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 piña 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? 



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ex Pat October

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main...                                   (John Donne)

Celebrating our third month abroad today and it feels as if a lifetime has passed. We have a new appreciation for the geography of Santo Domingo, protected by its cliffs, its bay and its height above water since the visit with Hurricane Matthew (September 28).  Living abroad reminds me daily of how insignificant I am, and a hurricane speeds up that feeling like the double fast foward button on a remote. Days before it struck, we were partying on the Malacon and planning Marc's trip for a conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.  At the time, I embraced the independence but that week brought me closer to my reliance on the communities of Santo Domingo. 

I reacted like everyone else and stocked up on groceries. Here in Santo Domingo there are many supermercados but if you are traveling by bike, the best fresh fruits and vegetable variety is at Bravo. Organic produce is truly organic and inexpensive; the farm region where they grow basil, watercress, cilantro is hours from here in Jarabacoa. 



Of course I overload my totes. And of course my keys sit on a hook at home as I stare at my locked yellow bike in front of the store. Walking the mile back without taking a shopping cart is not an option. I didn't even consider that it could be interpreted as stealing. Pretending its a workout I jog pushing it down side streets and the main road, avoiding the city sidewalk that are as gnarly as a class 4 dirt road. I'm running alongside motobikes and cars and cut thru a passage between two buildings carrying the shopping cart over piles of debris. Only then did I look over my shoulder to check for muggers. Only then did I see two men following me. I heaved that grocery cart and began striding deliberately up the stairs to the main road. I hoisted over the median and booked it to my street afforded a second look. It was just one man now. In a pink shirt. In a uniform from Bravo. 

My vision is blurred from sweat and from steam and of course I don't have my phone for translation. I open my gate and he follows me. In rapid Spanish he begins talking to me and the doorman. I'm trying to say that I'm sorry, I did not steal and that the cart will be returned. And I have not a clue as to what he is saying. Una momento- I race up to the apartment to drop the groceries, grab the bike key, my passport, my phone. I try to translate an apology or explanation as he begins to pull the cart from me and out the door. He is talking at me so rapidly, I can not keep up- I thought he mentioned his manager? I'm thinking I'll be pulled into an office for questioning, possibly the police. Will Marc forgive me for being arrested a day after his departure? Will Kata be ok staying with the neighbors a bit longer? I try to explain that I will push the cart back. And that I will prove that I left my bike locked. I will unlock it and I'm sorry, lo siento, so sorry. 
Mr. Bravo won't share the pushing of the shopping cart. For awhile we walk and sort of fight over who gets to push it. Even as I contemplate my crime I can't put up with his machismo. Finally, giving up and walk ahead, and then something in me just says run. So I did. I ran all the way back to Bravo, unlock my bike and take off on a different side road. I decided to leave the scene of my perceived crime. Sure- I had guilt and regrets but I couldn't bear the thought of Marc having to intervene with police on my behalf or being banned from the best grocery store in the city.


It turns out, the mercados hire men to push grocery carts home for people for a few pesos.  I hadn't stolen a cart, I had stolen a job and avoided a tip. Mr. Bravo wasn't lecturing me, he was telling me to let him do his job. I have sheepishly returned to shopping at Bravo but I improved my Spanish  and my listening. And I tip the grocery baggers, thank the cashiers and I wear my bike lock key as a necklace. 

If a clod be washed away by the sea  
Europe is the less.... (Donne)



I am a clod. Seriously, I spend many days evaluating my day in which I'm a big chunk of dirt that coulda, woulda shoulda done things differently. When Matthew hit the apartment and shook all the windows, the rain poured in through light fixtures and cracks in the doors, I was humbled yet it really was nothing compared to what others experience. Still, I felt the weight of karma and the need to be a better person. We had clear sky, bright sun for a day. Was this the eye of hurricane?  Intense heat propelled me to bike with Kata to the pool and find other kids. We were there only 20 minutes when rain poured down in heavy sheets. It ended so we hurried home only to find our pathway underwater. I sped ahead of Kata, down the hill and rode waist high through the water to the other side of the road. It was thrilling to spin in waters over the top tube but nerve wracking when I realized that Kata was standing forlornly still on the other side. My options- ride back with her on an unknown route or power thru and get home quickly. I left my bike and waded back towards Kata. The water, as quick as it came, was subsiding. It was no longer thigh high but knee deep. And the Dominicans in cars, notoriously known for driving dangerously, braked to let me gather her onto my back as I pushed her bike back through the street to safety.  We rode the rest of the way home unimpeded. When I pause to consider the street garbage that accumulates daily, along with the sickly animals and carcasses, and the various feces, the plastics and molded foods, I no longer find pleasure in adventure. We retreated to our home, rinsed with bleach and showered forever. The winds and rains Of Matthew were once again upon us with an accumulated force. Kata and I snuggled all night in the hopeful safety of our concrete walls and marveled at the forces of nature. The three days without school, the need to restock water or find friends brought us to the streets and the colmada. I had to interact in Spanish, I waded through more waters. I discovered what it feels like to sweat in the rain. 


As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.... (Donne)

Santo Domingo sits high on a promontory and my flooding was nothing compared to the buckled roads and swamped houses that the city workers contend with. Our cook was able to convey that her home flooded and that she needed to build a flood wall for future protection. She is a single mom and was unable to travel to us for a few days. Through out the storm, Kata and I gave sandwiches to our guards and began saving pesos for our cook. Our school is amazing at rallying for organizations and non profits. One of the new teachers is married to a UN emergency response nurse. She was on a plane within the week and headed to Haiti. Her husband worked with student clubs to organize fundraising efforts and the response was extremely positive. For a moment, it seemed that all was well in the world I know. But back in Vermont, families of the Mad River Valley were thrust into grief. In a single moment, a single senseless car chase by a man in a stolen vehicle, cost the lives  of 5 teens. Anyone could've been hit by that reckless man who stole a police car, drove backwards on the interstate smashing into oncoming vehicles. His penance, should be a constant repentance. How fragile life is. How quickly my hubris is gone. I'm now more worried than wondering,  looking with more worry and awareness of loss. I guard Kata closer. We are wearing helmets once more. Tragedy pulls at my heart longing for home. 


The rains and the sea slowly wash away sorrow. I found hope and redemption in a volunteer day with my school club Es Posibla Una Sonrisa helping children coping with poverty, AIDS and just being a kid. Sincerity rushes back in me like a wave and I am finding my place- involved in mankind.



And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee....      (Donne)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Modern World Dominican- ex pat first month


It's odd to have a dream become a reality. Fellow bookworms know exactly what I am talking about because who hasn't wanted to jump into the pages of a novel or live the storied world to escape reality? Earlier this month I strolled the Calle de las Damas in the Zone Colonial, Santo Domingo with sudden claro... and my heart leapt with joy. This is the cuidad of Julia Alvarez, this is the street of the women who demanded pavement for their feet as they walked to prayer several times a day. I am not one for constant prayer but I held my heart for a moment in honor of the Mirabals: Dede, Patria, Minerva and Theresa. I couldn't help but feel the history pulsing in the morning shadows of this Dominican sunshine. Where did Minerva live? Where did her revolutionaries meet?  I walked right out of the pages of Alvarez and into my own reality. The Mariposas archetype sets a heavy precedent. I wonder will I bring any honor to this country, to its women, and my own global community while I am here?

We stride by the home of Columbus' son, wait, he had a son? And head to  museum of Liberty honoring those who stood against Trujillo.The heat of August drove us off into a shaded sanctuary and I noticed its marble walls. This is no ordinary marble and these are not modern concrete wonders high on the hill of the Colonial Zone. The marble walls lining these city buildings are older than any city in the US; on careful examination is is marked with thousands of embedded fossils. The coral is living, it is telling me stories. Go to the beach.


The beaches of this island are like mountains of Vermont in that each is distinct and everyone has their favorite. We start with Boca Chica. It was crowded with comings and goings of beautiful people in impossible heels and the smallest of swimsuits. We learned that when you attend a resort restaurant, you can order drinks and a meal and stay as long as you want. Or as long as pale, white skin can hold out against the unforgiving sun. Kata's dream became true when a glass of frozen fresa was presented on a small platter. She sipped this in the shade, ran, flipping off the pier into... blue is not the right way to describe this sea. I'll use azul because it sounds like turquoise, aqua- marine and midnight all blended into one.

Punta Cana was a two hour drive through a tropical storm. We waded through the flooded street to a tiny hotel sandwiched between two resorts. At first, it seemed that I had made a grave mistake. Our suite promised a kitchen but I guess it never promised a stove top or refrigerator or sink. It delivered a simple slow dribble for a shower and one tiny double bed. Maybe the point was to drive us out of our nest and into the lobby where fresh mango and coffee awaited us. Or maybe the point of simple accommodations was the means for pushing us out the door into a quaint street of locals and straight thru a tiny gate that led us to a palm shaded beach. Each resort claims its own beach entrance. Ours was small with only sixteen chaise lounges and a one man bar. We ran 5 strides into the water, soft sand underfoot. We could swim or walk for miles in each direction, so we did.

Punta Cana seemed so small on Google Maps- I had no idea that our guided snorkel tour of coral reefs was still an hour away. And Uber isn't in Punta Cana. We 'what'sapp' another teaching couple and caught a ride to Playa Cana, getting to our snorkel just in time. We jumped into a small motorboat and rode out a 1/4 mile to the edge of the reef.  Following a route laid out in rope on the sea floor, we snorkeled in an out of corals, viewing schools of snapper and barracuda. Did I mention coming eyeball to eyeball with the large singleton barracuda? It regarded me with gringo disdain. I swam through a bed of seaweed thinking this would be magical. The seaweed cut up my arms and face and left a stinging rash in its wake.  We recovered on a beach with the cerveza & my first burger since leaving Vermont. The tropical storms were swirling out to sea. Some boats abandoned the waters for safe harbor. The blue/ black colors chased across the vast expanses of sand and sea similar to the purple/ orange reflections I have seen in New Mexican deserts. New colors, different expanses, I like feeling small and insignificant. Marc and I quietly and almost simultaneously said, "Hemingway" as we photographed a lone dinghy abandoned on the beach. Salty and dry,

“Now is no time
to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do 
with that there is- Old Man and the Sea

Juan Dolio is only an hour away. We staggered towards her. The night before was a long one of my own making. Kata was staying with the neighbors, Marc and I entertained on our patio with all intentions of leaving early to attend the first Andy Warhol exhibit ever to hit Santo Domingo but we flirted too long with Dominican time and took off on our single speed bikes to ride the city. Because road signals and lines are a mere suggestion, we were about to do something slightly dangerous; courage fueled with intoxication -we navigated side streets to Noca, an upscale district 7 km away, missing the exhibit by minutes. We found solace in the glowing lights of a random Noca colmada- ice frosted El Presidentes,  a random concert and a fast ride home at 2am. Again, Hemingway is in my brain. Did he not mention to know a city is to know its bars? My fuzzy brain jarred awake to find a midnight text & invitation to my friend's beach house. I packed 3 light bags, some books and a brick of cheese- I had nothing else in the fridge! We sped passed Boca Chica this route out of the city becoming familiar. We pull off on a sudden side street and down a small whitewashed road crowded with solid concrete homes and apartment. A man greets the vehicle and swings wide these massive doors transporting us into another dimension. I now know what it feels like to be on the other side of the wardrobe in a C.S. Lewis story. We stepped out of the whitewash and into the blues and greens of a hide away beach head. The third floor apartment is lovely and I can't pull my eyes away from the open patio. The whole living room/ kitchen is separated from paradise by only an awning and a sliding glass door. My friend Jenn has arranged a simple wide couch bed piled high with pillows; the view draws the eyes through a frame of palms and mango foliage towards rhythmic crashing waves that roll in on a beach wider than that of Boca Chica. The clear sea is darkened by grasses thick on tables of maroon colored coral and so shallow that it seems as if everyone is walking on water. I see immediately why this beach is a personal paradise for Jenn's family.
Their beach leads into a mermaid pools. An oasis of light azul water, a natural lagoon surrounded by coral. There are several smaller tidal pools that dot the expanse with that icy blue color.  People wade out carefully avoiding fragile sea urchins to sit with their lovely beverages and their laughter. I lie as I would in a bathtub, floating and bumping along the sandy bottom of such a lagoon.. I'm nursing a running injury and find that this soak is perfect for the body and soul. Ever so often a wave sends what feels to be a cooler current of water. The Vermonter in me seizes upon every current and I see Kata do the same.

Juan Dolio is a smaller scattering of hotels and restaurants, nothing too ostentatious in comparison to Punta Cana and I already want to come back. Did I speak too soon? A helicopter lands, several Dominican celebrities teetering on high heels step out to sashay over to an all night Corona sponsored DJ Jam.  There's a temporary stage, lights, drones filming people swarming toward the music.  The stage blocks the beach so that ticket holders can swim. I see our friends from the night ride out in the waves and swim past security towards them.  I find these encounters enchanting and such a change from my reclusive persona back in the US.  Stars come out, Kata is cartwheeling in the dark with Jenn's daughter why we sip chilled wine and rest from a lovely meal.  I plan on waking up, heading to the porch to begin the day with novels I need to use in the classroom. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is waiting for me. I could feel guilty, juxtaposing George and Lenny's predicament with my own luck. Instead I choose to reread that passage about simple dreams. George kicking back and saying, "to hell with work" living in a home with food and shelter and simple necessities. Could I find such a simple dream here? For now I have another Alvarez novel, In the Name of Salomé. I'm in search of more magic.







Thursday, September 1, 2016

Modern World Dominican- Expat Week 2

In this Dominican whirlwind of daily ups and downs I look forward to a new favorite Saturday morning sound. It is that of the mango man. He cycles by with a whistle prelude, waits and begins calling out in a rhythmic voice:  "plantana, mango, pina aguacate". There is little traffic on a Saturday morning so the sound is clear and because of him I can now ask for these items anywhere I go. https://youtu;.be/LVD7BOIZNNw

Another positive comes from the nightly homework I give myself. I slowly and painstakingly writing a note to M, the woman who takes care of us and our new home. M makes a killer eggplant guisada that, depending on our hunger, we drizzle or dump, over the rice and beans.

Meat is very expensive so I'm discovering that locals eat tons of fruit and veggies and are mostly vegetarian. By building a relationship with M  through many miscommunications, we seem to understand that life is easiest when we let go of control. She makes most of the cooking decisions. We happily run out to hunt for oddities and grocery store abundances that transpire into fragrant smells of la cocina. Comfort food helps this place begin to feel like home.


Libertad- a scorching trip to the Colonial Zone after Marc did his homework on finding la bicicleta. A website, emails, & foot searches in the city secured the name of a man who sold bikes out of his apartment. For cash. Questionable or not it was an experience. Inspiration added to Marc's fluency in Spanish. So, we tested several on the streets and on the roof of his home before settling on single speeds.

We rode home along the Malecón. It did little
to separate us from short sea cliffs, rolling seas and the heavy traffic of Santo Domingo. The sea spray  periodically splashed up, seemingly beautiful until we looked down at the swirling refuse of glass, plastic and all that is wrong with humanity. I rode fast keeping my eyes on a spray that might carry a broken bottle in its force. My gringo responsibility- recycle and do more to help this country save itself from this.
Bikes bring freedom- We can outride the humidity en route to school. Kata is no longer trapped in the apartment or the small park of Mirador Sur. We have yet to find a friend her age who rides and it is somewhat disarming to have her rolling along in traffic right behind me. But the freedom to get to a grocery store or a mall or anywhere overrules entrapment. We are somewhat self reliant now.


Downs- We took an uber at the wrong time of day only to sit in the notorious traffic of Santo Domingo. Our “Uber hombre” zipped wrong down one ways, and over medians to deliver us to a less than important destination. When we left the stores to head home. We discovered how much of a battle takes place in the city between taxi drivers and Uber. Taxi drivers intimidates me w/ shouts, "no Uber!" I complied but then none would or could give me a ride. Thinking it was my poor communication skills I showed them maps, called mi esposo and made them talk to Marc for directions to no avail. Maybe they couldn’t read a map? Now its 7:45pm it was dark, Kata was scared and I'd had it. A Haitian coconut seller assisted me in French but the taxi hombres still sat without providing a ride. Women jumped in and out of rapid conversations on my behalf and still nothing. A few full taxis that lacked doors rattled by with offers for us to hold on to the fenders. Finally a man who spoke English helped me cross to the other side of a street to another mall where the right taxi there took us home in 5 minutes. 8:30 on a school night. He too couldn’t understand my map but followed my directions of izquerda & derecho. In addition, the word " cerca" is now in my daily speech.
Ups & Downs. Humidity is a constant. We’ve adjusted from 3-4 showers daily to 2. Everything changed with the onset of the tropical storm season. The winds hit briefly sending some relief from humidity. At 2 in the morning I was dragging in laundry from the deck with furtive glances at the sea, the electric sky. Downpours followed and both excitement and fear surged thru me. Would we have a storm day off from school? Nope, just another day in the DR. Transport to school meant options, Walk knee deep in water, wait for the bus or bike? We chose bike. Taking higher streets and bike fenders kept us dry. Classrooms have AC but the covered walkways between buildings are open to the elements. It was my first experience seeing walls sweat with condensation as AC met humidity. The journey home was a soaking experience as rain pelted from all directions. Two day of steady rain followed. Cars near the Malacon flooded, our Mango man stayed away. People continue to ride or wade to work but still stop and to say, “Hola how are you? And it's important to always always say hello back.
I met a colleague whom I now count as a friend. Jen Legra's advice on living here is met with great fanfare http://theplanetd.com/what-my-kids-learned-from-living-in-the-dominican-republic/ - and it has helped the city open up to me. I now get supplies at our colmada, I wait to let people smile and speak slowly for me. And I shower appreciation on M’s cooking now that I can tell her it is more than just bueno. It’s tan saboroso.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Modern World Dominican- first week abroad

Marc, Kata and I have left everything we know that was normal to us to plunge headlong into adventure here in the Caribbean.  I'd like to start this blog with some relativity. The Dominican Republic is relative in size to Pennsylvania or Mississippi. Vermont is relative in size to Haiti. Together the whole island is almost 60,000 square miles or a bit bigger than the state of Georgia. So far, every day is hot and humid. It's the consistency in the weather that is the hardest for me to understand. Relative to Vermont, I need only one raincoat and maybe an umbrella for shade instead of a coat or sweater for every 10 degrees of weather above and below zero. Relative to Vermont I need many shoes. Women here wear the highest impossible heels with grace and always, always dress for notice. Casual does not mean casual. I'm sorry Bernie Sanders, but I can't wear that tshirt with your crazy hair and cute socialist face to a BBQ anymore. Yes, I wore a tshirt and shorts to a BBQ with air conditioning, gloved waiters and women in evening gowns. My name is Whitney, I'm a recovering Gringo...


Story Published through Search Associates about our career move.

First day in the apartment on Calle Ramon del Orbe. We are on the top floor so we lucked out with a rooftop patio and a view of the sea. Not luck really. We are teaching at a school that understands the value of keeping people feeling safe, secure and content in order to foster that spirit of strong academic learning and hard work from educators. Each educator gave the school an idea of their lifestyle and needs, the staff worked to find apartments that could match this. We requested a quiet street and the views of the sea were a bonus. The nightly breeze means we seldom need AC.  Of course, the one evening I needed it, it broke.  That same evening, a rain storm hit, I pushed all of the rain into a gutter which was clogged. Our ceiling in the kitchen began leaking and chipping away at the same time that the plumbing under the sink fell apart. Each day in the DR is filled with ups and downs, epic wins and epic fails. At least I sleep completely exhausted. Well, not exactly.



Twice I was awakened by the sounds of parties at 3 am. We are next to the UN, embassy row and some posh apartments with pools- (we hope to make friends?) Gazing from the patio I could hear people singing in chorus, some Spanish song. A solo would ripple up to me and then the chorus would boom in. It was worth the lost hour of sleep. The other time, I awoke to a bocci? ball party. Everyone was cheering and counting and cheering someone who must've been winning? I can't wait to actually understand what it is that people are saying. 

Did I mention that we live near a park? It's a lush space filled with green grasses, mango groves, flowering trees. Paved pathways swerve through the park under the canopy. I see many dog walkers, kids on bikes, couples old and young. I can't wait to learn the names of all the fauna and the wild chickens that roam. I got up and ran at 6am in the park right near the house. 
Don't worry- hundreds of people workout and run or race bikes on the road which is closed to vehicles. The whole 10 km is lined with police and security volunteers who are allowed to ride in on motorcycles  


  I think they must volunteer just to show off. They watch you work out. It's a bit weird but so so safe. The first day I was only able to run 2 sweaty miles. And it was a beautiful run. Marc and I share the morning time. Another day I went it was already crowded. As I approached the end of the roadway I noticed a workout station with outdoor ellipticals and a Zumba class. People were jumping in and joining so I did too. I can't do it proper justice but it required big smiles, passionate movement with very expressive thrusting of all body parts that mamma gave me.  My pelvis and thighs and breasts are actually supposed to move. In opposing directions. And up, down, around.... I'm so used to dancing my warm up like a Vermont runner and then there is this.....  That made my day. I actually felt awake for the first time. 

We survived the first four days with lots of repairs on the apartment, remember that ceiling leak? And the installation of wifi. Marc buzzed himself into the apartment, dripping with sweat and proudly holding a large tv. We promised Kata that she could have one if we moved to a new country. That was probably a shady deal. Whatever. Most of the channels are in Spanish, but at least we had some Olympic coverage. She really wanted to see the gymnastic events but the DR is devoted to volleyball and wrestling. So we watched that instead. Internet is fast even though the powerlines running up and down the streets look like a tangled web of danger. I've yet to have a phone working. I'm so used to being connected to social media that it feels like camping when I go days without it. 

ah life at the Lagos. My language skills are pretty weak. I speak mostly in Spanish nouns with very few verbs in my vocabulary.  "Coffee- me", "food yes" "door". So lots of miscommunications.

I need to explain something to Bernie Sanders. Before he chides me personally on the evils of capitalism and the dangers of socio economic gaps I must admit I love having a doorman and a maid. I'm completely terrified by the idea and I find myself having difficulty talking about this service publicly. But our maid is really a member of a welcome committee assigned to me to be patient and kind. She will teach me Spanish if she would learn to speak very slowly, with nouns and fewer verbs. She needs to think of me as a 3 year old. She loves kids and hugs Kata every time she sees her. She is great with Kata. I came home from school and M---- our maid, greeted me but gave me a lecture that I think I understood. "
Americans are messy, you in particular need to put your shoes away.  You are obesssed with recycling and leave messes everywhere. Get a respectable coffee pot - what is this Aeropress thing anyways? Why don't you have meat in your fridge- how can you cook without it? No wonder your daughter is starving. Here is a list of necessitos, get it or I won't be your friend anymore."

Actually, she is super sweet and probably said nothing of the sort. I bought everything on the list. She even took me to the store, we bought the right soaps and scrups and brooms and coffee pots. I guess I still need a mortar and pestle to make her my true friend. I'm working on this...And did I mention that she cooks for us? Shopping and cooking have become monumental chores. But I come home to her Bandera- the Dominican Flag otherwise known as rice, beans & chicken. She has a special way of dripping the beans over the rice like a sauce. I slow down and eat too much. 

Kata is pretty amazing. She has not been able to run back and forth or  do cartwheels or walk around naked like we could at home in Vermont. She seems a bit stir crazy in the adjustment to urban living, tropical living and such. But the nanny/ maid came to school a day early and Kata was fine with saying good bye, walking  with her all the way to our apartment by herself and spending the day with her even though the house temperature was well over 80, humid. I took her to the park last night and we cheered her on as she did cartwheel after cartwheel atop the concrete park benches. Many passing Dominicans cheered her on too.



Our doormen always smile. They sometimes help us make phone calls to order 5 gallon botellons of agua. 
Every day I begin a simple conversation with either Leon or Luis. "Hola, como esta?" 
And then I have nothing more to say. So I start talking in nervous English. They always smile and respond with "ok". Sometimes I write down a sentence, practice it and then go downstairs to tell them that I will be going for a run or visiting the neighbor. They smile and say, "ok". When I get nervous I immediately respond to people in French out of habit from Vermont trips to Quebec. Finally Leon mentioned that he spoke French. I responded gleefully with my own French. He responded back. "ok".  Lately, I find myself in conversation with Marc, telling him what I need done for the next day or what issues arose in my daily trips to the store. He responds, "ok". hmmmmm.

General living for me is based on how coffee is made. And here is it always amazing.  Food is really cheap. $.50 for a bag of rice, mangos the size of Kata's head for .20. Bottled water is delivered by a man on a motorbike in 3 minutes. for $1.30- you call, speak bad Spanish and go to the window to hear him drive fast through the city right to your door. But get the wrong food or item and it is expensive.  Herbal Essence shampoo- $8.00, pasta? $3.00. Despite our best intentions some of us had diarrhea last night, all night, every hour. I won't mention names. I stayed awake all night feeding people water and helping them clean up. I went to work exhausted and then my system began to crumble. I was able to stay just ahead of whatever could've happened. I had my Pepto Bismol To Go, and several expats had stronger stuff on hand. The organic way- Papaya and probiotic pills helped me stumble through my Friday inservice and then stumble home for siesta.  Lessons learned? life moves slowly.  Patience is necessary for survival. Every down is followed by an up, tomorrow is another day.


Modern World Dominican- first week abroad

Marc, Kata and I have left everything we know that was normal to us to plunge headlong into adventure here in the Caribbean.  I'd like to start this blog with some relativity. The Dominican Republic is relative in size to Pennsylvania or Mississippi. Vermont is relative in size to Haiti. Together the whole island is almost 60,000 square miles or a bit bigger than the state of Georgia. So far, every day is hot and humid. It's the consistency in the weather that is the hardest for me to understand. Relative to Vermont, I need only one raincoat and maybe an umbrella for shade instead of a coat or sweater for every 10 degrees of weather above and below zero. Relative to Vermont I need many shoes. Women here wear the highest impossible heels with grace and always, always dress for notice. Casual does not mean casual. I'm sorry Bernie Sanders, but I can't wear that tshirt with your crazy hair and cute socialist face to a BBQ anymore. Yes, I wore a tshirt and shorts to a BBQ with air conditioning, gloved waiters and women in evening gowns. My name is Whitney, I'm a recovering Gringo...


Story Published through Search Associates about our career move.

First day in the apartment on Calle Ramon del Orbe. We are on the top floor so we lucked out with a rooftop patio and a view of the sea. Not luck really. We are teaching at a school that understands the value of keeping people feeling safe, secure and content in order to foster that spirit of strong academic learning and hard work from educators. Each educator gave the school an idea of their lifestyle and needs, the staff worked to find apartments that could match this. We requested a quiet street and the views of the sea were a bonus. The nightly breeze means we seldom need AC.  Of course, the one evening I needed it, it broke.  That same evening, a rain storm hit, I pushed all of the rain into a gutter which was clogged. Our ceiling in the kitchen began leaking and chipping away at the same time that the plumbing under the sink fell apart. Each day in the DR is filled with ups and downs, epic wins and epic fails. At least I sleep completely exhausted. Well, not exactly.



Twice I was awakened by the sounds of parties at 3 am. We are next to the UN, embassy row and some posh apartments with pools- (we hope to make friends?) Gazing from the patio I could hear people singing in chorus, some Spanish song. A solo would ripple up to me and then the chorus would boom in. It was worth the lost hour of sleep. The other time, I awoke to a bocci? ball party. Everyone was cheering and counting and cheering someone who must've been winning? I can't wait to actually understand what it is that people are saying. 

Did I mention that we live near a park? It's a lush space filled with green grasses, mango groves, flowering trees. Paved pathways swerve through the park under the canopy. I see many dog walkers, kids on bikes, couples old and young. I can't wait to learn the names of all the fauna and the wild chickens that roam. I got up and ran at 6am in the park right near the house. 
Don't worry- hundreds of people workout and run or race bikes on the road which is closed to vehicles. The whole 10 km is lined with police and security volunteers who are allowed to ride in on motorcycles  


  I think they must volunteer just to show off. They watch you work out. It's a bit weird but so so safe. The first day I was only able to run 2 sweaty miles. And it was a beautiful run. Marc and I share the morning time. Another day I went it was already crowded. As I approached the end of the roadway I noticed a workout station with outdoor ellipticals and a Zumba class. People were jumping in and joining so I did too. I can't do it proper justice but it required big smiles, passionate movement with very expressive thrusting of all body parts that mamma gave me.  My pelvis and thighs and breasts are actually supposed to move. In opposing directions. And up, down, around.... I'm so used to dancing my warm up like a Vermont runner and then there is this.....  That made my day. I actually felt awake for the first time. 

We survived the first four days with lots of repairs on the apartment, remember that ceiling leak? And the installation of wifi. Marc buzzed himself into the apartment, dripping with sweat and proudly holding a large tv. We promised Kata that she could have one if we moved to a new country. That was probably a shady deal. Whatever. Most of the channels are in Spanish, but at least we had some Olympic coverage. She really wanted to see the gymnastic events but the DR is devoted to volleyball and wrestling. So we watched that instead. Internet is fast even though the powerlines running up and down the streets look like a tangled web of danger. I've yet to have a phone working. I'm so used to being connected to social media that it feels like camping when I go days without it. 

ah life at the Lagos. My language skills are pretty weak. I speak mostly in Spanish nouns with very few verbs in my vocabulary.  "Coffee- me", "food yes" "door". So lots of miscommunications.


I need to explain something to Bernie Sanders. Before he chides me personally on the evils of capitalism and the dangers of socio economic gaps I must admit I love having a doorman and a maid. I'm completely terrified by the idea and I find myself having difficulty talking about this service publicly. But our maid is really a member of a welcome committee assigned to me to be patient and kind. She will teach me Spanish if she would learn to speak very slowly, with nouns and fewer verbs. She needs to think of me as a 3 year old. She loves kids and hugs Kata every time she sees her. She is great with Kata. I came home from school and M---- our maid, greeted me but gave me a lecture that I think I understood. "
Americans are messy, you in particular need to put your shoes away.  You are obesssed with recycling and leave messes everywhere. Get a respectable coffee pot - what is this Aeropress thing anyways? Why don't you have meat in your fridge- how can you cook without it? No wonder your daughter is starving. Here is a list of necessitos, get it or I won't be your friend anymore."

I bought everything on the list. She even took me to the store, we bought the right soaps and scrups and brooms and coffee pots. I guess I still need a mortar and pestle to make her my true friend. I'm working on this...And did I mention that she cooks for us? Shopping and cooking have become monumental chores. But I come home to her Bandera- the Dominican Flag otherwise known as rice, beans & chicken. She has a special way of dripping the beans over the rice like a sauce. I slow down and eat too much. 

Kata is pretty amazing. She has not been able to run back and forth or  do cartwheels or walk around naked like we could at home in Vermont. She seems a bit stir crazy in the adjustment to urban living, tropical living and such. But the nanny/ maid came to school a day early and Kata was fine with saying good bye, walking  with her all the way to our apartment by herself and spending the day with her even though the house temperature was well over 80, humid. I took her to the park last night and we cheered her on as she did cartwheel after cartwheel atop the concrete park benches. Many passing Dominicans cheered her on too.



Our doormen always smile. They sometimes help us make phone calls to order 5 gallon botellons of agua. 
Every day I begin a simple conversation with either Leon or Luis. "Hola, como esta?" 
And then I have nothing more to say. So I start talking in nervous English. They always smile and respond with "ok". Sometimes I write down a sentence, practice it and then go downstairs to tell them that I will be going for a run or visiting the neighbor. They smile and say, "ok". When I get nervous I immediately respond to people in French out of habit from Vermont trips to Quebec. Finally Leon mentioned that he spoke French. I responded gleefully with my own French. He responded back. "ok".  Lately, I find myself in conversation with Marc, telling him what I need done for the next day or what issues arose in my daily trips to the store. He responds, "ok". hmmmmm.

General living for me is based on how coffee is made. And here is it always amazing.  Food is really cheap. $.50 for a bag of rice, mangos the size of Kata's head for .20. Bottled water is delivered by a man on a motorbike in 3 minutes. for $1.30- you call, speak bad Spanish and go to the window to hear him drive fast through the city right to your door. But get the wrong food or item and it is expensive.  Herbal Essence shampoo- $8.00, pasta? $3.00. Despite our best intentions some of us had diarrhea last night, all night, every hour. I won't mention names. I stayed awake all night feeding people water and helping them clean up. I went to work exhausted and then my system began to crumble. I was able to stay just ahead of whatever could've happened. I had my Pepto Bismol To Go, and several expats had stronger stuff on hand. The organic way- Papaya and probiotic pills helped me stumble through my Friday inservice and then stumble home for siesta.  Lessons learned? life moves slowly.  Patience is necessary for survival. Every down is followed by an up, tomorrow is another day.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Live! From #deeperlearning


We are starting with the power of student voice not teacher voice. And a slide show of students put to a poignant hip hop song - all my life I've been struggling. Where do we go from here? Straight to the top.

This is definitely something I'm not doing enough of in class. I give students a chance for voice but is it empowering? Not yet. This music is sooooo empowering



This is so awesome. Why not start a day with just a bit more happiness?
Here I am at @hightechhigh and we are starting the day with a teacher band