Thursday, October 31, 2013

my favorite mechanic.

i hate having a car. well, maybe hate is a harsh word. i love the convenience - hopping the car five minutes before i need to be at school (or 20 minutes before i enter the university) and getting there quickly. i like not having to pay for taxis when i grocery shop, or for public cars on a daily basis.

but, man, upkeep of a car is not my thing.
i hate the carwash. i hate getting oil changed. i hate waiting to put gas in the car.

and to illustrate how much i hate it.... there's this (funny) little story about how my tires were so bald (i know, dangerous) that when i was changing flat tires every three days. and when i went to pick up my brother at the airport in july (remember that: JULY), i ran over something and stripped the tire.

the band of rubber then flapped around until i got to a gas station to see what on earth had happened. and while it was flapping around, it might have pulled out my left-side high beam and all of the wires for my turn signals. luckily, i still had my "regular" head lights and my right turn signal.

friends. this was in july.

today, i took my car to the mechanic! better late than never... and the looming end-date for the revista, the ridiculous dominican version of state-testing for cars that only checks that the car's lights work (no emissions testing here! woo hoo!) had me a little worried.

he just dropped on the ground and started
checking things out!
i'm a magnet for traffic cops. (i'm also super skilled at getting out of tickets - and, knock on wood, haven't gotten one here).
there are two "stickers" that cars need to be legal in the DR (in addition to the license plates and insurance): a revista, which costs just 25 pesos and checks to make sure cars are not night-dangers, and a marbete, which is basically just a vehicle-tax (price varies depending on the year, make and model).

i, as of today, have neither.

i haven't gotten the marbete, because, well, i don't need to get it until the end of november, so i worked it into the budget for the 10th. no big deal. but the revista is more complicated - the lights needed to be in working order.

and obviously i haven't had any time to do that since july.
and obviously i know so many electricians.

just kidding.
so i went to the tire shop (because those guys know me - and my middle and last name, where i live, where i'm from, my favorite food and the name of my first grade teacher. i spent a lot of time in the tire shop until i got new tires on the stupid car). i asked my friends for a recommendation, and luckily they have a guy.

only god knows what this fellow was working on -
but he kept working on it with the rain pouring down on him.
named chi-chi (pronounced chee-chee). it dominican, that means "baby." i have a hard time with grown men called baby.

after driving around a bit, i found him.
now, i'm no shop-rat. but i love this place (if you're in the philadelphia area and need body work done, the guys at whitemarsh collision are your guys. they're nice, and pretty cute - though, i'm biased because we're blood, y'all) and i'm used to clean and professional and, okay, maybe not clean, but at least orderly.

maybe i can even deal with disorganized. but inside? is that too much to ask?

i found chi-chi and just told him i needed some help. my spanish is pretty excellent, and i don't necessarily scream gringa, but a woman in a mechanic shop already has me at a disadvantage in this country. he comes over, asks what's wrong.

a kid nick-named chino took care of us - chino
because his eyes are similar to that of a
chinese person.
dude, i have no lights.
easy. they pop the hood, look around and get right down to work - no estimate, no questions. the only commentary was about how my japanese car was backwards. (to be fair, it is backwards).

turn the lights on. turn it off. turn the car on. turn it off.

and then he hands me some light bulbs and tells me "go to the repuesto on the corner and buy this stuff."
um, no.
so far, i've gotten by - no gringa comments, no smart-aleck commentary about where my husband might be. but i was not going to the parts store. this is no pep-boys. it's where all the hoodlums with two-bit scooters hang out and think they're cool. no thanks.
so i convinced chi-chi to go with me. we bought the stuff and headed back to the shop parking spot.

it started to pour. chi-chi kept working - so un-dominican. within a few hours, i had working headlights, high-beams, fog lights and turn signals.
the passenger side window still doesn't go down.

in all, not a terrible experience. i probably shouldn't have waited so long. tomorrow i'll get the revista and be on my way.

total cost? $700 pesos --- about $17 dollars.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the war zone.

people, this world is not fair.
i feel like a little girl, stomping her feet and jumping up and down - not fair! not fair!

but it's not.
these past two weeks have presented some wicked situations around these parts, and i'm just left sitting here shaking my head. the dominican government passed a law that would literally strip thousands and thousands of people of their citizenship - just because their grandparents (or great grandparents) were illegal immigrants. the banks were taken to court over some credit card fraud (the people won! finally!) and personally, we've just been getting hit hard with crap.

lots and lots of crap.

gracias a
on saturday, the police entered into a shooting match with some local hoodlums. i don't know all of the details -- and nobody will probably ever know the details. the story is that these two police officers are known for their love of prostitutes and for greasin' it up with local drug dealers. who knows, really. police here are corrupt. they are paid nothing and expected to uphold justice.

it's hard.

but, when they entered into a shooting match in a neighborhood filled with children - that was bad. and when one of their bullets killed a 12 year old boy with special needs, that was worse. the neighborhood went crazy. on saturday, there was no way to risk entering that neighborhood without the risk of being hurt. there were tires burning, rocks being thrown, garbage tanks overturned.

it's not fair.
this type of protesting is common here. it's violent and it's deadly. and it's scary because these people are at whits end and really, just have no way to protest in any other way. they have been rendered mute by the lack of education, the substandard conditions they live in and the impotency of local authorities.

gracias a
today, there is a nationwide strike. i'm not sure what they are protesting today. but, there are highways that one can't pass through. bullets will fly and tires will burn. it is very possible that people will be seriously injured.
we cancelled classes today. it's the safe thing to do. we don't need any more kids in the streets during these eruptions of violence.
but i'm a little crazy, and i drove back to school this morning. it seems that the protests in cienfuegos have eased off - the judge put the police officer in "preventative" jail for one year to await trial. now we just have to wait and see if that ruling sticks. - but the streets are filled with the remnants of frustration.

men lined the streets, but let cars pass freely. it was difficult to avoid the boulders in the road, the street covered in broken glass and trash. the fires in each intersection still smoldering, waiting for someone to put them out, or re-light them. the police sat in front of the station in full riot gear, waiting, i imagine, for someone to light the fuse or throw a bottle or, worse, shoot a gun.

it's not fair that this is what we've got. a whole lot of people stripped of their dignity and worth - a whole lot of impotence. people who don't even have viable means to "talk it out" anymore - either because they're not given the chance to talk or because they don't have the words. and it's not just in the dominican republic. it's all around the world.

Friday, October 18, 2013


if you've read the blog for any period of time, you've probably figured out that i work in a school.
we actually have a bunch of schools, some churches and the center that i run. 

this year, we opened a new church and center in a suburb called licey, and we hired an intern named marcy to coordinate the educational program. she's super cool and has decided to raise money to enhance the snack program already in place.

the students sometimes bring their own snacks - and they share with their classmates who don't have snack. their snacks consist of sugary juices and white bread.

the "program" as it is right now is morning "snack" once a week - usually bread and juice. it's not as nutritious as it could be, but it's what works in a school with no kitchen facilities or reliable water source. marcy has come up with snacks that are easily available and require no real set up -- and a way to enrich bread (with peanut butter, jelly or other sandwich spreads).

for $14, you can provide breakfast for 40 pre-school kids that might not otherwise have it. click on over to the indiegogo campaign, check out the video and consider helping out!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

wash your feet.

this school year - as short as it has been - has been really difficult for me. it's hard to put into words. it's not stress, it's not even too much work.
i've been dealing with a lot of rich guilt. i put that out there, because it's real and it's hard.
septembers are tight for us - i work on semester contracts, and there are two months of the year that we just don't get paid. no matter how much budgeting happens, no matter how much tightening of the purse strings, it often gets to counting pesitos at the end of the month just to make sure we have enough.
this year, we got thrown for a few loops - enrollment at our kids' school was double that of last year, added on to a new first grader with six text books instead of two. samil is also growing like a weed and we needed to get new gym pants for him. amely got bronchitis, which meant a trip to the doctors that was not in the budget and then pepito, our dog, got a parasite.
we are not poor. we don't even really struggle for money.
when we got tight this month, i almost complained.
but then, an easy 6-week opportunity to tutor a (favorite) student showed up that alleviated a lot of our weekly need.
and then, the guava tree started dropping fruit - and the cherry tree started to bud.
and then...
a little student came in with a busted toe. her older sister let me know that she had dropped something on her foot and it tore off her toe-nail. she'd need to wear sandals to school for awhile until it healed.
there's the problem - her little toe couldn't be cramped up in a shoe, but it's just not a good idea to have that sad toe hanging out in a gravel and dirt-filled playground with a bunch of other little feet stomping around. at first, the toe came wrapped up.
but then, it just was dirty. and every other day, she was crying that someone stepped on her.
it took me awhile to realize that the toe was no longer being cleaned at home. lacking some gloves, i put my hand in a plastic bag and cleaned my little friend's foot. her screams killed me. we put some neosporin on the toe and wrapped it in cotton. i sent home cream and bandaids.
she is still coming in sandals. the toe is not healing.
and so for the past few days, i've washed that little foot through screams and tears. and every single time i hold back my tears -- because that's the part of the job that is hard to put into words.
there is often so much pain. and so few resources.
i am always reminded how much we have - economic stability, solid educations, a backyard filled with fruit trees. i don't know, i don't like being cheesy but those blessings are meant to be shared.
it doesn't make it any easier - my little friend still break my heart and she screams for her mom as we wash away the dirt from her toe. (and frankly, i think we need to go to the doctor's and make sure it's just dirty and not infected). and it's easier to say "don't worry"than to actually follow through with that.
that's where i am. we're happy (and i got paid last week, so there are no longer financial worries) and healthy and even pepito is on the mend. i'm just kind of muddling through what to do with all of these "not being enough" kind of feelings.