Monday, July 30, 2012

An Apology

Dear Blog,
If I could turn back time, I would have told you happy birthday on Saturday. Happy belated birthday, PBJ. Who doesn't love Cher and a dancing hippo?
You see, on Saturday, the fam moved to a different home in a whole new city. It was intense. Josh and I have never owned so much stuff. We've spent the better part of the last decade consciously avoiding stuff because we'd always planned to make an international move. When we finally did move out of the good 'ol USA, somehow the stuff we had just gave birth to more stuff. (Psst. Riaz? I found your dress shoes that you lost in February) Octomom ain't got nothin' on our stuff. I'll tell you all about our move soon. Promise.
Anyhow, to commemorate your birthday, I wanted to give a shout out to a few of your posts:
The Day You Were Born
The Day Zora Almost Died
The Day Josh Accidentally Got a Job
The Day that Ended My Bikini Modeling Career
The Day One Pet Eliminated Another
The Day Josh Reflected on Gratitude
The Day My Brother Visited (well, it felt like just a day)
The Day Max Got a New Belt
The Day We Left (Again. Or did we come?)
Talk soon!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wild Thang--by Josh

I'm just glad I had those purple rubber gloves, the ones so generously (if unknowingly) supplied by the Tualatin Hospital while visiting Rebecca's granddad.  Danger the Cat had been wild all day, even tearing a strip off a shower curtain, shredding newspaper, playing with anything but the actual toys we bought for him while in the States.  As usual, he was whining for his late-evening feeding, guiding me back to his room (yes, our current house is that big) with plaintive meows and bug eyes.  He had been driving us crazy, having sprinted into the living room and climbing, wet, onto the sofa.  I figured I could feed him and lock him up, so we could have some peace and quiet.
Upon entering the room, however, I noticed a bunch of black stuff all over the floors; then I noticed the black and red streaks on the walls, including the phone jack dangling from its former spot; finally, my eyes rested on the decapitated object of Danger's recreational hunting habits: the remains of feisty, yet doomed, black bird.
You see, our cat is nothing more than a poacher.  I found it hilarious that, having just fulfilled his evolutionary mandate to hunt a bird (or anything else that moves: roaches, lizards, shower curtains), ripping its head off and shredding its innards across our floor, he took one look at it and thought, "Yuck! I want some real food!"
I have to respect the fighting spirit of the little avian victim. The mess that was made in that room reminded me of the cartoon with the frog being swallowed by the heron, webbed hands wrapped around its attacker's neck.  It certainly didn't go easily, and yet, once it was over, Danger didn't even have the decency to eat it.
Well, at least we've got a freezer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We Have a New Address

And a signed rental agreement.

Believe it.

It is perhaps the one place of which I don't have a single picture. Sorry, mom.
Check it out: Nabil came over to visit and casually invited us to join him the next day on his own home hunting expedition in SFM.  Hooray for a friend who'll be in the city, even if he is going in kicking and screaming! (You know you'll love it, Nabil. Naturales Te is better on the weekends when they serve bubble tea anyway. I'll totally sacrifice and make the road trip with you.)
That night, as soon as the kids were talking in their sleep (I'm not sure if Zora ever stops talking actually), Josh and I pulled out the big guns: nine Tablets of Ahmad.

We got a late start the next morning (surprised?), so rolled into town around lunch. After hitting up Tu Quipe, we made a game plan: check out places for Nabil. Josh and I had entirely resigned ourselves to the fact that there was absolutely nothing that the whole of San Francisco de Macoris had to offer us. We checked out several bachelor-man apartments and showed Nabil this dark, little house by a bus station we were considering under the list titled: "At Least It Has a Front Door". Nabil gave me the You're Way Crazier Than I Gave You Credit For look, then said, frankly, "You can do better. Way better." I felt like maybe I should have brushed my hair and put on some lip gloss. Yeah. I CAN do better! Does that mean we're going to the beach after this?

My memory is a bit fuzzy here (I was focused on an intense game of Uno with the offspring in the back seat), but we turned a corner somewhere in the city center and saw a For Rent sign which we hadn't seen before. Odd. "That place looks expensive, but might as well call," Josh handed me the phone. The price was right--they were just renting the second level of the house--and there was someone there to show us the place. I don't remember much about it other than the kids will finally have their own rooms (the seven year old boy is especially ready for his own space) and I won't mind spending lots of time in the kitchen. #hellocounterspace! We'll take it.

Finally finding that place felt like our biggest accomplishment to date. We climbed the steep mountain, expending blood, sweat & tears. We made it to the top! Just gonna coast from here, yeah? But apparently the work isn't over. People keep asking us, "So, when are you going to move?" Well, soon, I suppose. 

Max Got in a Fight. And Won.

And I got the whole thing on video.

Close your mouth. It's not all that bad. He was wearing padding and a helmet. So was the other kid. And there were about six judges noting intricacies of moves I won't pretend to know anything about. Looked like a bunch of kicking. I'm told he did well, though I'm skeptical because if that fight had been in the street, little man would not have been as chipper as he was.
On Sunday, Max completed his first Taekwondo exam which lasted for what seemed like an eternity (read: it was really hot). Max is revved up. He had been unsure about continuing after we move, but the wave of positive reinforcement and recognition sealed the deal. He's an orange belt now. Again, I have no clue what the implications of that are and should probably study up a bit to get a few good-mom-points and support the offspring.

While we waited Max's turn, we got a preview.
To demonstrate kicks, they use old x-rays which make a nice snapping sound when hit.
Is that your pelvis he's about to kick?
Much of Taekwondo, I've learned, is waiting patiently.
It was popular to bring your 4-year old sister along. Uno was a hit. Every time.
Yes. He's the big brother at home, but often one of the littlest everywhere else.
The cool thing about this group is they have the same teacher, but these boys don't practice together.
They were entirely in-sync, unified for most of their sets.
Max's teacher, Jose Peralta, has been a God-send. At Max's practice yesterday, parents and students all sat in a circle while he debriefed Sunday's events. "Taekwondo is not about awards and recognition," he looked into each student's eyes, "Taekwondo is about discipline, respect, justice and being a good person in your community." The thing is, Jose says those things once in a while, but this guy truly lives and demonstrates them every day. He, like many Dominicans we know, is struggling to provide for his family but still manages to teach countless kids who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity. I've got to find this guy some kind of grant for his school so he can keep doing good work.
Max (white belt, level 1) waiting to spar against another boy (green belt, level  4).
He told me later how scared he was, but he looked cool as a cucumber to me.
My sweet boy has come a long way since September. While the sparring video is too long to upload, I did manage this one. Little man is serious.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Plans B, C, D and E

Like I said, we seriously reassessed our San Francisco de Macoris plan. Maybe, we thought, we should find a job and then move wherever the job takes us. That sounds like something adults do, right? So I expressed interest in a variety of places, put out my feelers and/or my resume to B, C, D and E. The problem was, we have to move out of the Santiago place by July 25. Yikes! Most of the nice jobs I found didn't have application deadlines until much later. Would they even look at my resume before we needed to decide and move?

Dear Time Crunch,
Josh and I aren't so good at deadlines involving sorta-big-life decisions. Could you ease up a bit?

Dear Rebecca,
Buck up.

Yeah, like that.

So, we did what we love to do: spontaneous travel. Escape (from reality, to reality?). It literally makes us giddy. Perhaps we'd find our answers on the road.
I found two different places on the island we had yet to see that were also goal communities for the Baha'is, an NGO in Las Terrenas on the northern coast and a school in La Romana on the southern coast, both of which had positions available. The NGO gig, to be fair, was a kindergarten teacher position (neither of us really wanted it), but what they were doing was eerily similar to hopes and dreams we've expressed in our own lives in the last decade. We had to go on this blind date and see what would come of it. We love jumping into the unknown, wide open to the possibility. Plus, it was at the beach. A breathtaking beach. The La Romana gig we knew next-to-nothing about. And still don't.
I called the NGO number that night.
Me: "Hi. We found you on the internet and want to meet you. Can we come over tomorrow?" (Too E-harmony?)
NGO Dude: "Ummm... sure."
Me: "Cool. Do you know of any cheap places to stay in the area?"
NGO Dude: "Well, there's this place for $50 a night, this place for $35 a night..."
Me: "Man. Okay. Thanks." There was obvious disappointment in my voice. Our current income is painfully little and should not be compared to the income of anyone who is considered a tourist in this country.
NGO Dude: "Or... you could stay in our volunteer house for $7 a night." (E-harmony totally works.)
Me: "That's more our style. Awesome. I'll call you when we get into town. Thank you!"

A few hours sleep, packed up the rental car and our journey began.

We witnessed a great many sights along the way.
Paid way too much to travel on this fancy new road through the mountains.
Not only was it a toll road, it was sponsored by my favorite (sarcasm heavy) company: Claro.
And yet, my Claro phone didn't have any service on that road. #irony
When Jose (NGO Dude) didn't answer his phone upon arrival, we found the place Dominican-style. Ask someone. Then ask again. And again. And eventually (sometimes faster than a Google search with our internet connection, actually),
you'll find what you're looking for. We knew this NGO was super legit when we met this little library enthusiast (pictured above). "I learned to read here!" he told us as if we'd just offered him ice cream. He then proceeded to read everything on the signs, proving his awesome new skill.
We eventually found Jose, and our digs for the night.
Photo Credit: Zora
Then, we interrogated him about all things NGO/library/education/community service work. We listened intently and were surprised at some of the commonalities (albeit trivial): his wife is an Oregonian who lived for a year in Bulgaria, they met at a conference, are both educators, wanted to live on the island because it's in desperate need of educated people (whereas they're a dime a dozen in the States) and the list went on (we have the same stereo, too!). And the things that aren't trivial? They're just our dreams, but they're their realities. Community library, literacy program, education. You should give these people money. They'll use it, stretch it and make it do wonderful things for kids.
Then, we went to this beach.
She is super satisfied with herself on the beach.
The girlies built a drip sand castle while the men people threw each other around in the water.
Max practiced for his Taekwondo exam.
And the offspring had to be hauled back to the car at the end of the day. Just a little bit longer?!
We dined with NGO Dude Jose, Molly from Maine on her way back from Haiti
and the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. This man has the humility of my grandfather. Like I said, super legit.
The next morning, we were invited to join the end of Summer Reading Camp celebration. What else? A beach trip!
The Anacaona Library is home to about 7,000 books!
The library includes a reference section, books in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German and Creole. Las Terrenas is actually home to many Italian & German expats. Each one of those languages is oft heard spoken in their community.
Jose is, as I type, transforming this area into a garden. The building is home to the pre-school classroom.
Summer camp participants loaded up and ready for their beach trip. #HowTheyRoll
Beach arrival. Order of operation: dismount, disrobe and run for the water.
Not a bad summer camp. At about this point in our trip we decided that La Romana was not in the cards.
Wouldn't you stay here just one more day?
Max was mighty proud of his flaming baseball boxers and pink swim shirt combo.

"Whale Beach" is named for the rocks on the horizon which look somewhat like whales. 
With the conclusion of summer camp, we hopped over to the literacy teacher's house for lunch.
The literacy teacher, an exquisite beauty inside & out, gave me some sage advice on living in Las Terrenas.
Max quickly made friends with her son. Surprise, surprise.
Lunch was beautiful. We felt immensely grateful to be so easily welcomed into their lives.
There is quite a bit of art in town, both part of the city and available for tourists to take home.
You would like it there. We'll take you when you come and visit.
True to form, we found unusual pizza topping offerings.
And Zora was the one who wanted the weirdest thing on the menu: potato chip pizza.
Our last morning the rental car had at least 5 pounds of sand in it. Josh opted to rinse the children and haul them across the beach, untouched by any more sand. When I stripped Zora down as she stood on the seat of the car, another pound of sand came out of her suit. C'est la vie.
The Samana Peninsula. I highly recommend this kind of therapy/rejuvenation.
As we contemplated our lives in this beach town--from the practical (can we make it financially here?) to the dreamy (wouldn't it be lovely to live near all this beauty and work with amazing people?)--we made and unmade several decisions. When we had decided that it was a viable option and we wanted to pursue the possibilities despite several hesitations, I received news from home. My grandfather isn't well. While it wasn't the confirming sign we were hoping for, the message did help us make a firm decision. We couldn't commit to something that, if we were doing it well, would take a great deal of our time/money/energy. If we lived there, I likely wouldn't be able to visit my family during the course of the year if I needed/wanted to. Trump card.

T -12 days until we have to move. What's it gonna be?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Photolog: Eighty-two Trips Later

Josh and I have been all over San Francisco de Macoris. I've lost count how many times we've traveled there in the last six weeks. We've gone in rental cars, in the air-conditioned guagua, in the hotter-than-heck guagua, with Baha'i-friends, with neighbor-friends, with kids, without kids, dressed up, dressed down, excited, exhausted and sometimes flat-out exasperated. Since we aren't the kind to sink into hopelessness, after banging our heads against the wall, we reassessed. And made plans B, C, D and E. More on those plans soon. 
In the meantime, take a gander at a bit of our home/job hunting escapades which have kept us busy since our return from the homeland:

Professionally laminated bus tickets. The air-conditioned bus is RD$120, big spender.
One of many lunches in SF de Macoris was here in a food court of sorts.
Yup, that second sign says, "liquor store Bar". I have no idea where they went to grammar school. 
Your thoughts?
We found the perfect house. It wasn't for rent. We also found the perfect neighborhood.
Nothing was for rent there either. And no, the perfect house was not actually in the perfect neighborhood.
I have about 234 pictures that look something like this one: a home-like building with a sign on it.
The kids were too exhausted to play some days. Even at the BK playground.
Still, we balanced pavement-hitting-home-hunting with quality family time.
Pick up baseball game at the local university after a picnic lunch.
Josh dropped off his resume at the local baseball team's HQ. They're often in need of English tutors. #dreamtocombinehispassions
We met lots of friendly people happy to show us places to rent.
This dark little house was right next to a large bus station. #thinknot
We found places with 'backyards', places without even a balcony, bright places, dark places, small places, huge places.
Hamburges actually aren't too bad.
We saw lots of kitchens: too small, too dark, little counter space or lots. I loved this kitchen, but not like you think.
"And where do the stove and fridge go?" we asked. "Oh here," as he pointed to the living area and hallway.
We saw embarrassingly huge places. This third floor apartment had four bedrooms, three bathrooms,
a balcony, two living rooms, etc., etc. Methinks we'd be mopping a better part of our lives.
When this realtor couldn't help us, they offered us Avon products.  It's always good to diversify your income!
Taco Smell, Burrito Bell. We didn't fall for it.
Back in Santiago, we attempted working with these, though our hopes were waning.
After eighty-two trips (or something close) and no viable prospects, we totally reassessed. Are we on the right path? Should we move somewhere else? Are we not looking in the right direction? What are our options?
We just want to be like these people! What does it take to find a place to live in San Francisco?!