Sunday, September 30, 2007

We're godparents!

Andre and I are in Nena’s village near the Haitian border. We came with Hubert and Antonia and a 15-year-old guide named Junior. He’s a first cousin (primo hermano) of Nena’s boyfriend Benecio who had to work yesterday when we left. Benecia should be arriving this afternoon after he gets off work. It’s about 4 hours by bus from Santo Domingo.

Antonia’s village is just 20 minutes beyond here, 5 km from the Haitian border. She said she didn’t know the way because she always travels by bus, but between Junior's memory and the map that the rental company gave Hubert, it was very easy to find. It’s the same route that Andre and I took by bus to Haiti in July, up until a division about an hour back down the road.

The drive was pretty uneventful until we had a minor collision in pouring rain. Instead of watching the road, Hubert was concerned that Antonia might need her own ice cream cone since she was eating most of Junior's. Being an American, Hubert assumed we would file the report and the insurance company would take care of it. After getting the run around by the police, Hubert finally agreed with the rest of us and just paid off the driver of the damaged vehicle.

Nena's family is wonderful. They own a small food shop down the road. I don't know how they were able to give Andre and me the master bedroom. Nena is one of 8 kids and I thought her mom said they're all staying there. I did see her mom on the cot in the living room and the dad never came home. A brother was heading to his girlfriend's house. Well, somehow we all squeezed in.

The baby is beautiful, a nice combo of Nena and Benecio's good looks. Nena's a natural mother and looked great. You'd never guess she just had a baby two weeks ago. Her mother was expecting us to stay several days, but we'd already agreed to go back with Hubert and Antonia. He flies back to the U.S. on Sunday.

SUNDAY MORNING – Back in Santo Domingo. The new big news is that yesterday Hubert, Antonia, Andre and I became godparents to little Dewin Miguel, born Sept. 16. The tía came to Nena’s house to perform the baptism. The baby’s father, Benecio didn’t arrive in time and Nena’s father was busy working at their store. But the rest of us held the baby’s feet, recited Bible verses in Spanish (or faked it, like Hubert and me), and sprinkled water on the baby’s head.

I told Nena she looks great and she showed me her "woman’s secret," as she called the elastic band she’s wearing around her waist. She's always been chubby, so you really couldn't see a difference, except for her glowing face. Her mother wouldn’t let her out of the house until yesterday. Nena clearly enjoyed all the attention as we walked around the village and everyone came up to admire the little guy. Even though you see babies everywhere in D.R., everyone came up and oohed and aahed if they’ve never seen one before. Of course, I think Dewin Miguel is adorable. But that’s because his mother Nena is such a good friend of Maya’s, Andre’s and mine.

Hubert and Antonia had their usual ups and downs and misunderstandings, with lots of interpreting by Chelsea. Hubert was excited to finally meet Antonia’s family in her village, 10 km from Nena’s town, and right on the Haitian border. Antonia admitted she’s ¼ Haitian and she even was able to respond in Creole when Andre tested her. Antonia is a crack-up with her tight clothes, spike heels, and seemingly trampy behavior. One of Nena’s brother said to me, “She hardly looks like a campesina.” It's true. You would never guess she was from a small rural village if you saw her strutting her stuff in Santo Domingo.

I got to help cook the sancocho, which is basically a soup of everything. I’ll try to list some of the ingredients – bananas, yucca, chayote, potatoes, sausage, beef, chicken, carrots, onion, garlic. It took three cooks practically all day to prepare ta huge vat. You serve it over rice with sliced avocado. Yummm!

Needless to say, I’m not starving to death in Dominican Republic. I can’t believe we’ll be leaving for Brazil on Saturday. Hubert changed his flight for one day later, so we’ll all go visit our friend Junior today (that’s the third Junior I know here in DR). And Andre’s apartment building got sold while I was gone, so we’re going to move all his worldly possessions (probably 1 pick-up load) to Junior’s house. Junior’s family will be able to use the bed, little bar fridge and mini washing machine. It must be nice not to be burdened with so much stuff as we are in the U.S. I've asked for simple things like scissors or scotch tape before, but nobody has the stashes of things I have back home.

Speaking of stuff, I wanted to be sure to say Muchisimas Gracias to all my Santa Cruz friends who contributed clothing, cell phones, photo albums, sports equipment, etc. It is all greatly appreciated by my friends over here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Greetings from Kennedy International Airport

I have a few moments and a free internet connection, so I thought I'd check in quickly.

Yesterday I felt pretty on top of things and fairly leisurely about packing and getting loose ends tied up...until my friend Kristin showed up at 8:20 p.m. to take me to the airport. Then I suddenly felt like I had a million things left to do. Even with my last minute panic, we arrived at the airport with more than two hours to spare before my midnight flight to NY. Thank you, Kristin, you're a lifesaver!

I had been so stoked to get a one-way ticket from SFO to Santo Domingo for $239 including taxes. The price was right and I have no idea when I'll be returning. Luckily, I arrived early to the airport because that's when I found out I had to have a return ticket in order to board the plane. I explained to the clerk about the fiance visa and how we don't know when we'll be coming back. It didn't matter. I was still forced to buy a one-way ticket home. I chose October something, even though I have no plan of using it, because it was the cheapest, about $275 with taxes. Just now I'm realizing I should have inquired about a flight to Miami or NY, which should have been cheaper. Either way, it'll cost $35 to cancel it and bank the credit. I'll probably use it to buy Daniel a round-trip ticket to Santo Domingo for the 1-year anniversary of Maya's death on January 16.

By February or March, Andre should have his interview with the US consulate in Santo Domingo and then we'll go to Haiti to leave his stuff and say goodbye to the family. It'll make more sense to fly directly from Port-au-Prince, so I'll probably use my American Airlines miles anyway, since JetBlue doesn't fly from Haiti.

The next problem was the overweight of my bags. Luckily it wasn't too much. One bag weighed 2 pounds over and the other 8. I was able to cram those items into my carry-on bags somehow.

The flight was great. I had three seats to myself, so I actually got some sleep and the flight went quickly. I called Andre to let him know I'm really coming, so he better prepare himself. I know him well enough, he'll be at the airport early, all showered and groomed and smiling. It's a sight I've had the pleasure of experiencing twice before. But I wouldn't mind if this were the last separation we have to endure. I'm getting tired of commuting to Santo Domingo.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What a relief!

Looks like everything's fine with my left breast. When I went in for an ultrasound yesterday afternoon, the technician said she didn't see anything to be concerned about, although I haven't heard it officially from the doctor yet. She wished me a great trip with Andre, so that was encouraging. The woman who did my mammogram on Monday was there too. She told me to ask for her again next year, adding "I want to see a wedding ring on your finger." Obviously, I've been opening my big mouth about my plans.

Today is the last day to finish the DVD project of Maya's memorial party. I had no idea how time consuming it would be. I'm paying a fortune to Larry Gale the video editor, but it will all be worth it when I have the final project in hand before I get on that plane. I think I'm going to pay $35 to Jet Blue to leave one day later, on Sept. 26, so I can arrive the 27th when my friend Hubert does. He's renting a car, which will save me $30 in taxi fare (actually, I think I paid $50 last time because Andre rode out to the airport with Pedro the taxista to meet me). And it gives Larry one more day to produce the DVDs. I want to take a dozen or so with me for all the Maya fans in Dominican Republic and South America (Mexican friend Gabriel is studying in Uruguay and my cousin Zack and his girlfriend Soraya live in Chile). My friend Lisa, Larisa's mom, is going to be sending out the bulk of them, plus leaving 100 or more at Westlake School office, so you can call her if you want to be sure to get one: 831-458-5381.

I'll write more after today. I have so much work to do still, finding the photos I want to include in the project. So I better get started. I was at Larry's studio until 1 a.m. last night.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Still hoping to get out of here...

I'm scheduled to leave late Tuesday, Sept. 25, but I'd like to change it to the 26th if that's possible so I can get in the same day as my friend Hubert who is renting a car. He's only staying four days and will drive his girlfriend Antonia, me and Andre out to Nena's village near the Haitian border so we can see Nena's brand new baby Dewin Miguel. I asked her where she got the name Dewin and she said she made it up. I'm surprised because the letter "w" isn't used much in Spanish, if at all.

Nena's original due date was Sept. 30, so I thought I'd get there in time for the birth, but the baby wasn't in the right position, so they did a cesarian about a week ago. Andre says they always do cesarians in Dominican Republic to make more money. I spoke to Nena a few days after the birth and she was in a lot of pain. If the surgery was anything like Andre's mother's hysterectomy, I imagine she's going to be hurting for a while.

There's another little issue which hopefully will be resolved soon. I went in on Monday to get a mammogram since it's been over a year and I'm planning to be out of the country for six months. I've had two before and many pap smears, all of which were negative. So I wasn't expecting a call yesterday morning from the technician who did the mammo. She knew I'm leaving the country soon, so she told me to call radiology for an ultrasound appointment right away. The doctor who reviewed my mammogram saw something suspicious on my left breast and wanted another look.

The appointment guy scheduled me for next Monday at 12:30. "Don't you have anything earlier," I protested. "I'm leaving the country next Tuesday."

"You won't be going anywhere if you need a biopsy," he said. "It wouldn't make any difference if I could get you in today. If you need a biopsy you're going to have to cancel your flight."

Under normal circumstances, nobody wants to hear that a doctor saw something suspicious and needs more studies. But just days away from getting out of here, cramming to get everything done, not having a moment to breath, and anxious to be reunited with Andre after two months apart, this was shocking and depressing news.

I kinda freaked and cried a bit. After losing my daughter to brain cancer in January it seems like everyone's dying of cancer. I felt like running away from the Bay Area, which has the highest rate of breast cancer in the world. I imagined myself making a quick trip to Dominican Republic just to see Andre one last time before I die. I couldn't even reach him on his cell or home phone.

Then, little by little, I got a grip on myself. I started talking to friends, many of whom had had similar experiences, but the ultrasound only turned up fibroids or odd tissue, nothing to be concerned about. My cousin reminded me that fibroids run in our family and I do have them in my uterus which causes heavy periods, but no pain, so I leave them there. I also reminded myself that I'm not really overdue for a mammogram, so if there is something, we probably caught it early. I also examined my breasts myself and found no lumps or pain anywhere. I have my fingers crossed that I'm one of the majority who goes for the ultrasound and that's it. I'm hoping I'll still be able to fly next week.

I called this morning to see if there were any cancellations and I got lucky. I'm going in for the ultrasound in a half hour. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Got our Flight Reservations!

Tickets are purchased and our plans are set in concrete. First I'm flying to Santo Domingo on Sept. 25, doing the red eye to NY and the early morning to Dominican Republic on the 26th. Andre will be waiting at the airport for me, as always. This will be my fourth time down there in little more than a year. I hardly ever repeat a country that often (except Mexico), but it isn't just the fried bananas that keep me coming back to the D.R.

Our friend Hubert will be flying in from NJ the next day for a quickie 4-day trip. He plans to rent a car and take us and his girlfriend Antonia to the western edge of D.R., next to the Haitian border, where Antonia and Nena are from. Nena is already in her village at her mom's, awaiting the birth of her first child. I'm bringing a ton of baby clothes, so Nena's son will be the best dressed kid in the Dominican Republic. Some of the bigger clothes will go to Andre's nephew in Haiti and Margarita's grandson.

We won't be in the D.R. long because on October 6 we fly to Sao Paolo, Brazil. I'm going up to Berkeley tomorrow evening to play racquetball and spend the night with a friend so I can go early the next morning to the Brazilian embassy in San Francisco. Americans have to apply in person and pay $100 for a Brazilian visa these days as retribution for how our government treats Brazilians who apply for U.S. tourist visas. At least it's possible for a friend to pick it up for me, so I'll only have to make the trip once.

Andre's Brazilian visa has to be activated by October 9, so that's the reason for the rush. I've sold my car and rented out my house, but still have a lot to do before I take off in 2 weeks, like my 2006 taxes, finish up the DVD project of Maya's memorial party, get a mammogram and ultrasound, order more photos, calendars and photo mugs to take as gifts to his family and friends, pack up all the wonderful donations friends have given me, and finish up the paperwork for Andre's interview with the U.S. consulate next spring.

Andre's Brazilian visa is good for 3 months and is multi-entry. We'll probably head southwest first because miracle of miracles: Haitians don't need visas to travel in Argentina. I'm suspecting that it will be easier to get visas to other countries once we're in South America. Maybe we could visit my Mexican friend Gabriel who is studying in Uruguay or my cousin Zack in southern Chile. If not, maybe they can hook up with us in Argentina. I'd really love to go to Bolivia in December for the World Juniors Racquetball Championships, if Andre can get a Bolivian visa. I taught racquetball all over Bolivia for a month in 1983 and I'd love to see if I can find any of my former students.

On January 3, we fly back to Santo Domingo from Sao Paolo. We'll just miss a friend of mine who I introduced via email to Andre's best friend Junior. She's going to be in Santo Domingo from mid-December until just after New Year's while her kids are on vacation with their dad. I really wish we could be there with her to double date. But I know she'll have a wonderful time with Junior because he's such a great guy. I just hope he can get some time off from his factory job.

Andre and I invited Maya's dad Daniel to join us in Santo Domingo in mid-January, after we get back from visiting Haiti again, so we can be together on January 16, the anniversary of Maya's death. That will be a really hard day for us and it will be nice to spend it together in a place that Maya loved -- the 11th country she visited in her short lifetime. A Dominican girlfriend of mine has even offered to accompany Daniel while we show him around.

So the countdown begins. Only 14-1/2 more days until I'm together with Andre again. On the one hand I wish I could fly tomorrow, but on the other hand I wish I had two more months to get everything done.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Still in Santa Cruz

I haven't posted anything in a long time because basically my life is still the same -- trying to get everything done in Santa Cruz so I can go back to Andre, and travel with him until he gets his U.S. visa.

At this moment our plans look something like this:

1. I still need to do my 2006 taxes, finish editing the DVD of Maya's memorial party, make copies and distribute them, get my Brazilian visa, get our airline tickets, collect stuff to take to Dominican Republic and Haiti, print up all the photos I promised everyone in those countries, etc. etc.

2. Around Sept. 20 I will fly back to Santo Domingo. We'll be together in Dominican Republic for our friend Nena's baby which is due Sept. 30. We also plan to go to Cabarete to visit a hotel and racquetball club owned by an American and his Dominican girlfriend who we met in Santo Domingo.

3. Before October 9 when Andre's Brazilian visa expires we will fly to Brazil. His visa is good for 3 months (mine will be valid for 5 years I was told), so we hope to also visit Argentina and Chile during that time. My cousin Zak lives in southern Chile. He offered to meet us in Brazil. Also, my friend Gabriel is studying in Uruguay. It would be great to see him. We have a pretty open plan. I would love to go back to Bolivia and visit as many former racquetball students as I can still find. I taught racquetball there for a month in 1983.

4. Return to D.R. around January 5. We want to go to Jamaica. Maybe my niece Alex and my friend Pria will be able to join us there. Pria also mentioned St. Lucia. I don't know anything about it, but why not? We have until Feb. or March for the U.S. visa. We may go to Haiti right away and then again on our way off the island. Or maybe we'll just wait until we're leaving for the U.S. because Andre wants to leave a lot of stuff with his mother since he'll be giving up his apartment in Santo Domingo. It's really small, basically a room with attached bath, but it's only $60 a month, so we haven't worried about keeping it until he leaves for good. It's always a good idea not to burn your bridges.

5. Andre goes for his interview whenever the U.S. Consulate informs us that they're ready. Hopefully, he gets the visa. Otherwise, we'll be trying to figure out which country besides the U.S. we want to live in. I really don't want to live on a Caribbean island. Too hot and sweaty and small and expensive for me. Assuming he gets the visa, we pack up, go to Haiti and fly to California. We'll probably have some kind of party to introduce him to everyone, or maybe we'll just make the rounds, or you can drop in on us at Maple Street. I'm so excited for everyone to meet him and for him to meet everyone. Like I tell him, you have tons of friends waiting for you.

6. The U.S. Immigration service gives us three months to get married or send him back. So that would mean a May or June wedding, possibly at our old Walnut house, thanks to the hospitality of new owners Pam and Ray. We'll probably go to Kauai for our honeymoon since we can't leave the U.S. Also that was a place that Maya wanted to go because Hilary Duff celebrated her 16th birthday there and we watched the video over and over. Plus, I have friends who have a timeshare there.

7. It takes about 5 or 6 months for Andre to get his U.S. residency. He can't leave the country during that time. So, we're telling his family that we'll be back down in December 2008 for a wedding reception for all the family and friends in Haiti. That will be almost as big a party as the one in Santa Cruz. He has nearly as much family as I have friends, which is a lot!

In the meantime, at least once or twice a day we talk via Skype, with calling cards, Gmail chat, and email. It's hard for us to be separated, but in a way we're used to it since most of our relationship has been spent apart. Our first separation lasted 7 months, the next 3 months and this one 2. So they're getting shorter each time. I really hope everything goes well at home in Santa Cruz, with my rentals and all, so I don't have to break off my trip early and come back without him again.

For Labor Day weekend I'm at Kennolyn Family Camp in the Santa Cruz mountains. I invited Maya's friend Reyna whose family moved to Sacramento. We're having a good time, but I should have invited her cousin Isabel too, so Reyna would have a buddy. Reyna's kind of shy and sticking to me a lot. Maya, the social butterfly, was all over the place, making friends with all the counselors and practically running the camp. But Reyna is very athletic and fearless so she's been doing great on the climbing walls, ropes course, horseback riding, vaulting. We spent most of the afternoon in the pool because it's so hot.

I can't believe I'm planning the next year and a half of my life. Wouldn't that be a miracle if it all went according to plan?