Sunday, January 31, 2010

Artistas Unidos por Haití

 This morning I woke up and decided that I would get everything I needed to get done by 2 o'clock. JP and I went out for breakfast on El Conde, which is the next block over, and we ate at this restaurant, La Cafetera, that makes amazing egg sandwiches. JP and I each got a juice and a coffee and shared a sandwich and our total was around 7 dollars, sometimes I love this country. We went grocery shopping and then came home and I set to work on my Portuguese homework.

The class I am taking has an absolutely ridiculous amount of homework. Between classes we generally have 10-20 pages of a workbook to do, and some other rather large task to accomplish. I am embarrassed to admit that last Wednesday I didn't go to class because I hadn't finished my homework. I should probably be fired as a teacher for doing that, it's like being a police officer and committing felonies. Anyway, this morning I finished writing a 2 page paper in Portuguese as well as around 10 pages of my workbook while JP rode his bike in our living room. By the way I finished at 2:14, pretty close.

I was looking around online and I found that there was a big concert at Estadio Olimpico. It was a benefit concert and the proceeds were going to helping Haiti. There were a bunch of Dominican artists playing there so we decided to go. When we got there we were dropped off at one of the side entrances, and we couldn't seem to find our way to the ticket booth. I asked a nice looking police officer where it was, and after leading us around for about 10 minutes he offered us a ticket out of his pocket. We politely declined because we needed 3 tickets, and then he found us two more from two separate scalpers  and we were on our way. Just to be clear, what I am saying is that I bought scalped tickets from a police officer. It was a little weird. Oddly enough though, I think I got better price from the other scalpers because he was standing there.

The view of the stage from the bleachers. 

Me, Stacy, Doug (pre-tooth chipping pizza)

Haitian/Dominican Flag Party

So we went into the concert and it was a big festival inside a baseball stadium. They had set up food tents and a big stage, and as the day went on the acts got longer and better. There were some questionable outfits that lead the audience to wonder if it would be possible for underwear to be worn underneath them, but the music was really good. We had some pizza that was so delicious that Stacy chipped her tooth on a piece of it (seriously). We ended up leaving before the main act because we realized that we would have to stay until midnight to see them, but overall it was a really good show. It was nice to be outside all day and the music was great. Good day.

UPDATE: I can prove we were there; they posted pictures of us on the event website! Check us out!
Celebrities- Doug, Stacy and I

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reader Poll on Host Family

Hey all,

Today as JP was working out I was working on my mountains of Portuguese homework. I finally finished O Pequeno Principe (The Little Prince) and did a write up of the characters. The class is moving ridiculously fast and after 3 weeks I am already writing papers, I like the teacher's style but it is a whole lot of work.

Anyway, when JP got back Rebecca asked us if we could help her move stuff into her new apartment in Gasque. She and Elizabeth are both moving out this weekend because Elizabeth is moving back to D.C. Worst. This has made me start thinking about how my days in this beautiful apartment with JP are numbered. I think he will probably have to leave in March or April to go to LA, at which time I will have to find a slightly cheaper apartment. Hopefully I can find one in the same building, but I was also thinking of looking for a host family. Any thoughts on this readers? I think it would be really good for my Spanish/ Dominican cultural immersion, but possibly bad for my social life because I would not be able to come and go quite as freely as from my own apartment. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Home Cooking

Hey all,

So I had a not-so-good day at school today, followed by a not-so-good cab ride home, and by the time I got  to the apartment I was a mess. I talked to JP for awhile while he rode his bike and then decided to make some food to calm my nerves. I made rice and black beans (which, other than eggs, was all we had in the house) and wished for the millionth time that we had some tortillas so I could have a burrito. Then, a light bulb! I can make my own tortillas! I looked up a recipe online and made some tortillas. They ended up more like small pitas than tortillas, but I think the idea will take us a long way. I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Southwest of the DR

This weekend Sarah, Sean, JP and I decided to rent a car and travel west. Before we left we read in my guidebook that there were waterfalls, beaches, places to hike, and other generally cool stuff on that side of the island and that tourists don't often go there. There really aren't many big resorts on that side of the island, mostly small hotels and restaurants, so it doesn't draw in huge crowds like Punta Cana and the other developed cities.

We met up at 12:30 on Thursday afternoon at the rental car place, and rented a white sedan. We drove first through San Cristobal, which is where the famous dictator Trujillo was from, and then a number of small towns along the highway. We stopped in Azua for some Pollo Rey (think KFC Dominican style) and then continued on until we got to a city called Paraiso, which is about 4 hours outside Santo Domingo. We had some trouble finding the hotel, and when we did we weren't entirely sure we wanted to stay. It wasn't a lot to look at and the rooms weren't as cheap as they looked like they should be. We went to another hotel in the neighboring city of Los Patos, which was considerably nicer and only slightly more expensive, but that one was full. After eating dinner in Los Patos in a restaurant called Pula where delicious meats and placemats abounded we headed back to the first hotel, Hotel Paraiso, with our tails between our legs, played Bananagrams and spent the night.

The views on the way to Paraiso were completely ridiculous. Much of the drive was overlooking these enormous cliffs out onto the bluest water I have ever seen. The beaches were not sand but white rocks of varying sizes made smooth by the water. It was extremely beautiful. If you stood on the beach and turned around mountains were right behind you. It was the most beautiful place I have seen on the island so far.

The second day we were there we went to the beach in the morning, but quickly realized that although they were unique and beautiful, the stones were not very comfortable to sit on, and there was no shade to prevent us from getting sunburned. We went down the road a ways to where people have damned up the river into small pools that you can swim in and that lead down to the beach. These too were very beautiful, and there were lots of Dominican kids swimming in the pools. The waves in the ocean there were very big and powerful, and took me down a couple times when I tried to get into the water. We sat at a picnic table and had some food and eventually decided to see what else we could see in the area. We drove down to another hotel which ended up being very expensive, and then continued on to check some hotels in Barahona. We didn't succeed in that either although we did tour a coffee factory. When I say tour what I mean is walk into and when I say coffee factory I mean a relatively dark barn with coffee strewn all over the ground and a man outside seemingly bathing the factory's roosters in a metal tub.

We eventually ended up back at the expensive hotel for lunch, and after lunch we wandered around their grounds. There were huge cliffs here too overlooking the water and we walked down to the beach, and then came back up and sat in rocking chairs on the edge of the cliff and looked out at the water. It was a stunning view.

We ate dinner later that night at the same restaurant as the night before in Los Patos, and then went back to the hotel. Sean and Sarah looked up things to do for the next day and JP and I fell asleep at 9:15.

The next morning we decided to head back east and check out some of the beaches closer to Santo Domingo. We tried to go to a beach called Ocoa, but after a wrong turn that lead us into an Ocoa in the mountains we realized that there were two cities by that name, one in the mountains and one on the coast. We turned around and went towards the other one, stopped for lunch at a big hotel that turned out to also be way out of our price range (are you guys noticing a pattern of poverty here?) and eventually found a place that had some small sand dunes and a dark sand beach. JP and I swam around and looked at the small coral reefs off right off the shore and then we headed further east (and got lost about 7 times on the way) and stayed in a hotel in Playa Najayo, which is about an hour from the city. We had dinner when we got there and I watched some guy with a flashlight swim around underwater while we ate, which I thought was fascinating and Sean and Sarah (who are from Florida) did not think was out of the ordinary (they explained that he was probably fishing for crabs).  This morning we lounged around on the beach for a little while and then drove back to Santo Domingo.

The trip was really relaxing and beautiful, and renting a car made it way more enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Little I Know About Haiti

Hey all,

So my dad suggested that I let you guys know what I know about Haiti. I'm sorry to disappoint, but that is a very short book. Here is what I have experienced here over the last few months and in particular in the last week.

So Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island called Hispañola. Haiti is considerably poorer than the Dominican, so many Haitians come here to find work. There appears to be a lot of animosity towards them, and many of them occupy very low income jobs (readers, these generalizations make me uncomfortable to write, so know that they are not true of all Haitians or Dominicans, and are based solely on my own experiences and perceptions). I know personally 4 Haitian people, two who work in my school, one as a teacher and one on the maintenance crew, and two who are brothers and own a fruit stand nearby. You all may remember Sergio who I buy fruit from and have talked about before.

During the earthquake I didn't feel anything, but many of my friends did, including Brigitte who lives in the same building that I do. I heard accounts of it ranging from 20 seconds and being barely noticeable to it being 1 minute and a little scary. As I didn't feel it I'm not really sure the truth of it, probably a lot depends on the kind of building you were standing in. Anyway, after the earthquake we said a prayer in school for the Haitians (it's a private school) and the administration made up a list of what the people of Haiti needed and assigned each grade an item to bring. The sixth grade brought cans of tuna, but the list also included many other canned foods, bottles of water, medicine, etc. It was suggested that we not bring clothes or money to donate. Clothes because they were not an immediate need, and money because it has a way of getting lost. Trucks came to the school and picked up the items and carried them over to the border, where presumably other trucks took them into the country. From what I have heard the border is closed at this point. The school is continuing to gather supplies and medicine to send.

As for the Haitian people that I know living in the DR they have had a very hard time getting in contact with their family members because of the lack of working cellphone towers, phone lines, and computers due to the earthquake. I heard that the man who works on the maintenance crew went back to Haiti last weekend to find his family, but he was in school on Monday so I am not sure. The fruit vendors told me that some kind of emergency service has been set up to help people locate their families, but I am not sure what it is or how it works. The worst part for people in the Dominican Republic seems to be not knowing.

As for Haitian/Dominican relations it seems that this disaster has brought the two countries together. The DR seems to be offering a lot of aid at least from an individual standpoint, and the Red Cross here is working hard to help as well. I'm not sure what is happening from a governmental standpoint, but the tensions that existed before between Haitians and Dominican seems to at least temporarily have lifted. Again that is just my perspective.

Victory is Ours

Dear Readers,

Just wanted to say thank you for rallying around the cause of crushing JP. He has been getting kind of uppity lately because his blog has been getting more hits, but yesterday I got almost twice as many thanks to you all. Is this  a petty disagreement? Yes. Should we just be happy for each other when our blogs are successful? Probably. Did I win 100 pesos because of you? Yes I did.

Thanks again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Portuguese Classes, Long Weekend, Bayahibe, etc...

Hi all,

JP and I have started getting really competitive about whose blog gets more hits, so I decided to post an update, please refresh the page now to pad my stats (seriously, do it twice).

Okay, quality before quantity (well, I guess in this case quality is literally coming after), last weekend JP and I went back to the beach city of Bayahibe. I hung out on the beach on Saturday reading while JP did laps in front of me like he was swimming in the world's largest endless pool and then I took some cough syrup (not recreationally, I had a cold) and went to bed early. On Sunday we rented a kayak and went down the shore.

 I was good for about 10 minutes of paddling and after that JP bore the brunt of the work, but the coastline was beautiful and we found a small beach all to ourselves to hang out on.

Unfortunately, shortly after a man came up to us and informed us that it was actually a private beach and that we had to leave, so we got back in the kayak and went back the way we came to a smaller beach covered in driftwood.

We made a shelter out of the beach blanket and JP went out to swim again and I read my book.

 The two coolest things we saw that day were a pelican diving for fish right next to us and a school of fish jumping out of the water (soon to be consumed by the pelicans). It might have been the best trip to the beach we have had yet.

I started Portuguese  classes two weeks ago, and am going to my fourth class tonight. They are at the Brazilian cultural center and they are amazing. They go really fast though and I have a ton of homework, but it's keeping me busy.

This weekend we have a 5 day weekend and we are going on a mystery trip with the other foreign hires. It's a mystery because we all want to go somewhere but no one has planned anything yet. We all agree that we want something cheap and are indifferent about what that is. Readers, please send suggestions if you have been here are you have them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

Hey all,

As you know yesterday there was a really major earthquake in Haiti, the worst in 200 years. I just wanted to let everyone know that I am safe. In fact, although the earthquake was felt in Santo Domingo, I am so unobservant that I didn't notice it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Robbery Updates

So today was the kid's first day back to school (yesterday was ours), and I had a grand total of 6 kids in my homeroom. We did normal activities but everyone was tired and it was kind of a slow day.

Apparently no one fed Brigitte's fish over Christmas break, so when she came back to school all but one were dead, and the live one was eating the only remaining dead one in the tank. We all came to the conclusion that the live one had survived by eating the others in the tank, but today we realized that this was not so when some kids started yelling, "Ms. Widmer, Ms. Widmer (that's Brigitte), there is something in the plant!" Some things would have been more accurate. There in the potted plant were the corpses of the dead fish. Apparently someone had forgotten to feed them but had been able to clean their dead bodies out of the tank and place them in their final resting place, the one potted plant in the library.

Anyway, after school JP and I went with Mr. Sanquintin to the Judicial Palace to file a police report about our little robbery. This is the second branch of the police that we have seen, the first just sent us off. After filling out a very vague police report they told me to come back on Monday and to bring the footage of the crime, which I told them they could come to collect at my building. I don't really see these criminals behind bars anytime soon.

If I can get a copy of that tape I will post it on this blog as well. Don't watch it if you think it will make you nervous for our safety because it might.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Robbery- Don't Panic, I'm Fine

Instead of describing what happened late Saturday night I am just going to give you Stacy Hollingsworth's description:

"First of all, I'm fine, Doug is fine, and our friend Caitlin is fine. :) Don't be too alarmed by the story you are about to read - we knew about the dangers when we moved here.  I wanted to send you a personal account of what happened before you read it in a facebook update or something equally impersonal.
Last night, around 1:30 a.m., Doug, Caitlin, and I were robbed at gunpoint. We had stepped outside to wait for our cab, when we saw a white, late-model, white Honda Civic with black windows speed toward us and stop. They paused in that spot, then drove a little further and stopped again. We thought, at first, that it might be our taxi. Doug said something to the effect of, "Oh, look, we have a speeder" (referring to our taxi driver). Before we knew it, two men jumped out of the car with huge guns, one cocked his, and both started yelling at us. They shoved one gun into Doug's stomach and pointed another at his leg while they searched his pockets. He said the barrel felt warm, which means that it was probably just used. Caitlin, thankfully, didn't have anything on her except her apartment key, which they didn't seem to notice; she said, "No tengo nada," and they left her alone. They didn't even really come near me (thank God); I had the presence of mind to hand them my purse and pull out my pockets to show that I didn't have anything (although, now that I think of it, I could have gotten myself shot by reaching into my pockets). I was so afraid that they were going to abduct or rape me - I was just reacting to that fear, I guess. They took our shopping bags, realized one had two ceramic bowls, then dropped it and shattered one of the bowls. As they ran to the car, Doug turned to try to memorize the car make and model, and they started screaming at him. He says that he felt like the guy was considering whether to shoot him; thankfully, he decided against it. Immediately after, a guy started yelling and running towards us. Reflecting upon it, we're pretty sure he was trying to help, but in the moment it just freaked us out. All of us stood there for a second, dumbfounded, until I finally said, "Open the door, Caitlin!" and proceeded to make the process more difficult for her by continually saying "hurry up, hurry up, hurry up" (poor Caitlin). She scrambled to unlock the door to her building and we all hurried inside and shut the door. Whew - what an experience! They got away with 30 newly purchased hangers, some soap, two floormats, a bag of American change, my purse (including my sunglasses, cell phone, and Dominican debit card, my house and classroom key with my new "Idaho" key ring [bummer] and about $30) my opinion, not much! I had my engagement ring on - luckily they didn't think to look at my hand. The funny thing is that I had my hands up and the diamond turned around so that it was facing them (I usually walk with it turned in to deter robbers). Doug had his credit card, Dominican debit card, ID, and about $60 in pesos in a pocket they didn't search. Caitlin had her keys in her hand - they could have forced her to open the door and then robbed their apartment. All in all, we were so so so lucky, it's amazing."

Welcome back to Santo Domingo! Again, Mom, I would just like to repeat that I am fine. Luckily you don't read my blogs that often so we might not find out about this. It was a scary experience but a good lesson for us. I think we have all been feeling so safe here that we have stopped taking some basic precautions that we will be taking from now on.