Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So. That Happened.

These are some snippets from my week. Don't get me wrong. I have chosen this life and I am so deeply content with all things ever-lasting. I know that I can move away from all of this any time I want, really. And I know that I am one of the few who can say that truthfully, unlike my fellow villagers.
I stay because I believe in shining light in dark places. I believe it fiercely.

So, true stories from my week:

*My kid was bitten, unapologetically, twice by two different children in two completely different places. Kids who are way too old to still be biting. They left marks.

*Before beginning my Adopted Reader session on Tuesday, I had to remove a syringe (complete with needle in it) from the floor of the classroom. At the school. I also had to clean off all of the bird feces, feathers and twigs that continue to fall from the nest that is well-established in the ceiling.

*My kid used the F-word (in Spanish) in casual conversation, not realizing its gravity because he hears his classmates and teachers use it on a regular basis. See husband's Facebook status for details.

*I had a parent-3 teacher-principal meeting that lasted 25 minutes in a closed room. When they left, my kid burst into tears and I held him as he sobbed while all I could muster was, "Please God, just give me the words that will make this okay."

There's more, but I'm good for now on in the sharing crappy news front. Because here's the thing. Absolutely amazing things are also happening. Light in darkness.

*The library now has its first international volunteer who is a gem of a person. We've got big plans over the next few months. Stay tuned.

*We finished our first term of English classes at the library and every single one of my kids made huge leaps in their conversational skills. 'Twas so cool to hand their parents a CD with a first-week conversation recording and a last-week conversation recording. They rocked it.

*Every single one of my Adopted Readers, who came to me in October knowing only the vowel sounds (and sometimes not even that), have started reading. These are kids who were given to me because they were "lost causes". I cried in class. For reals.

Wait. There's more.
A new mall opened in our pueblo and Josh scored CHOCOLATE CHIPS. I've been traveling to Santiago on special occasions to get those guys. Now? Available in my village.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stronger Than Coffee -- by Josh

It's no great secret that, around bedtime, kids can start to get extra crazy.  What I've noticed with myself is that I think I get even crazier.  For the kids to actually get into the bedroom for stories and prayers, it seems to take FOREVER, and my composure starts to crack somewhere around minute two of said eternity.
Luckily I've got an amazing wife who's got my back and together we somehow manage to get them into their quarters.  Consistently, in the midst of the madness, I begin to yawn, and if I've made the mistake of sitting down while the sleepytime preparation plays out, it feels like I've got sacks of concrete tied to me as I fight against my body's better judgment and get up to go read with the kiddos.
Reading and prayers always happens in bed, now in their room, and I absolutely love it.  It is such a joy to end the day with calm, loving interactions, hopefully blotting from their little memories the sound of my yelling.  The kids have even gotten into the habit, when they really want me to keep reading (we're re-reading The Hobbit right now, prepping for the second film), of offering a foot massage, and all that practice has made them pretty good.  So, as you can imagine, by the time I'm done reading, I'm more ready for bed than they are!  I often tell Max to turn off the lamp and I make myself cozy, drifting off to exactly where I should be at around that time, according to 'ol circadian rhythms.
This is actually in an airport, but you get the gist, I like to sleep.
But I generally manage to drag myself out of the bed and stagger back to Rebecca.  Now, what happens next is absolutely astounding.  
Despite my body's consistent call to hit the hay over the past two hours, once I escape the kids' room, I suddenly get a second, nay a third wind!  I feel more awake than I have all day, just in time to prevent myself from getting a full night's rest.
Rebecca feels the same and had a fascinating analogy.  It's like being in college, in finals week, and you've just finished the last exam or turned in the last project.  You're bushed, exhausted, yet more importantly, YOU'RE FREE! You couldn't possibly go to bed at that moment, regardless of how tired you might be.  You must enjoy this freedom while you can.  And I do, knowing that it will only last a short while, and in the morning, I'll wonder why I stayed up so late, once again.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

We Didn't Start the Fire... -- by Josh's that same old lady,
neighbors think she's crazy.
It's been a good month or more since we last had to deal with smoke pouring into our house (not counting tear gas and burning tires), and it's been real nice not having to worry about floating embers lighting our back room on fire.  But apparently the cease-fire has ended.
Just as the laundry finished its cycle this morning I noticed the cloud of wood smoke wafting into our house, just in time to make all of our freshly washed, soon to be hung clothes smell like we'd spent the week camping.  This time I didn't even bother to say anything though, because our last exchange over the wall left me feeling guilty.  Some time in September, after our downstairs neighbor, Carmen, had required a trip to the clinic for respiratory problems, Ramon and I decided to try to do something about the perpetual wood smoke drifting into our respective homes.  He and Carmen had yelled over the wall to knock it off, to no avail.  So, we headed around the block, in search of the culprits.  Naturally, although it could only have been one of three neighbors whose triangular lots abut or come near our wall, no one we spoke to was responsible for the daily fires.
"It's not me," they would swear, "but I think it may be So-and-So. Yeah, it's definitely them."  We investigated a bit more, then decided we'd narrowed it down to one particular culprit, and when we made further inquiry it turned out that it was the home of a local firefighter!
Ramon stormed down to the fire house, Max and I trying to keep up.  Ramon has a short temper and no patience for B.S., so he got right down to brass tacks.
"Who's in charge here?" he demanded.
After a few minutes of claims that essentially no one was in charge, we found someone who seemed to be in a position of power.  It seems that when people are paid little or nothing for their services, they're extra wary to accept responsibility. We laid out our case, that of concerned, suffocating citizens, the elderly and the young suffering pulmonary trauma day in and day out, by a firefighter no less.
"We'll look into it," they promised.
"No, I want you to send a truck right now," Ramon retorted, "and put out that damn fire. My wife is sick."
"Okay, we'll do our best," they lied, and we went on our way.
The fires, however, seemed to increase in frequency, and when I'd climb out onto our roof to yell at the lady who was responsible for them, I was ignored.  You see, she's conveniently placed her fire pit as far as possible from her back door, and consequently, as close as possible to three other residences.
I kept it up, yelling for her to put out the fire, or at least move it closer to her own house.
Finally, one morning I got a response. "Do you want the boy to starve?!?!? Is that what you want? The little boy to starve?" and on and on she went, for I understood but a tenth of her angry rant.  I waited for her to stop screaming and countered with my earlier suggestion to at least move it closer to her house, but she just belted out more heated words, so I left it alone.  Yet, a few days after that, they pretty much stopped.
I later heard more of the story fourth-hand, that her husband drinks all of the money that would otherwise be spent on natural gas, so she's regularly left to cook as if she were in the countryside.
Guilty.  How else could I feel?  And I'm left to wonder, if this is a barometer of their economic situation at any given time, about the very sad holiday season that she and her kids will have to endure again because of irresponsibility and addiction.
It seems like many people don't understand how many victims they create when they lead lives drowned in booze or drugs or whatever other addiction, and I could be pessimistic and powerless. I didn't start the metaphorical fire, after all. It ain't my fault.
But then I think of the virtues classes we teach.  I think of Rebecca teaching hopeless children that they really can read, and opening up a whole new vista for them, and sending an equally strong message of hope to their teachers.  I am an educator, a neighbor, someone with a Message that will heal the world, sooner rather than later if we as a people choose to take our medicine.  We just have to be sure that it's what the Physician ordered, not just more self-medication.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means (or Meanness) -- by Josh

My last post got me thinking about the popular refrain: The ends justify the means.  It's occurred to me before that this notion has been responsible for the terrorizing of our fellow human beings in instances as wide-ranging as the Soviet purges, the 9/11 attacks, the recent shut down of the U.S. government and the latest round of anti-government protests in the Dominican Republic, even the way we speak to our children.  I purposefully chose such disparate examples because an even simpler, yet equally profound, counter-example recently struck me.

This excerpt from An Early Pilgrimage, by May Maxwell, challenges all of us to re-consider how we act on a daily basis. To give some background, May Maxwell was among the first Western Baha'is to go on pilgrimage to Akka and Haifa, in present-day Israel, to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá and the holy shrines.  A couple of days before a much-anticipated gathering at a spot on Mt. Carmel where `Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh had often gone to pray, she became ill, which led to this stirring experience:
"On Sunday morning we awakened with the joy and hope of the meeting on Mount Carmel. The Master arrived quite early and after looking at me, touching my head and counting my pulse, still holding my hand He said to the believers present: 'There will be no meeting on Mount Carmel today. We shall meet elsewhere, Insha'allah, in a few days, but we could not go and leave one of the beloved of God alone and sick. We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy.' We were astonished. That anything so important as this meeting in that blessed spot should be cancelled because one person was ill and could not go seemed incredible. It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in that shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall. The Master's words had opened wide the door of God's Kingdom and given us a vision of that infinite world whose only law is love. This was but one of many times that we saw 'Abdu'l-Bahá place above every other consideration the love and kindness, the sympathy and compassion due to every soul. Indeed, as we look back upon that blessed time spent in His presence we understand that the object of our pilgrimage was to learn for the first time on earth what love is, to witness its light in every face, to feel its burning heat in every heart and to become ourselves enkindled with this divine flame from the Sun of Truth, the Essence of whose being is love. So on that Sunday morning He sat with us for a while and we thought no more of the meeting on Mount Carmel, for in the joy and infinite rest of His presence all else was swallowed up."

What a line! "A vision of that infinite world whose only law is love."  I love the use of the word "infinite", because so many disputes are based on an assumption of "finitude" (you know, the opposite of infinitude).  The notion of a finite amount of resources, a finite number of possible right answers.  But a new option has been placed before us, as May Maxwell realized, one that "opened wide the door of God's Kingdom".
The door is open.  It's up to us to step through.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's a PRO-test -- by Josh

Not to make light of the protests that are starting to fire up here in San Francisco, but I have to share something Rebecca was told today. A friend was driving down a main thoroughfare that is known for wild protests and had to turn around. Not because they were already striking, but because they were in the midst of prepping for the strike by filling the street with garbage, stones and tree branches (one of the common tactics for combating police).
I was like, finally some forethought and strategic preparation, but for the sake of civil unrest! Why can't this type of planning be shown in some other spheres?
I've heard lots of things about the "strikes" that go on here, which is a way of life for many in San Francisco de Macoris.  It's said that it's all a game, with the leaders of unions and opposition groups employing what are essentially professional protesters to cause havoc until the government will throw some money their way.  These supposed freedom fighters make a mess of the city in the name of social progress, creating a few days of chaos during which groups of masked and hooded hoodlums have their way with the poorer parts of the city.  How this is helpful to the impoverished and under served populations is beyond me.
My eyes and throat are stinging from the tear gas in the air, even though the closest clashes are several blocks away. I would love to know what the city's tear gas budget looks like, though, because we can hear one canister after another being fired off.  It's slightly taxing as well, making me feel sluggish.  My point is not to lament my plight, however, because we've got it good.  The poorer barrios are where the tear gas is being fired, and those houses must be filled with this horrid stuff.
It reminds me of a story a friend told me last year, of something that happened on her block.  The police and the protesters were having at each other, exchanging rocks for tear gas canisters, bullets for bullets, when a desperate woman stormed into the middle of the street. Standing between the two groups, she screamed at them, imploring them to stop their nonsense because her baby couldn't breathe. And whaddaya know, they all left!
Such stories of humanity don't outweigh the stupidity, yet it is this innate humanity that somehow keeps things together.  I thought about this during past strikes, how the city is essentially taken over by thugs for a couple of days, who break into people's homes and businesses and rob anyone crazy enough to wander the streets after dark.  About a year ago, Rebecca and I were watching a movie in the living room on the first night of a similar two-day strike when we heard a loud BOOM, followed by another, then the sound of a motorcycle racing off. I glanced outside after a minute and the street was abandoned and quiet, an eerie rarity in our extremely loud and vivacious neighborhood. The next morning I took out the garbage and chatted with Don Ramon, marveling at the front gate that had a big, whitish hand print with a bunch of buckshot dents just above. My assumption is that the police saw someone messing with our gate and did what police do during such a night.  CSI has yet to show up to check the prints.
So, I'm forced to ask, given evidence that at any given moment the city could become Gotham under Bane, what is it that prevents that? I read that during the first day or two of the Rodney King riots, the LAPD essentially cordoned the area off and waited for things to calm down. That's crazy, and shows that the authorities don't really have control. So, who does? Why don't our cities melt down into chaos? And why don't we show more of whatever social restraint prevents that?
My final thought on the topic is that although these protests are theoretically brave gestures aimed at raising up the common man, the opposite takes place.  There are a few different groups involved that represent a numerical minority: 1) Corrupt and incompetent politicians who anger the populace in the first place; 2) Union and opposition leaders and members; 3) Police who get paid jack squat to battle with their equally poor neighbors; 4) Thugs who take advantage of the distracted police force.
The missing, and most important, element is the rest of us, the generally sane residents and business owners and parents who simply want a safe and positive environment. These are the people driven from the conversation by the actions of extremists.  The result appears to be apathy; keep your head down and keep on keepin' on.  But it is this group that needs to engage most and show that there is a different way, that change can and does happen through grass-roots community solidarity and action.
I guess it takes more valiant men and women, like the lady who'd had enough and confronted the forces of chaos to protect her baby.  It's time for the regular people, in the Dominican Republic, in the USA, in Egypt and Mali and everywhere else to take back the conversation and guide our own destiny. It's time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Hot, Homely One

Whenever the mother of one of my English students greets me with the standard kiss on the cheek, I feel bad for exposing her to my filth. I walk everywhere in the heat and stench of midday tropical sun in the city.
All the clothes I own were acquired from Naked Lady Parties -- the equivalent of hand-me-downs for adults, which I've come to appreciate since it means I don't have to shop (a task I loathe). I don't wear make-up and am constantly sweating. I've had the same 4 oz bottle of perfume for almost 4 years (translation: I rarely use the stuff).
She dresses impeccably, her face ready for a photo shoot at any moment and her cheek is more than cool, it's actually chilled from being in the refreshing A/C of her car. Even her offspring, a 7-year-old boy, dresses better than I do and probably smells better too. Oh, and she's a doctor--a career that is respected ten-thousand fold over a lowly teacher, aka me. I'm the homely one. Before you decide to look for personality flaws, as society has trained us to do when a beauty like this is in our midst, she is also caring, kind and supremely affectionate with her son.
Her cheek is usually the closest I get to A/C on any given day. Usually grocery stores and banks are air conditioned nicely, but I enter one of those establishments maybe once a month. My world is hot. Humid. Sticky. Stinky.
As I was reminiscing how refreshing she is aloud to Josh, he slowly floated into her world.
"Yeah, servicio* would be nice. And family nearby to help with the kids regularly..." he trailed off. Then, as he repeatedly pulled at his shirt front in a self-cooling move (seen too often here not to have one succinct verb to describe it), he declared:
"If I had a car, I would get a job in the capital for the long commute and hope to get stuck in traffic."
The calendar claims its October, but we're still each sweating through four t-shirts a day.

*servicio = someone who comes to your house regularly (usually daily) to cook and clean and even take care of your kids should you wish. Having "servicio" in your employ is very common here, because their salaries are so incredibly affordable (though I have no idea what "affordable" means as we've never looked into it).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"He has no morals"

With a new regular walking route added to my repertoire come more people to meet and greet... and be harassed by. The other day, for whatever reason, I changed up my usual reproach to the "Hey, honey!" and "Ooh Baby!" which fill my ears as I walk with my offspring through the streets of this lovely city. The results were surprising.

A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.

― Bahá'u'lláh

There it is. Plain as day. Speak sweetly. I definitely struggle with my vicious, malicious mouth and find it extremely difficult to button my trap when I feel provoked. Did I mention that I often feel provoked? So, ColmadoDude, like so many before him, tossed his sleazy line at me the other morning. And while I had a full line-up of sharp, carefully crafted comebacks to take him out at the knees, for whatever beautiful reason, the following gentile words came out:
"Please don't speak to me that way."

I kept walking, in complete shock at my own reaction. How civil and unlike you, Rebecca!
Having dropped off the kids at school, I turned around and headed back, fully expecting ColmadoDude to have a few things to say. Afterall, I'd responded so politely I must have been seen as a weak, easy target, right?
Nothing. Nada. He held his tongue and I moved right past (He has also held his tongue for the last several days since said incident).
Across the street, a toothless, aged man in raggedy clothes approached me, mumbling something. I paused to give him my attention, expecting him to ask for money.

"That guy likes to get fresh with people. He has no morals," Toothless shook his head.

Not ten minutes after congratulating myself on my kindly tongue (which wasn't even particularly kindly), I'm judging people. Is that like one step forward and three steps back?

"Uh-huh," I responded, surprised, "Well, sometimes you just need to tell people its not okay to talk to you that way." I guess, right? Since I've never taken that approach before.

"Yes. Yes, you do," he nodded and ambled past me. Toothless has greeted me joyfully and kindly each morning since. Stand up guy, he is and I'm glad he has now deemed me worthy of conversation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not All the Lights Are Out -- by Josh

Your borrowed light greets me
Through tattered shreds of banana leaves,
dancing in the breeze
These rays, which just hours before
Sent us skittering across the street during our walk to taekwondo
Much like our neighbors,
whom we greeted as they settled their plastic chairs into the shade,
opposite their homes, desperate for respite
And here it is, as we bathe in your cool glow on the now glorious rooftop,
Max wondering aloud about the mysteries that lie within and beyond you
Your silver gift shimmering on the coco fronds
Illuminating the Spiderman undies hanging on the line
Creating a sweet moment for father and son

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dang Dengue

Hydration salts remind me of my childhood in southern California. We would often visit my grandparents, who lived in Newport Beach just a few blocks from the Balboa Island Ferry. Grandma June and Cap't lived on the bay in a two-story ocean front beach house. There was a glass bridge to their bedroom, a bathroom with a secret door and--the coolest--a laundry shoot. My brothers and I, however, spent most of our time outside on their small plot of beach. Hours upon hours. And when we weren't on the beach, we were in the water. A weak swimmer (and non-stop talker), the ocean often rushed in my open mouth, just as I now am forced by my loving husband to drink these hydration salts.
My grandma would endlessly reprimand us for leaving wet towels on her wood floors. She'd bend her creaking body to pick them up, slowly, painfully. Now I'm that old woman, with a fierce headache just behind my eyes. My body moans in protest at every movement and however much my mind wants to be checking off to-dos from the list, the rest of me lies in bed, listless.

Apparently Dengue feels like the flu for a day or two: low-grade fever, achiness in your bones. Then there is a break. You think you're on the upswing. Boom. Your fever spikes and you spend a week in the hospital hooked up to an IV to keep you alive. Its a virus, so treating Dengue is more just managing its symptoms--the most dangerous being dehydration. Your platelet levels drop. If and when you suspect that you may have been gifted this lovely virus, get a blood analysis to determine your platelet level. The normal range is between 150-400. When Max was terribly sick two years ago, his platelets were 109.

After two days where I said things to Josh like, "If I'm passed out when you get back, make sure that I'm wearing pants on our way to the clinic," I began to feel better. So I prepared for the worst. Naturally, I walked my kids to their first day of school, then cleaned my house. Seemed like a perfectly good use of time considering I was planning on being in bed, close to death, for at least a week. I washed the last dish in my sink, turned to exhale as I looked at my clean house and it hit. Gross, but good timing, I thought. Dizzy, suddenly hot, cold, and aching all over, I made my way to a horizontal position and called for Josh to bring the thermometer. We had agreed that I'd go to the clinic when my fever came back. Here it was.

An emergency clinic is a 3-block walk from our house. It looks much bigger on the outside. We squeezed inside the emergency room with a screaming kid, an elderly lady with a head injury and several people with unidentifiable (to me) problems leaning against the walls and one another since the three chairs were taken by staff members presumably there to check people in. Blown up pictures of lab equipment hung on the walls. My favorite was the 4x4 foot photograph of blood-filled vials.

Ready to get my blood taken, I looked down. Yup, someone had been there before me.
Freezing with fever and sporting my hair in what I call, "Three-day bed head."
I felt a bit better when we returned home, Tylenol and Gatorade coursing their way through my system. (Side note: one of the acetaminophen brands they sell here is called "Dolfenol." It has a dolphin playing with a soccer ball on the package and the byline is "Healthy as a dolphin". Is it wrong to buy drugs just because they make you laugh?) Josh passed by the clinic an hour later while I stayed in bed, attempting rest.

217. That was my magic platelet number.
"Well," the doc said, "it might be dengue, but it's highly unlikely."
With that, I drank two huge cups of coffee and went about pretending I was never sick. My massive headache went away and my muscles began to feel significantly less ache-y. Dengue? Did I mention that just before I fell ill, I had painted walls for three hours? My final verdict: a dramatic, wholly out of shape caffeine addict who happened to get a fever for a weekend.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Current Gig

Background information: my resume.
I sorted moss, was a carnie*, and worked for a moose selling nachos with the fake cheese poured atop. I mentored middle-school girls and their mood swings. I worked two whole days at Hollywood Video and probably triple that at a burger joint.
I earned a high school diploma.
I taught kindergarten in a village in Honduras. I managed an FDA medical device case study by morning and flipped and rented apartments by afternoon. I taught Mexican immigrant kids to read in Spanish so they'd have a foundation to work from in their regular English classrooms. I designed and sold greeting cards.
I graduated with my bachelor's degree.
I was a "stay-at-home" foster mom Monday through Friday to 6 teenagers who went to four different schools. I administered state reading tests in elementary schools. I kept company, fed and bathed an aging woman. I ran an after school program for middle-schoolers.
I earned my master's degree.
I substitute taught on the first day of school and somehow mysteriously became the teacher in that same room for several years. I sold stuff on Craigslist. A lot. And translated newsletters.
I moved to the Dominican Republic.

*carnie = funfair employee should you be sophisticated and therefore unfamiliar with the term

While I think we can both agree, dear reader, that working for a moose is awesome, my current gig is the best yet. Its easily the worst paying (yes, less than even sorting moss into piles), but I am the absolute happiest. That is saying something, because I never stayed in a job I didn't think was wonderful for at least one reason (please see Hollywood Video job). So I have enjoyed my varied employment. Honestly.

I am not a librarian, but I go to a small, community library every day. I work with kids struggling to read. I fix, paint, sand, rearrange, organize, clean and problem solve. I'm a matchmaker: shy 8 year old, meet Hugo Cabret. Rambunctious boy, this is "Ferocious Reptiles." Teenager, allow me to introduce you to the beauty that is Isabel Allende. I teach parents how to support their kids' reading at home. And I struggle with the fact that to a person, parents end up confiding in me a laundry list of relationship/job/life problems to which I have very little to respond considering I am neither a counselor nor terribly experienced at life.
The learning curve is more of a sheer cliff. I often turn to Josh, "I'm tired," and he nods knowingly. It's the kind of exhaustion that a good night's sleep or caffeine won't fix. But we enjoy it all the same. Slivers of light are breaking through as we experience small successes. We're overcome with gratitude and awe any time we look back on our journey from there to here: from the hundreds of hours logged in late night conversation to individuals the world around who have contributed a few bucks, a few books, and bunches of emotional boosts.
I like to come in early, hours before we open. There is always so much to do. Some snapshots taken during one such morning:

Our youth & adult section.
Announcement board and upper-elementary & middle-school section.
From the front door.
A recent acquisition: enormous world map. It has already sparked many conversations with patrons about the world and it's immensity.
If you need a new gig--even a short term one--consider this one. The internet says Gandhi once wrote, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Come and get lost.

Friday, August 30, 2013

All Victims Shall Be Expelled

"I am so ready for summer to be over!" said no self-respecting Oregonian ever. But I am.
Monday starts a new school year for my dear offspring and boy-howdy, "ready" is an understatement. Their "summer vacation" began prematurely in April, you see.
When we returned from the US, finally home again on our island after a 3 month sabbatical of sorts, we went to Max's school to re-register him.
"I think it would be best," the principal looked my husband straight in the eye, "if Max just stayed home for the rest of the school year." Aerosmith lyrics started to play in my head as Josh related this jaw-dropping tale of the school's principal essentially expelling our son from the rest of the school year for being the victim of bullying.

Ready? It goes like this.

Things started out innocently enough sometime in September. Name calling. Tripping. A shove here and there on the playground. Normal kid stuff, says I. The conversations after school evolved around strategies Max could use to combat the behavior. My little guy would cringe, tears springing up and refuse to hit back even when his dad told him to do so. And our mornings gradually became more and more painful as my kid abhorred the idea of going to school.
The doorman pulled Josh aside one day and said that he should pick Max up early every day since he was being picked on after school. It made so little sense that only after later events did it even register as a red flag for us.
We met with the teacher. We met with the principal. And again. And again. I would go. Josh would go. We'd have a good chat, hear all the right things and yet, the bullying continued. For two straight months we played this game. The stakes got higher, the talks got longer.
There are any number of pedagogical horrors that we witnessed as far as what to and not to do with "problem" children, of which we likely only noticed beings that we are educators ourselves. Its not to say that we have all the solutions (or even any of the solutions), but its our profession all the same. To humor you with an example, the bully in question would be sent to the office, sit for a while and then wander off. Josh or I often arrived at the school to find him doing whatever he pleased on the stairs, at the front door, in the hallways and even in the teacher's lounge. It's a small school, so perhaps the administration thought he couldn't get into too much more trouble even if he left his "time out" chair in the principal's office?
The teacher became exasperated--not with our frequent visits, but with the lack of administrative support. It was her first year teaching at that school--and her last. Bully was taking over. By late October, Bully was kicking, punching and name calling not only his fellow classmates, but his teacher and some visiting parents as well. Sending him to the office clearly didn't result in anything as he'd just wander back to class if he so desired. By the end of November, the principal had started promising that the bully would be expelled from school. We were patient, I think. And the talk without action continued, so of course, the bullying got worse. Max had frequent stomach aches. He broke down at the mere mention of school. He'd come home with scratch marks on his arms so deep he had bled.
Josh met with both the teacher and the principal.
"Yes, the bully will be gone," the principal told Josh, "God-willing."
"No," Josh responded, "Not God-willing, Principal-willing."
And the teacher burst into uncomfortable laughter.

Full rage finally engulfed me when Max came home from school one afternoon with a pencil jab mark right next to his left eye. It was mid-December. Bully had stabbed him with a pencil. In the face.
"That's it," I told Josh, tears springing up, "I am not sending him to school anymore."
I marched down to the school with my ultimatum.
Max was voted president of his class and a white, American kid in your school carries with it an undeserved prestige and clout, much like an individual's white privilege offers in far too many places the world around. All that being an entirely separate post (or 63 of them), I realize that all of the importance that Max carried in the eye's of the principal had absolutely nothing to do with spiritual reality or true merit. But it was the only card I had to play. And Max really is a sweet kid.
"As a mother, it is my job to protect my children. I cannot, therefore, continue sending my child to your school because he is not safe here. Max will not be returning until the Bully is gone." Ultimatum delivered.
"But what about his exams?" Principal asked.
"What about them?! My kid could have lost his eye today." I breathed, regaining my ground.
The principal responded again with the same promises that really are very nice to hear.
"Sounds like a wonderful plan," I said, "Please call me when it is complete so I can bring Max back to school." And I left.
It took about a week, but wouldn't you know it, that card up my sleeve was just strong enough. The bully was expelled and we all went on winter break. Max returned to school for two more weeks before we had to leave for the States. They were two good weeks where my kid was relaxed about school and allowed to learn in a relatively safe environment. Other kids' parents came up to us to thank us. That really got to me. Had the situation been handled differently, Bully never would have become a monster that terrorized the entire school community. He needed help. And it wasn't there.

Fast-forward three months.
"I think it would be best," the principal looked my husband straight in the eye, "if Max just stayed home for the rest of the school year."
Josh sat, confused.
"You see," the principal explained, "Bully is back." Then Josh heard the saga of how the parents came back about a week after we left to deny that they'd signed the papers they did accepting their son's expulsion. Bully's parents threatened to take the principal to court. Long story short: it was ugly. And we all learned a little bit more about this kid and where he comes from.

I don't know if I'll write about what happened with Zora's school. Perhaps someday. She was not expelled in any way shape or form, so no worries. At the same time, I couldn't bring myself to take her back there. There it is. Vacation since April.

So, I'm ready for Monday. And nervous.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Greenhouse on Wheels

"No, no, no," a tall man came out, waving his hands in the air.
I'd been caught.
Walking home from the library one day, I caught sight of some classic, entrepreneurial Dominican genius.
Just after I captured my first picture, said Entrepreneur came running. Uh-oh, I thought.
"No," he repeated once more, looking straight at me, "You have to go around to the other side, where the sign is. That will be a better photo."
I smiled wide, "There is a sign too?!"
He nodded, puffing his chest, proud.

A special carriage for some special plants. Rafael, the fruit guy, sits across the street (his story is next).

The signage reads: "Mobile Nursery". The shop owner stands by as I photograph his work.
Next time I need an orchid, I'll just call.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Dear Blog,
That's it. I've had it. I'm officially firing the monkeys I hired to keep in touch with you. They are clearly doing a horrendous job. Have they posted even once since I took a hiatus in June? Just once?
Yeah. That's what I thought. Damn monkeys.
I'll be back to work shortly. Unless I can find an able chimp.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

People Paradise -- by Josh

According to Wikipedia our dear home, San Francisco de Macoris, is a "true paradise".  Whenever I repeat this, it elicits peals of laughter from Rebecca, but they may be on to something.  Though one could argue about what paradise should look, sound and smell like, the people here are truly fabulous, they're what attracted us to settle down here and they never fail to surprise and charm me.
 We had a fun afternoon today, once we managed to get out of the house.  Rebecca's been out of town, preparing for the youth conference in Haiti, so we needed something to motivate and keep us busy.  Last Friday, one of the junior youth pulled me aside and asked me, "Can Max and Zora come to my birthday party this weekend?"  What a sweetheart, I'm always looking for chances to get those kids out of the house, not to mention free cake, so she told me details would be forthcoming once the invitations were ready for delivery.
Last night, when we got back from a night on the town with some new friends (great company, but don't bother seeing Despicable Me 2, just another typical romance-filled kids movie sequel), we came to our stairs and saw an envelope sitting on a step: "For Max and Zora".
"Huh?" I said, "Weird. What could this be?" Sure enough, it was the invitation, beckoning us for a fiesta the next afternoon at "the pizza place across from Martyrs' Park".
I woke up late, then did my best to have a productive day before setting off for the party fashionably late.  As we got to the park, I looked down the street and saw a big sign saying "La Pizzeria" (The Pizza Place). It had to be the place.
We made our way to the pleasantly breezy upstairs party zone, made our way past the booty shaking 10 year olds and greeted the birthday girl and her parents.  It turned out everyone else had already eaten pizza, so, as her dad is the manager, they brought up another pie for our table to make sure we got some.
Pizza, lots of "raspberry" soda, a cupcake, bags of candy, birthday cake, and hors d'oeuvre pack later, we packed up our loot and waddled out with the other junior youth group girls to walk them home.
What a sweet family! Too bad you can't see the killer Tinker Bell cake, Zora was so stoked.  And it actually tasted good too, pineapple.
The girls took us down a shortcut I hadn't used before, through a neighborhood not criss-crossed by any busy avenues.  As we got to the center of the neighborhood we could hear, blaring from the colmado's speakers, the usual reggaeton. However, it was interspersed by what sounded like play by play for a sporting event.  The intersection came into view and we saw a group of twentysomethings in the middle of the street, playing bottle-cap stickball with a crowd of at least 50 spectators lining the sidewalks.
It seemed to be a regular event, as the "pitcher's mound" and home plate were painted on the pavement, with a tire behind home to serve as the strike zone.  Between the bumpin' beats and the overall neighborliness of it all, I was enthralled.  What a cool idea!
Sorry it's such a bad picture, I waited a while to snap it.  We made quite the scene walking through there, all eyes on this strange company of a White guy and his kids strolling through with five Dominican girls.  
One of the girls we'd walked home with was a new acquaintance who had apparently joined the jr. youth group while lovely Vanessa was here, but had been too shy to attend since she didn't know us yet.  We had managed to convince her that she should return to the group.  So, she took the three of us upstairs to meet her mother, who was rather embarrassed that we were visiting while she was in her "cleaning clothes" but very welcoming nonetheless.
She was excited to no end that her daughter would be involved with such activities, then told me she'd been thinking of starting prayer meetings in her home and was looking for people to help out. Just another example of how, despite my complete lack of spirituality, God just keeps throwing us bones.
It was getting late, and some laundry still needed to be hung on the line, so we said our goodbyes and went home.  I left Zora to play at her friend's house for the remaining sunlight and went upstairs with Max to take care of the clothes.
The view immediately caught our eyes, a striking sunset, "blazing like an inferno" as Max put it.
My "eye-camera" is much more effective than my i-Camera, so you'll have to take my word for just how beautiful that sunset was.

Then, as we're in the tropics, I barely had time to get out my phone and snap a shot before the sun sank behind the distant mountains.
Not a bad place to live after all.

Friday, June 28, 2013

We're Legal! -- by Josh

Well, for 30 more days anyhow.
That's how I broke the news of today's not completely unsuccessful trip to the immigration office.  Rebecca had wisely suggested that I go by myself since we'd last been told that all we needed was a boatload of copies and a payment of $40 to make our visas current.
You see, we arrived back to lovely Hispaniola in April, at which time we immediately started the next step for temporary residency.  Nevermind the fact that we had in our passports a visa good until June 7th, our overstaying fee was calculated from our entry in April.  It's fascinating to have the people in the immigration office repeatedly comment on how useless and unnecessary our residency visas are.  The pride that I once got from apparently knowing more about the new Dominican immigration law than the woman in charge is not quite so heartening now.
As you know, we were previously told that all was well. Our dear friend had looked through all of our papers, consulted a co-worker and made a list of all the copies we needed to make, clearly implying that we were on the verge of the next step, whatever that is.
So, I had made my way back to la migra, gazing at the tranquil azure waters that stretch off into the southern horizon.  The absolute highlight of visiting the immigration office is its location, right on the malecon.  It's great to walk out the subway, stroll down the avenue past the main government buildings and monument to the republic's heroes, then there it is: the Caribbean Sea.
This was a pretty calm day. I prefer the slightly stormy days, wit h the undulating waves and mix of greens and blues.
I like to gaze at the rolling waves and swaying coconut palms as I stand in line, generally for hours.  I'm often reminded of a Soviet torture tactic I heard about on the History Channel.  In order to stay true to international agreements, they came up with something that was technically not torture: the prisoner would be forced to stand, and after a couple of days of excruciating pain, their legs would fall apart inside because of the body's own weight.
This time, however, the wait was quite short and I even got to sit down as homegirl went and took a snack break.  I really don't blame her or any of the other employees for being in bad moods.  The crowds there, particularly large of late, are not terribly happy or polite either and the employees have to work until three in the afternoon now with no apparent lunch break, unthinkable!
Anyhow, she eventually came back and I slid my two folders through her window: one of the 132 requested copies, one with the originals.  "Where are the originals?" she asks.  I point to the folder in front of her and she starts to go through everything again.
"Where's her original birth certificate?" she demands, pointing to the translated copy.
"It was attached with a paper clip to that translation," I reply, and as she went back to flipping through our documents I went to my happy place.  You see, if I stare straight into the white paper sign on her window, I can be transported to another world. With the reflection, I'm allowed a view of the crystal Caribbean and I feel my shoulders relax and I can breathe easy, even as I keep a peripheral eye on what she's doing behind the safety glass.

See the white sheet of paper, next to the guy's head, on the "Numberless Window".
Long story short: All of our translations are useless, we have to get a new guarantor letter (and possibly a new guarantor) and even after we manage to miraculously get everything accepted by her, it apparently takes another three months for the folks who work behind her to determine we're not a threat to the Dominican nation.
It was at about this point that I actually turned to get a full view of the sea, take a deep breath, and say thank you to homegirl.  After all, she was making it exceedingly clear.  It was like being told by a girl you've got a crush on that, really truly, you'll only ever be friends.  You can look back and see the mixed signals, but none of it matters anyway.  So, that beautiful clarity can let us breathe and realize that this will not be something we can rush, so we should just take our time and not stress ourselves out.

I found a happy place!

Just as I was walking away from the window, shoving my many folders back into the backpack, Rebecca rang.  "We're legal!" I told her, giggling at my little joke.  Then I strode outside, walked across the street and found a happy place.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We Are Not Defeated!

It’s not exactly a win, I admit. We last left off two weeks ago when we were told of the necessity for original letters of guarantee, notarized and then legalized. While I’m familiar with originals and notaries, I had no idea what is involved in getting something “legalized.”

We picked up the 1st guarantor letter from the bus station which had arrived from Santiago two weeks earlier. We took a taxi to the Baha'i Center and picked up the 2nd guarantor letter which had been found and notarized the day before. We then went to the office that has my stomach in knots each time I think about it: immigration.

It occurred to me sometime during the 3 hours that I stood in line to get yet another made-up bureaucratic stamp that my immense frustrations with this process were because of an intense amount of distrust in the world.
At some point along the line, someone is going to have to be trustworthy and the other person is going to have to trust. Baha'u'llah writes,
"Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.
That, to me, means that without truth, we ain't got nothin', baby. Just a whole lotta pain and darkness. Not following? Here's a real-life example of what happens in a system without trust:

I need a birth certificate to prove some piece of my identity.
It has to be issued within three months of when I use it. (check one)
It must be apostilled by another government agency. (check two)
It has to be translated by an official translator. (why don't we have a universal language yet?)
The translation has to be notarized. (check three)
The notary requires an apostille as well. (check four)
Then the consulate says its all okay. (check five)
Then the immigration office says it has to be translated by a Dominican. (check six, an especially infuriating one)
But not before making 62,000 copies of each. Or something close.

As we celebrated each step forward in line, Josh & I chatted with everyone. We commiserated. And, guess what? Ours was not the most painful story.
Then we made it to the door (which means you're only about 7 spots away from the front of the line!) and were randomly asked if we'd paid our impuesto (tax). Nope. What's that?
Oh, the service we're in line to receive? We have to pay for it at a bank and bring the receipt. They don't take your money here (another truthfulness check?). While Josh ran to the closest bank (not close), I stood in line answering the same question over and over again (Why didn't you just ask?), then was told he didn't actually have to go to the bank. I ran to catch him walking away.

"Wait!" I yelled. "They say you can get one of those receipts here."
"Where?" he turned around and walked back to the line with me.
ArmyDude who was in charge of keeping everyone in line (quite literally), pointed the place out to Josh. "Just there."
"All I see is a cafeteria," Josh responded, squinting his eyes.
The National Police Officer we'd been talking to about the pervasiveness of corruption pointed as well, but to no avail. Josh couldn't figure out where they were talking about.
ArmyDude took him by the arm and walked him straight to a scruffy looking guy in a white t-shirt who promptly pulled out a stack of bank receipts from his pocket and began smoothing them out. Yes. The National Police Officer and the fully uniformed, on the clock ArmyDude had led Josh to the ticket scalper of the immigration office. Between the extra high price and not wanting to be screwed over for another technicality in this long process, Josh started walking to the bank. Again.
I stayed in line whilst slowly letting each person behind me to go in front of me as I waited for Josh to return with another absolutely necessary slip of paper. He returned, triumphant (and noted that his name and passport number were put on each of the bank receipts confirming the TicketScalper avoidance a good call).

End result? We got one letter legalized. The other letter didn't mention the same notary number as the actual notary number used on the stamp (that was the letter creathed back in December in Santiago with a friend willing to stand behind us and the one lawyer we've paid because the letter can only be created by a legitimate lawyer). Made useless in one fell swoop.
"So, we're done for today then, yes?" I turned to Josh, eager to leave already.
"Nah. Let's try the numberless window."
I laughed. But he was serious.
After ping-ponging between several windows as is requisite of any immigration office visit, we ended up at the numberless window, of course. She cannot be avoided. 
I opted to stay hidden behind a pole and a crowd of people. No, seriously. I hid. 
Josh left the window with a smile on his face.
"They accepted the translations," and he was serious.
"What?! So, do we have our residency?"
He chuckled, "No, we have to make all these copies first." He handed me a post-it note with a list of copies to be made that equaled no fewer than 130.
"Okay. Then what?" Because that sounded way too simple.
"I'm not sure. I even handed her the letter that didn't get legalized and she said 'That'll do'."
I was genuinely surprised. And delighted. And feeling ever-so-justified in hiding my face.
We got to 96 of the 130 copies before the office closed. Forced to go home.
Or to Wendy's.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Its All Wrong. All of It.

Another two-hour bus ride. Another metro ride. Another 10 block-walk. Into that blessed immigration office.
We went straight to the "numberless window."
She was there again, the woman with the angry face. Staring us down over the top rim of her reading glasses. We both smiled real big, unable to think of a worthy compliment to start out the day right.
I slid a serious stack of papers--full of official signatures, seals and evidence of hours upon hours, dollars upon dollars--through the slot in her window.
"Put it in a folder," she looked down at the stack, refusing to touch it.
Breathe, Rebecca. Breathe.
I slipped our battered and torn folder around the stack. At some point in that folder's long life, I had begun to doodle a pig on the front of it, but stopped short of the head. Only its back side and a cute, curly tail were there.
She audibly exhaled through her nose as I slid the stack, now with a folder, through the window opening. My face apparently inspired a great deal of anger in this woman. Either that or she hates immigrants.
AngryFace began to sort through our documents. We couldn't see what she was doing since her desk was significantly lower than the window. She looked up.
"Its all wrong. There is nothing here from the required list."
"Ummm... this list?" Josh held up the list she had told us to retrieve the day before.
"Yeah. You don't have anything here."
I honestly had no idea how to respond. We double-checked that list, carefully marking off each item, gently placing each corresponding document into our stack. I've been in similar situations a time or two before where my reality and the other person's reality were at complete odds and they ended very, very badly.
"What is missing exactly?" my voice was mouse-like. I was desperately trying to give her the power she obviously sought while still trying to get what I needed.
She peered at me over her glasses, "Everything."
How does one respond to this?
"Can you please highlight on this list what is missing?" I gently asked, meek as possible.
"I'll write it down for you," she took out a small slip of yellow paper and began to scribble. I couldn't imagine what in the world she would be writing.
I carefully read her list.
"We have these things," I looked up, softly.
"Where?" AngryFace was in full force.
"Here!" Josh held up the folder. It was his turn to lose his cool. I touched his forearm as he'd done for me the day before.
"You know what? I'm going to take a break. You get organized," AngryFace pointed her finger at us and walked out.
In classic Dominican "line" culture, a crowd had gathered around us, leaning in on every word, completely forgetting their own immigration issues they'd come to sort out. Despite the fact that we were in the immigration office, most people in the lines are Dominicans. Lawyers and lawyer's minions. Because no one else seems to be stupid enough to try this on their own.
They all tried to explain to us that we were wrong. And, being on level footing with them, we were able to explain that yes, we had everything on the list. Oh, and the letter from a guarantor? We had two of those. They stood back slightly, surprised. Then each offered their services to us as lawyers on our behalf. Hmm.
AngryFace returned still chewing on a cookie.
"Are you organized now? Give me your papers." I was a child being scolded by some acquaintance of my parents who never came around. Who is this woman?
"Would you like the papers from your list or the whole folder again?" I asked, slightly emboldened.
"All of it. Give it to me."
I dutifully handed over the same folder with the same exact papers in it. This time she stood at the window leafing through the papers so we could see what she was doing.
AngryFace looked over her glasses again while vigorously flipping through the papers, "Are you married? I don't see a marriage certificate here."
I nodded and slipped my hand through the slot in the glass stopping her frantic flipping.
"Its here," I said, guiding her back to the front of the stack.
"What about your birth certificates and their translations? Those aren't here."
Again, I slid my hand through and pointed them out.
"What about your guarantee letter?"
Again, I showed it to her.
"I need the original," AngryFace was determined to win this one.
Josh stepped in, "The Dominican Consulate accepted everything that is here."
"They're different. They don't issue residency visas."
Josh and I jumped on it. We both grabbed our passports and showed her our temporary residency visas issued from the Dominican Consulate in New York.
"That's just a visa. Its not residency." Was I fighting with a child?
"I must be confused. Can you tell me the difference between a visa and a residency?" I knew full well that we were talking about the same thing: a residency visa.
AngryFace ignored my question, "Well, you don't have anything translated."
Frustration was definitely mounting. Am I crazy here? Is this where I'm supposed to offer her a bribe? If I was going to go down a slippery slope now, I'd just walk out. I don't really need this residency visa. You just pay a fee when you leave the country instead. The only reason we're doing this is to follow the law. Only what happens when the very people in charge of enforcing the law don't know what the law is?
"Can you show me what needs to be translated?" I asked.
"All of it."
"Each of those documents has been translated and each has an apostille," I was calm, but firm. And that crowd was still there, no doubt adding firewood to her flame as she held firm to her pride.
"You have to have those translated by a Dominican." I wanted to laugh out loud. Clearly this little island nation has the corner market on Spanish translation and no other person could possibly do it correctly.
AngryFace closed the folder and shoved it back through the window, "See? You don't have anything here."
I balked. And then did my best to go soft again.
"Can you please highlight on this list what we are missing?"
"You don't even have the residency application form."
Josh was boiling. He pulled it out and placed in on the glass.
"That's not the right one," she said, pretending to be occupied with something at her desk.
"This is the one available on the internet site. Can you tell us where to get the correct one?" I asked.
"Go to window #1. It costs 100 pesos."
And with that, she was rid of us. AngryFace: 1, FrustratedImmigrants: 0.

Down at window #1, where there is a happy person, I got in line. And Josh went to call one of our many Culture-Brokers for an "Am I crazy? check". The woman behind the window even has balloons at her station. Its an entirely different feeling. She smiles and asks what she can do for us.
I relaxed so much, in fact, I almost started crying. You know, like when you were a kid and something traumatic happens. You can keep your cool until you see your mom. Then the dam of tears breaks. Except I'm supposedly a grown-up now, so I didn't squirt any in the immigration office (or any time thereafter over AngryFace).

Balloons-n-Smiles sold us the forms. Except they were 66 times more expensive than what AngryFace had told us. I forked over a total of DP$13,200 (US$330) for two forms that each came with an official looking stamp. Guess we can't lose those. To be fair, we knew we'd be paying that amount on top of everything else since it was on the list referred to above. It just wasn't clear at what point in this game we were supposed to pay it.

Josh came back from the phone call. Turns out that we're right about translations. The entire point of an apostille is to be able to get a document translated in another country and be accepted here. Our Culture-Broker gave us a name to drop, since that is what moves people if you don't bribe them apparently. We will, however, need to get the original of the guarantee letter(s). One of them is in Santiago at a lawyer-friend's office and the other is in a stack somewhere at the National Baha'i Center in Santo Domingo. Either way, it means we were done for the day since immigration shop closes at 2 pm.

Outside the immigration office, channeling AngryFace and feeling sideways.

We grabbed lunch at "Speed Food" and caught the bus home. The food, incidentally, was awesome. I wonder what their secret is. Perhaps we should recommend it to our new friend. That cookie didn't do her any good.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Is It You Do Here, Exactly?

Note: If you're just joining us, the residency process sort of began here, continued here, gets slightly awkward here and now you should be caught up.

At the end of our first visit to the immigration office, we were told to return in two weeks when our medical results would be ready.
Two weeks passed. Josh called.
"Bring your passport and the medical exam receipt."

Two hour bus ride, metro ride, ten-block walk and we arrived on a Wednesday morning. In the two+ weeks that we were gone, they put numbers on more of the windows and installed microphones with speakers at each. I was sincerely impressed at the improvements.
Josh went to the information desk and asked where we needed to go. After listening to two employees chat about their night out, they eventually deemed him worthy of attention. "Go to window #1."

"Hi. We were told to return two weeks after our medical exam. Here we are!" we told Window#1 Lady.
"To get your results, you need to go to room #4, down that hallway."
We were stopped by the uniformed door guard at the hallway and told to go to the information desk for a clip-on pass. Back at that desk, ChattyIgnorer asked for our passports. We passed them through the window slot and she handed us two clip-on passes, then rubber-banded our passports together and set them down next to her.
"Ummm... don't we need those?" Josh asked.
"Yes," ChattyIgnorer said.
"So, can we have them back?"
"No. Unless you want to give me something else."
This was the moment. In all our frustration at the uselessness of our blessed passport cards, they were finally going to be accepted and have a clear purpose: to get clip-on passes and gain access to the hallway!

We met the guard again and flashed our clip-ons. Success! We easily found room #4 and another window clearly labeled "Medical Results". That was easy. Mostly.
Josh handed over our medical exam receipts. The two women looked at them, handed them back, then told us to go to a different window, outside the hallway.
Hold the phone. I was confused. Again. Due to my immense confusion, things get fuzzy here, like trying to recount a dream right after waking up.
Since we'd just been to any number of windows, each of which told us to go to a different window without having done anything for us per se, I had reached my window-hopping quota for the morning. I needed some clarity before I was willing to go dutifully to the next place. After all, we were here for our medical results and the window was clearly labeled such.
My struggle for clarity and the two women repeating the same jumbled message followed by, "Go out to the numberless window," repeated itself several times.
Then I finally asked:
"What is it you do here, exactly?"
Except I think it sounded more like, "You're quite useless, aren't you?"
And what I meant to say was, "Have I completed what I needed to at the window and why don't I have medical results in my hands?"
Both ladies immediately put on their fighting faces and Josh gently pulled at my forearm indicating I had done something quite idiotic and should stop. Immediately.

When we'd successfully fled, Josh told me, "You can't mess with people here like that. We'll be screwed."
Duly noted.
We headed to the numberless window.
"Hi. We were told to return two weeks after our medical exam. Here we are!"
"Your papers," the numberless window lady didn't look too happy. She was like a Sneetch without a star. No number on her window. No star on her belly.
We passed our passports and exam receipts through her little window slot.
"No, your papers," she repeated, now visibly irritated.
We shrugged, "Which papers?"
"No, no, no, no. You're not ready," she looked passed us and waved to the next person in line.
We stood our ground. She was now full on angry.
"The papers from the list?" I asked.
AngryFace at the numberless window then gave a slight nod.
We smiled, "Oh. We already turned those in."
"At window #1 when we got our medical exams a couple weeks ago," we pointed to the window.
Perhaps we shouldn't have mentioned a window with a number.
"I need them," AngryFace was quite stern.
"Sorry, I thought we only had to turn them in once," I responded (not mentioning that the Consulate had already asked for and approved all those papers when they issued our temporary visa). But I should have just walked away. I think that may have upset her delicate angry-face meter.
Having only brought what we thought necessary--a total rookie mistake--we didn't have the stack of papers with us. They were all back home in San Francisco.
We went to the Window #1 line.
"Hi! Remember us? So, you know those papers we turned in a few weeks ago? Can we have them back?"
Long story somewhat shorter: They don't keep those around. My guess is those papers we spent so much time gathering, sorting and caring for are now rotting in a landfill somewhere.

In times of defeat, Josh has a nasty habit of turning to fast food to nurse his wounds. I like to make a check on my to-do list to squeeze some kind of productivity out of day otherwise lost.
So, we went to a big store to buy some stickers I needed for cataloguing books, which ended in another dead end. So, we both enjoyed something only available in the capital: Wendy's.
We ordered everything with bacon.

I do not recommend government employees behind numberless windows. I do recommend Wendy's blackberry milkshakes.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Give Me the Loudest One

"Give me the loudest one," said Don Ramon, our neighbor, to the guy at the hardware store.
Or at least that's how we think it went.
Just back from an out-of-town trip, we heard a school bell ring, clearly calling students to head to their next class. 

Except we were at home. In our living room.

Upon further investigation, we found this.

Caution! Do not stand next to it when it rings.
The neighbor down the street told me yesterday that she can hear it whenever it rings too. 

While we were out, our dear neighbor fixed our doorbell. It had been broken for a few weeks and we kept missing visitors. We live on the second floor and often work in the back of the house where its quieter, so will consequently miss anyone who doesn't call us or ring a functioning doorbell.

And like all of his projects, he didn't just fix it. He went above and beyond the call of duty. He traded up. 
"Did you see your new doorbell?" he chuckled.
"Oh yes. I heard it first, of course!" I returned his smile. He was mighty pleased with himself.
"It's from a school!"
He was so excited to have a school bell installed in the house of the educators, he kept repeating this as he walked out. "It's a school bell--from a school!" and he'd laugh at his cleverness.

We'll never miss another visitor.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

They Grow Up So Fast

Cliche, I know.
But I'm not talking about kids.
Our library project, Biblioteca Comunitaria Dr. William House, has decided to grow out of its space before we've even moved in. Parents of wee ones know all too well: better get them into that cute outfit from Aunt Mildred before she grows out--oh, dangit! Kid is already too chubby. And so is the library. While the hunt continues for a home, supporters continue to offer up books, supplies and time to open the doors (where the doors are, we're not entirely sure). It has become so much more than one community's project. Over 200 people from 14 different countries have contributed money, time, supplies, and books. 'Tis a beautifully diverse and unified effort. And also means that we are now looking for a larger space than we'd planned at the outset. Dream bigger!
In the meantime, we have been organizing and cataloguing and cleaning and covering and repairing and peeling stickers and placing stickers on all of these BOOKS! It would be a huge fib if I told you we weren't reading them as we went.
You can follow our entry progress on Library Thing. This is us:

That list will continue to grow in coming weeks as the barrels and boxes arrive. If any of you have a few days to come help out, come on down! Mango season is upon us, after all. And we might just have a good book to read for a short break hammock-side.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Roach Resort -- by Josh

Yesterday evening, I stumbled on a surprising scientific discovery involving some of God's tiniest, most disgusting creatures.  I've never been too horribly bothered by roaches, because they're ALWAYS preferable to rats.  However, there were the ones that would fall out of the trees and into my hair on the coast in Bulgaria.  There were also the discoveries of roach nests in an alarm clock and a wireless phone receiver in our apartment in Oregon (let's just say I rubbed off a good layer of facial skin before I felt clean).
But my latest encounter with these epic survivors makes me think they're becoming spiteful.  For a while, we only had the big roaches, including the flying kind, which are more like beetles and serve  principally as playthings for Danger the Cat.  Those I don't mind. But lately, their smaller, crappier (literally) cousins decided to move in as well.
I knew a great battle had begun as soon as I spotted the first little ones.  After our many years of fighting this arthropodic plague in Oregon, those six-legged terrorists who would hide in our wooden walls and withstand our onslaughts, I could only imagine, with horror, the scale of warfare it would take to push back such an offensive critter here in the Tropics.
Last night, once we'd finished our Declaration of the Bab pizza party and prayers, I opened the kitchen drawer to get a plastic baggy for the last slices of pie.  What I saw immediately reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude:

  • "[T]he cockroach, the oldest winged insect on the face of the earth, had already been the victim of slippers in the Old Testament, but...since the species was definitely resistant to any and all methods of extermination, from tomato dices with borax to flour and sugar, and with its one thousand six hundred three varieties had resisted the most ancient, tenacious, and pitiless persecution that mankind had unleashed against any living thing since the beginnings, including man himself, to such an extent that just as an instinct for reproduction was attributed to humankind, so there must have been another one more definite and pressing, which was the instinct to kill cockroaches, and if the latter had succeeded in escaping human ferocity it was because they had taken refuge in the shadows, where they became invulnerable because of man’s congenital fear of the dark, but on the other hand they became susceptible to the glow of noon, so that by the Middle Ages already, and in present times, and per omnia secula seculorum, the only effective method for killing cockroaches was the glare of the sun."

Behold my great, ferocious light (and shoe)!
Much like Al-Qaeda's mission to instill fear and insecurity by striking where one least expects, where one feels safest, these little critters' antennae had led them to a place designed to be impermeable to their presence.  The very purpose of those plastic bags is to protect my favorite treats and luscious leftovers from their filthy feet.
As it turns out, cockroaches love to settle in small cardboard boxes. The first, 1/4 full box I simply emptied out the bags, chasing down and killing the roaches one by one. Although there was some insect feces on each bag, they were all still new and sealed, so I figured I'd just wash them in some disinfectant and call it good.
Then Rebecca asked, "Did they get into the other boxes?"
"What other boxes?" I replied with a sense of foreboding.
Sure enough, another drawer had two full boxes, one partially open.  I gritted my teeth and pried up the lid. "Crap!" I thought.  Literally. Lots of it, and in the folds of the bags I could see their sickening bodies squirming and crawling. "Rebecca!"
It broke my heart, but there was only one, very wasteful, solution. In the garbage it went. They won. I didn't even get to slaughter them.  Maybe I should've poured some lighter fluid on the box and blown it up, like Rebecca tried a while back.  Bitter defeat was mine.
Ultimately, the lesson I think Marquez was trying to teach us, and which I struggle constantly to learn, is that although it's valiant and worthwhile to keep on struggling and cleaning and re-building and renewing ourselves, some things are simply out of our control.
Ah, the power of literature. It can make even cockroaches seem philosophical, though I still hope they stay out of our library.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Paper Airplanes Give Us Wings! -- by Josh

This is dedicated to Ms. Jessie Firestone, the best 2nd grade teacher ever (according to a vote by her sweet students).

Today, while waiting for Max during his music class, some kindhearted, entrepreneurial high school girls came by to offer their summertime babysitting services. They wrote their number down for me, then, not noticing they'd dropped an extra sheet of paper on the ground, went on their way.
A minute later, one of Max's classmates, a particularly energetic fellow named Justin, strolled by. "Whoa! A piece of paper!" he exclaimed, promptly grabbing it off the ground and crumpling it up.
"What are you doing?" I interjected, "Why would you crumple it up when you could make an airplane?"
"I don't know how," he lamented. Just then, a little girl snatched it from his hand. "I do!" she said.
She put together a rudimentary paper airplane which didn't go far, so I creased the wings a bit more.  It still wasn't an aerodynamic wonder, but it did the trick!

You can see in the background the avion of note.
Justin ran off, throwing it all over the place, then attracted another group of boys when he began tossing it from the top of the stairs.  After about 15 minutes of this, Justin's mom showed up and he unwillingly went with her.  The other boys kept on playing with this marvel of engineering, having the time of their lives, for at least another 15 minutes, until it got stuck in some corner.
It was great to see such excitement from such a simple object, that easily could've been tossed in the trash joylessly.  Fun is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Claro: The Break-Up

If you've followed the Cell Phone Saga (Part One, Part Two), you know I've been counting down and simultaneously dreading the day I would have to face the Claro folks one last time in their big, air-conditioned office for the break-up. Today was the day.
I went to the Santiago office, since they "prefer" that you close accounts in the same place that you open them (and I wasn't about to mess with any alternatives). Right there my journey to Santiago, an 80 minute one-way trip by crowded bus has me traveling and spending more money than the US version of canceling an account: logging in online and making a few clicks from your home or office computer. Josh has been out of town, so keep in mind that I'm also traveling with both kiddos everywhere I want to go.
From our winter school trip. This is often what traveling by bus with the chitlins looks like.
Thank goodness Josh kept them frequently out & about last year, so they are excellent travelers by bus, by concho or even on foot. He made the chore easy for me with the intense amount of training he did last year (which included almost weekly trips by foot, concho and shady, bumpy mountain bus--a 1.5 hour journey outside the city--to A Mother's Wish Foundation). Shout out to awesome dads.
We made our way inside the massive building about 15 minutes after they opened for business. Our early arrival was planned to avoid lines. It worked! I did notice that the ropes they use to direct people into a line had been shoved so close together that the kids and I were forced to stand one in front of the other. This is good, I thought. That should definitely minimize people cutting in front of you.

"Hello, Rebecca. My name is Indhira. How can I help you?" said a representative I've never seen before. In that moment, I decided to squelch all of the negative feelings I have surrounding this contract and play real nice. I almost did just that.
"Hi, Indhira. I would like to end my Flota contract today," I forced a smile.
"Okay, may I see your identification please?"
I pulled out my passport card, immediately realizing that I should have brought the blessed passport book instead, remembering my bank-identification-fiasco.
She turned it over in her hands and looked puzzled.
"Its a passport card," I said.
"Yes," she responded pointing at her screen, "do you have the ID that matches this passport number?"
Oh! I thought, that actually sounds somewhat legitimate, even though my picture is clearly me.
"I don't, but passport numbers do change each time you get a new one. They aren't entirely comparable to the cedula. The cedula equivalent in the US would be our social security number, since those are the same our entire lives. Passport numbers, however, change with each new passport. But as you can clearly see, that is me," I realize that was a mouthful, but I was desperately trying to be friendly and at the same time avoid rejection.
"Well," she looked a bit worried, "do you have a copy of your passport?"
I shook my head, no.
"Hmmm... Let me go talk to my supervisor," and she walked over to the important-looking lady on her perch.
Geez. We haven't even gotten past step one and she's already going to the supervisor. Breathe, Rebecca, breathe. I did some deep breathing and told the kids to go sit down. Although I hadn't brought my passport book, I had brought children's books. Max started reading to Zora.
Indhira returned.
"While we wait on that," she waved her hand in the air, "let's get the next step going."
I like how this woman works. That smells like efficiency to me, if I remember it correctly. She did a few more things with her computer and then handed me a slip with the final amount to pay on it. I went to another part of the building and paid, then returned with a receipt.
"Okay," she looked up from her keyboard, "Why are you ending your Flota contract?"
I couldn't help it, "Oh, I have a long list of reasons." I smiled. Then kicked myself inside and started over. "No, let's just say that the others we opened the account with left the country a year ago and I've been waiting for the contract to expire. We only need two phones."
"So, you'd like to cancel the other phones and continue the contract with just two?"
An audible laugh escaped me, "No, I want to keep the two phone numbers on a pre-paid basis and cancel the contract all together."
She nodded.
"That is such a beautiful necklace you're wearing. What bright, happy colors," I said, slightly desperate and willing to try anything.
She typed some more, left twice and eventually came back with my passport card and a few slips of paper.
"Alright, you will have to come back in 1-2 days with a copy of your passport that matches this number. For now, take this form to the next building over to the representative named Katherine. Is there anything else I can do for you?" she smiled.
"Thank you very much," I picked up my things, gathered the behaved children (a small miracle considering our very early morning) and left, unsure if I'd just had a victory.
We walked out into the blazing sun and down the path to the other building. I immediately did not like the feeling in that building. The air conditioning was not the only thing giving me chills. We checked in and waited, though this time significantly longer even though one could clearly see that only five Claro employees and the three of us were there.
Eventually, CheckIn Lady called me, "Katherine won't be able to help you today, you can go to that young person there."
We gathered up our things and lo and behold, that other young person was someone I had spoken to quite frequently at the beginning of our contract time.
"Hi! How have you been?" I was overly cheerful.
"Good, good," he smiled in a kind of dreadful recognition.
"Well," I launched right in," its finally that time. Those long 18 months are over!"
He chuckled politely and I handed him the papers I'd been given.
"Do you have your passport book?" was his first question.
I shook my head, "But as you can see, it's me!" I laughed, attempting to make light of the situation.
"Yes," he pointed at his screen, "It says right here that you don't have it today."
I just knew they had a file on me, tracking every one of my Claro sins.
"So," I tried the compliment route with him too, "Is this a new position for you? Your own office seems like a move up. You got a promotion, eh?"
He nodded.
"Wow! Congratulations!" I shot him a cheesy grin.
"Thank you."
He continued typing. He used the phone. He shuffled some papers. He walked out. He came back. He had me sign a paper. He called another person.
"Okay," he looked at me for the first time in 20 minutes, "Your contract has been terminated. To move to pre-paid status, however, it will take 24-48 hours before your profile is ready. You need to bring in a copy of your passport book so they can complete your profile."
"Wow. Thank you. So, as of this moment I don't have any phone service and won't have any phone options for 24-48 hours?" I have taken to summarizing what I've understood since some things I either find too odd/incredible/nonsensical and there is always a chance that I just wasn't able to hurdle a language barrier.
"And, do I have to bring that copy into this office, or can I do that in San Francisco de Macoris where I live?" I had hope in my voice.
"Well," he sucked air through his teeth, "do they have a main office there?"
"You can do it there then."

We shall see. It felt odd to walk out of the office without any paperwork. No confirmations other than the lack of phone service. I'm genuinely curious if a bill will show up next month.
So here I am, a Claro divorcee. Finally. I really thought the process would be significantly more painful than that, but upon further reflection it makes absolute sense that the part they are the best at is the break-up. Thanks for the good times, Claro. Peace.