Thursday, October 16, 2014


April, 2005.
In the Episcopal Church, children are confirmed somewhere between the ages of seven and ten - or, at least, when I was confirmed, that's what it was. You spend weeks learning about the faith with other similarly aged children, learning the Lord's Prayer and the Nicene Creed and what happens during mass and why. If you're really lucky, Mary Wood will teach you about everything on the altar and the different vestments. (But, let's be honest, if you're really lucky at all you get a Mary Wood, "Mean," in your life at all). And you get a Mrs. Knapp to teach you the rest. That is luck.

At the end, you get to wear a pretty dress - mine was pink, if I recall correctly - and the bishop comes to your church. You say all of the things you've learned and the bishop smacks you. Or at least that's how the story goes. Our bishop had a pretty strong reputation for smacking. I'm pretty sure that he didn't smack us.

When I arrived to the Dominican Republic ten years and one day ago, I was living in an apartment on the third floor of a church. Like, I had to walk through the sanctuary to get in if I forgot the side key, and even with the side key, I was walking right by the altar to get in. There was nothing, nothing, in my confirmation classes that could prepare me for living and working in the Dominican Republic under the auspices of the church. I had prepared the best I could, but to be completely sincere, the whole experience was a smack in the face. **

I don't mean that to be negative. At least at confirmation we were expecting a slap.
I had no idea what a ride I was in for.

Ten years and one day ago, I arrived to Santiago, eyes wide and wonderous. I had a plan. I had a job. I was here temporarily. Ten months and out. Maybe, just maybe, I'd give it two years. There was a lot of work to be done after all.

Ten months turned into ten years, and here we are.

There have been ups and downs. It's been happy and heartbreakingly lonely. I've been self-employed and have worked for the "most prestigious" university on the island. We've celebrated all of the virgin-protector-saints of the island and American Thanksgiving. We've gained friends and lost friends. I learned how to frieve from afar, and how to mourn up close. I've learned to trust in friends and family and who my friends and family truly are.

One marriage. Three kids. Two dogs and what seems like a million chickens later, I am still here.
Three apartments and one house, two cars (and only one terrible accident), ten years has been, overall, good.

The good has outweighed the bad. The happiness has outweighed the sorrow.
But I've learned that without the bad, there is no appreciation for the good and without the sorrow, happiness is hollow.

I don't know where the next ten years will land me, but I'm thankful for the past ten and hope to learn and grow just as much in the future.

Cheers! Salud! To life! To the island!

** my dear, dear friend, Father Rafael de la Cruz has since been interred in the sanctuary of that church. It's been a few short weeks since his death and I miss him and his presence in my life. Still, I'm not sure how I'd feel living in that apartment with someone buried in the church.

***** a few pictures from my first year in Santiago - top: me and two kids (I think the girl is Rosy) during one of the camps that happened; middle: Noemi and Ruth and their dear parents Jose and Maria threw me a little birthday celebration. It is, to date, one of the best I ever had; last; a mission group from St. Peter's Church in Florida, The three little girls are the children of the priest who were my little lights of joy. Of that group,

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Typhoid Mary

As an American - raised in a country where certain illnesses have been eradicated and medication has done a great job at squelching others - there are some words that make my skin crawl. Scabies. Ringworm. Scurvvy.  Some words scare me. Tuberculosis. Leprosy. Cholera. Typhoid.

I never in my life imagined that the creepy-crawlies affected people in real life. Scurvy? That's for pirates. Leprosy? Biblical. Tuberculosis? Doesn't happen anymore.

There is no "prick-test" for TB in the DR. I guess it is assumed that most people have been exposed at some point to TB, so the standard is a chest x-ray. There are still tuberculosis wards in public hospitals.

In my ten years here, I have witnessed - but luckily have not been infected with - outbreaks of both measles and mumps. The entire country was re-vaccinated for rubella (german measles) and for tetanus in the past three years.

I had scabies once. And a really crazy rash on my stomach - one which local folk-belief says is a worm that spreads only around your waist. If it makes it all the way, you'll die. So, in order to prevent your (imminent) death, you draw a circle around each outbreak and separate each outbreak by drawing a cross in between each circle. And pray. A lot. Because you could die.

Speaking of prayer, we prayed through the cholera epidemic. The dengue fever outbreaks and the chikungunya.

These diseases are not extinct. We have not eradicated them.
Sometimes, though, I forget that. It's been awhile since some medical term popped up in the news that made me, a developed-world native, freak. This week though, Samil has had a fever. It wasn't terribly high, but it wouldn't go away - not with cold water showers, acetometaphen or ibuprofen. So, he was taken to the ER to get blood tests done and a shot to bring down his fever.

The doctor has diagnosed him with typhoid fever. La fiebre tifoide.
I laughed when they sprung out that word. Surely typhoid does not exist anymore. It has been wiped out with vaccines and medications and such. None of our family thought it was funny. Apparently typhoid is serious, especially if not treated with strong antibiotics.
Antibiotics were prescribed and Samil's fever went down. I'm actually pretty confident that he did not have typhoid, but when I think about it, it's better safe than sorry. His fever was consistent, and there was some alteration in his blood test to indicate infection. He's better now, but many children are not. People still die from typhoid. Still. I laughed because, for me, it is non-existant. I mean, who has hear of a case of typhoid?

But. Who had heard of active cases of cholera so close to home until cholera hit Haiti and we were cast into the times of love in the times of cholera.

Even after ten years (today!), it's easy to forget that the rules of childhood health and wellness are different here. It is so comfortable to pretend that we all have the same access to health care and medications to cure these things.

Luckily, and thankfully, Samil is fine. He's playing a baseball game on the computer with his uncle and happy as a clam that he didn't have to go to school these past three days!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

on socks and hats. (part 1)

This one is for you, Fiona!

Today, I was in the grocery store. Adiel and I had just enjoyed a nice lunch with our friend Deborah - who Amely calls, "my french teacher, mommy" - and I needed to replenish our pantry.
our house is filled with newborns lately - chicks and ducks!
lucky animals don't have any rules to follow!

This particular grocery store is more like a super Wal*Mart: food downstairs, everything else upstairs.  I had the baby in my mei-tei carrier, snuggled up like a bug and sleeping. Snoring, even. We went upstairs to get some felt-tip pens and foam balls (random, I know) and look at Christmas. (Never mind that it is 800 degrees in the Dominican Republic and that I wake up either shivering from the night time dip in temperature to 793 degrees or bathed in sweat from the night time rise in temperature. )

We took the elevator downstairs, I grabbed one of the carts with an infant seat and stuck the baby in there. Of course he woke up - and was as happy as a goose. As I picked out some red peppers, I sense someone staring. I've got a cute baby, so it happens. Even still, I try to avoid contact because this is what happens:

Random shopper woman (RSW): "You know what's wrong with him? He's cold!"
I look at the baby, who is obviously not unhappy nor uncomfortable. I ignore the woman.
RSW: "Hey! Did you hear me? Cover him up, he's cold."
Me: "I don't think he's cold, I think he's okay."
I usually try to be nice at first, especially if the person is older. (Unless you catch me off guard, then you get a sharp-tongued response. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME)
RSW: "Newborns can't regulate their temperature. He's cold."
I walk away. Pick up some tomatoes. I thought she had also gone to another aisle, but she back-tracked to tell me, again, that my baby was cold and should be wearing a hat and socks.

Did you hear that? A hat and socks in this heat! That's not even mentioning the heavy fleece blankets I got as gifts when he was born because we didn't have one. We didn't have one because we live in the Caribbean! (Disclaimer: we do have two lovely fleece blankets. They are in the bottom of a storage bin waiting for the six days in December that it might get chilly enough to use them, or the visit to a resort or other thoroughly air conditioned place)
brand new baby. complete with hat and
blanket. (to be fair, the air conditioning was
fierce in the hospital).

I am now cleared to wash my hair and take showers, which , at first glance, seems like the worst of the post-partum is over. Unfortunately, just because I'm clear, obviously doesn't mean that baby is in the clear. Instead of getting yelled at about my body, I'm getting snarky commentary and unsolicited advice from random strangers on the street.

My friend Kelsey thought I was exaggerating, until we were walking into a (different) super market the other day. I had the baby in his carrier and this woman walks up behind us, makes no eye contact and says "Oh my, poor little guy is HOT!" Adiel was, in this instance, sleeping. He may have been hot, but was not uncomfortably so - or any more uncomfortable than any other person walking around in the Caribbean sun! She caught me off guard, and so I kind of yelled at her. Oops.

The idea that there is always something wrong bothers me. Baby in the super market is cooing and staring at the lights, no signs of distress at all, but he must be cold. Baby is sleeping in his carrier, but he must be hot. It is a commonly held belief that newborns cannot regulate their temperature at all and therefore must be wrapped in a blanket, hat (and socks!) at all times. In fact, when I left the hospital, we were chided by the nurses into putting a hat on the baby's head (along with his long sleeved, footy sleeper). By the time we got home, he had a fever and he had to go right back to the hospital to make sure he was okay. (He's been living in onesies ever since).

As I mentioned, I carry (and have carried the other two) baby in a mei-tei carrier. I have a structured carrier for when he's bigger, and I was known to carry Amely on my back with a modified bed sheet. You would think that I was killing my child. A carrier will make a child bow-legged with scoliosis and attachment issues.

But! A stroller is no better because a baby's head will flop around and the hot sun will burn his eyes. You should, after all, keep a baby in the house at all times. Except, maybe, in the case of emergencies. If baby's head does flop because of irresponsible stroller usage, numerous people on the street - including children - will try to persuade you to "fix" the head. It's hard, because if a baby is comfortable, chances are his head will go right back to the same position.

Most of this is just nerve-grating - especially because this isn't my first baby, and while I will take all of the help I can get, I'm not really up for unsolicited craziness. Some of the other beliefs for newborns are:

- Babies can't go outside at night because the sereno or night air will make them sick. Mostly the sereno sickness is green poop and pujo - baby constipation. (Just tonight, Amalio put a blanket (a blanket!) over the baby to carry him outside at night so the neighbors wouldn't criticize him for being outside with a baby, at night. Then he wanted to know why the baby smelled like baby-sweat.
oh, (almost) naked baby. in a cloth diaper
(but that's another post for another day!)

- If you hang the baby clothes on the line at the wrong time of day (or during the wrong type of wind) it will cause some sort of problem when the baby wears the clothes.

- If a baby has hiccups:
   1) put a piece of red thread on baby's forehead and wish the hiccups to his padrino (god-father)
   2) give the baby water (because milk, apparently, doesn't work for hiccups).

- You also give a baby water to quench his thirst. And there are special "teas" for different baby ailments. The only one that I know is a double-oregano tea for diarrhea (and I know that it works wonders on adults, but is probably not too great for a baby).

- Baby cannot sleep in bed with parents because the body heat will kill the baby. (This one is interesting for me because I've never really heard of a case of SIDS here and overheating is thought to be maybe one of many causes for SIDS.)

- While I haven't really heard of a confirmed SIDS death, I have heard of witches eating baby brains in the night. When the witch eats the brain, baby dies and the doctors just don't know why.

I'm going to leave it at that for now.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"El Desarreglo"

When my doctor came to my hospital room to give me my last check-up before I went home, he removed the dressing from my incision, asked me about my milk supply and told me, "Go home and wash your hair. You have my permission to wash your hair. You're a sweaty mess."

The nurse looked at me with a "don't you dare" care-bear stare and I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a really contentious cultural battle. Whose advice do I take? The doctor who I trust and respect? Or the nurse, who I don't know and haven't ever met before?

I had taken a shower the day before - IV bag hanging from a hook in the shower especially designed for that, in a room that, as far as I know, has always been a maternity room. The nurse told me that I needed to take a shower, so I did. It was fast and cold and I didn't wash my head, but I had immersed myself in water. I would have done it even if she didn't tell me to; I was dirty and sweaty and gross.

I wasn't, however, surprised when a friend arrived minutes after my shower and freaked out.


I was surely going to get an infection, and if I got sick it would be the kind of sick that doctors don't know anything about** and OMG what was I thinking. And on top of it all, I was in the room with air conditioning and it was cold! I just took a cold shower in a cold room and seriously.

You see, the rules of newborns do not only apply to the newborn. There are more rules, even, that apply to the mom. Generally speaking, nobody can leave the house or lift a finger for six weeks post-partum. The only thing that can be lifted is your baby, and even that is iffy.

The rules are not exclusive to Dominicans - there are similar rules in most of Latin America and even Asia. (My Korean friends were also shocked that there was air conditioning in my hospital room, as cold air is thought to be terrible for a new mom, and in Korea women are not even allowed to have visitors in the hospital for five days.) A new mom is supposed to be very careful - guardar el riesgo - for about 40 days. Anything that is done outside of the rules, can cause a desarreglo and then you're in for it.

Being careful includes not being cold. You might see a Dominican mama in a sweat suit and wool cap in August. August in the Dominican Republic. It includes not showering for several days after birth, and even when showering is acceptable, washing the head is not. Hair washing cannot happen for six weeks. One cannot go outside at night, or even open windows or use a fan because the sereno, or night air, will cause complications. A new mother cannot lift anything, wash anything or participate in regular household duties (except of course when it is convenient or beneficial to the other members of the family - the rules only apply sometimes)

I am just about out of the risky stage and will be expected to get back to my normal life (with a new baby!) in a few days (though, the doc has already given me the all-clear). I still have a year of baby advice and rules to "follow," but I'm really trying to take it all lightly and not get too upset by los entremetidos - the people who want to tell me what to do all the time!

**While (many) Dominicans tend to trust medical professionals more blindly than (many) North Americans do, there is a underlying system of belief in the supernatural that often negates a doctor's authority. The most common problems are caused by mal de ojo - a curse of sorts - and a doctor's knowledge is not apt for mal de ojo. You must go to a bruja or someone who does ensalmes (praying over the body, in the name of "saints" and spirits) to be cured of mal de ojo. Some of the more mentioned problems caused by curses are empaches (which cause digestive issues) and fertility issues. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Budgets. (an opportunity to help!)

I love my job. It is stressful and crazy and sometimes irritating, but in the end, I konow that I'm doing something worthwhile. The best part has been that I'm not really responsible for "maintaining" our projects - I can't fundraise a dime to save my life - and I have a really hard time with the missionary culture of personal fundraising, so my salary helps me live within my means and not go overboard. (But that is probably a conversation we should have over coffee and not a monologue I should have on my blog).

Futuro Lleno de Esperanza has grown so much - three years ago we started with 23 kids. We now have 100, plus programs going on to enrich education in the whole community. The building of a new public school have us re-structuring to meet the needs of our people, but it's clear that FLE is really a benefit to our little piece of the world.

Whenever I think that we aren't doing a good job, or we aren't doing enough, I get reminded that even the little things make an impact.

Because of our growth, we are a little short on the budget for this calendar year. It's a seemingly irrelevant amount of money, but $900 we're short is needed to cover a ton of expenses.

Nine hundred dollars could check off any of the following list items in our budget:
1 month of teacher salaries
3 months of medical insurance for the entire staff
3 months of paid maternity leave for pre-school teacher and her substitute 
6 months of specialty classes (karate, art)
50 school day lunches
69 days of nutritional snack
So, as much as I hate fundraising, and I've said it here before that I hate using the blog to ask for help (I just hate asking for help, period).  We are  running an indiegogo campaign to try to raise the last few bucks that we need, and I'm asking you, blog readers and friends of the Dominican Republic, to consider donating a few (or many) dollars to help us continue offering quality, innovative education to a community in need. Your money will be put to good use, and every last cent that we receive (there are fees for the indiegogo campaign) will go directly to Colegio Futuro Lleno de Esperanza's school programs in Cienfuegos, Santiago! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This is the way we wash our clothes.

Santiago is experiencing a severe drought. It hasn't rained enough in months, and now we are feeling the effects of it here in the city. There is a lot to say about poor service management at the reservoir and wasteful habits of citizens, but it is too late really to fix those problems - we're in crisis mode now and the only thing that can really help is to get enough rain to start refilling the reservoir (in collaboration, of course, with water conservation education and a better water-distribution plan).

We started to feel the effects of the drought in May when the water supply for school was altered and we began to receive water two days a week instead of four. We felt it at the house in July when our 2,500 gallon cistern, a cistern that had only been less than half full when we moved in and when it was being cleaned, started to slowly empty. With as many people in and out of the house as we had this summer, it was drastic. We had to take measures to conserve the little bit of water we had left - we turned off the pump, took bucket showers and let the beautiful, lush green grass die a sad and thirsty death.

When the kids and I arrived home from vacation in the States, the cistern was still empty and there wasn't much hope that it would be full anytime soon. There was enough water every morning to refill what we had used the day before, but washing clothes in my wonderful automatic washing machine was just too much. We had to start washing Dominican-style.
(disclaimer: I was still washing sheets and towels in the automatic washer until it shorted out on me a few weeks ago, they're a pain to wash basically by hand. The automatic washer is not fixed, but still on limited use) 
The Dominican washer is a double barrel - one for washing, and one for spin-drying. The washing side gets filled with water, a little detergent and is set to "agitate" for 0-15 minutes. Theoretically after this step, you would wring (yes, hand-wring) the clothes and throw them in the spinner.

Our spinner is broken.
Of course it is.

So, we hand-wring a little harder and throw the clothes into a bucket of fabric softener water, hand wring again and then throw them into the clean water bucket for a last "rinse". After the clean water "rinse," the clothes get wrung out as best we can, and then hung on the line. On a good, sunny day, the clothes take an hour or two to dry - IF they went through the spinner. Hand-wringing is not nearly as effective and it feels like clothes are on the line for day. 
To be very honest, I hate (detest, abhor) washing clothes this way. It is a lot of work, especially when I have a *real* washing machine sitting silently next to me while I wring out underwear. But, I've come to the decision that it is important to teach the kids by example the importance of saving water - and hard work. Samil and Amely have always helped with the laundry process (in age-appropriate ways), but now that they are more involved, I see they (read: Amely) have really cut down on the costume-changes through out the day. 
Adiel started using cloth diapers this week, and washing diapers is a hassle even with an automatic washer. Knowing our water and washing situation, I researched and found a "hand-wash" tutorial for cloth that includes stomping the (pre-rinsed, not poopy) diapers in a washing bin. It seems kind of silly, but it's some exercise I've been able to add into my day and (for now) is kind of a fun way to break up the monotony of staying at home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feeding bellies.

For the first three years of Samil's life, I was a work-at-home-mama. It was nice. I liked it well enough, but when we moved, I was kind of glad that I'd have to go back to work outside of the home.

I make a mean home-made pizza - dough, sauce, the works.
I don't really like to cook.

I could keep my house spotless clean, craft up some beautiful decorations for each month and homeschool my kids like a boss. But the kitchen? Not so much.

I didn't know how to cook when I got married - blame it on my American-ness. I had a few specialty dishes up my sleeve for dinner parties, and a few things that I could pass off as edible - if I had a box mix of spices and a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce. I couldn't make rice. And my grandmom had to buy me one of those egg stones that tell you when an egg is hard boiled.

It was bad.

We're also really good at making fruit juices.
Not the green kind.
All of those pre-made spices and condiments are imported and expensive. If I was going to cook, I'd have to learn how to cook without the box. Which meant, realistically, I was going to have to learn to cook Dominican dishes - one, because the ingredients were most available and two, because someone was going to have to teach me. And (most) Dominicans only know how to cook Dominican food.

It was great fun in the beginning - I had a few lady friends who came over and showed me how to make the staples (it took me about 80 times to get the rice right): rice, beans and boiled meat. Once I had the basics, I took on some of the more complicated dishes. It was wonderful. We had delicious food on the table for lunch every single day. It was filling and mostly healthy.

I'm also pretty good at this
kind of cooking. This was a
birthday present a few years
ago. YUM!
The thing is, Dominican food is delicious, but it's not very varied. The daily meal gets mixed up: white rice with beans or a one-pot-rice & beans dish and chicken, beef or pork - but it all uses very similar seasonings. So, cooking and eating the same thing every day got old fast, especially because I don't really like to cook anyway. I always tried to mix it up, but when you are not a cook, it's hard.

When I did go back to work outside of the house, I had to hire someone to watch the kids and help out in the house. It was amazing - I no longer had to cook, because this person took care of it. Every day!

Except I've now been working for four years and let me tell you, rice and beans gets boring. Really boring. And because I don't want to eat rice and beans every day, I got into a habit of eatinhg something - anything - as I ran out the door to work.

I've also been known to whip up some baked goods.
Jae will hate me for posting this picture :)
Now I'm home and finally getting back into the swing of things and guess what? We're not eating rice and beans every day. I cook two or three days a week and someone else cooks the rest - and it is glorious. The problem?

I only really know how to cook four or five things that aren't rice and beans.

This blog post was/is just a really long, drawn out way to get your sympathy and have you send me easy recipes to try out.

Got one for me?