Saturday, June 30, 2012

bugs, galore.

we've always got something in the house - if it's not moths, then it's lizards. no lizards? mosquitos, ants, roaches, flying ants, bees, wasps.

we're packing up the apartment and getting ready to move to a new place next week (more on that to come) and i'm trying to take as few buggies as possible from our old place to the new. gross, i know, but it's the tropics and you  get used to different things. (roaches and maggots still creep me out and i don't think that will ever change)

i found this nest attached to the outside (thank god) of one of our suitcases. it's been in the dark (moist, i'm sure) closet for about 7 months now. it's perfectly made the circles are all the same size. i sprayed it with some off (sorry, rebecca, vinegar just didn't seem like it would do the job!) and scraped it off with some scissors.

it was hard, with a texture similar to recycled paper.
when i flipped it over, it looked like there had been bug coccoons inside (i know that's not the real term... help me out here) 

anyone know what this is? i've seen them before but never in my house. and i can't figure out what kind of bug would house in it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

who needs scaffolding anyway?

i've never really stood around and watched a house go up in the united states. skyscrapers, yes. but a little house? except for watching some old movie with my grandmom where the community raised a barn, i've never really paid too much attention to construction.

even when i got here, it wasn't on my radar. short-term groups would come down and participate in "construction projects" but mostly i just assumed the "locals" were accomodating a group of not-building-savvy teenagers and therefore dumbed it down.


the foundation is dug, filled up with rebar and filled in - with cement mixed by hand on the street in front of the new building. traffic is diverted. a lot of people stand around and watch.

just this week the woman who owns the salon where i get my hair cut began an expansion on her house. the salon had been in the garage, and at first i thought she was just extending the walls out so she wouldn't need to blow dry hair three feet from the passenger door. apparently not.

she's expanding up and out.
and the up is where construction gets interesting.

instead of using a scaffold system or even... you know, metal beams, the foreman finds some sticks that are about the same height, they push them up under some plywood and pour cement. it actually works quite well and isn't nearly as frightening as it seems.

don't get me wrong, though - i'm not walking into that construction site anytime soon.
i've lived through enough simple cracks in my walls from little earth tremors and have learned not to trust the earth not to shake when we're least expecting it.

 it seems that she's building a new apartment on the second floor of her house and incorporating the salon into her "house"and building out a bit for the car-park. the ramp you can see in the picture above will eventually become the outdoor stairs to get to the second floor.

my favorite part of this crazy construction site is that the fourth "pole" from the left is the old fence column that has been broken apart (presumably when they tore down the front wall) with a little stump of a log extending it to the "roof".

cross your fingers and say a prayer there are no crazy earth movements in the next few days!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

samil's vacation

samil left on saturday to visit his grandpop. francisco lives the rural life - takes care of cows and chickens and ... well, mostly he is samil's hero. for a little boy who lives to milk cows and take rides on the motorbike, life in the campo is the best thing since sliced bread.

there are some animals near us - we don't live completely in the city, there are some animals - and a fair amount of open spaces, but it's not the same. 

so, since april, samil's been begging to go stay with papa vaca. i wasn't so sure, so i kept my mouth shut. amalio, however, stuck his foot in it and told samil that once school was over he could go. and so, on wednesday, when we picked up the sixteen page report card (seriously? he wipes his butt and says please and thank you, that's all i need to know), samil started asking when he could come.

"mami, put your hands up next to my hands. that's how many days i'm going to stay with papa."
honestly, i figured he would last two days and come home with amalio. 
he's still there. and when we ask he says, "mami, put your hands up. i have my hands up but take away three fingers. that's how many days are left."
"do you know how many days that is?"

Monday, June 25, 2012

swim, anyone?

 there's this really nasty, dirty, polluted, contaminated, infested, gross canal in cienfuegos. (if you're from philly, imagine the manayunk canal 18 years ago when they fished dead bodies out of it). it's beyond my vocabulary to explain this body of water.

it's not in my commute, but walking through the neighborhood usually leads me to pass by fairly frequently. the sector is very much urban - yet, at the same time, it's not. it's slum. the streets are not paved, and most pathways are really just footpaths behind houses and across property lines (as if property lines exist). there is little electricity and even less running water. 

i see women washing clothes in the dirty water, men peeing into it. americans with ministries go blue in the face telling the kids not to swim in it. but it's a waste of breath - these kids are often bathing in it. and on these hot days, with little respite from the carribean sun, you need a calculator to add up the number of kids in the water.

 on saturday, we were driving by and saw these kids swimming in the canal - with their mom on the banks cheering them on. this little guy had three bottles tied around his waist with a rope to keep him afloat.

i've said it once, and i'll say it again - necessity is the mother of invention - and dominican people sure can invent something from nothing.

he jumped in a few times and bobbed along, jumped out again so we could take some pictures (shameless,i know!). his older brothers were swimming with floats as well - but the rope was longer and the bottle bobbed around - if they got too far away, mama could easily grab onto their bottle and pull them to safety.
here we are spending money on new floaties - when a few empty bottles would do the trick!

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Washing Drama

amalio watches novelas. he loves them. he also likes to watch these funny court shows that i can get more into (because who doesn't love some jerry springer-style drama?) but novelas i just can't handle.

we get enough drama in these parts to not have to really watch more on tv.

in january, my washing machine broke. it's a nice, automatic top-load that i love. see, the dominican washers are a little bit different - not automatic by any stretch of the imagination - and when you wash you spend all day doing so. if you'd seen my facebook statuses over the past few months, you'd understand. i feel like i've spent the last five months washing.

about three months in, the "dryer" on our little dominican model broke. so not only did i have to pull clothes from side, wring them out and throw them in the "rinse" bucket (in the bathtub), i now had to wring them out by hand and carry the heavy basket to the roof. wa-wa, i know. i just don't have time for all that.

the left "compartment" is for washing. you fill it (manually - like, from a bucket) with water, it swishes back and forth, then you wring the water out - and in an effort to not have to fill the thing up so much, you have another tub filled with rinse water - put the wrung clothes in their. rinse. then put them in ANOTHEr bucket with softener. then, replace to the right side compartment to "dry"

and then! the neighbor who lives below us came upstairs to let us know that his ceiling was leaking. not really leaking... pouring water was more like it. they had to move everything from their bedroom, and would be getting a plumber asap. i'd have to empty the washing machine into a bucket and flush it down the toilet instead of just letting it inundate their home.

i have spent the last 6 months with piles of clothes waiting to be washed. and just when i thought we'd gotten through the pile, we'd end up with more. thank god the kids have sufficient clothing to clothe an army.

amalio finally got tired of not having any clean socks (or underwear). the drama was over. he called the repair man. in 2 hours the lovely top-loader was fixed, and in a day, all of the dirty clothes were gone. i feel so free! i don't have to worry about the laundry - i throw the clothes in with my little downy ball right before i go to work, and the kids and their babysitter take it to the roof to dry, collect it before i even get home - and if it's an extra long day, i don't even need to fold.

#firstworldproblem mixed with some #whitegirldrama, i know, but now i can get so much more done... and maybe even update this place a little more often!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ding dong, the wicked witch.

friends, this is what i know of witches.
completely formed by hollywood and... most specifically, the wizard of oz.
in fact, this green lady helped my parents scare me into no longer sucking my thumb.
witches flying on brooms are frightening to small children.

but. i have never encountered people who really, truly believe in witches flying on broomsticks, doing curses and selling love potion number 9.

i'm familiar with voodoo. and i'm even familiar with the dominican brand of voodoo/santeria/brujeria/witchcraft. but maybe because i'm an outsider, or because i send off that "i don't believe in this" vibe, nobody has ever really approached me with witchcraft "problems".

until the other day.

i sat at my desk, going through some paperwork when a local woman came in "to talk." she wanted to close the door, and i thought that was odd, because i haven't really been in the neighborhood long enough to have gained this type of confidence - people ask for "stuff" all the time, but never actually giving me enough information to help. this woman was determined.

we sat down at the table and she asked if i knew a specific little child.
well, did i know that her aunt is not a christian? and that said little child lives with her aunt.
well. yes, we are a christian institution but we don't accept or deny anyone based on their religious preferences, i told her. she could believe that her children were the products of alien abduction and we'd still accept the children.

well. did i know that not only is she not a christian, but that she's a witch?
i've heard this. a few times, but like i said, no one has ever really approached me on the witchcraft beliefs, so i just brushed it off.

so i ask. is she a good witch or a bad witch? there's two words in spanish, cura or curandero that usually refers to a "witch" that works with natural medicines, or a bruja which is a witch who works with spells and such.

she's a bruja. and she flies.

friends, i almost lost it. i sucked up all i had inside so i wouldn't laugh in her face. she was so serious.

en que? en una escoba? on what? a broom?

of course. what else would a witch use to fly?

i stood up. she was serious. not a trace of sarcasm in her voice. witches obviously fly on brooms and i should know that. so, i politely explain that my knowledge of witches comes from movies, green witches who fly and melt when water touches them.

well. she says, i thought you should know that this woman is putting curses on the school. she's flying around in the middle of the night, sending down spells.


i asked. well, what were you doing awake in the middle of the night?
she woke us up. she was jumping from roof to roof to get a kick-start for flying.

that was it. i had to leave. really? i walked to the bathroom, laughed really hard and went back in.
i told her i wasn't really sure what provoked her to tell me this (though i'm pretty sure it's jealousy that the witch's family has received a lot of "help" from foreigners and she wants to prevent them from getting more) but that i would pray for them and hope that none of her spells stick.

 she left. i laughed. but i don't think we've heard the end of this one

Monday, June 18, 2012

pre-natal classes.

life is so full right now. it's overflowing with work and busy-ness and amazingly good things that have been a long time in the workings. when i moved to this country, i had no idea what was in store for me - and my first experiences were disastrous. i knew that i wanted to work in education and that i wanted to work in impoverished communities. what did that look like? no idea.

over the years, i started to pinpoint where my strengths and interests were and made plans. oh, did i make plans. but it wasn't time yet. but, in the past few months, things have started to come together and this time in our lives has been amazing. there's not enough hours in the days for everything, but it seems like nobody in our family is lacking - we have priorities and strategies to make sure we don't stray too far from what we think is important to us.

in a month, i'll begin a commitment with a school offering education in a neighborhood where many children don't even have birth certificates. and i've been working with the midwives, and there's another project in the works to create employment and skills-training for women. it's intense. but so fulfilling.

just two weeks ago, i started pre-natal education class in the neighborhood. soon i'll give all my faithful readers some of the socio-economic information from the area (but right now we're still surveying). money is pretty-tight/non-existent. but that doesn't mean that women are not entitled to know what is happening to thier bodies, what to expect from labor and delivery or how to care for their newborns. we saw a need, and are working to fill it. we want women educated about their bodies and how to best care for them.

we had six ladies at the first class, where we talked mostly about nutrition - anemia is rampant, so we wanted to talk about how to combat that.
the average age of the women was 19. the minors (under 18) were "first time moms" but the other three had already given birth to at least one other child.
the average gestational age was 6 months - and in the second class, where we had 10 ladies, 7 were 5 months pregnant, but one was just waiting to go into labor.
these mamas are excited. but they're scared as well. nobody has ever really told them what happens during birth. and no one could really explain why c-sections were so prevalent here (especially in the private clinics).
when we looked at pictures of uterus' and vaginas, they were like kids in a candy store. they had never been shown what their "lady parts" look like. they were in awe of how it all works together to grow and birth a baby.

all of these women are planning to exclusively breastfeed. we are out of the area of women who can afford a can or two of milk a week and believe that breastfeeding is a nuisance but are in a population that understands their economic situation could kill a child if it weren't for breastmilk.

i've been really inspired by the mujeres so far. for having little to no education about themselves and how their bodies work, they are doing their best to keep these bellies healthy - and i have high hopes that they were do their best to keep the babies healthy outside of the womb as well.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

what's more fun than a box?

i got a new stove for mother's day. it's a beautiful new range-top/oven combination - with six burners! six burners, people. do you know how much food we can make on that? and the oven, the beautiful, large space that my cookie sheets will fit in and in which i can cook more than one thing at a time. love.

of course, though, the oven came in a huge box. and i think, considering the intense heat on the island this time of year and therefore lack of baking/cooking in general, we've had way more fun with this box than with the actual oven.

it lasted for three weeks as a house. we cut some holes, painted the walls, make-shifted a roof.

we took it down a few days ago - and are making postcards and picture frames with our little neighbor friends out of the recycled cardboard.

as parents we're trying really hard to make sure our kids understand that we need to appreciate and care for the resources we have  - we live on an island where electricity and water are unstable, where even when we have water, it's not drinkable. beyond that, there are children who don't have paper or books or pencils to write with. we don't often get a chance to do so many things with something as simple as a box.

but i'm sure the kids will long remember this box (samil's already asked if we can get another one to make a kitchen from!) and probably not (care to) remember the food we make on the new stove.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

when it rains...

the rainy season came early this year. it was nice on some level, i suppose - cooler weather, strong nighttime breezes. but rain here is more of an inconvenience than anything else. especially when it pours for 25 minutes and floods the city. see, the drainage system is... antiquated at best, and non-existent at worst. 

we live in an area that is a bit higher than the land around us, so we're basically okay. and we live on the third floor, so we don't really need to worry about flooding in our house. but the reality of many santiagueros is that of constant water-removal during the rainy seasons.

this year was an election year - just a few weeks ago, dominicans elected a new president, danilo medina, to run the country - and during election years, a lot of things happen. streets are paved, hospitals are built, schools are given money, people are treated with respect they might not have ever seen in their lives, all in the efforts to get your vote. 

one of the big "election" projects in santiago was a major street-paving project. normally, this would fall under the jurisdiction of the local government, but... well, what better way to win some votes than to do something necessary that's been a long time in the waiting?

i had heard the commentary that the work being done was mediocre, and that we'd be lucky if the new asphalt lasted a year, but the streets in our neighborhood - asphalted before the election fevers - have held up nicely and seem to be done well. i didn't understand the fuss.

 until one morning when i was coming home from the grocery store after a big rain. we drove one of the busiest streets in santiago, that had recently been paved. just a day early, the street was beautiful and black... even still smelling of tar.
 the job was so poorly done that the rain swept right under the asphalt and lifted it up! it was a rough ride home, and luckily we avoided the few accidents we could have had. people were, for once, driving cautiously.
 what a sad state of affairs. all of that time, effort and money wasted.
these guys had a few things to say about it. they were loud and insisted i take their picture. right after i snapped this, they rushed to a car behind us that had fallen into a hole so they could help push it out.

that's the dominican spirit - you see groups of guys like this all the time during floods - ready to push your car through, and laugh and shoot the breeze until roads are passable.

the street probably won't get fixed any time soon - afterall, we've got 4 more years until the next election season. but as long as there are people to help out on the way, it's not that bad.

Friday, June 8, 2012


it's hard for me to have a strong-willed child. amely is nothing if not stubborn. if you ask her to do something that she's not interested in, she'll tell you. no. maybe no chaaaank you. but, no. amely hits her brother and then cries when he looks at her. she draws on the wall, and then gets a rag to clean it off. she knows what she's doing is against the rules, but she does it anyway. she scrambles from bed to bed at night, looking for the cool air when it's hot and the warm bodies when it's chilly. and she pretends to sleep - even standing up - when you catch her at her game.

she is my child.
i admit it.

but she is also loving and kind and loves kisses and hugs and sings songs and dances. oh, this child twirls. she has some "princess" skirts and she would live in them if we let her. she has tap shoes (three sizes too big) and she click-clicks through the house. and thank god that this side outweighs the bullheaded side. 

after a long day of butting heads, she'll say "hug me mommy" and it makes the rest of the day go away.

samil is not like amely. he is calm and collected and helpful. you could ask samil to wipe the cow's heiny and he'd do it. because he's just that kid.

but this post is not really about my kids. it's about that kid in school this morning and how thankful i am for preparation.

i'm the principal. it's been announced and the kids know that i'm the boss. most of them take that pretty seriously. not all of them. and at enrollment last week i met a treasure of a child - the youngest of five, the only girl in the family. she's been with us all year, but since i was not really present enough to know the students, we'd never crossed paths. 

today, for some odd reason, they decided i should be the disciplinarian. this child would not do what any body told her to. she wanted to brush a little girl's hair - little girl was not having it. then she killed a lizard and showed it to all her little friends. 

all of the things that amely would do.

i enter with my big-bad-principal persona and put her in "time-out" - she's 4, how bad can this be? she sat for three seconds, then came back in the class. i stood her up, she sat down. i sat her down, she stood up. 

when i finally got her standing and in a safe place she screamed. for five minutes. blood-curdling howls. and while everyone else ran and hid, i sat calmly doing some paperwork.

after all, i had already been prepared. 
we don't always get what we want, but usually we get what we need.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

political opinion.

i'm not one to get too involved in the political mess that happens in this country every four years, but sometimes i get stuck in conversation about it. it's always important to be prepared for those inevitable moments, right?

the political situation here is... blatantly corrupt. í know that corruption is prevalent in many places in the world, but here, it's just so... transparent.

the mayor of santiago was voted in two years ago, based on a campaign that promised to rid santiago of trash. at the time, the former mayor had been slacking in the trash-removal department (and apparently many other departments as well). two years later, santiago is inundated with garbage because new mayor isn't paying the trash-collectors.

it's all a cycle. and it's common. and in order to avoid the headache of worrying about something that is not really my problem, i ignore it.

now, i pass by this wall every day, and occasionally things get spray painted that catch my attention.
 this one is my favorite - it says "the bitches to power, the sons are already there" - a cute play on how many people feel like those in power here are just sunofabitches. the phrase translates literally to the sons-of-whores.

if the politicians weren't so damaging, they'd make us laugh.
so true.

there was also some poster wall-art stuck around the city that said "nuestros suenos no caben en sus urnas" - our dreams don't fit in your ballot boxes - and how true is that?

Monday, June 4, 2012

three candles.

today is amely's birthday. she wants pizza, cupcakes and birthday hats, please. but most importantly, she wants a song. and for everyone to sing her happy birthday to me.

three years ago today, this precious little girl came into our lives - and has filled us with a joy we never knew. girls are, after all, very different from boys.

 she hasn't slept since she was born, and sometimes i think'it's just that she has too much to do. she's moving and shaking and dancing and laughing she is expressive and dramatic (don't know where that came from at all. ha).
 and to be sincere, there were times when she was just born that we didn't think she'd be long with us. the kid weighed 8lbs for three months. but she's here, and we cherish that, even if she's coloring on walls, hitting her brother or throwing things. difficult, sometimes, but so worth it.
she recently told us she wants to be a model, because "mami, i'm so pretty pretty pretty."and she is. but she's got more for the world than just good looks. (i might want to lay off the America's Next Top Model re-runs!)

Happy Birthday, Princesa! Te queremos.