Thursday, July 21, 2011

Scout Camp Part 1

The morning of the sixth, after packing in a fury the last of my clean clothes the night before, I went to the gym for one last workout before four days at camp in Jamao De Norte. The aerobics instructor was a guy I had never seen before and he really worked us. He must have found my shorts too revealing or something, though, because when we did the floor routine afterwards, he pulled my towel out from under me and laid across my front from my hips downward. WTF?

Back home I discovered, true to form, that everyone else had heard some news I hadn't. However new developments with the scouts are conveyed, it is a mystery to me; I've never receieved any communique or witnessed one being passed along. And yet, every so often when I proceed according to some schedule I am informed matter-of-factly that it has changed and there is some new plan. The effect of this is doubly confusing considering I've had my class schedule displayed prominently for weeks and have addressed the group in person many times concerning my plans and my agenda and yet and I still often get approached with questions about whether or not I'll be having class on the wrong day or when I plan to begin teaching English.

Anyways, the news on the afternoon of the sixth was that the trip had been postponed indefinitely due to bad weather. Supposedly, we would hear from Pablo the new plan during the regularly-scheduled Saturday scout meeting that week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Independence Day Part 5

The next morning I happened into the other hotel on my way out of town and managed to catch Michelle as she was leaving. The two of us caught a public pickup out of town that also picked up a trio of other volunteers and the five of us chatted about WWOOFing and about Yachts on the trip into Samana. Since I had a couple of hours to kill, I decided to accept an invitation from Michelle to go to her tiny hotel on the hillside where she made me some polenta and we talked about our lives and philosophies while taking in her incredible view of the bay.

View from the beach at La Galera (photo by Laura Lehman)

As I waited in town for my bus back to Moca, a bus to the capital rolled up containing Phil, Adam, Amanda and Dory. The pleaded for me to join them, and though I badly wished I could, I had plans to leave the next morning for scout camp.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Independence Day Part 4

On the fourth itself, it rained like cats and dogs. In the morning I made my way over to Jose's house where the party was going strong. I had supplied the house with my travel edition of settlers of Catan and I arrived just as they were making ready to begin a game! They paired me with Carl who had never played before and over the course of perhaps a couple hours while we played I tutored him. Carl was a quick study and I think we made a good team even though we didn't win. It didn't matter to me, I was just drunk on the good vibe thrilled to be part of the group.

I was there for hours just playing settlers, and then hanging out in the living room not doing much of anything. It just felt so good to be "off duty" and surrounded by people I love. During a break in the rain, we all made our way down to the road the led to the beach. Having little dry clothing left, and feeling a need for a break from socializing, I opted to hole up in my hotel room when the rain picked up. After a little while, though, I caved and made my way alone down the road which had been transformed into a muddy mess, shin-deep in water in places. When I arrived I found people playing volleyball and football in the driving rain while others stuck to the refuge of the giant, two story cabana we had taken over for the day. Try as I did, I couldn't muster the same enthusiasm for the cozy house scene from before and when several people from there headed back to dry out and regroup, I went with.

Volunteers playing football in the rain (image by David Richie)

There were those among us that night who seriously considered skipping the beach party, but eventually we braved the mud and rain and got to business dancing making merry. Michelle was there and refused a second time to dance with me, but I at least got to hear some interesting island stories and more details about her life. I spent a little while on the dancefloor but something about the music or the lighting or my lack of liquid courage kept me from reclaim the glory of prom.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Independence Day Part 3

A couple of different volunteers had basically booked up entire hotels there in La Galera. I had thrown my lot in with one of them, Charles, only to find when I arrived, that my roommates weren't coming until the 4th and I was going to have to sleep on the floor in another room so we could save money. After a few warm reunions at the beach and dip in the ocean, however, I came across Zenia who said she had a room for me with Christina, Erin, and Sabine and I wouldn't have to sleep on the floor. After another stretch at the beach including a round of touch football that had me goring my knee, I made my way over to a house Jose and many others had rented in a gated community off the main road. Jose had enlisted the help of a small team including Heather and Carl and was busy making barbeque skewers and baking chicken for everyone.

Another mini-VAC pic.

After marinating in the warm atmosphere and sharing a good while with Phil, Rodrigo, Adam, Magee, and others, it was time to hit the club. At La Galera's single dance club bachata and merengue blared and volunteers staked out a good quarter of the club sitting in big circles and sharing 30-ounce bottles of Presidente. I made the rounds and  after several tries only convinced once girl, Claire, to dance with me. Deciding to cut my losses, I bought a beer and started chatting with a friend of Amanda's, a girl from the Czech Republic named Michelle. It turned out Michelle had decided to come to the DR to follow up on a connection she had made while doing graduate research on a remote island off the coast of Honduras. Now she was waiting for the whale season to begin and thus to become a guide on a whale-watching boat. After another hour or so, I decided to head back to my room. Luckily, Sabine was still awake to let me in. I think we were both pretty stoked to have one-another's company and ended up chatting until the wee hours.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Independence Day Part 2

Just as I was preparing to feild statements like "we should kill all the faggots," I was rescued. The friendly bus man alerted me that I would possibly have a ride in a minute, at which point he proceeded to run out into the middle of the highway to stop an oncoming minivan bus. I grabbed my bag and hustled out after him, dodging traffic as I went. To my surprise, as I approach the van a hand jutted out the window in the familiar finger-wag gesture that means "no" and a voice said "NO GRINGOS!" Then the door rolled open to reveal a grinning Jose (fellow volunteer and boyfriend of Magee who I visited back in May). As shuffled into the packed van, I heard a delighted chorus of, "Charlie!" and I turned to see a bunch of smiling, familiar faces. It turned out I had happened upon the same bus as about ten of my favorite volunteers along with the usual complement of Dominicans.

A dead woodpecker that showed up one day at the clubhouse

For about three hours, the landscape unfolded in stages before us on the road ahead, by turns urban and rural. We went through pastures and over rivers, though stretches of thick forest and rows of stores and houses. During a stretch of rice paddies, the sky opened up and dumped buckets of rain. As we approached the coast the sun came out and palms began to mix in with the flora until on both sides, they were all I could see. We passed vast orchards of coconut trees containing enormous estates with high walls. In Samana, the road flattened along a waterfront situated on a long bay, enclosed by bridges connecting a string of little islands perhaps half a mile out. After another half-hour of rolling hills we found ourselves at the easternmost tip of the Samana peninsula in La Galera de Samana.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Independence Day Part 1

On the morning of the third after a typically epic Dominican breakfast, I set out for the bus stop. After nearly two months immersed in the culture of the suburbs of Moca, I was ready for a dose of America. The next couple of days had been planned in Samana as a celebration of Independence Day and a time for volunteers to get together, to party, and to relax at the beach. Although I had heard conflicting reports, Flor was adamant that I had best catch a big capital bus and get off in El Pino.

Unfortunately, I left my camera at home. Here's a pic of the cat right before
giving birth. She was laying in the funniest position.

I did as he said and El Pino, it turned out, was little more than a colmado and a gas station alongside the highway. Luckily, there happened to be a friendly stranger with a stack of inter-city bus business cards about two inches thick. He had me charge up my phone and proceeded to call three different drivers. Sadly it seemed I would be there until late afternoon according to what he was told. I bought some junk food and settled in for the wait, making idle conversation with some curious bystanders.

Here's a pic from a little while back during my mini-VAC (Volunteer
Advisory Council) regional meeting

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the conversation took the same unsettling turn I've noticed it relatively often does in this country. I don't know what it is about me that invites this kind of talk, perhaps it's my visible discomfort at being invited to regard a woman in the same fashion as one regards a well-bred horse, or the fact that I'm well into my baby-making years and still mysteriously without a wife or at least a child. Maybe it's just normal conversation between men here, but I find the topic of homosexuality, particularly where it's supposed immorality is concerned, comes up startlingly often.