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Archive for January, 2010

Buenas noches.

We said goodbye to Mikal and returned to our hotel’s balcony post-game for beers, rum and cigars (not for me, thanks).  First, a quick stop by the colmado across the street, which Chris for some reason loved.

(I should mention that Chris picked up more Spanish than I ever expected, and was not shy about trying it out.  By the end of the trip, he was doing most of the ordering and bill-paying for us, solving the problem of not knowing his numbers beyond 10 by just handing over enough money to cover a bill and get change back.  This left him with quite the pocketful of coins by the end!  It was great to watch his confidence grow and adorable to see him slide by with an “un Presidente normal grande por favor” — as polite in Spanish as he is in English.   He was even dropping his “s”s a bit by the end!)

We stayed up way past our bedtimes, and it was a perfect end to a perfect trip.  I had two of the most special men in my life beside me (and Jesse insisted on sitting next to Chris, both at the game and on the balcony), in a place that has been the scene of  some of the most important events of my life.  At that moment, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

The view the next morning from our hotel balcony.

One last Presidente at the airport.

We said goodbye at the airport, and as usual, I was terribly sad.  I’m lucky to see my family as often as I do, and I know I’ll see Jesse soon again soon, but our visits are never long enough.  I was sad, too, to be leaving the DR for the third time, after such a short stay this time (and such a different stay!).  But what’s hard for a chronic crier like me to explain to noncriers (like Chris, who did a lovely job nonetheless of comforting me) is that more often than not, happiness is responsible for the tears.  Sure, I was sad, but I was only sad because my brother, the DR, and my vacation with Chris had made me so happy!

I took Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet with me that first summer in the DR in 1997, when I was 17 and terrified and about to do something I’d find ridiculously difficult and incredible and inspiring and come out of it with my life changed forever.    I read from the book every day (I still have the now-tattered copy), and at the end of the summer I used its verses to caption the scrapbook I made of my two months living in the small, remote village of La Jagua.  Here’s one of my favorite sections, called “Joy and Sorrow”:

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Speaking of joy, here’s what I encountered this morning, hours after I’d gotten up:

Papa and the Panth!

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Play ball!

The real highlight of the trip for all of us was the baseball game Saturday night.  It was the final night of the Dominican Winter League round robin, and the Licey Tigres were playing the Gigantes de Cibao in Santo Domingo.  Obviously, we had to go.

Of course, it's raining again. But it stops just in time for the game!

Jonron!

We couldn't believe the alcohol options available!

Jesse, Chris and Mikal (who joined us for the game) insisted on taking this picture with the energy-drink girls.

We were so happy. Chris declared several times that there was no bar he'd rather be at that night.

Mikal made a new friend (who we decided must have been stood up--check out her game outfit!).

Jesse made a new friend, too. (Only in the DR would people sit right next to you in a near-empty stadium!)

This candy-seller took a moment from his work to explain the game to his son. Later, completely charmed, I bought half of his candy tray.

We scooted up really close after the ticket-checkers retired for the night. I don't know who that is waiting for his at-bat; mysteriously, everyone on the team was named "Samsung"!

As if it weren’t exciting enough just to be at a baseball game in the DR, the game quickly took a wild turn.  In the third inning, our team, the Tigres, were down 0-10.  It was bleak.  Nelson Cruz had hit a grand slam, one of two so far for the Gigantes.  Presumably, the catcher was complaining to the home plate umpire about his ball/strike calls, and the ump threw him out of the game.  The manager rushed the field to object, and he too was quickly booted from the game.  But he didn’t leave.  No, he wanted to fight it out.  He got in the ump’s face.  They were yelling.  The ump tried to move away, and the manager got back in his face.  All of a sudden, the manager was throwing a punch, and the umpire was falling backwards to the ground!  (It’s unclear whether the punch actually made impact.)

The crowd went wild!  We were aghast.  Chris had never heard of anything like it.  We were sure the manager’s career would be over, and sure enough, he’s been banned from the Dominican Winter League for life.  (You can read all about it on the Internets!)

I missed the punch, but here’s some of the aftermath:

Seguridad was immediately on guard.

I don't think the umpires quite knew what to do, since this kind of thing happens, well, never.

The Licey fans seemed energized by the encounter and spent the rest of the game badmouthing the umpires, chanting “Umpire raton!” then “Umpire motherfucker!” then “Umpire gay!” then, in Spanish, that he’d gotten what he’d deserved.  This was just the icing on the crazy cake.  The umpire, Chris tells me, has refused to return to Dominican baseball, understandably scared and offended.

In other news, I couldn’t get over the announcer’s enthusiasm in announcing the names of the Licey batters.  Here’s Matt Tupman’s last go, to end the game with a slightly-less-embarrassing loss of 6-10.

To their credit, the Tigres did have the bases loaded at the very end, and a grand slam would have tied things up.  Alas, it was not to be.  Nevertheless, it’ll surely go down as one of the most memorable games any of us ever attend.

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One more day.

Saturday, we caught a guagua back to Santo Domingo.

As you can see, our first guagua was rather roomy.  So roomy, in fact, that before our trip was complete, we were transferred to another, totally packed, guagua.  Jesse ended up with a Dominican child or two on his lap.

After three guaguas and a cab, we made it to our hotel in Santo Domingo and headed out to el conde for some shopping.  On the way, we passed la calle Jose Reyes.  I imagine the street came before the baseball player and his adorable poto, but I took a picture anyway.

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The rain finally cleared up enough on Friday for us to grab some beach time.  We had a blast in the ocean, which was warm and blue, trying to body surf, soothing our (mostly my) mosquito bites, and goofing around.  Chris got water-logged first and left the Corvino water babies for dry land.  All of a sudden, I looked up to see this:

I didn’t have my camera at the time (I took the above picture later), but I rushed back to get it and returned to find this:

The backstory is that the night before, we’d been guided to our hotel by a young boy named Jose Miguel.  Jesse and I tried to speak to him, but he only had eyes for Chris.  Chris had read that the Red Sox are popular in the DR, since so many Dominicans have played for the team.  He hadn’t been able to find a Boston hat in New York (understandably) to replace his old one, so he brought his Brooklyn Cyclones hat instead.  Jose Miguel turned to him on our walk and said, “Hey! Hey!”  When we finally figured out he was trying to get Chris’ attention, Jose iguel pointed to the Cyclones hat and said, “Boston? Chris was thrilled.  We talked about Boston and Jose Miguel’s favorite players and his favorite position (second base and pitcher).

The boy in the above photos is Jose Miguel.  He was playing on the beach when Chris got out of the ocean, and Chris was a little shy to approach him, but Jose Miguel was quick to invite him over to play catch.  And by the time I’d returned with the camera, they were hanging out talking.  Talking!  (Mind you, Chris at this point has a Spanish vocabulary of about 10 words, including cerveza and ron.)  Chris filled me in later.  They used a lot of gestures and sand-drawing to establish such things as whether they were righties or lefties.  At one point, Jose Miguel bent down and wrote “Haiti” in the sand.  He built up a pile of sand to represent the country and then wiped it out with his hand, saying “muchos muertos.”

The sight of Chris talking with this little boy, and playing catch with him, melted my heart.  Soon Jesse joined in for a game of pickle, which Jose Miguel suggested.

Jesse and Chris showed their age (and previous night of beer-drinking) by lasting just a few rounds.  All three had an amazing time.

Here are some video captures of the day:

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On Friday, it rained.  And rained and rained!  I don’t know if I’ve seen such a rainy DR day before.  In the summer, it tends to rain occasionally and very hard for a few hours, and then the sky clears suddenly and completely.  On Friday, it rained all day!  It’d stop for a bit here and there, but for the most part, Chris and I tucked ourselves into our favorite bar from the night before, El Bambu, with books and magazines, while Jesse checked his email for work (even though he was officially on vacation by this point!) at the Internet cafe across the street.

Chris learned another valuable lesson: How to order a Cuba Libre.

The street of Juan Dolio. There was only one street!

At breakfast, we’d sat on the deck of one of the “fancy” restaurants I’d rejected the night before.  While we ate, a young man shimmied up the palm tree next to us and knocked down the coconuts to his friend, who tried to cushion their fall.  If the coconuts break on impact, they can’t sell them.  They had about a 50% success rate that morning.  For the trivia-hungry out there, Chris read in our guidebook that every year, there are six deaths-by-coconut in the DR.

Look closely at the top of the photo for our peaceful coconut-grabbing friend!

I also checked my email (and my bank accounts) at some point on Friday — Chris made it the whole trip without breaking down! — to find that the rumor was true: My company came through with raises this year!  I should go on vacation more often.

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Jesse, Chris and I didn’t have a concrete plan for the rest of our trip beyond that we knew it wanted to involve a beach in some capacity.  We’d taken longer in Barahona than we’d planned, so we decided we needed to minimize our travel time on the next leg, and on Mikal’s advice, we chose Juan Dolio, a beachside town an hour outside of Santo Domingo.

Upon our arrival, Chris put his beer-ordering skills quickly to work:

Excuse this horrific picture of me. It's humid in Juan Dolio!

I was initially frustrated by our dinner options.  Everything seemed overly fancy — and Italian! — and I had trouble expressing exactly what I wanted, which frustrated my hungry companions.  Finally, we figured out what I was craving — Dominican food! — and found a perfect spot, which gave us probably our best meal of the entire trip.  It was called Dos Gardenias, and it served an unwritten, catch-of-the-day menu of Dominican classics, including, of course, arroz blanco.  You’ve never had white rice like they make it in the DR. It’s almost always served with beans (which Jesse swears are even tastier than the rice), but I made a name for myself in my host community my first summer by requesting my rice sin habichuelas whenever I had the chance. The women who invited me to eat in their homes thought I was crazy.  Seriously.  I know it’s just rice, and I have no idea what they do with it (pretty sure it involves a lot of oil and salt, possibly garlic), but it’s incredible.

Jesse had a crispy fried whole fish, I had fried chicken (wish I’d had the fish!), and Chris had shrimp and conch in garlic sauce.  My god, it was all delicious.

Jesse decimated his fish. Because it was super delicioso!

My favorite moment at dinner was after we’d asked the waitress to change the music from bad American pop (we were the only customers there) to bachata, which made her happy, and she skipped off to make the switch.  When she came back, I was in the middle of describing to Jess and Chris the wonders of concon, which is the name Dominicans have for the bits of burnt and crunchy rice they scrape from the bottom of the pan.  The waitress overheard that one word amid our English and offered to bring us a bowl!

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I’m back!

It took me a trip back to the Dominican Republic to come back to my blog.  Apologies for the long absence, dear readers!

Chris, my younger brother Jesse and I went on an early-year vacation to the Dominican Republic over the past several days.  I’ve never taken such an early vacation before, but I think it might become a staple!  What a perfect way to escape the cold and start off the new year warm and rested.  We left on Wednesday, flew home yesterday and had work off today for Martin Luther King Day.  Another newbie I highly recommend?  Taking a final day off at home following a traveling vacation.  I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had to go to work today!

We arrived at lunchtime on Wednesday, and I was immediately paralyzed.  I’ve had a fair amount of experience in Spanish — cumulatively, I’ve probably lived for two years in Spanish-speaking countries, which pales in comparison with Jesse’s experience, but I’m at the point where I can understand, say, 95% of what’s said to me and can express easily about 75% of what I want to say.  Not perfectly, mind you, but easily.  The best thing is that I don’t lose it when I take a few years off from regularly speaking it.  I have a very short adjustment period.  Nevertheless, it took me a good 10 minutes — and a bit of pressure from Chris! — to finally approach someone to ask about getting a bus to Barahona, where I lived over the summer of 2006.  And I was too shy to use the creativity necessary to get around efficiently in the DR, so we ended up spending our first three hours in the bus station in Santo Domingo. If I’d bothered to check, I’m sure there would have been an earlier bus to a nearby town, and we could have caught a smaller guagua to Barahona, something I’ve done a hundred times before.  Sigh!

As it was, we arrived at around 9:30 p.m.  Chris read by the light of his phone while I slept.  When we arrived: Jesse!  He was on the tail end of a work trip for Amigos, and he had a meeting in Barahona the next morning with Mikal, who’ll be heading up this summer’s project in the DR.  I won’t go on and on about Amigos and how amazing it is and what a difference it has made in my life except to say that in the DR, it works with Plan International, which is doing incredible, groundbreaking things.  I’ve seen its work first-hand in the DR (including a trip to Haiti for the first-ever meeting of Dominican and Haitian youth in 2006). The earthquake in Haiti (which Jess felt in the DR, as it knocked his hotel bed against the wall and sent him out to the street for safety) has seriously affected Plan’s work areas.  If you’re looking for another place to donate earthquake support, I urge you to consider donating to Plan.

(Before I continue on in my description of our vacation, I want to acknowledge that the earthquake was always in our thoughts.  It felt strange to be on vacation, having a wonderful time, when tragedy was so near to us.  My first thought was to hop the border and offer our help, but after turning on the news, we realized we had little to offer and would only be in the way.  I’ve never felt the calling to become a doctor, but I definitely wished I were one these past few days and could have contributed my services that way.)

Back to the happy stories.  This was my second vacation in Latin America with Jesse; the first was to Costa Rica and Panama in 2005.  He is a fantastic travel buddy, and his charm and caring, inviting nature translate so easily into Spanish.  This was the first time I got to witness him in his new capacity as a regional director for Amigos, and my suspicions were confirmed: He is doing an incredible job!  He is so forward-thinking and innovative and enthusiastic, and he bears his enormous responsibility beautifully.  We spent that first evening talking about his work and his plans for the summer, and I was, as I so often am with all of my brothers, very, very proud of him.

Now, some photos from our time in Barahona!

Jesse and me in the pool at Costa Larimar, where I stayed for a midterm break during my first Amigos summer in 1997.

Poolside bar, where Chris learned to order Dominican beer. This proved to be a very valuable lesson!

The view from the hotel.

The sandwich shop I ate at almost every day for four months in 2006.

Just as I remembered! I was in heaven the first time I ate this sandwich three years ago, but after several dozen, I could barely take another bite. After a little time off, I was right back in the saddle!

On the bus back to Santo Domingo on Thursday. Chris got in so much reading!

Stay tuned for further accounts of our adventures!

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