Tuesday, October 26, 2010


There was a point at which I stopped knowing if the traffic here is bad or not. I mean, it is. Of course it is. It’s insanity, but somewhere, somehow I have become used to it. And yet, this adaptation does not make my morning and evening commute any easier. We live about 5.5 miles from my office. Every morning it takes me anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to work. On the way home it’s the same. I put on my music. I take a deep breath. I don’t get angry at the crazy drivers (I am really, really, really used to it). I suck it up. It’s life. I make the drive. But I don’t like it.

The other day I had this realization that in DC I won’t have a commute. And, it seems from what we know so far, we won’t have much of one in Antananarivo either. It dawned on me recently that this makes me very happy. Clearly evidence that the commute has been taking its toll. I love it here…but the traffic…

And then, almost bizarrely and purely by chance things have fallen into place in such a way that suddenly both my morning and evening commute times have been cut in half. I didn’t really get how much I felt the commute sucking away minutes of my day until, out of nowhere, I am spending 25-30 minutes in the car in the morning and 30-35 in the evening. I could pinch myself. In the world of Santo Domingo traffic it’s like a dream. How could this be happening? How could I have wasted so much time in the car if these alternate routes were possible? I knew these roads existed so why didn’t I ever think of trying them?

Anyway, no need to dwell. The new morning route was a chance suggestion from a colleague and for the evening route I can credit an especially laid-back taxi driver. Of course, I can’t go back and reclaim all those minutes I sat in traffic, but I can stay in awe of this new journey. I can sing a little louder in the morning having found it and take my last sips of coffee at my desk rather than downing the last cold dregs to the tune of blaring horns with a good 20 minutes left to go. And, best of all, I can come home, be with my family, eat dinner and just be.

And, I still have one whole year to get to drive this way! I feel this somehow brings home the countdown. The clock is ticking now. Everyday this becomes more and more home, more comfortable, more figured-out, more easy …and everyday we start to move closer to making it the past. Wow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in a Bottle

Wanna’ freak out an Embassy person? Tell them the water they’re drinking is tap water!

I run around with my Peace Corps crowd and find my job to be a wonderfully perfect fit for me. I’ve roughed it around the world here and there. I’ve been to some of the poorest countries in the world and to the richest. I get the difference. I’ve been there poor and been there with a few bucks to my name. I’m not usually bothered by dirt, crowds, petty crime, germs. I feel here I do a pretty good job of navigating the differences...right? Well, I like to think so anyway. At heart I’m more of the Peace Corps type, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me.

So, it is with great shame that I admit that even after drinking three glasses of delicious, crystal clear, cool water on a hot day, I could not bring myself to finish the fourth after I found out it was tap water. The conversation went something like this:

Peace Corps volunteers and I: chit-chat, chit-chat, chit-chat..etc, etc.

Peace Corps volunteer #1: I remember when we were here for training some people got parasites and the med unit determined it was likely from drinking the botellon (botelled) water.

[picture me with my glass, taking a drink, scrunching up my nose, “What does she mean?”]

Peace Corps Volunteer #2: Ya’ I’ve heard that. The people who drink the botellon up here tend to get sick more easily that those who drink the tap water.

[me, lowering my glass…silence]

Me: What do you mean?

PCV #2: The tap water is safe up here, but the botellon is more likely to be contaminated because maybe it’s not being filled with good water…you know brought in from somewhere else, or something.

[me, still holding my glass, paralized]

PCV #2: This is tap water.

Me: Really? [my words come out in a rasping squeek…worry, worry, worry]

PCV#2: Ya’ it’s safe.

Me: But, you guys are probably used to it. I have only had bottled water since I got here. In the entire year I’ve been here! Only. Botellon. Water.

PCV#2: No, you would know already if you were going to get sick. It’s fine.

I totally thought I was going to have a panic attack. I was imagining how I was going to continue my workday and then get home if I ended up with a parasite. I was trying to determine how exactly I would “know already” if I was going to get sick. I was thirsty, but I could not finish my glass of crystal clear, mountain spring water. I was officially a loser.

I feel like I have crossed a land that no Embassy person would ever dare tread. And, I’m fine. There’s no need to be dramatic I guess. It’s just water. But, it really reminds me that in this life, the FS life, the expat life, the “What in the world are they eating!” life, the “I have more frequent flier miles than I will likely every have money in my bank account” life, we can never really know what we think we know. There’s always gonna’ be someone, or something, to come along and shake things up. As soon as we think we know…we don’t.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Yesterday was my birthday – my 34th. I share it with John Lennon – I pretty much believe that sharing a birthday with John Lennon is fabulously awesome. Maybe because John’s life was ended so tragically and because I sometimes wonder what he would be doing (and thinking) today if he hadn’t been killed, I frequently find myself reflecting on my birthday.

Being in the FS lends itself to a high degree of reflection. There are lots of anniversaries in the Foreign Service – the day you took the written exam, the day you took the oral exam, the day you got the call, your first flag day, your first day at your first post, etc. etc. Even as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, I feel a large part of my life revolves around these dates – because, of course, we’re in the Foreign Service. It’s a family affair. Oh, and as far as reflection goes, birthdays are just good times to reflect.

My birthday neatly coincides with our first week here. We left DC last year on October 14th and arrived in Santo Domingo on October 17th (no, it wasn’t a three day flight, my husband had consultations in San Juan).

So, yesterday I was doing some thinking about how we ended up here. What we thought when we first arrived. What our next (and final) year in Santo Domingo will be like. I was wondering, if I could go back five years and tell myself this is where I’d be, would I believe myself? Yes. Ten years? Absolutely. Fifteen. Probably…although I would have had a lot of questions about how (being nineteen was a rough time for me). Twenty years ago? No question. Honestly, I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t envision myself traveling the world. When we were home this summer the boys discovered the book below on my mom’s shelf. This was my favorite book as a child. It’s about a boy who ties a rubber band to his bedpost and travels around the world and beyond.
The book makes me think about the places we go and the ties we create. We have seen many friends arrive here after us and already hugged a few goodbye. We’ve gone home and seen friends and family and come back here, happy to return to our new friends. With all the possibilities laid out before us the world seems so big. With all the connections we’ve made, it also seems small.

Hmmmm…admittedly, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. Perhaps just to this point, to note some things I believe now that I may not have known last year (or maybe knew, but didn’t take much time to think about). Things like:
  • Be yourself and be kind. Have good intentions. They rest will fall into place. Don’t worry if someone doesn’t want to hang out with you. Focus on the people with whom you share a mutual interest.
  • There’s not really a place in the Foreign Service for contempt. You’re in a foreign country. It’s different. Remember that and move on.
  • Have good days and bad days. It’s no big deal. It’s normal.
  • Don’t worry so much about your kids. They’ll be fine. Kids are amazing. Be present with them. A loving home is a loving home, no matter where you are.
  • Skype. Facebook.
  • Dance. Listen to new music. Meet new people. Throw parties. Do simple things. Realize you’re free (or can be) from the American burden of having to “have.”
  • Laugh at yourself and the crazy things you see (or eat…or hear). This really is tremendous blessing that will pass before you know it.
  • You had this dream. Now live it.
  • Hope all of the above for the people you encounter. Despite the perks, the Foreign Service life is not always perfectly easy (although I’d never trade it). Give people a break. Smile.
And, you know, remember a little John Lennon for good measure – “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”


Sunday, October 3, 2010

We speak...?

When our oldest was about 18 months old someone gave him a chocolate lollipop. A few weeks later I was making chocolate chip cookies and he asked me for a “chocolickter.” I had no idea what he was talking about…until he pointed to the bag of chocolate chips. I always associated this with the lollipop – something chocolate that you lick – a “chocolickter!” The name stuck. I have a horrific sweet tooth and have learned (with time and patience) to satisfy it by giving myself about 20 chocolate chips after dinner. I might ask my husband, “Do you want some chocolikters?” or our oldest (who is now almost 5) will say, “Can I have chocolickters for dessert?”

Now our youngest is two-and-a-half. For some reason, he can’t say chocolikters. He calls them “choconilders.” So, when we talk to him, we call them choconilders. It has become part of our family vocabulary.

I think this is probably true with all families, but I see it being especially true for Foreign Service families because of the language mishmash. Jeremy and I had a handful of foreign words we used before the boys even came along. Two of our favorite words came from our time in Japan – “iinaka” for countryside (which has now totally been changed to campo) and “benri” for convenient. I especially love benri. We use it like, “Do you just want to stop and pick something up to eat on the way? It would probably be more benri.”

We also both tend to use the word “cheers” at the end of phone conversations – this is left from our time working in Belfast (and Jeremy’s Bunac days in London after college). And, then we have the ever-increasing Spanish. Now we even say things like, “Podemos ir a Jumbo (that’s the supermarket near us) and pick up some dinner. That would be mas benri.” The list goes on and on.

And then, we top it off with all of the abbreviations – both from State and Peace Corps. HHE, UAB, PCV, CBT, COS… WOW!

I sometimes wonder if our boys will even know the English words for things. More and more I just say this gobble of words from different places and trust that it makes sense…at least to the FS people.

I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get far back home with something like this (which will be an actual accounting of my Tuesday evening this week), “Since I’m going to be in Constanza on Wednesday doing the CBT charlas with the PCTs and since the Newmans are coming over for dinner after their HHE gets picked up, maybe we should just pedir a pizza or something.” Sounds like an evening to me…adding, of course, a dessert of chocolickters…or choconilders that is.