Sunday, November 24, 2013

we don't have seasons here.

2013 was an incredibly busy year. from january to may, i worked at two different and (very) distinct jobs. it was like hell on earth and i'm glad it's over. the remember that awesome semester, i have an extra 30 pounds of empanadas and other fast foods because most days i just didn't have time to sit down and eat a real meal.

that over, we moved into summer, way less busy but far more frustrating. so, i picked up and went to the states with my kids. we spent three glorious weeks doing everything and nothing at all. it wasn't necessarily relaxing, but it was just what my soul needed.

to be fair, the fall of 2013 hasn't been terribly busy. i work a little bit less, and am not running from one job to the next. but it's still hard to find time for everything. you know what i mean?

every year i try to purge the house of unnecessaries. i usually do it in the spring. because, even though there aren't four distinct seasons, the anglo-nuance of "spring cleaning" is ingrained in me. spring is a time for renewal, and what better way to renew than throw away all of your garbage?

we purge for various reasons. one. we have kids and i don't know how, but their crap multiplies. i swear, i don't know the last time i bought something for my children, yet, their toybox is overflowing. two. for what it's worth, it seems unfair to have stuff just sitting around just in case. (don't misunderstand, though, i am a packrat at heart, and have things that i am physically unable to part with).

because spring didn't happen. i've made a list and have been fall cleaning the house. if i don't finish soon, i guess it will be winter cleaning, and then perhaps it wouldn't even be a "2013 purge."

here are some things we'll be doing (and by we, i mean my minions mostly):
donating non-fitting clothes and shoes, and toys that are no longer played with
throwing away old papers (two teachers in a house, y'all)
throwing away old medicines and organizing closets
cleaning "baseboards" and window frames
scrubbing bathrooms and cleaning out drains

and my favorite dominican republic chore (::sarcasm::)

i break the list apart and we do a little at a time over two or three weeks. today the kids scrubbed the tiled walls in the kitchen and the sides of the stove and i did the windows and baseboards in the dining room. we also kind-of decorated for christmas.

super tedious. and i hate it while it's happening, but in the end i feel better. and who doesn't want to feel better at christmas??

Monday, November 18, 2013

how i fill my days

i wish i had a picture of our first year. we only had 23 students, and our building was just that - one little building, 1 floor with 4 classrooms and an office. we now have 115 students, two stories with 9 classrooms and a huge "meeting hall", a kitchen and dining area and 10 people on staff.
i am in love.

but this is seriously the hardest job i've ever had in my life. 

this year i've had to draw some pretty definite boundaries in my life. i've learned to say no. i've learned to be strong and direct. and i've learned more compassion than ever.
i've also learned just how blessed i am.

we now have a government code for our school, and we're working on becoming even more legal (yeah, i don't get that either). we are writing curriculum and training teachers and nurturing these treasures.
i spend a lot of time in the office, and not nearly enough time in the classrooms. but i feel productive. and i feel like the future really is bright because of the work we're doing.
i also spend a lot of time in the street. and visiting people. and i know that sounds like i waste a lot of time. but some of the most improvements we've seen in students come from these relationships - whether i've fomented them or a teacher has. getting parents involved is so important.
this week i spent a bunch of my time in the local public hospital - we had a slew of children in and out of overnight-care with respiratory and digestive issues (residual effects of living next to a landfill) and moms who just needed a little pick me up while they waited to see the pediatricians. i also found out that one of my university students is doing her practical hours in dentistry at our hospital, so i stopped by to see her as well.
these two little guys are "ours" by default - on the left was in the belly when we first met him and his mom took a pre-natal class with us. his cousins come to school. on the right was also still in utero when we met. we are praying hard for this family - baby girl is in the hospital because she's dehydrated, possibly slightly malnourished. a friend mentioned that she didn't even recognize mom the other day because she has lost so much weight. 

if you can, keep our students in your thoughts and prayers. as the weather here gets cooler, and the landfill starts to burn more, we will see many more respiratory infections.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

at the car wash, yeah.

the roads close by school are not paved. when it rains, it's like one giant mudslide ride to get to work in the morning - with my fingers crossed that i don't get stuck. 
my husband likes for me to get the car washed every week, but i don't have time for that. because, see, the car wash is not an easy deal here - it's not a "put your car in neutral and don't brake" kind of country. it's a "get out, go get a beer, sleep with a hooker and maybe we'll be finished when you're done" kind of country.
for $150 pesos, less than five US dollars, i can get my car washed and detailed. 
this is usually okay and i go once or twice a month and get the car washed. i always run out of patience, but i always get a nice, clean car for cheap.
except, it's been raining something fierce here lately, and my tires the other day were caked in mud. even i was embarrassed. unfortunately, i didn't have time to really go to the carwash, so someone sent me to the "automatic place by the high school." 

i was so excited. i thought i was going to slide right in and get on with my day.

i pulled in and these guys - dressed in basketball uniforms of all things - told me to get out so they could vacuum the car. and... while i'm grateful they did that, it wasn't in my plan. it also wasn't my plan to have to get out of my car. i wanted to pull up to a window, pay, and then put my car in neutral. no thinking. no moving. 
not happening. i got out for the boys to vacuum, and of course, i had to pay. 

it is already christmas in the dr. it's been christmas since the end of september.
i paid. a whopping $150 pesos, the same i would have paid for the intense cleaning somewhere else, but this is automatic, right? it should be fast.

once i got back in the car, i watched as some other guys in basketball uniforms scrubbed down the truck in front of me. so far, i'm thinking that this is the same service as the regular service, and i'm getting antsy. now, i can't even get out to get a beer. or a hooker. because this is the automatic carwash 

finally, while the guys scrub down my car, i notice the rails on the floor as that frontier puts his car in neutral and doesn't brake! yes! finally something i understand! unfortunately, when i get my car on to the rails, the electricity goes out and i have to wait for them to kick up the generators. welcome to the dr

finally, at the very end, i get out of my car again as new gentlemen in basketball duds shammy-cloth my car dry and dust the dashboard.

i won't complain too much, i was in and out in about 30 minutes - which is way shorter than the usual wash and detail. i wasn't late for any meetings. and i only had to pay $150 pesos. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

oh, the sun!

i've been taking the kids to this new little playground by our house on our free afternoons. it's great, because before i had to drive all the way across the city to get to a decent playground, but this one - while not perfect - is so close, closed in and 5 minutes away.

this afternoon we went - there wasn't any electricity at our place, and it was like 100 degrees with no air flow. the kids ran straight for the swings. in the sun. at 3 pm.

and in all my american-ness, i didn't think a thing of it.
i spread out my students' most recent essays on a bench, and started to grade. i got a little lost in my highlighting and commenting, i guess, and my kids... wait for it.

were in the sun!

"lady! are those your kids? they're in the sun. they might get sweaty."

please forgive me this... but i pretended to not speak spanish. for real.

and then, about 15 minutes later, a woman walked in with her pre-schooler and an elderly woman, whom i assume was her mother. she looks around hesitantly and reads the signs conveniently located on all of the toys telling the appropriate ages.

"son, the swings for you are over there. but they're in the sun. have a seat on the bench."

that's right.
she sat that kid down and made him watch the rest of the kids play, because the swings were in the sun.
why did you even come to the park at 3pm on a saturday?

the elderly woman then looked at my kids. oh my, look how rubio, white, and blonde! look how delicate! dona, you should be ashamed of yourself, having those children in the sun like that -

they might turn brown.

and i have so much to say about that. but i don't even know how to put it into words. it's a common commentary for us - we are lucky that we have white babies, that amely is blonde. and we should always prevent them from playing too long in the sun - at the park, on the beach, in the campo - because the worst thing in the world is not being dominican, it's being brown skinned.

and i'm done.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

sights around town.

i've been pretty slack on the blog in the past few months --- but i swear! i do always keep it in my mind, and i take pictures a lot, thinking that i should update this thing. 
so. here are some of the things i see around town (some on a regular basis, some... yeah, not so much)
in the spring, it rains. and rains. and rains.
this year, we were getting killer rainbows every other day. 

i'm not sure what to point out in the picture. you'll obviously note the men sitting on top of the sacks. there are four total. what i can also point out, is that the truck is completely lopsided. i see this all of the time, and i'm so scared to drive next to trucks like this. this one is small, but they're often huge trucks, loaded up with paja de arroz, rice hay.

this picture was taken on the corner of my house. that big black cloud is the landfill burning about 1.5 miles back -- and just a few "blocks" from our school. the burning is not usually this visible, but it is always present. our students breathe this crap every. single. day.

a few weeks ago, i took the bus to visit the rousculps in san francisco de macoris. it's not a terribly long ride - about an hour - and it is absolutely beautiful rice country. the kids fell asleep, and i just kept clicking my camera to pass the time. 
i snapped this shot by sheer luck -- from a bus window going 60 mph down the highway. 

on my way to work one afternoon, i was slowed down by this. i'm not completely sure what happened - just that that SUV was pulled over and the driver and passengers were told to get out, while about 6 armed soldiers pointed guns at them.

ambulant-merchants are still very common in the dominican republic - even in the cities. people walk around carrying everything from fruits and vegetables to toilet paper on their heads. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

a much needed respite.

a few weekends ago, the kids and i - along with marcy, futuro lleno de esperanza's intern - headed to baitoa, a campo just outside of santiago where jewel lives. 

i've been meaning to make this trip since jewel arrived back in the country in september, but i'm lazy.
i just couldn't seem to tear myself away from santiago long enough. but since this is my tenth year living in the DR, i made a deal with myself to actually see the country. 

so we went.
and i am so glad that we did.
the weekend that we went followed a pretty atrocious week at school.
i deal with a lot of crazy on a daily basis - and sometimes i forget that i need to get away from that. the month of october was particularly wicked. i'm glad it's over.
 look at that view.
i took this picture standing on jewel's front porch. she has a nice set-up - she lives on a piece of land owned by some north americans who love this place. there are three houses - each owned by a different family - and a ton of land. the houses serve as short-term mission housing for groups, vacation homes for the families and homes for short-(and long) term mission volunteers.

the land is absolutely beautiful.
i had had a pretty intense craving for s'mores. we had bags of marshmallows at school, leftover from a mission group and each time i looked at them, i wanted a s'more. my kids had never eaten s'mores.
baitoa seemed like a good place to introduce them.
we were going to do them for real on a fire, but we're lazy (see this recurring trait?)
so we just roasted the marshmallows on the stove.

they were a hit!

the kids played and played and played. they enjoyed the fresh air of the campo and the were crazy with the freedom to run around. 

there was a dead tarantula outside of the house. samil wanted nothing to do with it, but amely was pretty interested. those things are nasty.

there is beauty in this place.
sometimes i need to step away to remember that.

Monday, November 4, 2013

palito de coco.

in nine years, i've lived through some hilarious (and some not so hilarious) trends in the dominican republic. i can't even remember most of them - but, there have been songs and sayings and videos and picture-memes galore.

a few weeks ago, we were discussing the cult of celebrity in one of my classes, and somehow the song friday came up - you know the one, the girl's mom paid a ton of money for her daughter to make a fake video that was terrible and it went viral? that one. and my students, youtube fanatics one and all, introduced me to the newest fad: a bachata song with dance steps!

this poor girl, franchesca, quickly became the laughing stock of the island with her song and dance - mostly because the message of the song is to "get hype! get up and dance" and "make some noise" - but is less than enthusiastic in her delivery.

the song caught on, despite being "the joke."
luckily for this poor girl, she didn't last long as the focus of internet attention.
a week or so later, a huge discovery was made! a haitian man selling coconut pops (think, caramel covered coconut candy) called palitos de coco, would sell his candy with a cute little song. he became famous overnight, made a professional music video and even got a visa to take his "act" to the USA.

tons of parodies are around - two of the most famous dominican comedians made a parody video mixing the current immigration mess with palito de coco and animo animo animo.

but, all jokes aside. after church on sunday, we ran into a man selling palito de coco and jewel had never tried one! so, of course, she paid 10 pesitos and tried one. she loved it!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

back in time.

this weekend is three-days-long and i am blissfully alone. my kids went to visit family in the campo and i stayed behind - threat of rain, long bus ride and just in need of a break. i spent saturday in the supermarket (so much easier with no little hands throwing things in the cart), and treated myself to a sweet frog. then i went home and did four loads of laundry. FOUR LOADS OF LAUNDRY. at night.

with no drier.

on sunday, my friend deborah and i had plans to visit the rousculps. we were to meet at church and then head out - but poor rebecca has dengue fever, so those plans got squashed.

(a tangent: i've been visiting different churches each sunday, in hopes of finding something that i can deal with. today's church was... a bit reminiscent of new life covenant church in chicago but less warm. and a bit staged. it was also really long.)

around noon we got hungry. really hungry.

so, we went to eat. close to the church there is a little chain-style bakery and a asian-fusion vegetarian place. both are decent, but deborah had a better idea. she took us to casa bader, what was once a men's only club/lounge, but is now a quaint, little place tucked into the historic-colonial zone of center city. the outside is non-descript. i would never have imagined this little gem from the front - a run-down bar looking place, with wooden doors and a tin roof.

we walked in, and walked straight to the patio in the back.
it was like walking back in time - the original, old-school advertisements for quisqueya beer (complete with farah faucet haired model) were still painted on the walls.

the food is just simple, dominican chucherria (junk food) like empanadas and quipes. they also served a bulgar wheat salad, stuffed eggplant, ninos envuelto (like stuffed cabage) and lasagnas.

it was early on a sunday, so the place was empty - but i'm told that some of the older couples from the area - probably men who belonged when it was still a boys club and their wives - come and drink, smoke cigars, dance merengue and play dominoes in the afternoon.

we were talking and deborah said that this place isn't mentioned in any of the tourist guide books. but it really is a place to sit down and take some memories. the food is decent, the people are friendly - and it's like a throw back to a different time.