Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Internet Addict?

Since I began lending out my computer, almost everyone has proven quite considerate and careful about the frequency and duration of time they spend using it. However, it turns out that Cristina, who moved in with her mom and sister last week after a disagreement with her boyfriend, knows no constraint when it comes to using my computer to get on Facebook. She doesn’t work, and if I let her, she’ll literally spend the entire evening glued to the screen, chatting, updating her profile, and commenting on wall posts. I thought, eventually, she’d get it all out of her system and arrive at a place where she wasn’t asking to borrow my computer in every spare moment. But it’s becoming clear that this probably isn’t going to happen.

Cristina's toddler son, Yerlin

At first, I would let her use it for hours because, frankly, I wanted her to like me. But it has gradually become evident that she lacks the maturity to self-regulate and so I will probably end up having to play a parenting role with regard to boundaries and internet use. I don’t blame her. While the internet has existed for more of her life than mine, she hasn’t had the access some of her peers have until way late. Since she doesn’t have a job, there’s nothing else to occupy her. It’s a very similar scenario to what happens when some of us arrive at college and suddenly have unlimited access to internet, games, hanging out with friends, etc. I hope she can find a healthy balance without me intervening too heavily.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Electricity: On Every Night, Off in the Morning

For about a month now, the electricity in the building where I live has gone away during the day and returned at night. During the first two weeks, it just so happened that my apartment’s wiring was damaged so I was without luz even when there was luz to be had. Finally, one night Pablo called an electrician who came at 8:00 in the evening and fiddled with the chaotic mess of wires in the breaker box down the hall until my lights came on.

On my roof, facing Southwest

Since then, more details have emerged about the situation and what’s causing it. There is only one meter for the whole building and supposedly, the building’s electrical bill is usually between 4,000 and 5,000 pesos a month. Pablo tells me, though, that last month we inexplicably received a bill for more than 25,000 pesos. When I asked why he doesn’t take it up with the power company he told me he tried but they want 10,000 pesos just to come take a look. It sounds fishy to me, but I suppose in the DR anything is possible.

All of this crud came out of a batch of beans before I cooked it

So why the on-again-off-again electricity? Well, it turns out Pablo has burned off a portion of the insulation on the wire leading from the distribution line to the school across the street. Every night before work he uses a length of PVC pipe to reach up to the exposed wire and connect to it another wire that supplies our building. Every morning when he wakes up, he disconnects it.

The breaker box in the hall where I live

The school is actually in charge of our building and ought to be doing something about our situation, but when I offered to take the matter up with them, Pablo was adamant that it be kept a secret. Lucky for him, the season has changed, and it’s no longer unbearable to be in my apartment without the fan on. Otherwise, I would be more inclined to take matters into my own hands. But for now it’s just too entertaining for me to want to interfere.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Day of the Strike Part 2

The toddlers wandered in, followed by Cristina and Miguel. It was the first time I ever had Dominican guests since I moved here back in August. I was pleased with the humbleness of my lifestyle and the statement I suppose it made. Everybody was impressed by my air bed, though, which I somehow managed to haul back with me from Oregon after I went home for mom and Rich’s wedding.

A random shot from inside my messy apartment

Around four in the afternoon we finally dished up delicious macaroni in cream sauce with sardines and green olives along with tostones, smashed plantain slices fried in vegetable oil. Miguel showed up and after we had finished eating, we dished up a helping to take to Chuno. On the way to his house, we passed through an alley with three or four tables of people playing dominos and perhaps thirty more watching or just hanging out. I hadn’t seen a street so crowded since my time in the Los Angeles barrio of Santo Domingo during training.

Chuno parties before his accident

Chuno looked pretty bad. His upper lip was a swollen mess of stitches and dried blood and there was a seam where the skin of his face had been split down the middle. Luckily, he had broken no bones in his face or the rest of his body and his teeth were still intact. I did my best not to show my alarm at seeing him, and was careful not to dwell too much on the accident, asking instead whether he was sleeping alright and seeing if there was anything I could do to help. An English-language movie came on the TV and I gave him and Miguel the play-by-play in Spanish for about an hour. We went home when Chuno’s brother told us we hadn’t better be out late during the strike.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Day of the Strike Part 1

Monday was the day of the strike. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I had been told not to travel, and I thought it best to stay put in my apartment building for the day. After sleeping in, I dropped in on the girls to see what was happening. They were still playing with my computer since last night, but I was able to convince Estefany to play a round with me of Settlers of Catan. After that she kept wanting to play and eventually we drew the attention of her sisters, Yanirys and Cristina, who made brief attempts at learning the game but who were eventually peeled away to tend to the needs of their toddler boys.

Mecha's daughters. Left to right: Estefany, Cristina, Yanirys

Sometime around one in the afternoon, I finally mentioned that I had no food to prepare and said if the grocery store was open I was going shopping. What I didn’t realize was that by explaining this to everyone I was making a grand offer. “Hooray,” they said, “Save us, Charlie!” I couldn’t very well renege. Besides, I was sure they would make something far better than whatever I could cook up. Estefany called Pablo who confirmed that the grocery store open even during the strike.

The scene at Milenio on Saturday night

Midday traffic was way below average, and every family-owned business I passed had its metal barrier drawn. Extra shotgun-toting security had been hired at the plaza. After I brought home the supplies, Estafany and Yanirys came over to my place to cook. Finding the conditions there unacceptable, they wasted no time cleaning and organizing the place at the same time as they put on some plantains and pasta.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lazy Sunday

The day after I went out dancing I was exhausted. The scouts were preparing for a big fundraiser and Aneudy invited me to come help prepare. After crawling out of bed and into some work clothes, I made my way to the local where Pablo, Katia, and about fifteen scouts were having a work party. I helped break up the dirt pile with mattock and shovel it into a wheelbarrow so it could be used to patch of up the field. The scouts were also constructing a zip line and Pablo asked that I take pictures.

The scouts begin building a platform for a zipline for an upcoming fundraiser

After a few hours I returned home and collapsed onto my bed. I was awakened after few hours of sleep by Line’s mom coming to borrow some sugar. I decided I had better run some errands rather than go back to sleep and spoil my night’s rest, but I didn’t make it past Mecha’s door. The girls were all dying to see my pictures from last night and put them on Facebook. In my apartment building, my computer has become a community resource. Whenever there’s electricity, there’s internet service and I become even more popular than I already am. I don’t mind sharing, though. It really is what people here do when they aren’t the kind to lock themselves up in a gated compound. And besides, I sometimes even get a free meal out it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Moca Nightlife Part 2

After a couple of beers we headed across the street to another place I’ve walked by a hundred times with curiosity. On the corner in front we merrily rejoined the others before heading inside. The place couldn’t have been more authentic and perfect. It was all on the second story; the first was parking. Three concentric terraces fanned outward from the bar, each a step down from the next with the outermost being an open balcony. On a small, dark dancefloor people danced to merengue, salsa, and electronic dance music.

Estefany and her boyfriend, Mayobanex

The girls were eager to see if the gringo was going to dance, and if they expected me to be shy, they were mistaken. Something about casting off my possessions for two years and taking a vow of poverty has made me even less inhibited than I may have been otherwise. If love is the international language, getting down must be a close cousin. At one point I remember I was taking a rest when Chuno got my attention like, “watch this”. He just gestured from the balcony to an attractive young girl who was practically at the bar and next thing I knew they were dancing salsa. Chuno moved her all over the floor and spun and turned like a pro.

Chuno salsas with Estafany

Unfortunately, at the end of the night, events took a tragic turn. While driving back on his pasola (Vespa-style motor scooter) . Chuno drove into an uncovered manhole and fell face-first onto the gravel road. His face was covered in blood, and we worried that he may have a concussion. While a bunch of the group accompanied him to the hospital, I ended up back at the apartment building holding Cristina’s one-year-old and bouncing him up and down to stop his wailing. When the others returned, they assured me he hadn’t lost consciousness and that his memory appeared to be intact. His lip was split clear through.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Moca Nightlife Part 1

This Monday there was a big labor strike. Peace Corps volunteers were prohibited from leaving their project sites and in Moca, people told me everything was going to basically shut down for the day. My neighbor, Mecha took advantage of the long weekend to have her other two daughters and twelve-year-old son come visit her and Estefany. Saturday evening I found them all in plastic chairs in the usual hang-out spot in the stairwell. Mecha handed me a drink that tasted like melon and rum and insisted that I drink more than a little. She suggested not-so-subtly that it would taste better with ice.

Mecha and a joven from the group that went out dancing

I had just had what I consider my most successful day since arriving in Moca and I was in a mood to celebrate. I went on an errand and returned with ice and a round of drinks, which were met with much enthusiasm. That evening, Mecha’s boyfriend, Chuno had promised to show me some of the spots on the strip along the autopista (highway) near where I live. It turns out Mecha’s daughters, Estafany, Yanirys, and Cristina were getting ready to party as well with their respective dates and a crew of about four others.

Cristina lounges with her and Yaniris' toddler sons

When I broke out my camera it about caused a riot. I instantly became a fashion photographer and after every shot I heard pónmelo en Facebook (“put it on Facebook for me”) and etiquétame (“tag me”). After much changing of clothes and taking of pictures, Chuno arrived and he and I took to the strip. The first stop was a very crowded bar called Milenio. I had seen the place during the day and wondered how well it was doing, but now I could see it wasn’t hurting for customers. The place was packed to the brim and quaking to the beat of the latest dembow hits.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Teaching At The Library

Every volunteer has what they call a “project partner” who is basically a Dominican all-star community member who helps them set up the activities of their service. Through visiting Heather in Juan Lopez and donating the Free Geek laptops, I became acquainted with Heather’s project partner, Rafael. Rafael wasted no time arranging a class for me to teach at the library in Moca, and on Saturday we had our first class session.

The class consists of five adults (six if you count Rafael) of varying experience and skill level. Two of them are teachers—one in Juan Lopez, the other in Moca—who want to help me set up an Encargados del Futuro group. Encargados del Futuro is a youth group model that volunteers implement throughout the country. It helps prepare youths to become people in charge of community computer labs through participation in activities involving digital media and community service.

It was six exactly six months from the day I took the oath of service and became a Peace Corps volunteer and finally, I felt as though my service was beginning in a meaningful way.

The view from my window at night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Angry Neighbor Part 2

No dice, dude, I thought. It was bad enough that he was harshing my mellow. But to insinuate that there was something that I could do about the electricity situation was not okay. I started to break things down for him in an English I was pretty sure was too fast for him, "Look, canchi, I don't know what your trip is, but there ain't shit I can do about the electricity..." and so on, matching his volume and word choice so he could see I was finally as pissed as he was.

Painting on my apartment building: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

He responded by shouting even louder and more feverishly. I could feel bits of his spit on my face and smell the alcohol on his breathe. At this point, Line was out of her seat, letting out little staccato hisses and shifting her weight from one foot to the other. While she waved a finger at each of us, I was too busy being pissed off to notice the man was backpedalling. Doubtless, his ego wouldn't allow him to apologize, but I wasn't going to stop until it was obvious that I found him far more unpleasant than the power outage.

Painting on my apartment building: "Juan Pablo Duarte, 'father of the homeland'"

When I was good and done, I finally began to hear him again. He was explaining that his two children were American and that he it hadn't been his intention to talk trash about Americans. Whatever the case, there was little left for him to do but go to his room and stop complaining to me. While I remained and chatted with Line a little more, I could see that the vibe was completely ruined. In days to come, however, it became clear from what I gleaned it conversation with her and the rest of the ladies that my neighbor was not all that popular and I was actually somewhat more respected for not just sitting and taking his abuse.

Whatever the case, I really don't hold it against him. I mean, he paid his damned power bill. It would have been nice, though, if he could have just taken it in stride everyone else seemed to.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Angry Neighbor Part 1

When I arrived back on the roof, my friends had been joined by Mencha's daughter, Estefany. The five of us carried on a little longer before each making our way down to our apartments. I found some pretense to bug Line some more and in due course we found ourselves on the couch in her apartment discussing the finer points of Dominican gender relations. "Nosotras mujeres aguantamos mucho en este pais," she told me, "we women put up with a lot in this country." We talked for a while about Dominican men and when I asked how a woman can know that her boyfriend has other girlfriends and still not want to leave him, she shared with me a dicho (a saying):

Una llave que abre muchas puertas es una llave maestra, pero una llave que abre todos las puertas no sirve. (A key that opens many doors is a master key, but a key that opens every door is no good.)

The best I can do in interpreting this is to suppose that it means that a woman wants a man who is so desirable that he can get other women if wants, but who won't take just any woman.

"Each person reaps what he/she sows"

What happened next was unprecedented. From down the hall came a steady stream of angry shouting, which gradually grew louder before parking itself somewhere in the hall outside Line's apartment. I knew its source to be the overweight single man who lives next door to me and I wasn't surprised to hear vulgar English sprinkled in amongst the Spanish epithets; though I had never interacted with this man, I had noticed he posessed the American habits of smoking cigarettes and going straight to his apartment without spending some time socializing in the hallway.

Fairness: even if your rubio brother can levitate and you can't

He must have heard me and Line because next thing either of us knew, he was venting his frustration at full volume, more or less in my face. Mostly he cursed Pablo, but also there was talk of the people Pablo answers to at the school and in Philadelphia. I reasoned that the best course of action would be just to agree and act disgusted. But gradually it began to appear as if my obvious lack of indignation was only aggrevating him more. Finally, I detected in his tone and choice of words a kind of antagonism that was directed at me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Helping Some Neighbors Move In

The head of the household I help move in across the street is muscle-bound and shaved bald. I don't recognize him at first be he knows who I am and reminds me that he works the corner in front of the rotunda with with the rest of the motoconchistas. The Daihatsu has half-emptied after the time it has taken me to peel away from my rooftop group, but there remain some big items. The ladies remain perched on the roof, silently taking in the show.

Painted on the building where I live: The man says, "son, obey you parent and teachers
out of love [for them]".

First to go up the three flights of stairs is the wooden box of a bed. It is empty, and thus not very heavy, but its ungainly form, combined with the low overhead clearance of the stairway requires the we stand and squat in awkward positions and use muscles in our backs and arms that don't often get a workout. For me, it is another triumph of communication, something I certainly couldn't have accomplished with nearly as much grace or poise five months ago. At critical points along the way, I have to listen carefully and follow instructions. At other times it is I who has to describe how to proceed based one what I can see and my moving partner cannot.

Adorning the street entrance of my building: A shackled taino bride and a Dominican
flag breaking a chain.

Next, in similar fashion, comes the mattress and finally a couch. On the rooftop across the street I can see the ladies watching me, with boundless amusement, no doubt. From their perspective, each trip up the stairs plays out like a play in three acts, taking place in the exposed landings between flights of stairs. I wave and shout to them, but it is clear they prefer that the fourth wall remain intact.

The building where I live. It used to be a school. My window is the one in the middle.

By the time we finish, I am panting and sweating profusely, but I can tell that my neighbor could easily keep going. I'm typical Dominican fashion, nobody says "thank you". Instead I am rewarded with a few minutes conversation and the comfort of knowing that I had done my good deed for the day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hanging Out On The Roof

For the second night in a row, my apartment building is without luz (literally "light", it means electricity), but for once it is not the unreliable infrastructure that is to blame. The most likely culprit is Pablo Mejia, the good-natured, yet somewhat incompetent man who collects the rent and pays the bills on behalf of our absentee landlady in Philadelphia. Last night, he and some of the other guys living here climbed a ladder to the junction box at the a the school across the street, connecting wires in an effort to circumvent the need to pay. From our limited vantage point, my eighteen-year-old neighbor, Line (pronounced "lee-nay") and I only saw a bright flash and heard a loud electrical pop at which point the street lights went out.

A painting on my apartment building. The boy says, "I'm Sorry I broke your doll house with
my ball". The girl responds, "I forgive: you."

This evening, I climb the stairs to the roof to sit in the cool while leaving my apartment downstairs with the window and doors open in hopes that it will air out in the breeze of passing cars. On the roof I find Line haciendo coro (hanging out) with Mencha and Estefany who live across the hall and next door to her, respectively. They offer me a seat which I accept, and gradually I come up to speed with the conversation. The women mostly talk about how how fed up with they are with Pablo and complain about what it's like in this cinderblock apartment without electricity at night, but there are also moments of gossip and what feels to me like campfire talk; stories of supernatural things that have happened to friends, tales emphasizing the importance of listening to one's mother.

Another painting from in my apartment building. This one is in English.

Little by little, I elbow my way into the conversation. It is not my custom, but over time I have managed to grasp the etiquette involved when talking over someone the way they do here. And after five months of digesting the slurring, mush-mouthed dialect of the Cibao region where I live, I have begun to develop an ear for it's intricacies and modismos (turns of phrase). A man coming upstairs to a group of chatting women is certainly not taboo in this country, but I wouldn't exactly call it the norm. Without a doubt, my status as a foreigner and reputation as a limited speaker of Spanish has helped me gain access. Also, it doesn't hurt that they're tickled pink to live next door to an American. But, for my part, I couldn't be happier to have them for neighbors, either.

The neglected emblem of CEPBIEN (CEntro Psicopedagogico BIlingue ENmanuel) greets
visitors at the carport entrance to my apartment building. The school has moved to a newer
building across the street.

It's hard to imagine any place I would rather be on this night than with these three patently adorable dominicanas, getting to know them and swapping stories and complaints. Every gesture and intonation is a delight to behold and as I observe and contribute I can feel my palette of dominicanismos grow and expand. By the time a Daihatsu truck pulls up to the three-story apartment building across the street, full of a families belongings, I am so much a part of the group that they don't want me to leave when I go downstairs to help my new neighbors move in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


"Pisa'o Pisa'o," say the kids as they play hackey in the hallway and I am transported back in time to just less than three years ago when first I heard that word. In Guatemala, pisa'o was a vulgar word one of my colleagues at Ajb'atz' Enlace Quiche convinced me to say to a female coworker.

I see this mural every day in the hallway that leads to my door.
It reads "It's good to have patience."

Stumbling out into the unlit, cavelike passage that connects two other hallways in my apartment building, I find my adolescent next door neighbor and a playmate I don't recognize. When I enquire as to the meaning of pisa'o one jabs his finger enthusiastically toward the other as he plays, explaining, "Tu sabes, aquí hay mucho pisa'o." I surmise it has something to do with getting big air with the hackey sack.

Cartoon, super-hero Jesus greets me at the bottom of the stairs every morning.

After my first brush with the word, I never really much cared to know what it meant. I just felt annoyed by it. What Mikey actually told me to say to her was "peace out" because it sounded like saying I was saying the same thing. When I look in the dictionary today, I find a verb, pisar, the past participle of which would be pisado; almost certainly the word they are using if they are speaking Spanish. It means "to step on, to tread on, to mash".

Inside the "cage" of metal bars downstairs. It says, "The fruit of the spirit is..." The fruits
include  "Peace," "Happiness," "Love," "Self-Control," "Faith," "Patience,"
"Meekness," "Goodness," "Kindness"  

Tonight it's sticky and hot without electricity to run my fan. Even when I'm not standing over my gas stove, my back runs with sweat. Leaving my curtains completely open is usually a forgone conclusion on nights like this, but unfortunately this time the street lamp blaring into my room would display my naked bod for the world to see. You see, the power outage this time was quite avoidable. Pablo just ran out of time before paying this month's electrical bill.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last Day Back Home

On my last day in town, I mostly took it easy and hung around the house. In the evening while I packed, my friends Kris and Emily came by with their four-and-a-half-month-old son Henry who I hadn't yet gotten to meet since he was born after I had left. I was so glad to get a chance to see them, however brief and that they were able to join me, Amy, Jean, Kylee, Brie, and Mom for my last dinner in town. After eating, I had to scramble to do a last bit of packing before being whisked away to the airport by Mom.

Portland composts, and so do Mom and Rich: The container with the green lid contains
bio-degradable waste.

My week in Portland was like none I've ever spent before. Whereas a vacation is usually what you take to get away from your usual existence, this was a time for me to return to it. I had an opportunity few people ever get, to look at my life from outside of it; to step into the shoes I wore six months ago and see my world with eyes that are both the same and different. Over and over, I was struck by how good I have it. I have the best family and friends anybody could ever hope for! What did I do to deserve such a charmed life?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Free Geek, Sarita, and a Party with Dad and Mildred

When finally the day arrived that I was to pick up Heather's computers, I was browsing Facebook and noticed that there was a comment on my fellow volunteer Phil's Facebook wall from another volunteer named Sarah. She mentioned that she would be returning to the Dominican Republic in a week. I happened to know that she's from Portland and since the comment was only 7 minutes old, I turned on chat to see if she was there. Sure enough, we wound of chatting and I invited her to join me at Free Geek. It just worked out that my appointment there fit well into her schedule.

Mom stitches a new set of curtains for my apartment in Moca.

At Free Geek we were greeted by the friendly hardware grants person, Elizabeth, and taken to a conference room where we booted up all three laptops and tested out the power supplies. We talked about Linux and touched on Heather and my plans for the computers and picked up mouses, network cards, and carrying bags for each one. Elizabeth mentioned that Free Geek had two or three RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) on staff. We also learned that Elizabeth is on her way to England to get her PhD. I'm not sure, but it may have even been her last day!

Mom and I hike in one of Portland's many green areas that I sorely miss

That evening, I was spending more time with Dad and Mildred and it worked out to where I got to join them in Tualatin for Dad's birthday! It was at her neice, Amy's house where I had been last year during the holiday season at it was a joy to get to see everyone again. While I was there, I noticed Rigo, a shirttale relative, said "salud", when I sneazed. Though he spoke fluent English, I noted a hint of an accent which it turned out was Dominican! Needless to say, we had plenty to talk about both in English and Spanish.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Andrew, Cherry Tomatoes, and Stanich's

Andrew and I had a beer at the brewpub on the corner by his house and while we waited for Amy to join us, the conversation turned to composting. I mentioned that I knew a community compost pile a few blocks away maintained by a friendly neighbor. Andrew was interested, so we walked over to check it out. While we were there, the proprietor was working in her garden and, no doubt pleased at our vocal appreciation of her handiwork, offered us the cherry tomatoes growing on one of several enormous tomato plants in her garden. At her insistence, we picked it clean of perhaps two pounds of cherry tomatoes, observing that it still had remaining another full harvest at least of little green tomatoes waiting to ripen.

A double batch of Mom's legendary rhubarb cake

Back at the pub, Amy was waiting and while the three of us chatted and munched tomatoes, I coordinated with Steve and Adam to meet up at what turned out to be the former sports bar and greasy spoon called Stanich's a couple blocks off of Macadam near John's Landing. Altogether it was me, Amy, Adam, Steve, and Steve's girlfriend, Cat. I was glad to get some more time with all of them, having been in wedding mode during our time together before. With so much of the group living far away now, it made me reflect that I should have been taking more advantage of the time when we happened to live in more or less the same city.

Did I mention there was rhubarb cake?

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Good Times In Portland

The days that remained of my visit were another montage of warmth and happiness. I went to breakfast with Dad at the Hotcake House where we talked about important stuff before he took me shopping for some things I needed and couldn't find in the DR. Mom and I accidentally flooded the crawlspace when we plugged a utility sink that was in use as a drain for the washing machine and had take everything out. Luckily only a handful of my books and nothing else was ruined.

Amy trips out about Mom's flowers

I went on a hike from Terwilliger Boulevard to Council Crest with Mom and Rich one night before they dropped me at PRA with my buddy Mike who took me too this stellar brewpub that specializes in sour beer. There we met up with one of my other favorite people, his girlfriend, Saffron and they took me to see their awesome new house in Southeast. The next day, I finally managed to spend some time with my good friend, Andrew who it turns out has found an apartment next door to the City Bikes, bicycle coop about four blocks from where I used to live.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Wedding and the Reception

The night before Mom and Rich's wedding, I helped prepare for the reception at the Masonic lodge. The next day, in the afternoon, I went with Uncle Doug and Aunt Sheila four blocks from Mom and Rich's house to Sellwood Park where members of the Denman and Chapman families were waiting. Long-time family friend Brie took some photos and next thing I knew, Sheila was giving a speech about the bride and groom and they were reading one another their vows. It was a very simple wedding with only the twenty-odd family members in attendance. The things the two of them had to say to each other where touching, and as my eyes welled up, I couldn't help really feeling the sincerity and poignancy of the moment.

My dad, Elvin and my Stepfather, Rich hang out in Mom and Rich's yard

Next came the reception at the Masonic Lodge in Milwaukie where we were joined by beloved friends from several circles of Mom and Rich's lives including Mazamas, the camping and cabin groups. The bride and groom had asked in their invitation that guests who were so inclined perform something on-stage. Specifically, they asked for haikus, but the format was generally open. Cousin Julia MC'd the showcase which included songs many fun and heartfelt contributions. For my own part, I led everyone in a dinamica (a kind of activity used in Dominican education), a call and response chant called Ooh Ah Laylay.

Stepmother, Mildred and Mother, Julia converse while sister, Amy and Dad smile

After the performances, there was eating and toasts. From what I understand, the food was contributed by different guests potluck-style. It consisted of roast beef, pork, a variety of salads, an enormous fruit plate from Grandpa, and of course desserts by Bo. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. During several of the toasts, I got dragged upstairs into the photo booth Brie had set up. The photo booth was a blast, what a fun idea! I caught part of Grandpa's toast and all of Amy's. My favorite was probably Brie's with it's humorous use of shameless self-promotion.

Mom's flowers in front of a neighbor's house

Next, Brad Hoyt's band, Booth Dog took the stage and we all got our dance on until the early morn. Actually we only had the place rented until ten, but it was about 11:30 when I finally took my leave of the members of the camping group who were still hanging out in front of the building, stretching out the reunion.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hanging Out Back Home

No more had I arrived in Portland and checked my email than I learned from Heather in Juan Lopez that our grant proposal for an in-kind donation from Free Geek had been approved! I had to follow up with them, but first Heather wanted to talk to me. When I called her she told me they had gotten in touch and were prepared to send me home with three laptop computers! I immediately called their "grant shepherd", Elizabeth, who was able to schedule me to pick them up the day before I was to return to the DR.

Mom and Rich's patio and impressive 6-foot-tall bean patch

The next few days passed in the blink of an eye. Utterly, it was a barrage of wonderful privileges I have lived without for six months. Mom had made a double batch of her incredible rhubarb sour cream cake and had a case of fresh peaches in the kitchen waiting to be devoured. The freezer was stocked with ice cream and the pantry with Quaker Oat Squares. My sister, Amy took me to the Bridgeport brewpub in the pearl after I went book shopping at Powell's. I had an irresistible casserole made with local onions and tomatoes from Dad and Mildred's garden and I got to eat at Gustav's for Dad's birthday and see Mildred's sister and brother-in-law Clarie and David. I ate chile relleno. I skateboarded.

Yours truly at Powell's City of Books

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Getting Back To Portland

Monday morning I got a call from one of my favorite volunteers, Jose. It turned out he and his girlfriend, Magee were coming through Moca the next day on their way to the capital. Since I was headed that way as well, I couldn't resist catching the same bus as them and passing the three-hour trip catching up on the dwindling months of their service and trading bits of Peace Corps chisme (gossip). When we arrived at the Peace Corps office, it was full of October 2009 Volunteers who were in town for their COS (close of service) conference. Among those not COSing was Katie, a volunteer at the beginning of her second year, who was dealing with a security incident. She was getting her room at the Bella Epoca reimbursed and, per an agreement they have with the Peace Corps, she could fill the room's other bed for just 300 pesos (about $9 American), an offer she graciously extended to me.

Fellow volunteer Dave peruses my movie collection in the sala of my new apartment

After a pleasant night spent visiting with Katie and some reminiscent short-timers from the COS group, I rose early and made my way to the office where I was met by Wilson. Wilson gives volunteers rides to and from the airport at a great discount and he more than lived up to the glowing reviews given by everyone I talked to. I didn't notice as the half-hour drive flew by on account of his interesting stories and veritable charm. At the airport I was pleased to find that my visa excused me from paying the twenty-dollar tourist tax. I arrived at my gate with time to spare. Two flights and eleven sleepless hours later, I found myself at midnight in Portland.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making Friends in Moca Part 2

Aneudy's wife, Estefany is seven months pregnant. He told me it was going to be his first, so I was surprised when I met a little girl named Alayony at his house. He explained that his best friend had left her in his care while on tour in Puerto Rico with his basketball team. Unfortunately, an accident had befallen his friend from which he never recovered. "Alayony," it turns out, is a version of the name Hermione from the Harry Potter series.

Enormous grasshopper creature I found

After a short visit, we took to the road in their Carolla to drop off Alayony with an aunt, but were stopped short on a hill on the north side of town when the car ran out of gas. While Aneudy hiked to the gas station I had an opportunity to get to know Estafany a little better and I learned she is the niece of the couple who live across the street from my apartment.

Downpour at the clubhouse

Once again mobile, we dropped off Alayony and made our way to one of Moca's main intersections, in front of the Palacio de Justicia where we lounged in the patio of a place called Drink King and chatted until late.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Friends in Moca Part 1

On the bus from Santiago the night of the art show, I met a merchant from one of the local hospitals who expressed interest in my classes after I explained what I do. In Moca, I found myself on the walk from the market to house, talking to a rather personable young Doctor named Aneudy Rafael who cares for couple of patients in Santiago and commutes every day to his home in Moca.

Aneudy invited me to his home, and since the neighborhood it's in is generally safe and well-lit, I decided to see where the night would lead. It turns out his house is opposite the large open lot behind my house along which I ran every day during my time at the Henriquez house.

Inside my tiny bathroom

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Visit to Santiago Part 2

I decided to follow Mike, and after a few minutes in a colmado on Las Carreras I found myself in a hotel room with Ari, Tim R, Will, Mike, Ryan, and Tim D. After an hour or so of catching up and watching football, I managed to convince everyone to join me at the Centro Cultural where a member of Megan's host community was showing his paintings.

The view from the window of my new apartment

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the event was over. The paintings, abstract and expressionistic, were still open for viewing. Next to each of them were two or three titles, chosen by the hosts of the show, that had been submitted by people in attendance.

My little kitchen sink, counter and cupboard.

By the time we left, it was getting late. I had asked a fellow passenger on the bus into town and learned that the last bus for Moca left Santiago at 7:00. When I looked at my watch it was a little later than 6:30. So, after a hasty goodbye, I briskly walked the five blocks to where the first Moca bus first stops en route to my home town.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Visit to Santiago Part 1

It was Saturday and thus a day for scouts, except one of them had lost his father recently and so the caminantes (teenaged scouts) left early the attend the funeral. I too left early because I had an art show to attend in Santiago.

The start time was officially 3pm and since the last time I arrived on time I ended up waiting two hours for the art show to start, I decided to get there some time around five. At about 4:30 I found myself on Avenida 30 de Mayo making my way toward Calle Del Sol when the trajectory of my evening took an unexpected turn.

Coming in my direction was Mike, an AT (Appropriate Technologies) volunteer who I hadn't seen since July. Mike had found himself in Santiago following a training on how to build ecologically-friendly latrines. He explained that five others were waiting in a nearby hotel while he made a run for soda.

Calendar of scout activities. Examples include "Nature Path" and "Fire Prevention"

Friday, September 9, 2011

Signing The Lease

The first dribbles of Tropical Storm Irene splatter from the sky as Pablo and I roll up to an office building in downtown Moca. Pablo's attorney, Rosa, has a small air-conditioned office at the end of a second-floor corridor lined with doors labeled with names of different licensiados and doctorados. As she labors over the changing of names and details on a boilerplate lease agreement, I wonder vaguely how hard it could be to get lawyer's credentials in this country and what lifestyle it would afford me.

Scouts learn to type with hand-covers made from latex glove boxes gathered at the hospital

The lease is remarkably similar to the other three I've signed in my lifetime. There is a clause against subletting, a clause against pets. A modest penalty is imposed if I am late paying rent. Pablo says he'll give me five days grace before he enforces it. Fortunately, the payment falls two days after my paycheck always arrives.

Completed surveys from my community diagnostic

The rest of the day, Pablo runs me around Moca for free. While the rain becomes progressively harder, I buy some essentials for my new apartment, window curtains, shower curtain, pillow. When we eat at a local comedor, I insist on picking up the check. Pablo, it turns out, has more than one iron in the fire. In the mornings he works as a motoconchista. At night he cleans at Megatone, a local shopping center I go to for wifi and beer from time to time. In addition, he manages eight apartments and four pensiones (rooms without kitchens) in the building where he and I live. The landlady is a school teacher who lives in Miami. I wonder how much she knows of what goes on here.

Henriquez kitten nurses

The building where I live housed an escuela de primer nivel, an elementary school called CEPBIEN before it was moved across the street. I mentioned to Pablo my interest in farming the empty lot adjacent to it and the very next day he told he'd gotten us permission to plant there! I wonder what it will be like to be a sharecropper in the DR. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Las Lagunas Again

Professor Juan has me in checkmate. I started strong, but gave up my queen in a clumsy move early on that drained what interest I had in the match. Juan is one of the more interesting characters I've met so far in the Peace Corps. He's spent much of his life in the military and much of our chess match using the board as a visual aid in his explanations of dominoes strategy and how that game offers insight into the Dominican mindset. He says that at Dominican chess tournaments, players use signals to help their teammates play. It's yet another example of tigueraje, a catch-all term for a Dominican doing whatever it takes to get what he or she wants and to hell with the rules.

Juan clearly has respect for the rules, though, and for sportsmanship. Sabrina explained that he comes to this school in her site every Sunday to teach chess just because. There is another man who is teaching music and Sabrina and I sit in and watch. I came out to Las Lagunas last night to celebrate with her and Masa my new freedom.

In conversation with Masa, I learned he and I ran in the same circles at Oregon State during the time we were both there (he enrolled as an undergrad like me in 2002 and continued in grad school there until 2008), and I even had a radio show adjacent to Glitter Bomb, the one he shared with his best friend whose name I dropped when remembering KBVR people. I also knew of his drag persona, having been loosely connected to the OSU drag show scene. We even went to the same parties and yet somehow we had failed to connect during those five years.

At the school, having been beat by Juan, I watch music lessons for a few more minutes and take my leave of him and Sabrina. As always, it has been a welcome respite to come out here and get away. As ride home I am pleased to think how soon I will be able to return the favor.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Moving Out Part 3

The Prior tenant moved out days ago. While I am checking it out, another party, a mother and three daughters, come to see it as well. Pablo says they are the third to come look today. The mother balks at the fixed utility cost, complaining that it is too high. Compared to Portland utilities, it is a dream come true, even on my income. As soon as she leaves, I tell Pablo I'll rent it. We go to an ATM, I withdraw three months' rent (first and last month plus lawyer's fee), and Pablo hands over the keys. I am glad I have pinched every penny possible since the beginning of March. Even after this hefty payment I am little worse for the wear.

Back at the clubhouse I tell Pablo Ovalles that I've found a new home and that I'd like to move in as soon as possible. He tell me he can haul my stuff there today. Back in my old room, the fan has chosen this moment to break down again. I cram into bags and backpacks everything that hasn't already been made ready to move, suffusing my shirt and jeans with sweat in the process. Outside it has begun to rain, and by the looks of me you would think I was out in it.

A handful of caminantes (teen-aged scouts) files in and leaves with my things, piling them in the back of Pablos pickup. We pull away from the clubhouse and I breathe a sigh of relief. I am no longer outstaying my welcome. I have a place to call my own.

Scouts take a class on WordPress

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Moving Out Part 2

While I wait, I call Sabrina. Her sunny greeting breaks me in two. I have to tell her I can't come with her and Masa to the beach. They are taking advantage of the weekend the precedes a trip to the capital and I had hoped to come along, but I can't afford to miss any housing opportunities. She is understanding and sympathetic, but it hurts all the same. Volunteers like her and Masa won't be around forever. They arrived a year before me and will be gone by next summer.

Jose and Oswaldo hang at the clubhouse

Because it's Saturday, the scouts have their activities at the clubhouse. It is a welcome refuge from my home life and I take advantage of the opportunity to announce my upcoming class schedule and plead my case with Pablo Ovalles, leader of the Moca scouts. He says that he will try to help me find a temporary home while I continue to seek housing, but I am doubtful. An hour or so into the scout meeting, I run home for my camera and am greeted by the other Pablo, who now has a key and wants to show me the apartment.

A chart of scout activities planned out through December

The second-floor apartment in Los Cácares is very humble. A thin wooden wall divides, more or less evenly, a space 16 feet deep and 14 feet wide. A tiny, doorless bathroom (5.5 x 3.5 feet) has been fashioned in a corner of the bedroom out of the same concrete blocks as the floor, ceiling and walls. The kitchen consists of a small plywood counter with a tiny sink that leaks. Nonetheless, I am impressed. All the light switches work and the place smells like fresh paint. Furthermore, the price is right.