Saturday, October 24, 2009

Adventures wandering around

Yesterday J.P. and I both missed school because he needed to go to the hospital for a check up after all of the weird health things he has had lately and I needed to translate for him. We had some trouble getting the day off and then even more trouble when we went to two hospitals and were not able to be seen in either of them. The first hospital looked like a U.S. hospital. It was big and clean and had plenty of nurses working information/appointment desks.

The second was like falling into the third world. There were a couple of information desks which were behind glass so you had to ask your questions through a small hole at the bottom like you were at a high security bank or a convenience store in Detroit. We were told there that we could not be seen until Monday unless we wanted to go into the emergency room. We decided to go just to see if we could get in (sorry Lucy, we were being that drain on the system that you so hate).  In the U.S. when you go to the "Emergency Room" you go to the waiting room, wait forever, and then finally get in to see the doctor. Silly me, I assumed that was what this was going to be.

We walked into the room and there were about 6 beds which did not have curtains around them filled with very very sick people and then chairs lined up against the wall with more sick people waiting to be seen. The doctors were going from bed to bed to check out the patients while everyone else watched and heard everything that was said. JP and I quickly realized that our emergency was not like these people's emergencies, so we got the hell out of dodge. On the way out JP said, "I didn't want to stay in there because I thought we both might get really sick." Very wise, JP.

After that little hospital adventure was over we picked up our missing laundry from the lavandería (laundry mat meets dry cleaners) and walked home. JP went to swim at Centro Olympico and I went wandering around. I did a little bit of shopping with no luck, and then I found a used book store. I went in to see if they had any books in English but there were about 6 of them and they were all terrible looking. I started to browse the Spanish books then this guy came up to me and told me that he worked at the store too but he also sold some face cream that he wanted me to buy. His exact words were "The cream would take those little marks on your face right off." I don't know what marks he was talking about but I do know that after that I was far less inclined to buy from him. He then told me that he did  massages to remove fat and cellulite and relaxing BATHS in the back of the store and asked me if I would be interested in either of those. I said I would not. He then asked me if he could have my phone number. I said he could not. He then asked me if I would like to go to church with him. I said I would not. I told him that I had a boyfriend and he asked me if he lived here in the Dominican Republic. I said that he did. He finally relented and went away. Good Lord. I have never been so annoyed in my life. Also it's too bad because I really liked the book store (I bought Gulliver's Travels in Spanish, "Viajes de Gulliver") but I will definitely never be going back there again lest I get offered another relaxing bath.

After that I went in search of coffee. I found this place that I want to take everyone who comes to visit out for a nice meal. It was this two story place with really beautiful french/italian music playing and delicious food. Unfortunately I don't know what the name of it was, but it was one street east of Duarte and two blocks north. I had eggplant and rice and beans. Yum.

After that I decided to go to the salon to get my hair straightened. This is a cultural experience that I thought I should have. All of the Dominican women I know go to the salon at least twice a week and get their hair blown out. Any time they are wearing their hair down it's because they have gone to the salon. It's sort of strange, but I felt like I should be a part of it. The whole salon process was nice, I got my hair washed and then someone went to town on straightening it, but basically the second I walked outside it began to curl again. It is just too humid here. I guess I won't be doing that again.

I met up with Stacy and we went to a mall to shop (Acropolis). We didn't really have any luck so we went back to their apartment, picked up Doug, and went to get a beer and some cheap Mexican food. The best thing about this city is the number of restaurants where you can get pretty cheap food. After dinner we all came back to my side of town and hung out at our apartment with JP and Bridgitte. Overall, a very eventful day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday- School, Laundry, Red Tent, Walk

The kids were behaving so badly last week that it has been all I can do this week not to tell them that the reason that Ms. Dark is suddenly mean is because nice Ms. Dark is dead and they killed her. I keep these things to myself and I just give out a lot of recess forfeits. Ah well. Hopefully it will improve their behavior. In school today they did pretty well, peer editing in English and answering some review questions in Social Studies, but they still need some work.

After school JP and I headed back to our side of town and got dropped off in Chinatown. We ate at that restaurant again (Restaurant Dragon I), and as usual, it was amazing and our final bill between the two of us came out to around 7 dollars. I love that place. They have Dominican side dishes too which I think is funny, like fried plantains. As we were walking home from the restaurant I found a watch that I had to buy, which some of you may see because I am going to buy some for you for Christmas. When we got home we dropped some clothes off at the laundry for the first time (we have been doing our laundry in the sink and hanging it on the balcony from the windowsills).

 I finished The Red Tent today (if you haven't read it please do it's amazing) for the third time. I love that book. When I came home from work yesterday I made some tea and sat on our balcony and read for awhile. Life is good.

After JP came back from the gym we went for a walk around the city for an hour or so and looked for places to eat in the future. Not such a great idea probably because we were walking so that my pants won't feel so tight from all the delicious food I've been eating here. Ah well. If I walk far enough to get the food I figure it's fine.

Tomorrow JP and I have to stay after school late because we have to go to this thing at school called a Hamburgada (if that's not Spanglish I don't know what is), which is a night for the parents to come and eat hamburgers. It's a fundraiser for the school and all the teachers are required to attend. Fun fun. At least I'll get a free hamburger out of it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Conference and Las Galeras

Hey all,

So Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I went to a work conference here in Santo Domingo instead of going to school. It was perfect timing because I really needed a break from the kids and I think they needed one from me too, and I got some really good ideas for how to make my class a lot more engaging. I have been having some problems with classroom management lately and I have been getting really angry at the kids about it but when I started thinking about it I realized that I have been a pretty boring teacher lately, so I think that we are both to blame. Anyway, I hope that this week is better. Speaking of which, are any of my teacher friends interested in having our kids be penpals or epals? The letters would have to be in English but they could be about Dominican culture. Webconferencing between classes would also be an option if I can figure out how to get around the school's security.

So after the conference on Friday afternoon JP, Bridgitte, and I headed for the bus station and we met Doug and Stacy there. We were running a little behind and JP was feeling like a bad athlete because he has had Dengue and I was feeling like a bad teacher so we were both in pretty stressed moods. To be honest I was a little nervous that the trip was going to be really bad because I had such a storm cloud over my head, but 2 hours and a bus nap later I was a new person. JP ran the next morning so he felt better then. We got off the bus in a city called Samamá and had to transfer to a very small bus/conversion van called a guagua. Guaguas are a very cheap way of getting around but the drivers pack as many people as possible into them to maximize their profits and they generally do not have air conditioning. This was no exception. In a bus that is supposed to seat 11 there were 20 of us and very loud bachata music. Stacy was recovering from a bout of food poisoning so she was very uncomfortable but I had a great time. The view from the guagua (pronounced wa wa, like the sound a baby makes) was amazing and I happened to really like the bachata band that they were playing full blast (Aventura).

When we arrived they dropped us off at the hotel where Stacy and Doug had made reservations. They had read about it in the Lonely Planet (hollachagurl and give her a job) and had talked to the lady on the phone, but Bridgitte, JP and I hadn't decided where we wanted to stay yet because we were going to try to find a cheaper option. We got to this hotel and the lady showed Doug and Stacy the room while we all waited. We were sitting and chatting when Stacy and Doug came and had just enough time to say "The room is really small and we don't want to stay but she's saying we have to pay her." (This place was called Villa Casa Lotus if you're wondering where not to stay in Las Galeras.) Sure enough, the woman came storming in behind them and started saying that because they had called ahead whether they stayed or not they had to give her the full amount in cash. She was being very aggressive about it and they told her that they would not give her the money, and that the room was much smaller and worse than the one she described to them. At one point during this discussion either Brigitte or JP asked her how we could get back to town and she shouted at us, "That's not my problem, that's your problem." It was all very weird and we ended up sneaking around her out the door. She had her main henchman, some Dominican guy, follow us into town to try to get the money, which he could not. We went into the hotel where we wanted to stay and sat down at a table to get a drink and he continued to sit at the bar for around an hour before he finally went back to the hotel. It was an adventure for the first hour in Las Galeras.

The hotel we did end up staying in was called Gri Gri, and it was the most backpacker place I have seen so far. It was a hotel/bar with really good food and drinks and really cheap rooms. Perfect. The next day we went to this little beach next door to the hotel swam around a reef (which, unfortunately, was dead) and had lunch in a glorified tent. Lunch was fish that we had seen being brought up the beach an hour or so before with tostones, (fried plantains, what were those called in Ecuador again?) fried eggplant, rice and beans. It was so delicious. The lady that served us had curlers in her hair and opened our beer bottle (I swear I am not drinking all that much here) with a strategically placed nail in the side of a tree. I wished so badly that it would be socially appropriate to take a picture of that to show you guys.

That night we went back into town and ate (actually for the second time) at this place owned by an Italian lady that had homemade everything; pasta, jam, butter, bread. Yum. I think this was the best food weekend of this trip so far. We ended up eating at this place a total of 3 times. It was so good. We sat around and chatted for awhile and went to bed early. The town was really peaceful and didn't have a lot of people, so it was a really nice relaxing weekend.

This morning we had breakfast at that same place and then wandered down the beach. The water here wasn't as clear as in Sosua, but the beach itself was the most beautiful I have seen so far. There are a bunch of little islands with palm trees on them just off the shore that I am going to swim out to next time, and you can see the mountains from pretty much anywhere on the beach. I will post my pictures so you guys can see. We came back on a bus that was pretty much the same situation as the guagua on the way, except for it was supposed to be a regular bus, and it took us 4 hours instead of the 3 it should have to get back because we kept stopping to cram in more passengers.

When we got back we went to eat delicious and ridiculously cheap chinese food and then came back to the apartment. I got some work done and now here I am. I am starting to really love it here, it is so beautiful. As you can tell from my blog though, I am going to need to start going to the gym way more often. Yikes. I love you all and miss you!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Time Traveler's Wife, Roof Party, Otherwise Lazy Weekend

Hey all,

So this weekend may have been the laziest weekend of my life. I feel like I have just discovered television and already it is ruining things for me. Our apartment has tv and about 90 channels, and since I basically haven't had a tv in a year and a half all of a sudden I realized that I can watch it instead of do anything else. This is a less than positive development in my life which I will have to fight against. On Friday JP and I came home from school and he was feeling really sick (he talked to his mom and she thinks he has dengue fever, worst). We just hung out around the apartment all evening and watched movies that we bought on the street on my computer. I got some really good movies here. If you guys haven't seen Lymelife or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas you should. On Saturday I woke up and watched movie after movie with JP again stopping only to go to the store for supplies. Finally, some of our friends called and I went with them at around 10:00 to our friend Nick's house. He was having people over to drink and listen to merengue on his roof. It was really fun and I spoke a lot of Spanish. I ended up coming home at around 5 a.m, which is the first time I have done that here and it was lovely. Today JP was feeling better and I was feeling not so good from last night, so we hung out for awhile, walked around on El Conde, and then went to see The Time Traveler's Wife (just came out here this weekend) with Doug and Stacy. It isn't as good as the book of course but still was really well done. Go see it everyone and read the book too, it's amazing. Love you all and I hope that your weekends were slightly more eventful than mine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back to School Night

Last night at school was Back to School Night. This is when the parents of all the kids come to school and go to each of their kid's classes so that they can figure out what it is their kids are doing all day. I decided to do mine in Spanish, which I was nervous about for about a week in advance. I went through my syllabus and translated the things I needed to beforehand which really helped. When the parents first got to school they had a presentation about the new things going on in the middle school, and then the seventh and eighth grade parents went upstairs to start the class rotation and the sixth grade parents stayed for a welcome-to-middle-school-type presentation. Some of our kids had been chosen to be guides, I think they were calling them edecanes, and they dressed up and escorted the parents around. They were so cute I could have puked. Anyway, when the parents finally came up to my class I had to firmly grip my syllabus to keep my hands from noticeably shaking, but the parents were very patient with me and laughed politely at my jokes and everything. Thank God. It was the second time since I've been here where I have really felt like I stretched my Spanish abilities, and I felt really good about it. Thankfully, I found some vocabulary and verb tenses that had been lying dormant in my Spanish lexicon for a long time and it came in very handy. Overall the Back to School Night went far better than I expected.

Today we went to school and reviewed for our upcoming language arts and spelling exams. The kids took their social studies exam and they did amazingly. I was really happy with their results. We played some review games during which I pretty sure the other teachers throughout the hall thought I was murdering my students from their screams. JP has been coming to school all week this week sick as a dog. He had a bad fever a few days ago and spent a round 13 hours at school for his own Back to School Night. He is feeling much better now though. When we came we watched a bit of Harry Potter and wandered around on El Conde for awhile. I think this weekend we are going to go out around here which I am really looking forward to. Hopefully I can use some Spanish, we'll see. I am working on sending emails, please keep them coming I love hearing from you guys!

The Tale of the Mysterious Bug Bite

I woke up in the middle of the night on Thursday night to a sharp pain on the third toe of my right foot. After 2 seconds or so it started to itch like crazy, so I reluctantly got out of bed and went to the bathroom to see what it was. Being half asleep I couldn’t really see it, but decided it would be a good idea to scratch it as much it felt like it should be scratched, which was a lot. This resulted in me spending the next half an hour awake lying on top of my own foot to try to soothe the pain/itching that was radiating throughout it. When I woke up in the morning it still itched, but having learned my lesson I left it alone. During school it was bothering me under my shoe so when I got a chance I took it off to look at it. My toe was bright red and had swelled to twice its natural size. I was on my lunch break so I went to JP’s class to show him. He tried to get me to go to the school doctor, but when I got down to the infirmary she was outside lounging in the sun with some of the other staff and I felt weird pulling her away or worse, whipping my huge swollen toe out in front of all those ladies. I tried to ignore it.

That night we took a bus to a city called Cabarete. Doug, Stacy, JP, and I were going to catch the 4 o’clock bus, but Doug and Stacy had an electricity bill to pay so they followed us at 5. Here they cut off your electricity (I have heard) the first day that your bill is late. Also, you can’t pay online or mail in your payment; you have to pay at specific locations around the city. You also have to know where those locations are and be able to speak Spanish. Not super efficient. JP and I took the bus to Sosua (National Prostitution Capitol, remember?) and then got on the back of a mototaxi and rode the 14k to Cabarete. There we found our hotel, checked in (the hotel was called Tropical Beach Hotel, not a terribly imaginative name but pretty nice), and scarfed down some last minute dinner before they closed. Stacy and Doug arrived not long after and we went to a pizza place so that they could get something to eat too. We saw some prostitutes in the bathroom (unisex, weird anyway and especially weird in an establishment with prostitutes) and on the street, but not nearly as many as in Sosua. There were actually women in this city who were non-prostitutes (although most of them were sunbathing topless by day).

We wandered around for a bit after the pizza place and went down to the beach, where I indulged myself for the first time all day in scratching my foot. I tiptoed around it (no pun intended) and then vigorously scratched it by digging it down into the sand. It felt good and then horribly, horribly bad but the salt water helped. After the beach we were all really tired from the 4 hour bus ride, so we went to bed pretty early.

The next day I woke up and my foot was a swollen as ever, but there was a distinctive bulge/blister on it. Get ready, this is about to get gross. Being me, I tried to pop it, which didn’t work. We all went to breakfast and then down to the beach. There I finally just got on with it and scratched my toe, because it was itching worse than ever. It broke open and then after a few seconds a liquid oozed out. The magic of all of this was as soon as that happened it didn’t hurt or itch anymore. My body was right the whole time, it really needed vigorous scratching to get the poison out. While I was satisfied by that I am still wondering what on earth the bug was that bit me, and what was it doing in my bed? I think it might be time to consider sleeping with the windows open. I consider this event the first good one of a great day.

Next I settled in to reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I have read one and a half of his books before and I have never really gotten what all the fuss is about, but now I see. I read it cover to cover sitting in that chair on this lovely beach. It is excellent. Read it if you haven’t. I think it converted me to a new, made-up, religion.

After that I got some free piña coladas from the bar, went to one of the pools and played with a beach ball with Doug while JP ran and Stacy got a massage, and then showered and went to dinner. We had wine and a really good dinner (served with a side dish of sneaking the Haitian kids food through the railing) and then dessert and coffee (without which no great day would be complete) and then sat by the pool and waiting for the night show of African dance to start. We sat at the edge of the pool with our feet hanging in the water and watch as the dancers ran around the stage to various Lion King and other miscellaneous songs wearing next to nothing (think zebra thong for the lead) and screaming Hakkuna Mattata and cracking a whip. I could not figure out if any of them had actually seen The Lion King before. The dancing itself was pretty cool, and there was a fire breather, but the lady in the zebra thong gyrating to “He Lives in Me” was a little off-putting, especially because I think that song is about God.

After the show we had some last minute free drinks and then went to a bar. We had consumed enough where Stacy and I felt certain that we could get the whole club dancing. After two hours and a lot of sweating we had not succeeded, but we had fun trying. We went down to the water and then back to our hotel rooms for the night. It was a simple day that included everything I like. It was amazing. Not to mention I was no longer thinking about my toe, which was nice.

Sunday we ate breakfast, sat by the beach for awhile, swam, wandered around the city, went back to Sosua, got on another bus, and rode 4 hours home. When we got back I went running with JP which was really nice and something I really needed after the amount of food I consumed this weekend.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Boring me

Hey all,

I haven't blogged much this week because I have been tired and my life has been pretty simple and boring. After all the craziness of the last few weeks this has been a delightful and welcome change. This week with the kids has been particularly bad, their behavior has been an all-time low, but otherwise everything is going really well. JP and I are loving our new apartment and neighborhood. JP joined a gym down the street and I am thinking about doing the same because the ol' work pants are getting a little tight. Notice that I am thinking about it, and not actually doing it. I don't want to do anything rash. If the gym sounded unappealing in Michigan you better believe it sounds unappealing here with the constant heat and humidity. I'll sleep on (and eat on it) it for another week or so before I decide.

On a less than positive note for my already too-tight pants, JP, Doug, Stacy and I are going to an all-inclusive resort for the weekend to celebrate Stacy's birthday. Those of you who know me know that I am not a huge fan of the all-inclusive thing, but I am actually really looking forward to it this time. I am not looking at it as a chance to venture out into a new city, but instead as a chance to do nothing and to have piña coladas brought to me while I lounge by the beach and read. Does this mean I am getting old? I promise that I still really like to venture around new cities! Please don't disown me as a friend, Moni.

Last night JP, Bridgitte, and I went with Nick to his two friends that we met last week's house (Harris and Mike). Was that sentence grammatically correct? Anyway, we stayed for a few beers and I met some more people. I am so happy to be meeting people that I feel like a middle schooler all over again. Like me, please like me! I got a couple girls' phone numbers so hopefully I will extend my network here. If I can be half the social butterfly I was when I was actually 12 (or 1/4 the social butterfly my sister is) I should be in good shape.

This was kind of disjointed. If my students turned this in I would make notes about structure and transitions. Sorry. Hopefully they don't read it. Love you all.