Sunday, April 2, 2017

Whales


I usually start my blog with a connection to literature. My recent subscription to the New York Times finally helped me see a connection. An article posted on March 5 outlined our country's administrative ideology towards to immigration
The Breitbart site often describes an all-encompassing clash between “nationalists” and “globalists.”
In this worldview, American interests are assumed to be at odds with those of the rest of the world, and immigration is seen as undercutting the national identity — with “globalists” being the enemy within..."

Huh... Being a migrant here in the DR has made me more of an American than I ever cared to be. And travelling to the northern side of this island brought us an opportunity to meet some celebrity migrants that seem to handle their lives as globalists with sophistication. Meet the north Atlantic humpback whales.  We are here in a small boat where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. And this one whale named Jigger has quite a lovely history of showing off for tourists in Samana Bay. 

He wasn't alone. Jigger was traveling with a pal whose name I can't recall and neither of them is a first timer here; Jigger gets around. By that I mean he has an identifiable fishhook scar near his right fluke and he has been photographed in the waters off of Greenland and the St. Lawrence down to the Silver Banks of the DR. I think he has been spotted near Europe too because he shows up in the global photo i.d. database that tracks whales and their history of migratory movements over years and years. YoHAH is the host organization working to document and improve the breeding grounds for whales in the waters of Samana and the Silver Bank region.  Our boat from Whale Samana (whalesamana.com) under Captain, Kim Beddall is devoted to treating the visit to the water sanctuary with the utmost respect. Her international crew translated our expedition into 4 different languages, explaining how long Jigger would dive, what to expect when he surfaced, how they could predict his behavior based on their years of tracking him. We weren't just sitting in a boat but we were involved in the storytelling of a migratory mammal with an international audience together because we shared common interest. There was nothing negative about this globalist experience.

The whales were playing. 2 kilometers away we could see more whales breeching. Why do they do this? Maybe because they can? We were a bit early for the viewing of the annual migration and so the females were not around. Captain Kim informed us that males meet, size each other up and decide ahead of time who will play second fiddle during the courting of female whales. They continue on friendships intact, mate and move on. The females birth their calves, and they too will move back along a 1,500 kilometer route.

When Mr. Bannon cites sovereignty — in this case, to increase deportations — he conveys a need to assert control against a vaguely defined enemy.Breitbart and like-minded websites often describe sovereignty as rooted in the nationalist premise that any nation-state is built around a core cultural identity that it must protect.



Admittedly, the day with Jigger (aka- BCX1188) gave me pause about our own migration. We returned to our gated community to swim in a private cove, to watch the sunset from a private pool and then dined in an open air dining room overlooking Samana Bay with Dominicans who were more interested in baseball games and the championship title than they were with the stars and sky.  We are here, living a life anew as courteous guests with certain privileges and certain ideas that separate us from the locals. But we yearn to be integrated. I'm told constantly that it is dangerous for me to run on my own or to leave my compound.
Yet I see women and children
at all times playing in the small towns, out in the parks and along the roads. I struggle to separate my own fears with my suspicions that the class divide and the racial divides might play into this misunderstanding about safety.  It's Sunday morning. 7am. I approach the gatekeeper and take a huge breath, "abierto porta, por favor" he looks surprised and lets me go free. I start my sweaty run right down the middle of the road. I'm terrified in my head and my heart races with my exaggerated tempo. I begin recounting my dinner chat with Kata and Marc as I run.
"We are guests but we are also ambassadors. Our struggles, our actions are all watched with interest, admiration, and annoyance."
 Sometimes, we inspire small change.  Kata struggles to find a true friend since her peers are invested in friendships that began in kindergarten. Unsure of her long-term status here they politely keep a distance. The same kids do, however, notice her when she rides her bike to school and runs faster than any girl her age in gym competitions. They notice her stamina in soccer and her polite reserve in class. Some girls have even started to ask about running and being involved and maybe owning a bicycle. So maybe she is an ambassador of positive change... a new sovereignty?

I am running through the hill town of Naranja. women are washing clothes and their kids are swimming in the wash water. Men are already sitting outside their colmados, unabashedly pointing and catcalling or just smiling wide while muttering something about gringas. I wave and make a point at thanking them for the attention with a huge, dopey grin. I ignore them and run with my best, confident posture. I can only go a mile. That ability to be brave and to also be safe while being positive drains me just as much as the humidity does. The male sovereignty, the tradition of men having more freedoms than women seems like a norm worth challenging. Women running publicly should not be a stunt or an abnormality, it should be a norm.  I turn and look down at some random pesos left in the road. Pocketing them, I press on back up the hills toward our condo. I happen upon a church service in the tiniest concrete building serving as a church. One man plays music on a keyboard and the priest sings his sermon. The packed congregation sings back, yelling and praising God in a cacophonyy of noise and exhileration. I made a quick assumption that this constant music fills in for hymnals that they might not afford or even be able to read. I walk in, make the sign of the cross and donate my meager pesos. Finishing the run for me is a victory. I've stepped out of my comfort zone, I engaged in dialogues and made myself known, maybe a return here and will be as welcoming as the welcome Jigger receives. And maybe there is a girl along the road side or in a car driving by that says, hey, I want to be a runner too.

Last footnote from the NYT- The United States apprehended 415,816 people in the 2016 fiscal year, so hundreds of thousands of people did not just “come in.”Under the country’s visa waiver program, citizens from some 30 countries are allowed to enter the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. Citizens from other countries must apply for a visa and could be rejected; waiting times vary. Refugees who are referred to resettlement in the United States typically wait up to two years.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Restorative Shiva Powers: Expat Retreat

I
“Sometimes,' she said, 'it takes a woman to bring out the best in a man.” 
― Christopher McDougallBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (goodreads.com)

Lately, I have been feeling the need to run away. I needed to discover a voice to assure me that running away was not a metaphor for fear but a testament to strength when faced with adversity. From the first page- I was hooked; this idea of being lost in pursuit of a mystic, an aberration and legend drew me in. At different points in my life, I too became lost in big beautiful spaces. Caballo Blanco's character, an ultrarunner of Copper Canyon drew me in and reminded me of that yearning to let go of time, place, and politics to focus on one pure thing.  When the opportunity arose to join a yoga retreat on a mountain top in el Limon, the Dominican Republic, in a Shiva cave, how could I resist the signs?

Every day here is sort of an ultra marathon; I'm up against my own ineptitude at language, my own impatience and my own atonement for always being so certain in my core values without truly testing them.  A women's yoga retreat in the mountains of Las Terrenas couldn't have been more apropos. The inauguration of a president and congress so divorced from my realities and my efforts to inact real change made me morose.  A cleanse was in tall demand.



The bus transported us to a nameless dirt road and a hill climb too steep for cars. We walked and turned off our text messaging. This man machete hacked coconuts to quench our thirst and whacked them again in order to scoop out the meat. Our sustenance for the next few hours of our first session in the yoga cave.


"We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time." McDougall, Born to Run.

90 steps down a staircase affixed to rock ledge overhanging the Shiva cave. I stepped away from reality. For 2 hours I opened my muscles and mind without distraction. I sweated (yo sudo) and breathed deliberately. We climbed from the cave up to the host's terrace for our meal and then retired once more to the cave for meditation.  

And I tasted a single raisin. 

Actually, I almost missed the metaphor. Feeling full from the meal I emphatically and carelessly rejected the offer of a raisin. Noting the awkward silence, I grabbed it and popped it quickly into my mouth. Again, a polite silence led me to concur I was still missing the point. The cave was lit against the darkness and all that which hurries and busies itself; I needed to slow down.  In a haste to control or correct or check things off a list, we can miss the sweetness of things. A moment spent with a single raisin, placed between the teeth and rolled on the tongue before consumption is added to those I do not rue. Small moments add up. 



It was dark when we awoke, shuffling out of mosquito netting, migrating to the kitchen for coffee. We held our cups without conversation until the caffeine found its course. Aching from the previous session we warmed up with the sunrise to the notion of the morning challenge. I sat on this wide open veranda thinking about caves and metaphors I was accustomed to. Plato's cave taught me to fear shadows on a wall (ie- Trump election drama on social media). But this Shiva cave was different, open to elements: rainbows and rain and the colors, sounds, and wildlife of  Caribean farmland. Hummingbirds and lizards flitted in and out. Turkey vultures rode lazy air currents.  I became distracted not from the practice but from myself. And I found my yoga pose, the headstand that hadn't been there in years. And in this moment lay my rogue hope for a better tomorrow.  I'm not running away or chasing shadows. I am in this world as I was meant to be.


There were may reflective moments shared and in quiet isolation during the weekend at Monte Placido. I read, I took time for some pampering with pedicures and massage. I hitched a ride to town and then ran non-stop past the beaches and coaxing sounds of Dominican pop. I set an intention to run all the way to our hilltop villa without pause despite mi corazon pounding through my chest.                                                                                    Unlike Caballo Blanco- I can not retreat for long.  My daughter had specifically asked me to return with intentions to do my part as a woman and a citizen.  Only 12 years old and she worries about the state of the current US government. The Million Women march in Washington was taking place so we gathered to send a video prayer and shout out to those activists. Claiming back my right to social media I thought about what could follow. The stamina, perseverance and patience, taught me to love power not to hate it.The cave has taught me to face all elements; this transpired into an idea- what if, a million women marched in August or October of 2020? Why not bring people together before an election instead of after it is too late?  We walked out on the same road we came in on. Mary, one of the leaders and organizers has no idea how much this experience has done for me and how I'm already thinking of the future.  I have a heart full of intentions on an island with some pretty awesome chicas by my side. I think you are going to see quite a bit of us in action in the months to come.  








Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ex Pat Retreat

Santo Domingo in October. The mangos are gone but the bananas and lechosa still overflow the bicycle vendor's cart. From watching the custodians at school meticulously carve lechosa into crushed ice and evaporated milk blended into a mid morning treat, I too have something to look forward to in my own morning ritual. My morning has changed slightly. No longer does the drive to awake at 4:30 for a run in the park beckon me.  Instead in a Proust moment, the smell of hay gathered from mowed grasses in the Mirador Sur draw me in for the late afternoon. Kata has soccer now so I have an hour alone. The hay is reminiscent of Vermont but new to me is the sound of baseball. the mowed meadows are swarmed by parents and coaches and young men in uniform, cracking their bats and calling plays. It has a rthym? or maybe not but I need to keep listening, watching because I have this need to put that acoustic in my memory.  I have yet to go to a game but it will happen.

October weather is still in the 80 temps (F). And it is still an impressive humidity. A river of sweat is now only 2 single trains trickling down my front and my back, pooling in my underwear like a overnight diaper. Advice to savvy travelers is to wear none.

We've been overseas for 3 months now. Our school leadership realized long ago, that this is when begin to lose faith, dwell on homesickness, develop aches and pains. We are counting our pesos- we are trudging through the end of a quarter of the school year. Some of us are feeling lonely, while other expats are feeling crowded.
A trip was planned for heading to the mountains of Jarabacoa to a ranch- Baiguate. The school chartered a bus and made all arrangements. It was a 2 hour bus trip/ party With a 1/2 way at a lovely brasserie for quipe and coffee and then the slow climb into the mountains. We were at least 3 or 4 degrees cooler at around 520 meters- not enough for a sweater but definitely a long sleeve shirt.
Kata had visited here with her class a few weeks earlier. She delighted in leading friends ahead of everyone to their sleeping cabins and walking us through the garden to the mess hall. It was dark when we arrived. And the lights of the bar- the sounds of kids running around screaming- it was all inviting. The buffet of fresh vegetables, salad, stew and yucca was heavenly. Weeks of chicken, beans and rice have built a craving in me for endless greens. Kata disappeared into the green space- I realize now that this is what I missed, her running out a door without a guard or chaperone. To be able to come and go, to visit friends whenever and to run freely, I had taken this for granted. 


It rained. So we huddled around the bar and the Cubs game. And these are the sounds that helped me drift off to sleep. Sleep without AC- with cabin windows wide open. 

I awoke, left Kata asleep with a smile and a blanket and orchestrated an early morning run up to the town of Jarabacoa with a group. We tiptoed passed each cabin. Parents had shut their kids out on their decks for extra snatches of sleep. In this 79? degree temp- the kids were contentedly coloring or reading or swinging in hammocks. Some inadvertently undid their parent's intentions by yelling loudly "good morning Whitney!"  

We ran, gasping up a large hill, the first in my three months here. We proceeded pas watercress farms, flower farms, plots devoted to the pungent licorice smells of basil and the sweet smells of sage or mint. My inclinations to buy these greens at the grocery store are affirmed. I can't get enough of this.

Jarabacoa is known for its guided canyoning expedition.We squeezed into neoprene wet suits that were missing knees and buttocks- much to our dismay and our giggles. Marc's flesh colored shorts did give us reason to laugh. The diesel took us straight up dirt roads high into the mountains. I was hanging on to me and to Kata and leaning forward to compensate for the steepness of the road. A momentary stall and recovery gave me such panic as I looked over the edge.

And then we were walking down a mountain stream. The guide with huge arms ripped an orange in half and squeezed it into the stream. We continued and the scent of naranja followed through the canopy, hopefully chasing away  mosquitos. Whether it was true or not, it made the trip enchanting. A few moments later the same guide with ripped abdominals picked up a ripe avocado, broke it deftly in half and gave us each a piece to eat. It was sweet and creamy. I made a sardonic remark- how convenient it was that he so easily found all of these things to impress us with when I looked up. This was an aguacate grove. And these experiences are just to be expected. I stopped talking. Our group became divided with three of us, walking swiftly ahead with our outrageously fit instructor. One teacher is also a true horticulturalist. naming off many flora and fauna, fruts and scents that I have only seen in exotic plant stores. but were here hanging like tents along the river banks and canyon walls. I know I'd pick her for a teammate on a survivor adventure or a Hunger Game. 


The silent but powerful guide gave us a team name, plucking palm fans for our helmets to wear, Kata as our leader. We rappelled down a 10' section of rock into a river. The instructions were simple. One hand behind, guiding with the other. Kata is an impeccable rule follower but not a dare devil. I went first. Then my friend, Amy. Marc went and we hoped Kata would follow? She went albeit slowly, and it was the last time I have seen her move slowly with fear. She was soon ahead of me jumping into water pools and second in line at every adventure to follow. 

The rains had muddied the waters- making the water shoots and plunges into pools that much more exciting. Each confidence chased a new challenge.  We zip lined and swam and eventually made our way to the last rappel. A waterfall, 60'- we took all of our skills from that last hour and put them into one death defying drop. I went second with Kata following. I felt heavy and sloppy and it took half of the rappel before I could be relaxed enough to let go. to just trust.  When I saw Kata without fear inching her way like a spider down that rock, I was so proud. I felt this release in me, like the waterfall and I let go of my angst, my sorrows, my frustrations that I carried all this past year. I let go of the bouquet that my handsome guide gave me and ran to Marc through the muddy water to plant a wet kiss on the lips like I meant it.

We returned ravenous and content to Baiguate. I had time to read and relax. Kata was off on her own running and playing. Once in awhile she stopped to bring me to a star fruit tree and to munch on plucked fruit. We pulled flowers from the Ylang Ylang tree to rub all over and breathe in that Chanel perfume. She came back having gathered macadamia nuts that she and other kids pounded with rocks and then gave to me as an offering. We carved pineapples into pumpkin style - Jack O lanterns to guide students on an organized trick or treat loop that took kids from cabin to cabin. The vats of piƱa pulp disappeared into a blender that magically appeared from a wizened camper. Ice and rum were blended into this lovely mess that also kept my glass magically full. A metaphor- glass half full of pina colada- never thought of that before now.








A storm was brewing and a steady rain followed. It did not impede the Halloween story hour or the viewing of the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. I took over Kata's toasted marshmallow and campfire costume, she wanted to continue her pace as a fast moving supergirl. We followed behind in a train of kids in costumes, trick or treating at every cabin. Meeting once more for more World Series, chatter, food and drink. Kids running in and out of rain that slowly tugged and melted the costumes. I once again trudged off to sleep with a smile on my face. 

Sunday came with more walks in gardens along a river and a run back up to the mountains. more time was spent wandering and resting in hammocks, reading novels for pleasure or reading just to procure a nap.

It was difficult to leave this mountain escape. Knowing it is here gives me such relief. We napped all the way home on the bus. And we were bored with our apartment, bored with the view of the sea. The mountains keep calling. But I'm also following that calling of this community here in Santo Domingo. People take care of people. Having new friends who so easily include me in these adventures and willingly set aside their own time to share family and fun and talent... How lucky am I?