Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sina and the Sandwich Swiper (by Josh)

I was walking down the street today, eating an ice cream bar, and got a weird look from a guy sitting on a bench, with rather grubby hands.  I instinctively shifted the ice cream bar to my other hand, and thought, "Huh, why did I do that?"
Then I remembered and decided to share a few stories from past travels here with you.
During my first trip to Bulgaria with the Baha'i dance workshop One World, we spent lots of time in the downtown pedestrian zones of the major cities, wowing locals and tourists with our artistic prowess.  One day, we were chillin' in Varna, the coastal city where I ended up doing my year of service.  We'd found a rather tasty sandwich stand and decided to have lunch in the shade of some chestnut trees, in front of the Cherno Moré hotel.  This spot also happened to be popular with a local contingent of gypsy beggars (as I understand it, different gypsy clans often specialize in different things, i.e., blacksmithing, husbandry, carpentry, begging, etc.) who we'd chatted with here and there, particularly the youngsters, showing them some dance moves. 
My friend, Sina Mossayeb, the coordinator of the trip, had finally gotten his sandwich, having selflessly waited until we'd gotten our food before ordering his.  He took a hearty bite, chewing with relish, when out of nowhere one of the gypsy ladies leapt off the bench she'd occupied and grabbed Sina's sandwich out of his hands!
She backed away from us, wild-eyed, and once at a safe distance took a huge bite out of the sandwich, laughing to herself and grinning widely at us.  We all turned and looked at Sina, who had a mix of astonishment and indignation showing clearly on his face, while we did our best not to burst out in laughter. We wavered between our first instinct, which was to backup our buddy who'd been robbed, and the reality that there was now no shortage of mystery-germs on that food. By that time, the second chunk of sandwich was in her mouth.  Sina shrugged, realizing he wouldn't want his purloined sandwich even if he were able to reclaim it.  But our lunch break was over, and being the disciplined dude he is, he resigned himself to temporary hunger as we headed off to dance the day away, doing our best to build a world where no one needs to swipe a sandwich from nobody.

Friday, September 28, 2012

We Just Might Stick Out, Maybe. Perhaps.

Sitting in the office of the Taekwondo building where Max practices three times a week, a man in a suit and tie walked in. He had a short conversation with the secretary which I paid no attention to and then turned to face me.
"You're a Baha'i, aren't you?" he pointed at me to get my attention.
"Ummmm... Yes, I am." Although sure of my beliefs, I was entirely baffled as to how this man knew about them.
"And you live on such-n-such street, house number lalala," he kept his focus on me. And now I'm officially weirded out because my address isn't posted publicly anywhere.
"Yes," was all I could manage, but I furled my brow to let him know I was ready for an explanation.
"You're fulano's* wife who works over..." and he trailed off a bit pointing in the direction of Josh's work. He kept reading my invisible profile tatooed on my forehead. But with mention of Josh, I had a clue, finally.
"Yes," I nod this time. I am a white person married to the other white person in town.
"I met your husband at the park a couple months ago. I print books," he began to pull out three books from the business bag slung over his shoulder. Criollo Natural Remedies and two self-help type books.
"Right! You are Abel and you were going to come to dinner at our house sometime," I smile with relief. I don't remember details like Dominicans do. Remind me to tell you about the mad memorization skills of the children's class kiddos.
He smiled, surprised that I was playing his game as I rattled off the handful of other facts I knew about him. I still don't know his address.
I held the self-help books in my hands for a while, making small talk and then realized that perhaps he wanted me to buy some.
"Oh! I don't even have a chele on me," I apologized, returning the books.
"That's okay," he took them, then rummaged some more in his bag. "This is for you," he handed me another book.
I am now the proud owner of my first ever romance novel. I guess you only live once.

*Fulano is used quite often here and is the equivalent to dude (in the 90's) or so-n-so or whoever or, my personal favorite, whats-his-face.
*Chele was the first Dominican currency and is no longer in existence. Dominicans now use this word in jest. For example, if you want to sell things for cheap, one might say "¡Todo por chele!" (Everything for a cent!) But it never is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

At Eleven-thirty. Every. Single. Day.

God knows we're weak. Omniscience is like that, I guess. With this in mind, we have been blessed with some seriously loving and generous neighbors. I keep telling people what they do for us and nobody believes me. Not even the other Dominicans. So, about a week & a half ago I decided to start documenting the generosity marathon. It's insane.
Are you ready for this? Our neighbors bring us lunch--all four of us--every single day. Like clockwork. 11:30 a.m. Without fail. Since we moved in back in July.
From left to right: Chicken noodle soup with white rice, Plantains with tomatoes & cheese, Mangu with onions, cheese, chicken and avocado, Spaghetti with cucumber-tomato salad, Fried rice with plantains and veggies, and Dulce de Leche
Let's do the math on this one, just for kicks. We moved July 28th. From then to today is around 60 days. We went out of town several times for a few days at a time, so let's call that 10 days. That's 50 days of neighborly love x four people = 200 meals. And there is almost always leftovers, so we've gotten a good number of dinners out of the deal too. Did we strike gold, or what?! And to top it off, we've learned quite a bit about Dominican cuisine. Coincidentally, we still miss Mexican and Thai food. But our dear neighbors are excellent cooks all the same.
They also bring other treats throughout the day. The kids enjoy the days they bring them cups of ice cream. I delight in their ginger tea and smoothies. Josh fully appreciates the fresh fruit: pineapples, bananas, mangoes and avocadoes. We are so very fortunate.
From left to right: Chicken, lentil & rice soup, Fresh bananas & avocadoes, Fish with rice, avocado & boiled green bananas, Ginger tea left on the stairway when I return from dropping off kids at school, Turkey with rice, and the Full Meal Deal--veggies, beans, chicken & rice with plantains.
We still don't care much for the boiled green bananas or plantains or mangu, which are all plentiful. Gasp! I've figured out a way, in the interest of not throwing away any food, to make veggie burgers and decent hashbrowns out of them. In their new disguises, my little family gladly gobbles them up. Yes, it could be because of the added ketchup.
Food for thought on how each of us attempts to be a good neighbor. ¡Buen provecho!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cell Phone Saga: Part II

For Carolyn.

Claro is really good at making money. If that is the only thing you care about, you should take a business course with these people. I highly recommend them. But then I won't do business with you, unless you're an exceptional trickster, of course. I'd like to tell you differently, but I've agreed to some crazy things which turned out, not surprisingly in hindsight, minute-23-of-any-Fraiser-episode painful. Cringe painful. Glad it wasn't you painful.
I left Cell Phone Saga: Part I when I had signed the contract for 5 phones for 18 months. Ah, promises.
We went to pick out our "free"-comes-with-the-contract phones. They looked legit. Long story short here: they suck. Looks, as it turns out, is all they have. One you cannot hear ring. Yes, we tried everything. One you can't hear the person on the other line. One randomly connects to the internet, which Claro gleefully charges you for. One was stolen in a concho before we knew it too well (Yeah, that was my bad). Let's assume it worked splendidly. And one refuses to send text messages, though that is a good feature since those are apparently not part of the plan and subject to--you guessed it--extra charges. No problem. No problem. We can deal with this. The phones, afterall, were "free". If we had really wanted to, we could have put our phone chip into a fancy, functioning phone. Right, Claro?
In about month 3 of our 18 month relationship, Claro started to send us love messages. How sweet. These messages actually un-locked our phones, so we could easily respond to them. Even while they were still in our pockets. How thoughtful. Before we knew it, our pockets and small children had happily signed up for services like Daily Sports News and Hourly Jokes and Healthy Eating Tips and Best Pick-Up Lines. You know, information that is important and worth paying more for. Just three months in and it was official: we were in love. Love, stalking, what's the difference? And they kept sending messages. Even after official complaints where I used words like dishonest and deplorable. Bless my ClaroStalkers.
When I say official complaints, I really do mean it. You see, anytime I wanted to do anything other than give them money--which they happily accept at hundreds of convenient locations (no, you're right, not online)--I had to go, with my passport and a smile, to the main Claro office. After you've climbed the stairs and pulled open the heavy glass front doors, been hit by the arctic blast of cranked up A/C, you may approach the first desk. But you often need to use your elbows. One person is seated behind the desk, one stands behind her and a third next to the computer. I'm not sure what the two extras are for, but you only speak to the one seated at the desk, when you can get her attention. She's usually deep in conversation with the two standing. Like this:
"Yes?" she'll ask, which is her way of saying Welcome! How can I help you?
"I need to complain about X" or "I need to replace a lost/stolen chip"
"What is your name?" her pencil and paper at the ready.
"And your last name?" she sighs since I'm supposed to say my full name, always.
"Don't worry about it," I assure her. It really isn't necessary.
"Please," her beauracratic training kicks in.
Then I tell her, she frowns as if I'm trying to be difficult and waves me to the line while writing important things on little slips of paper. I guess having a difficult to spell/pronounce last name can be useful.
Bringing a book is a good idea, since the wait can be quite long. When you develop a system that demands people come to one specific place to do everything other than pay their bill--and there are thousands of customers--the lines are going to be long. I don't care how efficient you are, but then again neither does Claro.

In month #8 of my 18-month contract, the other contributing family cell phone plan peops left. The Claro Stalkers surely drove them away, far, far away. 'Twas sad. We had to decide what to do with three extra phones and a wholelotta monthly bill. Could we cancel our contract? I didn't know, because of Mistake#4 (See Cell Phone Saga: Part I).
We focused all of our efforts on moving, and I happily ignored Claro and my ClaroStalkers (but I kept giving them money at remote locations!) for a few months. True, a horrible way to deal with difficult situations. I accept my slap on the wrist.
After we'd finally found a place in our new city, settled in, avoided Claro some more, my loving husband offered to go with me to the main office for the showdown I had hoped to avoid for the rest of my life or at least until March 2013 when my ClaroStalkers would be legally put to rest. He knows me too well. We decided that we did, in fact, need to cancel the contract because it made very poor economical sense. I gathered my documents and brought a wad of cash (because there is always a penalty) and marched down to the office, ready for a break-up, but without the tears.
Right off the bat, I can tell you that if you decide to go with Claro, you should go to the San Francisco de Macoris office. It's far friendlier, the A/C is under control and everyone we talked to there seemed entirely competent to do their job. Claro-SFM is still Claro, but its navegable. And after you spend all morning there, I invite you to lunch at our place. Just don't talk about Claro when you get here.
We asked Maria, our lovely service representative, no less than 62 questions. She answered all of them. And even though LovelyMaria didn't have a single answer that we wanted, she did it all with a smile and we felt like informed, un-angry customers (not happy, but not angry). In sum, these are the two pieces of information we gleaned:
*If we want to change our address, it will cost us more money (Genius business model, I'm telling you).
*If we cancel our contract now, at month 12 of 18, it will cost us the same as it will to have the contract for 5 more months. Five months of Claro is equal to Josh's monthly income at his new job as Academic Director, to give you some perspective. So, what you're telling me LovelyMaria, is that I can either pay for 5 months right now and not receive any service or I can pay for 6 months, one month at a time, and get 6 months of service (Realizing that the word 'service' is a bit of a stretch)? Yes.
So, it seems that Claro has ensured that we will continue to be in a relationship with them. Twisted as it is. 'Cause breaking up is hard to do.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How We Did It: International Pioneering with Kiddos, Part 1

The thought of moving to a new town can give me heart palpitations. A new country is a whole new ballgame. And yet, we did it (though not without a ton of help!). I know many people who, if they're not seriously considering an international move are, at minimum, curious how we made ours. So, I've laid it out for you here, Cliff-Notes-style.

Like I said, it's a daunting transition. I've been to Baha'i conferences where the topic is pioneering. It goes something like, "Dear friends," (even if we're not actually friends--but we want to be!) the speaker will begin, "We have yet to meet our international pioneering goals for this plan*," then he/she might pause dramatically. "We have yet to establish pioneers in [insert here most remote country you can think of]." There is always at least one, if not several, in the crowd who will--moved by some joy within--jump up and declare, "I'll move there next week!" If you're that person, props. Though you're likely not, since you're reading this particular post. If you're a planner, if you sucked at that getting-to-know you game where you had to fall backwards trusting the stranger would catch you before your skull cracked and leaked out on the sidewalk, if you have your own five-year-plan, then hopefully you'll find a nugget herein. Read on, fellow planner.

So, here's how we did it--the whole, long process from decision to move.
When Josh and I married in 2004, we both knew we wanted to live outside the States. Our primary reason was to international pioneer for the Baha'i Faith, but we were both also blessed/cursed with copious amounts of wanderlust. We'd both traveled fairly extensively and had both lived in foreign countries as young adults before tying the knot. You could say that we came into our partnership with a handful of individual international living experiences which, no doubt, we're pulling from even today.
We took turns finishing up our formal education. In 2008, when we'd taken turns each earning the degrees we wanted to for the time being, we started looking to leave our homeland. We worked. We dreamed. We threw our energies into our children and the Baha'i community. In early 2009, I sat down and looked very carefully at my student loans (we'd paid off both of our Bachelor degrees by that time) and realized we weren't going to pay them off terribly soon. "Josh," I turned to my loving husband, anxious, "we're not going to be done with these loans for a long time. Let's just go."

Step One: Test the Waters
After much consultation, we decided to take an extended international trip to test the waters. Could our family actually live in a different country or were we really just dreamin'? That summer, we spent five weeks in Nicaragua with a pioneering couple and one week in Costa Rica. Knowing that we weren't dealing with many of the stresses of regular life (juggling a job, maintaining a home), we were confirmed: Yes. We can do this. And it feels right. Having awesome hosts in-country didn't hurt either. (Thank you, Mark & Lorine! <3)

Can't make that kind of time commitment in your current life? Spend as much time as you can outside your comfort zone, outside your cultural norm. For example, if you're a peace-loving hippy, go to a few gun shows. If you're a three-times-a-day meat-eater, check out the vegan scene. Be uncomfortable. Often. Then make peace with it to the point where you're okay with yourself and you can sincerely, whole-heartedly respect that others are okay too (even if they aren't anything like you).

Step Two: Set Yourself Up for Success
After that summer in Central America, we laid out our plan to become expatriates. We're both educators, so we've been trained to see the end in the beginning. What do you want your students to be able to do? Where are they at now? What steps need to be taken to connect the dots from here to there? With so many unknowns, we identified the things we knew we wanted regardless of our geographic location to make any transition as smooth as possible (you read it here: we're weenies):

   1. Ability to communicate in local language
     Sucking as I do at languages, I didn't want to learn another. Josh picks up language like he does mangoes at the market, but he was understanding of my wishes. He's just awesome like that. This narrowed our options the-world-around to countries either English- or Spanish-speaking. And no, at this point in the game, we didn't know where we were going to move.
     Our desire to move didn't spring from a political reason ("If so&so is elected, I'm leaving!") or from any kind of distaste for our dear country ("The whatever here sucks, I'm leaving!"). No, no, no. The US is actually quite an incredible country. If you don't think so, consider international travel. It's called perspective. Our desire to move sprung from our belief in unity. As Baha'is, we believe that world peace is not only possible, it's inevitable. But not without a wholelotta work. Learning about and coming to appreciate different cultures, languages, spots on the map, is our way of working towards that unity. We're able to open doors to deeper understanding, allowing for unity not only among individuals, families and communities, but among entire nations. You know, the whole world.

   2. Sufficient savings to live 6 months without income
     This point, more than anything, determined how much longer we would be in the States. After several invaluable consultations with our sweet Auxiliary Board Member, Hal, we decided to fulfill a familial goal (Josh be a stay-at-home dad for Max's last year before school) and then meet this money-goal (which we weren't terribly excited about). We're eat dessert first--or anytime you want it, really--kind of people. Nevertheless, we had two splendid years. It turns out that Josh is a phenomenal stay-at-home dad. That year, I found countless reasons to appreciate him ever-more. <3 Gush. The second year, we worked like dogs while living in the same place with relatively the same expenses as before, saving almost half our income each month. Even though we were both working full time, we had decided it was of the utmost importance to maintain the core activities we'd nurtured for several years leading up to that us-working-full-time-craziness. You may be thinking, Rebecca, it's quite normal for both parents to work and be integral parts to Baha'i activities during the week. Yes, dear reader, I realize this. But we're weak and not nearly as cool as most people. So, it was a struggle. Our ultimate goal, international pioneering, kept us going on days when we felt completely exhausted. We were super fortunate to have the neighbors we did. There will always be a big, special place in my little heart for our wonderful, Mexican neighbors (Who am I kidding? Thank you, all Mexicans, for all of your people's awesome contributions to this planet). These sweet neighbors (several different families) fed us copious amounts of tasty Mexican cuisine at least three times a week as their offspring attended children's class, the mothers participated in RUHI study circles, the fathers learned English (with a Baha'i-inspired, Honduran program), the boisterous junior youth played/studied/served and we attempted devotional gatherings every once in a while. 'Twas joyous.
   In the end, we had a nest egg. Except, we never wanted a nest, so we've been slowly eating the egg. It's delicious, by the way and kept us from starving. Good call on having savings, Hal.

   3. Own relatively few material possessions
      This one wasn't too tough for us. We lived in a little apartment which limited our ability to acquire things. We had two small children which limited our desire to own nice things. And, lest we forget, all of our disposable income automatically went to savings like it wasn't even ours to consider spending. Ta-da! When it was time to move, we sold a few things, gave away several (a friend moved into her own, unfurnished place at about the same time which worked out quite well) and put a few items in storage--aka Mom&Dads. It seemed silly to us to ship anything that would already be available in our destination country (beds, chairs, tables, etc). Nor did we have anything worthy of hauling 3,466 miles across the globe anyway.
      We didn't, however, skimp on books. Books are awesome. Books are also, coincidentally, relatively scarce here in the Dominican Republic. Our collection grew over the course of those two years and is still growing to this day. We put our bookshelves right next to our front door in that little apartment in the States. All the neighborhood kids would come over after school every day and read and read and read. We had a small community library of sorts. We have yet to recreate that sense of community here. Its a bit trickier. But we're getting there. Little by little.

   4. To be valuable human resources
       We became training junkies. Anytime a training was offered at work or in the Baha'i community, we did what we could to take part. I learned a lot about education, both in contexts of the political world and within the Baha'i community's scope. As if that wasn't enough of a blessing, we were then able to experiment with our learning, putting it into practice. I'm fascinated by education in all its forms and functions. 'Tis a truly beautiful process.
       The RUHI Training Institute is all the rage in the Baha'i world (and has been for at least two decades now), and rightly so. It is both simple and complex, spiritual and practical, and it's transforming the world (not just Baha'is). No joke. Where else is there a training institute dedicated to the spiritual transformation of communities being implemented in every country in the world which happens to be immersed in a cyclical process of learning, application and reflection? I'm telling you, jump on board because this thing is inexplicably wonderful. Hubster and I both made sure that we'd been through all the books in the training sequence that were available in our language and area come departure time. (Except I missed one. But Josh has always been cooler than me, so that's par for the course.)

   5. Meet a pioneering goal of the plan*
       Although we've always wanted to international pioneer, the actual goal countries change as the Baha'i communities change and develop. It would have been silly to choose a country to pioneer to before we were ready, assuming our entire purpose is to pioneer for the Baha'i Faith. Make sense? So, when we were ready and we'd looked at the goal list and several other factors had pushed us in a certain direction, we decided. The Dominican Republic. Josh also went to check out the country for a week. I know, I was jealous.

Step Three: Jump. And Then Jump Again... And Again. (Good, now you look excited about this.)
Before we knew it, everything was in place, mostly. We bought plane tickets. That, for me, seals any deal (though I recognize that is entirely in my head). From there, it was just a matter of details and getting over any jitters. Things we considered along the way, which fall under the 'details' category:
   *Getting all travel documents together
   *Making sure we had all of our vaccinations and medications for travel
   *Researching legal status options once in country
   *Finding a place to stay for the first month while we acclimated, figured out where we'd be longer term
   *Contacting the Baha'is, both in our own country and destination country to alert them of our plans
   *Studying the airline's baggage limitations & requirements, then slowly narrowing down what was important enough for us to bring. And weighing it. Then getting rid of more. And weighing it again. This also forced me to think about what I could bring without adding weight to our suitcases. My recipe books? I started a blog the year before we left where I documented all my favorite recipes which I can now access whenever I want without having to physically bring anything. We scanned everything we could. We ripped all of our CDs (who uses CDs anymore, Rebecca?). We ripped all of our movies.
   *Researching kids' schooling options. This one was tough. We ended up deciding to homeschool for the first year to help the kiddos transition in. We are educators and they were still young--pre-school & 1st grade--so it wasn't a huge deal. Timing your move right, you could have enough time to do this research once you're in country. Depending on where you go, there may be only one or two options anyway.
    *Researching employment options. In most cases, you can't. And though we found a few options online, this happens to be a culture that places huge importance on relationships. That's right, you need to show up, in person. Know what? Once we did, we got jobs.
    *Spending lots of quality time with friends and family. Take lots of pictures and videos. The kids will need these as they're adapting to the new place and especially before they have made new friends.
    *Checking out every single book from the library about destination country and moving to a new place. I also bought a few choice ones. And we read them all the time. Our dear offspring were very aware of our plans, where we were going and what we planned to do once there. They shared in our excitement and we comforted them in their anxiety.
    *Looking at all kinds of pictures and travel blogs about destination country with kids. Let's face it, this is not something that hasn't been done before. We are not trailblazers. Or exceptional in any way. We're even living in a time and space where communication is instant and easy. Travel is, dare I say, the most comfortable its ever been in the history of travel. We've got it easy. So, relax. Heck, your seat reclines! And take another free orange juice to compliment your airline-mixed-nuts.

If you're thinking, This list is huge, it's all details!, then you're mostly right. The thing is, the details are important, but they're not the deal breakers in most cases. You being emotionally/psychologically/spiritually ready (or at least willing) and having the appropriate attitude are far more important.
And the most important thing? As Baha'is, we turn to the Writings of Baha'u'llah for this one:

"And when he determineth to leave his home, for the sake of the Cause of his Lord, let him put his whole trust in God, as the best provision for his journey, and array himself with the robe of virtue."  --Baha'u'llah

Trust in God--or some higher power/order if that's more your style--that things will work out the way that they're supposed to. I love this, because while it is not an easy task, it's absolutely accessible for the whole of humanity, which is more than I can say for most things in this world.

Happy travels!

Part II can be found here.
Part III can be found here.

*The plan I'm referring to is the current course of action for Baha'is around the world, that has been laid out by the Baha'i international governing body, The Universal House of Justice (UHJ). The Baha'is current plan spans 2011-2016 and can be found here. It is most often referred to as "The Five Year Plan".

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

The virtue of the week we're working on in our household, which was pulled at random: assertiveness.

It has been eerily appropriate because assertiveness, bordering on aggression, is exactly what our family dinner conversations have centered on. Here is a sampling of quotes from our offspring this week:

"He pinched me really hard, right here," Max pointed to his shoulder, "then punched me--hard--in the side and kicked me."

"I get hit on the playground. Serious," she nodded her head, "one, two, three times," she counts her fingers. "I tell the teacher and," she pauses, then throws her hands to her sides, "nothing."

"Oh yeah. My Taekwondo teacher hits us. If we're not paying attention," Max's eyes widen, "he takes the equipment we use to kick and whap! right in the back," he imitated the motion, "But he's only hit me once. It didn't hurt." (Sidenote: Parents are not permitted to watch the classes. This never sits well with me, but is somewhat understandable in a place where everything is stolen or pirated--business ideas, recipes, movies, books, etc, so one feels the need to protect their interests & livelihood.)

"I said, dame la pelota, por favor* three times. And," Zora made a dramatic, director's-cut gesture, "nothing. No respect."

"I told the teacher what he was doing," Max lowered his gaze, "and she told me to hit him back."

If your eyes are the size of saucers and your heart is in your stomach, then you have an inkling of how I reacted to my children's summaries of their school days this week, some terribly normal and others quite concerning. What is going on?! I feel a bit lost for words, while 'Abdu'l-Baha's keep echoing in my head,
"It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child's character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse."

Where is the parental line between protecting your kids and not keeping them in a bubble? Where is the balance between social-freaks and uber-cool? Or am I creating false dichotomies? You can bet we're going to speak to the Taekwondo guru, but this bully at school? Josh and I foresaw this happening--a primary reason for putting him in Taekwondo in the first place. But it still makes me want to march into the principal's (my brother's) office and give him a piece of my mind. If you read this post, you have an idea of what that looks like. Ain't always pretty.

Josh went to visit Max's classroom today. He was able to monitor some break time activities and see the kids in action in the classroom. The bully in question responded well to firm words and Josh asked him, "Do you want me to teach you to read?"
BullyBoy nodded his head excitedly, affirmative. Josh still has to talk to the principal, but it looks like he may be able to offer some positivity into this boy's life. The likelihood is he's behaving that way because there isn't much of it in the first place. And we turn again to 'Abdu'l-Baha's sage advice,
"Every child is potentially the light of the world -- and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance."
Word, 'Abdu'l-Baha. Word. Even though it gives me chills.

So, dear reader, whaddyasay? Have any solid advice in your back pocket?

*Give me the ball, please

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Max's Closet, I mean Classroom

My mom is supermom. The summer I was twelve, I went to a remote corner of eastern Oregon with a school friend for a week. It was a mere seven hour drive from home. Two days into my adventure, I got a migraine. The family didn't exactly baby me as I'd been accustomed to, opting to leave me alone in the house while they all went to the county fair. I called my mom. Homegirl drove seven hours across the mountains and through the desert to come pick me up. My friend probably still hasn't forgiven me for that one. I'm sure my name is brought up every once in a while whenever the family's topics of conversation shifts to big weenies or crappy guests. But I know my mom loves me. Super-duper loves me.
"What can I ever do to repay you?" I often ask her.
"Just do the same for your kids," she smiles.
Okay, Mama. I pulled a Mama-Jan today, though my effort, I'll admit, was Lilliputian. Max forgot his flute (it's actually a cheapo recorder) at home today. For the second time this week. Being the amazing mom that I am *cough, cough*, I brought it to him at school. In the middle of the day. In the Caribbean sun. In summer time (it's still summer, isn't it?). Through the cat calls and everything. When I could have been at home blending up a delicious iced coffee to make it through the heat of the day, then relaxing on our hammock.
Okay, I suck. Max was, in my defense, elated to see me--soaked in sweat--at his school with his musical instrument in hand. Oddly enough, so was his teacher, Olga, who invited me to stay a while (which, by the way, is a sign of a strong teacher in my book).
"Do you want me to stay, Max?" I watch too much Hollywood.
He nodded eagerly.
"But you must go to the office for permission first," TeacherOlga advised me.
I went downstairs to the secretary, "Excuse me. I'd like to visit my son's classroom. Is it here where I get permission to do so?"
She stared at me blankly.
"Ummm," I tried again, louder, "Can I visit a classroom?"
I must have finally come into focus for her because she then pointed me to the adjoining teacher's lounge indicating I could take care of what I needed there. Two teachers were seated at a long table, pouring over a Bible.
"Excuse me. Do either of you know the process for a parent visiting a classroom?"
More blank stares.
"Anybody?" I was beginning to see a pattern here. I have noticed in the last decade or so that I've been a mostly-fluent Spanish speaker that some people (in areas where there aren't a lot of people who look like me) just can't process their mother tongue coming out of my face. I can only liken it to the delightful confusion I felt the first time I heard a thick, English accent. Oh my, EightYearOldMe thought, are they pretending to talk like that to entertain me or is it actually how they speak?! Forget about what they were trying to communicate or if it was actually something I could comprehend, I had my own little monologue going on in my head. That's what I guess they're doing.
I finally found out that I had to talk to the principal who granted and denied permission to all who wished to enter the school. He was upstairs. Forget that I'd been all over the building already.
He lit up when he saw me. "My sister!" he outstretched both arms as I went in for a handshake and ended up being kissed on the cheek. "She is my sister," he pointed to me, nodding eagerly at whoever he'd been talking to in the hallway, "Don't we look alike?" He chortled.
"Yes, well," I skirted the family reunion moment, "I'm meant to ask your permission to be in my son's classroom. May I?"
He elbowed the HallwayTalker, "You see!? In New York, they always ask permission to come into the school," he turned to me, "Don't they?" [New York here means all of the US in 9 out of every 10 cases]
"Yes," I responded matter-of-factly, "It's a matter of security." He didn't catch the irony and instead simply felt justified in a policy he had obviously enacted and apparently had been struggling to get staff buy-in.
I returned to Max's classroom where they'd just begun their daily math lesson. Although the content was dreadfully low for second graders, I was happy with the teacher's ability to encourage lots of focused, student talk and interactions. Max kept turning around to smile at me. For the first time in my life, I used a cell phone in class. Rebel. But with a cause! You see, I was thinking of you, dear reader. I snapped a few pictures with my cell phone, though poor quality, so you can see where my sweet boy learns Monday through Friday. And all the resources the teacher has: two books, chalk and a chalkboard. Homegirl doesn't even have a desk for herself.
Alas, my cell phone is akin to one you would find in those 25¢ candy machines.You know the ones with the fruit-shaped candies and you always throw away the banana-flavored ones? My cell phone is the banana-flavored one. So, I have yet to retrieve said photos from it. When I have an hour or two to figure that out, you shall behold the closet that is Max's classroom.

Update, September 27th:
Being the stealthy journalist that I am, I got you some photos of Max's classroom. Did my Claro cell-phone come through? Of course not. I went for round two. Just for you.

Please note: I am standing in the doorway of the classroom.
And that fan in the front of the room is broken.

"Excuse me. I'm Max's friend," this sweet boy told me.
Yes, I'll take a special picture for you.

Where is the teacher? She is hiding behind the camera because she thought her hair was out of place and didn't want you to see. I told her you wouldn't judge her, but I've never been very convincing of anything.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Mean the One That Yells A Lot? Yeah, Her.

I may have started off on the wrong foot with most of my male-type neighbors. I can't tell quite yet. But word seems to have spread, either way, and I am now rarely harrassed within a three block radius of my house.
The first several times I held my tongue (which is difficult for me to do!) while walking in our neighborhood with my sweet offspring.
"Hey baaaaabbbbbyyyyyy!"
"I love you!"
"Psssssssst! Rubia! Americana!"
I just walked on by with my head held high.

Then, one day, I snapped. And I haven't quite gone back because, quite frankly, it feels good. I keep justifying it all in my head. Somehow, certainly, I'm doing the neighborhood a favor by keeping the cat-calls in check. Perhaps, dear reader, you can help me find the kind, gentile, straight path again. I may need some kind of intervention.

A 20-something male-person came out of a local business that rents video game play by the hour. He waited until I passed (most of them do since cat-calls are apparently only suitable to shout and hiss at your backside), then yelled his line.
I whipped around, "Look," I stared him down, "I live in this community and deserve your respect. Calling out things like that at me in the street like I'm some kind of animal," then I paused for dramatic effect with a slight head bobble, "--and while I'm with my children--is totally unacceptable."
He wilted back into the hole from whence he came and I haven't seen him again. That was almost three weeks ago.

On a different block a week later, I was walking by myself to pick Zora up from school. A young man called out to me something distasteful and my tongue got ahead of me in a flash of anger.
"For the love of God, I'm the same age as your mother!" I threw a hand in the air to dismiss him.
"But I'm 25!" he whined. I burst out laughing. Really?
"Oh. You're very old," I retorted, dripping with sarcasm and he walked around a corner, out of sight.

A few days later, I walked that same block to pick up Zora. I pass a baseball stadium on the way where a bunch of older teens-early 20-somethings hang out in baseball gear all day. Waiting for that one-in-a-million chance that a scout will randomly pass by and hand them a fat check? I'm not sure. One of the boys called out, "Hey Babbbbyyyy."
I kept walking. I could hear them giggling and congratulating each other. I taught high-school for a handful of years so decided to give the poor guy this one. His everyday life didn't seem too full of awesome (any) opportunities.
Having picked up Zora, the two of us walked past again on our way home.
"Hey Babbbbyyyyy," the same teen called out. He'd taken too much.
I turned on my heel and pointed my finger at him, speaking slowly and purposefully (while nearly grinding my teeth), "To impress your friends one time is one thing, but to do that while I'm walking with my daughter is a complete lack of respect and poor upbringing.*"
The blood drained from his face and then, the clouds parted, "Excuse me," he said ever-so-apologetically. I nodded in acceptance and kept walking.
I've been by a few times since then. The gang of boys sees me coming and bow their heads as I walk by. I usually chirp them a "Good morning," but they still seem too afraid to answer. We'll see how that relationship develops in coming months since we both have to make up for what was essentially name-calling.

I fear I may have established a firm reputation which isn't founded in sweetness and delight. At the same time, I don't want to live in a place where I'm verbally harrassed at every corner. The kicker was just a few days ago as I walked Max to his Taekwondo practice. A man called out to me just after we passed and Max turned to me, "Mommy?"
"Yes, Max," still holding my head high (afterall, it is plain unwise to respond every time. Some situations just do not allow for my preferred kind of response or you could put yourself in a very sticky/unsafe situation).
"Why do men do that to you in the street?"
And I lost it again, "Because they have no idea how to act properly, so they act like animals. They were never taught that doing that is rude and demeaning to both the women they do it to and to themselves."
The tongue is a smoldering fire,** Rebecca. Watch it, lady.

So, what do I do?
I've thought about saying something like, "Please, kind sir, do I not deserve respect just as any other human being?" Then, whilst he is surely still deep in meditative thought, add, "And what are we teaching the children? They are, afterall, our future." Good, right?
Then everyone on the block will applaud. Maybe they'll even start a wave. I love those. And we'll all go back to my place for waffles with maple syrup and real butter to talk about how beautiful the world is now that we all care for each other so much in our lovely, mutually respectful relationships.
Or something like that.

*There is a word in Spanish, malcriado, which literally translates to poorly raised and is used generally to refer to someone who has no manners or lacks education. In my opinion, it's pretty awful to call someone since it's a direct insult to one's parents. I shouldn't use that word.

**Reference to: "He must … observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century."
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bad Drivers, Bad Drivers, Whatcha Gonna Do... (by Josh)

Watch out choferes of all types, there's a new Law in town.  He wears a neon-green reflective vest and a wide-brimmed hat that would please any state trooper.  Today this  cool cat, who don't take no infrac-tions, renewed my hope for San Francisco's wonderfully pothole-free streets.
Now, it is a horribly overused cliché to kavetch about bad drivers in the Dominican Republic.  Despite the action-packed, video-game style fun that is an Hispaniolan commute, it seems to be the cornerstone of almost every conversation with an ex-pat, complaining our little hearts out about silly things like near-death experiences, but it gets a little old after a while.
A couple of Dominican "Yorkers" even pointed out to me that Dominicans who have lived in the U.S. would never drive the way they do here back in New York (read "continental United States", they're synonyms).  The missing element, it would seem, is enforcement.
Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people getting pulled over by AMET officers every day, it's just that it's rarely for an actual traffic offense.  When there is no apparent connection between traffic infractions and getting pulled over, there is little motivation or awareness for better driving.
No longer will this be the case! Not with Green-Vested-Hero-Guy around.
A typical AMET dragnet (Photo Credit)
Today I was on my way to pick up Max, waiting at the intersection of the major avenue right next to his school.  There is often a traffic officer near there, randomly pulling motorcyclists over (though those who have small, helmetless children aboard never seem to be challenged).
On this day, I stood next to said AMET officer, waiting to cross with some teenagers.  The light turned red for cross traffic, the cars actually stopped, and so we began making our way across.  Just as I got to the third lane, however, a bright green, Fast&Furious style Honda made a California-stop and rolled right past me, through the red light, skirting the cars that were just starting into their green light. I threw up my hands in mock surprise, then took a long glance back at the traffic officer, thinking surely he would whistle for this moron to stop.
He was looking in our direction, but didn't seem to have even noticed. I shook my head and went on my way.
On the walk back, however, once we'd crossed the same avenue again, I looked to my left and saw what made me do a double-take: a neon-green convention on the next street corner, with Mr. Hero writing a ticket to jerk-guy. 'Twas indeed a sweet sight to behold, justice, and the hope that next time jerko, and maybe even other drivers around him, would think twice before flaunting traffic laws in a school zone.  One ticket at a time, Hero Man, one ticket at a time.