Saturday, March 31, 2012

santiago b-ball tournament (and some b-boys, too)

who even knew there was a professional ball league in santiago?

not me.

so when amalio called a few nights ago and asked if the kids wanted to go to the santiago tournament, i quick-changed them and headed out the door. we arrived just in time to storm the door with 75 of amalio's students. excited to see what it was all about, i was pretty disappointed that the entire arena was empty.

seriously there were maybe 100 people in the place, and 75 of them were... us.

the game started out slow, but by the end it was super-exciting and the place had filled up. apparently the game we had come to see was just the first of three games that night - and between the two bottom ranking teams. no wonder the place was empty.

i wasn't impressed with the game - even these kids playing on the street corner near our house played better - at least more enthusiastically. samil was so impressed that he fell asleep in his chair, and while amely was a little whiny, she found our friend rovinson and took off with him once the music started.

and that's what impressed me (and amely). not the music, but the dancers who came out between games.

a local rapper was performing - horribly - and his back up break dancers were disorganized and uncoreographed. even still, their moves were captivating and impressive. in a country where dance classes are expensive and overrated, and gymnastics classes for boys are unheard of,  i'm always excited to see kids who have honed their skills and show dedication to their art.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

we haven't come very far.

i just wrote a whole long post about racism.

and then i deleted it because in the end, no matter what i say, a young man died because of someone else's ignorance. and really, there aren't words enough to express my disappointment and sadness.

unless dialogue begins, that conversation that so desperately needs to happen - things will never change. until there is education and understanding, ignorance will prevail.

and lest it be thought that racism is uniquely an american problem, i'll tell you that it's not. and sadly, this plague will most likely always existed - manifest in so many different ways - from indifference to violence. from displacement of people groups to genocide.

if i were to be completely honest, i'd say one of my biggest fears about taking my children - my latino, bilingual, immigrant children - back to the united states some day is that someone will look at them, see them as different and cast them off as worthless because of it.

i can not even begin to imagine the burden of raising children - and especially boys - never knowing (or worse yet, knowing exactly) how society will accept them. knowing that the deck is stacked against them from day one.

my heart goes out to the families of children lost to this bitter war of ignorance. and i hope that this most recent incident opens up conversation - because unless we discuss what is happening, it will never change.

Monday, March 26, 2012

gettin' nerdy.

samil goes to school. and while i don't think that there is anything decidedly wrong about his school - and most preschools in this country - i don't think there's anything right either. i mean, he's learned 5 letter (the vowels) and can count to ten in spanish. sometimes he can tell me about things he learned in school - usually having to do with patriotism or singing songs - but mostly, he's learned what he's learned here, at home.

i would say something like "it's not that the educational system in the US is better persay..." but that would be a lie. because the dominican republic ranks last for education in the caribbean and south america (and by default, north america as well). so, while i'm hyper-aware of the budget cutting and program slashing that is going on in the states, believe me, it is nothing compared to the lack of budget that is even given to education here.

all that said. we, as a family, believe that education is what you make of it - amalio went to a rural school that until recently had two classrooms for grades 1-5, no running water for the bathroom and books so outdated, his grandparents might have used them (had they gone to school), and now is finishing his master's thesis.

we read and create and play.

this semester has been rough for me. i know i've written about being frustrated and stressed at work - and despite the best of intentions, it transferred into our home education. i have been tired and cranky and just wanting to veg out in front of the tv when i got home from work. and amalio's working on that thesis. disastrous for any kind of planning.

so, now that the semester is winding it's way down and i'm way less stressed, we've been on science overload here. we've been doing experiments every day, art projects and all the good stuff. this past week, we mixed colors.

milk , soap and food coloring mixing (milk repels dish soap - add some food coloring and you can see the reaction, it makes the colors "dance". mixing colored water and filling out a chart and, the kids' favorite, vinegar and baking soda surprise mixing - i put the food coloring on the spoons under the baking soda, so they didn't know what colors would happen until they mixed it all up - and watched it "explode".

Sunday, March 25, 2012

vote for me!

last sunday the kids and i headed to a coworkers house to eat sancocho, a delicious dominican specialty soup. the day was lovely - we ate, drank, threw around a basketball and sang happy birthday to our coworker. then we headed home. and oh, i had no idea that the little political rally taking place in the rec center near our house was anything more than a little political rally.

we were dropped off where we could take a public car home - a quick 15 minute ride. except, that little political rally, was actually a caminata through the city showcasing the support that the ruling party has garnished in santiago.

see, politics here is... well, it's different. and i won't claim to understand it, because i don't. the country has had only 2 presidents since the death of their semi-dictator, joaquin balaguer, died in the mid-90s. from 1996-2000, leonel fernandez was in the presidential palace, but was booted out from 2000-2004 for apparently sucking at his job during his first term. but, hipolito mejia came along and just about exploded the peso and got booted out in 2004 by, you guessed it, leonel fernandez.

and leonel has been in office since then, but his time is up.
and the politics are on.

so, danilo medina (from the same party as leonel) is running against hipolito mejia (whose slogan is "here's your daddy"). and to ensure that leonel keeps his foot in the door, his wife is running as danilo's vice president.

see, different.

but this has nothing to do with this post. this has to do with why a 15 minute car ride took an hour and 40 minutes.

you see, campaigns here are up-close and personal. while there are a fair amount of television ads and the country is plastered in billboards and posters proclaiming victory for "our country", the majority of votes come from some real door-to-door vote-seeking. it's not uncommon to see groups of people, dressed in the party colors, waving flags and chanting on street corners during rush hours. pickup trucks equipped with huge speakers drive through the city playing popular songs whose lyrics have been changed to represent the candidate's platform. and because the country is so small, it's easy for the candidate's themselves to make personal appearances at rallies.

so we ran into this insanity. girls dressed in yellow tights and purple tees - the party colors - dirty dancing on a flatbed truck, flags waving relentlessly. impromptu stages set up on virtually every.single.corner of every.single.street that our driver tried to turn down to avoid the traffic jams.

by the time we made it home that little political rally near our house was completely cleared out - not a giant SUV covered in slogans and not one single school bus jam packed with supporters waiting to start the march. they had moved on to bigger and better things that day - holding up traffic all over our side of the world.

the only remnant of the craziness was this lone pickup on our street - giant over sized speakers and political propaganda covering the sides. sadly (for me), the political season is just getting started - we've got two months left until the big presidential election. - we might be staying indoors more often than not in the coming weeks -

Monday, March 19, 2012

celebrating the green in DR.

one of the aspects of my job in the university that i really love is the cultural awareness that can be built into my classes. i think that as an american, i tend to forget that most societies are fairly homogeneous (at least compared to the united states). i catch myself getting frustrated when my students don't know about others. they own their own people but forget about understanding anyone else. which is fine in most cases - but the world is shrinking, and i am a firm believer that we need to understand our neighbors - and our neighbors are no longer just dominicans.

i probably don't take advantage of the situation as much as i should - or could. but it's nice to work in themes that can impact students more than, say.... "what i like to eat for lunch" or "space tourism" (no joke, it's in our books). we can pull them through immigration debates, poverty, the effects of technology, humility, war.

but, like i said. i probably don't do as much as i could. however, i love holidays so i always try to pawn my favorites off on my students as well. on friday we celebrated saint patricks day but wearing the green and sending the students on a hunt to find a pot of gold. childish? maybe. but it was good fun, and a nice break in the day-in-day-out of the school life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

women helping women.

 santiago is a really small place  - it's not uncommon to get into a public-car and know at least one person you're riding with; or go to the supermarket and run into a handful of friends. it's even less surprising to meet someone new and find out you have six hundred mutual friends.

i met a woman seven years ago when i first moved to the country. we shared a mail service, and there it was. we never hung out or became friends, but life has brought us back together on a few occasions over the years. about three years ago, we spent a decent amount of time together, trying to figure out some alternative education for a group of students.

she probably doesn't even remember this, but with my elephant-like memory, i do - in a routine conversation, her work in the city of la vega came up, and very recently she had spilled her heart to the women she worked with about her desire to start a program for girls. it was just a seed in her heart three years ago - something she hadn't even wanted to share with the women she worked with for fear that it wouldn't come to fruition.

and then, just last may, the posts started on facebook about a new project. and then, a blog. and god put this thing in motion so fast that i couldn't believe it. i was skeptical. how in the world would they support this? was it really going to work?

on friday, i went with two new friends and joy to visit this amazing project - new hope girls academy - in la vega. and i knew they were doing something incredible before, but now, wow. i'm in awe of what god has done in this place in just one short year.

and while it's amazing and crazy what is happening for the girls, what is more incredible to me is the empowerment of women happening in the community. it's nice to expect americans to support these "poor kid" programs, but it's harder to sustain and doesn't necessarily help to break the poverty cycle. generational poverty causes a deep-rooted insecurity in those affected and takes much more than "an income" to fix. education is only part of the problem - there is so much more involved when there has never been a sense of financial security, a sense of self-value nor the education or skills necessary to support onseself.

new hope started an artisan program for local women! they've trained women to make these beautiful flipflops, paying them a fare-wage for their work - now, they are creating purses and bags on a donated sewing machine. 
 the "workshop" is just someone's house, and the tools might seem a little primitive - a candle to singe the edges of the fishing line used to sew the decorations on the strap.
it's pretty organized for the small space they work in, and the women seem to work harmoniously.

as the project grows, these women - and hopefully more - will learn how to think about the future, and not just worry where the next meal is coming from, they'll be able to educate their children and feed their families a more stable and healthy diet.

in conjunction with the school and safe-house for girls at risk (at risk for any number of things - incestuous abuse, prostitution, slave-labor), new hope girls academy has the potential to re-shape the future of women in their community. of course, they've encountered opposition from men... who wants to marry an educated woman, afterall? and who will take care of the men once these women are liberated? but. overall, it's a place that people are supporting.

you can check them out at: new hope girls academy, or on their facebook page (like them, do it!) and you can read my previous post about them (before i even saw the place in person).

Friday, March 16, 2012


this morning, after class, i visited the hospital again - things are starting to come together for the organization i've been working with, and together we've been clarifying what it is exactly that we can do to help.

what it all boils down to is sharing our gifts (well, their gifts, i'm just facilitating) so that the doctors and nurses that are already here can offer something different to the women.

it's not about coming in and taking over, or throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away. it's about empowering people to do it themselves.

i've never been so focused on something for lent. i've always kind of given something up and given in halfway through, or "sacrificed" something that wasn't really a sacrifice. but instead of "giving up" this season, i've taken on and oh, it's changed my life.

i struggle so much with how to help - i am surrounded by poverty and distress. children with not enough food to eat. men and women ravaged by disease that can ostracize and humiliate. families with no electricity or running water.

and like many people, i want to do everything possible to take that baby, the one with a bloated belly and no clothes, and make life better.

but when i reflect on it, i know that taking babies from their homes is not the solution. it's just a way for me to soothe my own pain - not theirs. and giving a family food for one week will not feed them the next. shoes and clothes don't last forever, and what happens when they're outgrown?

so, it's about making me feel better about what is happening around me - but instead, finding ways to educate and empower a way out of poverty. about giving skills that will lead to nourishment - however that might look.

today, after i left the hospital, we headed to la vega to see an empowerment project in action and i am amazed. and inspired. and thankful. that people are taking the iniciative to form local based programs, empowering dominicans to take charge of the future.


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"


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

not worms, melanie. parasites.

last week, a stomach bug ripped through our house - leaving tons of dirty sheets and towels and underoos in its wake. i moaned and complained about washing and drying and then washing again. once one was healthy, the persistent little bugger would infect another. for. ten. whole. days.

once everyone was more or less poop-free, i rejoiced. you doesn't shout for joy when there are no more 3am "my belly hurts?"

then we noticed that amely's belly was distended. again. and she stopped vomiting, but not the diarrhea (i know, who really likes to talk about diarrhea? but it's life, huh?) we took her to the doctor who then sent for blood, urine and stool analysis. all of which revealed nothing.

medicine on top of medicine. no relief.

so we went to a new doctor. this doctor took one look at amely's belly and knew. she just knew that there were parasites in there. so we tested the poop again.

and nothing.

i've made the mistake of calling these germs worms a few times. apparently that's offensive. i can talk about diarrhea and vomit all day long, but parasites are not worms, thankyouverymuch, and please don't talk about them here.

we're still not sure what's going on with that belly. the poor kid is taking an anti-parasite, (you know a de-wormer) just to make sure and if that doesn't help, we'll take her back next week to see what the next step is.

this is one of the downfalls of raising kids in the tropics. there are illnesses that just are not common in the states that here are so common that a routine workup includes "worm" tests. we de-worm every six months. and we can never drink the water from the spigot.

but the benefits still outweigh it - you know, like the beach in february, low cost of living and slow paced lifestyle in general.

Monday, March 12, 2012

cutting down.

we've always been pretty blessed when it comes to our living expenses - we found an apartment when we were first married that fit perfectly into our budget and when we moved we found a bigger place for just a few bucks more each month. we're actually looking to move again and hope to get the same good deals we've been used to.
despite our low rent, we used to have exorbitant electric bills. we were spending way more on the light than was justifiable - we barely have anything that 'sucks' energy and yet, our bill got bigger and bigger. there are different rates for energy depending on where you live here in santiago, and i don't really know how it works - what i do know is that people swear that you cannot change your bill. it's all a scam, they say, and no matter what, you'll pay through the nose. (and don't even get me started on the ex-pats who swear they pay more just because they are not dominican - which might be true in most areas... but the electric bill? c'mon).

we decided as a family to challenge ourselves to be more conscience of the lights we use. it seems simple, but how often did the ceiling fan stay on all day long because i forgot to turn off the light? how many light bulbs burn away because i don't even notice they're on? do i wash half of a load of clothes instead of waiting for enough to fill the machine? simple things add up.
here's our first bill of the challenge - which we, unfairly i guess, started in december when no one was around. i needed to prove to some skeptics that the bill would go down by using less. the kids and i left first to the states and then amalio and his brother left for the campo after us - they unplugged everything except the refrigerator and we cut the bill almost in half! 

our bill in december was $604 pesos (about $15USD) and the bill in january was $363 (about $9USD). 

by being attentive to what we use, we've continued to maintain the "cut" in our bill for two months now - fans on at night, cell phone chargers unplugged when not in use (and the tv too). 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the beach. in february. be jealous.

look at that joy. these kids l.o.v.e. the beach. which is a miracle, because not so long ago, samil hated the beach so much that he wouldn't even look at it. 
no exaggeration. he didn't want sand touching his little toes or that dirty water lapping against his legs. and once, i carried him into the ocean - and had this been the united states, every nosy-nelly on the beach would have called the cops to report a murder in progres..
but, oh, he loves the beach. we went in december with friends. at first he sat a watched as everyone else enjoyed this very same beach - until he got so jealous that he stripped down to his little underoos and ran in, too. 

the last weekend in february, the dominican republic celebrates independence day. usually a national holiday means sardines-in-a-can effect at beaches all along the north coast, but since carnaval happens at the same time, it's a pretty nice time to hit the beach. besides. it's the beach. in february.
we've got the little extra that amalio's family lives 20 minutes from two beautiful, kid friendly beaches (not to mention the waterfalls and natural, river swimming holes nearby), so we can go to the beach and not have to pay for a hotel. we often drag (ha!) friends along for the ride. it was only two weeks ago, but i'm already feeling the need for another beach vacation.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

this is the way we milk a cow.

last weekend, the dominican republic celebrated their independence (from haiti, i think), and since independence is a pretty big deal, we got a three day weekend. while most of the country flocked to carnaval celebrations, we piled into a van with some friends and headed to the campo to visit amalio's dad and hit the beach.
samil's been begging to see his "papa" for awhile now, but since he lives so far away and we're not montados in our own car, it's hard unless there are a significant amount of "no school days." luckily, we got a ride this time around.
samil loves his papa, but really what he loves is taking care of the vacas, which he'll classify for you as mommy cows, toros and becerritos - why he doesn't know the word for a heifer in spanish is beyond me - his only association with farm animals is most definitely not in english.
amely likes animals - and she's definitely more daring around them, grabbing chihuahuas and carrying cats - but she also likes to sleep in (mostly because she doesn't sleep at night), so she never really had experienced the milking process before this weekend. she got up early with her brother, and waited patiently (because they were awake before the farmer!) for papa to get back with the cows.
samil has gone from passive observer to gate-keeper for the calves. he opens and closes the door when papa tells him to. he also gets to walk the cows to pasture which he thinks is pretty cool, especially since papa let him take the calves all by himself - he ran them up the hill yelling "go baby cows, run, run, fast!" and was pretty concerned when he couldn't get the fence closed - he doesn't realize how dumb cows are yet... i mean what other animal lets a four-year old herd them?
amely loves the milk donkey - but she didn't get to see him this visit - in fact, it was raining so hard, i didn't even hear him pull up, and caught this picture of him leaving!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

oh my sweet addiction.

a few months ago i found pinterest. oh, sweet pinterest. fount of beautiful inspiration and creativity.

i pinned and pinned and pinned some more. when we went to philly in december, i had grand plans to pick up these things that i absolutely needed to make wonderfully inspiring pieces of art and delicious home cooked meals.

and of course, i didn't.

and when i returned to santiago and was thrown for a loop with an insane, new work requirement that left me sitting in the teacher's lounge for 4 hours twice a week, i continued to pin. because what else can i do for four hours twice a week?

while i stewed in resentment over my crazy work schedule and stressed and began to lose hair (yes, it's true), i realized i needed to just relax. and take it easy. and go with the flow.

all characteristics that nobody would ever really apply to me.

i started by disconnecting my my IV drip of coffee and coca-cola and by finding more useful things to do with my four free hours. like, tutoring some of my slower students and reading the newspaper.

slowly, i felt less angry. and then, one day, i realized i needed more creativity. and while pinning pins on pinterest made me feel creative-minded, it didn't make me feel accomplished or happy while actually crafting and cooking do make me accomplished and happy.

so, with absolutely no idea where to start, i decided to start actually trying some of these ingenious ideas i've so laboriously pinned onto my pinterest site. i made a special folder just for things i've done - to keep me in check - less time on the computer, and more time actually doing something worthwhile.

on friday, a coworker came over and we tried our hand at coiled paper bowls. i think that for a first-try they turned out quite cute, thankyouverymuch. i've got a list of things to do this week with the kids that are simple and so darn cute.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

my belly hurts.

this weekend we had big plans. a date night to see the newest domincan-made movie "el rey de najayo", a trip to the park on sunday and maybe even visiting with some friends along the way. on friday night, my friend came over and we crafted. it was fun and relaxing and even samil helped.

we went to bed, and as normal, amely snuck in, snuggling between us in the early morning hours. amely is not easy to sleep with, and most of the time i just get up and leave. it's been futile so far to take her back to her bed - she just comes back. and i'm a witch without sleep.

shortly after i left i hear crying. whimpering, really. so i went to find out what happened - only to find amely, amalio and the bed covered in throw up. amalio bathes her down while i strip the bed and do the best i can to make it sleepable again. amely, being the princess she is, decides she can't possibly sleep in that bed with the throw up and relocates.

to her uncles (empty) bed. where she promptly begins to vomit again. i know, fun, right?

by the morning i had three sets of sheets and a pile of towels to wash. and while you probably thought this post was about amely's stomach ailments, it's not. it's about how hard it is to wash sheets and towels in a double-drum washing machine.

this isn't our machine (for some reason blogger and/or my internet connection are conspiring to not let me post pictures right now) but it's similar. two tanks - the one of the left gets filled with water and on the right is a spinner.

most of these washers have a hose attachment so you could, theoretically, just attach the hose to the sink and it'll fill up - except i've never seen a sink that is small enough for the hose that comes with the washer. so, mostly, you fill it up with buckets, throw in the clothes and wait for the "wash" cycle to finish. once it's through, you hand wring the clothes and transfer them to either another basin of water to rinse, or throw them on the floor and refill the washer. after they're rinsed, you wring again and put them in the spinner to dry.

i have a regular maytag, but it's been out of service for a month or two and i'm just too plain lazy to find someone to fix it. and really, this isn't so bad most of the time - it's time consuming, but it's relaxing in the mind-numbing way that most household chores can be.

i filled the sucker up five times yesterday to wash - it seemed like every time i thought i was finished, amely would spew forth and send me back to the bathroom to wash.

needless to say, i haven't seen the movie yet and we didn't go to the park.
maybe next week.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

new adventure.

last march i took a job teaching an SAT class at a fairly prestigious bilingual school here in santiago. the intention was to teach the class and get my foot in the door to teach there full time this (current) school year. i went through their ridiculous process (seriously, it was like seventeen interviews, an aptitude test, six demo classes - i think they just needed a sub - and a whole lot of bs). after the fourteenth interview, i realized that if it was this hard to get the job, i didn't want to know how hard it would be to work there. so, i put out my resume and wow. the response was incredible. every private school in the city was knocking on my door.

on a whim, i dropped off my resume at the university where i work now. and after one short interview and "bring me these documents" and i was in. that other school called and called once they had decided they wanted me, but i was content with my choice. and i still am. even despite the craziness sometimes, and the hilarity of some of it, i like my job. and i love my students (mostly).

but, when we opened the can of worms that was me going to work on a more "formal" basis, i never imagined how many opportunities would arise.

i first came to the country working in the church - it was a complete disaster and it turned me off the ministry for a long time. money was siphoned into accounts, never getting to where it was intended; kids were denied basic services if they couldn't pay. it just wasn't my thing. so i got out. (it's actually a long story, but there's your reader's digest version).

and for five years, i avoided anything that smacked of "foreign money" in ministry. there were so many things i saw (and see) that drove me crazy.


oh, that however. my heart was still there. yearning for something more than preparing kids for the SATs and getting richy-riches out of trouble at school.

i got a call during the summer from the (missionary) parents of one of my students. we need help with our new project, can you come take a look? it's close to your house and we really think you'll be interested. of course, i'll go and take a look. but don't count on anything.

so, i went. and took a look. and fell in love. i love their idea of ministry - of not creating dependency by giving things away for free- but charging (minimally) for services, and offering options for parents to help out at school if they can't afford it. options.volunteer work. service. amazing. it's a school basically, with the potential for so much more. it's a way to give people responsibility for their lives instead of saying "here, we hve more than you. let's throw money at this problem and it'll get fixed."

it's about making relationships. and teaching people ways to support themselves, provide for their families and strive for something more.

this year, i've been in and out and around. feeling it out - seeing how they do. but numerous times they've offered me something more substantial. something a little more permanent. and i wiggled and squirmed and said let me think about it.

but now it looks like it's going to happen. we're in talks to make sure that this is what is right for everyone. what will the responsibilities be?  what kind of lee-way is there to implement new ideas (because man, has god filled my head with ideas since i opened up to saying yes)? how do they raise their money? once we get everything ironed out, we'll get to work - together.

one of our first projects is a mini-camp in the summer. a sort of day camp in the afternoons.

i'm so excited. beyond excited. and i hope that this door remains open and that it all works out in the end.