Thursday, April 19, 2012

View from Another

My little brother--the well-established favorite of three siblings--Sam, wrote this after his short stint with us on the island. Gem of a human. The panoramic shot at the end of his post was taken by him up a mountain in a little place called Pajones (translation: frizzies), just outside the city. Enjoy.

"My arrival in Santiago De Los Caballeros was greeted with applause and a few tears of joy. This fanfare had little (nothing) to do with me; the celebration was because we safely landed after encountering scream-inducing-turbulence over the mountains while on decent into the country. The moment the fasten seat belt sign turned off someone from the back row bolted for the front, but they didn't get far because most people had the same idea. The terror of the flight must have made many passengers feel closer to each other, like family, because the personal space normally afforded to strangers was non-existent while everyone crushed into the aisle waiting for the plane to empty.

The crowding experience was replicated on the concho ride from the airport. A concho is like a shared taxi with a set route, picking up and dropping off as many people as will fit in the five seat sedan. Though five passengers is what the car is designed for it's probably better to describe its seating capacity in terms of cabin volume divided by the average volume of a human. The drivers prefer to attempt to reach this theoretical maximum, cramming passengers on top of existing passengers. This process only stops when people decide that it's better to wait for the next concho rather than suffer the indignity of sitting on a grown man's lap who is himself sitting on a grown man's lap. The drivers continue to attempt finding that one prospective passenger who would be happy with such a situation by honking at every pedestrian.

Our first outing was to the capitol, we took a bus. The first stop there was, lunch, followed closely by the zoo. The zoo was neat but in an awful part of town. As far as I know the DR doesn't have any exclusive fauna (except tiny mosquitoes who can carry twelve times their body weight in human blood and phase in and out of the visible spectrum when they're chased with a swatter). All the classic animals were there, lions, tigers, and flamingos... Next stop was a wedding of some friends that I didn't know. I apparently committed a faux pas at the wedding when during the ceremony I didn't kill the baby tarantula crawling up the back of someone's chair. I'm pretty sure that one isn't in any travel books.

Our next outing was to the north coast, to the city of Puerto Plata. The weather was lovely on the coast, excuse me, beach, it was more than just a coast. The first stop was our "hike" which entailed bravely riding a gondola to the top of a mountain, walking through the gift shop, down some steps, then back to the gondola for the grueling ride down. It was one of the better hikes I've ever been on. The second stop, lunch. As we were walking down the street my sister says "do you want to eat at a restaurante or a comedor?". It's been years since my third first term of first year Spanish, but I was pretty sure that I remembered a restaurante was some sort of place with food and the directions to it usually just involved two right turns and a left on something called "calle B". The real difference apparently lies in the pricing, restaurantes have outrageous tax and comedors do not. Well, that was the difference anyone was willing to explain to me. I decided on the comedor. After a few steps, with just enough delay to seem as if it were unrelated to the previous conversation, my sister causally says "Oh, remind me to get you your anti-parasite medication when we get home". Lovely. It was, the food was great and cheap. The parasite content is yet unknown. There will be no updates.

The next day Josh and I made our way to the campo. The countryside. We greeted the concho's honking with a wave rather than a wagging finger. There were already two people in the front passenger seat and two large men in the back. Josh went in first and I sat half on his lap holding myself up with a head out the window and a hand on the roof. Sitting on someone during the hottest day I've seen here was decidedly unpleasant. Traffic is, fairly put, crazy here. Lanes are a suggestion, turn signals indicate an electrical problem, and a honk is required to let people know one intends to continue going forward. I pulled my head in. My collision imminent alarm was saturated with false positives very early. Luckily, I didn't ignore it completely. Watching the city fly by, I looked forward just in time to retract my elbow as our driver sideswiped another concho at twenty miles an hour. The other concho lost a side mirror and I kept my arm. It didn't seem like a rare event. We then caught a guagua out of the city and up the hill into the campo. The drive up the sometimes-gravel-sometimes-potholes-with-asphalt-ridges road was rather like an uphill luge/slalom, except it was hot. The view from the farm we stopped at was amazing and the people were wonderful. The foundation there ( is doing some great things for the local community. Josh taught a class to some local kids about the proper structure of paragraphs. I had no idea what he was saying, but it was rather engaging. He's an awesome teacher. Me, not so much. I tried to talk to them about becoming an engineer and just ended up showing them that I have a medical grade magnet implanted in my hand (my sixth sense), which I think freaked a lot of them out (do screams in Spanish mean the same thing in English?). Josh and I went back home, this would be my last local adventure within this greater adventure.

Josh and Becky's house is very nice. I felt instantly at home there. I haven't really had a chance to spend much time with my sister and her family since she's had a family. As it turns out Becky is not only an excellent sister, but also an excellent mother. And host, she made all kinds of delicious food, assumed to be parasite free. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. I hope that I get to do so more often in the future. We were quite busy but in a relaxed way for the majority of my visit. The Dominican Republic is an interesting place. Meeting times are given as minus three standard deviations in a Gaussian distribution of arrival times with a standard deviation of 30 minutes (2.1% chance they'll show up within 30 minutes of when they said they would). Coffee is delicious and has many options, buy one to get one thimble of half coffee, half sugar, buy two to get two thimbles of half sugar half coffee, etc. There is such beauty alongside such desperate poverty. But I think I realize why my sister is there, there is so much potential for improvement. Life is short, why not be where your work will cause the greatest amount of good?"
--Sam House

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Road Trip: The Chocolate Path

You read that right, my menstruating mamas (sorry dudes, I realize you enjoy chocolate as well). The Chocolate Path is a real place. Is it not a given that it's here on the island, in paradise? Don't be jealous, you can have your piece too. Hand delivered.
Just yesterday, the fam and a couple of "salt-o-the-earth, wonderful" kind of people headed to our future hometown*. Its no coincidence that the Chocolate Path is just two miles outside said city.
We strolled in like we knew what we were doing.
Quick, look socially awkward! The drying of cacao smells earthy.
A chocolate tour we weren't invited to. I went paparazzi on them from the window outside.

This is what we really came for: gift shop full of chocolates and chocolate paraphernalia. Don't mind if I do.

Galvin lifted Max up to reach some of the cacao.
It grows all over the trees.
And looks like this when its ripe. Huge. We'll crack it open soon.

*"So, can I actually publish that we've chosen the city we'll live in?" I ask Josh after the trip. Much like choosing one another, I had thought we'd confirmed this some time ago. Turns out, he was still wavering.
"Yes. Consider it public knowledge." We're moving out of Santiago in July.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Despite my delight at consuming freshly picked tomatoes every day, our garden is officially out. of. control. Not a neighbor on our entire block will go hungry while we're out of the country. Well, they wouldn't anyway since I'm certain we are the only ones without a car or two, a maid or three and full-time jobs. Whatever those are.

When we arrived, this was all rock. We're not exactly type-A gardeners (if those exist).

The squash has begun to take over the garden.
I find some new babies every other day or so.
Our banana tree looks happy. I have no idea how long it will be before our bananas
are swirling around in the blender for a morning smoothie.
Dill has sprung up everywhere I turn.
I vaguely remember Zora with that bag of seeds a few months ago.
This is my chayote. The tofu of vegetables.
A day's tomato harvest.
And every day, we have to redirect the squash.
It finds our house inviting and creeps right in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Get Your Hair Wet!

On a walk home from work sometime in September it started to rain. I kept walking, grateful for a respite from the heat, and was suddenly alone on the pseudo-sidewalk. People poked out from shops and were huddled under make-shift cardboard umbrellas, squeezed against the sides of buildings. A few steps more and I heard shouts, "Hey! Get out of the rain!" and "You're getting wet!" and, my personal favorite "It's raining, lady!" Yes. Yes it is. I used to politely respond that I come from a place where it rains 10 months out of the year, I'm made of rain. Now I just smile and wave like an idiot. Life stops all together here when it rains. Your head must not encounter rain. If your hair gets wet from the rain, you'll surely get sick within a few days. Perhaps the truth of that one has more to do with the fascination with and enormous upkeep of straight hair here--a thing completely ruined by moisture.
I've begun to realize why you shouldn't go out in the rain. It has nothing to do with getting a bit damp from a sprinkling of afternoon rain in the middle of a hot day. No. It has everything to do with the unpredictability of precipitation here. Light showers are quite enjoyable, but can transform--in mere seconds--to torrential downpours. These are what we've experienced this week. Rain. In buckets. And flooding.

Shall I venture out?
Zora & Danger peek out our front gate.
Max ventures out, ever conscious not to get his hair wet.
Apparently its okay if your entire mid-section gets soaked though.
Jesse wading through the madness at the end of the street.
He found the blockage of leaves & debris causing that particular lake.
And he took care of business. Like a boss.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Swear, We Were Invited

To the Aguila's manager's house. In Santiago. For an Easter party. You can touch my arm if you want to. Or just look at the pictures and the beauty/fun/friends/strangers/deliciousfood/yougettheidea.

Ami found new wheels with Samil's help. 

Max's first order of business.
This smaller, kiddy pool sits above the larger pool, splashing a lovely fountain down into it.

Like I said, the Aguila's manager's house. Ball players in stained glass. 'Course.

Kool-Aid tongue!

Like that rockin’ bracelet she’s sportin’ on her right hand (no, her right, your left)?
You can get one here.

Now these are the rules, kids. Max is way too eager to pummel wee ones in egg collecting competition. 
Who is that kid's mother anyway?

Samil waits for the go-ahead.

Amely found her first (and last) egg.

Ami posed with that face. Held it. Ham and cheese.

Dying eggs. Where does this tradition spring from? It is fun!

Serious focus.
You should see the hens these came from.

Yes, the pool weaves around the yard.

Oh, the palm trees? That's because we live in the Caribbean.
Pleeeease? Just one more jump in the pool before we leave?!

That's a signed baseball. At the entrance of the house. #JoshIsInLove

What we'll do to save RD$200 pesos. I sat in the front seat on Josh's lap 
while Martine got stuck in the back with--count 'em--five children.
#LittleBitAwesome #LittleBitStupid

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

But... What About the Children?

I've heard that Santiago has a library. I also heard it's newest acquisitions are older than my parents. I'm guessing they don't have regular activities for the community, but I'm willing to check it out before I give you the low-down. Santiago also has a bookstore. Some of the grocery stores sell books, but there is really only one grocery store that has a full-blown bookstore (with books that aren't just required for school or... the Bible). A friend mentioned that a children's story time was offered weekly there, so Martine and I eagerly questioned within.
"No. We don't do anything like that," fashionista book-seller answered flatly.
We stared blankly. Really?
"Well, a couple weeks ago another organization came in and did some activities with the community," she offered.
"But you don't do anything like that?" I asked, hoping against hope.
"No," FashionistaBookseller smiled and flipped her hair, "No, we don't."
"Well, could you mention the idea to the management, please?"
"Sure," she looked at us like there wasn't actually any so-called management anyway but wanted to appease us somehow.

Although lacking in a great many child-friendly activities, Santiago is home to a museum, if you can believe it. And it's beautiful. It caters to a wonderful array of people. I see a lot of school groups there. Expats. Nicely dressed people. Every concho or taxi I take to get there knows where it is, but the driver has never been inside. I encourage them to do so. Any day I'll start seeing them hanging around the exhibits. It's free on Tuesdays. They have regular showings of international artsy-fartsy films for free and even show family movies once a month. Though those aren't as sophisticated, per se, unless you think Air Bud was a brilliant, thought-provoking production.
Josh found out about their "Creative Afternoons" program which runs on the expensive side as far as this country is concerned, but fun nonetheless. Several 6-week series of workshops for kids based on a variety of themes (visual art, theater, music, etc) are offered and we signed the kids up. Since I'm technically on vacation from my online gig for another two weeks, I've been taking them to the most recent workshop series: music. What exactly is supposed to happen, I'm unsure. Nor am I clear what twenty 3-8 year-olds are expected to do for two hours, twice a week in a "music" class, but that is neither here nor there. Photos from our first day follow:

Music teacher and several of his class shakin' their instruments.
Max having a good 'ol time running in circles around the room. I caught him--almost--here in the shot.
Apparently any two hour class demands a snack time. Today, there was a birthday party,
so I lucked out having not brought my children any kind of sustenance. 
Birthday girls' SuperMom also made crowns for all the kiddos.
The birthday girl. My offspring are in the background still trying to figure out what is going on.
"Were we going to music class or a birthday party, Mom?"
Thank goodness for refined sugar and saturated fats in the afternoon.  
From this captured moment on, she only took the crown off to bathe and sleep. For three days. Straight.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Can We Bring You From the Island?

We will be in our homeland in less than a month. Happy, happy. Joy, joy.
Our plans include:
*Visit family, friends, kiss & hold new babies and witness a union. #BestPart
*Work as substitute teachers and earn enough money to make our next move (WSD amigos, please call on us!).
*Eat lovely things we miss like apples, berries and lettuce we don't have to soak in vinegar.
*Shop in glorious second-hand stores to clothe our children for the next year & find some key materials for Josh's island goals #exciting. 
*Re-organize our storage and pack-up or sell more of our possessions (mainly just books are left, really)
*Go on an overnight date with my husband #muchneededrespite
*Explore options & connections to be made for my island goals #crossyourfingers

If you, dear reader, live in the United States (preferably our corner of them, but mail is generally reliable in country) and are inclined to have a piece of island life in your home or an island flavor to delight your senses, this is your opportunity. We'll be bringing back suitcases filled with love from the island. Sorry, no fresh mangoes.

Important Notes:
*Please make your orders by April 15 so we have time to gather everything before our plane takes off. Your items will arrive in Oregon April 20th. If I won't be seeing you during my visit, send me an email and we can arrange something.

*We wholeheartedly believe in bartering and are in need of several things from the homeland, so shoot me an email if you're interested in a good trade instead (Psst... we aren't too good for used stuff, either. Ya know, as long as its not floss).

Cafe molido Santo Domingo 1 lb
Santo Domingo ground coffee, the coffee that got me hooked, which you could buy here from someone else, or you can give $10 to us via PayPal and we'll bring you a 1 lb bag or three.

Cortes Hermanos Dominican chocolate bars, (cocoa nibs, coffee and ice cream cone bits) which I can't find for sale online, but are delicious. Note: It may be difficult to keep them from melting and reforming slightly during the trip, but I'll do my best. I can, however, guarantee superb flavor.

Set of Three Bars

Pure Dominican Cocoa Butter (4 oz), which is great for your skin, especially if you want a scar created by a pot of boiling water to your HooHa to disappear forever.

Number of 4 oz Jars

Snail Drool Shampoo. Classic.

Number of 9 oz Bottles

Handmade, up-cycled magazine bracelets. We're testing the market for these with the intention of a small social & economic development project for local women.
Monies from sales of bracelets will go toward start-up costs. 

Please include the size you'd like (the bracelet slips on) and colors (Ex. "bright reds and yellows" or "black, white and text" or "pink, green and blue") which we'll do our best to include.

Preferred Colors (Up to 3)

We only have so much space, so get in on this goodness now. And we'll see you in a few weeks!