Friday, May 20, 2011

Life Goes On...and On...and On

Wow…I had such plans for blogging. And, I pretty much have been, but not here. We have a family blog and somehow right now that seems to be where my energies are. Life in the Foreign Service starts to seem so normal I wonder if there’s much to write about. Then, I see all the stuff that is definitely NOT normal…or that I never envisioned I would consider to be normal…and I think there’s just too much to write about.

I went through a phase this spring of feeling like my life was not in my hands. I’ve spent time abroad before, but never this long; and although I love it here, this was a phase of culture shock I had not anticipated. I realize now that it’s not just the living abroad, the feeling of being mildly left out of the decisions of my own life is Foreign Service Culture Shock. I worked as a social worker with immigrant children in the States and I remember drawing out the culture shock cycle on a piece of scratch paper for them. I would explain that the fact that they were young, couldn’t speak the language and, often, undocumented made their culture shock all the more complicated. I should have remembered this for myself….not that I’m any of those things, but you know what I mean. Culture shock is a guide – each individual, crazy life changes the cycle. In the end, it’s not much a cycle at all…more like your sh** just dumped randomly out of your suitcase.

Anyway, I needed time for reflection…and time to assess what was and was not within my power.

Work stress? Definitely within my power – it was time to reevaluate my priorities. I feel I did so successfully and things are much more under control.

Learning French? What the hell - I’ll learn it or I won’t, but I will give it my best shot – AFTER my huge work event ends in early June.

Firing the guy who does a really bad job of cleaning our pool? Well, here’s where I have a hard time with the pity party I throw for myself…because…well…we have a pool. But, you know what, if I can’t hang my own pictures on the wall or call whomever I want to fix my leaky faucet, then I am damn sure going to fire that guy and figure out the freakin’ pool by myself. So, through a bit of insanity…and, I won’t deny tears, I got the pool ungreen, learned how to prime the pump and test for and add chemicals. Seriously, I am almost as proud of this as I am of the fact that my kids are polite 80% of the time.

And, the list goes on. It was a crazy spring. I spent my week in the US feeling like I was in a total bubble. By the last few days I felt like the break from Santo Domingo had been good. By the time we got back I was ready to be home…this home – here.

And, now we are five months from D-Day. We have put up a calendar on the wall where we mark our plans – the beaches still left to visit and the normal every day things that must get done in the midst of it….that might include blogging here…it might not. I guess we’ll see.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Final Quarter Begins...almost...but first some tacos

It’s after 10:00 PM, I’m exhausted and yet I feel like I just cannot let another day pass without blogging. We have been so, so busy, it’s difficult to find even a few minutes to get things down. We’ve had the normal busy stuff – a visit from the in-laws, a three-year-old with a broken arm (with two boys and an accident prone husband, such injuries can be categorized as “normal” for us) and loads of work (I am organizing a national conference and my husband has just moved to his final rotation – American Citizens Services).

Plus, we’re now within days of officially entering our final 6 months. This has hit me in ways I hadn’t expected. For instances, if something is frustrating at work, it’s hard to focus – I see myself almost out the door. And, if I find myself in a meeting with the super amazing local professionals on my conference planning committee I think, “How can I leave this?” Then, I see the boys whizzing away with their amazing Spanish and I think about how they’re going to lose it in a sea of French and Malagasy. I imagine a few years from now saying, “When we left the DR they were fluent in Spanish.” We’re seeing new friends make their way here and “old” ones prepare to leave. Our closest friends from the 144th will be heading off to China and El Salvador – to me this seems like a guaranteed minimum two-year separation. That makes me sad. And then again, what a reunion we will all have for a few months in DC!

All this has left me feeling emotional and reflective and sometimes anxious and other times really impatient to get on with the show. On a daily basis I have found myself feeling alternately more in love with my island than ever and seriously frustrated. This weekend I finally just gave myself a good kick in the ass and decided to get over it. The goodbyes will suck. They will suck now and next year and the next and the next. But, they will get easier and I believe a million times over that it’s better to live an adventurous life with the crappy moments than a dull one of perfect ease. And nothing can change the incredible experiences we have had here – the ways in which we have grown, our boys have grown and the way a small decade-long dream has turned into a reality. We still pinch ourselves.

Of course, all this mushy happiness doesn’t change the fact that I am giddy with excitement of spending Semana Santa in Austin! In just a few short days we will be touching down. I am already eating every meal here knowing that these old beans and rice have nothing on my Austin food heaven. I have figured up that we will be spending approximately 187 hours in Austin over the next week. How much can I eat in that span of time? WHAT can I eat in that time frame?

Admittedly, we probably eat better here – more basic food, closer to the Earth. We have both slimmed down quite a bit. We eat out less. It’s good for us, BUT man do I get sick of it. Sometimes I look down at a plate of roasted chicken and white rice and I dream of a huge plate of Indian or Thai or Ethiopian or, of course, Tex-Mex. Sometimes I just want a dinner of chips and salsa and beer – GOOD chips and salsa and beer. It’s food for the soul and I’m eagerly awaiting the recharge.

I’m not really one to stuff myself, but I can fill every moment with my favorite food and drink with absolutely no problem. So, if you have ever wondered what one person could eat in Austin within 187 hours (‘cause I’m sure you have, right?), stay tuned. I’m gonna’ food diary our trip. ETA four days. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Best Disguised FS Couch

Well, I guess I’m in on the contest. Fantastic FS blogger Zoe, over at Something Edited This Way Comes, has initiated this contest to help us celebrate one of the most consistent aspects of FS life – ugly couches.

So – I’m in. But…don’t hate me…we don’t have to disguise our couch. It’s nice. Like, actually nice. I would buy it for my own home.

Some how, somewhere we ended up with this new edition of the FS couch. I have not seen it in any other home here (from the almost tippy-tippy top of the totem poll to the very, very newest of the most not-senior FSO).

Would you believe it’s the first thing people comment on when they come to our house for the first time? They ask us if we brought it from home. Or, they simply launch into, “How did you get that couch!?” I have seen many a manager (or manager’s spouse) swoon over our sofa/loveseat pair. It’s couch envy. To mark it as ours (at least until we leave) I have jazzed it up with that nice $5 Ikea blanket.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Níspero - Another Crazy Fruit



That looks like a ball of dirt, right? Well, it is not. It is a delicious fruit called a níspero. Some of you might remember my efforts to fall in love with the decidedly ugly zapotetwice.

I really, really wanted to give the zapote a chance, but our love was just not meant to be. Fortunately, the DR is one of those places where wild, delicious, tropical fruit literally falls out of the sky, lands at our feet and says, “Go ahead, enjoy!”

That’s how I learned about the níspero. There is a níspero tree at my office. Every day one of my colleagues will try to collect up the fallen ones before they get squished by the vehicles coming in for the day. Then, at lunch, we cut them open and enjoy.

I really thought that these must be related to a zapote. Despite the difference in size and shape, they both have a light brown, sandpaper-like exterior. And the seeds are also very similar. The níspero has more seeds and, of course, they’re smaller, but they look a lot alike.

However, where the differ is the taste. Níspero taste like cinnamon and vanilla and almost just like an oatmeal cookie. I promise! The texture is a bit like a cross between a pear and a plum. They’re super sweet and almost remind me of a fig in their richness – like one of those fruits that makes you feel like you’re indulging in a delectable dessert.

A bit of wikipedia research reveals that they are indeed related to the zapote. And, they’re also common in India and other parts of Latin America. In other Spanish speaking countries there are also called Sapodilla. The scientific name is Manilkara zapote.

Of course, I have been getting my fill of níspero for free up until this point, but I was on a work-related trip on Friday and decided to stop at a roadside stand and pick up some to take home. I really had (and have) no idea how much they should cost. A banana is 5 pesos at a fruit stand – I figure that price is pretty constant and can serve as a my guide. When I asked the guy how much for the níspero he said 150 pesos per dozen. That seemed a bit high for me. Bargaining is the norm here so I counter-offered. I thought maybe 10 pesos would be more reasonable – the fruit are seasonal and rarer than bananas and the poor guy was the last stand after several and probably wasn’t going to get much business. “120 for a dozen,” I said. He agreed. I did my bargaining. I got my níspero. That all felt pretty good.

But, today I saw this article in the New York Times. For those of you who travel – or live – abroad, this has some good tips on how to bargain and still help the poor fruit seller, trinket hawker or odds-and-ends dealer when you’re in an economically struggling country. Although I try to keep these things in mind anyway and, of course, you can’t expect to ever do this perfectly (there’s always a grey area), it’s good to have someone else’s perspective and a bit of a reminder about where our dollars, pesos and rupees go. Next time I’ll pay the 150 and ask him to give me 15 of these tasty níspero.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fuego!

It has crossed my mind that one of the worst possible things here would be to need emergency services of some sort – police, fire department, ambulance. Sometimes as I sit in traffic bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door, three lanes easily turning into five and I hear an ambulance behind me and I think, “Good god I hope that person isn’t really in need of urgent care.” Of course, there is a fad here of buying car horns that makes a police, fire engine or ambulance sound – presumably to get people out of your way. Those people are marketing to the wrong country. Even if drivers want to move out of the way – it ain’t happenin’.

Unfortunately, I had first-hand experience with a high-speed ambulance transport about a year ago. Thank goodness for us it was 10:00 PM – the roads were practically empty.

Today, I got the first-hand introduction to the Santo Domingo bomberos (fire fighters). My boys’ school caught on fire. It was early – only a few children were there and they were quickly evacuated. Then, the teachers and parents and neighbors and rubber-neckers waited outside until the fire trucks arrived. As we were pulling up, the section of the school that was burning (a small gym on the side of the school) was down to the metal braces (I’m guessing it had been a good 20 minutes from spark to bonfire). About ten minutes later a fire truck finally inched its way through the traffic to check out the scene. Fortunately, the school maintenance man had bravely climbed up on the building with a garden hose to have a go at the flames, so it appears the bomberos* were mostly on check-out-the-scene duty. They opened some windows and sprayed some water…I think…I’m actually not sure about that part. It was a bit chaotic. Then another fire truck came.

This is where I just want to say – I love it here, but AGGGHHHH! It’s a SCHOOL! It’s on FIRE! DANGER! To top it off, I feel I am getting way too used to this type of thing. While I was deeply concerned by the delay in the fire fighters and despite my little thirteen word outburst above, I really felt very little true frustration. It was more like, “No way! This sucks! How sad. Oh well, no school today. Load up boys.” My husband is a little more freaked out. I get it. I mean, jeez, it is crazy.

Then, after I was moving on and heading to work, I (well, our car) got hit by a carro público driver (carro públicos are like tin cans pretending to be taxis that run like buses on fixed routes)! Did I freak out? Cry? Worry? No, not really, I got out, attempted to examine the damage. Watched in dismay as the carro driver jumped out of his car, hopped into traffic, ran up the block and then returned with my hubcap. He popped it back on and smiled. I said, (translated from the Spanish obviously) “Good for you it wasn’t worse than that.” He said “Yep.” I said, “Have a good one.” He said, “Same to you,” and then we were on our way. No harm. No foul.

I recognize on the one hand that this might be ideal Foreign Service adaptation behavior. When in Rome, right? Imagine if you got upset every time things like this happened in Pretoria, Dhaka, Kuala Lumpur or San Salvador? You’d be screwed. You would be one frustrated and exhausted human being.

But, I do fear that this sets me up for a life of expecting very little if/when we’re ever posted to the States. “Ms. H, your child broke his arm today. He’s waiting it out on the playground. We gave him a sucker. I’m sure he’s fine.” Or “I am sorry to inform you that you will no longer be receiving electricity. The State of Virginia has decided to ration such services. We’re at your service. Please feel free to call…Monday through Friday noon to three.” Or perhaps, “I’m so sorry, we don’t sell milk or bread anymore.” I imagine myself kind of shrugging and walking away, only to be told by my non-FS friends that this type of thing is actually not acceptable in the United States. Hmmmm, that must be what home leave is for. Re-adaptation. A chance to remember to have standards….any standards. Good. I’ll need it.

* No Dominican fire fighters are being blamed by me for the delayed response. They are paid a shameful $120 per month to attempt to respond to fires. I am sure they dream of quick and efficient rescues that elude them on a regular basis.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the Horizon

We are now, even with 6 ½ months left, in count down mode. I am resisting the urge to move into the tic-toc tic-toc, but it keeps being apparent in ways that I do not expect.

For instance, today the guy who cuts the grass for our complex asked us to loan him some money. He’s never asked before, he always does a good job and his mom is very sick in Haiti and needs surgery. Yes, perhaps I’m an idiot, but the money, although a large sum for him, is very little for us. Of course, in the end, maybe his mom isn’t sick in Haiti. Maybe he doesn’t even have a mother. I like to assume whatever the reason, it’s probably an actual need – whether he’s sick, his neighbor needs school fees for her child or his church’s roof caved in, all are worthy causes in my book. A loan is a loan – we’ve all asked for them at some point, right? Anyway, I calculated how many more times we would be paying him before we leave (15) and decided how much would be taken out each week to return the money. Only 15 more paydays! How is that even possible?

And, we have also decided to go to the States in a few weeks. We’ll probably go for 10 days or so in the summer too and then we’ll have a month of home leave when we finish our tour here. These big markers of time when we will be visiting friends and family make our remaining months here feel so divided into brief periods.

We keep saying we’re going to make a list of things to do here before we leave, but we haven’t gotten around to it. I’m not sure why. In some ways I think we’re defeatists. Presumably, we will both be working right up until our last days here – where in the world would be find time to do the things that are remaining? The reasons we haven’t done them thus far have to do with time and distance. I think we figure we will have lived it up here to the best of our ability. There is no doubt about that. And, time is not being wasted – we’re still trying to reach every corner possible – with or without a bucket list.

Our oldest child is perhaps our biggest reminder of what’s up ahead. Every couple of days or so he asks, “When are we going to Madagascar?” or “When will we get to Africa?” in the same sort of sing-songy, slightly whiny voice that’s usually left for long road trips. He loves it here, but like his parents, the next adventure is always a welcome horizon. We keep reminding him of the months we have left here – with his room, his friends, the beach. He hears us, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. As for Oakwood – I think he’s in denial. We’re trying to sell it on the snow (which we will surely have), the train and the Air and Space Museum. He remembers these things fondly, but when we explain it he says, “And then we’ll go to Madagascar!?”

The everyday reminders, the planning, the over-and-over again explanations – these are the things that make the clock tick. The craziest and yet most certain thing of all is knowing that when it’s time to board the plane – we will be so, so sad to go and so, so ready to leave.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Old friends and Roadside Stands

This weekend I heard one of the best phrases ever – “This is the best vacation I’ve ever had!” It came from one of our dear friends who, after much secret scheming and plotting, I had arranged to fly down to surprise my husband for his birthday. He was only here for three and a half short days, but we managed to see some of the best nooks and crannies of this drop-dead gorgeous island in the span of that time. And, we found ourselves rediscovering some things from our early days here, while finding new bits and pieces we hadn’t previously encountered.

There was nothing about this escape to the Samaná Peninsula that I would have changed – we had beach and we had rain, we had walks and we had drives, we had tons of food and little roadside snacks, we had beer and we had chinola, and above all else we had lots and lots of laughter and love and fun.

I find that one of the best things about having visitors is that we see things through their eyes. In this vein, we really lived it up and tried to make every minute of his trip worthwhile. This was easy because this is a country where there is just so much to see and do if you keep your eyes open and say “yes”…or “si” to the opportunities.

Because we stayed at an eco-lodge this trip was filled more than most with a keen awareness of the foods we were eating and from where they came. Like these things:

The top photo is of pineapple (obviously) and the bottom photo is a pineapple field - that goes on and on. In all of the time we have been here and despite eating tons of piña, I had never actually seen a pineapple field - let alone tromped around in one...on the way to milk a cow. The sun was still fresh in the sky and my boys were so fascinated by the adventure. It took me back to my childhood in the country...only we didn't live on a farm and I didn't milk cows.

Our hostess pointed this plant out to us and explained that they often use it to color foods - like sauces for fish - and that the Taino (the natives of the island) were thought to have used it for painting and body art. I thought at the time, "Hm, that's interesting." But, when I did a little research I discovered that this little plant is none other than annatto - a very common natural food dye that I have seen on packages of all kinds of things.
My thought was that these are very, very tiny just-sprouting mangoes. The tree that hosted them looked like a mango tree to me and, despite their size, they seem to be mangoes. My boss, however, who is a bit of naturalist and has been here almost 20 years says she thinks they must be something else. My plan is to email the photo to our hostess at the eco-lodge and find out for sure. I kind of hope they are mangoes because they're just so cute....and because I want to trust that my ability to identify fruits and trees here is developing.

This is a fruit stand on the dirty, pot-holed road out to Rincon. That is the fruit stand owner - he gave us a wonderful presentation on the things below...



This first photo is of cacao fruit (the stuff chocolate comes from). Of course, I have known that cacao is produced here and through work have even had the opportunity to taste some yummy, yummy dark chocolate straight from the source. But, I never had any idea that that's what the fruit looked like. When they cut it open it has those white seeds in it - the frutero said they're a bit like almonds, but taste nothing like chocolate. Then they put the seeds in the sun (the final photo) to dry them out. Then, they pulverize the seeds with a giant mortar and pestle and then roast them. When they're done they have a big hunk of cacao. Now, I have a big hunk of 100% cacao...and I am waiting to decide what delectable thing I can make next by combining it with this...
This is coffee flower honey! That's right - the bees drink the nectar of the coffee flowers and then produce their honey! I have long since felt like the honey here was abnormally good. It is so incredibly rich and sweet. My mom had the theory that they must put something extra in it. Our friend who was visiting had a much more attractive theory (he works for an organic food distributor) - honey in the US often has things added to it. This stuff here is straight from the source. Someone is probably going to tell me soon that I am in danger of contracting some tropical illness from eating this stuff, but if I did, let me tell you the medicine would go down sweet because this is nectar in a bottle...coffee nectar no less!
These are guandules shells. Guandules are evidently pigeon peas - I hadn't realized that before, but that's probably because I never ate them in the states. I love guandules!! Everyone loves guandules. I have never heard anyone here say, "Yuck! Guandules!" You can eat them one of two ways - moro de guandules which is essentially guandules mixed in with rice or just guandules...which is guandules on top of your rice. Love, love, love!
These are some packs of tree bark for making mamajuana. Mamajuana basically looks like sticks and leaves and things stuffed into a bottle with some liquids - more or less the witches brew kind of mess we would make while playing in the woods as children...only we used pond water instead of alcohol. I will never drink this. I think the stuff looks scary...and the guys who sell it on the beach do not look to me to be the most trustworthy sorts either. But, you know, if you wanted to brew up your own, this bag of bark would get you started. Or you could drink this...
And there you have it - the typical Dominican roadside stand. Hooray for an old friend for inspiring us to get out of the car and mill around a bit! Fantastic!









Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Constants




Moms are good for so many things when you’re abroad. Yesterday mine sent me Girl Scout Cookies. That is so mom of her. In fact, I am inclined to think she has sent me Girl Scout Cookies in every foreign country I have ever lived in. I guess not everyone has such a mom. I am lucky. My Mimi (my maternal grandmother) is the same way. Does an excellent job in the category of, “Saw this and thought of you.” It’s the type of nice thing we should all aspire to I think.

Back to Girl Scout Cookies. You know, come to think of it, they’re one of the things that bind us culturally. It might sound like an overstatement, but think about it, have you ever heard anyone say, “I hate Girl Scout Cookies!” We wait every year for their arrival. I wasn’t even a Girl Scout (my Girl Scout Cookie-buying mom wouldn’t let me join even though she had been one…she felt it was exclusionary), but I find the once-a-year treat to be really…nice. A few cookies every year after year, decade after decade, they never, ever change. You can rely on Girl Scout Cookies. They cannot let you down. If you liked them this year, you will like them next year.

The FS life is extremely unpredictable. Makes me super happy to have my constants. And who can’t lose herself in a box of Caramel deLites?

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Great Divide

Increasingly, we have begun to notice that our life is divided in two – our old life (i.e. our pre-FS life) and this life (the FS life). We say things like, “Well, in our old life we would have_____, but in this life _____.” Funny, of course, because it’s still our life. It’s really, always “this life.”
 
I find the space between remembering and forgetting really interesting. I went to a small high school. I am certain that when I graduated I could name everyone in my class of 100, but now when these people’s faces pop up on Facebook, I often have no idea who they are. When did I forget? When did the new crowd out the old? Does it happen in an instant or is it a bit by bit shedding of brain cells that lose their purpose?
 
This is true with having children too. Of course, I remember our life before having kids, but I can’t really remember it completely. I remember the facts, but not the feelings. Mostly I wonder what we did all day.
 
I feel that in this life there are lots and lots of these divisions. For this first post it stands out to me when I try to remember what I thought the DR would be like before we arrived. I honestly cannot recall. And yet, I am totally certain that my images and imaginations were vivid and detailed and full of the excitement of getting to learn the reality. Our first day seems burned in my brain along with the dawning that happened on our drive from the airport that, “This looks a lot like a typical ‘third world’ capital. People might not visit us here…” I hadn’t thought it would be all resorts, but my fantasies were selective I think. Now everything here begins on that first drive into our new home.
 
The division permeates every corner of our lives. I write about it all the time with food, but it happens in other ways too. Even Jeremy’s music, we noticed, has had to change. He is a musician and writes is own music. In Austin, we were always surrounded by dozens of the same. No one played covers when you got together with friends, everyone jammed to each other’s stuff. In our FS life, people want covers. It’s all-good, but with far-fewer musicians, music serves a different purpose.
 
We now live within a world where babies are timed for home leave and weddings coordinated with CDOs. Where spouses and partners of officers wonder if they can still put their “profession” as attorney, or therapist, or teacher on forms if it’s been years since they worked outside a Consulate. Where, at some point, the number of years you have lived away from “home” is fewer than the number you have lived everywhere-else and you have a decision to make when people ask, “So, where’re you from?”
 
I have been reading about the events in Egypt. Back when Jeremy was in A-100 we had bid Cairo high. It would have been an interesting place to be. We weren’t totally feeling easy about it, but we were curious and thought it would be a good first post. Once you’re in the FS, you look at events like these through a different filter. My reaction is typically not one of fear, but one of practical awareness – Always have a bag of food ready to run with. Check and make sure the boys’ clothes in the emergency packs are not too small. Make sure our passport photocopies have the updated visas. And, sometimes there’s a bit of fear there too. Ever since the earthquake, if I can’t sleep at night, I imagine the best way to get out of our house. I really hate underground parking garages now. I wonder what in the world we would do with our 100-pound dog if we had to leave in a hurry.
 
Of all the things that we experience in this life – the new food, language, customs, rules – it’s the divide between who we were, or the life we lived, and who we are that most separates us from the past…and most connects us with now. For all the preparation that the FS requires, it’s funny, in the end, we mostly just live from this point forward…in complete and utter ignorance of what comes next.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aroma del Almuerzo

I grew up in the Texas Hill Country where the air is incredibly clean and fresh (even during the dreaded Cedar season). Even in Austin, where I spent about 14 years before we joined the Foreign Service, I felt like you could take fantastic deep breaths despite the number of cars on the road.

In contrast, Santo Domingo is a stinky city. It’s polluted. Black soot settles on everything. If you don’t have someone to mop everyday, your feet will be caked with grime from your own floors. In my unscientific analysis I think it’s probably worse the New York City, but better than Mexico City. Who knows. In short, it doesn’t smell good. Except…

Except for lunchtime. I love lunchtime in the DR! Even in Santo Domingo, you can sometimes walk by a local mom-and-pop restaurant with just a couple of plastic chairs and a doña cooking over a dented and blackened metal pot directly over the flame of a gas canister. Dominican rice and beans and meat (la bandera) is so, so, so tasty and the smell just draws you in. Even today I was leaving the hospital (my husband got his yearly ER trip out of the way early this year) and the cafeteria aromas (is that an oxymoron?) wafted out and I seriously considered going back in and getting dinner to go.

And then! Add those perfectly seasoned scents to the countryside – the smell of dust and fruit and sometimes the sea, but more often the earthy smell of things left humid just a few years too long – and you get this pungent, rich, almost historical smell (like if you were to visit a famous landmark like a long-dead president’s home or a Revolutionary War row house only the people were still there cooking and living).

This weekend we drove down to the southwest – my favorite part of the country – where the smells simply overwhelm. The remote roads wind and wind through villages wedged between the Caribbean Sea and mountains. Unlike in Santo Domingo, you can roll down the windows and breath deeply. The smells draw you in and you feel like you’re transported to an entirely different world. And, at each bend, if you find yourself passing just as noon begins to roll towards one, you can catch a hint of la bandera simmering over an open flame waiting to be eaten, all crowded onto one plate, heaping piles of addictive Dominican white rice, with a soup spoon. The true DR piled into one perfect, aromatic bite.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Import

Tonight I made chilaquiles. We also, after months of searching, found a new air filter for our car. Big news all around today. We clearly delight in the seemingly small things around here.

We can’t get tomatillos here, but a dear colleague went on TDY to Mexico for a month and brought me some canned (well, actually they were in a box) ones. They worked smashingly! Chilaquiles used to be a quick easy, tasty breakfast-for-dinner meal I would make relatively frequently back home. Here it is the stuff of dreams. Clearly, air filters for a 2005 Toyota are as well.

We have sporadically searched for a new air filter here for the past couple of months. I will make every effort to go to all future posts with things like air filters. It’s the challenge of living in a place where everything appears to be inefficiently imported.

When we first got here I used to go on these shopping scavenger hunts convinced if I just looked harder a favorite, much-needed cooking item would pop up. Now I have succumbed to the “si Dios quierre” attitude. I don’t know where such and such is and, well, they probably don’t have it anyway. One time, I kid you not, I went to buy new bras (sorry too much info, I’m sure) and all they had at Jumbo (our Super Wal-Mart like store) was hundreds and hundreds, rows and rows, hangers and hangers of size 32B.

I say all this out of love. It can be crazy, but you get used to it. And, I have it on good authority that some places are crazier. Here’s my new favorite statistic that I love to tell people when they say, “Madagascar?! That will be interesting,” The per capita GDP for the United States is $47,400 (which would buy you 1,436 twenty-pound bags of rice on Amazon). For the Dominican Republic it’s $8,600 (also known as 260 twenty-pound bags of rice). For Madagascar it’s $1000 (30, yes three zero, twenty-pound bags of rice). Of course, there’s this too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Inner Sanctum

I eat lunch at work everyday with a cornucopia of women. We represent three decades, at least three religions (and some non-religions), at least six languages and four nationalities by passport, but many more by race and ethnicity. We laugh, we cry, we support and sometimes we even constructively criticize. We always, always have chocolate. We call ourselves the “inner sanctum.” The hour (or two) I spend with these women is not only one of the greatest joys of my life here, but will remain for eternity one of my most treasured blessings.

In the FS life, there are distances that Skype and Facebook and Gmail can’t span. How great to have Internet and social media, but they’re not always spontaneous enough…and they can lead you to an LOL or an LMAO, but they rarely result in the tearful belly laughs that can only happen with your girlfriends at arms length. And, although Jeremy and I once proposed a Skype double-date night with some friends posted to Caracas, you can’t really share a meal over the Internet. Knowing this makes me miss those girlfriends back home even more. Having the inner sanctum makes it bearable…in fact, maybe even much better than bearable.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy First Birthday FLT!

Sooooo, that was a really long break. I was trying on not-blogging. To be honest, I kind of liked it…but now I miss it.

My original plan had been to do this for a year and then see how I felt about it. I hadn’t even realized it when I sat down to write this post, but tomorrow will my little blog will turn one! Happy Birthday For Lack of Tacos! I feel really good about having had a go at this and sticking with it. Oddly, I appear to have started the blog on the night of the Haiti earthquake! I remember that evening perfectly and remember exactly where I was sitting at the kitchen table when I was overcome with a wave of nausea and vertigo – a common result here in Santo Domingo when the earthquake hit. Wow…

Anyway, I have taken some time off and feel happy to get back to writing. Actually, I didn’t really stop writing – taking time away from FLT gave me time to focus on my family blog and I know the grandparents like that better anyway.

So, for tonight, as I get back into the swing of things I want to say, first of all, may this year bring each of you joy, peace and happiness from all of us displaced Austinites in the For Lack of Tacos family (i.e. me, Jeremy, the niños, the dog). And, in the midst of so much insanity here and at home, perhaps it’s apt to remember a phrase that a few open-minded Dominicans paste on their bumpers, “Todos somos Haitanos” (“We’re all Haitains”). In other words, we’re all in this together. Give. Love. Smile.

Peace.