Tuesday, December 24, 2013

merry christmas

it is chilly and damp in santiago today. 
we braved the supermarket crush this morning - picked up a turkey for tomorrow and amalio waited 45 minutes in a line to get roasted pork, a dominican christmas tradition, for lunch today. 
we've cleaned the house and taken long naps.
tonight we'll eat more roast pork with friends, dance merengue and celebrate the birth of a savior.

tomorrow, the kids will open presents from friends and family and we'll open our home to those brave enough to eat my cooking. 

it's been a good season, shared with friends and family.
merry christmas. may you all be blessed with the spirit of this season!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

santiago at christmas (part 2)

one of my biggest complaints, besides the warm weather, about getting ready for christmas in the dr was that it seemed contrived. and over the top. the christmas trees that i was seeing were fake pines, decorated in a style i can only describe as "boston." like, victorian masterpiece trees. except, that kind of decoration lends well to hot cocoa, scarves and mittens and light dustings of snow.

not shorts, tee-shirts and palm trees.

when we moved from one side of the city to the other, i discovered a more authentic, caribbean christmas. 
i was stopped on my way through the neighborhood by some kids with a bucket asking for money. i wasn't sure what was up, so i gave them a few pesos. the next day, the skeleton of a "tree" was up. over the coming days, garland adorned the wires, then twinkle lights. a graffiti artist painted santa clause on the street, in the middle of the tree. a huge star adorned the top. 

a few days later, as i arrived from work, i noticed that there was an unlikely group of people on the corner. a recycled 10 gallon tin-can was atop a makeshift fire-pit - a few cinder blocks, filled with charcoal bits with an old fan casing resting on the blocks, the can atop the fan. 

i was too embarrassed to ask what was going on. the group was mixed: older grandparent-types, those pesky teenagers and kids. it seemed like the whole neighborhood was present. 
they were making ginger tea. and sharing crackers. and catching up. 
and it happened almost every night until christmas. 

since that first arbolito experience, i've sought out more. the trees in our neighborhood and close by are simple. a way to bring the community to a central meeting point. but there are neighborhoods completely transformed at christmas into wonderlands (next blog post). 

this year:
 this tree caught me by surprise - the neighborhood it's in has never had such an elaborate display before.
 this little stable is at the other end of the same street - paintings on the wall representing jesus, candy canes, candles, santa and christmas bells. 

 the tree lit at night.

i was also pleasantly surprised this year by the light display at the monument, the one tourist attraction in santiago. there has been a carnival in the parking lot for a few weeks that i've been trying to avoid driving by any time the kids are in the car, so i hadn't been by at night. but last weekend, a friend had an event at the theater across the street. 
 the gardens of the theater were lit up in red and blue lights. with the monument as their backdrop, they were splendid. the monument, which hasn't been lit at night for quite some time, was lit and there were even projections of christmas symbols thrown up in the light show.
i love christmas in santiago. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

santiago at christmas (part 1)

at the end of october, you'll start to see make-shift carts pop up all over the city. at first, they are an eye-sore: put together with rustic poles and blue tarps, covered in cardboard boxes. as the cart is loaded up with christmas goodies, it becomes beautiful. the grapes hang from strings, neatly organized bags of gum-candies hang next to the grapes, twisting and turning in the breeze. nuts in transparent plastic boxes next to mounds of red, juicy apples line the table tops. mandarin oranges are strung together on red-plastic clothesline, and regular oranges, already peeled and ready for consumption are stacked on end-tables. it's really quite a sight.

when i first moved here, apples and grapes were only available from november to january. they're imported from chile and are considered a delicacy. some grapes (and strawberries) are grown in the mountain towns of jarabacoa and constanza, but the rest of the island never chills enough for fall fruits. even today, it is hard to get grapes and apples in smaller towns and villages. but, here is santiago, they line the streets for three precious months.

i love this season here - the decorations catch me off guard sometimes, and i only know one christmas villancico to sing during the aguinaldos but i am forever awed by the sense of community and love that comes out at this time of year. there are entire barrios decorated with recycled materials and donate money (next blog post), and even if they aren't mind blowing, an arbolito adorns many an intersection. around this make-shift tree - usually made from wire or pvc pipes, decorated with plastic bags and twinkle lights - people gather to drink ginger tea and catch up. the nights are cool and the lightness of the season shines through.

last year, a group of teenagers woke us up at 5:30 am with christmas carols played on a drum and guira outside of our window. they left us, and headed to school to drink ginger tea and spend time with their
classmates and teachers outside of the classroom.

i made up christmas baskets for the employees at school, and everything i thought to put in the basket was not "what goes in a basket" - apples for the family, a pound of grapes, marshmallows, gum-candy, lollipops and hard candy. we added a few extras (rice, beans, and oil; hand sanitizer in a cute carry-case; nail polish, a bath towel), but it was the christmas specialties that got the most positive reaction. for me, the simplest things in the basket.

Friday, December 20, 2013

so this is christmas...

2013 marks my second dominican christmas.

i know. right? i've been living here, full time, since 2004. but, see, christmas was our holiday. the whole family got together. and it was my grandmom's holiday, and i loved that woman fiercely. there was no being absent from christmas. 

when my grandmom passed away, things changed, as they tend to do, and it was no longer a whole family get together. both my mom's and dad's sides of the families transitioned into something different for christmas. 

i had never spent a christmas with my husband. my kids had never spent christmas with their dad. he had never experienced the joy on their faces as they opened presents. never got to share roasted pig with them, or the morning choralers in the neighborhood. 

last year, it was time. my parents and my brother came, and we did christmas in santiago. it was nice and calm. it wasn't cold, it didn't smell of pine tree. there are a lot of things it wasn't. but it was nice. we hosted a dinner on the 25th for friends and we spent the evening playing dominoes and cards, drinking wine and rum and eating good food. it was pleasant.

this year, my parents can't come. it's my first christmas without them. but, my brother is coming and we're excited for that. 

because we had never really done christmas, and because i was never here, amalio never really bought into decorating. even last year, he thought it was silly. for him, it was a waste of time to take things out, put them up, re-decorate the house and then put it all away again.

you can imagine my surprise when he came home with a bush and told us that is was for the christmas tree. we would spray paint it, and put it in a bucket (lined with pretty paper) and decorate it with lights and garland. i wasn't sold, but katherine, his cousin, got on board... and then jewel got on board, too. we loaded into the car and headed to the store to buy ornaments. katherine wanted a rainbow on the tree. as she put things in the cart, i put them back on the shelf. we got gold lights and ornaments and green garland. 

i still wasn't completely sold on this thing. i mean, it was a bush. 
when we finally decided on the ornaments and lights, we headed home and tried to figure it out. 
slowly, it grew on me. 

it's not a pine tree*, but it is our christmas tree. made with love. and the kids love it.
i did cave, after seeing the two toned tree. when i hit the store later the same week, i picked up some fuschia colored star ornaments for the tree. katherine was in her glory.

*amalio says that the "bush" is actually the seed "carrier" from a palm tree that is now dried out and no longer carries any of the palm seeds. all things considered, i think it is a perfect plant to use to celebrate the birth of a savior who was welcomed and praised by the waving of palm branches. 
the christmas tree is made from that branch
hanging down off of the palm tree. the seeds have
dropped and the branches were dried out by the sun.

we really got amalio into the christmas spirit this year.
we used some of the cut off branches to make center pieces
for the table (a new table! that seats 6! we can all
finally eat at the same table!) our house is definitely christmas-y
this year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

start 'em young.

a few months ago, i wrote about some crazy moto bike situations that i've seen on the island - i'm not always able to get a picture, but i've seen everything from a two men carrying a pig between them, to a family of six riding along. 
 some of the scenarios are funny. some are down right scary. 

the first time i got on a bike was with my brother in law. he drove me up a pretty steep mountain road, and i held on for dear life. 
it was the first time i met him.
i was scared.

in order to prevent that fear in my children we've decided to start training them for moto-bike craziness already. carlitos, a friend of ours, rides his scooter over a few times a week. he usually takes amely to the corner store for potato chips. 

during our thanksgiving dinner, he loaded up all the kids and pushed them around the yard.
not really dangerous, i know. but check out amely's face in this picture. 
she was super happy to be riding along.
she's either not really good at sharing carlitos' attention, or she is not okay with four children on a scooter.

we'll have to keep working on it, i guess!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

and the food.

i love dominican food: rice, beans, chuleta, sancocho, asopao. nelfy, our nanny-cook-housekeeper extraordinaire, is an excellent cook (and i love that i don't actually have to cook), but i get tired of the same thing over and over again.

we eat rice every.single.day.
case in point. this past weekend, we hung out at a friends house. we ate pizza. and breadsticks. and brownies. samil was full. to the brim. belly-ache full.

that night, i went out, and when i called to see if i needed to pick anything up, katherine (amalio's cousin), tells me "samil says he didn't eat anything today, so i made him dinner."

um, what?

when i got home, i asked him why he lied to katherine. he said he didn't lie. "mom, i didn't eat any rice today at all."

his dad is the same.exact.way.
for more background on this phenomenon, check out this blog post, no food allowed in the fridge, on the peanut-butter and jelly blog.

when i first moved here in 2004, it was hard to get away from dominican food. imported food was cost-prohibitive, and restaurants were few and far between. the market for different flavors has grown, though, and little eateries have sprouted up all over santiago.

to say that i'm happy about this is an understatement.
many of these places are still out of my price range - especially with a 26% restaurant tax - but i've found some real gems: the adventist-run, vegetarian cafeteria in the city, a vegetarian, asian-fusion place close(ish) to the university, an amazing sub shop, casa bader, there is even a lebanese/turkish place right.next.door to a favorite pizzeria. OH! and a pizzeria with real, real pizza.

 this gem of a place was an accidental find. it's called (i think) el castillo de avena or something else healthy sounding. it's in the plaza paseo on the 27 de febrero. i was making a baby shower registry (not for me) at a store in the mall and we came here for yogurt. delicious. their yogurt is made in-house, topped with fresh fruit and honey and cheap. i've been back a few times, and i'm stuck on their babaganous and pita bread, but i tried a lentil fruit salad last time i was there and it was excellent. (also, fresh, natural fruit juice).
 this place. jewel and i had heard about this pizza place on the internets, and i had heard some positive reviews from co-workers. we definitely underestimated the popularity of monchi's pizzeria and planned to just pop in and out. we waited 45 minutes for our pizzas, but it was so worth it. it was real. authentic. pizza. not pizza hut. not dominoes. it was also much cheaper than the american chain stores. *next to JFK Language Institute in the city center.
one of my favorite splurge/comfort food places is TGIFridays. i'm not in love with their food, but they have decent burgers, relatively, and now they have cheap drinks and meal deals. this is the most expensive place with the least quality of food, but it's a little taste of americana. also, it is much better than the hooters that last five minutes in santiago.

i am by no means a foodie. but also on the list: yaway subs - decent sandwiches, good price, nice owners (villa olga). sushi ya (los jardines). la guarnacha - mexican cuisine (los jardines). naturalis te - veggie asian fusion (reparto coquette). the veggie asian place in las colinas mall. and square one for convenience.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

oh, the controversy.

i've been avoiding any serious conversations lately - especially professionally mostly because there are only two real things to talk about. the haitian immigration "situation" and the new, gay ambassador from the usa.

both controversial.
for me, though, only one is worthy of conversation.
i don't really care about wally the ambassador with a husband.

in fact, in the height of such a real problem, i cannot wrap my head around so much time and energy being dedicated to gossip about an ambassador. 

every morning on my drive to work, i flip through the radio stations looking for music. it's hard, because most of the stations are talk radio in the morning. and most want to talk about how dominicans are not racist, how dare anyone accuse us of that? even the united states deports undocumented people! and speaking of the united states, what about this guy with his husband! we don't really have to accept that do we?

the other day, i got unwittingly called into a conversation about the new ambassador. i wasn't witty or snide in my response, and i kind of regret that a little. because, wally brewster has a great vision for the american embassy in the dominican republic and is obviously very worthy of the posting. i couldn't really care any less about some ambassador. the embassy here has never been helpful to me, nor has it been easy to do anything we need to do. i don't think that this ambassador or any other is going to change policies to treat american citizens a little more respectfully. **

it is not, however, lost on me that the church is the number one opposition to his appointment. to me, the whole controversy surrounding a homosexual american is revolting. because while the church shouts, "we hate you! no faggots in our country!" on the news, church leaders are still waiting in line for visas to visit the very country they are protesting. we hate progressive liberals! but let us in your gay-loving country! 

it is a common misconception that the american embassy is available to american citizens for help. there are horror stories (my own included) of the disrespect shown by low-level state department employees toward ex-pats throughout the world. when samil was born, we had an appointment to declare him on the day of a hurricane. the consulate was the only business open on a day of a hurricane. if it wasn't for some help from some congresspeople in pennsylvania, we might have had to wait months to reschedule. after all, it was my fault that we missed our appointment. i also showed up once to pick up paperwork only to find that the staff had decided to take the day off. without notice. 

i did have a very, very helpful encounter this summer with a consul. samil's passport was expired and i needed to get back to the states. he gave me the benefit of the doubt, and stuck around a little later than usual to get the passport to me on time to travel. i wish i knew his name because he was the exception to the rule. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

threat to justice.

in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, the dominican republic was ruled by a tyrant. you may know him if you're familiar with caribbean history, but he was not nearly as famous as his central american counterparts. julia alvarez brought his reign of terror a little more into the light with her book (later made into a movie), "In the Time of the Butterflies."
nearly 250 haitian students study in our
schools. some are documented. some are not.

trujillo was a terrible man - he ran the country with an iron fist: killing those who opposed him, robbing those he deemed too rich and raping women who denied him. but, most accounts leave out his most atrocious deed - the mass killing of haitians living in the dominican republic. 

there is a deep and troubled history on this island - one that goes back to the original colonists raping the island, divvying it up for the kingdom of god (and queen isabella). it is sad and sordid. and the tensions that existed then, exist still. 

there is no easy way to sum up hundreds of years of hatred and fear.
and in order to understand the problems that this island is facing today, it is necessary to understand a little bit of the history. and i don't have that for you. 

what i have, is an incomplete, outsider's understanding of two groups of people who have been taught to fear and hate each other. some of it is systematic and institutionalized. some of it is personal. all of it is frightening.

in the past few months, the dominican government passed a new law deeming any child born to non-dominican parents un-documentable in this country. the law is fair, as all sovereign nations have the right to make and enforce laws that they see fit. immigration is a significant problem and this law seeks to reduce some of the problems associated with immigrants. what is bizarre about the law is that it is retroactive to the year 1929. 

any child born since 1929 to illegal immigrants are no longer considered dominican citizens.
we are now stripping human beings of citizenship to the only country they have ever known, denying them the basic human right of documentation. 

social justice groups around the world have risen up. it's an embarrassment to the world! it's a shame! it's ridiculous! how dare those dominicans? how dare those haitians?

church service in creole.
and while the social justice groups argue amongst themselves and the news reporters wax poetic on a subject they really don't understand - children are being pulled from schools. adults are hiding in their houses. the reverse rush across the border is intense. 

people are scared.
real. live. people. both dominican and haitian. frightened for their futures. wondering what all of this hatred might lead to.

it was not all that long ago that trujillo pulled a similar stunt. except, instead of veiling it in constitutional legalese, he called on the citizens of this great nation to kill their brothers and sisters. the test, to prove that "light skinned haitians" and "darker skinned dominicans" were not lost, was to have them say perejil. it is the spanish word for parsley and difficult for creole speakers to pronounce. if they failed the parsley test, they were most likely slaughtered. conservative estimates for the parsley massacre are 20,000 dead in less than five days. 

as long as we continue to teach our children fear - fear of things that are different, fear of differences that really just don't exist - we will continue to see laws put into action that allow us to continue to live in fear. we will just perpetuate hatred, because, after all, hatred springs from fear. 

violence against haitians, especially in regions close to the haitian/dominican border, has escalated since the court ruling to uphold this law. at least one haitian man was lynched, supposedly while authorities watched on impotently. however, i urge you to be careful of news reports that are over-dramatic representations of what is happening. several articles were published on cnn ireport that were outright fabrications. check facts. 

a beautifully written book about the parsley massacre can be found here (though i am sure there are more. and of course, julia alvarez's in the time of the butterflies is a nice story about the overthrowing of trujillo). 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

urban menagerie.

we live in a fairly urban neighborhood. i mean, i don't really know what qualifies for urban anymore - since suburban doesn't really quite exist here - but i'd qualify us as fairly urban, nonetheless. houses are pretty close to each other, we have mostly reliable public services and bad roads. a decent amount of traffic passes through.  we know some of our neighbors and i feel safe with the kids riding their bike in front of the house. public transit is a short walk to the corner.
we definitely do not live in the campo

our backyard is filled with animals that most north americans associate with farming. we have chickens and roosters, quails. there are some morning doves and, now, two cockatoos. we have a dog, and there are cats that come to visit fairly frequently. 

just the other day, on my way to work, i saw two men leading two, humongous hogs down the avenue. i really want to snap a photo, but i was driving and i'm learning how to be better at paying attention to the road and not taking pictures.

these two love birds hung around for awhile. i think amalio caught them at some point and then released them.
this is chicken-chicken who was tragically murdered by a cat not too long ago and some of her many babies.
we had rabbits for a few days, but they were ill and died pretty quickly. i guess that's what you get when you buy a rabbit from the butcher.

what has been most impacting for me is the amount of horses in our immediate area. our yard is large, but definitely not large enough to maintain a horse. there are quite a few horses that walk up and down our street on a regular basis and a donkey that is often "parked" in front of school.

this is a video i took at school of an impromptu horse race. boggles my mind every time.