Tuesday, March 27, 2012

They Say When It Rains, It Pours

As soon as we realized that our water had been shut off, it was the weekend. You know, that time when the water company is closed. Fortunately, our rental has a beautiful thing called a cistern. Back-up water, baby. But it only lasts so long without being refilled. We took to incredibly short showers, only flushing for numero 2, no laundry washing, no mopping and minimal dish washing. In brief, we were smelly slobs. A glorious weekend it was.
Monday morning, Josh called.
"Ummmm... our water has been shut off."
"Let me see. Yes, here you are. So you paid on Wednesday and your water was shut off on... Friiiiiday. Huh," WaterReceptionist said, slightly confused.
"Yeah. Can you send someone out?" Josh asked, happy that their system actually reflected reality.
"Will do."
We waited. And waited.
Somehow mid-afternoon arrived before the water guy. Josh called again.
"Yeah, someone was going to come and turn our water back on?" Maybe they got lost.
"You're on the list. They're on their way," responded WaterReceptionist.
Monday night, we started to check the cistern every hour, noting the sinking water level and the complete absence of OnHisWayWaterGuy. Tuesday was Naw-Ruz. One of the best days of the year--our Baha'i New Year and Josh's birthday. Its a celebrate good times kind of day. Naturally, we had invited a great many people for deliciousness and general merriment. Tuesday morning, Josh called. They're on their way, en camino in fact. We waited.
Two hours later, Josh went to make an in-person appearance. They couldn't witness his good looks or experience the full force of his charm over the phone. My friend Melanie came for a visit around noon with still no sign of OnHisWayWaterGuy.
"Calling does nothing," she said knowingly, in her eighth year of island life, "You need to just give any Dominican RD$150 and part of a PVC pipe. You'll have your water back in no time." Seems dodgy. And yet, a plausible solution.
Soon to be truly out of water and with a great many guests en camino to our house, that option was looking tempting. I went for my wallet. Josh arrived just in time to stop me. He's my Jedi Knight, fighting the temptations of the Dark Side to which I constantly succumb. We had paid our bill, though. Eventually.
Did he charm WaterReceptionist? Nope. Apparently the office closest to us is not the one that serves our area. Josh needed to go to the company's office located on the other side of town. Silly Josh.
We celebrated everything that night, except for an abundance of water. A sweet guest started washing dishes and I insisted (far more than I would have normally) that she stop. I didn't say why, but she finally conceded when I physically removed her from the kitchen.
Wednesday morning, Josh left the house before everyone was up (if you know Josh, you know that's serious). Two hours later, he dragged himself through our gate, sweating and exhausted. The heat has officially returned to our fair city.
"We'll see what happens," he took off his hat and plopped onto a chair with a glass of water, grateful to drink during the day again.
Six minutes later, OnHisWayWaterGuy transformed: HeIsHereWaterGuy! Everyone in the house came out to greet him and his speedy motorcycle with cheers and applause. Despite the shock of such a welcome reception, he managed to turn our water on again and happily showed Josh how to do it himself in the future. NiceWaterGuy.
Eight minutes after NiceWaterGuy left, we heard the familiar roar of a motorcycle approach. Another WaterGuy! We looked at him, confused (and hoping he wasn't here with bad news). Turns out, all WaterGuys are given a print-out of addresses where water should be shut off, turned back on, metered, etc.    and are then sent off into the big world. It seems that this system (the same to-do list for all WaterGuys printed once a week) allows them to not only complete work that is no longer necessary (we paid two days before they got around to our shut-off) but also to arrive at destinations that have already been serviced. Sweet.
As JohnnyComeLatelyWaterGuy sped off, laundry was started, the kiddy pool filled and I went for a Turkish bath. Whoosh, water! The conservation train could wait a day or two while we indulged, right?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

MysteriousMotorist and the Water Crisis

Paying bills is a part time job. Not the earning-money-to-pay-them part. That's far more pleasant in most cases. Actually paying the bills: water, electric, phone are all a black hole for time. And energy. And patience. Paying bills pre-island life was so simple that I can't even remember how we did it. Mailed a check? Paid online? Credit card over the phone? They were probably all options, none of which involved having to leave the house and all of which took mere moments of one's day. The kind people who wanted our money made sure it was extremely easy for us to appease their eager palms.
The 21st century has yet to arrive to many a company here on the island. I understand that the water company and the electric company have yet to find a better way for their customers to pay. They have a couple places in town where you can take your bill (you must have that precious paper, otherwise you can't be helped) and pay it. What has me utterly baffled, however, is why our phone company--the largest mobile phone network in the Americas--does not provide online bill pay. A company that offers internet service, mobile phones, cable, land lines, the gamut of tele-services can only accept in-person payments at one of their offices (and with the bill, of course). But I'm still not ready to talk about our cell phone saga.
Josh and I have been traveling quite a bit in the last few weeks and consequently have been neglectful of a few responsibilities. No worries, the children are fine. We have, however, run into a slight hiccup with one of our bills. We were home, we forgot. We were out of town, we couldn't. And the cycle continued until the threat came. 'Twas careless, indeed. Martine, our loving housemate, called since we were out of town. Again.
"They came to shut off the water," she said, gently.
"Oh geez! Can you pay it? I'll pay for a taxi there and back even. We'll owe you big time."
"Sure thing." And we hung up the phone, relieved that someone in our household is responsible.
She went on Wednesday and paid our bill. Done. Water crisis averted.
On Friday, as we crossed back through the country on our way back to Santiago, a motorcycle pulled up to our house. Martine, happily preparing breakfast for the wee one, noticed him. But MysteriousMotorist never said anything and stayed outside the gate working on something in the sidewalk. The gardener from next door who we've employed a handful of times noticed the motorist struggling and helped him out. Then MysteriousMotorist vroomed off as suddenly as he'd appeared, never removing his helmet. Huh.
Water. Shut. Off.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How Not to be a Spoiled Brat, and Other Mysteries (by Josh)

     I’m not sure why, but this year’s Fast  has seemed a bit harder than usual.  It may be due to the heat, as I’m usually fasting in a place where it’s rarely above 60 degrees in March.  It may also have something to do with not working outside the home, where one can become more fully distracted by daily duties.  Whatever it is, I can't seem to stop fantasizing about burgers, Nachos Bell Grande and milkshakes.  But it's also gotten me thinking more about the significance of the Fast and just what I should be learning from it, chiefly, appreciation.
     This has actually been a topic firmly on my mind as of late.  The other day Max had a big fit over washing a few of his own dishes and all I could think of was a story told by a friend of mine.  This friend hails from Haiti, but now lives in the Dominican Republic.  I asked him, one of the first times we met, how long he’d been in this country and just how he got here, and his answer has stuck with me since.  It went something like this: 
My father died when I was 14.  Before that, he had supported me, so I could go to school.  But since he died, I had no one, so I came here to live with my sister and brother.  I started by shining shoes on the street, but eventually moved up to my current position, doing occasional yard work, and this is much better.
     Now, as you might be able to guess, the “occasional” nature of his work is not by choice.  This is the same young man who came by our house mid-morning one day to say hi.  I was making breakfast for the kids, so I asked him if he’d eaten.  His reply was: “Nope, I haven’t found work yet today.”
     These two comments were so incredibly poignant and loaded to me.  The way he talked about his father, it seemed that he had no notion at all of deserving to be taken care of and schooled by his parents.  Rather, he appreciated the period of time when he’d been lucky enough to be supported so he could go to school and get some basic skills, but that dream had ended long ago.
     And so you might be able to appreciate, as it were, why this would be blazoned in my mind as I stare, lovingly frustrated, at my wonderful offspring who doesn’t even want to wash his own damn dishes.  “You’re welcome for the food,” I replied to him, “and you’re welcome for all the other dishes I just washed.  Have fun, and rinse them well.”
     So it is that that particular situation ended, but the issue continues to spin around in my head: How can we teach our kids to truly appreciate all that they have?  Hardship and prayer are the first things that spring to mind.  Rebecca and I were elated when we took a trip back to the U.S. and the kids were mesmerized by soft beds and warm showers (we’d been roughing it for a while, but haven’t for quite some time).  Or the hand full of times that they’ve gotten excited because the lights sprang to life when the switch was flipped.  The most touching was Zora’s prayer one evening, on a day that we’d passed a child begging at an intersection: “Thank you God for giving me a mom and a dad to take care of us.”  
     However, it just still doesn’t seem to be enough, and in a place where so many of the people living at our “economic level” have maids, it makes me ever more vigilant in trying to protect them from being completely spoiled. 
     For example, we signed the kids up for an art class at a local museum.  This class was a blast, but an expensive one, and so I shouldn’t have been so surprised when the first class finished and all the kids were sent away without having to clean up after themselves at all.  I made sure that my kids stayed behind to help with the cleanup, but when I queried the teacher about it, she just told me that it was the assistant’s job, the reason she was there.  No thought seemed to have been given to the need for kids to learn not just art, but basic skills like cleaning up (I’m sure the irony of reading this from me is just killing anyone who knows me, but try not to get any tears on your keyboard from the laughter).
     As I cherish another swig of sweet H2O, which I will voluntarily forgo, along with food, during the daylight hours over the next few days, I hope and pray that I will find an effective way for my children to learn to appreciate all that they have, short of tragically losing it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Like Taking Candy From Strangers (by Josh)

           One of my favorite things about the Dominican Republic is the very sincere adoration for children.  Kids are seen as gifts from God, sweet and innocent, a pleasure to have around even with all the noise they tend to make.  Coupled with this love for little ones is a touching tendency toward spontaneous generosity.  The other day we were walking down a dirt road that traverses a little village we frequent out in the mountains.  As we passed by a certain house, we were greeted with the usual wave of “God-bless-those-babies” and we smiled and returned the blessing.  We continued on our way, but the little old lady who lived there called us back because she’d seen Zora pointing at something in her front yard.  “Does she like this tree?” she asked us, referring to a small potted tree, and implying that because our kiddos are just so sweet they could have it.  We thanked her for her kindness, but assured her it wasn’t necessary.  Definitely the first time I’ve been randomly offered a plant from someone’s yard. 
     Not five minutes later, while waiting for the mini-bus back to the city, a woman ambled by us and, upon seeing our kids, instinctively broke off pieces of the crackers she was eating to share with them.  This was interesting because it was in front of the same house where we often wait for the bus and the woman who lives there always invites us (and others) onto her porch, and offers us seats and sweets and a little conversation while we wait.  I once told her that were I to go wait for the bus on someone’s porch in the U.S., they’d call the cops, and she just laughed at our barbarism.
     A week later, we found ourselves in the bus station in Santo Domingo, on our way to visit some Baha’i friends in San Juan de la Maguana.  I went with the kids to pick out a snack at the small cafeteria upstairs, and while there Zora was offered a little cup of juice by a nice man who spoke a bit of English.  I noticed that he had just finished pouring it from the same container he had poured his own drink from, so we took the cup and thanked him for his generosity.  We headed downstairs and I then explained to the kids that sweet as he was, we don’t ever consume drinks from strangers in bus stations.  We swung by a sink to pour out the juice and it was then that I realized that Zora hadn’t paid attention to my earlier explanation.  She began to weep profusely as I dragged her back, bawling, to her waiting mother. 
     Rebecca asked what was wrong, and just as I began to explain to her what had happened, a young man sitting across from us expressed his sympathy with a couple of rolls of Sweet Tarts!  The irony was overwhelming, and, laughing, I grabbed Max to head for a pre-bus-ride bathroom trip.  Now, luckily (especially given the fascinating lack of any toilet seats in public restrooms), there is always an attendant or two in the bus station bathroom keeping the place clean, handing out paper towels and selling gum and candy.  No sooner had we finished washing our hands did another young guy offer Max candy from that stash! 
     I had Max pocket that too, with a muchas gracias to boot, and we headed out to catch our bus with a question reeling in my mind:  How do you teach your kids to be trusting people, yet not naive fools? Well, maybe I’ll figure that one out next week.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Blackout with My Pants Down

I know its supposed to be very dark at various points during any normal movie-going experience, but this one caught me off guard. With my pants down, in fact. Quite literally.
Seems I have a knack for being naked in unusual circumstances. #islandlife
Josh and I thoroughly enjoyed a much-needed and long-awaited night out. You heard it here, folks. Date night. A leisurely dinner, a stroll, mandatory ice cream consumption and a movie. Typical, I know. But for us, it was a welcomed rarity.
As the credits rolled, I leaned back in my chair to debrief some of the movie with Josh when, not 12 names down the list, the film was shut off and the theater went silent. Odd, I thought. Explains some piracy issues. No credits.
We left with the rest of the quickly fleeting crowd and--since we're getting ever-closer to that age--stopped for a bathroom break before heading home.
Pants down, mid-stream in the stall, the lights went out. I waved my arms, hoping for a sensor to recognize me. No such thing. Then, because we'd just seen a particularly frightening movie I thought, What if someone is in here to beat the crap out of me?! And I began to yell: Hello? Hello!? You know, I like to give my assaulter an easy target. Hey you! I'm over here!
Then the lights outside the bathroom went out too.
Blindly, and quick as a whip, I searched for toilet paper, wipe, wipe, where is the flusher?! swoosh. Frantically found the lock, and cautious of what was on either side of me, slipped out of the stall, zipping up my pants; it could be a whole gang wanting to jump me, after all. Clearly alone, I moved swiftly to the door because I didn't want to be locked in there all night. I'm not 17 anymore. Heck, I'm not even 27 anymore. The thought of "free" popcorn and Snickers all night just makes me cringe in disgust.
Bee-lining for the exit, I saw an employee-looking-person holding some kind of remote and a handbag. I called out: How can you just shut all the lights off when there are still people in here?!  EagerEmployee punched a button on the remote lighting the bathroom and shrugged, obviously embarrassed as she clutched her purse, ready to go home. Washed my hands, drie--nope, no towels left. Shook my hands and walked out. Turns out, the lights had gone out on Josh too. He'd just kept peeing while I had attempted to save our lives.
As we finally made it safely out, we laughed realizing we'd finally found the one exception to infamous Dominican tardiness: leaving work.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Danger’s Going Nuts—Or is it the other way around? (by Josh)

           Our dear feline friend, Danger the Cat, (or Danger el Gato, for our Spanish speaking friends) is about to reach a great milestone in his life: castration.  It hurts just to type the word.  But alas, Danger has been propositioned one too many times.  The visits by howling, horny harlots began before he could do any damage with his little testes.  I suppose I can’t blame them for being so attracted to his charming little self—his first name is Danger after all. There was even the time when one of them came into our living room to take care of business.  After I’d chased her away, I found poor little Danger cowering under the couch.  Girls?!?  Yuck!!
           Nevertheless, every mammal reaches puberty eventually.  I’m certainly glad that it will take a bit longer before my offspring get there, but I believe Danger has officially arrived.  This morning, I was awoken by loud meowing outside my window.  My first thought was: shut up!  My second thought was: If you’re so hungry, go eat a lizard!  However, when I finally got up and headed to his room with him to fill his food bowl, I found everything locked up just as I’d left it the night before (we’ve kept him locked in a back room at night since his nocturnal wire-chewing incident). 
           “What on earth?” I mumbled to myself.  “How did you get out, cat?”
           Danger refused to tell me, so I had to piece the story together myself.  There are some slats on one of the windows that can be opened fairly easily if pushed, and I hadn’t quite closed them all the way.  Somehow he had managed to perch on a tiny ledge, push the window open and escape to the glorious freedom of a street cat, fighting and fornicating all night along, then heading home to be fed by his humans and nap on our clean laundry. What a life.
           I knew it was time to make the call, so I rang our local veterinarian.  It went a little like this: “Hi, I’m Josh, Danger the cat’s owner.”  “Hola, buenos dias.”  Grudgingly, I said, “I’d like to make an appointment to neuter him (castrarlo).”   “¿Una cita a las cuatro? (An appointment at 4?) Sorry, we close early on Saturdays.”  Argh, she’s gonna make me say the word again.  “No, to castrate him.”  “Oh, okay. Bring him in Monday morning.”
           And just like that, Danger’s life as a manly cat shall come to an end.  I wish I’d had a camera rolling when I told Max what would happen to Danger.  “So, Danger’s going to have his testicles cut off on Monday.”  “What?!??!?” Max blurted out, hand covering his face in horror.  “WHY???” 
           I explained, and he seemed to understand, mostly.  One little Danger is quite enough for this neighborhood.  And so we bid you adieu, dear testicles.  May our couches live long and prosper, and may our ankles be safe from the interminable sneak attacks.  Sorry little guy.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Makeover. Serious.

You work with what you got and in our case it wasn't a lot. But we did what we could and you know it was good. (Shout out to K'naan) Fortunate for me, K'naan's topic and mine are completely different.
Today the gang headed on down to the Baha'i Center to offer a wee bit o' service. Five hours. Measly in the grand scheme of things, really. Unfortunately, I forgot to take the ever-sought-after before pictures, so you'll get the mid-process views first, then the after photos, which we all love. Who doesn't love a good before & after? Transformation, after all, is why we're all here.
Anywho, we focused all of our efforts on two specific rooms that join our main meeting room and the hallway to the kitchen. Longish-Sidenote: Dear Reader, Please note that the two transformation rooms I am about to show you have been used as storage. These were not in regular circulation and were often used to store boxes of books, stacks of chairs and random acquisitions of our beloved Center. Do not think for one nanosecond that the sweet Baha'is of Santiago are neglectful, for this would not be true. On the contrary, I have never met a harder working bunch of people (6 day work weeks, I tell ya!). Their focus is dead set on the happiness of souls and unity in the community. So, we were happy to do this (and surely hope they will be too) since we are unemployed and entirely available for five hours on a weekday.
That said, here goes.
Porridge and prayers for the first day of the Fast began our day.
We arrived at the Center uber-eager to attack the clutter-dust-storm and I completely forgot to take the before pictures. Just imagine about thirty minutes of fury right here. Yeah. That was us. Because we're awesome.

Just in case you need to type a note to 1983 because you miss it.
For the times when you miss floppy disks.
That blue thing is a sleeping bag. You know, for the nights when you just can't pull away from your filing cabinets.
Table o' books.
Many of them rotting from some kind of wetness they encountered some time ago, unbeknownst to most.
We love boxes.
And we love to stack them.
Look out for this bookshelf. It got the biggest makeover.
We encountered a great many amigos on our cleaning journey.
This sucker, I kid you not, was too big to hide behind the filing cabinet.

It also took Josh three stomps to kill it, mostly. These men take their work seriously.
The ultimate servin' Mama!
I found 1973. We had a good laugh together until I admitted that I wasn't born until 1980.
Zora decides that even the tropical air outside is too dusty for her delicate senses. She's crazy.
Max found an armored insect.
BattleBug wasn't so ferocious on its back.
My sweet little servin' offspring. 
What gems will we find here?
A book printed in 1946, before the Faith was even in this country! Kewl.
Well, you've earned it. You've arrived at the coveted after photos. Take a gander. I hope they speak for themselves.

Please, stay a while.
Happy Fasting, y'all! I hope its filled with all kinds of goodness.

This is Peanut-Butter & Jelly's 100th post.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Photolog: Ayyam-i-Ha!

Ayyam-i-Ha is a special time of year--days outside of time--when Baha'is prepare for our 19 day Fast, which begins tomorrow. You can read more about it here, here, and even here. It is a time not only of gift-giving and celebration, but one in which we dedicate special time to serve others (more so than normal) and offer charity. We donated to our favorite NGO of the year (and you can too if you want to be cool like us, because these people are the real deal), gave to needy individuals, offered gifts and general glee to our friends, and even had a small get together. Tomorrow, we are headed to the local Baha'i Center where we will do some much needed cleaning and organization (plus we owe them) in service to our community. As tomorrow will, no doubt, result in some hilarity to be shared here, please enjoy a small compilation of our Ayyam-i-Ha festivities, most of which, don't need explanation:

This goddess of the kitchen made apple and pumpkin pies.

We made a tactile box of sorts (loads of colored rice & containers inside the better half of an old suitcase)

Max serves some of our guests.
Pictionary is something somewhat new to this artist. Can you guess what she drew? Neither could we.
Mandatory dominoes. Otherwise, it just ain't Dominican.
We hope you had a wonderful Ayyam-i-Ha! We'll be thinking of you all tomorrow morning as we begin our Fast.