Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic

We bought a used car to get around during our 10 months in the DR.  The car-buying process deserves its own post, but for this entry, I will attempt to explain to you the rules of the road – or as I like to call it: “How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic”. (Disclaimer: We live in La Romana. Driving in the capital, Santo Domingo, is another beast.)  Data from this post come from my own driving experience and from an interview with my perceptive husband who was brave enough to learn the rules, recite them on every outing, then teach them to me.

Sociologists find that in places and situations that seem random and disorganized, there is often a system of order and mutually understood social norms that are not readily apparent to outsiders.  I have tried to apply this concept as I make sense of driving in the DR.  Here are the things we’ve observed thus far divided into “rules of the road” and “words of wisdom”.

Rules of the Road
1)      Green lights mean go. Unless the electricity is out. Then you just go whenever, easing out until someone has no choice but let you go. When in doubt, just go.  Unless you might cut someone off – then, don’t go.
2)      Red lights mean stop. Unless there are no cars coming in the other direction…and unless you’re on a motorcycle.  Motos create their own rules.
3)      Double yellow lines mean no passing.  Unless the person in front of you is slowing around.
4)      Blow your horn to let people know you’re there.  Unlike in the US where we beep when we’re angry or frustrated, in the DR, a beep means “hey, I’m passing on your left” or “don’t cross this intersection because I’m coming through” or “I see the light’s red, but there’s no one else coming, so GO!”  (Notably, some car horns sound like sirens or alarms and you might not recognize “wee-oo…pause…wee-oo wee-oo” as a car blowing at you, but it could be. Especially when it’s accompanied by flailing arms in your rear-view mirror.)
5)      At intersections, one street always has the right of way.  It’s usually the street without the speed dip. Figure this out quickly.
6)      One way streets are sometimes marked. Don’t try to use motos or parked cars to gauge whether the street is one way.  If someone is flailing their hands and shaking their head pointing in the other direction, you’re probably going down a one-way street.

Words of Wisdom
1)      Don’t daydream or get lost in thought.  Focus on driving and only driving – even if you see two clowns go by on a scooter.
2)      Be aware of all moving things: motorcycles, scooters, people, cars, dogs. They typically don’t move in predictable patterns.
3)      Look for speed bumps and speed dips – which are more like canyons. They will scrape your car…and make a really awful loud noise…causing onlookers to turn and cringe.
4)      Know where a couple of big streets go in case you get lost.
5)      Have car insurance. 
*Image credit: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Environment/Pix/columnists/2013/6/11/1370970125825/MDG--Road-Safety--busy-ro-009.jpg

Friday, September 19, 2014

Confronting the Myth of the “Superwoman”: Hiring Housework Help

In my head, I know that Superwoman is not real.  But if I’m honest, I still felt pretty close to her.  I’m a mom, a wife, a writer, and a full-time graduate student…and I really enjoy all of these roles and (most of) the responsibilities that come along with each of them. I’m ok with not doing all things at 100% capacity at all times, as priorities shift depending on the day.  But whatever life threw at us, my partner and I could handle…until we got acquainted with laundry and cleaning, DR-style.

Here’s the deal. In the U.S., I could throw a load of clothes in the washer, read/write/email, throw them in the dryer and start the next load, read/write/email, repeat.  This could happen once per week or randomly as needed.  That system is not possible here.  Laundry is its own beast which requires focused attention…and sweat.

First, *you* fill the washer with a hose. Add detergent and clothes. They wash for a while, then *you* drain the water out.  Fill the washer with a hose again for the rinse cycle. Drain. Repeat until clothes are not soapy anymore. (Alternative rinse: put clothes in a giant bucket of rinse water.) Put clothes in the “dryer” attached to the washer. (“Dryer” is a misnomer. This is not a dryer. It is a spinner – like the thing at the YMCA that spins your swimsuit.)  Take clothes out and hang them outside on a clothesline where they can dry in the sun.  (If it rains, get your clothes down quickly and hang them all over the house, in front of fans.)

So, I hired someone to clean and do laundry for our family so that my partner and I could focus on the kids and work.  This was a very difficult decision for me and I was (and still am) uncomfortable with it. I am uncomfortable because of both the class and gender implications of this choice.  Because of my own working-class background, I feel some kinda way about having "help". The woman who comes needs the work, she has 6 children. But I am also aware that I am participating in an informal labor system which is unregulated and renders millions of people vulnerable to unfair treatment. 

With regards to gender, I have had to come to terms with the fact that we could not do everything here…more importantly, *I* could not do everything.  I could not keep up with the housework and also focus on my research and spending time with my family.  Now, I’m not hung up on gendered responsibilities, but I still felt like cleaning was my realm, and I still felt like this was a “mom/wife fail”.  In the end, we do what we have to do to make things work for our families.

Superwoman can handle all things, all the time, with grace and a smile.  She can work outside the home, kiss and tickle her clean children with loving patience, and make a healthy dinner while wearing a cute negligĂ©e so that her partner finds her attractive.  If you meet her, please send her the freshly baked, organic, whole grain, gluten-free muffins I’ve baked. They’re delicious.   

Image credit: http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2009/354/6/8/superwoman_design_by_cattle6.jpg

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Homesickness Sneaks Up on You

I have tried 4 different kinds of milk and none of them taste right.  And it’s not just me.  The toddler won’t drink it either, so I know something’s different about it.  It’s not in my head.

I didn’t expect to be homesick.  I’ve lived here before and I know people…but there’s still a nagging voice that says “Ugh! If I were at home (fill in the blank)”. Last week was a struggle.  What’s interesting is that my schedule is really falling into place. I am in the groove with work. My partner and I have a good pick-up/drop-off system going with the kids. Things look a little more settled at our apartment…well…we bought a rug and some curtains.

Now that the frantic “get settled” frenzy is over, I guess I’ve had time to miss the U.S. I miss how easy it was to phone-a-friend just to check in about their day or my day.  I miss not wondering whether I’m culturally incompetent (“Did I miss something?” is a recurring question). I miss my church. I miss family gatherings.  I’m sure it doesn’t help that the big kid is turning 4 this week and we won’t be with everyone to celebrate.

Anyway, the good thing is that I could name it for what it is and know that it will pass.  So, to get out of this funk, I have decided I need something else to ruminate over.  Before I left, I posted about trying a 30-day meditation challenge (Aligning Mind and Body).  I have to report that I did not stick with it.  BUT, the good thing is, you can always start again!  So, I’ve decided to re-commit to meditation, incorporate exercise into my weekly routine, and I will also start reading “Oprah-like” articles and quotes about gratitude, perseverance, and life challenges.  

What strategies have worked for you?