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.