Sunday, October 30, 2011

Milestone: She's Circled the Sun!

Amelie, our little friend, has jumped--eyes wide--into her second year of life. She arrived to our island adventure a baby, without distinguishable words, traveling on hands & knees. Before our eyes, she has become a toddler--a child. Ti Ami is forming recognizable words. Uncle Josh swears she formed her first sentence just the other day. She's walking! Had her parents posted the video publicly, this kids' first steps would have gone viral. We laughed, we cried and spontaneous applause followed. Ami did a double fist pump to seal the deal.
Last weekend, we celebrated her first birthday, Caribbean style (read: music, dancing, laughter and sweat). Forgive the appalling lack of photographic evidence for a fiesta that spanned many hours. I prefer to party without camera in hand. Company and dancing were good.

A fellow baby buddy, sweet Ricardi, sits on his beautiful auntie's lap enjoying the festivities.
How does a one-year-old open gifts? With help.
I'll call Grandma Mary right away!
Grandma Miche joined us for the celebration.
Zora: "Holy cow! That's a big piece of cake!" You're one now, Amelie, let me introduce you to fire and refined sugar.
Girl done good.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hang it with Reverence

Josh, gem of a human that he is, usually does all the laundry. I hate doing it. Perhaps that verb is a tad strong, but I do find it a difficult task. I'm always afraid I'm going to break the washer, ruin our clothes and flood the house with detergent. And I can't reach the clothes line very well either. Last weekend, however, I overcame my fears of absolute failure and washed three loads! (Applause) I found hanging the laundry to dry a meditative experience of all things. I felt light afterwards. Happy. Calm. As if I'd summoned all my virtues to complete the dreaded chore. Check it out (Warning to families: pictures of underwear below):

I hung my husband's shirt.
With loyalty.

I hung his boxers with happiness and in the spirit of service.

I hung his shorts with detachment. Our towels with humility.

I hung his pants with diligence and joy.

I hung Max's shirts with sacrifice and hope.

And Spongebob Squarepants underwear should only be hung with friendship.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oh, hello October

I realize that we are, in fact, in the tail-end of October. But only on an intellectual level do I concede this point. October means something entirely different than what I'm experiencing now. My senses are telling me its still July. I continue to eat gorgeous avocados, huge papayas and coconuts straight off the tree. The leaves are all the same color as they were four months ago. The sun shines brightly for the same number of hours that it did four months ago. Yesterday I had back sweat it was so hot. Forget about Fall sweaters, the fans are still working overtime and I'm not even using a top sheet at night.
I called my dad on Thursday to wish him a happy birthday. "Hey dad, sorry I didn't send you anything. Normally I would have, but I didn't realize it was October already," I confessed. He laughed. But then again, he always does.
In fact, the only sign of October in this entire city is in McDonalds where the Happy Meals come in Halloween candy buckets. I haven't been to McDonalds, but the remnants of a visit are in my home. Otherwise, all the stores are full of what they've been full of since September 15th: Christmas. Yup. They take down their Back-to-School displays and out come all things Christmas. A mere three and a half months ahead of time.
All other indicators of October are in the online world where friends from home share pictures of themselves jumping in leaves, carving pumpkins and talk about cuddling up with their kids at night.
Cuddle? Are you crazy? Zora fell asleep on my chest yesterday and my thought process went something like this: Oh sweet Zora. You won't be doing this anymore sometime soon. You're getting so big. I brushed her hair away from her face. I paused to focus on her breathing in cadence with mine. Good Lord, this is hot. I hope I can get her off of me without waking her. And then I rolled her off.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Campo Visit

I woke early on Saturday after only a few hours sleep. I couldn’t contain my excitement. We were going to meet a couple who I had met online about six months earlier. Internet friends! Yet another first for me. I’d contacted them while still in the States because of what they’ve dedicated their lives to here in the DR: health and education of the poor. A Mother’sWish Foundation is currently in flux as they transition to a new primary focus. The transition, however, is excellent news and a testament to their hard work.
Their initial undertaking offered a clinic which served the five surrounding communities—clusters of homes, really—which focused in delivering basic services related to children’s & women’s health and the most common diseases. Just under a decade later, they’ve found that the instances of disease have plummeted. The most frequent cases they now see are common colds. They’re in maintenance mode and finding, for the first time in a long time, extra time on their hands. Through home visits, workshops, organized surveys, and a great deal of blood, sweat & tears, these kind souls have made immense impacts. And continue to do so.
The project currently underway has zeroed in on the need to educate children—a gap they’ve seen in the community. And, quite frankly, the country. A current hot topic around the nation is that of the promised 4%. The government passed into law a dedication of 4% of the budget for education. Dominicans are upset, and rightly so, that the government continues to pass budgets that don’t abide by this law. The percentage of the Dominican GDP that is spent on education in comparison to other countries, rates #122 of #132. With so little focus on education and far less material resources available, you can imagine the levels of literacy and ability to problem solve among the populace in general leave much to be desired. In steps their pre-school to give the children a good start and a community center which will offer homework help and after-school programs. They don’t want to replace what is in place, they want to strengthen it. Practical. Doable. Genuinely supportive and sustainable. I’m in love.

My gua-gua neighbor brought several bags of chicks on our trip. He tried to convince me to take one or two home.

Max & Josh walk down the path to Pequenos Pasitos.

This is the campo. My <3 is here.

A room in the preschool.

Outside what was the clinic and will now become the community center where students can do homework and find many a book to lose themselves in.

The pre-school playground.

Through the gate and into their playland.
Diego decided to train a new generation of drivers complete with instructions on how to pass properly. The current situation on the roads is atrocious. Check back in 15 years.

A playhouse complete with bananas growing in the background.

Rita and Diego are growing a variety of things on the property including cacao.

Lunch was phenomenal and made by a woman now known as "Chez Chemai"

Zora contemplating her next move outside the pre-school playground.

Walking through the farm towards the meadow.

The entrance to the meadow and home to two cows, several goats, a bunny rabbit and a cat or two.

Not to mention the chickens.

Josh and Zora walking down the hill toward the treehouse.

Goat with the best hairdo ever. Hands down, diva. I bet she uses avocado shampoo.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I've Converted

Growing up, there was a chip cupboard in my home. Yes, an entire cupboard dedicated to the storing of a variety of chips from tortilla to blue corn, cheetoes to doritoes. To this day, chips make me think of home and of my father—the closet chip lover. Honestly, I hadn’t seen the immense appeal other than their ease of consumption. Chips, for me, have always been a conduit for whatever it was that I really enjoyed. Until now. I have found, in the Caribbean, the chips that were made for me. I am now a chip lover. These small, delightful chips are pleasing not only to my highly evolved taste buds, but are also beautiful and handcrafted with such precision, I’m amazed with each symphonic crunch.

Plantain chips are muy delicious.

Just look at that craftsmanship!
 Want to make me happy? Get me a bag of these. I'm a simple person.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Coincidence? I Think Not.

Not one hour after leaving my Immigrant-Unappreciation meeting, an email arrived in my inbox. It was written with respect and love and grace and a plea.
Someone needs me. And wants to employ me. And doesn't care if my passport country matches the country that I'm in. Its a beautiful feeling.
Unfortunately, I cannot publicly announce who it is I'm working for, but you may know that I will be teaching English to university students. Legally. And not with the mafia. For yet another drastic pay cut from my current position, but that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that I have a job which I've accepted and will bring us through next semester.
As can be heard all over campus by dear English language learners "Thanks God!"

And the Clouds Parted

After meditating on the meeting with my director and all its disturbing points, I had decided a few things. My thought process went something like this:
If the university really expected us to get our cedulas within two short months, surely they would help. If the university had thought about what it will mean for their English department when 1/4 of their staff--the native speaking portion--are forced to leave, surely this would be of immense concern to them. If the university truly wanted us to do this, they would overturn a few policies, like the one that doesn't allow us to miss a single class, so we could make the several weekday trips to the capital that are a necessary part of the process. The list went on in this vain, me retrieving details from the last two months and analyzing them for some kind of connected meaning.
In the end, after a surprisingly calm and short reflection session, I decided one of two things would happen. Either the university would do some back-pedaling and give us some more time, accepting an 'in process' letter instead of the whole shebang or we wouldn't have jobs for next semester. Translation: I continue working happily and I will either have a three-week vacation or a four month respite.
Then I opened my email.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I am an Illegal Immigrant

On Friday, all the teachers in the department had a 15-minute, impromptu meeting. Excusing us, the director said, "Everyone but the foreign professors are free to go." We sat, a handful of us in the department, uncomfortable as people finished their conversations and the room slowly cleared. My stomach growled. Would this take long?
Then I saw her face. This was serious.
"How many of you have a cedula*?"
Crickets. Nobody.
She continued, "At my meeting on Tuesday I was told that I cannot renew anyone's contract for next term who does not have a cedula."
There was a collective inhale as the information sunk in and settled, heavy on our chests. A long pause, time standing still.
The questions ensued and, yes, even the professor who had been fighting for residency for several years, has been teaching at the university for quadruple that time and is married to a Dominican would not be able to sign a contract for the coming semester. Even him.
Even the professor who is in the process of becoming a citizen (not just a resident!) would not be able to return next semester if she didn't have that special number in time. In process doesn't count.
Since yesterday's meeting I've been to the immigration office twice and to see an immigration lawyer once. The verdict? That process takes, on average, six months. All that running around was just to confirm what we all already knew: mission impossible.

*A cedula is basically the equivalent of a social security number.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zora Needs a Vacation

Its tough to be four, after all. The mounting responsibilities. The long nights. The countless thankless tasks selflessly completed throughout the day. Zora was due for a vacation. And like many of us would do in her position, she opted for the beach. Max arranged everything. Right down to her reading material and the carefully squeezed lime in her drink.

Zora takes in the fluorescent glow while reading National Geographic en espanol. It can't all be brain candy.
She pauses, long enough to smile at her adoring fans (one of them working overtime).

Monday, October 10, 2011

La Escuelita

Josh is amazing. This here is his classroom. That's all I have to say about that.
The kids' world map, postcards and homemade snakes. Of course.

Where the magic happens.

Daily calendar complete with kiddy sentences detailing their activities.

The whole, glorious set-up. Isn't my husband wonderful?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Local Undergarments

Josh continues to sweat profusely on his way to work. Twice a week, he reports for his duties, drenched in his own excretions, completely nullifying his pre-work shower. He thought perhaps an undershirt would help, though the thought of extra clothing in this heat is almost unbearable. In steps the white tank top (also known by another name which Josh will not allow me to mention here).
We headed down to the store to check out the local underwear scene. Being the hippy Oregonian, bran-muffin loving people we are (really it's just me, but I'm pulling Josh into this one), we opted to buy the local brand, made right here in the DR.
"Josh, look at this," I held up a package of leopard print briefs, "This brand would never survive in the States. I mean, who do we know who would be lured by this name?"
We laughed and did what any self-respecting consumer would do. Put it in our shopping cart.

Yup. My husband is a baby tiger.

Josh is now, officially, a sexy man underneath his clothes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Upon arrival, Josh and I noticed something unusual here as compared to good 'ol Woodburn. There seemed to be more English here: in the signs, in the media and in people's language. Following are some of my favorite examples:

Not long ago, I was in need of some cranberry juice. I had no clue the translation for cranberry. "How do you say cranberry in Spanish?" I asked one of the other professors. "Cran-berrrri," her mouth turning upward as she drew out the last syllable.

I called to have pizza delivered the other night. After the long list of questions that Pizza-Man had for me (i.e. he needed my first and last name to be able to deliver to me even though we paid with cash), he asked: "Para recoger o para de-lee-veri?"
I cracked a wide grin, then attempted to mimic his accent, "Para de-lee-veri."

Assigned to each of the buildings on the university campus is a man in uniform whose duties include securing the building, opening locked classrooms and, in general, letting his presence be known. A few weeks ago, I asked a friend what these men were called. "Watcheeman," she responded, quite seriously. "Watchy-what?" I was confused. I'd never heard any word similar to this in Spanish. "Yeah," she nodded, hearing the wheels turning in my little head, "and for short, they're just called 'watchy'." Awesome.

This is how you express extra excitement here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Like It When You Call Me Big Hass-A

As mango season is coming to a close here (Martine wipes a tear from her eye), we are still enjoying incredibly large, beautiful avocados. They are a' plentiful. The one I cut up for dinner last night, although not technically of the Hass variety, reached celebrity status in our home. Everyone wanted their picture taken with it (or I surprise attacked Paparazzi-style, either way). As Big Hass-A is no longer, these photos are quite valuable and we expect proper ceremony and reverence when viewing them. Thank you.
Big Hass-A with Max on the night of the sacrifice.
Revealing himself to the world (or me).
Jesse in on the action.
Yes, Big Hass-A was bigger than Amelie. She's not as small as she used to be!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Almost Costco: The Case of the Sample-Lady

For the short term that I lived alone in college, I had myself a Costco membership. My days went something like this: skip breakfast, go to class, head to Costco, consume all possible samples for lunch, mosey home and visit friends with families at an hour when they were always coincidentally eating dinner. In my fridge was a cube of butter (some staples are just that necessary) and in my freezer, a pint of ice cream (y'know, for random guests on a Saturday night). 
We've just returned from a shopping trip to PriceMart, Costco's equivalent here on the island. Had I attended college here, I might have starved. Apparently the training manual for Caribbean Sample Ladies (yes, all female here) reads differently than in the States. All the tables are set up the same, the uniforms with hairnets, little garbage cans carefully placed next to them. There seems to be, however, a surprising lack of samples. The first Sample-Lady we passed by was leaning her elbows on the sample table, chewing her nails next to four large green canisters of Parmesan Cheese. That's it. Curious. We saw more. Sample-Lady after Sample-Lady staring off into the distance while standing next to a variety of random products gathering dust on their tables. Okay.
Towards the end of our shopping adventure, we actually found a diamond in the rough: Sample Lady with actual samples! Upon closer inspection, however, my appetite was curbed. Up for grabs were small, white crackers with a generous helping of mayonnaise on top. 
At least we can still get ginormous stock piles of toilet paper all in one go.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Headed Back to Oregon

Perhaps you're wondering why posts have been slow as of late. Well, you guessed it. Josh and the kids have embarked on an epic journey. They are currently walking back to Oregon.
On the Oregon Trail.
Via the glorious interwebs.
 Josh has resurrected a childhood favorite of ours: The Oregon Trail Game. Yes. Homeschool is awesome.