Tuesday, February 28, 2012

to market, to market, jiggity jig

 i love vegetables. i love fruit.
i don't, however, love their prices in the supermarkets.
i know, i know, i shouldn't complain - that avocado that i only paid a dollar for yesterday costs four in philadelphia. and in season, i can get 5 for a dollar. amazing.
but, like in most places, supermarkets are often overpriced - customers pay for cleanliness and convenience and variety. every wednesday, i can go pick out the left-over vegetables for 35% off - wilted and sad after a week of sitting in the bin. i can go back on thursday and get my meat for a discount, too.
but in the end, that's just not convenient and it's not as fresh as heading outdoors to the local market, and definitely not as fun. 
i go to el mercado at least once a week, but i usually go alone. this weekend, we weren't buying meat from the butcher and didn't have so much to carry, so we dressed the kids and took them along.
 we don't shield the kids from things like the butcher - it's hard to here, with dead goats and pigs hanging from their haunches on the side of the road at regular intervals. the kids stood and watched these chickens for a good while. samil even spotted an egg between the legs of a protective mama hen.
the butcher saw them looking and caught on to what they were looking at - he came over, opened the cage, took the egg out and gave it to samil. he looks upset and freaked out in this picture - but he carried that thing for the rest of the day and showed it to all of the merchants and told them how he "found" the chicken's egg. 
we can get most vegetables here - the cauliflower is pretty sketchy most of the time and it's hard to wash that and brocolli. but i make it work. green beans are also kind of wimpy and almost always wilted.

 a staple of the dominican dinner is root vegetables and green bananas. yucca is popular (and my favorite), potatoes are not. plantains are boiled and mashed into a dish called mangu, or fried into tostones. yum.
you can see the giant squash in the picture above - squash isn't eaten as a "dish" that often, but is a main ingredient in many soups and in beans.
 the market is an indoor/outdoor setup - inside there are more interesting things - like the witchcraft shops and household supplies like mortar and pestles the size of a girl's tea cup to the size of a toilet.
you'll also find brooms made from trees branches, home-made bunson burners and cleaning supplies.

and no good market would be complete without dry mamajuana - the "natural viagra". it's a mix of different woods and cinnamon and who knows what else. you buy the bottle, fill it with rum (brugal of course) and sometimes honey. the drink is delicious and supposedly an aphrodisiac - but, dominicans will claim that anything is an aphrodisiac.

 oranges are not always orange. buying them is the hardest thing for me because i never know which is which. there are "sweet lemons," sour oranges, oranges for juice and oranges for eating. limes and called lemons and mandarins (the only one i can spot!). i feel like an idiot when i have to ask because i never know if i'm going to get ripped off.
we bought 12 juice oranges for a dollar and amalio called it highway robbery (i know, i know).
the sour/bitter oranges are good for cleaning meat and for use in the place of vinegar - if you don't want to squeeze all of that juice yourself, you can buy a bottle of agrio, pre-squeezed sour juice.

the market is an experience. in santiago, both outdoor places are cleaner now that the local government stepped in and cleaned up a bit. but the produce is fresh - brought in daily from the campos and the price is right. plus, it's one of those things that when i picture other people living in caribbean countries, i picture them shopping out doors.

the kids love it. when mangoes are in season, they scam at least one out of the ladies i usually buy from. samil was looking for the "cherry guy" this visit, but he wasn't around. he likes to try and see if they're sour or not. amely usually ends up with some flowers before the day is over, too. 

next time, i'll take pictures of the butchers and maybe you all can help me decipher which meat cut is which!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

begging on the corner.

a few saturdays ago, i took the kids to visit some friends. we have to switch routes at the midway point under a busy overpass. we stood waiting for the bus, and a kid, about 10 years old, dirty and with three packs of crackers in his hands walks over.

"miss, do you have any money. i'm real hungry."

i look down and see the crackers in his hands - selling things at busy intersections is a fairly common thing for street kids to do, along with shining shoes and cleaning your car windows - and remark about how he has crackers, why doesn't he eat them. it wasn't a mean comment, i was curious.

"they're not mine. i sell them for some guy and he gives me dad a part of the money. i can't go home until i make at least 200 pesos."

sounds mean. cruel and unusual. who forces their kids to beg and sell things on the street and then demand they make a certain amount of money before they're allowed home. but it's true. and it's sad.

i asked him how much the food cost, and walked with him to get it. not because i didn't trust that he'd buy food with it - i could tell that he was hungry - but because sometimes the sheer humility of asking for something so basic begs for human companionship as well. someone who cares enough about you to accompany you, if even for a few minutes.

while we stood there negotiating his meal (and some juice, please) a man came over and told me i should buy his lunch as well. after all, he is hungry, too. was this some ploy to get the naive girl waiting for the bus?

sorry, friend, i told him, but i spent my money on the kid.

well, the kid should share with me then.

no. he is hungry. he's a child. he is not old enough to take care of himself. he should be in school or playing baseball, not selling crackers at a busy intersection to support his family.

i don't think that anyone wakes up and makes a conscious decision to be poor. and i know that for most people it involves the death of pride to actually beg for food to feed a family. but.

it's the attitude.

i don't owe you food because you're hungry. i also don't owe you food because i had the money to buy someone else food. i don't expect you to bow down and kiss my feet, but i don't expect to be made to feel bad because i don't give you something.

i was taught to be kind to strangers, to widows, orpans, the homeless and helpless because you never know when you might be meeting christ. but i just can't imagine that jesus would be coming at me with demands and swear words. but that's just me. i might be wrong.

i will buy food. i will buy something from you. i will pay you to shine my shoes even when i'm not wearing shine-able shoes. i will give you money, and not even wonder what you're going to do with it.

but. please. don't tell me how or where or when - or worse that i should take the food from a hungry child to feed your adult belly.

this lenten season, i'm reflecting on how to give without creating dependency; how to give with a faithful and servant's heart and how to let go once i give material things away. i come in contact daily with people who have way less than me, who are hungry and tired and un-bathed. join me as i begin to work through it. check out all of the posts under the label "lenten reflection"

Friday, February 24, 2012

santo domingo

if you've been following the past few weeks, you'll know that i'm on the path to acquiring my dominican citizenship, making me a dual citizen just like my kids. it's not a complicated process, but there are some trips to the capital involved.

the capital is not my favorite place in the country. it might not even make it to the top of my fifty favorite places in the world,  but it's where things move here and i can't avoid it. besides, a good friend of mine lives there and she makes it an excellent place to visit. (who doesn't love visiting old friends?)

since i was going to have to run back and forth a few times, i tried to piggyback some other things that i needed to do (like a trip to ikea. need.) and a visit to some of my husband's family. when my friend kate from college emailed me and said she'd be on the island, could we meet up somehow? i was thrilled.

i love visitors.

i especially love catching up with old friends who come to visit (hint).

she was at a resort pretty far from us, but i needed to go to the capital (and i would have met her there even if i didn't) and i figured why not get it done all at once. so, she and her husband went with amely and i to the police station to turn in my paperwork and then we headed downtown to the zona colonial. i never carry a camera, but the blackberry did a decent job (thank you daniel, again, for my lovely phone!)
beautiful arches in the first cathedral in the new world!

chapel #3 - someone is buried in there, don't ask me who.

creepy little cherubim above the door. creepy.

those cherubim are creepy, but not nearly as creepy as these little boy statues lining the building asking for donations for seminary. CREEPY

jonathan standing next to some cannons.

pirates in the carribean (ha! i know, not funny. but i had to)

if you look closely you'll notice that he glasses are on upside down.

view of ozama river from the top of the fort.

looking toward the city from ozama fort.

amely doesn't warm up to people a lot. but she loved her some jonathan.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

out on the street.

 i hate. absolutely hate mornings. really. and somehow i got myself a job last year that requires early mornings. i mean, theoretically, i could work in the afternoons but that messes with the kids' schedules and so, here i am, every morning at the buttcrack of dawn, in a car getting to work. it's hard to fall asleep in the backseat of a  1982 toyota corolla filled to the brim with 87 other people (really only four, but have you even tried four people in the back of a compact from the early 80s?) so in order to keep myself somewhat alert, i take pictures of funny things i see. i've had these trucks on the memory for awhile, and i was just thinking how absurd trucking is here.
 a truck full of tires? nothing to prevent them from flying off the back and hitting the windshield of your car. insane. it took me a long time to get used to driving here, but i still maintain a fair distance from these kinds of vehicles.
i don't know if you can tell from this picture (if you've been here you probably can) but that's a chicken truck. that's right. chickens. live ones. on their ways to the polleras to get feathered and ready for my dinner.
 another tire truck.
 i see a truck similar to this one almost every day. i think that it's the rice shaft, but i'm not too sure. i know it's light and always poorly packed on. the whole truck sways (usually to the right) as it drives and i pray that the driver of my public car goes by really fast so that it doesn't fall on top of us. (so far, i've never seen one down).

the recycling truck. see, recycling doesn't exist formally here. there is no separating of materials and goods and leaving them on the curb for pickup. we're lucky if they pick up the trash. but, glass bottles still fetch a price from the manufacture and plastic bottles are frequently repurposed. so a guy comes around and trash picks what he needs. apparently, there's a need for cardboard and this guy jumped on the next big business opportunity.
also, a mudanza in a pickup truck - who needs a uhaul? or even to pack their stuff in boxes when you're got a pickup and plastic bags? yes, please!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

hand up, not a hand out.

 we've been giving clothes to a young family since their son was born a little over a year ago. they've struggled to get by on a little over 200 us dollars a month. and the dad really does work hard for what he brings in. i've been on a soap box about this hand-out thing for awhile now but without really looking into our ways of giving. this same family has got me wondering how to do this better.

 i was peaved once when the mom asked if i could get her some formula - breastfeeding was just too time consuming for her. Whatever, i get it, not everyone has the patience to breastfeed, so i let it go. but i did explain to her women have milk to feed our children, and if you don't have money to buy milk in a can, then you do it naturally (i'm somewhat of a breastfeeding dictator when it comes to not wanting to do it as opposed to not being able to do it). and no, we can't help you buy milk, you have free milk. i don't know what she did - probably the same as a lot of other poor women who won't breastfeed -undernourish their babies with rice water or juice or tea. i was willing and able to help them, especially with clothes and whenever we'd go to the campo, food. (free root vegetables, fruit, veggies, yum!) i mean, what good is hoarding wealth? this family is struggling to feed themselves, and we (though we often complain about not having enough) are doing quite well.

just the other day they stopped by with baby. i looked at the mom and realized that she's pregnant again and has braces on her teeth. what?

i asked her about the braces - maybe she had a tooth condition i didn't ever notice before? maybe she had teeth pulled and was realigning? 

son de lujo. she says.

they're for show.

for show? braces cost more than your husband makes in five months, but you got luxury braces? no money for birth control or to buy milk for your child, but you get "braces de lujo"? you have got to be kidding me.

i've been struggling with this whole idea for awhile now. we're blessed. extremely and immensely blessed. we have good health and financially we're sound. that's not the case for so many people in the world. and living and working where we do, we know, and are reminded of how blessed we really are.

but where is the line between being a hand up and being an enabler? if we help too much, we create dependency, yet if we don't use our gifts and resources, we are part of the oppressive cycle that keeps people down.

my friend, rebecca, wrote about something similar to this on her blog and it helped me realize that it is a horrible cycle. when we give things away without holding people responsible to themselves it's like we're saying "you're not worth my time and effort. take this and go."

so, how can you give responsibly? how can we use the resources and gifts we've been given to lift up those living around us (not just in the dr, but anywhere we live) and to break cycles of poverty? what do i do about the family who has money for unnecessary orthodontia, but  not for milk for their children?

i'm stuck on this, so i'm looking for help. what do you do in these situations? how have you found ways to give and serve without creating that dependency?

Monday, February 20, 2012

school carnaval picnic

this year, samil started pre-school. i was against it from the beginning - but amalio insisted and we ended up sending our baby our into the world. alas, every week i learn more about how to be patient and understanding, and so far, i haven't killed anyone (mostly because amalio is the one to go to school for most things...)

i am used to the different organization here. i'm used to the tardiness of everything and of not actually planning anything. especially in schools. but when it concerns my kid, i'm less willing to deal with it.

so, when the "back to school" night meeting was held for around 300 parents and the school had neglected to rent a microphone/sound system and didn't have seats for everyone, i knew i was in for a long year (or 12). i got up and left that meeting.

the christmas show started two hours late. on report card day we weren't allowed to take the grades home with us. (and who grades in pre-school anyway?)

last monday we received a note - have a page of paper - in samil's lunch pack. "as you know, our family day picnic will be this weekend." as i know? because my four year old tells me these things? or you actually expect for them to tell me this stuff? "please supply the following foodstuffs."

that was the only information we received. please send three packs of paper plates. being good parents (and my new goal to actually leave the house occasionally) we figured that it was probably at the school, and we'd go for lunch - what else would three packs of plates be for?

amely was hungry. really, she wanted chips. but stood there for awhile and told everyone how hungry she was.
 samil makes this face now. it's like the "duh mami, why would you even ask me THAT?" face.
 amely really was hungry. she cried for awhile when she finished begging everyone waiting in line for food. we waited in line for at least 30 minutes because.... the school has numerous classrooms with two doors, but of course (of course!) they used the smallest class with only one door to host the food tables - can you imagine the chaos? it was insanity. a fight almost broke out when a lady tried to cut in the front (and i wasn't involved!)
  who knew i could love BEETS? beets? really? potato salad with beets is the love of my life.
 the school took the opportunity to celebrate carnaval escolar (school carnaval is less crazy than traditional-in-the-streets carnaval) these little guys were "mother hen and her chickies" and their costumes were made from recycled plastic bags (one thing the school does really well is re-using and re-purposing for things like this)
 amely played in the playground while samil ran around like a madman with his little friend, Fausto.
 what school show in the dr is complete without belly dancers? the principal told them to "be careful, i don't want to be shamed by you" - but the dance was very well organized and serious (unlike most dancing going on nowadays)
we watched a basketball game.

 the principal had no need for embarassment with the belly dancers, but then these girls came out and humped the floor. those black tights are fishnets and a few of them had nothing else on under their up-cycled plastic skirts. gross. where were their parents?

 these "lechones" are one of the principal characters of carnaval. each region of the country has a distinct mask.

 overall the day wasn't bad - in fact it was quite nice albeit super disorganized. we left in the middle of the dancing and headed home, thinking the kids would sleep. ha!

(in regards to my new goal of getting out - on friday night amalio and i went to the movies to see Sherlock Holmes - i LOVED it, he didn't - saturday night we had a lovely get together with my "mami friends" - and sunday we did the picnic and unfortunately had to go to a funeral -- more on the funeral and my mom friends in later posts_

Friday, February 17, 2012


i've sat down at the computer and started about six million blog posts over the past few days, but nothing has come out. nothing good at least.

i'm working. and taking care of the kiddos. and going back to work.
and it seems like we don't ever leave the house except to work.

it's not true, of course, but sometimes i get so bogged down by work and school and samil learning to read and making sure amely isn't jumping off the balcony or swimming in the toilet.

last weekend, for example, i spent time with a coworker friday night and we had a little valentine's celebration for the kids in our little group of english-speaker friends. and this weekend, we're having dinner with friends and probably going to some family day picnic at samil's school. and for some reason, there have been teenagers in and out more than usual these past few weeks. (it's nice. i make them cook). two of my darling boys (from when i worked in the church) are all grown up and came over to play jenga the other day, too.


we live in a beautiful, tropical place. so when everyone is complaining about the cold, the snow and the school days they'll need to make up in june i'm here, in the sun. the nice, hot, caribbean sun. and why live in such a nice place if i never.ever.leave my house?

so, i'm adding to my new year's goals (the ones that already were made way into 2012) to get out of the house more. to soak up the sun and enjoy living in this tropical paradise. and by getting out, i mean more than leaving the house to get to and from work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

becoming legal.

 i posted a few times on how i've been living illegally in the dominican republic for the past seven years. by illegally, i mean that i have made full and conscious decisions to live and stay in this country and have done nothing to legalize myself. recently, laws have changed that are forcing me to finally bite the bullet. i had three options - a work visa (which seemed complicated and, since it only lasts for one year, not really the best option for us), a residency permit (expensive and not permanent, i'd be in some sort of residential paperwork for at least ten years), or dual-citizenship.

luckily, i know somebody and that has made the process (which is already super-easy) even easier. i travelled to santo domingo to turn in my paperwork (basically -a lot of copies or birth certificates and passports) two weeks ago. last wednesday i returned to have my "interview"

i arrived on the bus - whose station is conveniently across the street from the police station i had to visit. i thought it was that police building at the top - but it's not. (during my first visit, i had a lovely argument with the guard in that building regarding my friends' clothing - inappropriate- was taken to the wrong place - obviously, i was in the WRONG building - and then ushered out the door and across the street) to this lovely gem of an institutional building.
 i had no idea where i was supposed to go in this monstrosity of mid-20th century architecture, so, eventhough i had already decided i wasn't going to abuse my connection, i had to stop by to find out where to go.

 i was given an escort (who told me i could post his face when i am sworn in) who took me to the 13th floor. we waited around for awhile. the lobby got a little crowded with others looking for a dominican passport. my guy helped do my fingerprints and fill out yet another form. seriously, forms in quadruplicate and hand-written. i was first in for my interview. nervous i wasn't, who could fail a test that asks things like "what currency is used in the dominican republic?" and "in what month do we celebrate carnaval?"


who are the founding fathers? of course, juan pablo duarte, sanchez y mella. who doesn't know that?

what are their first names? please answer formally.

because i didn't know their first names. even when she prompted me. luckily she had written down JP Duarte and offered up a rebound question with the same answer. score.

the other questions were easy, though i'd argue that technically there are a ton of trick questions on the test. if you want me to memorize from a book, let me know - but what kind of citizen does that make? first president? sanchez, technically, but the answer you're looking for is pedro santana, the first constitutional president. and when was the constitution written? last year. no lie, they change the thing like they change their underwear, but the answer to use is 1844 or something. and it's the magna carta.

after a delightful conversation with interviewer (and obnoxiously holding up the process for the rest of the waiters), i was told i had passed. my documents will now go on to the DNE (USA), the DNCD (DR) and INTERPOL to make sure i don't have a seedy background or, according to a friend on facebook, pirate dvds (because that's what interpol looks for).
i headed back to the bus, complete with new friend-escort. the whole day (with 6 hours of travel) only took a eight hours. it wasn't delightful, but it's nice to know i'm on my way to getting legal and that i'm almost done.

my fingertips were tinted that blue color for three days. it's the same ink they use to prevent fraud at election time (once you vote, they paint your finger) and i think it must be super-permanent.

Monday, February 13, 2012

sorry, kids, next year you get store-bought valentines

valentine's day is big here. the street floods with people dressed in red shirts, sharing chocolates and celebrating. but, let's be honest, we find a lot of reasons to celebrate here. the whole month of february is one big celebration, with carnaval, independence, and valentines.

samil is in preschool now. i've been pretty run-down with other stuff, but i figured a good way to set apart some crafty time with him was to plan out some home-made valentine's cards. i found what i thought would be the least time consuming (i hate cutting) on pinterest and bought some supplies (red poster board and lollipops) and pulled some scrapbook paper out of the closet.

i don't know what i was thinking. this project was all cutting and waiting for samil to write his name, and trying not to freak out when it took him seventeen hours just for the S. i mean, overall he was excited to be able to share with his little friends, so he went fast and willingly.

but next year i'm buying the cards. or printing them out and letting him color.

(these pictures are mainly for the grandmother, but enjoy. it's a simple DIY project... and super cute in the end)

we started with a sdimple butterfly shape, cut out 6 million times. then pasted circles into each corner to make them more colorful. 
Samil wrote his name on the back of each card. this is one of the later ones, the first ones were pretty hilariousl. i still haven't figured out what they're teaching him in school - he knows a few lwvowels (not even all of them) and the first letter of his name. for awhile any word with an s in it was his name!

then, being the patient and meticulous mother that i am, i wrote around the edges "happy friendship and love day"
i used this little die-cutter to cut out the circles. this thing might have saved someone from eyes-poked-out-with-scissors. (or not)

amely glued circles on

samil (mostyly) helpfully cut streips of scarpbook paper to fit in the die-ctuter

way too many butterflies.

but they are pretty cute.