Fifa (big dog), Max (little cat), random pig, and Mama (chicken, on the right)
The animals (minus my dog, Tanuki) in the backyard. They all get along rather well.
A GIGANTIC update of some things that have happened to me in the last few months. Now with internet more available at my site, hopefully I’ll be able to post more often!
Everything’s free in America!
…for a small fee in America!
Visited the states for the first time in a little over a year and four months. A number of people in my cohort went back in December for family things, but I was like GO HOME WHEN IT’S EVEN COLDER AND RAINIER THAN USUAL? NO WAY. So instead I decided to go back during July/August for 3 weeks, the hottest time of the year in the states.
We land in Miami after our early flight and have to go through customs and immigration. On my customs form I list that I’m a U.S. citizen with residence in the Dominican Republic, and the customs guy looks at me and goes “What the fuck? You’re a resident of the Dominican Republic?” and I go “Yeah, I’m doing Peace Corps there?” in sort of a question voice because WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL THAT I PUT IT DOWN?! Why would I lie about that? “Oh yes, I was just in the DR to hang out on the beach and drink out of coconuts but I thought it’d be fun to list my place of residence as the DR.” He says “OK, go ahead” and so I pass through. Then we’re in the Miami airport for a few hours waiting for a flight to Dallas and then to Portland so of course we try and find some lunch. We settle on Wendy’s, and I stare intently at something called “The Baconator” which appeals to my inner sense of gluttony. Anything that roughly works out to mean “The Baconer” seems like a heaping pile of DELICIOUS to me, so I order it. It’s basically meat, cheese, bacon, sauce. No veggies. Welcome back to America, make sure to undue your belt at least a notch.
For the record, it was DELICIOUS.
Then we fly to Dallas, and since we have a few hour layover there we grab some more food. This time I get a Taco Bell XXL Grilled Stufft Burrito (notice the delicious spelling of “Stuffed”). It is also delicious and too much but I love it.
Waiting for the flight to Portland was amusing because as time wore on more and more white people showed up who looked like they were from Portland – families looking pale and wearing shorts reading books, people on iPhones, cute hipsters, lesbians with bad haircuts… basically the Portland that I know and love and missed so much. Then we get on the flight and I realize that I AM THE BROWNEST PERSON ON THE PLANE. Where are all the darker-skinned people?! (To note: I know where they are. Not in Oregon, thanks to sundown laws and the presence of the KKK up until the 50′s).
Ah Oregon in summer! We landed in Portland it was cloudy, slightly rainy, and cold. And by “cold” I mean 60 degrees, which in Dominican translates as “COLDER THAN MY FRIDGE CAN GET AND ALMOST AS COLD AS A BEER.” It was loveellyyyy to be under many layers of comforters and sheets at night and not worry that I was about to give myself HEAT STROKE. Also the lack of mosquitos was a nice change as I am used to slapping my arms and legs frequently and also smelling and tasting bug spray all day long, as the mosquitos seem to love my blood for some reason, probably because I look like I would just have the MOST FUN being infected by Dengue, like “Oh Masa’s just loving the bone aches! Look at him dance!” sort of a party.
Things that surprised me about America:
- Everyone’s house looked like a resort hotel
- …except for my former roommates house in Corvallis, which looked like a workshop (which it is)
- Other names for the west coast: “The Cold Coast,” “The Pretty Coast,” “The Green Northwest,” “Land of Hipsters and Wine,” “Ironyland”
- California is mainly a desert – which I guess I knew, but forget since I’ve never really stayed in the valley until this trip
- America has everything. Seriously. Everything. And lots of it.
- EVERYTHING (generally) WORKS
So in summation I was cold for pretty much the entire trip, was amazed at how pretty and trash-free everything was, ate too much, drank too much, and was busy seeing people and hanging out pretty much non-stop.
Getting back was fun and also depressing because Aidan and I flew out of SFO the last night and so hung out in downtown San Francisco. It was like some sort of alternate reality where there was fog, it was cold (so cold!), and everyone was gay or gay friendly. Then in the morning we had to hop onto a flight and come back to muggy hot Santo Domingo, where the gayest thing you can find are tiny gay clubs and a gay park at night. Sigh. But it’s good to be back and see my Peace Corps people, and my dog, and my town.
ALSO, when did those gigantic flatscreen TV’s become the standard that everyone has? Every house I walked into seemed to have a very similar style of gigantic display. That was definitely not the way I remembered it.
I basically live on a farm with a dog, a cat, three+ chickens (depending on if other chickens stop by) as well as the pigs that root through the backyard on the search for this disgusting-smelling fruit called NONI (Dominican for “WHO NEEDS A SENSE OF SMELL?”). Except for the skittish pigs ALL the animals have become adept at sneaking into the house and catching me unawares, the other day I heard birds chirping near my window but then realized it was just CHICKENS STUCK IN MY MOSQUITO NET so I had to extricate them and chase them around and out of the house with a broom. I’ve taken to putting a bell on my little dog because she’s some sort of dog ninja who just WHOOSH appears out of nowhere and the next thing you see is everything but her head sticking out of the trash can and then I’m yelling “HEY! STOP THAT! GET OUT! GET OUT GET OUT!” and shooing my dog out the back. She’s also small enough that she can get through the 3″ space between the iron bars by turning her hips SIDEWAYS like some sort of cockroach or mouse and then she’s off being a street dog somewhere. I’ve received reports that she’s followed my project partner back to her house and hung out there for a while, went over to another Peace Corps volunteers house for a day or two, and REGULARLY SHOWS UP AT A NEIGHBORS HOUSE FOR LUNCH cause she can. Ay yi yi, my dog is basically a street rat with long legs and a pretty collar that has a bell.
One day in the morning she went out and we didn’t see her for a few hours, not to worry, I thought, I’ll probably just see her in the main street on my way to work. Sure enough there she is walking the opposite direction I am, back toward the house, and she sees me and runs toward me. I guess she makes it to the other side of town, stopping to say hi to everyone on her way. I think more people know who Tanuki is than they know who I am, especially because they get me mixed up with the Cuban American volunteer in town, and the Mexican American volunteer who lives in the hills around our town. I am “generally brown” anywhere I go!
Oh oh, the cat only eats dog food, the chickens prefer dog food to chicken feed, and the dog prefers a mixture of chicken feed and used diapers (hence her nickname: DIAPER LIPS). Figuring out who’s food goes where is a nightmare, I basically fill up the big dog dish several times a day and occasionally add chicken feed and old food because all the animals gather around it like some of Serengeti watering hole. My dog is clearly a vulture – if it’s rotting, she’ll eat it!
On the plus side I guess this means she’s pretty independent and self-sufficient which I guess is all we can hope for out of our kids right? MOM – I SYMPATHIZE NOW!
The cat is tiny and basically sleeps all the time which is great because that means he’s pretty independent but TERRIBLE because it means he is an incredibly heavy sleeper. Add to this the fact that he’s also skinny and barely breathes when he’s sleeping and you have these two situations happen:
1) Me and another Peace Corps volunteer have enjoyed ourselves a few beers at the end of a long hot week, and the power’s out, and it’s late, and bedtime is approaching. I’m in the kitchen when I hear a sheepish “Masa…. Masa, I think Max (the cat) has died…” I go in to investigate with my flashlight and he’s upside down and his paws look like they’re frozen mid-run. He’s not moving. I poke him. Nothing. He feels stiff. “Oh my GOD! I think he’s dead!” I say, and back away. We’re both shocked. We wait and he still doesn’t move at all. Then I decide to do another test: I shake the chair and clap next to his face. He wakes up, stretches, and looks at me like “WHY DID YOU INTERRUPT MY NAP!?!”
2) Again with a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m in the kitchen and Max is on a pile of clothes. “Masa… I think the cat’s dead… again.” I go “AGAIN? REALLY?” and go to investigate. Same dead-looking pose, no movement, although the lights are on this time. I poke him… nothing. I sort of shove him. Nothing. Looks like he’s kicked the bucket this time – AND ON SOME CLOTHES, NO LESS. Then I get down low and start clapping wildly and stomping my feet. AGAIN, he wakes up, stretches, and looks at me like I’m being rude. Dead cat crisis: averted.
He’s basically part possum.
THE ODYSSEY OF GETTING MY KINDLE! (DUN DUN DUN!)
A while back I made a financial calculation between getting a 3G internet card down here using one of the cell providers in town or getting a Kindle with free 3G internet access shipped from the U.S. Well I did the calculation and the Kindle was only a smidge more expensive than the internet card (over the course of the next year or so I’m here), but I would be able to keep it after my service so being a book lover and technology enthusiast (read: techwhore), I OF COURSE opted for the Kindle. Aidan received one here in country from Amazon.com with no problem, so I figured WHAT THE HELL it’ll probably get here fine, right?
OH BIG WRONG. It arrived in country really fast (I think 3 days), but then was held up in customs because you know apparently any package with a declared value over $200 means OF COURSE you should pay an import duty equivalent to something like 50% of the cost, which OF COURSE is automatically added to your shipping costs from good ol’ DHL Shipping. My package was $203 because I had it shipped with a cover for the Kindle. A COVER. I call and oh look DHL has an English option on the phone which is great because I don’t speak CUSTOMS or GOVERNMENTESE so I beeeeeep I press that one and of course the person answering says “Gracias por su llamada, coma le ayudo hoy?” and I’m like WELL HERE GOES NOTHING. After navigating for several minutes in Spanish about what exactly I was supposed to do to get my stuff out of customs I hang up thinking that everything was going to be okay, they would simply ship it to the office, where the front desk person would pay the customs cost and I would pay them when I picked it up.
WRONG WRONG WRONG.
I get a call a week or two later reminding me to pay things, and I’m like “BUT YOU SAID YOU’D TAKE CARE OF IT?” and they just go on and on repeating the same thing whenever I ask a question about it, which is so frustrating. Eventually we finish and I restate that I’d like them to send my package to my office and figure that’s the end of it.
I get an email shortly afterward and it turns out I have to somehow get them the money before they’ll even consider moving my stuff out of customs, which is a chore because the warehouse is at the airport. AT. THE. AIRPORT. In Santo Domingo, which is 7+ hours from my site.
So, I’m finally in the capital and decide to spend an extra day just to go to the airport and figure out 1) where on Earth my package is, and 2) how the hell I can get it out of customs purgatory. I get to the airport and then wander over to the customs building, and am immediately accosted by several Dominicans who offer to “help me through the process for a small fee” which is Dominican for “WE ADVOCATE TO KEEP THIS PROCESS DIFFICULT SO YOU’LL REGRET NOT USING US TO HELP YOU.” I, of course, decline their services, thinking to myself, “how hard can it be? It’s just customs,” which I’m sure are famous last words of people who’ve tried to retrieve their packages and years later we find their skeletons somewhere in the building since they died of WAITING and MENTAL ANGUISH.
Get up to the customs window and well, customs might have my kindle, but DHL actually has all the duty papers, so now I have to go through a protected customs area to get the papers from them and then come back. SIGH. So I wander through the warehouses and find DHL. I get the papers from them, and they look at me like I’m insane for even being there – like, no gringo should ever try and do this – where the hell is your Dominican helper? But being a naive and ruthless American, I persevere. I go BACK to customs and pay the import fees, and then come back to the DHL warehouse. Apparently you can’t do this online, I had to physically transfer papers between customs and DHL, and the file system at customs was insane – TWO PEOPLE in a small room rummaging through folders with numbers on them, looking for your customs receipt. It takes 10 minutes to find my file.
The absolute hilarity of being sent to work in a country to help teach IT skills to it’s people, when the government customs office has no electronic way to file documents that are all printed up on computers anyway, almost sends me into a burst of giggles right on the spot, as the two employees rifle through folders upon folders. It was only my growing sense of ABSOLUTE DREAD that held my laughter at bay.
I finally get back to DHL with my receipts and paperwork to prove that I’ve paid my customs duty. He says to take the papers to the back warehouse and let them know that I’m waiting for my package. I do, and they say they don’t have it at the moment – customs has to release it. Okay, well, I guess I’ll just… sit… over here. An hour later, nothing has happened. At this point I’ve been at customs/DHL for 3 HOURS basically shuffling paper across a parking lot and making sure to make a spectacle of myself as the disgustingly sweaty non-Dominican who looks too young to be involved with customs work. I continue waiting. It’s approaching 5pm – quitting time. So I go back to the front office and ask them why I still don’t have my package. They say that customs STILL hasn’t released it, so they don’t have it. And that they’re about to coos up – “what are you still doing here?”
I take a deep breath and SIGH – one of those DMV/Post Office-type sighs – and say okay, well then it WILL be shipped to my office tomorrow, right? Right, he nervously says after checking the address on the paperwork.
It’s not at the office the next day. I come back almost a week later and discover that they’ve decided to ship it to the US Embassy down the street. Why, I don’t know. To retrieve my package now involves soliciting the help of one of the Peace Corps drivers, but only one of the two of them, because only one has the magical badge that allows him access to the mailroom at the Embassy.
It was at this exact moment that I began to feel like I was trapped in some sort of grotesque Harry Potter story, whereby I have to find the hidden key to open the magical door and defeat evil before I can retrieve the sacred artifact. And of course the driver is off doing something for at least another day, so I still can’t retrieve it. At this point it has been a MONTH since the Kindle arrived in country – A MONTH – and finally – finally finally finally finally! – it arrives. I almost cried and kissed the ground and prayed to God/the gods/kami-sama for fulfilling my dreams after my adventure.
Thank you, DHL Worldwide Shipping, and especially your Dominican Republic branch, for really teaching me an important lesson about international shipping: DON’T DO IT. JUST DON’T.