Friday, September 26, 2008

raindrops keep fallin' on my head

It’s 5:15pm on Thursday, and my projected attendance for my 6pm English class (meant to be the first of a new session) has suddenly dropped to zero. Why? Because it just started pouring rain. It’s been raining all week, but today was bright and clear enough that I felt secure in hanging some sheets outside to air. My Monday evening English class was also thwarted by the rain. Dominicans simply don’t like to leave the house when it is raining—your hair gets wet, you will get sick if you get rained on (apparently), and, well, no one likes the rain.

But no matter; how can I be down when I have such beautiful toenails? I posted a picture on Wednesday but didn’t give the full story. Here is the full story: manicures are very popular among Dominican women, particularly elaborate manicures that are not quite in line with North American beauty standards. In fact, a North American woman might label Dominican nails as “trashy-looking,” if she were a judgmental and culturally insensitive North American woman. So, on my mom’s last full day in the DR, we decided to go get our nails done, so she could bring a little bit of the DR home with her. My mom doesn’t really speak Spanish, and I’ve never had my nails professionally done, so we were a little out of our depth. Still, my mom made it known that she wanted her nails done (no acrylics) in the “mas bonita” way. She chose hot pink for the base color and then let the manicurist go wild, which entailed white, yellow, green, and silver swirly patterns. (I used to assume Dominican manicures entailed airbrush, but they are actually apparently done freehand.)

I, on the other hand, opted for a pedicure, since my fingernails are fairly destroyed and not really worth painting. Since toenails offer a smaller canvas, my nails are slightly less ridiculous than my mom’s. The four small toes are just French manicured, with a stripe of hot pink and a stripe of glittery silver. The big toes are a little fancier, with a pink and silver striped V design. Tasteful.

It’s 5:45 now, and the rain has slowed to a drizzle. I’m taking my umbrella and setting out for the school, on the offhand chance that anyone will show up. Probably they won’t, though—just because the rain has paused doesn’t mean it won’t start again, and then they will have to walk home in the rain (or ride a moto home in the rain—which may be a partial cause of the rain-phobia here, since motorcycles are much more prevalent than cars, and riding motorcycles in the rain admittedly does suck).

Update: It is now 7pm. No one attended my English class, although it did not actually rain between 6 and 7.

Of course, it is possible that no one would have attended my class even if it hadn’t been raining, HOWEVER I get stopped in the street all the time (and also people show up at my house) to ask about English class, and when will I teach English class, and how much does English class cost, and where will English class take place, and I provide all of these answers even though these answers are also available on any of the posters I have scattered about town. I have even pasted star stickers on these posters, and I know that people have been looking at these posters because they have also peeled all the star stickers off my posters.

Oh well, I’ll put up more posters (I have a package of 700 star stickers and I will not be thwarted) and try my classes again next week. Hopefully the weather (and/or Dios) will cooperate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

unas fotos

Hey all! I delivered my mom to the airport in the rain this morning, leaving me alone in the capital with my cold... and my wireless Internet. I stole some photos of my mom's camera and uploaded them my Flickr, hooray! PLUS she left me her old camera, so I should be able to take some more of my own photos now. Anyway, here are a few highlights:

My grandpa & I outside our hotel in Santo Domingo.

My grandpa & I outside the cathedral in SD.

My grandpa & I outside my house!

The Monument to the Restoration in Santiago.

Rawr, me and a dino with teeth made of amber!

Me & mom on the cable car in Puerto Plata.

The beach in Puerto Plata. IT'S NOT THAT GREAT.

Check out my fridge!!!

Mr. Toots.

Scenic Jarabacoa.

My classy Dominican pedicure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

this is mostly about shopping

My mom’s whirlwind tour of the DR is drawing to a close soon, but I think she’ll be going back to the USA with a much better idea of what the DR is like than, say, your average all-inclusive resort visitor. Granted, we did have 2 days in the tourist magnet town of Puerto Plata, but we were there in the off-season, and we stayed at a $30/night hotel, rather than a resort. It was a pretty nice place—air conditioning AND hot running water (although you had to flip a switch 10 minutes before you wanted to use hot water)!—but it was on the edge of town on a very poorly-paved road, including a completely unnecessary speed bump, which made every cab ride into the city center an adventure!

We spent about an hour in total at the beach, which was fine, since my mom’s not that into beaches, and Puerto Plata wasn’t really up to my Caribbean beach snob standards. Our favorite thing was probably the cable car ride to the top of Mount Isabela, which was fun and provided a beautiful view of the city and the sea. PLUS there was a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on the top, which I posed with for a photo (coming soon to a Facebook profile near you). The mountaintop also housed several desperate souvenir stores, whose owners followed us around shouting increasingly lower prices at us. Prices, for the most part, on kitsch that not even my mom wanted to buy, although she did finally snag a mahogany rooster at half the original price.

Her best purchase, however, was in down off the mountain. It is a framed tarantula with an utterly hilarious English text box pasted beneath it. As a special treat for you all, I am going to transcribe the spider box for you (entire box sic):


Night living animal with 8 legs, 8 eyes, and 4 lungs, a 2 parts head, thorax and abdomen which contains the majority of the organs. Can’t hear or see good, depends on special hears to detect movements. The animal is one of the biggest, aggressivest and voracioust and can be 28 cm. long. The female, bigger, eats easy the male during propagation and also her creatures when she is hungry. When feeling in danger they emit a whistle and stand up their rear legs. To defend they use their toxic hairs on the abdomen, throwed by the rear legs, which are very painful especially when they use their fearsome canine toots to inject the not human mortal but very toxic poison. They feed them with insects, small lizards, rats, birds, etc. The male lives 3 or 6 years and the females 6 to 14 years, and pairs from 50 to 700 creatures every 3 or 4 month. Lives in South America.

NOTE: Microsoft Word spellcheck had way fewer problems with the above text than you might imagine.

Mom (looking over my shoulder as I type): That’s a long blog!
Me: Like half of it is the spider thing.
Mom: Please, show a little respect: “Mr. Toots,” not “the spider.”

Another note on souvenir shopping: I realized that in my last blog entry I talked a lot about my new larimar earrings, but MAYBE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LARIMAR IS. I will tell you what larimar is: it is a semiprecious stone found only in the DR! It is blue and it was discovered by a Dominican dude and his Peace Corps volunteer partner in the 1970s. It was named after the Dominican guy’s daughter, Larisa, and the sea (el mar). It is kind of a big deal here, since it is endemic and all.

Anyway, after our triumphant departure from Puerto Plata, content in our knowledge that we had purchased the greatest things possible for purchasing, we returned to the capital, since I had committed myself to attend a website committee meeting. Rather than wait around the Peace Corps office all afternoon, Mom set off on a solo adventure to La Sirena, the Dominican Wal-Mart. She returned safely a few hours later, though apparently only after her cab driver stopped to ask five different people where the Peace Corps office was, and I found her sitting on the PC porch completely surrounded by La Sirena bags. You can take the mom away from the minivan, but you can’t take the minivan mentality out of the mom, I guess.

We spent the weekend mainly in my site, though with an exciting shopping excursion to La Vega. Here are some of the things my mom has purchased for my house, insisting that they will improve my quality of life:
  • A refrigerator
  • A trashcan
  • A table
  • A silverware organizer
  • A bathmat
  • A 6-cup greca coffeemaker (This makes about 2 American cups)
  • A lime squeezer
  • A pink vase
  • Pink artificial flowers

Of these I am most excited about MY REFRIGERATOR! Here is a list of things that I have already purchased and can store in MY REFRIGERATOR:
  • Ketchup
  • Ranch dressing
  • Strawberry jelly
  • Milk
  • Salsa
  • Water (I mean I already had water, but now I can drink cold water!!)

HAVING A REFRIGERATOR IS SO AWESOME. Granted, it is a baby refrigerator and it is nearly at its maximum capacity with only condiments, but it is still so awesome.

Today we took another trip into La Vega to have lunch with my friend Arianna, which was super fun! We decided to go to this vegetarian restaurant we’d been to one other time, but the only time we’d been there we had been personally taken there by a nice vegetarian Dominican woman we met, and we wrote down the address but didn’t really know how to get there. So we decided to take a taxi there, but the taxi driver also didn’t really know how to get there, so he consulted many, many people. We got there eventually and had a delicious lunch, hooray!

Tomorrow we’re planning a day trip to Jarabacoa, aka the Dominican Alps. I don’t really know why they call it the Dominican Alps. I mean there’s mountains there, but… they’re not that Alps-ish. Not that I’ve been to the Alps to compare, but… I’m pretty sure they’re not very Alps-ish.

Whew, I guess that’s about all I have to say for now! I stole a bunch of my mom’s photos, so I’ll try to post those sometime.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

my life as a tour guide

Hola! Long-ish time, no blog—but then, my blog’s biggest reader (aka Mom) has been with me the last week, so I trust that my updates haven’t been too missed. She and my grandfather flew into the capital last Tuesday and we’ve been on a fast-paced tour of the DR for the last week. The first few days were spent in the capital. We hit up the Botanical Gardens, which was a big hit with my gardening relatives. Then we did a mini tour of the Zona Colonial, where we bargained souvenir dominos and I gave a shoddy tour of historic buildings (“This is where Diego Colon lived, he was Christopher Columbus’s son, I’m pretty sure… maybe brother… umm… that’s a palm tree…”). We also went to the Hard Rock Café, a wonderfully kitschy establishment that happens to be slightly out of my Peace Corps price range. Pretty much every other meal involved some PCV-favored restaurant, with the end result that neither of my guests ate any Dominican cuisine until 3 days later, back in my site. Secondary result: I probably gained back about half the weight I’ve lost since I got in country. Yum!

Upon returning to my site, we spent the afternoon unpacking the FOUR suitcases of treasures my mom and grandpa bought me (their own personal items were limited to carry-ons). So many wonderful things: Tasty Bite instant Indian food, dark chocolate (thanks, Aunt Harriet!), battery-powered fans, Dr. Bronner’s soap, a new Nalgene bottle (my last having been tragically forgotten on a guagua last month), books from practically every This American Life correspondent, and, best of all, a shiny new MacBook, on which I am currently typing this. Ohhh it is such a lovely new computer and now I can watch DVDs in my house and download podcasts at the Peace Corps office and write up blog entries whenever the hell I want! Hooray! (Thanks again, Opa!!)

The next morning, we set off on a day trip to Santiago. We ended up eating lunch at Pollos Victorina (the Dominican version of KFC), since I wasn’t familiar enough with downtown Santiago to find a more delicious place promptly. Then we went to the Centro Leon, an art museum/cigar factory. Mom had really wanted to see a cigar factory, so we spent most of our time there. We got a tour from a very knowledgeable English-speaking guide (thus saving me from awkward attempts at translating phrases like “The tobacco is grown in Connecticut and aged for eight years”) and my mom and grandpa bought some nice cigars (supposedly—none of us smoke so we didn’t really know what we were looking for) for gifts. This particular factory—La Aurora—has been operating in the DR since 1903. Again, I can’t vouch for the cigars, but their employees are very nice.

We also went to La Sirena (the Dominican version of Wal-Mart), where my relatives stocked up on Brugal rum for gifts and assorted housewares for me. They found it objectionable that I had been living without things like bathroom mirrors and cutting boards…you know how Americans are ;)

We spent the weekend in my site, where mom and grandpa were assistants in my English class. My students particularly admired mom’s enthusiasm for charades. I also took them to meet the nuns, who gave us oatmeal & orange juice (it’s a Dominican thing, it tastes kind of like a creamsicle but not really) and enjoyed my mom’s broken but whole-hearted attempts at Spanish speaking. The family also liked the Sunday church service, somewhat to their surprise. (“Good singing, and the priest seemed like a really good speaker even though I didn’t understand 99% of what he was saying.” What more can you ask for?)

On Monday we returned to the capital and did some laundry and some eating. My grandpa and mom went to bed early, since we had to leave at 4am to get my grandfather to the airport on time. I foolishly stayed out until 1:30am with some Peace Corps friends, but one of them is leaving the country soon and I wanted to see her. (And, of course, make sure that she saw High School Musical before getting back to the US.) Thus, Tuesday found me a bit sleepy, but it also found mom and I on a 4-hour bus ride to Puerto Plata, so I got in a good nap. Upon arrival to PP, we checked into our hotel, turned on the AC, and collapsed onto our beds. Well, we stayed awake long enough to watch Over the Hedge (in English!) on TV.

This morning we set off on an ill-fated excursion for breakfast at a nearby guidebook-recommended place, which turned out to have closed down due to the death of its former owner. We found a substitute breakfast place which fueled us for a morning of shopping, the majority of which was spent at a large larimar and amber jewelry store. It was an interesting place, since it had a jewelry factory on site. Thus, when my mom found a ring she liked that was too small, they simply took it back and expanded it at no additional cost. When I wanted a small pair of earrings and my mom wanted a small pair of earrings as a gift, they took a large pair of earrings (with two dangling jewels per ear) and divided it into two pairs of earrings (at the same price as the one original pair of earrings). Very nice.

I also used my improved Spanish to shoo away souvenir salesmen with a disdainful “No soy turista, yo vivo en La Vega. Dejame en paz.” (I’m not a tourist, I live in La Vega. Leave me alone.) It sounds harsh, but anything nicer gets you a stalker for a block or so.

After lunch at a delicious place catering to expats (they had lemon meringue pie!!), we took a look at the local beach, which my mom thought was gorgeous. I, however, have become kind of a beach snob after six months in this country and was not that impressed. (“Needs more palm trees… and the sand could be whiter.”) Still, it’s a pretty beach…. I guess. (I will post pictures of this later and you will likely all hate me for my attitude re: this beach.)

Then we came back for a well-earned nap, from which we are just now rousing ourselves. Soon we will set out for dinner, and, perhaps, a movie at the local theatre. Such a decadent life I’m leading these two weeks of visitors!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

weathering the weather

Hurricane Ike still has yet to really show its face around here, although the wind picked up a bit about half an hour ago. The weather-witches at the National Hurricane Center say it should cause some rain here tonight, but that's about it. The storm is still aways out into the ocean and it's not expected to hit the DR directly. As a precaution, PC consolidated the volunteers in the northern two regions of the country, but not my region (which is pretty much the middle of the country). So right now all my friends to the north are having fun in a hotel in Santiago while I'm still standfasted in site. In summary: wah, I'm not sufficiently threatened by Hurricane Ike to get consolidated!

Anyway, although it hasn't rained in my site since Tuesday, school has been closed all week because of the possibility of hurricane. The Dominican school system has one of the lowest numbers of days in session of any school system in the world, and it's partly due to this tendency to cancel school at the drop of a hat (or single raindrop). Ah well, such is life! And I did at least get four kids to show up to my English class this morning. (Four of eight... which isn't that impressive, but it's also how many showed up last Saturday, pre-hurricane threat.)

I've been monitoring the storms as best I can, since my mom and grandfather are due to visit me on Tuesday. It seems like Ike will be out of the picture and Josephine won't have arrived yet, so their flight should be fine (si Dios quiere). In the meantime, I'm just going to keep on keeping on in my site. I did my laundry yesterday and I just picked up a new 5-gallon jug of drinking water, so I should be set for Ike's worst (which isn't projected to be terribly bad).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

wild weather

So, hurricane season is in full effect here in the DR! Gustav has passed us (though I hear it's roughing up the Southern US pretty bad) but Tropical Storms Hanna and Ike are on their way.

Right now everything is pretty calm in my site. Yesterday was pretty rainy, but nothing like the rivers-in-the-streets rainy like Gustav last week. They closed school today because of the (potential) rain, but today has been hot and dry, to the severe annoyance of the nun (aka my school principal).

I also heard from the PC emergency coordinator that we might get consolidated tomorrow! Consolidation is the second level of PC-preparedness; the first one (which we're currently on) is standfast, meaning stay where you are. Consolidation involves pulling everyone out of their sites to a hotel in a safe city. PCVs kind of hope for this to happen--I mean, if we're going to get rained on, it might as well be in a hotel on PC's dollar/peso! (The third level of emergency preparedness, which has never happened in the DR, is complete evacuation of the country.)

Anyway, I guess the powers that be will decide by 4pm tomorrow if we're consolidating or not. With hurricanes, they decide well before they're actually supposed to hit, so that we can get our travelling out of the way before it gets bad. I'll keep you guys posted, but what I'm trying to say is: don't worry about me! The PC takes way better care of people in hurricanes than, say, FEMA.