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.