Friday, January 25, 2013


it's 8:08am. i'm sitting on my couch, trying to enjoy these few minutes before running out the door. for the past three weeks, i've been on the go almost non-stop. due to some funny division in our contracts, this semester is divided into 4 payments instead of 3, which means teaching two classes at the uni just doesn't cover the budget. so, i took four classes, because that would be fun.

i really do love teaching at the university level. but i didn't consider that my schedule would be so diverse (three {very} different levels) or that public transportation would be such a pain at 5:45pm, and so i'm feeling bogged down.

before the semester started, i made a plan - it included trying to streamline mornings (organizing school uniforms, packing lunches at night, homework checks) and schedule nights with alternating exercise and reading and math practice for the kids. and downtime. because by the end of the day, i just want to sit down and pass out. but that's not so healthy, i think. so, i worked jeopardy and househunters international. i'm in bed by 9:30 almost every single night.

three weeks in, i jumped at the opportunity to do some not-so-desirable running around for the ministry in order to get this 45 minutes of downtime before heading into school and doing everything else that's on the list for today. and in it, i realized, for maybe the millionth time, that a huge paycheck is not worth missing out on family and the kids and the day-to-day.

so, i'm counting down the weeks to the end of the semester - just 12 more to go!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

why we're here.

learning the get-to-know-you dance here is a lot like learning the merengue dance. after eight years i've mastered neither. the difference? i like to dance merengue.

the dance changes steps ever so slightly depending on who you're dancing with - dominican or ex-pat? sometimes you get to lead - and thus avoid the awkwardness of the personal probing, but sometimes you follow and have to answer all those questions and avoid stepping on toes.

i'm melanie. no, i'm not dominican. neither are my parents. or my grandparent. why thank you, i've worked very hard to speak spanish well. yes, i know i have an accent... and i always will, thankyouverymuch. no, my husband doesn't have residency and there are tons of reasons why we live here. no, i don't think we need to explain our reasoning to you, complete stranger.

but. in the spirit of disclosure, i'll let you, complete-internet-strangers, a look into why we've decided to live here.

it is always warm.
i know that sounds like a terrible reason to live somewhere. but after living through northeastern us winters and braving a few chicago cold-fronts, i was done. and it goes to 60 degrees here and amalio's in sweaters and wool socks. can you imagine if he was faced with constant 20 degree temperatures? he might die. in fact, samil tells him frequently that he can't go to philadelphia because he doesn't have a coat. papi won't like the cold.

the people are also warm.
there is no hospitality quite the equal of dominican hospitality. you can enter a house, completely unannounced and within minutes, food and drink appears. should we cook for you? are you sure crackers are enough? coffee? when samil was born, one of amalio's coworkers slept on a chair in the hospital so my mom wouldn't have to. if you're sick, people will bring you food. sometimes people show up to make a sancocho, just because. and while this warmth is not always comfortable, it is immensely appreciated more often than not.

we know our neighbors.
by name. and things about them. in fact, two of my closest relationships here were/are with neighbors. our kids play together. i have neighbors that i know i could leave my kids with in an emergency, ask for sugar (but not salt, apparently only witches ask for salt) or, as has often happened when the gas tank runs out mid-meal, go to with my pots of rice and plantains to finish cooking. once, our chicken - our beautiful, expensive, black and white hen, Michael - got out and our neighbor brought him back to us. and while everyone has bad neighbors (we've had our share - from dirty, messy to laundry-theivin'), we've been blessed with enough good to outweigh the annoying.

we are useful.
 when we first decided to marry, we really discussed where to live. by the end of my first year, i was ready to move back to the states and forget about this place. but, when we weighed the options, dr won. why? because here we have the opportunity to do good things without all of the red-tape that hinders good things in the us. my friend rebecca calls this being a good human resource. we are passionate about education and the future generations, and have so many more opportunities here to serve.

professionally, we are awesome.
it's not true for all people. in fact, most people in this country can barely survive. but we, as a family, have always had plenty of opportunities for success. and the option of flexibility. this school year is the first i've worked "full time" since 2006. and last semester, i was free two afternoons a week with weekends completely to myself. there is opportunity for us to grow here, and while i might have that opportunity in the states, it would be much harder for amalio, whose english is minimal and lack of connections would make it difficult to find a job in his area. here, he's the academic coordinator of a school with a masters.

our kids get more of us.
because we don't have to work back-breaking jobs just to make ends meet, and i am usually free a few afternoons in the week, we actually get to spend time with our children. which is excellent because the education here is bad (downside to living here), and having that job flexibility helps us to even that imbalance out. granted, i haven't been a great "schooler" these past few months of adjustment to the new job, the kids get us way more than they'll appreciate when they're teenagers.

there are downsides to living here - things are disorganized, everything runs late, traffic is insane and the educational system is dismal. but, it balances out. most of the time. we don't really know what the future holds. who does? and in a few years, we might decide to relocate. but we're not thinking that far ahead. looking forward to the future takes away from today.

Monday, January 14, 2013

stefie gets a man - dominican style

i think the spirit of girlinthedr has gotten a bit fierce lately. don't worry, i'm not really this fierce in real life - sassy, maybe...
while shopping for christmas, asia and i ran into stefie - you'll remember stefie from my rant against c-sections. you may have even wondered how stefie got herself knocked up in the first place.
stefie, see, either really liked britney spears in the late 1990s or went to catholic school. either way, that skirt is way too short for school - she was probably out trolling around after class.
stefie apparently found a something with that rolled up skirt and knee-high socks and scored herself a date to prom. if you look really closely, you'll notice she's not wearing a bra... and her nipples, had barbies been given nipples, would be showing. leave a little to the imagination, stefie!
 this is one lucky night for stefie. after prom she hurried out to get ready in her "sleeping room" to seal the deal!
stefie then becomes pregnant - has a c-section and what we didn't get pictures of were the twins that came after little baby-in-the-belly stefie.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

powerful women.

you've heard of this, right? PODEROSA MUJER is a project that has been in the works since last december. it couples a passion for the women of the community of cienfuegos, santiago and a need for education and empowerment programs.
the idea is to find un or underemployed moms and help them create beautiful things out of repurposed or recycled materials - sell those beautiful things - and then create programs that those very same women think are necessary.
why women? an african proverb tells us if you educate a man, you educate just one person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. i'm a pretty firm believer that when women are empowered, the world changes. when women are taught that they are valuable, precious and powerful, they then in turn raise up children who know that they are valuable, precious and powerful.
rolled beads before they've been painted
right now, PODEROSA MUJER is the "unofficial sponsor" of the pre-natal classes we offer at FUTURO LLENO DE ESPERANZA and we hope to support some literacy classes in the near future. we offer prenatal vitamins and lactation support to women in the community (whether they come to classes or not) and, of course, i will spoil your baby with hugs and kisses whenever you want.
it's difficult to sell our goods - which right now consists of rolled-paper-bead jewelry, and re-purposed glass pendants - because we're not in the states and what we sell here is minimal (different styles-sense, i guess).
so i'm appealing to you, blog readers, to help some sisters out. we've got a number of pieces available in the US right now that can be shipped out, and quite a number more waiting for a ride to philadelphia (the mail service here is a nightmare!) we accept paypal, personal checks and cash.
our jewels are also available in-country for mission teams who are looking for some unique souvenirs. 25% of the profit will go right back to your organization like a mini-fund raiser, and your visitors and short term missionaries will be able to support local ministries, local people AND get something way nicer than a coconut bra or a bottle opener with the DR flag.

please forgive the not-so-great quality of these pictures - they were taken with an android phone as the camera's battery is dead. all rolled  beads are coated with resin to make them a bit more water resistant - but they are paper, so we don't recommend bathing with the jewelry on!
 if you're interested in any of the pieces seen here, you can email us at with the number of the piece, and where to send it. paypal payments can be made through the button on the sidebar of this blog, checks and/or cash will be discussed through email.

beads made from green, cardboard
box, black accent beads. double
strand, clasp-style closing. #001: $10 USD
beads made from yellow, cardboard box, white accent
beads. double, elastic strand. #002: $9 USD
1 inch colorful cardboard bead earring. #003: $5USD
pink, paper-bead necklace with pink and black
accent beads. clasp-style closing. #004: $14USD


colorful, paper-bead necklace with clear colored accent beads. clasp-style closing. #005: $14USD
black, paper-bead Anglican Prayer-beads* with black, glass accent beads.
#006: $20USD 

1 inch, purple-toned beads rolled from cardboard. #007: $5USD
green toned, beads rolled from cardboard with wooden accent beads.
elastic style strand. #008: $8USD

long, green paper-rolled beads with black and white accent beads. triple strand,
clasp-style closing. #009: $12USD

purple beads rolled from cardboard and painted with a glittery paint,
white accent beads. triple strand, clasp-style closing. #010: $12USD

simple, purple colored beads rolled from cardboard with white accent
beads. elastic style strand. #011: $8 USD

1 inch, purple toned-bead earring. #012: $5USD

natural seed, chunky bracelet. (seeds found on La Entrada Beach, Nagua, Dominican Republic).
thick elastic strand. #013: $15USD

don't forget to like us on facebook!

*Anglican prayer beads, also known as the Anglican rosary or Christian prayer beads, are a loop of strung beads which Anglicans, as well as Christians of other denominations, use to order their prayer. This particular way of using prayer beads was developed in the mid-1980s by Episcopalians in the United States participating in a study group dealing with methods of prayer - learn more here

Monday, January 7, 2013

my c-section soap box.

i'm a little passionate about birth. it's true. you, faithful blog readers, haven't heard about it in awhile because i've been so over-busy and in crazy-transition that i really haven't had time to be passionate about much of anything. but, i'm reading and researching and trying to get together some "stuff" for our community this new year.

my first pre-natal class was a huge success - the second, just as good. the third was a bust. i tried to bite off more than i could chew and, because of it, didn't do the promotion it needed, nor did i walk the community like i should have. but, that's the past, and i'm re-newed and ready to go at it again.

my passion for teaching women about their pregntant bodies and the precious life they carry has not waned. in fact, it's is sparked every time i meet a pregnant girl (most of the pregnant women i come across in my line of work are teenagers). it's rekindled every time i meet a woman with an infected c-section wound, a woman told she just absolutely should not breastfeed, a woman who has no idea how birth works.

both of my kids were delivered through c-sections. i didn't know any better, and while i fought for "natural" birth, i was shot down, intimidated and made to feel worthless at every turn. from month five of my first pregnancy, i was told that i would most-likely need a cesarean, and don't worry, most women here do it. luckily, we had insurance that covered the surgery, but most women don't. and are led into birth believing that their bodies cannot handle natural, vaginal birth and, had they been rich, they'd be having this child the right way. but, they're not rich, and so they're doing it the wrong way, and birth, when you don't know what to expect and don't believe in yourself, can be traumatic.

instead of raising up girls to know that they are powerful (fearfully and wonderfully made, even) creatures, created with this very process in mind, we are raising them up to believe that their bodies are worth nothing, that they cannot handle this amazing thing for which their body was designed. and it starts young.

i'm sure you can imagine my disgust when, while shopping for christmas gifts, asia and i found this barbie-type (steffie, to be exact) who is pregnant. she looks like a normal doll, with a big belly, but when we flipped the box over - we found this.

the little girl playing with steffie just pops off steffie's belly and pulls baby out. forget about pushing a kid out, it's as easy as making a hole and pulling! excellent! from an early age, we teach these beauties that it's as easy as a major surgery to have a baby.

i know that c-sections often save lives, prevent problems (and the transmission of HIV from mother to child), but in a country with over 60% cesarean births (most in private clinics), it enrages me that this is what we're presenting to our children (not to mention the way-too-many pregnant teenagers).


next pre-natal class starts in cienfuegos at the end of january. if you're interested in supporting us, send me an email @ melanie512(@)gmail(.)com

Friday, January 4, 2013

modern chastity belts?

over christmas break, i had the pleasure of helping a friend shop for christmas gifts for a little guy who'd never had "santa" before. (you can read their story here, and you can look at the shopping, and how it turned out). it was nice, i had been in a rut, and needed some cheer to get myself out of it.

what's a better way out of a rut than retail therapy?

we picked up a lot of great toys in the toy store and then headed to a local department store to look for some clothes. confession. i don't shop for clothes here. the quality is usually really poor, and the prices can be extreme. i count on hand-me-downs from kind strangers and good friends, and christmas and birthday gifts to clothe myself and my children. when i travel to the states, i pick up what we need.

i am always shocked when i go to the store. and it's never the same thing. it's been boobies, and prosthetic male-privates, and in an upcoming post some risque barbie-type dolls.

shoplifting is difficult here. you have to check your bags at the entrance, and the sales clerks usually follow you like a lost-dog throughout the store. in the bigger stores, undercover security (with super-obvious ear buds) walk around, just waiting to catch someone in the act. books have tags in three places that need to be removed by the check-out girl (and no, that's not sexist - 95% of cashiers are female, mostly young enough to be called "girl"), clothes are tagged, even food, i'm sure, has a secret tag in it.

if i were a business owner (i'm not), i'd probably take most of these precautions. but i don't own a business, so i think it's laughable. especially when they tag little girls' panties that cost less than a dollar each. every single one of these panties (and there were hundreds) were tagged. you know, just in case you were tempted to steal them.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


last year, some facebook friends and blogs i read posted about choosing a word for the year. one word to focus on for 12 months. one blogger chose LESS, another facebook friend chose LIVE, and this year another friend had CHOICE posted on her wall.

i am, admittedly, a bad friend. i never am connected to anything - my cell phone breaks or disappears for days at a time, and my computer/internet access is sketchy. i hate "dropping by" and am terrible at making plans. however, i've been blessed with forgiving friends who overlook (mostly) the "unconnected-ness" of my life.

and, when i sat down to plan out some teacher training activities for this year it dawned on me, that i was planning to impart all of my wonderful, glorious knowledge on everyone else. without opening up dialogue for sharing.

see, 2012 was rough. it started rough, it ended rough. and in order to avoid another rough one, i just want people to listen to me. to do what i tell them and what i think is right. but that's not how it works, right? 2012 was rough for so many reasons, but mostly because of a situation where i was not being listened to, given the opportunity to speak, to share. it got worse when i realized that this was, in fact, a valid leadership skill in this country - and the sheer craziness of giving people a choice to do something was beyond handle-able.

so. this year i thought my word would be teach. but, that implies that i have more to give than the people around me. and, frankly, most of the people around me are tired of being talked at. so, the word i've chosen is share.

life doesn't work when we give. in fact, that's a large part of my personal "charity-philosophy" - if i tell you what to do, how to do it and when to get it done, you won't learn much. and neither will i. you might have a better way. we might both have crappy ways, but by sharing we can make it work.

share. knowledge. love. hope.
"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”