Monday, May 26, 2008

indiana jones & the air conditioned mall

Greetings from another oh-so-busy day at the Centro de Fe y Alegria! I´ve been here for 2 hours and so far the most productive thing I´ve done was eat a piece of cake. It was pretty good cake, though. As far as I can tell, there were no first period classes today, since all the teachers were in the teacher´s lounge frantically filling out their grade books. Second period, the students all showed up wearing suits (instead of the uniform of khakis and a blue polo shirt, or en espanol, polo che azul) and with cakes and cups of soda. Why? I could not begin to tell you. I guess it is some sort of pre-finals celebration, or perhaps another Dominican holiday which no one has explained to me.

Now the kids are continuing to eat cake in the classroom, but my project partner and I have moved to the computer lab. She continues to fill out grades and I, clearly, have begun to write up a blog post. I asked her if I could do anything to help, and she said ¨Not now, but soon.¨ She´s still grading away, so we´ll see.

For now, I´ll blog about my awesome weekend! Friday, Arianna and I met up in La Vega to take a bus to Santiago, the DR´s second-largest city, together. She had arrived at the bus station a little before me, and when I went to buy my ticket the woman at the counter asked if I was meeting another young woman here and pointed out Arianna. Yes, thank you, we gringas do travel together. When we got into Santiago we weren´t really sure where we were going. We had some loose directions to our hostel; we had to find a hospital across the street from a mall and cut through the hospital parking garage. We looked at our map and thought we´d figured it out, but we found the wrong hospital. After consulting several passersby, we ended up in a carro publico, even more crowded than usual since Arianna and I shared the front seat along with our two backpacks (and she had brought a big hiking pack). But we eventually made it and immediately fell in love with our hostel, the Hub. It´s run by a couple of expats, more or less not-for-profit. They have reduced rates for Peace Corps volunteers, and it´s adorable. There are cute quotes painted on all the walls, the living room has homemade cushions made out of bandanas, there´s a little lending library, and a full kitchen available to use. The proprietors were out camping this weekend, so they just told us the keycode to get in and asked us to leave our money in manilla envelopes when we left and to please not leave a mess.

After dropping our stuff off at the Hub, we headed back out to the mall to soak in a bit of consumerism. We ate at Pizza Hut, reveled in the air conditioning, and looked at a bunch of stores that were way out of our Peace Corps price range. Eventually the rest of our group joined us and we headed out to a grocery store in search of food that was neither rice nor beans. We ended up with an enormous quantity of chips, candy, and ice cream, which we happily devoured while listening to music and speaking to each other in English. Stephanie attempted to make use of the kitchen by baking a rum cake, only to discover that the oven was out of gas. Undaunted, she took her raw cake over to the neighbors to see if she could use their oven. She could, and the cake was delicious. I also used my culinary expertise to improvise a dip out of plain yogurt and chive flavor cream cheese. The best part was that to get the plain yogurt at the grocery store, we had to have an impassive-looking man holding a very large machine gun open the dairy case. And then we had to have him open the other dairy case when we couldn´t find plain yogurt. Please sir, may we have some yogurt? Also, please don´t shoot.

On Saturday morning, Asahi arrived on the first bus in and adorably slipped fresh flowers on everyone´s pillows. I was already up, so together we cut up fresh fruit and made pancakes and coffee. We all had a lazy morning eating breakfast (including the rest of the previous night´s ice cream) and then set off to attempt to meet up with Chris´s youth group, our ostensible reason for going to Santiago. We took 2 guaguas in opposite directions, consulted a lot of passersby, and eventually gave up on finding the group. They weren´t doing anything interesting anyway, just hanging out with the other youth group on the outskirts of Santiago.

Instead, we got some delicious Mexican food for lunch and shelled out $150 pesos to see Indiana Jones y el Reino de la Calavera Cristal. (Here is my one-word review of that movie: WHAT.) Afterwards, I headed back to my site. Regrettably, I left too late and ended up bankrupting myself, since by the time I got back to La Vega, the carro publicos had stopped running and I had to take a private taxi home. (At a cost of $300 pesos—about $10 US—instead of $30 pesos, about $1 US.) Oh well, it was a good weekend and I get my next Peace Corps stipend in a week.

On Sunday, I went with my family to a big Mother´s Day family reunion/party at some kind of pool somewhere near Bonao, further south. It was a very… Dominican place. In the US, if it had been in the condition that it was, they would have closed it for renovations. Here, they happily continued to rent it out for private functions although the main building was very under construction. The pool was interesting; it wasn´t chlorinated, and as far as I could tell it was just river water. There was a small canal on each end of the pool and the water came in from one and eventually flowed back out through the other end, forming a little waterfall as it rejoined a river.

There was also a beach volleyball court (1/3 sand, 1/3 gravel, 1/3 grass) and an outdoor billiards table. It was a pretty fun day. At first I felt awkward because my host family just abandoned me to the crowd and didn´t really introduce me to anyone. And also apparently no one else in the family knew that they had an American host daughter, because when I tried to introduce myself to people they were pretty bewildered.

Eventually, I fell in with a gang of bossy kindergarten-ish kids and had a lot of fun with them for most of the day. Then I went home and nursed my knees—the one I scraped last week and the one I scraped when a five-year-old girl tackled me to the cement bottom of the pool.

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