Saturday, June 13, 2009

Los Patos #1

June 11, 2009

Greetings from Los Patos! We arrived on Monday afternoon, ate black beans and rice and then headed to the river for a refreshing dip. The river water is nippy, but nice. The water comes down from the mountains, winds around a bend and then feeds into the sea. It is the local supply for drinking/cooking water, the local watering hole and, for those who need it, a bathtub. I would say that most of the people in the town need it for a bathtub. They also use the river water to fill up large buckets in order to have water to flush their toilets.

Our first morning here, Arelis and I got up at 6am and walked about a half mile down the beach to the place where the river meets the sea to bathe. As we prepped for the day, Arelis was telling me how she, her mom and dad and eight siblings would walk down the mountain each day. Then she proceeded to show me how she would splash and frolic around in the water. It was comical to watch her as she did this.

I wish I'd brought my camera along for the walk. The early morning provided many beautiful moments to capture. The pictures on the blog are from another morning and the morning wasn't quite as lovely. We walked past as the pescaderos (fishermen) were prepping the boats for the day. Later as we drove to Barahona, we saw boats scattered about the sparkling water. Quite picturesque. We also walked past a pig and a burro grazing and a rooster strutting and chickens doing their chicken thing. The river, in the early morning light peeking behind a cloud, was just breathtaking.

I can see how happy Arelis is to be back here. She does not get here often. She has only been here three times in the last seven years. I've been lucky enough to have been on two of those trips. Many of her brothers still live here. Her father, who is 83, is still here. Her grandmother is still here. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and old friends still make their homes in typical Dominican wooden shacks. We went to Grandpa's Mountain yesterday. On the way up, we stopped to see Arelis' abuela (grandmother). She was walking to her house when we arrived. At 121 years of age, she walks hunched over now, a wirey little thing. She was wearing a green bandana on her head, a square of white cloth with frayed edges tied around her shoulders and a little nightgown. Underneath her nightgown, I caught a glimpse of the roughly done hand-stitching of the homemade white sheath she wore beneath. It would not surprise me in the least if she stitched it herself. She lives in a wooden house painted pink. Ten years ago, she was still living on her own up on the mountain in a little shack with no running water or any other amenities. Water would still have to be carried up the mountain. Cooking would have been over an open fire. Talk about a tough old bird! I should be so lucky to be in as good a shape when I'm my seventies.

The trip up Grandpa's Mountain was a delight. The whole mountain is owned by Job's (Hobe's) grandpa. Two of his sons tend to the land now. One son, René, is building a new home not quite midway up. Homes are now built of cinder block. Sometimes they are given a stucco finish, sometimes the gray blocks are left exposed. He will have two bedrooms, a bath, living room, and kitchen. All the rooms are small. When you picture these rooms, you cannot picture them as typical to our rooms. The kitchen will have a small gas stove and maybe a sink. Counter space is a rarity. There will be no refrigerator because there is no electricity. Food that needs to be kept cold is not commonly stored and people tend to buy what they need on a daily basis.

We spent several hours on the mountain. Arelis and Pedrito took a hike higher up. We all hiked around the shack where Arelis lived as a child. We gathered mangoes, limes and bananas to take back to the house. We drank fresh coconut milk and ate the white flesh of the coconut meat inside. These are not the brown coconuts and hardened coconut we find in the grocery stores in the states. These are the green coconuts taken straight from the tree. They use a machete to slice off the top to make a hole the size of a silver dollar. You drink the milk from that. Then you slice open the whole coconut to reach the meat inside. A piece of the green shell is shaved from the side and this is used to scrape the meat from the coconut so you can eat it. It's like an all-inclusive take-out wrapped up in one neat little package. Just bring your own machete!

René is 57 years old and is long and lean. He is in amazing shape from the hard work he does daily and was quite tickled when I told him that Job and Jairo were getting fat back in the states. He laughed when I asked him to make a muscle pose for a picture.

Every time I come here, I am reminded of how cushy I have it at home and how much I take for granted every single day. These people here have so much less than we have, yet many are thriving and are happy. Still, there are many who go hungry.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crazy Gringa

June , 2009

...Rumor has it that there is crazy gringa with silver hair running loose in Santiago. Reports say that she has been spotted in a variety of places and is suspected of being the responsible party for near accidents and severe cases of whiplash. She is also suspected of accosting strangers in supermarkets...

Yesterday, Arelis, her daughter Yohaira and I went to the supermercado (supermarket) to pick up a few items. Arelis also had to exchange the money I am using to bring food to families in Barahona/Los Patos. As we passed a Dominican man, I glanced at his t-shirt. I was so excited that I stopped him and started pointing at his chest. He looked at me like I was a little off my rocker (no comments!). “Mi universidad! Mi universidad!” The man looked at me again. I repeated, “Mi universidad!”to which he responded, “Bingo!” We all laughed. You have to understand---as a Maine transplant living in the midwest, it is a rare occasion anyone has ever heard of the University of Maine let alone wear the t-shirt. Ball State, Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue, yes. UMO, no. So you can imagine my excitement (just try, will you?) to see a little Dominican wearing a t-shirt from my alma mater. Moments later, I had regrets for not getting his picture. Dang. Just as I had that thought, I saw him a few aisles over. “Arelis! Un momento! Un photo!” I chased after him, gripping my purchases and my camera. I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. “Señor, por favor! Tengo un photo?” as I pointed again at his chest. “Que?” he asked. I repeated my question while pointing at his chest. Then in Spanish he asked me if I wanted his phone number. “No! No!” I pointed again. With a shrug of his shoulders, he said yes and I grabbed my camera and quickly took his picture. As I said “gracias”, he touched his cheek to mine and said, “De nada.“No problema.” As I walked away, I saw four teenage girls looking at what had just taken place. I repeated while circling my finger toward my chest, “Mi universidad.” They just laughed at/with me. When I caught up with Arelis and Yohaira at the bread counter, they were just shaking their head and laughing.

My hair color and white skin seems to be causing a bit of a stir as well. Of that, I am 100% innocent. I'm just made that way, you know. I don't just seem to stand out in the barrio, but everywhere I go in the city, too. I'm kind of getting used to the stares and the double-takes. It's rather comical to see the expressions on people's faces when they catch sight of me. Arelis just giggles. The other day, a Haitian man walked by the house carrying a bowl of avocados on his head. “Aguacate! Aguacate!”he shouted as he walked down the street. Arelis called him back to buy some. When Arelis finished making her purchase, He was still staring at me. “Okay! Vamos!” she had to tell him. He let me take his picture before he left. He was back the next day, shouting in Spanish through the gate, “Does the Americana want to buy some avocados today?” Arelis told me to just say no, thank you. He seemed very disappointed, almost put out. I'll tell you, though. I've never had avocados that tasted better than here. Arelis says the ones in Los Patos are even better and much bigger. She makes the size of a gourd with her hands.

While I laugh and joke about my hair and white skin, I am saddened at times about what it means. Yesterday, I accompanied Arelis to an end of year celebration at her school. One of her co-workers, a beautiful cafe-au-lait woman started talking to me about my skin. Basically, she was telling me that she wishes her skin was white and that white is better. I just told her that God made her beautiful already. There are many Dominicans here who think the same way she does. I experienced the same thing on a mission trip to the Philippines five years ago. Everywhere I went, the children would constantly touch my skin and talk about how their skin was ugly because it was brown and mine was beautiful because it is white. Man, I hate that. There were even billboards advertising products to whiten skin. The condition of the human heart is delicate and we wound ourselves even more. We are all miracles and beautiful in all our shapes, sizes and skin color. When will we accept ourselves and one another?

I keep saying that I want an adventure. Little moments like these fit the bill.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A View From the Peanut Galerìa

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Here I sit, peering down from the galerìa, or balcony of our home-away-from home at Pedrito and Arelis house in Hato Mayor outside Santiago, Dominican Republic. Pedrito just left on his motocicleta and Arelis is at work for a while longer. My girl left for home this morning. I hope she makes it through customs okay. I pray her flight is smooth and she arrives home safe and sound. The recent loss of a plane carrying 200+ people over the ocean does nothing to ease my worries. Gotta have faith.

So here I am. Alone for two weeks with my friends who speak no English. Me who barely understands Spanish. Barely. I wanted to go on an adventure and here I am. I'm very curious as to what this adventure will bring me. My adventures will be limited to what I can do with my friends as I will not be left alone except for brief moments like this. Pedrito is very protective. I'm amazed that he let me walk around the corner alone to use the internet this morning. Usually, he goes with us and waits. I feel as if I need to rush because it can't be much fun for him. He is a good and generous host. It is my only contact with the technological world and I need it like I need water and food. There is a TV in the kitchen, but it has only been on one time in a week and that was to entertain a 4 yr old boy who can't sit still. World news has been fleeting. With limited time on the internet, I forget to check out news websites. It is strangely discomforting and comforting at the same time. A throwback to simpler times.

Things will get much simpler still next week when we head to the other side of the country to a more remote area, Los Patos. I love Los Patos. That is a story in itself. I am looking forward to seeing Arelis grandmother again. She will be 121 years old this year. No lie. She was born in 1888!

I am scarfing cookies like no tomorrow. Cookies are my downfall and I bought a package at the supermercado last night when Jordan and I went to stock up on vanilla (the best anywhere! Makes for a great and cheap gift). Anyway, I love cookies and was having a bit of withdrawal. Arelis is a good cook and has filled my belly with typical Dominican food---red beans and white rice, plantains, yucca, lachosa, mango, pineapple, mangoo! Mangoo is a dish made of mashed plantains. Yucca is like a potato only a bit denser and the flavor is different. Hard to describe, but it is yummy. She also makes delicious juices with fresh limes and oranges and melons. Chinola juice is my favorite. Chinola is the real name for Passion Fruit. LOVE it You cannot get anything in the states that tastes like it. I know, I've tried. No

comparison. We have also eaten a lot of fried salami and queso frito (fried cheese—it's the best!). My little mum always said food tastes best when you don't have to cook it yourself. Maybe so, but Arelis cooks with a lot of love, too. That adds to the flavor.

Electricity is iffy. Sometimes we have it. Sometimes we don't. There are two or three car batteries hooked up outside the kitchen that serves the electric for the downstairs. Three more feed the supply for the newly constructed upstairs Warm showers are infrequent. With the warmth and humidity, I find I welcome the cold showers anyway. Last night, we sat in the dark talking by candlelight. Arelis cooks on a gas stove, so that is not a problem. Dominican coffee is deliciously rich and strong. We use a lot of milk and sugar. I can buy Santo Domingo coffee here by the pound for about $2 and it is a real pound, not 12 oz like at home. I usually stock up when I'm here. I hope I can fill all the orders I have from home! I bought a coffee pot like Arelis has, but my coffee still doesn't taste like hers. Maybe I'll get another lesson while I'm here.

I was stung by a wasp on Saturday. We were almost in a car accident on Tuesday. On Tuesday night, we rode a carriage around the city's monument. The monument was once erected by the dictator to honor himself. It now honors the heroes and heroines of the revolution which overthrew the government maybe twenty-five years ago. It's a beautiful and massive structure. Yesterday, we ventured to Jarabacoa (ha-rah-bah-co-ah) and ate beef and pork grilled over a fire from a little street vendor.

I know, I was nervous about it, but I figure if Arelis can eat it, so can I. No indigestion yet. Jordan bought shoes. Go figure.

Ah, Pedrito is back and Arelis just arrived home from the preschool where she teaches. Their friend, Cesar, has arrived as well. Time to go.

Maybe tomorrow I can tell you about the police captain who visits to insure the safety of the guests (me).

Adios, Amigas y Amigos!


Monday, June 1, 2009

Peek-a-Boob! I see you! (or how one little breast brought two worlds together...)

Peek-a-Boob! I see you!(or how one little breast brought two worlds together...)

I am sitting in the mission house of Hato Mayor in the Dominican Republic. It's early morning and I'm listening to life in the barrio awaken as I lay in bed. Life in the street is getting busy. Cars rumble along. A rooster crows nearby again and again. I'm on a two-fold purpose for this trip. First, my daughter, Jordan, is with me. This is her gift for graduating from college (yippee! At last!) The second purpose is to continue building the connection between our church and the little church we helped complete two years ago. We have just returned from a four-day stay in Puerta Plata at an all-inclusive resort and are now staying with our Dominican family, Pedrito and Arelis Marmolejos (mar-mo-lay-hos).

Our stay in the barrio is subject for other posts. For now, I just want to write about our little excursion to go snorkling at Paradise Island. I've never snorkled before, have you? It's much easier than I thought it would be to coordinate breathing through the tube and swimming with fins. The breathing came easily, I believe, because of the nose piece that covered our noses and prevented a lick of air to come through. One bit of intake through the nose created a vacuum in a hurry. Yup, one breath through the nose and I learned in a hurry that I
would be breathing through my mouth! It's a bit frightening to attempt a breath only to find there is no air. Didn't like that feeling one bit.

It was a lovely excursion. The two and a half hour bus ride to and from was not a lot of fun, although the scenery was beautiful. Paradise Island is a sand bar pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by a small reef. Within 20 minutes of landing, we had our snorkels and fins and were swimming with the fishes. No lesson, just sink or swim. Jordan and I swam. I have not gone swimming in the ocean for a long time. I forgot how easy it is to float in salt water. I thought I would have to work hard to swim and breath at the same time. It felt effortless and allowed us to enjoy the view below. I think there are probably more beautiful reefs to experience, but for our first time out, it was just right. Bright blue fish, yellow striped fish, tiny white fish swam by, just out of reach. Gigantic white sea urchins and sand dollars were settled helter-skelter along the sandy bottom ocean floor. The coral reef was a mass of life, seaweed waving gently with the current.

We spent two-plus hours on the island. It is not a big sandbar, maybe a little more than a tenth of a mile long and not very wide. Four or five little shelters had been set up to give a break from the sun beating down and to provide a little snack bar where freshly sliced fruit and drinks were provided. The pineapple here is to die for. Not an under ripe one to be found. Also yummy were the cantelope and oranges. So much more flavor than that found in the grocery stores at home. The drinks consisted of Coke and rum, Sprite and rum, rum, rum or rum, oh, and a little bit of water. Not being a rum girl myself, I chose the water. I got a quizzical look from the young man serving the drinks.

Anyway, we spent quite bit of time on the sandbar out of the water, as they had to take turns bringing small groups snorkeling. So Jordan and I sat and relaxed and talked and people-watched. I love to people-watch. It keeps me entertained for hours. Anyway, this one particular couple from another group caught my eye. From their accent, I could tell they were German (I actually found out later they were Austrian). He had made several trips to the bar, NOT for water. During one trip, I heard him say to the boy, “Gots to getz Mama drrrunk.” It made me chuckle. They were a couple in their seventies. He wasn't very tall, a bit shorter than me, and was of stocky build, belly round. He looked strong-like-bull. She was littler still, short gray hair and blue eyes that sparkled. I watched her quite a bit. I just loved how her roundish, seventy-year old body embraced her two piece bathing suit. The top was skimpy as bikinis go, the bottoms not quite so, but a two-piece just the same. I delighted in the lack of self-consciousness she exhibited. In fact, that is one thing I appreciate about the majority of European woman I saw---they seemed to have no care about sporting the perfect body in their bikinis. They wear them with abandon. We Americans could learn a thing or two about that.

So I watched them. Near the end of our stay on the “island”, I watched as she walked over toward a group. Something wasn't quite right, but it took my mind a minute to realize what my eyes were seeing. She was oblivious to the fact that her errant right breast had loosened itself from its bindings and was laid out there for all to see. Everything started to move in a bit of slow motion as Jordan and I watched with mouths agape. It was like we couldn't move. We stood there. I said, “Jordan, look. That little woman's boob is hanging out. She doesn't know it.” Like idiots, we stood there and watched. The woman bent over to pick up a t-shirt. “Good,” I thought, “she'll put it on before she realizes it.” Not so. She continues to walk around, oblivious. We continue to stand like idiots and watch. She walks over to her husband and they talk for several minutes. They talk for several minutes and HE NEVER SAYS ONE WORD ABOUT HER EXPOSED BREAST!! Jordan and I are just amazed at this and still we are stuck where we are standing underneath the little grass rooftop. The little woman walks away from her husband and begins to weave through the small crowd, Betty Boob pointing the way. I begin an internal battle---”go tell her, Jan.” “No, I don't want to embarrass her!” “Embarrass her, Stupid, her boob is hanging out in all its glory!!” I do a stop-start-stop-start-stop-start-STOP. What is so flipping hard about this? I tell men their flies are unzipped all the time! Sheesh! The final straw comes when Jordan points out two women in their twenties who are laughing and pointing at her. That is IT. Stupid bimbos. I walk up to her. I point. She looks at me confused. She holds up her t-shirt toward me like that's what I might want. I shake my head and point again. She just looks at me with a puzzled expression on her face. Finally, I lightly touch my hand to her chest (No, NOT on her breast, silly!) She looks down and exclaims loudly, “OHH!!” She puts the girl away and then grabs me in a hug. We laugh, laugh, laugh, then she starts going on about her husband not saying a word. She hugs me again. He walks over. She berates him. He shrugs his shoulders and says to us nonchalantly, “I know what she's gots.” Pause. “And she knows whats I'ves gots, too!” He chuckles. We all laugh. She smacks his arm and says something to him in German. We talk for several minutes, but too soon it is time to go. We wave our good-byes and head toward our separate boats.

Shortly after a boat ride and a quick trip to a Dominican restaurant, we meet up briefly again. We invite them to join us at our table and we sit and eat. We learn their names are Peter and Eva and they are from Austria. They have been married about 15 years. We learn much in such a little amount of time. She is his second wife. He has one boy and a granddaughter. She has two children. They like to travel. He lived 50 years in Canada and was an engineer. She was an only child. She was conceived when her mother was barely 16. Her father was the first man her mother had “been with” and she was conceived the first time “they were together”. And kids think it can't happen to them. Ha. Her father was later killed in the war (WWII). They are just delightful. We eat. Eva coughs and I look. She turns toward Peter and taps his arm. She's choking. She motions him to pat her back. He keeps asking, “Heimlich? Heimlich?” I pound her back. She tries to cough. I pound some more. She coughs. Jordan grabs her bottle of water, quickly twists off the cap and hands it to her. She drinks it. She continues to cough a bit and tears are streaming down her cheeks, but she is going to be okay, I can tell she was scared. She keeps patting my arm. “Thank you, thank you.” she repeats.

We finish our lunches and say our good-byes. We hug. Eva says something about me saving her life. She hugs me again. We board our buses and go our separate ways. A glimmer in time has passed.

On the long ride home, I chuckle at random times. Jordan asks, “What?” Each time I answer the same. I'm just thinking about Peter standing talking to Eva while her little breast is playing Peek-a-boob. “I knows what's she's gotz.” Well, now, a lot of us do, too.

Today was a gift from God and I am grateful.