finally starting to take shape. it's a beautiful place, and a complete blessing that just fell into our laps unexpectedly. i'll be taking some pictures soon of the yard and the house - but of course, friends are always welcome to come see it for themselves!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


my daughter is a carnivore. she loves meat. seriously, ask her what she wants for lunch. CARNE. or dog food, but that's another post for another day.

meat prices are, i assume, comparable on most levels to meat in the united states. except, that most people in the dominican republic don't make that much money. so. when chicken skyrocketed to about 45 pesos (about 1 dollar) a pound, the country was up in arms. in fact, there was a moratorium on buying chicken. for a day. because realistically, chicken was (and is) still the cheapest meat besides salami.

and dominicans just found out what salami is made out of. 
(really, how did you not know?) sales have plummeted. 
we buy our meat at the supermarket. mostly for convenience. believe me, the supermarket is no cleaner than the butcher. i can pick up the meat that looks nicest and doesn't smell and just take it home. nice. but, we really do prefer to buy fresh meat at the butcher shop. and while we're there, in the market, buy some fresh and cheap vegetables.

it doesn't happen often but it's a dream. i look at the slabs of meat hanging from hooks and say.... give me one that i can put on the grill. or chop some up to make like dominicans do. i'm no good in the kitchen, friends, and even worse at identifying cuts of meat. i know when it's fresh and when it's not. which for me, is about good enough.
the meat is cheaper by a few pesos, and fresher by days. usually, if we plan our trips right, we can get there a few hours after the slaughter and get super-fresh meat. and if i smile nicely, the guy will pasar la por la maquina - so that i don't have to use a hammer at home to soften it up. meat here is, afterall, mostly free range and can be kind of tough.

i'm sure one day one of us will get botulism or some other meat related illness, but to date i've heard more problems from the supermarket meat from the not-so-hygienic butcher meat, so i'm not too worried.

what's your favorite place to get food?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

re-building of a house.

i'm super far behind and crazy backed up on my blog. i know. i'm sorry. but last week i sat down and emptied my little memory chip onto a computer and proceeded to break down the pictures into groups. we're talking photos from july. but, better late than never, right?

right before we moved out of our old place, it was raining. a lot. like every single day. and when it rains like that, streets flood. especially the street we needed to cross to get into our neighborhood. there were many days i was stuck on a kind lady's porch waiting for  the water to subside. mostly because the water wasn't rain water, but overflow from the sewers. gross. i know.

a friend of ours lives on this street. and every single time it rains, her house would flood. this past rainy season was intense, and a few times the house flooded up to the beds. can you imagine your house being inundated with aguas negras?
this summer, she was accepted into a new government program that was supposed to rebuild the house in three days. like many governmental programs however, three days turned into 6 weeks. and, like many other not-very-well-planned-out "do-good" projects, the government planned to rebuild the home without actually raising it up out of the danger zone. 

so, three truckloads of debris was ordered in, money was found (somewhere, who knows?) and a bunch of neighbors chipped in to help fill the foundation of the house.

a few days later we stopped by and the floor was laid (simple cement) but the family was still waiting for windows and doors to be installed. (see? larry allen was here this summer! he's there in that picture!)
i'm sure that in the end all of the house-guarding, not being able to leave and living with two grown children and a baby in a small room for six weeks was worth it. the new house is gorgeous, and even more importantly, out of flood danger.
i had pictures of the finished product - doors and windows installed and painted. but i'm following the lead of the government and doing this in installations. look for more pictures of this house at a later date!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


both jewel and i have been making lists of all the things that we need to blog about. for her, it's a completely new environment, new job, new language. and for me, it's just the good stuff that never really gets old - like the boys trying to install jewel's new ceiling fan with a machete yesterday.

thing is, most of these posts require pictures, and i'd love to have the skills to enrapture you with words - prose so vivid you imagine you're here - i'm not there. at that level.

so for now, a quick wrap-up.

this past weekend i spent sick. really sick.
then i went to work and felt better, but had to call out of the uni because i was so sick again.
tuesday i felt better, but slept a lot. (and then watched the boys hack the ceiling apart)
and today, i'm feeling alive.

pictures soon. promise!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


i've grown used to many many things on the island - from the requisite 1 hour lateness to any social event, to the lack of any kind of formal lines in the corner store. i've even gotten used to the lack of water and come-as-you-please electricity.

but seriously, if one more person comes into my life to disorganize, i might scream.
or punch someone in the face.

i've learned to build up my tolerance walls when it's necessary - to bite my tongue and hold my fingers away from others' eyes.... but often, when i build up my tolerance wall in one area, it crashes down in another.

recently, it's been the mess.
don't get me wrong. i'm not a not-messy person. i work at the dining room table and leave my papers and books there until i get a chance to put them away. it could be days later that my stuff finds its home., but it finds its home eventually. the laundry sits in baskets until there's time, but it does get put away.

and anyway, if you come to my house, please understand i have two children at home, 94 at school and a bunch in the university. add that to all 500 of amalio's teenage BOYS and our house gets a little left behind.

but samil and amely takes showers and brush their teeth everyday. we've got the basics taken care of.

last week i implemented an organization system in the kindergarten classroom - notebooks in piles according to purpose, toys together, blocks in the corner. pretty well labeled and taught to the kids. and then the cleaning woman comes in and decides to clump everything together. in a big huge messy pile. i bit my tongue and re-organized.

and then the next day it happened again.
so i asked. wth. she says "oh i don't know what it is so i just put it away." really? when i don't know what something is, i don't mess with it. but whatever. i let it go.

until i organized the first grade classroom and the teacher, THE TEACHER, disorganized it in three seconds. and then complains about how long it takes her kids to get their notebooks. YES, friend, because they were all separated in piles and then you mixed them all together.

i might be able to handle it. except it happens in our house sometimes, too. our lovely babysitter/cook/cleaner extra-ordinaire moves things, but she knows better than to put away or shuffle... and even better, she knows that if she doesn't know, she doesn't touch.

except. there is a bizarre cultural practice of women who visit wanting to clean. for a long time i took it as an insult. as if my house wasn't clean enough for their presence to bless it, but i realized it's just how it goes. it doesn't get to me as much if i'm at home - but i don't help. if i don't ask you to clean up, don't expect me to stop what i'm doing and pick up a broom, ya know? but.

on sunday i went to church. house completely disheveled but with a plan to knock out all the laundry and put away school papers in the afternoon. imagine my surprise when i get home and the house is spotless. and my SIL sitting on the couch. bite my tongue. go about my business.

i spent the whole day doing what i do, without saying anything to SIL. when i looked for the school uniforms, couldn't find them. some of amely's skirts were in samil's pants drawer, some of samil's pants in amely's shirt drawer. the underwear in every.single.drawer they own - as if their undies drawers were not empty (i'm bad at laundry, folks). i scavenged out what they needed, shoved my fists in my pockets so as not to punch with them and went into my room.

SIL tells me, "I didn't do anything in here because i knew you'd be mad when you couldn't find anything in the morning" WHAT? really? because i just spent 30 minutes looking for my kids' uniforms but thank you for not touching my closet really.

i know i'll get over it. but it's hard when every day since amalio has had to tear the house apart looking for his papers - papers that had been neatly stacked together on the table and have somehow mysteriously been distributed through the house. and perhaps focusing on this is way easier than focusing on some of the sad stuff that happens and we deal with on a daily basis.

one day at a time people. see you soon with pictures!

Friday, September 7, 2012

the thigns that have happened.

on august 20th, we opened our doors to 85 bright and eager students in cienfuegos. a few days later, our "love" school opened for the first time - offering education to 85 haitian children who had never ever studied before. big things have been happening in our neck of the woods.

i knew we'd have some run-ins but i never thought it would be these. 

- a five year old who is well down the road to being expelled. his dad has already been called in twice, and his mother was called to pick him up early today. he's thrown stones and kicked and punched. on tuesday he used a pretty big rock to hit another kid and today dragged a kid through the gravel. sadly, the parents don't seem interested at all in fixing the situation - and when i called his school from last year, the principal told me that they had all kinds of problems, too.

- a three year old who is so aggressive the other kids automatically put up their fists when he comes around.

- parents who are extremely concerned that we're not allowing their kids to take notebooks home. but when we sent them, at least four of those concerned parents didn't bother to make sure they came back. exactly why they aren't allowed to take them home!

- a four year old who was mistaken for a girl for 4 days - his parents have his hair in a ponytail and send him with a pink backpack. it wasn't until the teacher walked in on him in the boys bathroom that we knew for sure he was a boy! when i told his mom she needed to cut his hair, she says she can't, because the father "made a promise" on the boys hair. (more on this ridiculousness in another post).

- a second grade girl slapped across the face by her mother and scratched with her nails. poor girl was then bullied because of it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

back to the grind.

i've got a ton of pictures on my memory stick that i need to upload on here, but this past week has been a juggle just to get out of the door. and mostly missing more important things than my memory-reader. you know, like my cell phone or my wallet or class lists and teacher contracts.

it's been that kind of week.

school started on august 20th and we've  been full steam ahead since then. the summer, which was unkindly short and way too hot, seems so long ago - like a mirage in the rearview mirror. we've since filled out life with visitors, birthday parties, new animals, and school.

oh, school. and everything that implies.

i've ventured into the city far too many times for my liking to pick up undershirts and socks, gym pants and ridiculous class-list items (seriously, a six pack of toilet paper? are my kids equipping the bathrooms of the national police?). i've gone in stores i never knew existed and stores that i love. spent way too much money and still feel like i haven't finished.

and then i go to school and get slapped with families who can't afford one notebook for their kids. who can't go to regular school because they are not documented. who sometimes don't eat on the weekends. and i feel like a brat for complaining about how much my kids need.

because we can get them all they need.

it's been a funny transitional time for me. that leap from richy-richy university professor to director of a school on the side of a landfill. and knowing what is reality for some people is not reality for others.

i plan to keep up with the blog starting next week. i've missed writing here, but i've got so much swimming around in my head that it might be pretty shallow around here for awhile. sorry. hopefully i'll get some sort of equilibrium soon and we'll make the best out of this place!

Friday, August 31, 2012

and it's over.

it seems like just yesterday the kids were done school, and i was winding down summer semester at the uni.

our vacation was way too short. but life is back and busy and i'm on too little sleep and too much coffee.

once we get into the swing of things, it'll be easier.

i do, however, have internet access on a more regular basis now, and so will be back!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


i´ve got a dead laptop and a break from the university.

i´ll be back soon enough.


to those who have left comments on here, i´m so sorry i haven´t been able to respond! email me, i can get to those on the phone, but i can´t seem to respond well to comments on the blog!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


something horrible is happening in the dominican republic. in the first six months of 2012, 98 women were killed. not in accidents, not of old age. killed by the men who "love" them. fathers, boyfriends, husbands, exes.

there are so many things that i could say about this tragedy. but it's all been said. it's all been talked about too much.

and once it had been talked about until one would think there was nothing left to be said - someone, somewhere decided that instead of spending money on prevention programs, education and support, they'd plan a day of remembrance to the "fallen women."

unaffected women all over the country donned a black ribbon for the day and talked about how progressive they were for acknowledging a problem, for one day, that affects far too many of their latina sisters. meanwhile, all the women who really are affected by family violence, stayed at home with their jealous, machista husbands and got beat.


the country did, however, implement a hotline for abused women. i believe it's free and that it operates 24 hours a day. and it's a step in the right direction. it's more than the lip-service given so frequently that nobody hears it anymore.

no more blood.
now, we just need to work together to teach women that they are worth more than they think. to teach women that it's not their fault when someone hits them, that the man hitting them is guilty, not them.

one of my pregnant students broke down and told me that her boyfriend has been beating her since they moved in together, and when i cried with her and told her she didn't deserve that, that she's worth more than a punching bag, she told me that nobody had ever told her "it's not your fault." that everyone had always asked "what did you do to provoke him?"

as long as women continue to be told that they are not valuable, and men are taught to believe that they are the rulers of everything, we'll have the same problem. more women will be beaten, bruised, mistreated and killed.

Feminicide: woman murdered by a man who considered her
personally, i've been convicted over and over again to raise samil to be a man. a real man. with values. who cherishes and adores women - who treats them well - and never believes a woman deserves violence. a man who loves god and wants to be like jesus. a man who knows that what makes us different than animals is our consciousness and ability to make decisions and that saying "i'm a man, i can't control myself" is not an excuse for anything.
and the more women who commit to raising little men to be men and not animals, the better the future will look. actions, friends, speak way louder than words. take your future back, and give it to your kids.