Sunday, April 28, 2013

white like mike... or sammy.

i can get really passionate about a lot of things, so i have to keep myself in check. i tend to over-extend because i really believe in something, and then end up not being helpful at all. so, over the past few years, i've really just focused on education and pregnancy and kind of supported others in their crusades for things that i feel are pretty important.
i really admire people who work with young girls, and while i have a special spot in my heart for the ladies - i am one, afterall - i actually feel more drawn to causes for young men. it's no surprise for most that my favorite students are often the under-dog boys - kids who come from messed up families, kids who have had the deck stacked against them but who really do have the potential to be really awesome adults. i also think that if we raise up quality boys, we'll have quality men and that in itself will help with all of the "girl issues" (please, that is a huge generalization, and before you judge me for it... i understand that "girl issues" are far more complex to solve than to "fix" boys)
here in the dominican republic, it's fairly common to see girls being raised to be little homemakers. girls often drop out of school at 13 or 14 to "get married" and play house. boys, however, are brain-washed into the baseball dream. they are sent to practice everyday, even to the detriment of their schooling. a game? miss class. a special practice? miss class. a really good game on tv? miss class.
paperwork is forged and stolen to meet age requirements and thousands and thousands of pesos are spent to "meet scouts" and play "in the big leagues." you can only imagine the impact this has on the culture and what it does to those dominicans who have made it to the big leagues. it's a star status usually reserved for hollywood celebrities. take kobe bryant, michael jordan and shaq, roll them all up in one, and multiply their celebrity by one million.
and so while this is a pain in the butt, it's not really the point of this post. the point is that this celebrity is doing wild things here. take sammy sosa. he may be, besides a-rod, one of the most famous dominican ball players. his celebrity-power is insane. and he is black. which here is even more powerful. people still pray for "white" babies with blonde hair, even though the genetic possibilities in the dominican republic are less than ideal for "white" babies.
imagine how shocked we all were when sammy sosa went and did this.
a few years ago, sammy showed up to an awards show noticeably whiter. and unlike michael jackson who claimed skin disease, sosa admitted to surgically lightening his skin, presumably to be "more attractive."

and so this guy shows up all white and while everyone made fun of him outloud, i had tons of conversations with people who expressed the idea that if they had enough money, they would do it to. after all, isn't he handsome-r now, all white and cute?
i had never noticed it before, mostly because i don't care enough to spend tons of money on special soap.... or rather, i didn't until i started seeing wrinkles next to my eyes (real or not, people, that needs to stop). last week, in the supermarket, i headed to the crèmes and lotions aisles and much to my surprise, i found stack upon stack of whitening cream. no lie.
with names like "michelle marie - whitening cream for the day," "blancoderma (white-skin) with oatmeal, hydrating, regenerating cream AND skin lighten-er", "white magic, whitening cream."

it shouldn't be surprising, i know. but, for me it is. and sad. because us humans are just never happy. people with less pigment spend time in the sun to "get color" and people with color are trying to get rid of it. and so much money is spent trying to change who were are.

because someone has decided that white is beautiful. and then this famous guy buys in and whitens himself to the point of hilarity.... and we all think it's okay.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

another hope.

in our section of the city, an area called cienfuegos, there are thousands of children who have never studied. some of it is parental irresponsibility, some of it is that teenagers drop out - but mostly, there just isn't enough space in the schools for the population.

as it stands, the classroom limit is 45 in elementary school and 60 in high school. because there are so few classrooms, classes are divided into three shifts - morning, 8-12:30; afternoon, 2-6 and evening 6:30-10. this scheduling is fairly common throughout latin america, but i'd bet that no other system allows for the amount of off days that are actually sanctioned here. teachers want a meeting? no school. the teachers savings and loan has a meeting? no school. teachers union has a meeting? no school. fancy government parade? no school. raining? no school. too hot? no school.

the new president made a lot of fancy promises - as politicians do - to change the school system. his first line of business was dedicating 4% of the GDP to education. check. with some of that money, he instated (through the board of ed.) budgets for schools to actually purchase the supplies they need like chalk and toilet paper. he ran into a fairly significant problem with teacher salaries - but for now, it's been taken care of.

but, his biggest promise was to construct school structures in the highest-populated areas to reduce the amount of children in the street. and to sweeten up that deal for working parents, he added that all schools would slowly phase into all-day schools. it seemed impossible. educators were skeptical - and they still are. where would the money come from to feed these kids? what about all of the extra materials they would need to enhance classes?

i was, and still am, a skeptic. for the past few months, the board of ed. has been fighting - literally - to get a school into our school's community. and while most people think we're nuts, we are some of the biggest supporters of the school. i'll spare you the (boring) details of a one-legged baseball coach asking for millions of pesos in recompense while he's been squatting on government land for years, collecting money from unsuspecting kids and their parents. (that'll be a post for another day).

after rumors and threats to take the project to another neighborhood, the bulldozers showed up on monday morning and started digging. it seems like we'll actually have a new neighbor come august. a new neighbor of the best and most hopeful kind - a school that will sit 800+ students from 8am-4pm. parents who work will no longer have to worry about what to do with their kids during work hours. teachers will be better compensated for their labors. and the community will grow and flourish.

because with education, everything is possible.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

not sure.

but it's hard to top a witch story.

i'll be back soon!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

that wicked witch again....

i'm not going to tell you all that the gossipy-gossips around these parts don't get annoying - they do. if you where a pink shirt and a yellow hair tie, people are talking about it. oh, what? she ate a carrot for snack? she is so obviously trying to get skinny to find a man. duh.

it gets old.

but man, this witch thing kills me. i'm not sure i'll ever get tired of it. you'll recall my first encounter with the local witch - where the neighbors assured me that she danced on their roofs at night. and then when we saw her day-dreaming, and she was definitely lejos, flying around in some sort of out-of-body experience.

just the other day, i was in the playground, probably avoiding any kind of real work, and a little girl came up to the gate and asked for our empty bottles. she and her mother troll the neighborhood, collecting plastics which they then sell forward to some of the recycling plants near the landfill. the pair stop by school at least once a week, and we usually have something to help them out with - especially since we've been getting juice in gallon-jugs lately. sometimes we have something, sometimes we don't.

that day, we didn't.

the girl walked away, kind of pouting. the mother then came to the gate and asked for the jugs. i informed her that we didn't have any - we are saving them for a gardening project with the students.

"but i see them over there! give them to me."
"lady, i just told you that are saving them for a project."
"but, there are a ton, you can give me half. i need them."
"yes, i understand, but we need them as well. if i give you these jugs, i'll have to buy something for our project and we prefer to recycle."
"this is how i make money."
"yeah, i get that. i just explained...."

and the conversation went on for a few minutes. me getting more and more exasperated and she looking for more reasons why i should just give her what i had. i think she thought that she was getting somewhere, but she wasn't. i was frustrated and ready to tell her that she wouldn't ever be able to get our plastics again if she didn't leave. as i turned to walk away, she "shhhhhhhh"ed me.

i turned to look, and she asked me if i knew luisa. luisa who lives in la bendicion, the neighborhood next to ours. i just looked at her. really? was this woman really invoking the witch?

"yes. i do. i know her well."
she looks at me, completely serious.

"you know that she eats babies, right?"

i'm not even going to lie. i laughed in her face. i did really well when i was first confronted with the witch - i think because i wasn't being told about her as a threat, but as like, a friendly aviso, notice, about the goings on in the community. but, i'm not really sure what plastic-jugs woman was trying to do - insinuate that she'd have her eat my babies, or just the babies in the community? or accepting her loss in the battle for the jugs, deciding to throw something so non-"christian" in my face? a last word of sorts?

i'm not sure.
but believe me, i got a good laugh out of it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

a little piece of negativity.

there is a lot going on lately - it's finally the end of the semester, shower-six-times-a-day season has arrived, and weh have been busy trying to keep up with everything going on. i am cutting beads for poderosa mujer like a mad-woman - we have an order for 300 pieces of jewelry and we need more than 2000 hand-rolled beads for that.

this week at school we were busy preparing for re-enrollment. it's a stressful process, and one that had the ability to make or break my vision. i teeter-tottered on the fence of "we're going to be turning people away by the bus-loads" and "how are we going to re-fill these classrooms when nobody wants to re-enroll?"

as the principal, i know all of the problems - the teachers who were physically punishing kids, the kids who just weren't learning, the food allergies and bullying and inappropriateness of some students. it was easy to get lost in that negativity, to underestimate the power of all of the amazing things that have happened this school year and focus just on the quejas, the complaints - most of which were real and valid.

last summer we attempted a summer program. one kid enrolled. granted, we were new, there wasn't a lot of promotion for it and our school-year enrollment had been 23. i was sure that that one-kid enrollment was an omen for a bad school year. the community wouldn't trust us, we'd have to constantly explain ourselves and de-bunk myths just to get people to let us teach their kids. and, although we've had a great year, i've been carrying that little seed of doubt around with me since last june.

this "success" won't last. we'll go stagnant at some point and the whole thing will fall apart.

yesterday was our meeting. it was the test - we made the meeting obligatory for all parents who were interested in re-enrolling their child for the coming school year. we have a waiting list, and the only fair way to give away spots is in a raffle. if the parents didn't show up to the meeting, their kid would be entered into the raffle for next year, taking away the security of a spot. it sounds harsh. but every story is heart breaking, and choosing who "deserves" a spot is impossible. the meeting was scheduled for 4:30.
at 4:35 there were representatives for maybe 40 kids. maybe.

i knew it. my heart sunk a little in my chest. for me, this was the way to know if we were doing it right, if people trusted us and wanted their children with us. and only 40 showed up? really?

the sky was even dark, threatening a crazy-dominican-style downpour, so we started. and kind of masochistically, knowing the weight that last year's summer-school failure held in my mind, i had "summer program" as the first point on the agenda. if there wasn't interest, i don't know what i would have done. i quickly explained why we'd like to "do summer," but also that we couldn't do it if there wasn't enough interest. (i left out that if nobody raised their hands i might die).

the whole room raised their hands. and by the time i had finished talking about summer programming, the room was full. over-full even. (i'd say standing room only, but we only have 30 adult-sized chairs, so meetings are almost always standing room only). of 93 students, only about 10 were not represented in the meeting. we will be full and growing next school year.

it's funny to me how i can hold on to one thing for so long as proof that things aren't going to work, even in the face of such proof that it is. we've been blessed over and over again this year in ways that i'd never imagined - from donations of supplies to volunteer-teachers to community support beyond belief and yet i held the single-student enrollment in my heart, letting it keep me down, keeping me from trusting that this is good.

i can't hold onto that anymore. it's time to hold on to the positive, the fruitful. it's so much easier to do, too, the pain and worry associated with that one little negative piece stressed me more than you could believe, but now, i'm choosing to hold on to all of the hands that were raised in that room - we want our children here, we want to invest in them.