Monday, November 30, 2009

on the road again

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving! The Peace Corps party was great, but I got some kind of 24-hour bug and threw up all my vegetarian stuffing. And all four kinds of pie. Ughhhh. But mustn't dwell!

Instead let us turn our attention to post-Thanksgiving travels. Mom, Duarte (we renamed the kitten Duarte since all the volunteers kept accidentally calling him that anyway--Juan Pablo Duarte was one of the founding fathers of the DR and absolutely everything here is named after him. Including my cat), Karina, Jen, Jenna and I headed down southwest to a little artisan workshop where you can pick your own piece of larimar (a semiprecious stone found only in the DR) and turn it into jewelry. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived on Saturday, they were closed, so there was nothing to do but head further up the mountain to a beautiful hotel/restaurant called Casa Bonita.

We got some food and drinks and enjoyed the view.

The sun set, and we continued to enjoy the view.

Here's a picture of my mom hard at work on her larimar.

Here's my finished product! It's... not that impressive, but I made it. With a liiittle help from some Dominican artisans. And also geology.

Here's Baby Duarte looking super mad. And adorable.

Now my mom is at the Puerto Plata International Airport, soon to be heading back to Nueva Yol (aka Illinois). At least I'll have baby Duarte to keep me company... and look! Look how totally non-malnourished he is now. Fatty little Duarte.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

giving thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Let's be honest, the holiday season tends to inspire a lot of lame, cliche-y blog entries. And why should I be any different? What, do I think I'm better than everyone? So, here are some things I am thankful for.
  • My family! (Awww.) I'm especially glad my mom could come visit again. I am also thankful that she brought down an entire suitcase of candy.
  • Baby Cat--who, surprise, is a boy. And it turns out I'm unwilling to name him Billy Ray, so right now we're going with Dante. He has a little goatee!! Just like Dante from Clerks.
    (You can't really see his goatee in any of the pictures I have of him so far. But he has a little patch of white just on his chin. So cute!)
  • Maru, who brings so much joy to my life with every awkwardly-phrased update.
  • My site change! Although my job is a little bit stressful, I love my great co-workers. And I love living a 15-minute walk away from the beach, even if it does get invested with giant turkeys around this time of year.
  • The fact that I still haven't drowned or been eaten by sharks while surfing!! I don't want to jinx it though :/
  • The Internet! I am so thankful that I can keep in touch with all my lovely friends and family so easily thanks to emails, blogs, Facebook, Skype, and the like. Hooray!
  • Friends! Of course, the Internet wouldn't be that fun if I didn't have all of you guys to keep in touch with in the first place.
  • ZooBorns. It's a website of all baby zoo animals!! LOOK HOW LITTLE THESE TURTLES ARE. BE THANKFUL YOU GOT TO SEE THAT.
  • Three nights in the Santo Domingo Marriott! You guys, there is air conditioning and hot water and the room is bigger than my whole apartment!!

So, happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope you all have as many things to be thankful for as I do.

Monday, November 23, 2009


"Mom, if you tell everyone that the best part of your vacation was getting in a car crash, everyone's going to think your trip sucked."
"What? No one got hurt, and it was interesting!"

Interesting, indeed. On Friday my mom and I ventured out in our tiny rental car, heading west to Dajabon for the market day. We picked up my friend Mica and two girls from her town--Mica was taking the girls to the dentist in Santiago, which was basically on our way. Driving in the DR is crazy--there are motorcycles zooming in and out everywhere, a frequent lack of taillights/headlights, barely-paved roads, and a general disregard for traffic laws. But mom assured me she was up to the challenge, and the trip had been going pretty smoothly so far. So, of course, a giant truck with no taillights stopped abruptly and Mom gently rear-ended him. The truck just drove off as if nothing had happened; we're not even sure if the truck realized it was in an accident.

So: right after the impact, the two girls in the backseat are screaming, Mica is trying to console them in Spanish, I'm trying to find my glasses, the kitten is crying, Mom is crying, and like six Dominican police officers are tapping on our windows. It was hectic.

Honestly, the whole thing went fairly smoothly. I have no idea why there were so many police officers just hanging out at that intersection, but they were. I think before yesterday I have maybe seen six police officers during my entire time in the DR. Weird, but helpful. They ushered us out of the car, pushed the car into a nearby parking lot, and got a ride to take Mica and her girls to the dentist all in about ten minutes. Meanwhile, my mom consoled the kitten (still unnamed, but our faithful travelling companion) and I called the car rental company, called the Peace Corps doctor, and argued with the police officers. They wanted Mom to go to the hospital; she didn't want to go. Finally we convinced her that she should go to the hospital. Then the police wanted her to go to the public hospital; I said no. They told me that if we wanted to go to the private hospital they wouldn't help us, we'd have to take a taxi to get there. I said fine.

So, we took a taxi to the hospital. We're carrying five large bags and one tiny kitten, and both of us are bleeding. The receptionist tells me that the kitten can't come in the emergency room. Understandable I suppose, but what are we going to do with the kitten? We don't have any kind of carrier for it yet, we've just been keeping it on my lap in the car. It is finally settled that I will wait in the waiting room with the kitten while Mom gets stitches done by an English-speaking doctor. While I wait, a police officer asks me questions about the accident/hits on me. I call a friend to chat so I have an excuse not to talk to the police officer anymore.

Here is perhaps the most startling part of the whole day: Mom got 10 stitches and IV and local anesthetic in less than an hour! And it cost about US$100! So fast and cheap! Ridiculous. And then our car rental company (Budget! Big ups to them) sent over a driver and a new rental car right away. I started thinking crazy thoughts like, "Wow! Maybe we can still make it out to Dajabon today!"


Anyway, the new driver took us over to the police station. We had to wait a long time, still holding the crying kitten. I managed to get some yogurt from the police cafeteria, which we gave to kitty via eyedropper. Finally, I got to talk to a police officer and describe the accident to him. He told us we had to go to the hospital. "Oh," I said, "We just came from the hospital. We're fine."

"No," he said, "You're both injured. You have to go to the hospital and have them fill out this form saying how injured you are."

"But I only have a minor cut, and my mom already received treatment. I don't understand why you need this form filled out."

"Yes... many people do not understand why this form needs to be filled out. But these are the rules." I spent a few more minutes engaged in a Kafka-esque debate, but finally conceded to be taken to the public hospital. Sadly, we arrived around lunchtime and all of the doctors were gone, so we waited about an hour for the doctors to come back. Then we waited another hour while all the people who got there before us got to see the doctor. Then we saw the doctor, who gave us each a cursory glance and spent about thirty seconds filling out a form that said, in essence, "Cut lip" and "cut elbow."

We then went back to the police station, where I had to re-explain everything to an extremely fast-talking, mumble-y officer. (Do you know Boomhauer from King of the Hill? This was basically the Dominican equivalent.) So I kept telling him, "I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING" and finally another police officer translated for me, from Spanish to Spanish.... he just repeated everything Dominican Boomhauer was saying and I understood. Sadly, what I understood was that we were being sent to the Traffic Justice of the Peace. So we drove across town, waited in line, handed over some forms, got a stamp on the forms, got the forms back, and drove back to the police station. Like, seriously? You guys couldn't just keep one of those stamps at the police station?

Anyway, then we were free! Free... to go to the Budget Rent-a-Car office and finalize our change of car!

And then free to check into a hotel in Santiago and die of exhaustion! And also eat pizza. And also to promptly return our new car to Budget because the brakes were fussy and we were fearful of a repeat incident.

By the way, it is important that when you read this entry and envision our trials, you NEVER FORGET that the entire day has a soundtrack of "MEW! MEW! MEW! MRAAAWR!" from a grumpy, hungry little kitten. Not that I blame the little guy.

(PS pictures of Baby Cat soon, I promise! Also soon we will take her or him back to the vet and find out the sex for sure, and then I can officially name Baby Cat something besides Baby Cat.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

what have i been up to?

More like, what haven't I been up to!

The weekend before last, my friend Trina stayed with me!

We went to the Cabarete Jazz Festival and saw some festive jazz.

Then we went up a mountain to a restaurant/retreat center called Blue Moon to celebrate Jenna's birthday!

We enjoyed the mountaintop view.

And the pool.

And of course, the highlight: Indian food served off of banana leaves. Mmmm.

After that, I went to the annual IT youth conference. All the IT Peace Corps volunteers (well, almost all) came with a few kids from their town for three days of workshops, games, and ridiculousness. I brought two girls from my center, one of whom had never ridden a bus before and threw up the entire two hour trip. But she felt better once she got there, and I'm really glad I was able to give her that opportunity. (Even if when, the next week I asked her to write a paragraph about what she learned at the conference, she claimed not to remember anything that she learned.)

The second night we had a big carnival. My friend Ruth and I were in charge of the cakewalk, which was awesome.

The kids had a great time, and so did the volunteers...

And, most importantly, we all received certificates of participation.

After the conference, I had to scurry back, drop off my girls, and go meet my mom! Yay! We spent the weekend at a posh resort in Sosua. I referred to our activites as "snake-ing"--"We just eat a lot, then go sleep in the sun and digest it, then slither back to the buffet for the next meal." It was pretty great. I didn't even touch the water all weekend. (The water was really rough so the resort closed the ocean. Yes. They closed the ocean. With yellow caution tape. I wish I had a photo, but they are all on mom's camera.)

This week, I've been working at ~*DREAM*~ and mom had been keeping herself occupied with shopping during. (Those of you who know my mom will not be worried that she is bored. My mom could probably spend a month shopping in Cabarete without getting bored.) Yesterday, mmom got a new project--I found a tiny baby kitten on the street. It was clearly in rough shape, so I picked it up and took it to work with me. I kept it on a towel outside and gave it some milk. Mom saw it when she came to pick me up for lunch and she decided to take it to the vet. The vet said it was extremely malnourished, and mom has been feeding Baby Cat a special formual via eyedropper the last few days. Baby Cat is very very small and cute, but she (or he--it's too small for even the vet to tell sex yet) has a propensity to poop on me. Like ten times she has pooped on me, and never on mom.

This morning I went to have breakfast with some embassy officials (who were going on a little tour of the North Coast and wanted to meet some PCVs) and Baby Cat pooped on my khakis just as I was heading out the door. However, I did not notice that Baby Cat had also pooped on my shirt until I got to breakfast. I pretended like I had spilled syrup on myself. I hope they bought my story!! Even if they didn't, they still bought me a delicious breakfast, so, score.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

can you tell me how to get to ocho center?

So. One of the more frustrating types of conversations I have here in the DR are ones where someone tells me something in Spanish, and I understand it all except ONE WORD. I ask them to repeat the word or define the word. Instead, they bring over someone who "speaks English" to explain it to me because I "don't speak Spanish." Except this person just repeats the same word to me. Right now, for instance, I'm sitting here monitoring the computer lab. Occasionally people ask me questions about how to use the Internet or try to trick me into doing their homework for them.

A young man walks up to me, hands me a pencil and piece of paper upon which is written, "September 11, 2001. Osama Bin Laden." He says, "Escribame Ocho Center." (Write for me "Ocho Center".)

I say, "Ocho Center?"

"Ocho center."

"What is Ocho Center?"

"You know... Ocho Center. Osama Bin Laden... it's like the White House."

"The White House?"

"But instead of the White House, it's Ocho Center. Osama bin Laden lived there."

"Ocho Center."

"Ohhh, you don't understand. Let me get my friend."

So the friend comes over and says, in English, "He wants for you to write down the words 'Ocho Center.'"

By this point I am losing it and cracking up, and my friend Rachel comes in.

Me: "Rachel! I don't know what they are talking about. They want me to write something about Ocho Center. He's got this paper... it's something to do with Osama bin Laden I think."

Rachel: "What's Ocho Center?"
Two Dudes: "Ocho Center!! Exactly!! Renata doesn't understand Ocho Center and we want you to write it down!"
Rachel: I don't know what Ocho Center is either.
Dude 1: Osama bin Laden!
Dude 2: It's like the White House.
Rachel: You want me to write down White House?
Rachel: ... Barack Obama?
Dude 2: It's the building that was destroyed on September 11. In New York.
Me and Rachel: ....
Rachel: The WORLD TRADE Center?
Dudes: Yes! Ocho Center! How do you spell it?

Oh my God. I was hyperventilating with laughter by the end of it.

(Also, yes, in retrospect, given "September 11" and "Osama bin Laden" and "Something Center" you'd think I would have been able to come up with "World Trade Center." But it was just bizarre. Also, the White House stuff kept throwing me off.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I just uploaded some photos from this weekend. It's been a good few days--between Halloween and my friend Kathy's birthday, there were a lot of volunteers in the capital. Here are a few pictures from Halloweeen--which, for the record, Dominicans don't dress up for, so when we went out on the town, we got a ton of weird looks. More than the weird looks we usually get just for being a large group of white people.

Jeff (Frog Prince), me (I went as the Peace Corps lounge Lost & Found), and Justin (Karate Kid) having a prop battle.

More detail on my ridic costume.

The 80s girls!

Fun group shot.