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.

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