Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Striking Out On Apartments

My latest foray into apartment searching began with a friendly old man named Jose who had greeted me from behind his fence on a main road in the suburbs when he saw me wandering in and out of side streets. Jose flagged down a motoconchista (motorcycle taxi driver) named Kachu who showed me a house of which his cousin's family had recently rented the second floor for five thousand pesos a month. He gave me his phone number and promised to get a hold of the house's landlady, a lawyer named Carmen. Three days, and two phone calls later, I was on the back of his motoconcho as he went on a wild goose chase to find her.

We went to an apartment building and then two different office buildings, but it wasn't until four hours later that I found myself sitting in Carmen's well-appointed apartment discussing the places she had for rent. Between pedantic explanations of proper pronoun usage and reflections on the Peace Corps during the Balaguer administration, Carmen explained that the building had two units priced at 6,000 pesos and 7,500 pesos. I sat and listened while she talked at length about the Jehovah's Witness missionaries she adored, hoping I could finesse a drop in price. Sadly, just like everyone else I've talked to, she wouldn't budge.

Under different circumstances this process would be tolerable. Had I begun three months ago, I would probably even enjoy it. But the fact is, I needed to move five days ago and I don't have time to listen to stories about missionaries or wait for calls from husbands the United States. When you add to this the fact that nobody at Peace Corps or in my community seems to want to do much to help me, it's not hard to see why quitting is beginning to look rather attractive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Searching For Apartments

Five days have gone by since I paid Flor to keep him from insisting that I move out right away. Since then, I've looked at three apartments, all outside my price range. The one prospect I had last week, a second-floor apartment in La Milagrosa, seems to be slipping away. The landlady told me there is someone before me in line for it and she is waiting on a phone call from her husband in New York. She was waiting to hear from him two weeks ago.

Looking for an apartment in Moca is not like looking for an apartment in Portland. The is no Craigslist and no newspaper. You just have to go walking around looking for "For Rent" signs and asking people you meet if they know of any places that are available. In the Dominican Republic, nobody ever wants to admit to not knowing something, so I'm constantly given bad information which I have no choice but to investigate on the off chance that the person who gave it to me knew what he or she was talking about

Friday, August 26, 2011

Not Welcome Part 4

Although the circumstances of my situation today are different, the feelings are very much the same. First, there is the resentment. Once again I am shelling out my own precious money-about one-fifth of this month's check-in order to protect my interests and keep the peace. Then there is the vague panic of needing to secure my living situation and not having enough time.

And finally there's pity and disgust. It was hard to feel any anger against my old roommate when I considered how completely clueless she was. Likewise, with Flor I struggle to summon any ire. He is confused and yet to appear so in his culture is to show weakness. A man in his nineties, he is head of a household of seven people and it's beginning to look like it was against his better judgement to have me be an eighth. If only he had told me this the day I arrived...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Not Welcome Part 3

Given the circumstances, it's hard not to reflect on the last time I overpaid my rent to avoid being forced to move. It was less than a year ago. My roommate at the time reneged on five hundred dollars for which she and I were "jointly and severally liable", meaning if one of us didn't cover it, the other was still on the hook. Her parents picked that moment to stop bailing her out and it made little difference to her whether the money came out of her deposit or my pocket; she moving soon anyway.

I was already looking for a third roommate at the time, and the difference for me was one of having to find one more person to sign the lease or two. I reasoned that a clean housing record was worth those five hundred dollars and more. At any rate, it was a swift education in how quickly you can find yourself protecting your landlord's investment in order to save your own hide.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Not Welcome Part 2

Flor wanted me moved out by today. His son, who owns the house where he and I live, wants to use the room I'm renting. The problem is that I didn't know this until two weeks ago. In fact, before then I was under the impression that, like many of my peers, I was welcome to stay indefinitely. But I knew something was wrong the moment he sat me down at the end of July and began telling me, "Our agreement was that you would stay for three months..."

The truth is, Flor and I never had any agreement. Volunteer housing was arranged between him and Peace Corps before the Peace Corps position in his community was given to me. I don't know what exchange takes place between host families and Peace Corps before a volunteer arrives, but whatever the typical arrangement may be, it doesn't often lead to the volunteer being asked to leave his or her host home after the first three months. Unfortunately, for me this isn't the case.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Not Welcome Part 1

"So now I'm paid up through the end of August," I half-ask as I hand Don Flor the second half of my rental payment for the next fifteen days. I've just run to the bank for the second time in three days because Flor insisted I pay the whole three thousand and not fifteen hundred for just a week like we'd discussed.

"No," Flor responds, "now you're paid up through today." I cringe. This is what I was afraid of. I haven't been keeping records, but I have paid every first and fifteenth since I arrived, including the one payment Peace Corps gave me to deliver at the beginning of May when first I came to visit my site, a couple of weeks before moving in. He insists that I have not been paying for my room in advance, even after I try reminding him of that first payment. Rather than ask him what he thought the first payment was for, I decided not to press the issue. To do so would likely only aggrevate an already stressful situation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scout Camp Part 5

Back at camp, the day of the hike, a storm descended on the camp. It reminded me of one time many years ago when I was hiking through an alpine valley in the Pacific Northwest when the sky opened up and unleashed a torrential downpour. Thunder struck so close that you could hear its deafening crack before the rolling boom of the thunder. Having enclosed everything in plastic bags inside my backpack before leaving for the camping trip and pulled everything away from the sides of the tent, which was covered by a rain fly and a tarp, I was in pretty good shape, hunkered down and reading, when I learned from another camper that the scouts' tents were collapsing.

It wasn't long before I was helping to fold up tents and haul sopping sleeping bags and clothing to the still-covered general area so they could be staged for an emergency exit. We ate a hasty meal while still working and near dusk, the bus that had brought the scouts arrived and they marched in single file back onto it and took them down the road. The rain slowed to a drizzle as we loaded the Pablo's pickup with what remained of the kitchen before loading on all the scout's gear. By the time we got on the road in the back of Pablo pickup, it was after dark. With the rush of cold air cutting through my clothing and the glare of headlights aching in my brain, the ride back quickly turned miserable.

Back at the clubhouse there was still worked to do before we could go home. With the Daihatsu pulled up in the rain on the far side of the basketball court, we formed a chain, handing off unloaded items, from one person to the next up to the covered area. While we sorted things out and scouts rummaged around to find their bags, parents trickled in to hear their harrowing tails and take them home. Finally, when all had been unloaded and I was satisfied I had helped enough, I went home, happy to once again sleep in my bed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Scout Camp Part 4

On day three, I rose to a perturbed Katia. It turns out I was supposed to join the caminantes for morning exercise. I was to go run a lap of the pasture by myself at once. I returned to find the caminantes involved in a lesson they were recieving from Pablo on compasses and maps. They were preparing for a hike! This was exactly the kind of thing I had daydreamed about for days since I first gazed out over the hills and valleys on to Miches from El Seibo. After a filling a discarded coke bottle with water changing into long pants, I rode with the rest of the hikers to the place Pablo had planned the beginning of out hike. Armed with a map, compass, and GPS, we set out across the pasture.

The hike was like something out of a dream. While there was no persistent trail, we picked up and lost little tracks through the grass the whole way through. We forded the river at a place where it was about knee deep and came over a heavily forested rise into rivine carved by a smaller, secondary waterway. From there it was about a hundred yards straight uphill after which we were treated to a breathtaking panoramic view that included the pasture from which we had come. For another couple of hours we hiked over rolling hills, shimmying under the occasional barbed wire fence. Finally we came upon a road that would lead us back to Jamao and began to follow it. About halfway there, Pablo arrived in his pickup and took us back to camp. When I think of it now, it's amusing how quickly the notion of riding with 10-plus kids in the back of a pickup truck has become normal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Scout Camp Part 3

The next morning was devoted to the cultural appreciation portion of the camping trip. The theme this year was South Africa and every troop had prepared a traditional South African dish and put on South African costumes. One by one, I went around with Pablo and Katia and some of the other caminantes and watched as each troop recited facts they'd memorized about South Africa and told about the food they had prepared. Meanwhile the caminantes did an activity where they had to build a fire and cook eggs, potatoes, and plantains without using and pots, pans, or utensils.

Next it was time for lunch, after which we all went down to the river, where Flavia gave everyone a lesson in lifeguarding and water safety. That evening, we had "Patrulla con Ritmo" (Troop with Rhythm) where each troop got up and gave musical performances they had planned and practiced. Right as it was beginning, I took a call from Sabine that wound up lasting about an hour and a half. Luckily, there was a four-way tie and I arrived just in time to watch all four finalists give encore performances so the judges could pick a winner.

Upon my arrival, it was announced that I had to dance in front of everyone. They even had a saying along the lines of "If you want to join us you have to dance." Luckily this is not a problem for me. Alvaro and Flavia laid down a rhythm and I proceeded to get down with my bad self to the delight cheers and laughter of all. Near the end of the evening, the scouts worked themselves into a frenzy again. They now insisted that I sing for them. This time I was at a bit of a loss. After a few minutes deliberation, I settle on "Summertime", an old standard I had learned years ago in high school choir. I decided to put on a show, playing up the jazz singer schtick and throwing in hand gestures and even a bit of soft-shoe. It was a hit. Everybody went nuts. Some of the kids began calling me "el cantante" (the singer) and peppering me with questions about my favorite music.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scout Camp Part 2

The next morning as I returned from the gym, I was surprised to learn from Pablo that the trip was back on. At about 12:30 in the afternoon, packing reached full swing, with tents, and stoves and other equipment being hauled out of storage and put into the bed of a Daihatsu Dyna truck. As scouts arrived, their bags were staged in the covered area. The bags were piled high atop the gear in the Daihatsu and covered in a hurry with tarps against momentary, heavy rain. The scouts themselves all piled into a 50-seater bus while I got in the back of Pablo's pickup with the food and a few of the caminantes (older scouts who participate in different activities).

The road to Jamao goes through San Victor and a up a montain to La Cumbre, a high village with some enticing little hotels and restaurants, from there, you follow a ridge for a couple of hours through a number of tiny communities clinging to steep slopes on either side that give way to spactacular mountainscape and awe-inspiring views. Just after we passed through a little settlement called Palo Roto, we descended a slope and doubled back 150 degrees onto a dirt road into an open valley. For a stretch, we followed a river and then, left the road and went through a hole in a barbed-wire fence into a broad pasture flanked by a strip of forest that enclosed the river. This was to be our campground.

Everyone marched in single file and broke into their various troops, proceeding to set up their tents and drape over them tarps to protect against rain. Late in the afternoon, they held opening ceremonies including a prayer and the raising of the Scout Group 8 flag and the Dominican Flag. At dusk everyone hopped into a shallow part of the river to bathe in the rain and then it was time for dinner. Strangely, at this point, I could barely keep my eyes open and so, retired to my tent before I had a chance to partake of the evening activity.