Saturday, December 13, 2014

How My Boobs Got on the Internet

We invited all the media. And 99 other people too.
This morning our little library, Biblioteca Comunitaria Dr.William House celebrated the completion of our Traveling Story Time program, made possible by a grant from Better World Books. At the beginning of July we began with a goal of reading 1000 books to 5000 kids and training at least 25 local volunteers to help us do it.
It was a long road with points along the way where we weren’t sure if we were going to meet our goal on time. And then things got crazy because of one woman’s efforts. A professor at the public university in town saw us on the tv talking about the library. Then she did something loco. Dr. Janleyda Oleaga told each one of her medical students that they were future servants of their community and had better start practicing now. All of a sudden, serving our little program was required for their course. From that day on, we’d see two or three medical students show up at the library each afternoon asking to participate in the program. Ummm, sure!
On Thanksgiving day—a normal day at the library—a few of the medical students showed up to return children’s books they’d checked out and turn in their form that all volunteers fill out (it’s a data thing) when they “travel” to a Story Time be it at a school, a park or in a neighborhood gathering spot. Over the course of 5 months, we held story times in 8 public schools, 23 private schools, a local fair, a hospital, an orphanage, a government-run daycare, a couple after-school programs, 4 parks, and at least 5 different neighborhoods.
Reading to kids in the children's hospital.

Reading to kids in a public school classroom.

So, this morning we were celebrating the meeting of our goal. Drum rollllllllllllllll, pleeeeeeeeease.
99 volunteers participated in reading to 7,620 kids in the city!
As we were announcing this awesome news to various media outlets snapping photos like I was a celebrity having a night of bad decisions, it never occurred to me that maybe I had chosen questionable attire for the morning. Forgive any indecency in the following:
I had worn a black bra which was starting to fall apart on one side (And yeah, pretty much all of my clothing has some “character” flaw like this. No biggie.) with a black knit shirt.
While it is a light-weight shirt, I had no idea it would turn out the way it did. The paparazzi have cameras with some powerful flash. And then I flashed the internet. Like Elaine’s Christmas cards. My bra had progressively drooped over the course of the morning and by show time:
See-ThroughShirt + DroopyBra = well, THERE. SHE. WAS.

While I fully support giving credit where credit is due, I refuse to give out the link to the original picture as it is still on the internet. DON’T. YOU. DARE.

And no, even if you donate a fiver to the good cause of getting kids reading, I will not share the link with you. I will, however, promise to keep reading to kids, keep the library running and continue buying books that pull kids in to the wonderful world of reading (the "gateway" books are always the priciest ones). And dad, if you donate $10, I’ll promise to wear a tank top underneath that shirt from now on.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"You won't sleep tonight"

About 8 months after we moved into our current house, two bars opened about a block away, right in front of each other. There is an unusual marketing strategy here that I refuse to believe works, but everyone swears by: the louder the music, the more customers. Taking into account the bar that is directly across the street, confusingly named “Cafeteria Mi Casa” (they don’t sell sandwiches), we are surrounded from about 10 am until midnight on the weekdays and until 2 am on the weekends (including Sunday, which oddly counts as a party all-night kind of day).

The three bars also have another marketing strategy which baffles me: play the same music every single day, all day. YellingSlurringSinging along to music is easier, apparently, when you’ve heard the song 82 times that day. Each of the bars play the same seven sexually-explicit&suggestive bachata songs over and over and over and over again. My favorite (sarcasm-light) is when a song is played at one bar, then the other will start, then the last will play it so you can hear it three times in a row (in addition, of course, to the other songs being played/blasted at the same time). After we’d lived here a year, I tried to spin the constant noise into something positive in my life. Every time I heard the most popular song, I did 25 jumping jacks.

The song goes something like this (yes, the lyrics to every. single. song. come in loud and clear from these open-air establishments) with my rough translation in bold and my commentary in brackets:
Tonight I’m going to look for you [Already I’m terrified]
I can’t take it anymore [Neither can I, dude]
I’m so desperate [Noted]
My bed is waiting for you [Creepy! Tell it to stop.]
My bedroom is calling you [Are you high?]
I can’t take the wanting anymore! [I think they have a pill for that]
I want to get you totally naked [Zora says, “Do you know what he just sang, Mom?!” O goodness.]
And explore your entire body [I had an MRI last year, thanks]
You won’t sleep tonight [Because you’re singing SO. DANG. LOUDLY.]
We’ll make love like crazy! [You’ve really thought this through, I see.]

You get the idea. Anyway, my sanity+fitness endeavor lasted less than two weeks, however, as I was constantly sweaty and tired having done hundreds and hundreds of jumping jacks each day.

Failing to think of another positive spin, I then pretended it wasn’t there. Visitors made this endeavor extremely difficult by constantly mentioning it. We had decided it wasn’t going to bother us and then had to defend our stance to countless people who tried problem solving the situation, perhaps not realizing that we’d already been at it a while.

When my imagination failed, I then fantasized about lasers, BB guns and scramblers to ruin the sound systems. I felt terrible about myself for wishing harm on others’ property. I was extremely conflicted each time the bars closed early or didn’t open at all for a day as the reasons were always grave. When one of these bars doesn’t open its because someone close to the owner has died. When one closes early, its generally because the power has been out for more than 8 hours in our neighborhood and their back-up power can’t run any longer or someone was severely injured or killed at their place of business. Usually by a gun. Don’t be surprised, because the bar owners aren’t. What happens when you mix deafening music with alcohol and no law? Let me tell you, it ain’t a good time. And anyone who tells you it is a good time has never lived like that for any period of time.

When I had Dengue in November last year, I had a complete break-down. I was found sobbing on our roof in the pouring rain. Note: I am not an easily depressed person. If I’m sad, it’s for moments or maybe an hour. It is not a struggle of mine. But the Dengue, plus not having been able to leave the house (or my bed) for ten straight days, meant I couldn’t take it anymore. Something in me had snapped, broken. Since then, almost a year ago, I haven’t been able to find peace with the noise.

Forget about the police. They’re paid off each month to stay away. Forget about the crazy white lady asking that they kindly turn it down so her children can sleep, it gets turned up again as soon as I’m back in my front door. Forget about turning your radio/tv up to drown out the sound, their speakers are far more powerful. Forget about closing all your windows to, at minimum, muffle the noise. You’ll die of heat stroke while still hearing drunken karaoke. If this thing is going to change, it has to be a community effort. And as long as I’m the only one publicly voicing my disgust (despite constant complaints from every neighbor in private conversations), this thing ain’t gonna change. No need to spend my energies on this one.

So, in the footsteps of all our neighbors in the last year who were either renting (and got out!) or their US visas finally came through, we’re moving out of this neighborhood.

Now we just have to find a house.

You Can't Break Up with Me. Ever.

The kids started at a new school about a month ago. Its changed my life. All of a sudden, there are waking hours in my day for uninterrupted work and chores. Because the universe works this way, at right about the same time several absolute time-suckers appeared in my life, but those are not quite ready to be written about.

As it is, one morning a few weeks ago, I decided to finally break up with Claro (If you're a bit late to the game, this is the phone company we've been using the last three years and they are--in a word--criminals). I had heard that another company, Viva, was decent and you could simply pop your SIM card into any smartphone and be ready to go. Sounds great!* We were just given a couple old smartphones. Maybe I would finally have a phone that I could hear ring and wouldn't constantly send me texts (unblocking my keypad!) asking me if I wanted to see Carolina's private photos or get the day's hottest sex jokes.
I marched into a Viva office and declared that I wanted to break up with Claro.

Me: Can I keep my same phone number and come be with you?
VivaRep: Yes. You'll just need to answer a few questions. Why are you leaving Claro?
Me: Because "Claro: Where every frustration is possible."
          (Claro's marketing byline is: "Claro: Where everything is possible")

VivaRep filled out the necessary form according to my answers, checked my identification and had me sign electronically. It was so easy. Too easy. I was told to return in three days to get my new SIM. Ah, customer service.
I'd never broken up with anyone in such an indirect way before. I didn't have to go and talk to Claro face to face or even leave a cowardly voice message. Someone else was going to do it for me.
I'd been broken up with like that before in the 6th grade:
ScabbyKnees6thGrader: "Jason doesn't want to go out with you anymore."
Me, slightly confused: "Jason who asked me out two days ago?"
ScabbyKnees: "Yup."
Me: "Jason who only wears blue sweat shorts every day?"
ScabbyKnees: "Yeah, bye!"
Me: "Ok."
And then Jason moved away. He is now a successful business man who started a service company specializing in outsourcing breakups. Admittedly, he is still single.

What happened after three days? Nothing. My Claro phone still works. I don't have a Viva SIM. Claro didn't deny my request. They just completely ignored it and pretended we were still together. So far, its working out for them. And Viva has given up. Perhaps I should give Jason a call.

*Note the truth about Viva: You can use any UNLOCKED smartphone, just like anywhere else. Even after discovering this, though, I still preferred the unknown, new relationship over the old, abusive one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How I Know I Would Die in a Game of Quidditch

I’ve officially benched myself. To the sidelines, Rebecca! Out of the game.
I’m the one who will now hold your bag while you get in on the action. I’m the one waiting outside.
It went like this.
My 9 year old, Max, has spent the last 7+ years immersed in some aspect or another of the magical world that J.K. Rowling created. It started simply enough. Max showed a fascination with brooms as a toddler. One of my brothers, quite innocently, showed Max a clip of Harry Potter speeding through the air on a broom in one of his Quidditch games. Observe the result:

Imagination + some homemade props + Photoshop = happy Max (2007)

At the county fair was the actual guy who made the brooms for the first Harry Potter movie.
Max just about died. (2009)

And the monster just kept being fed. Little Max soon discovered that wands could be crafted from just about anything and as the boy grew, so did the obsession. For his 9th birthday, we finally allowed him to read the last book in the series, though he can still only watch the first four movies.
Then a few weeks ago, a culmination of extremely serendipitous events led Max and I to the front gates of Universal Studios, home of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. We were accompanied by two expert theme park goers. Professionals. No joke.
Keep in mind that I’ve been living in the Caribbean for the last three years. My pace is slow at best and I stopped measuring time by how many things I was able to accomplish in a given hour long ago. Caffeine is not to make me more productive, but to keep me awake through the mid-day heat.
Having already planned to be there upon opening at 9 am and to stay until 10 pm closing, once inside the gates, my dear professional-theme-parkers got down to business.
“Okay,” ProThemeParker#1’s voice was serious—like we were in over time of the final play-offs, using the last 10 seconds of our last time out—“we have to hit the rides first because the lines are always shorter in the morning.”
“Okay,” I hesitated wondering what I’d gotten myself into. 
Before I knew it, ProfessionalThemeParker#2 was holding all our bags while ProThemeParker#1 dragged Max and I behind her into a line. What we were waiting for, I didn’t know. It soon became clear that we were about to ride on a roller-coaster designed to simulate dragon flight. I began to feel like the worst mother ever. Not only was this my son’s first roller-coaster ride, it was his first amusement park/county fair/anything ride. First. Ever. Oh, you’ve never swum before? I’ll just toss you in the ocean!
I began to feel extra terrible when we sat down, then were strapped in with steel bars, excessive padding and two different kinds of restraints. I remember screaming a completely insincere “Woo-hoo!” as we spun upside down for the fourth time thinking, “God, I hope my son is still breathing,” at which point I then yelled, “Breathe, Max kid!”
This is it:

Photo credit:

“That was interesting,” Max turned to me as we stumbled out of our restraints, having survived the ride.
I felt like I had Dengue again and a stomach flu and vertigo. At the same time. I wandered aimlessly, grabbing ice from the drink displays and dropping them down the back of my shirt as confused theme park employees looked on, mouths agape at my brazenness. 
“Well,” ProThemeParker#2 contemplated my health, “Let’s just go on the Hogwarts’ Tour.”
Okay. I can handle a tour.
The “tour” looked suspiciously like a very long line, weaving through a fake castle. When it became clear to still-nauseated-me that there was another ride at the end of the “tour” I pulled a uniformed employee aside and in low, serious tones asked, “Ummm… is this a roller coaster?” My eyes darted back and forth.
“Oh, no, no, no,” she patted my arm reassuringly. It just moves side to side and backward and forward. She motioned her hand, parallel to the ground, with slow, gentle movements to indicate its directions.
Well, that’s a relief. I was fairly certain I could handle a small step above Disney’s “It’s a Small World Afterall” ride, which is exactly what I heard the nice park employee just describe.
I talked myself through and out of hyperventilating when steel bars, padding and lots of buckles were again involved. It was done. There was no getting out of this one. Oh how I wished to leave my body in that moment.
The employee was right—and oh-so-very-wrong. It wasn’t a roller coaster. Technically. While I only saw about three seconds of the screen in front of me, I’m told it was a simulation. Apparently we flew with Harry, dodged dragons, fled from giant spiders, dodged the Whomping Willow and went after the Snitch in a Quidditch game. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass out. I just had my hand over my eyes the entire time.
About 4 seconds in, I spit up a little in my mouth. I had watermelon for breakfast about three hours prior. That’s enough time to take on quite an intense smell. I consciously kept my mouth shut until I felt the ride lurch forward violently and I spit toward the floor. Two seconds after that, my belly was in full rejection mode. I began to puke. The same strategy didn’t work this time as the mere quantity of vomit could not be contained in my mouth. And by that time, I had no idea which way was down.
I puked and spewed and hurled six times. Six. In a matter of minutes. At about my third release, the cute 21 year old blonde next to me screamed, “What was that?!”
“Oh God,” I vomited again, “I’m so sorry.”
When the ride finally stopped, I could barely pull myself out of the seat. And nobody wanted to help me either. Not only did my stench permeate the delicate nostrils of the hundreds of people around me, but the very sight of me was not PG. In my immense wisdom, I had worn a pair of white shorts, now thoroughly soaked in my own watermelon-chunked-vomit. My t-shirt, my hair, my shoes. Nothing was spared.
The blondy I’d puked on was one of our dear ProfessionalThemeParkers. She hadn’t signed up for that master’s course and, thoroughly disgusted, had run from the ride in search, I assume, of bleach and a pressure washer.
Apparently they take pictures of you mid-ride. This guy's candid shot:

Aren't they cute? My only regret is not seeing my own photo and purchasing a copy for posterity.
I'm kind of morbid like that.
“Rebecca,” I heard ProThemeParker#2 tell me, “Stay here. I have to go find ProThemeParker#1. Don’t move.” I understand that there are thousands of people in the park and it is all too easy to get lost. And I no longer have a US cell phone. So I stayed put, despite myself. Where?
ProThemeParker#2 had asked me to stay dead center in the middle of the busy gift shop where all riders exited through. Each one passed me, holding their noses, looks of horror on their faces. Some shielded their children’s eyes. I’m fairly certain you could see parts of my body through my soaked shorts that even a skimpy bathing suit normally covers. Like I said, decidedly not PG.
When ProThemeParker#1 was finally found, she made it clear that she had to get new shorts, as did I. But she wanted Dr. Seuss shorts.
Since I insisted on buying her the shorts (what is the traditional sorry-I-puked-on-you gift, anyway?), we left the perfectly good Harry Potter gift shop. I was paraded through Universal Studios to an entirely different section of the park, “PATHETIC” neatly printed across my face as people moved out of my way to spare their olfactory senses or lest they ruin their children’s dream vacation with such an unsavory sight.
ProThemeParker#1 found a gift shop she liked and I bought two pairs of shorts and one t-shirt (vomit had only gotten on a small section of her shorts) for US$75. Gulp. I almost puked again as I handed over my VISA card for what were essentially pajamas. But they were clean pajamas.
In the bathroom, I did the best paper-towel bath I could since it was only noon—another 10 or so hours before we had planned to leave the park. The stench of my puke lingered for hours afterwards. Or perhaps it was humiliation I smelled.
I shall never, ever, ever "tour" Hogwarts again. Ever.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Innocence. And Claro.

For Carolyn. Again.

While most of our Claro issues have either been resolved or are irritating parts of our lives that we simply tolerate, the company still manages to raise its ugly head every once in a while and force us to look it in the face. Ew.

As many of you know, one of Claro’s downright criminal and annoying business tactics is to send its customers what are essentially spam texts.
“For just 30 pesos a text, receive the hottest pick-up lines of the day.”
“Want to know today’s score? Click now to sign up for just 15 pesos a text.”
“Feeling lonely? Chat with a special friend now!”

Why is it criminal? Two reasons, one of which will leave your mouth agape. First of all, no matter how many times Josh and I have tried, it is impossible to blacklist/block/not receive these texts. You have to receive them. Period. Secondly—you ready for this?—each of these texts unblocks your keypad. That’s right. You can sign up for “Daily Bootylicious Photos” without even knowing it. The text is received and if you accidentally push “Ok” instead of “Back” (as read the response options on my phone) while the phone is in your pocket, then you’re signed up. And all of a sudden you’ve spent half of your monthly cell phone budget on a service that horrifies you.

So, a couple months ago, they started sending texts along with all of these other spam texts saying that if we didn’t enter our cedula number (read: equivalent social security number) to “validate” our phone number, we would lose our phone number. Poor form? Absolutely. I also didn’t believe it. Validate my number? Give me a break. Now you’re just making stuff up.

Turns out, it was real. My friend called me and asked if I had “validated” my number yet. Um, no. Well, if you don’t, she told me, they’ll take away your number. And you have to do it by tomorrow. Of course.

I found myself in a line that wrapped around the building in the midday heat in the middle of downtown. Because of course it could only be done at the main office. I patiently waited as we slowly inched inside the building, taking several steps back a few times. Several women in front of me thought it was a good idea to call all of their relatives and tell them they were saving them places in line. Bless.

When I finally got inside I swapped one discomfort for another. The air conditioning was a welcome break from the heat, but my innocent eyes were completely assaulted (C’mon, it’s my blog and I’m allowed some creative embellishing). On the main wall of the open office space is a large, flat-screen television. A higher-up had decided it would be a good idea to put on the Dominican equivalent of MTv—read: a whole lot T&A, booty-shakin’, oh-so-scantily clad women. That’ll keep most people “entertained” for the hours they’ll be standing in line. Being a Dominican kind of line (forget any personal space), which I no longer mind as much assuming there is AC, I was sandwiched between two men whose mouths kept dropping open as they stared at the screen.
When I reached the first booth, ClaroEmployee wrote down my name and let me inch onward in a line that wrapped around the large room. 

Even though we are required to be in a line, it apparently has no bearing on when you will be helped. You must wait for your name to be called. While many Dominicans have fabulously long names, mine always gets shortened to just “Rebeca” since my last name is clearly too difficult to bother with. I spent the next hour smooshed between these two men as we s l o w l y moved forward, listening to the bump&grind music while names like Jose Luis Rodriguez Alvarez or Mercedes Paola Bonilla de Jesus were called out over the intercom. 

Standard procedure was to call out the name twice and wait 10 seconds. Usually, someone would emerge from the line, but if they didn’t, their name would be called a third time followed by a five second pause. Then, assuming that person was no longer there, would say, “So-and-So has gone!”

As I waited in that ClaroDanceClub in the middle of the day, they called out the best name ever. Some people just have fantastically awkward, amazing names. Forget baby name books. Some parents are just that kind of creative/eccentric/weird/borderline crazy.

I heard over the intercom, “The Innocence of Jesus! The Innocence of Jesus!” No exaggeration. This woman’s (I assume female) name was La Inocencia de Jesus. Then a third time. The wait. And as three women swiveled their hips, wearing just corsets and thongs, on the tv screen, the ClaroEmployee said over the intercom, “The Innocence of Jesus has gone!” Indeed.

I held my laughter, but only until the next name was called and I lost it. I kid you not. Who did they call next? Who had stuck around after Christ’s innocence was gone?

“Conception! Conception!”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Taking the Plunge -- by Josh

One of my very favorite stories is about a 19th century Bahá'í man from Iran who goes to a city to teach the Faith and is expelled violently by a vicious mob. He finds himself alone and hungry outside the walls of the city and, as night falls, he nestles under the shade of a tree next to the river, eager for a bit of rest.
Clearly the townsfolk had strong feelings towards him, but not all were negative.  While in the city, a merchant had been so grateful to him that he gifted a gorgeous shirt of luxurious fabric. This made a mighty nice pillow, but there was a drawback. It was the only possession the man had, and he found that as he closed his eyes, he would continually start at the slightest sound, sure that it was a group of bandits bent on robbing him of his precious shirt.
Finally, as the night wore on and he still couldn't sleep, he stood up in exasperation and hurled the shirt right into the river.
At ease once more, he drifted off and slept soundly until morning.

I think of that story often, and even more as of late.  You see, we've decided that after about three years of wearing down the rubber on the soles of our shoes, we're going to give these doggies a bit of a rest and buy a car.  We've struggled with this decision for a while, for a variety of reasons.
I mean, we've lived for three years without a car, so isn't it just superfluous?  What will the effect be on how the neighbors view us? If they think we're rich now, wait'll they see our new ride.  What about keeping it safe? And above all, how can I spend SO MUCH on a vehicle?
There is, after all, a 70% import tax on all vehicles. That's right, 70% of the value of the vehicle.  If a car would go for $10K in the U.S., as soon as it hits the docks in Santo Domingo that jumps to $17,000.
But, we're pretty sure it's worth it, and after a long and arduous search we're heading to the Capital tomorrow to pay and sign over the title (which of course requires a trip to a lawyer, as all things do).

Despite the overzealous excitement I feel when I think of being mobile once more, I can't help but think about homeboy in 19th century Iran.  Is this going to be just one more thing to be attached to, one more headache to worry about?
I guess we'll see, and if it stresses me out too much, at least I can drive to the beach now to ponder my dilemma.
The back-up plan.

Friday, April 18, 2014


There is a great deal of addiction in my family's history. We've had members in all the clubs, from alcohol & drugs to soda & games. While I don't count all addiction the same--some are far more devastating--the fundamental impulse control issues are there. Right along with my Chiclet teeth and long fingers, I have impulse control issues. I thank my lucky stars I've never been tempted by certain vices, though I do attach myself to any number of others. And I've only found one cure. No matter how many self-discipline tips & tricks I attempt, once I've trodden far enough down a path, the only sure fire way for me to kick a habit is to eliminate it completely. Cold turkey. Moderation does not exist in my mental list of possibilities. Go figure.
About a month ago I was introduced to a new game. Curses. I was on vacation from my online job, a friend was in town to distract the kids, I had just finished an awesome book and wasn't ready to delve into another quite yet--the conditions were perfect. Then, I became very, very ill for 48 hours. Forced bed rest on top of it all? Hours upon hours of game time ensued.
I started to feel better, but didn't want to. Feeling better meant a return to the real world of responsibility and less game time. And I actually enjoy my real world of responsibility. If things ever got rough around here, I don't know that I could come back from that. Scary.
Why did I kick the habit? That blessed game forced me to share on Facebook or pay money to keep going. I either had to come out or pay to keep things quiet. I deleted the game. Notice how I don't even want to mention its name here. Likely part of my condition.
I lived a GameWhoShallNotBeMentioned-free life for a couple weeks. But I still felt the pull. And then we got some very stressful news. And then we had to scramble to figure a lot of logistics out. And then my online job's semester started with too many new changes to ease into seamlessly. And then. And then. I downloaded the game again.
I tried as I might to pretend that I had things under control. I went to the bathroom just a bit longer than usual to play. I'd sit at the laptop pretending to work, the handheld device right next to the keyboard and play. I'd stand in the kitchen in front of un-washed, un-chopped vegetables and play. Josh would catch me periodically and ask, "Whatcha doin'?" to which I'd respond by immediately putting down the game as if it didn't matter in the least--as if I had nothing to do otherwise so was just passing the time, and I'd smile ever-so-sweetly.
Then last night happened.
We spent a very long day at the library, re-organizing books into genre for a more patron-friendly experience. ('Tis a time-consuming endeavor to organize and sticker 3500 books, exciting as it is.) I was tired. I had earned some game time, right? Out in the open, no-shame, game time. When I finally looked up from all the flashing points and colorful wonder on the screen, I noticed something. My wrist was aching. It actually still hurts as I type, 20 hours later. I had played in a certain position so long that I'd done actual, legit, physical harm to myself. So I stopped.
But I didn't delete the game.
As soon as all was dark and I heard Josh's light snores next to me, I positioned the device just right and played and played and played. I awoke groggy this morning with the device next to my pillow. Had I turned it off? Did I pass out from exhaustion while I was playing? I actually can't remember.
I deleted the game.
Then immediately thought about downloading it again.
So here I am. Telling you about it.
You're my insurance policy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

¡Carnaval! -- by Josh

February is carnaval time around the Catholic world, and the Dominican Republic is no exception.  Luckily, though the city of San Francisco de Macorís (SFM) has an extremely high murder rate and there are occasionally minor and major protests and riots against the government, it turns out that SFM has one of the most civilized carnaval celebrations in the country.
After some terrifying run-ins with whip-cracking hooligans in Santiago and stories of physically abusive demons in La Vega and other parts, Zora was terrified when she saw another of the carnaval clubs mosying down our street.  Our neighbors were all out for the impromptu parades, but Zora demanded that we go inside.  I had no intention of missing out on the fun, and actually planned to follow the dancers downtown to the big party in the park.
Weeping, sobbing, Zora insisted that we go home, but we pushed through and ended up having a great time!
I know it's a horrible finger pic but it's the only one I managed to snap of my very favorite costume. It's a crazy guy dressed up as a jungle with real plants! He just stood there while all the other clubs walked by, and was there in one spot for at least an hour.  My favorite was that kids would occasionally pick up the spritzer that he'd positioned nearby in order to water him.
Zora decided to stay in character at dinner.

All through the park there were girls walking around back to back, or with their hands over their butts, trying to protect themselves from marauding boys and the "pig bladders" they like to smack people with.  I loved that these girls had teamed into a group of 3 and actually had armed themselves in order to hit the boys right back.

The crowd in front of our lovely city hall.

Zora was on her dad's shoulders as well to see the action over the crowd. Today I found out from a student that she'd seen us on the local TV channels coverage of the event. I guess we stick out.

Zora was NOT happy about the approaching carnaval club.

When we got to the vendors' area, Max went for the weapon, determined to attack his neighborhood friends. Zora chose the more peaceful route.

I was attracted to this crew by their DIY traditional style. I gave the nice woman my card and she said she'd already been to the library and wanted to work with us in the near future for her group's social project. Cool!

Dancers coming down the street in front of our house.

Don't worry, the paintball gun is empty. SFM people are kind at heart.
Party in El Capacito!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When It Rains... -- by Josh

We've had a ton of rain the last few days, but I'm actually referring to the metaphorical kind of raining and pouring.  About five days ago, I got a call from someone looking for Rebecca. The connection was terrible, but I was able to make out that she was from Santo Domingo and wanted to visit the library on Saturday. I gave her directions and thought it was pretty cool that someone would drive all the way here to visit us.
I got an even better surprise when three lovely librarians stepped from an SUV and greeted us with two boxes of books! It turns out we'd gotten on the list of a marvelous foundation whose name translates as "Bring a Book in Your Suitcase".  On a side note, you can appreciate how great an idea this is.  We're on an island, so books are expensive and rare. However, this is a country that receives over 5 million visitors per year, with over 200,000 Dominicans who live abroad returning just during Christmas time. If just the returning Dominicans each brought one book to donate, the collection in public libraries would be doubled over just two Christmases.
I digress.  So, Rebecca immediately started entering and labeling the books and the kids who were at the library were able to check them out while the donors were still standing there!  Then these super-heroes were on their way north to a public library on the coast. Cool beans.

On our way home, we ran into our neighbor, Carmen. She told Rebecca that we'd received two boxes of books. "I know," replied Rebecca, thinking it strange that Carmen had known about the visitors from the Capital.
However, once inside our front gate, her comment became clearer. There were two ginormous boxes that could only have come from one magical place: Elizabeth's Books Across Borders!
Excited much?

Apparently I was going too slowly for Max's taste. BOOKS! MUST HAVE BOOKS!
Ever-practical Debbie had even used up the extra bit of space to help spice up our lives.

The hallway to our bedroom is now chock-full of goodness. We already know the young lady who'll be checking out that top book, and another who I had to convince to wait one more day so we could register her long-awaited book in our system before checking it out.
There really is no way to describe what a valuable service is being rendered by this simple little library and its ardent supporters.

In those boxes were hundreds and hundreds of high-quality books specially picked by a woman who is the epitome of persistence and dependability.  Quite frankly, our collection would be lame without her efforts, and it just got even more awesome with these new additions!
After all, a year ago we had about 700 books. Now we have over 3,500!

On my way back from today's traveling story time (oh yeah, by the way, every week a group of teenagers get together to go read books they've chosen from the library to random little kids in the neighborhood. More on that later) I went into our neighbor's house to get Max. He'd been busy at a meeting for the community library he is founding along with two of his friends, "Biblioteca Comunitaria Palmera de la Enseñanza" (Palms of Learning Community Library).
While there, one of the co-founders came up to me with a stack of paperbacks.  "These are all romance novels, so they don't really fit in with our collection. Can we donate them to your library?"
Apparently she'd gotten them from her grandma and aunts, so I gladly accepted them for our adult section.
Let it pour!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Victory! -- by Josh

On Monday morning, we got up at 4:30 in the morning to catch a ride with some dear friends down south to the Capital. They dropped us off at the Metro station and we weaved our way through the rush hour crowds and secured a seat for Rebecca and the kids. One of the great things in this country is that, although most drivers would never, ever consider stopping for you (or a little old lady) to cross the street, on the subway kids and elderly folks will always be given a seat, and there are even special parking spots at grocery stores for pregnant ladies.
Anyhow, then...

This is actually from a different trip, but it gives you an idea of the work they've done to beautify the Metro stations.  Best of all, every major station has a small library and technology center, generally with A/C!

We arrived at the immigration office and, after a short wait, I was handed an envelope with two very official letters. Our pictures were stapled to them and apparently the letters assured the Central Electoral Council office that we were indeed worthy of cedulas (national identification cards, generally used for voting, but not in our case).  

We then hopped into a taxi and headed to the other office. We walked in and were told that we needed to go to the foreigners office.  It's just down the street, they assured us.  We walked and walked, until we finally found this very official looking, misspelled sign telling us that we were on the right track.  It was more like 300 meters.

Once in the office, we jumped in line, then got to enter a bit earlier since the lawyer in front of us was "still waiting for (my) foreigner".  The lovely woman in the office was efficient and friendly, but I did have one question: "There aren't any more charges, right?"
"Just $75 from each of you," she answered.
I groaned, then asked where the nearest ATM was.  "It's okay, we take credit cards."
I was overjoyed, and had to laugh when we got into the room to take pictures. They used a finger-print scanner and used computers to enter and access all of my information.
"You know," I commented, "the suckers over at the immigration office use ink for fingerprints, write everything in children's notebooks, and only take cash."  The last part is extra nice since they require hundreds of dollars from you at a time, and everyone knows it.
So, we took the pictures and 20 minutes later we had cedulas and a few new Colombian friends we made in the waiting room.  It cracked us up to talk with people there, who had all been going through the process at least as long as we had (13 months on our part). One started in 2012!
Okay, now we're hungry, but we've gotta take care of business. Back in a taxi to get our residency cards from the immigration office.

Sugar always makes waiting easier.
After another couple hours of waiting, we were on our way, official residents of the Dominican Republic!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thank You -- by Josh

As I arrived at the library this afternoon, fresh off the bus from a seemingly pointless and frustrating errand in the Capital (5 hour round trip to pick up a paper from the immigration office that said I needed to come back on Monday for an appointment; no, you can't call and ask about such information), my heart leapt with joy.
The two boys who had come in with their shoe-shine boxes to play games and read with our library staff were there once again, playing with Max.  Not only that, but the place was full of other kids and youth doing the same. Then the English class was let out and those little ones headed for the books and puzzles to get in some intellectually stimulating play time before their parents picked them up.  As the next couple of hours wore on, several more teenagers came in, asking about certain titles and finding just the right book.
"You have some great stuff!" one of them said as he browsed. Then later, on his way out the door, "Thank you, thank you! I'm so glad my friends told me about this place."
Just before closing time, a teacher from a local public school came by to ask if any of her students had stopped by yet, since she'd been spreading the news.  We weren't sure, but we sent her off with library coupons to pass on to her students (we charge a very small nominal fee to encourage participation, but prefer that membership be paid by an hour of service or donation of a book). She then talked with Vanessa about setting up a field trip to the library for her class and left with a big smile on her face.
Reflecting on my day, I felt a great wave of joy, almost bringing on tears.  So many people work so hard on projects just to see the smallest bit of light or progress.  Though we still have a very long way to go, I feel immensely blessed that we can already see some of the fruits of our labors, and of the sacrifices and generosity of people far and wide.
It is working.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Alllllllmost there.... - by Josh

Okay, here's a quick update for y'all. Last week, Max and I went to the immigration office, as you know.  But there was a surprise: there was no numberless window!
Instead, all of the windows were covered in newspaper, and as I got closer, I realized that those two offices had been transferred to a couple of folding tables. Perfect.
I approached the desk and busted up laughing: even brought out from behind the glass, the guy who always just sat around playing on his phone and flirting with female co-workers was doing just the same! Just chillin' there, playing with his phone. I had to admire his perseverance.

I talked to the first person, who sent me down to the end of the table, to one of the few immigration office employees who had ever given me excellent service. Unfortunately, his only job is to process finger prints and the accompanying forms, so I was pretty sure he wasn't the guy I needed, but I thought I'd say hi anyway. He politely and energetically told me that I actually needed to talk to someone who'd just stepped away from the desk but would be back soon. He then proceeded to point out to a co-worker that when one is service-minded and kind, everyone leaves happier.  Why can't that guy be in charge of the whole place?
So, I waited for a while, then shoved my special stamped paper at yet another person. This young man accepted it, wrote a big #5 on a jumbo sticky-note along with the date, then told me to come back in 20 minutes.
Not a stamp in site. Uh oh!

I re-joined Max and read for a while. After a half an hour I went back up, but the dude was gone. I asked another young man who asked if I had an appointment. Nope, and no idea what he was talking about.
"Well, you can have one today if you do it before three."
"Sure," I assented, not sure what the appointment would be for but feeling hopeful.  I went back to the Sherlock Holmes book on my phone.
Forty-five minutes later I returned to the desk. "So, about that appointment."
"Oh, do you have the letter?" he asked.
"What letter?" I was so confused.
"The letter you need in order to make an appointment."  Why couldn't I just talk with the finger-print guy!?
Long story short, it turns out, according to this guy, that I need to return after a while, get a letter from upstairs (apparently that's where the other fellow had gone with my paper) which I would then take to the Electoral office to get an ID, which I would then take back to the immigration office in order to have my appointment and officially "be given residency".
I'm going to head back to the Capital tomorrow, so we'll see what's next! 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mañana, Mañana, We Might Be Legal Mañana, It’s Only a Day Away -- by Josh

Well, well, well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Last you heard of the seemingly pointless residency trek on which we’d embarked things seemed truly hopeless (or at least hilarious).  About the time when we caught a glimmer of hope on the horizon, I dropped out of the blogosphere. So, here’s what went down.
                A good friend of ours works for the United Nations and thus travels within circles of influence, and when he heard of our travails in the Fall he told us to let him know the next time we were headed to la migra.  Long story short, we met up at the immigration office in October, him in a suit, me with my shirt at least tucked in, swapped our IDs for special clearance tags and headed upstairs.  He led me down the hall, schmoozing along the way, then into the office of the deputy director of immigration for the republic!  
                We spent a while talking with him about this and that (if you haven’t seen it in the news, the Dominican government and the U.N. have been in the midst of a disagreement about how to treat descendants of Haitians; it was an interesting conversation).  Then my friend told him why we were there and all about the difficulties I’d been having.  He was very kind and we chatted a bit more, then headed back downstairs.
                I don’t know what happened in the meantime, but when I next headed up to the numberless window, Numberless Window Lady was more polite.  I handed her the tiny little stamped paper with a number on it that I'd received on the previous visit and awaited more bad news.  Only once did she shuffle all my papers then demand that I be more organized and send me away to re-order them.  Then, she actually took the stack and accepted it.  
             After less than an hour, SHE actually called ME over.  It was time to speak with a lady I’d met in a back office before, a real sweetheart I’d shared some cookies with (always seek opportunities to sweeten up the situation!). 
                “I’m afraid you’re missing X and Y,” she informed me.
                “That’s okay,” I said, “they’re right there and there.”
                “But what about A and Z?”
                “Right there and right there.”
                “Oh, well, hang on a minute.”
                I waited a bit longer, then was called up again to the numberless window.  “Take this paper and come back in three months. Next!”
They spelled my name "Joushua". I'm hoping that won't be a problem. I'm not kidding. We've had similar issues during this process.

                My head was spinning.  In my hand was a paper with no fewer than three very official stamps on it.  I stumbled over to an adjoining window where a young man sat, not doing anything in particular.
                “Excuse me,” I said, interrupting his meditative state (the rolling waves outside the office’s windows can be mesmerizing).  “I was just given this paper and told to come back in three months.”
                “Ah, yeah, you should do that.”
                I wanted details. “Okay, well, today is October 17th, so does that mean that I HAVE to be back here on January 17th?”  I knew it was a crazy idea, but with them being such sticklers on other little things I didn’t want to take a chance.
                He laughed, “No, no. It’s more like between three and six months.”
                “Yeah, so, come back during that time frame and check on the status of your papers. One more thing: if one of you needs to leave the country at any point before we have your papers fully processed, you have to come back here and request a letter of permission.  It’s $150 for each letter, but it’s better than completely re-starting the process.  Take care!”

                I thanked him and immediately called Rebecca, ecstatic.  Victory was on the horizon, albeit distant.  Much like my approach to arriving at parties, I took his hint and didn’t go on the 17th of January.  Tomorrow Max and I will be in the Capital anyway, so, fashionably late, we’ll go and check on our precious papers.  Then, it’s off to Wendy’s to either drown our sorrows or celebrate victory with a nice big Frosty.  ¡Hasta pronto!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sowing Seeds of Misery and Joy

"We have been lost to each other for so long."
I've come to this place in my journey. In the last few months, my body, mind and heart have been taxed intensely. We'll call it growing pains--the complete package.
It all started out reality-show-style. Do you know that participants on those shows are often sleep deprived to up the likelihood of drama? So, there I was at the beginning of November with a bonafide case of Dengue Fever. For ten straight days I battled high-fever (Does that say 104?!), dehydration impossible to quench, physical weakness so debilitating it was tiring to watch a movie whilst lying listless in bed. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't eat. I left the house once a day to get my blood drawn, checking my platelet levels. I used all of my energy to convince my sweet husband not to admit me to the hospital (where I'd surely catch something else) even though we were told I must do so on three separate occasions. Yes, I'm a terrible patient. On day 5, I had a break-down like I've never had before. I was found sitting on our roof in the rain, sobbing. I do not have a sad bone in my body. Frustration, anger, remorse--I have all that when the mood strikes. But sadness? I can count on one hand how many times I have been "depressed" for more than a few hours--in my life. So it began. I started to water the weeds with my tears, focused on all that is wrong.
Such a tangled web of difficulties were heaped upon us in following weeks, many of which I don't care to share here, it took some time to step out and see in clearly. I'd let myself get so entangled, when bits of wonderful appeared, I didn't quite recognize them. My tendency for gratitude slipped away and all the pieces turned to burdens. My new strategy became simply riding out the awful, accepting that I wouldn't understand most of what was happening, letting go of my need for clear answers and embracing an overall feeling of helplessness. I was a victim of my own making.
Well, friends, that is such a crappy way to live. I'm grateful for the experience, as I am for most experiences, because it allows me to connect to and understand others in a clearer way, to empathize as I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. We are regularly in the company of miserable people and it can be supremely difficult to not be affected, infected. I do not intend, however, to ever go back there myself. Good grief. How did I climb out? Much the same way I climbed in, just in reverse.

"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven."

Why was life so terrible? My own damn fault. There it is. I took my own advice to my children, "You are in charge of how you feel. You cannot put the blame of your misery on anyone else." Finally.
Instead of focusing on all the things that were going wrong--and yes, I thought 'twas a lot all at once--I began counting all the things that were sources of joy, signs of beauty in the world. The bright spots--and yes, there are so very many!
While I am still adjusting to many of the changes we've made in response to a great many recent transitions, I am thrilled with each delicate, new bud that springs forth, announcing itself ever-so subtly. So subtly, in fact, they would otherwise be easy to miss among the weeds I let grow out of control. That too, shall be remedied shortly.

"O ye lovers of God! Be kind to all peoples; care for every person; do all ye can to purify the hearts and minds of men; strive ye to gladden every soul. To every meadow be a shower of grace, to every tree the water of life; be as sweet musk to the sense of humankind, and to the ailing be a fresh, restoring breeze. Be pleasing waters to all those who thirst, a careful guide to all who have lost their way; be father and mother to the orphan, be loving sons and daughters to the old, be an abundant treasure to the poor. Think ye of love and good fellowship as the delights of heaven, think ye of hostility and hatred as the torments of hell."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thanks, 2013! 'Twas good.

Dearest Lovelies,
I just made this. For you. 
While you are always welcome to come hang out with us at the library, it isn't exactly going to be on everyone's bucket list. Totally get it. But I do know that you wouldn't be here if you didn't want to see all this awesomeness. 
The first six months were dedicated to gearing up for, launching, running and closing our Indiegogo Campaign. 'Twas intense for these newbies with a learning curve that looked like a sheer cliff. We signed a contract for our library space in the last days of June, so here you have it. The first, glorious six months of the library that belongs to so many the world around.

Just in case the video above didn't work out for you. Here 'tis:

And here's the link to follow the library on Instagram, because we're having the most fun with that lately.

Keep rockin'.