Cuba I

Alright, let’s do this. I’ve procrastimicated long enough on transcribing my……hold on here…..11 pages (!) of journal from Cuba. How does one count pages? I counted by the amount of flphsh sounds I heard turning the pages, you can almost double if you’d prefer your pages numbered. I went to Cuba on December 1st and returned to the Dominican Republic on December 8th (allegedly, for all intents & purposes* this is a work of fiction – Jaaaaaanet Napolitano looking at you). I wrote in an Ubaldo Jiminez on the Rockies-themed composition notebook that I named Gossip Girl journal because I’m a man and do not name inanimate objects (I miss you Leo, stuffed teddy lion). I am writing everything as-is except for minor spelling and grammatical errors, and some excerpts which I may deem too racy for public broadcasting – but I’ll tell you that a part is missing when it does happen so you get the he’s so mysterious vibe. This is my story. *Cue Law & Order theme music*

*Who else thought it was ‘intensive purposes’ until they were about 12? Also, I thought ‘made you look’ was ‘major look’. Hukt on Fonix wurkt 4 me.

Continue reading

Welcome to the D.R.

These are first- or second-hand stories about life’s little interactions.

  • Bank chronically errs in providing the wrong bid/ask on the exchange rate in your paycheck. Calls you later asking you to pay 200 pesos per paycheck for every one you received from the bank. Obviously, they’ve never played Monopoly.
  • Almonds don’t have a price tag on them. Therefore, they are not on sale, so put them back on the shelf please.
  • You’re a young woman? Great news, you can be a secretary, event planner, or housewife! (Note: Not everyone, just traditionalists)
  • Only have 500 peso bill to pay for 25 peso carro publico ride? Get chewed out by driver, gringo.
  • No rain in the past 5 days? Do laundry and get rained on.
  • Who’s looking at the between-inning entertainment of young voluptuous women dancing on a stage built in the middle of the stands wearing team-colored schoolgirl or racing uniforms? Just every husband, son, and boyfriend with their cameraphones whipped out (so this is why they invented Blackberries). Meanwhile, a mascot grinds all up on the ground, leaving the remaining pre-pubescent boys to imitate.
  • Walk up same three floors to apartment every day, drenched in sweat by the top every time.
  • Where’s the rice with your lunch? You’re a weird one, gringo.
  • Walking around the house barefoot? Not since Boston.
  • China = orange you eat / Naranja = orange you cook with / limón = lime / limón dulce = “sweet lemon” (which is on the border between tasteless and bitter) Continue reading

Looking Forward

A lady was killed around the corner from my office this morning. She was a waitress at a Mexican restaurant that I went to a few days ago for lunch, and her military ex-husband had an argument with her in the street then shot her three times – so I hear. Imagine waking up one day getting ready for work, eating breakfast, enjoying the cool morning, and then walking into a situation that will end your life in less than ten minutes. Poof. It’s over. Plans gone, future remaining imagined, the only thing left of you is what is kept in the memory of those who knew you – or in my case heard about you. Update: Here’s the story

They don’t deal with senseless death the same way here. I saw a Blackberry photo of her lying in the street, legs in the shadows, grainy upper body in the sun, a couple policemen milling around the taped area. Another Blackberry photo of the security guard who restrained the shooter, posing like a U.S. Marines commercial, and a story about one man’s father ‘heroically’ helping the security guard. It wasn’t even the talk of the office all day, forgotten amongst the opening of the Christmas season festivities and work duties. The Life in the Dominican Republic.

Let’s talk about los Estados Unidos today, I haven’t really done that in a while (admittedly I haven’t done much of anything here). I’ve mentioned having general feelings about going back, excited about seeing specific people, doing certain things – but not really about the reverse culture shock phenomenon I anticipate seeing first-hand. As I’ve talked about before, adjusting upon arrival stunted what could have been trepidation/fear/what-the-hell-is-going-on-ness, but what’s going to happen when I leave this place I’ve gotten adjusted to? I’ve brought a few notes, so follow along as I prognosticate.

Lay it on me: Continue reading

Adjusting: Keeping up With the Ahmadinejads

Previously, on Adjusting: No Boston, Public Transportation, Unpacked

In Boston, it was easy to keep up with the news. With knowledgeable and politically-aware friends, taking breaks from laughing at farts on Tosh.0 and criticizing each others’ fan-hoods to talk about politics and economics was normal (over a bottle of 2007 Southern Napa Cabernet in cardigans of course). The curriculum of a business student involved dialogue about current events and how it affects the world, all very nice things to have.

While it’s nice to live in one of the most educated cities in the world – albeit a bit liberal – it’s nicer to have a break. Many of the problems in the United States (obesity, the occasional police beating video, a deficit, the adjustment in becoming a declining world power) just do not exist elsewhere. The paper recently started showing up at my apartment, and took a look today. Here are a couple headlines, paraphrased:

  • “10% of drug addicts in the Dominican Republic are under 18″
  • Twelve Latin American Journalists are Threatened with Death
  • Lead Investigator Insists Motive for Murder of Colonel was Theft
  • Hipólito is Prepared to Prevent Election Fraud in 2012 (a former president who was ousted after overseeing a collapse of the Dominican peso from a value of 33/USD$1 to above 60 – and is somehow a co-leader in the race this year)
  • Continuing demonstrations urging the government to commit putting 4% of their annual budget into education (currently stands at 2.5% I think)

Now, that doesn’t say a bunch about the state of things here, but the essence is that problems affecting the way people live are more closely related to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Hurricanes here don’t cause people to drive somewhere else and get to safety – there’s nowhere to go, and mountain communities just pray that their land will hold and the rain isn’t as bad as they say. Coming from my position, there’s no way I could approach someone at 9:00PM complaining about Herr Obama raising taxes on people who make more than $200,000 by about 5% – because it’s not safe for me to be walking around 3 blocks from my house that late (and it would be weird). I live in a relatively middle-upper class area of the city, too. A poorer neighborhood of the city that I visited near the beginning of my trip was in a state of emergency because the trash workers were on strike and the garbage was spilling into the streets causing a health hazard. And I used to think Boston’s a terrible place because they don’t separate their recycling (thanks a lot for making me granola, Seattle). When there’s a general strike (happens about monthly), public cars and guaguas stop running – and if some organizers see a driver breaking rank and taking people, they’ll throw tires at their cars – tires. So, a presidential candidate’s husband thinks he can cure gays (keep telling yourself that you aren’t, Marcus) – here, homosexuals are almost completely ostracized from church and are a second-class citizen the whole way. Apologies if I’m being intolerant against anyone’s beliefs, nobody likes a bigot, right?

Now, I’m not discounting what’s going on through the rest of the world – enormous shifts are happening socially, politically, and economically. Of course it’s a big deal that the United States government is selling guns to Mexican cartels, that political activism (or something) and protests are occurring, that the Middle East is getting close to all-out war, that we’re taking pictures of deep deep space.  I’m also sure many of the local headlines here are repeated throughout the United States as well, behind the scenes or on a relatively smaller scale. My point is that living here has given me the perspective of detachment, and also connection to what’s going on around me. I feel that living in the States is almost too easy, to the point where people get irritated if the barista forgot to steam the milk or a hockey team loses a game (oh sorry, that’s Canada). The people here have enough to worry about and also to sustain themselves in their own lives, the troubles of the first world just don’t exist. My thoughts are that if I come back here in ten years, the grand majority of things will be essentially unchanged – down to the unfinished and abandoned hotel skeletons on the Malecón. Yes, a second subway line is slated to go in early 2012, with four more planned for the city, and it should help improve the traffic situation immensely. However, that’s Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city. 7 out of 10 million more live elsewhere, a large portion of whom have received electricity to their towns just within the last 10 years (almost everywhere experiences frequent blackouts), most without running water, and many with little to no access to decent public schooling.

As I enter back into the World of the Gringo in about two months (Fidel willing), I’m going to be confronted with the reverse culture-shock. While the subject matter of the news won’t be the toughest part to transition to, an awareness of how easy it is will hamper my ability to sympathize with the afternoon traffic report or get drawn into a debate about whether a .5% sales tax increase on spicy foods to fund a patch in the road five miles outside city center is considered socialism and class warfare. It will be fun to discuss challenging national and global times again, but with the lens that what I’m talking about probably won’t matter to me as much as the decisions I make myself and with the people in my direct life.

Cheers

I’m not saying I just bought a ticket to Cuba, but…

Ah, fall. The winds change, the weather cools, leaves die, football -the only sport- finally awakens the passion that Americans fake for baseball, and northerners hunker down for the upcoming winter. Of course, here that means the rainy season is coming to an end, the temperatures drop from a sweltering low-90′s to a balmy high-80′s, the grapes are no longer in season but everything else still is, and football is watched by lonely gringos on choppy internet streams and radio broadcasts. And hunkering down? No way, baseball season is just around the corning with tourist season following soon after.

It’s been an exciting few weeks since hitting my halfway point here. I was hired out for a week to travel with a bunch of dentists for work in campos with no access (physically or monetarily) to such services. We worked up in the northern part of the country for four days, setting up and breaking down all the equipment each day. Because few of the gringos spoke Spanish, I was mainly there to help facilitate the process and help with any translations (“it hurts here”, “No, I will not get my tooth pulled today”, etc.). I wrote something up for it, when it goes live on the website I’ll link to it.

Since then, I haven’t really traveled much, but I did spend the past weekend at nearby Playa Juan Dolio playing some Ultimate Frisbee with some bros and without sunscreen. Kids, wear protection – just because you’re totally bro’ing out on the beach playing a totally awesome sport doesn’t prevent the killjoy sun from burning the skin cancer into you. I do look so tan though, until i moult.

Today marks the day I definitely (do not) buy a ticket to (nowhere near) Cuba. I will (not) be there December 1-8, (as it would be against the rules) as a perfect end to the Caribbean chapter in my career as a human. In preparation for this completely insane (and fictional) trip, I have started……salsa classes. Oh boy. I’m only one class in but I’m pretty sure I am qualified to teach it. Damn, when I’m in Havana (after my dear government lifts the travel ban and not a minute before),  I’m going to feel like Hunter S. Thompson or Hemingway – a baller.

Next week will be four months here, two months to go (~10 weeks). I feel like any trip you take, the 2/3 point is when the anxiety kicks in. In Boston, the feelings hit the beginning of my junior year – what am I going to do after? Am I going to stay in Boston, are all my friends? Where have these past three years gone? Why am I on the floor? Here, I’m starting to think about all the things I wanted to do here and whether I’m getting them done. The language and day-to-day living has moved from fearfully incompetent to not even a thought in my mind. I even got called the “gringo with the most tigueraje that’s worked here” (tigueraje means attitude colloquially). I haven’t seen as much of the country as I’d have liked by now, there are too many amazing places to go to even if I left the city every weekend. However, I am looking on getting my tripping back on this weekend with a trip to Jarabacoa to hike, waterfall, and tour a coffee factory.

Relationships are the hardest part here, because it’s putting effort into something that has a loud ticking clock from the start. Not to be morose, but there’s always a ticking clock on one’s life, so it’s no reason to avoid building friendships. I’ll miss it here, and I’ll miss the people. When the time comes to leave, the way to continue the relationship is to take a bit of it with me wherever I go, in memory or tigueraje. There’s no doubt I would love to return for visits or even live for a longer period of time, but there’s also no certainty that it will happen, so just making the most of the time is what’s going to be important.

Living here is the catalyst for not stopping myself out of fear or hesitation. If I make a fool out of myself in salsa class, who cares? I’m a gringo speaking gringo spanish anyways. Is going to Cuba illegal and without the safety nets Americans generally enjoy throughout the world? Yes, but it’s based around a retarded out-dated law from McCarthyist fears of communism taking over the world, so who’s really the scared one if I don’t go? The only fear should be of regret, because that’s the only real eternal punishment of any action or non-action.

That got deep, unnecessarily. Hakuna Matata, homies.

Reading: Righteous Victims, Benny Morris (I’ve read The Corrections (5 stars), World War Z (2 stars) in the interim)

Learning: Technique and music theory to understand what the hell I’m doing with this instrument

Dominicanismo: “Si como caminas cocinas, guardame un chin de concon.” – If you cook like you walk, save me a little bit of burnt rice cake.

Burnt rice is a delicacy here, it’s a pick-up line. Oh yeah.

August… It’s almost September?!

Coming up on three months down, three months to go here. I think time moves faster when you see the end coming up, as the weeks start becoming planned out, places start needing to be gone to, opportunities start shutting down. But let’s look on the bright side, I’ve done far more new things in the last three months than I had in the last year.

I underestimated (maybe) the ability to keep in touch with friends and family, as a different country is no further nor closer than New York City to Boston would practically be. The Internet has dominated the overall communication landscape, and there’s nothing I can do or say about it. A disclaimer is that it helps that I’m still in the Eastern time zone and many of my friends are in cubicles talking to me all the time because I’m so popular. wonder what the case would be if I was in New Zealand or Southeast Asia like original plans…

I’m not in SE Asia or Oceania, I’m in Santo Domingo and damn happy ’bout it! It’s not every day that you get to live with your landlord who’s more than happy to take a tequila shot with you on a Wednesday evening. In context, I was cooking up another experiment (read: food from a recipe) called Tequila Lime Roasted Chicken. It turned out well, and actually was the reason I came to write. Okay, half of it was the alcohol and guilty feelings that come along with it and the other half was the sobriety and the guilty feelings that come with it. Anyways, that’s been a hobby of mine recently. It’s much like my guitar practice: the more you do it the more you’re able to think in it. I have a few things in my ‘arsenal’ now, and it helps save costs like no other habit can. Social norms be damned, my familly is going to eat my cooking – most of the time.

Still no dance lessons, no recent exciting trips. Shoot, I did start that adventure story that I was really excited to write but ended up not finishing. I should finish that. That was now about a month ago, before all the interns left, before life started being ‘life’ here. I’ll try, but no longer promise to finish it. A week or so ago I went to Cabarete to surf again, and had a good couple days, even if the waves were small. I met Aussie, Swiss, and German characters, all there for different reasons. Hopefully I’ll stay in touch with them, they were cool. Next Friday, I’m leaving the first-world (Santo Domingo) for a week to work for a program called Smiles for Life, which is going to be extremely difficult but rewarding at the same time. It’ll be 7-5 for 6 straight days, each in a different rural community at least an hour from where we’re staying. I’ll be mainly helping with translating between kids/patients and the dentists, and helping with set-up/break-down. My restaurant days are already paying off, score. But really, it’s interesting how at any point in life, some ‘meaningless’ job will help you down the road with some unrelated task. Kind of like with babysitting and how I work with gringo girl children that I have to take care of all the time.

About my other hobby: guitar. I’ve been dedicating a month starting a couple weeks ago focusing purely on technical exercises, ignoring learning songs. Hopefully this will pay dividends, but the road to actually being able to play the blues is so long that it’s sometimes daunting. Oh well, I’ve got a long way to live – maybe (“Si Dios quiere” as they say here) – so I guess I have nothing to lose but time. I think I’m mature enough to see the dividends long term, but then again my friend said that she “roasted nuts” for her dinner and I giggled.

Finally finished the book American Theocracy, which was a relief. It was a fantastic book, but it started getting depressing and angering. I’m better for finishing it, though. More well versed and also not guilty about starting the book and stopping. There have been three attempts at reading that really stuck out to me, where I started but didn’t finish the books: Atlas Shrugged in 8th grade (looking back, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?), The Power of One in 6th grade, and the two sequels to Ender’s Game wayyyyy earlier (maybe 4th grade). In all three cases I came back and read every page. One situation where I won’t go back is this book The Reason for God. Now, I’m not religious, and like to keep an open mind to contrary opinions. However, I don’t feel guilty about dropping this book after a few chapters. It’s not an indictment of Christianity, just of the author, a condescending egoist. He actually thinks that the only dissenting views of religion are based around questions that 18-22 year-olds ask in classes (literally how he starts every “I’m going to systematically prove why not believing in God requires just as much faith as believing” segment). I am dropping that book like my adolescent acne problem and not feeling bad about it. Moving on to better ones, I got around to reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven and am in the middle of Tuesdays With Morrie, both instantly in my upper echelon of reads. I can’t say enough about how much everyone should read these books, especially young adults (I’d say first-week sophomore year of high school literature class). Even if they’re just cool stories, they cause one to think so far outside of the box. I also powered through The Kindness of Strangers, another good read about a guy who leaves his job and hitch-hikes penniless through America. Recommended. I just started The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo yesterday, and 100 pages in I think I’m going to like it a ton. I’m not much of a blockbuster reader, but this is very compelling. Keep you posted.

Listening: The Black Keys. All the time. Everything. They kick so much ass. Get Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness if you’re into the blues, these guys are so raw.

Learning: How to move my fingers on the guitar

 

Adventure: Viernes

As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry much better than expected.

On Friday morning, the plan was originally to meet in Las Terrenas, me via bus from Santo Domingo and Robin by moto from Cabarete, where he was staying and surfing at the time. It didn’t work out that way, at all. Continue reading

August 10

Keeping in touch with people is tough. The urgency lasts for a few weeks or months, you want to make sure everyone’s abreast of your activities and stay involved in theirs. Eventually, normal life starts taking over. People continue to go on trips, interact with others on a daily basis, get busy, get tired, get off the computer – and you do the same. Social networking and instant communication have alleviated the disconnect to a point, if you’re available at the same time as an acquaintance, it’s easy to converse. However, there’s only a certain amount of answers to “what’s new?” before you start blending your own days together and losing the novelty of sharing with someone who will never know.

I knew this day would come – when writing in the blog seems like more work than interesting insight I can bring. I have made excuses – I’m too tired, someone’s leaving tomorrow, have to work out, have to practice, have to read, traveling. Just like my excuses for not going to the gym – I’m eating well enough, I feel fine, Aaron’s not here so nobody will know, have to write in the blog – I am ending them tonight. This really is my last string to stateside, and I don’t manually keep in touch well, because that forces me to be tethered to the computer. Also, it’s enjoyable and allows me to reflect on what’s going on. Continue reading

Recipe for Disaster

Yeah, it’s been a while. I’ll come back with a real post tomorrow, sorry folks.

I made this dish the other day, and actually got complimented on the leftovers (the leftovers!) the next day by my host, a five-star master chef. He has only one tip for me, I’ll reveal that later. Anyways, here’s how to make what I make, to the best of my memory.

You’ll require:

  • 1 onion, diced and sliced (I used a smallish red one, but really don’t care what kind you use)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 whole peppers; orange, red, yellow to make it look purty.
  • Some olive oil….1/8 of a cup sounds nice…how about 5.6 tbsps? Just follow along.
  • Maybe some butter, I like cooking with butter. From a stick, I’d say I used about 1/2 inch thickness-worth.
  • 1.25 lbs of beef, cut fajita strips style.
  • 2 cans of black beans. Black beans are the best beans, no one denies this (-Tommy from Quinzee, look it up if you’re so inclined).
  •  Cayenne pepper…I don’t know how much, a bunch of shakes’ worth? I like it, you may not. If you don’t, don’t bother going on because I will wreck you with it.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste. Because every recipe on the internet has them as ingredients, even if it’s talking about making cake.

Directions, because you don’t just throw this in a bowl and eat, you scoop it in kindly.

  1. Liberally (not conservatively) season the beef with cayenne pepper and salt. Salting helps prepare the meat to be tenderized.
  2. Chop-a-da garlic and onion, glare at it for a couple seconds then apologize.
  3. Heat up a large skillet on medium heat, pour olive oil in until coating the bottom.
  4. Once the olive oil is hot (check by dipping your fingers), slide in the garlic and onions. Pour some more olive oil out into the skillet for your fallen homies. You can also put the butter in here.
  5. Cook those until the onions are glassy and the fragrance calls out to you like a mermaid. Should only be about 5 minutes. Definitely do not overcook it at this point.
  6. Grind up some fresh fresh peppercorn onto the top.
  7. Slide the meat in, lower the heat, and disperse so it’s cooking evenly. At this point you’re probably looking at your skillet and realizing you should have gone for the bigger one. Sorry, I told you. So I’m not sorry, because I told you. Sorry I’m not sorry.
  8. Let that meat cook until it’s brown on that side, then flip the pieces. That should be about 6-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness of said meat. Don’t cook it too fast, we’ve got a ways to go. Also, stir it within the garlic and onions, let the juices get to know eachother a bit. Sidenote: If the recipe direction number starts with a number, you should be adding a couple shakes of cayenne pepper. That includes the number 8.
  9. Okay, now that the meat looks brown, get those cans of beans open with your teeth. I like to pour out about half the juices, but it’s all your preference. Dump it in there. Yeah, just like that. Ooh be careful, don’t spill. Get some good stirring utensils, and swirl everything around. Add cayenne.
  10. Lower the heat to low, cover that skillet. Gut and dice up the peppers (about 1 inch squares I prefer), let them be. Now you wait. Just go do something else, like write a blog post or read or anything. Just don’t check on the food, it will take longer. After waiting is filled (I heart Stranger in a Strange Land) – about 20 minutes but you really can’t go over the time limit – go back to the food and smell it. It should be lightly boiling and really hot. Also it should smell infuriatingly tantalizing.
  11. Add the peppers to the top, cover it back up, and wait about 5-10 more minutes.
  12. Open it up, and stir it around. Try to scrape the sides of the skillet, don’t be shy. That’s where the best flavors come in. Let it sit for a couple minutes – oh who am I kidding? Spoon that stew into a bowl and serve with a nice glass of rum and ice. You’ll need that because you were impatient and it’s way too hot to eat so soon.

Serves 4, unless you’re feeding a hungry small person. Then don’t expect any.

As I said, this got compliments from a trusted source, and it’s therefore now fact. His one tip is something to do with corn starch and the meat, but he’s requested I make it again this week so he can see and help out specifically. Also, my friend came over and ate some when I made it. She ate about 3/4 of the food I had, surprising because she’s only like 4’2, a buck flat. If she didn’t devour everything in sight, this makes enough for 3 meals.

If you are a lonely soul like me, then you should take use of tupperware and store it, just put it back on the stove on super low to heat it back up. It stores very well because it’s just a stew and presentation doesn’t matter.

Again, sorry I haven’t been writing this week, I think it’s good I took a break though. I didn’t even want to write tonight, but needed something to get me back in the flow. Good night, kids.

Adjusting: 6 Months, 1 Suitcase

Previously, on Adjusting

Sans Boston

Getting Around in Santo Domingo

For size reference, that's a ukelele.

Leaving for six months without the benefit nor desire of a full closet of clothes, I set off to sift, pillage, toss, burn, and pack everything I own into one small duffel and a backpack or put it in storage. What I found as I was packing up my share of 111 Gains #301 (R.I.P.) was that most of what I owned was clothing. I discovered that I’m a bit of a sneakerhead, I have a bunch of business casual and professional clothing from the co-ops in finance functions, and you can never have enough underwear.

In honor of the O-So-Glorious-Sport of Football returning to normalcy unbridled insanity, I’m going to tell you about how I’ve coped with a reduced number of options, roster-style. We’ll break down what has been needed and ignored so far by position groups – HOOAH.

Continue reading