Friday, September 26, 2014

Budgets. (an opportunity to help!)

I love my job. It is stressful and crazy and sometimes irritating, but in the end, I konow that I'm doing something worthwhile. The best part has been that I'm not really responsible for "maintaining" our projects - I can't fundraise a dime to save my life - and I have a really hard time with the missionary culture of personal fundraising, so my salary helps me live within my means and not go overboard. (But that is probably a conversation we should have over coffee and not a monologue I should have on my blog).

Futuro Lleno de Esperanza has grown so much - three years ago we started with 23 kids. We now have 100, plus programs going on to enrich education in the whole community. The building of a new public school have us re-structuring to meet the needs of our people, but it's clear that FLE is really a benefit to our little piece of the world.

Whenever I think that we aren't doing a good job, or we aren't doing enough, I get reminded that even the little things make an impact.

Because of our growth, we are a little short on the budget for this calendar year. It's a seemingly irrelevant amount of money, but $900 we're short is needed to cover a ton of expenses.

Nine hundred dollars could check off any of the following list items in our budget:
1 month of teacher salaries
3 months of medical insurance for the entire staff
3 months of paid maternity leave for pre-school teacher and her substitute 
6 months of specialty classes (karate, art)
50 school day lunches
69 days of nutritional snack
So, as much as I hate fundraising, and I've said it here before that I hate using the blog to ask for help (I just hate asking for help, period).  We are  running an indiegogo campaign to try to raise the last few bucks that we need, and I'm asking you, blog readers and friends of the Dominican Republic, to consider donating a few (or many) dollars to help us continue offering quality, innovative education to a community in need. Your money will be put to good use, and every last cent that we receive (there are fees for the indiegogo campaign) will go directly to Colegio Futuro Lleno de Esperanza's school programs in Cienfuegos, Santiago! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This is the way we wash our clothes.

Santiago is experiencing a severe drought. It hasn't rained enough in months, and now we are feeling the effects of it here in the city. There is a lot to say about poor service management at the reservoir and wasteful habits of citizens, but it is too late really to fix those problems - we're in crisis mode now and the only thing that can really help is to get enough rain to start refilling the reservoir (in collaboration, of course, with water conservation education and a better water-distribution plan).

We started to feel the effects of the drought in May when the water supply for school was altered and we began to receive water two days a week instead of four. We felt it at the house in July when our 2,500 gallon cistern, a cistern that had only been less than half full when we moved in and when it was being cleaned, started to slowly empty. With as many people in and out of the house as we had this summer, it was drastic. We had to take measures to conserve the little bit of water we had left - we turned off the pump, took bucket showers and let the beautiful, lush green grass die a sad and thirsty death.

When the kids and I arrived home from vacation in the States, the cistern was still empty and there wasn't much hope that it would be full anytime soon. There was enough water every morning to refill what we had used the day before, but washing clothes in my wonderful automatic washing machine was just too much. We had to start washing Dominican-style.
(disclaimer: I was still washing sheets and towels in the automatic washer until it shorted out on me a few weeks ago, they're a pain to wash basically by hand. The automatic washer is not fixed, but still on limited use) 
The Dominican washer is a double barrel - one for washing, and one for spin-drying. The washing side gets filled with water, a little detergent and is set to "agitate" for 0-15 minutes. Theoretically after this step, you would wring (yes, hand-wring) the clothes and throw them in the spinner.

Our spinner is broken.
Of course it is.

So, we hand-wring a little harder and throw the clothes into a bucket of fabric softener water, hand wring again and then throw them into the clean water bucket for a last "rinse". After the clean water "rinse," the clothes get wrung out as best we can, and then hung on the line. On a good, sunny day, the clothes take an hour or two to dry - IF they went through the spinner. Hand-wringing is not nearly as effective and it feels like clothes are on the line for day. 
To be very honest, I hate (detest, abhor) washing clothes this way. It is a lot of work, especially when I have a *real* washing machine sitting silently next to me while I wring out underwear. But, I've come to the decision that it is important to teach the kids by example the importance of saving water - and hard work. Samil and Amely have always helped with the laundry process (in age-appropriate ways), but now that they are more involved, I see they (read: Amely) have really cut down on the costume-changes through out the day. 
Adiel started using cloth diapers this week, and washing diapers is a hassle even with an automatic washer. Knowing our water and washing situation, I researched and found a "hand-wash" tutorial for cloth that includes stomping the (pre-rinsed, not poopy) diapers in a washing bin. It seems kind of silly, but it's some exercise I've been able to add into my day and (for now) is kind of a fun way to break up the monotony of staying at home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feeding bellies.

For the first three years of Samil's life, I was a work-at-home-mama. It was nice. I liked it well enough, but when we moved, I was kind of glad that I'd have to go back to work outside of the home.

I make a mean home-made pizza - dough, sauce, the works.
I don't really like to cook.

I could keep my house spotless clean, craft up some beautiful decorations for each month and homeschool my kids like a boss. But the kitchen? Not so much.

I didn't know how to cook when I got married - blame it on my American-ness. I had a few specialty dishes up my sleeve for dinner parties, and a few things that I could pass off as edible - if I had a box mix of spices and a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce. I couldn't make rice. And my grandmom had to buy me one of those egg stones that tell you when an egg is hard boiled.

It was bad.

We're also really good at making fruit juices.
Not the green kind.
All of those pre-made spices and condiments are imported and expensive. If I was going to cook, I'd have to learn how to cook without the box. Which meant, realistically, I was going to have to learn to cook Dominican dishes - one, because the ingredients were most available and two, because someone was going to have to teach me. And (most) Dominicans only know how to cook Dominican food.

It was great fun in the beginning - I had a few lady friends who came over and showed me how to make the staples (it took me about 80 times to get the rice right): rice, beans and boiled meat. Once I had the basics, I took on some of the more complicated dishes. It was wonderful. We had delicious food on the table for lunch every single day. It was filling and mostly healthy.

I'm also pretty good at this
kind of cooking. This was a
birthday present a few years
ago. YUM!
The thing is, Dominican food is delicious, but it's not very varied. The daily meal gets mixed up: white rice with beans or a one-pot-rice & beans dish and chicken, beef or pork - but it all uses very similar seasonings. So, cooking and eating the same thing every day got old fast, especially because I don't really like to cook anyway. I always tried to mix it up, but when you are not a cook, it's hard.

When I did go back to work outside of the house, I had to hire someone to watch the kids and help out in the house. It was amazing - I no longer had to cook, because this person took care of it. Every day!

Except I've now been working for four years and let me tell you, rice and beans gets boring. Really boring. And because I don't want to eat rice and beans every day, I got into a habit of eatinhg something - anything - as I ran out the door to work.

I've also been known to whip up some baked goods.
Jae will hate me for posting this picture :)
Now I'm home and finally getting back into the swing of things and guess what? We're not eating rice and beans every day. I cook two or three days a week and someone else cooks the rest - and it is glorious. The problem?

I only really know how to cook four or five things that aren't rice and beans.

This blog post was/is just a really long, drawn out way to get your sympathy and have you send me easy recipes to try out.

Got one for me?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to feed your newborn.

Isn't this the most precious little face ever?

We didn't plan to have three kids. In fact, we were pretty done with two - I mean, it's been five years since we had a baby and we finally have two school-aged kids who are pretty independent.

We are thrilled for this new life, though, and he is pretty cute, so I guess we'll keep him. I mean, seriously, how cute is he?

Being pregnant had it's craziness, but having a newborn is just confusing as far as cultural norms go. I never know where I stand, and when I think that I'm doing things right, I get told that no, sorry, that's not the way to do it. I've mostly learned to turn off my ears when people start to give advice - not because I don't respect their opinions, but because in the end, we are the parents and we need to make the decisions that are right for us.

Amely's first day home.
And therein lies the rub. I am pretty well-saturated in information about what I believe. (Wow, that sounds pompous. It's not meant to be). I read a lot before making a decision. My husband is a crap-shoot. Sometimes he believes what the old-women say, and sometimes he gets on the internet and searches. So, one day he can be completely ¨Haha, so and so tried to get rid of hiccups by putting a thread on the forehead. Does that work?" And the next day, he'll be "OMG baby has hiccups, why didn't you put the thread on his forehead, that totally works. My grandmom told me."

I did get lucky in some respects - most Dominicans don't understand that exclusive breastfeeding is a real option for feeding a baby, but my in-laws are supporters of EBF mostly because it's all they've known. Their mom gave birth in a house with no electricity or running water and had no option but to breastfeed. The neighbor ladies divvied up the first 30 days of a baby's life and picked up the cloth diapers to wash in the river every day. No, I'm not joking.
Baby Samil

My two big kids were exclusively breastfed for one year and eighteen months (respectively). So far,
Adiel only knows the boob juice (well, except for the formula they forced on him in the clinic, but that's a story for another day).

The day I got home from the hospital, I started being force-fed malta with oatmeal, bacalao soup and chocolate de agua. I say force-fed, but the only really gross thing is the malta - it's got all the hops that beer has, but none of the delicious-ness of actual beer and none of the alcohol. Amalio put oatmeal in it which made it more drinkable, but still not enjoyable. Cod fish soup and hot chocolate made with water (not milk) are good. Not my favorite foods, but not terrible either. Milk production is serious business, and the food that is meant to help it along are all a mom is supposed to eat for the first few days.

I actually deal with the breastfeeding side-eye much better than I ever dealt with pregnancy advice (and MUCH MUCH better than I deal with other newborn advice), but it can get tiring. I imagine that the reason a lot of women don't even try to breastfeed here is because every five minutes someone is in your face with a new reason why breastmilk is terrible and how you're messing it up somehow.

My favorites:
+ You cannot eat or drink two hours before breastfeeding. The fat will leak into the breastmilk and cause baby to have green poop.
+ You can definitely NOT eat or drink WHILE breastfeeding because baby will probably die. (Or just get some crumbs on his head, but no big deal, right?)
+ You CAN drink alcohol while breastfeeding because beer helps production! Rum makes baby strong!
+ Baby cannot drink milk while laying down.
+ Baby cannot drink milk while sitting.
+ Baby can only be breastfed in traditional cuddle position.
+ If you are sad, angry, stressed, etc... your breastmilk will turn salty or sour and baby will not drink it.
+ If you are happy, breastmilk tastes delicious.
+ If you want to wean baby from breast, you need to express a cup of milk and throw it on the sidewalk so people can walk on it.
+ If you breastfeed at night, your baby will never.ever.sleep. (which might be true because Amely is still a terrible sleeper. Not Samil though. I guess it's a crap shoot).
+ Breastfed babies are bad sleepers in general.
+ Breastfeeding overheats babies. So, if it's hot outside when they are born, it is better to bottle feed to avoid death by overheating.
+ Only poor women breastfeed.
+ Women don't produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed anymore because they work outside of the house. (I've also heard that women have more c-sections nowadays because they spend so much time sitting down).

A friend of ours came over today to visit. He claims he didn't know the baby was born yet, but we'll forgive him because at least he came. A friend of mine was over as well, and as we sat on the porch, he leaned over - all confidentially - and whisper-asked me if it was true that we don't buy milk. Like it was a big secret. I told him no, and his jaw dropped. "Women still do that? Well you all can keep having kids because they don't cost you anything!"
I found this image on google. It's a snap-shot
from a YouTube video of a baby
playing with his milk cans from his first year.

The idea that "milking" a baby has to be expensive is rampant here. A lot of newborn feeding decisions get made based on social-appearances more than anything. It is a status symbol to be able to feed your baby can after can of expensive formula. And pediatricians don't help as Nestle, one of the worst formula-pushers in the market, has most of the medical professionals in their pocket.

I've seen pictures taken at first birthday parties with the child and every single can of formula he drank in his first year. A pyramid of milk cans. And that's great, but where do you store all of those cans for a year?? It's also great if you can afford suffi
cient milk for your child, but the fact is that milk is expensive and most people don't make enough money to properly feed their child with formula. Add that to a contaminated water supply and it can get tricky.

So, I stick to my guns and do what I have to do. Adiel has already gained enough weight to feel heavy in my arms and grow longer. I drink my tea while he suckles (I kind of hate that word), and eat toast that drops crumbs on his precious little head and all of the neighbors stare and whisper. But, I figure, they're going to stare and whisper anyway, so I might as well give them something to talk about.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

PRegnant in the DR

My doctor encouraged me to exercise during pregnancy - walking as he referred to it, because you know, chubbies don¨t actually exercise. It was the first thing, besides him talking me off the ledge of ¨my blood pressure will kill me¨ (completely unreasonable fear, I have LOW blood pressure), that endeared me to him and made me go back to a second pre natal care appointment instead of finding a different doctor.

See, pregnancy is complicated in the DR. There is a list - much longer than the one I published here - of things that can and cannot be done for nine months. Exercise of any kind is usually on the list of cannots.

translation: Dominican man, eventhough your belly looks like
this, remember that this parking spot is for pregnant women! 
It takes a long time to really figure out how to manage the cultural taboos. In fact, usually by the time one figures it out, there is a newborn in the picture.

Alas, not all things are bad for pregnant women in the Dominican Republic. There are many lovely things that happen here that are so ingrained in the culture that I didnt even realize how much I appreciated them until I returned to the states this summer and those things were non-existent.

In any parking lot, there are spots reserved for pregnant women - spots that are different from the handicapped spots. Well, to be fair, some are shared sports, but mostly there are spots just for preggos. And it is serious. I have been yelled at for parking in the spot during a rain storm by the security guard. Those spots are sacred. Pregnant women should not have to walk a mile to do their shopping.

Pregnant women also never have to wait in line. And if said pregnant woman tries to wait in line, at least three people will point out that she should not be waiting in line. Basically, if you have a baby in your belly, you can cut in any line you want. This is especially helpful in Wendys at lunch time and the bank on pay day.

When I was dating Amalio, we went to the movies. I had no idea about this no-line-waiting policy as it does not really exist in the USA. We were waiting to see a really popular Dominican movie - which means the line went around the block - and a pregnant woman was in front of us in the line, with her baby-daddy. The usher came to pull her out of line and let her into the theater, but wanted to leave the baby-daddy behind. The uproar was insane. The no-line-waiting applies to everyone in the pregnant womans  party and everyone knows it.

There is no lifting involved in pregnancy. Strangers on the street will offer to help you carry a piece of paper if you are pregnant. While this can be pretty annoying, it is really helpful on grocery shopping day or any day there is a lot of stuff to be moved. I have spent the last seven months soaking up the help with every thing from my purse to groceries.

Our neighbors have brought us so much food it is a wonder that I didnt gain 60 pounds during pregnancy. Any time they cooked something special, we got a plate. Any time someone thought I was looking particularly tired, a plate. And forget about it if I even mentioned a craving. Some of our ¨boys¨ went all over Santiago looking for a specific type of fried something or other when I mentioned I was craving it. And my brother in law spent more time walking to the intersection in the midday sun to buy me cold coconut water and pineapple. We are still getting a ton of food dropped off and Im not really sure when this falls off, but Im enjoying it while it lasts.

The Dominican Republic labor law protects pregnant women as well with a three month paid maternity leave AND a maternity stipend for one year for employed women.

I was completely shocked when we got back to the States this summer and I was expected to wait in line like there was nothing special about me. I had to park at the back of the parking lot on numerous occasions and no strangers offered to help me with anything. And I was very very pregnant. (My mom recently got her knee replaced. So, when we went to Walmart (I know, I know, dont judge me), she got a motorized cart and believe me, I stole that and drove around like people of Walmart because my feet and back and head hurt from being SO pregnant.)

So, while the rules are strict and kind of bizarre, Id say pregnant women are, in general, treated with the respect they deserve - I mean come on, we are carrying around the generation in our bellies!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Old wive's tales (or what not to do during pregnancy).

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Rousculp
I just had a baby. I just had my third child - all of whom were gestated and birthed in the Dominican Republic. You might think that I'd be used to everything that pregnancy entails. I'm not.

I worried about my blood pressure. Okay, I obsessed about my blood pressure. Some of that was physiological - I am overweight, a little over-stressed and (was) pregnant; but, mostly, I worried that there would be one comment, one sly little remark about how I was doing it all wrong that would throw me into a pre-eclamptic fit and I'd have to be rushed to the emergency room.

My doctor is amazing, though, and he assured me that my blood pressure was fine, that no, I was not diabetic and no, I was not going to be rushed to the ER because of someone's snark. (If you're in Santiago, I highly recommend Dr. Enrique Herrera for all of your gynecological needs. He's kind of dry and more than a bit weird, but he's dedicated and knowledgeable and just a good doctor. He also speaks enough English to consult, but not enough to fall into the "well, he's a good doctor because he speaks English category. He has an office in HOMS and one in Corominas). 

Pregnancy is a funny thing here in the DR. It is a rite of passage - a woman who does not want children is viewed as strange, and woman who cannot have children is pitied. It is an illness - pregnant women are supposed to adhere to a list of rules and regulations to guarantee a healthy baby that are archaic and often cruel. It is also empowering.

I did not know that I was pregnant until I was pretty far along - 12 weeks - and because of that, I was able to avoid some of the taboos. It was also because of that that some of my female friends were angry with me - they thought that I had purposely kept the information to myself for my first trimester to keep them out of the happiness loop. See, babies are a blessing and from day one of a missed period, people share their good news. The fact that I hadn't shared meant I was being stingy with the good stuff.

I was a *little* insane at the end of my pregnancy. I convinced
my brother to DRIVE with me and the kids from Chicago to
Philadelphia. That's 14 hours, folks. At seven.point.five
months pregnant. Here is a picture of me, the belly and
my amazing brother at the Bean. I broke *all* of the rules
on that trip - we must have walked one million miles.
I did, in fact, hold off a few weeks to tell people that I was pregnant because I was in shock. I also really wanted to go to the beach without the commentary. Like I said, there is a list of rules and regulations for pregnant women, and going to the beach is off-limits. The waves and the water and movement of the ocean will apparently cause miscarriage almost all of the time. All of those crazy gringoes at the beach on their baby moons are in for a terrible shock when they return to their homes.

Some of these rules and regulations are based on actual good advice, but they've been so that there is no real meaning left to them. Eating plantains is on the list of no-nos which is strange since plantains are a staple in the Dominican diet; however, plantains can cause constipation which is not something that you want to exacerbate during pregnancy. The rule makes sense, but when someone is yelling at you to stop eating plantains because OMG YOU'RE GOING TO HURT THE FETUS is just obnoxious and makes me want to eat more plantains.

I also teach (have taught?) pre-natal education classes - and while I really love doing that, sometimes I get so frustrated that I think my head might explode. There are DOCTORS telling (healthy, pregnant) women to refrain from normal, everyday activity because... well, I don't really know why.
I also went to the beach at about six months pregnant. I even
went in the water. No pictures of me in a bathing suit, but
these two cuties can make up for that.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of some of things I was told during my pregnancy.
*I'm marking with a star the things that are also old wive's tales that I've heard from North Americans as well. 
** A double star for things are based in fact

- You cannot swim in the ocean because the movement of the ocean can cause miscarriage.
- You cannot squat down (aplastarse in good Dominican-spanish) because the baby might fall out.
- You also should not bend over.
- You cannot exercise (aerobics or lifting) because it can harm baby

- You must not go out on "chilly" nights
- You must not carry anything over 2 pounds. **
- Foods to avoid: bananas and guanabana (soursop), will give (in-utero) baby "mucous" in lungs; plantains (cause constipation); fruits in general (will give mom  gestational diabetes); soda (will cause kidney problems** but coffee is okay)
- You need to give a pregnant woman all of her cravings or baby will be born with birthmark resembling said craving *
- Baby bellies are shaped differently depending on the sex of the baby *

It is interesting to note that in the United States, one of the beliefs for inducing labor is to go for a bumpy car ride. Here, it is not abnormal to see pregnant women on the backs of motorbikes until the very end of pregnancy (and motorbike rides are almost always bumpy!).

There are many, many benefits to being pregnant in the Dominican Republic (another post), but it's not for the faint of heart or the fast-tongued. It took me three pregnancies to learn to ignore snide comments on the street - and now, with a newborn I have to listen to a whole different stream of consciousness-baby-raising-advice.

What old wive's tales have you heard for pregnancy?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


It's been awhile since I last blogged.

This time I have a great excuse.

Presenting to you, blog readers,

Our new son. Born 25 August 2014 at 8:35am.
Weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds and measuring 23 inches long.

There are plenty of pregnancy and newborn anecdotes to share. But we'll get to that soon. I am recuperating from a c-section and getting into a routine with two kids and a baby! I do have three months of maternity leave to enjoy this.