Monday, December 29, 2008

send me a text message!

Hey guess what, you can send me a text message on the Internet! For free!

Just go here. (It's in Spanish but I'll talk you through it.) Then, above the picture of the cell phone where it says "Envia mensajes del texto Numero" put in my number: 8097236552. Type your message in the phone window, then hit the green checkmark. Then when the popup window opens, type in the number it shows and hit "Enviar."

Make sure to sign your name at the bottom because otherwise it will be anonymous and I will not know whose text message brightened my day!

Vignettes from Reid's Visit

I. The Case of the Lost Luggage
(All loosely translated from Spanish)
American Airlines Customer Service (AACS): Please hold.
Me: (Holds.)
AACS: Hello, how can we help you?
Me: Hi, I’m calling about a lost suitcase. You’ve been telling me it will get delivered for the last two days and it’s still not here.
AACS: Let me just check my computer system for an unnecessarily long time… oh, we can’t deliver that suitcase! You have to come back to the airport [a $30US taxi ride from central Santo Domingo] and get it.
Me: Seriously what.
AACS: Yes, you have to come identify it in person. We have it right there at the airport.
Me: You seriously can’t deliver it like you’ve been telling me the last two days?
AACS: Nope. Have a good day!


Me: Hi, I’m calling to check on a missing suitcase. Do I seriously have to come to the airport and get it? Someone told me that earlier this morning but I was wondering if maybe you could deliver it anyway.
AACS: Oh no, ma’am, you have to come to the airport and get it.
Me: Eff.


(At the airport)
Me: Hi, we’re here to get a lost suitcase.
American Airlines Guy: Come with me to our lost suitcase office. (Leads Reid & I on a hike around the airport, eventually ending in a small hangar behind the main building.)
Me: Here’s the tag.
AAG: That should be in this section.
Reid: It’s not here.
(We examine every suitcase in the hangar, determining that none of them are Reid’s.)
Me: (Muttered) If they’re delivering it to the airport I am seriously going to kill someone.
AAG: Well, I’m sure we have your suitcase somewhere! Let’s just go to our other office.
(We follow him on another airport trek.)
AAG2: Let me just flip through a giant binder of luggage information. Please wait while the three other guys who work in this office stare at you…. Hmm…. There sure is a lot of information in this binder… let me make a phone call…hmm… oh, your suitcase is being delivered to your hotel today! It should be there in ten minutes.
Me: Really. (Long glare)

But hey, at least they did eventually deliver it, and in one piece!

II. The Christmas Party
(Reid & I have foolishly arrived at the school Christmas party in my town at 10am, exactly on time. The Nun and two other teachers are setting up tables in the gym. It is otherwise empty. Once more, loosely translated from Spanish.)
Me: Hi, Nun! This is my brother, Reid.
Nun: Hello, Reid, nice to meet you.
Reid: Hola.
Me: Um, do you want help setting up?
Nun: Oh, no. I know I said the party started at 10am but people will come later. Why don’t you two just sit down over there?
Me & Reid: (Sit down over there; wait for an hour during which one other person arrives).
Me: Let’s run back to my house and get some bug spray. (We do so, and also watch an episode of Arrested Development on my computer. We return to the party half an hour later, which now has at least a handful of people, all of whom wish to practice their English on Reid, who answers the questions “What your name?” “How are you?” and “Do you like Dominican Republic?” many, many times.)

III. The Rafting Trip
(Reid & I are waiting to go on a white-water rafting drip in Jarabacoa. Our trip includes free breakfast, which we are eating. Well, I am.)
Me: You’re not hungry, Reid?
Reid: I feel kind of sick.
Me: Oh, why didn’t you say so earlier? Do you still want to go?
Reid: I think I just need some water, maybe…
Me: Do you want some Pepto Bismol or anything?
Reid: (Abruptly stands up and pukes in the bushes) I feel better now.

(We go rafting, which is fun and exciting, although the experience is slightly marred by our obnoxious German guide, who kept pulling bullshit like getting us to paddle our raft in a circle, or steering us backwards under waterfalls. Also, I was sitting directly in front of him and he kept dripping water down the back of my neck. Afterwards, on the open-air truck ride back, Reid threw up again. That evening, I started down my own journey through Vomitland, making for a super-fun few days of vacation.)

Bonus from during the rafting trip:

(We are pulling up on shore for a mid-trip snack.)
Me: (Steps out of boat, promptly trips over a rock and scrapes my elbow wicked bad)

(Conversation repeated many, many times thereafter)
Other Rafter: Wow, your elbow’s bleeding a lot! Did you fall out in one of the rapids?
Me: Umm, no, I just tripped over a rock during our snack break.

IV. Christmas Vignettes

(We spent Christmas at my friend Keane’s house with some other volunteers. Keane made Indian food for us and we hung out, ate, and played Scrabble and charades. We didn’t have a tree, although I did bring some Christmas lights and haphazardly strew them on the floor. It was a pretty awesome Christmas.)

Jo: Where’s the nearest vet?
Carly: There must be some in the capital.
Me: Lissette would know.
Jo: Aww, this joke never works with Peace Corps volunteers, you’re all so helpful. Ask me why I need a vet!
Carly: Why do you need a vet?
Jo: (strikes muscle pose) Cuz these pythons are SICK!
Me: … well, I’m glad your cat’s okay.

(We are playing charades.)
Me: (Mimes “book,” “two words.”)
Keane: The Secret!!*
Me: (Nods, sits down.)
Evan: You guys spend too much time together.

*A self-help book, that we and some other PC friends are obsessed with making fun of, and of which certain other PC volunteers are devotees.

Carly: It’s baby Jesus’ birthday!!
Evan: When is adolescent Jesus’ birthday?

Jo: Evan, how do you spell Chanukah?
Evan: There’s no right way… it’s transliterated from Hebrew so it doesn’t really matter.
Jo: I mean, is there a c? Is there one k or two?
Evan: Seriously, there’s no right way. Any of those is fine.
Jo: Okay, how do YOU spell Chanukah?
Evan: It really doesn’t matter.
Jo: What about C-h-a-n-u-k-u-a-h?
Evan: Well, I wouldn’t put a u at the end.
Jo: I thought you just said there was no right way!!
Evan: Yeah… but there are some wrong ways.

V. Public Transportation
(Reid & I are waiting for a guagua to leave Keane’s site to head back to the capital. An old man has approached Reid seeking money. He speaks English, although with a speech impediment.)
Man: My name is Miguel, do not forget my name!
Reid: Okay.
Miguel: What’s your name?
Reid: Um… Reid.
Miguel: This street is called Enriquillo! That street is called Duarte! That other street is Bolivar! Give me five pesos!
Reid: Um, I don’t have any money.
Me: (Returns to conversation)
Miguel: My name is Miguel, what’s your name?
Me: Renata.
Miguel: Do you know about God?
Me: Yes.
Miguel: Are you two married?
Reid: No, we’re brother and sister.
Miguel: You’re brother and sister? You look very different. You’re tall, you’re short; you’re skinny, you’re fat; you’re white, you’re dark… very different.
Me: Well, we’re all God’s children.
Miguel: That’s true! That’s true! How did you know that?
Me: (Smiles)
Miguel: That hill is called Loma Verde!
Me: (Smiles)
Miguel: Goodbye! God bless you!
Me: Same to you.
Miguel: (Leaves)
Reid: … that was hilarious. I can’t believe you said that.
Me: Ohh, I tell that to guys on the street every day.

travel itinerary

How to plan a Deluxe Dream Caribbean Vacation (Peace Corps style):

Dec 13: Reid arrives finally, at midnight, two hours late. We search for a food place that will still be open and find a gourmet 24-hour hot dog stand, then go back to our hotel, a classy establishment that runs $US30 a night for a room with 2 beds, a standing fan, and hot water (sometimes).

Dec 14: We begin harassing AA about Reid’s luggage. In the afternoon, we go to the Zona Colonial and visit the Artisan’s Fair and take a quick walking tour of some of the older buildings. We spend the evening eating sushi (after a painful 10-minute ordeal of plascing the order by phone) and playing Scrabble with some friends at the picnic table in front of the hotel. The night watchman brings us an extension cord so we can plug in my laptop to play music (and use the Scrabble Word Checker program I downloaded). You couldn’t get better service at the Hilton. (Or can you?? Maybe at the Hilton they have a fulltime employee who just walks around with an actual Scrabble dictionary.)

Dec 15: We continue seeking our luggage and talk about maybe visiting a museum, only to learn that everything is closed on Monday. We consider hiring a private cat burglar to help us break into one, but tnstead, we get lunch at the American Embassy cafeteria (super classy, plus you can get lunch for under $150 pesos) and relax in the posh Peace Corps volunteer lounge, which includes a couch, some chairs, cable TV, wireless Internet (sometimes), and air conditioning (sometimes).

Dec 16: We continue seeking our luggage and visit the Museo del Arte Moderno, which turns out to contain a whole lot of art. Plus, we get Italian food at a very nice restaurant that is on the upper echelons of affordability for Peace Corps volunteers (at around $300 pesos/$10US per plate).

Dec 17: We call our driver so we can make stupid pointless trip to the airport in search of luggage, finally receive the final suitcase, and return home by first-class air-conditioned bus to my charmingly rustic cottage, where I teach Reid how to get water from the cistern and bucket-flush a toilet. We set up his bed on the finest air mattress I own which turns out to still be leaking so we also set up the second-finest air mattress I own. (Which I guess is now the finest, since it doesn’t leak.)

Dec 18: I take Reid to visit a few families in my town, thus giving him an opportunity to sit on nicer furniture than my own plastic chairs. I also use my home entertainment center (aka laptop) to get him hooked on the TV show Heroes, while we have electricity, which is sometimes.

Dec 19: I take Reid to the school Christmas party where we partake in finely catered Dominican food and dance music. Later, we also continue watching Heroes.

Dec 20: We continue relaxing around my private all-inclusive compound (it includes all the limes you can pick off my tree, of which Reid, perhaps fearing scurvy, eats many) and finish up Heroes, only to begin Firefly.

Dec 21: We go whitewater rafting in Jarabacoa and get sick. We lay around my house, slavishly attended by our personal butler. (Okay, our personal butler is just me sucking it up and going to the colmado next door to buy Gatorade and saltine crackers.)

Dec 22: We spend the morning and afternoon still being sick, then muster up the strength to go to the Museo Folklorico in Santiago—it is so important to absorb culture when one travels, you know. We also visit La Sirena, a glamorous large all-purpose store where all the most important people buy their groceries and flip-flops, and buy some peanut butter. Plus we celebrate not throwing up anymore by visiting the 5-star Italian establishment Pizza Hut.

Dec 23: Another trip into Santiago, this time to the Centro Leon art museum. Centro Leon is seriously classly, possessing both elevators AND a working escalator. Plus they have really nice bathrooms, with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. Also, their cafeteria has Portobello mushroom sandwiches. Truly a must-visit stop on any swank Caribbean vacation.

Dec 24: A quick trip to the capital to drop off stuff at PC office, then a guagua ride to Keane’s site, a scenic suburb… er… slum (slumburb?) of Santo Domingo, where we eat approximately seven thousand pounds of delicious Indian food and have a rad time celebrating the alleged birthday of Jesus in the traditional manner: through dance parties and board games.

Dec 25: Another fun-filled day at Casa de Keane, eating cold Indian leftovers and watching movies. There is brief talk of going hiking in the nearby mountains, but we are visited by torrential Caribbean rainshowers all day. We drink the red wine we bought in the capital, which was carefully-chosen by my wine butler for its desirable qualities of costing under $300 pesos and having a picture of a cat on the label.

Dec 26: We leave Keane’s and head for the capital, where we pretty much just eat pizza, do laundry at the PC office, and hang around the Pen, the hotel favored by PC volunteers due to its low price and proximity to the PC office. I mean… due to its award-winning customer service.

Dec 27: A trip to the Zona Colonial, including the Alcazar de Colon (the mansion built by Diego Columbus; it’s nearly as nice as the accommodations to which we’ve become accustomed) and the Amber Museum, plus some shopping. We also attempted to go see the movie El Dia La Tierra Se Detuvo (The Day the Earth Stood Still), only to discover—after already having bought tickets and sitting through a long, dialogue-free mountain-climbing scene—that it has been dubbed into Spanish. I hadn’t even thought to ask when we bought tickets, since seriously every movie here gets shown in English with subtitles, except for cartoons. Boooo.

Dec 28: We return to the Zona Colonial for some more brief souvenir shopping, then visit the Parque Mirador del Sur, which Lonely Planet bizarrely described as being “riddled with large limestone caves” including a huge cave containing a restaurant. We walked over 10 kilometers (I know, it has kilometer markings) and did not see any caves, nor did we find the Cave Restaurant (the Cavearaunt, as we took to calling it) despite asking various park employees/passersby, all of whom assured us the mysterious Cavearaunt was nearby. We ended up calling a taxi to take us to another restaurant, randomly chosen from Lonely Planet, which turned out to be closed. Then we got rice & beans & French fries from a stand on the Malecon, and it was awesome.

Dec 29: Breakfast at the Embassy, then a taxi out to the airport for Reid’s flight home (first-class, of course. Well, the one above steerage, anyway). I hop on my bus back north.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

feliz navidad!

Hola everyone! Just wishing you all a merry Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, et al, from the DR! Reid & I are spending the holiday with some Peace Corps friends. Later I'll update you guys on our adventures (which include an obnoxious German rafting guide, crowded public transportation, and copious amounts of vomit), but for now I'll just say: happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

checking in

Reid has arrived safely and we've been having a pretty low-key weekend in the capital--mostly hanging out with other Peace Corps volunteers (including a visit to a friend in the hospital--not a stop included on most Caribbean vacations). We were planning to go back to my site today but American Airlines has revised their claim that Reid's lost suitcase would be delivered "early this morning" to a claim that it will be delivered "sometime before 10pm." So. Hopefully it will get here in enough time for us to still be able to leave today, but we might end up sticking around another night to wait for it. This afternoon we're now going to try to hit up the Museo del Arte Moderno. We wanted to go yesterday, but it turns out all the museums in the city are closed on Monday. Who knew? We did spend some time at the Artisan Fair, which was really cool. It's organized every year by some Peace Corps volunteers and their local artisan groups, as well as some non-Peace Corps-related artisans, and they just sell tons of cool art. I bought some ceramic leaf earrings and a polished coconut shell necklace for myself, plus some gifts (which I won't describe, so as not to ruin their surprisingness)!

Anyway, I'm going to cut this short and head out for some more sightseeing (si Dios quiere), but I will leave you guys with a few recent photo uploads. As always, the full set is at my Flickr.

Sunset at Playa Miches.

My plate at Thanksgiving! Yum.

Karina & I at Thanksgiving.

Some Scrabblefriends!

Further parasite-related postscript: seriously, I'm fine. Everyone here gets parasites sooner or later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

postscript on the best weightloss plan ever

It's called a parasite!

I took some Paramox though and now I'm better!

Around the World (Without Leaving Santo Domingo)

Hola & bonjour! This past week I’ve been back in the capital for an inservice language training, to brush up & improve my Spanish skills now that I’ve been out using them for awhile. It’s been fun and helpful overall, although six hours a day of language training gets to be a little draining. This afternoon, for example, we spent almost two hours rehashing por vs. para. (Spanish has two words for the English word “for,” and also both words have other meanings, like “through” and “by.” In some cases the distinction is more clearcut, like “por” is used to express definite amounts of time. So “for an hour” is “por una hora.” (“Para” can also express time in some cases, like “Yo voy para 9,” is roughly “I’ll go around 9.” It’s less commonly used, though.) In other cases it’s a little fuzzier. For the English “I did this for you,” “por” is “for” if it is something that was done because of something or someone, but “para” is “for” if it just means, well, for. Um. Anyway, it’s confusing, and most non-fluent Spanish speakers, myself included, tend to just use “para” anywhere you would use “for” in English.”

… ay, mi madre.

Anyway, we’ve had our training every day until 3pm and then have been having fun reunions within our PC group. On Tuesday we took an excursion to the Acropolis Center, aka “Land of Rich White Dominicans,” aka “Seriously, Are We In America?” I bought a CINNABON! Others bought iced mochas and TGI Friday’s burgers. It had escalators, which I haven’t seen since I left the airport. (No wait, the mall in Santiago has an escalator too but it’s been broken every time I’ve gone there.) It was basically amazing.

We also saw the movie Max Payne, which was pretty terrible, although we had fun laughing at unintentionally humorous scenes. The best part of the whole movie was when one character said, “She’s a bitch,” and the subtitle, instead of saying “Ella es una zorra”* said “Ella es una basura,” which means, “She is a garbage.” And in Spanish it’s just as weird sounding to say “a garbage” (instead of “the garbage,” or “a piece of garbage,” or whatever.) Also, a garbage does not mean a bitch. So we’ve incorporated that into our slang in both English and Spanish. I encourage you to do the same: next time someone cuts you off in traffic, shake your fist and yell, “You are such a garbage!” I’m sure it will make you feel better.

*"Zorro" means fox, "zorra" is a female fox. Or a bitch. Also, this is what was used for bitch at other points in the movie, thus making this instance of "una basura" even funnier.

This afternoon we went to Carrefour, the Dominican branch of the French version of Wal-Mart. We bought Brie cheese and baguettes and it was impossibly blissful. Then we went to the colmado and played Travel Scrabble, which I brought with me this week and have been happily spreading as an alternative to dominoes. (Not that I don’t like dominoes, but why play that when you could be playing Scrabble?)

Tomorrow is our last day of training, and we’re planning to spend the afternoon at the Embassy pool. It should be amazing. Who knew being in the Peace Corps could be so posh?

On Saturday, my brother Reid is arriving for a visit, which should be great! (And not only because he’s bringing a suitcase full of American snacks.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

world aids day

Support World AIDS Day

So I didn't get to Internet yesterday, on actual World AIDS Day, but I just thought I'd mention it anyway. Here in PCDR AIDS awareness & prevention are some of our goals, but it's not quite the priority I'm sure it is in African PC nations. AIDS is definitely a bigger problem here than it is in the US*, but nothing like in Africa. The highest incidences of AIDS in the DR are among sex workers in tourist towns, so... watch out for that if you come visit me.

*Here, 1.1% of the population has AIDS. In the US, it's about .3%. In Nigeria, it's 3.1%.

Anyway, so I know you can get AIDS awareness T-shirts at The Gap these days, but I thought I'd chime in too cuz it's my blog and I'll tell you to use a condom if I want to, tell you to use a condom if I want tooooo.

Why No One North of the Mason-Dixon Line Will Ever Take Me Seriously Again

Since coming to the DR, I’ve had to adapt to a lot of things. I used to think that the maximum occupancy of a Toyota Corolla was 5; I now know that it is 7 adults plus a few children. I used to think it was rude to show up at people’s houses unannounced and expect coffee; I now know that it’s more rude not to. For that matter, I used to think that coffee should be served in roughly 6-8 ounce portions; I now know that you really only need about a shot glass of coffee (with at least a tablespoon of sugar). I used to think it was perfectly fine to leave my house when it was raining; I now know that passing through the rain will ruin my pelo bueno and give me a potentially-fatal case of la gripe.

Perhaps most critically, I used to think that a 75-degree Fahrenheit day was a warm and pleasant temperature. Now, however, having adapted myself to 80 and 90 degree days, I know that this is in fact terribly cold and I don’t really understand how people get by on such days without sweaters. I am not joking. The other day it dropped down to 68 and I was wearing jeans, socks, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a hooded sweater (with the hood up), and I was huddled in bed freezing. Of course, my bed has only a sheet, no blanket, because I didn’t expect to need a blanket here in the Caribbean. And judging by my old standards of temperature, I still probably don’t need one. But my internal thermometer has adjusted, and while I can now withstand 90+ heat much better than I used to, I can’t deal with anything below 75. Basically: I have become a reptile. If you need me, I will be sunning myself on a rock (unless it’s raining, in which case I will be inside, protecting my hair and shivering).

dia de los pavos (turkey day)

Happy Thanksgiving (now belated)! Hope everyone had a great day of food, friends, and family. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you did not spend your Thanksgiving poolside the way I did… suckas. (Granted, it rained all afternoon so I didn’t swim much, but it was still a pleasant location.)

The PCDR Thanksgiving committee spent a long time organizing our festivities, which took place at a country club in the capital and involved enough American Thanksgiving-style food for 100+ people, a dominoes tournament, a dance contest, and a talent show. It also involved a fair amount of drinking, so by the time the talent show rolled around…well, let’s just say it was an entertaining event. The country club’s restaurant waiter also put on an awesome show every time someone tried to cut through the restaurant (which was open air and poolside) between the pool and the locker room (which, being in the DR, was disappointingly cold water-only, despite being in a pretty nice club). Some friends and I spent a couple hours sitting at one of the tables, playing travel Scrabble and watching the poor dude flip out and explain, in an increasingly put-upon fashion, that it was forbidden to walk through the restaurant without a shirt on. A lot of the other volunteers were resentful of this Shirt Nazi, although I’m pretty confident that behind this waiter must have some even more forceful manager who terrorized the waiter in the same way that the waiter terrorized the post-pool volunteers…there’s no way anyone cares that much about restaurant dress codes without some kind of outside coercion.

Anyway, dress code aside, it was a little strange to have our fun, giant meal and know that soon we would return to our little towns in this little impoverished nation. Of course, it’s true that in America we have our family feasts within miles of people who don’t know where their next meal will come from, but here in the DR the disparity is more obvious. Our country director led a Thanksgiving toast: That one day everyone in the world may enjoy what we have now. It’s just something to keep in mind, I suppose. It’s nice to take time out to be thankful, but it’s hard to think about the fact that the things we’re grateful for often come at the expense of the developing world. (NOTE: sorry to be a big Debbie Downer. I promise not to even talk about the meat industry ;) ) I guess what I’d really like to promote is a more active Giving of Thanks; not only should we acknowledge what we have to be grateful for, but we should all do more to see that everyone has something for which to be grateful. Also, I don’t think that this should be limited to the last Thursday of November. Anyway, I sense that by now many people still reading this are tired of my hippie shit, so I’ll cut this short. … In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make?? (That was encore hippie shit, in case you weren’t tired of it yet.)