Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Andre's Arrival in America!!

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Andre and I at the church, 2. Junior, Claudia and Alexis celebrate their first communion, 3. The whole group with priest and nun, 4. Claudia takes first communion, 5. Daniel volunteers to pass the basket, 6. The whole family with Marisela's parents who are visiting from Michoacan, 7. Here I am with one of the cutie cousins, 8-10. Our first bike ride together along West Cliff Dr. to Natural Bridges beach.

It's official! Andre has arrived in America. I picked him up at the San Francisco airport at 11 p.m. on Saturday night. He hadn't slept much on the plane because it was a full flight and the baggage took a while to come out. By the time we got back to my house in Santa Cruz, an hour and 15 minutes away, it was nearly 1 a.m. (4 a.m. Santo Domingo time).

The very next day, Sunday, I swept Andre and Daniel off to a large Mexican first communion party for my friend Marisela's three oldest children: Junior, Alexis and Claudia. The mass was at the beautiful Catholic church next to the fairgrounds in Watsonville. The party was held at the community center of a trailer park in Aptos. Andre got to eat tamales, nopales, and tacos, plus drink jamaica and horchata (Mexican-style hibiscus and rice drinks) for the first time. Haitians also like spicy food, so he enjoyed it all. I was running around as the official photographer, so it was good Daniel was there to keep Andre company. When our Mexican friends struggled to speak to Andre in English, he answered in Spanish, which was a relief to them.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Andre and I rode bikes along West Cliff Drive to Natural Bridges State Beach. It was cool and windy, but when I asked Andre if he was cold, he answered that he was really enjoying the ride. We found huge anemones in the tide pools at the beach. Later, we went up to UCSC to play racquetball. Fortunately, I have a key to the courts since everything was locked up for the holiday. Andre hadn't played in a while, so he was hungry to play. I think I surprised him with my improved game. I've been playing quite regularly while waiting for him, and I've dropped a little weight which makes me faster.

Tuesday is Zumba class. Maya's ceramics teacher Wendy and her husband Blaze were there, which was an added treat. Andre looked a little lost sometimes with the dance steps, but he said he enjoyed it. We'll see if he wants to keep going, but at least now he knows what I do every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Afterwards, we went to Costco -- a new adventure for Andre. Compared to Dominican Republic and Haiti, things are so cheap in the U.S., especially at Costco. I had to pay the same price for a tiny bottle of shampoo in Haiti that you pay for a mega-sized one at Costco. He got to sample some food, and of course he liked the Mexican snacks best.

In the evening, Daniel, Andre and I went up to play racquetball again, along with a few players from the intercollegiate team. We kept switching partners, which makes it more fun. I didn't play Andre at all since we can play each other anytime.

So far the weather's been nice, though a bit cool for Andre. He mentions it, but doesn't wear a jacket much, so I don't think he's suffering. I put him in touch with Marciano Cruz, who organizes soccer leagues, and it looks like Andre will be playing and coaching kids soon. Today Daniel took him along to build a huge fence. I have a feeling Andre will be too tired to play racquetball tonight. I better get to the store because I promised them some chicken enchiladas tonight.

Friday, May 23, 2008


PHOTO CAPTION: Newly re-elected Dominican President Leonel Fernández.

I'm still in shock myself. After spending two weeks in the Dominican Republic with Andre, hoping that would be the last two weeks we'd have to wait for his visa, I called the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo yet again and this time they told me 6 more weeks.

Now that was ridiculous! Andre had his interview at the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo on March 25. Normally, they deliver the visa one week later, but because of the mystery of the missing Haitian passport, they told him two weeks...but don't buy a plane ticket yet.

Two weeks went by, no visa. Another week went by, I called the consulate. They said one more week. I called again, two weeks more. That's when I went to spend the time with him, hoping he'd be able to come back with me. Then they said call back in a week. When they said 6 more, I called my congressman.

That was last Thursday. Bertha, the immigration expert in Sam Farr's office, asked me to fax some documents to her: the original receipt of his fiance visa application, the appointment letter, and the courier receipt. We did that and she made the call on Friday, which happened to be election day in Dominican Republic, which is a national holiday, so she had to leave a message. Leonel Fernández was re-elected president for the third term.

Monday morning Andre got a call from the consul, apologizing for the delay and promising him the visa within a week. Wednesday the courier called Andre and said they'd gotten the visa from the consulate and would deliver it on Friday, today, May 23, because Thursday was another holiday.

As soon as Andre had the visa in hand, I called American Airlines to see if we could move up the June 6 reservation I'd made. The only thing they had earlier was for tomorrow. I knew since Andre's been packed for the past two months, he could get it together in time. When I called him, he got very excited and said, okay, great, let me get off the phone so I can get ready!

His flight tomorrow is at 1:50 in the afternoon. He's planning to arrive around 9:00 or 10:00 just to be sure. It's two hours to Miami, then he goes through immigration, picks up his bag, goes through custom, rechecks his bag, finds his connecting flight, and will probably still have a couple of hours to wait, which Andre much prefers to being rushed. After a total of 12 hours traveling time, he finally arrives at the San Francisco airport at 11 p.m. (2 a.m. D.R. time). Hopefully, he'll be able to sleep on the second flight because by the time we drive home to Santa Cruz it'll be about 4:00 a.m. D.R. time.

The very next day we go to a big Mexican 1st communion party for my friend Marisela's three oldest children, which I'll be photographing. At least Andre will feel right at home speaking Spanish and he already loves Mexican food, thanks to the fajitas that our friend Gabriel made when we visited him in Uruguay.

I'll truly believe it when I see Andre's smiling face at the airport tomorrow night. This is his first solo flight and first time in the U.S., so he's pretty nervous. Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Horses, Rain & Adios to Costambar

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. The Happy Equestrians, 2. Our fearless leader Jose, 3. Andre on top of Estrello, taking in the view of Cofresi, 4. Letting the horses eat a bit, 5. View of Ocean World, 6-7. How the other 2% lives, 8. Back at the Casino for fish dinner and a swim, 9. Walking back to Costambar along the coast, 10-11. The two sides of Costambar, 12-13. Adios to our hosts Joseph and Vashti at L'Oase.

Rainy season arrived in Dominican Republic on May 1. Before that, we had slight sprinkles that helped keep the temperature comfortable. But the day we had arranged for Jose to take us horseback riding for a few hours, it poured all night. We were lucky to get a break in the rain to take a nice ride over to Cofresi, home of Ocean World and luxury living. Jose kept the ride lively with his hearty personality and constant joking. He accommodated us when we wanted to stop for photos, which as you know, is my weakness. The views from the hilltops were spectacular. At the very top, as we let the horses munch some grass, our friend Hubert called from NJ -- thanks to a cell phone tower sticking out of the roof of a nearby mansion. Hubert's having doubts about his Dominican girlfriend. Jose's answer: Get another! Our 29-year-old guide has lived in Costambar all his life and has seen huge changes. Cofresi was still a quiet fishing village rather than a high-end vacation resort when Jose was a kid. Jose spent the rest of the ride asking questions about what kind of girl Hubert likes, sure that he had the perfect one in his "menu."

We were hungry after the ride, so we walked back to the Casino at Ocean World to enjoy the fish dinner and chef's salad. I learned last time not to order the grilled shrimp, mango and avocado salad, no matter how good it sounds, since avocados and mangos are out of season. They substituted iceberg lettuce and cantaloupe, which was good, but not what I'd ordered. We walked back along the coast. By the time we got back to L'Oase, Andre was done for the day. I walked into the village to buy food for our bus ride back to the capitol the next day and said goodbye to Rainer, Beatriz and their daughter Ana at R&B Bakery. I also went swimming for a bit, but basically it was time to move on. Joseph and Vashti, as always, hope to see us again soon. I'm hoping Andre gets his visa soon so he can finally immigrate to the U.S. In that case, the soonest we'd be back is in 9 months -- 3 months to get married and 6 months to get US residency. But we'll see. I didn't think I'd be back this soon when I said adios in February.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Costambar & Puerto Plata, Dom. Rep.

          CAPTIONS: 1. Andre goofing around at the beach with friends, 2. Vashti's son Raynolph on Junior's shoulders, 3. Haitian vendor at Costambar Beach, 4. Josi's baby is due any day now, 5. Junior and Andre enjoy the pool at L'Oase, 6.The view from Joseph's new vacation home. 7. Racquetball champs from Santo Domingo, Alberto and brother Danelis, with their wives Josi and Gladys, 8. Doubles action at L'Oase, 9. Our host Vashti and her mother, 10. Vashti's relatives joined us for a BBQ, 11. bus ad for "Dominican Males" in Puerto Plata, 12-14. The fort in Puerto Plata, 15. Posing with one of the locals, 16. Andre gets an EEG.

Andre and I have been enjoying ourselves at L'Oase on the north coast of Dominican Republic in Costambar, a gated tourist community. When we get tired of the peace and quiet, we can hop on a moto-taxi for about $2 and ride into downtown Puerto Plata 10 minutes away. That's exactly what we did to find a neurologist for Andre. He'd been having headaches again and was worried it might mean something serious. I had my doubts, but figured it would be a lot cheaper to have studies done down here than in the U.S. I was right on both accounts -- the EEG cost $35 and the neurologist assured Andre there's nothing wrong with his brain. Probably just the stress of waiting for his visa.

I called the US Consulate in Santo Domingo today since it's been two weeks since they said two more weeks. Today they said call back in a week. I guess that means I'll have to change his May 6th reservation. I go back to California on Monday, May 5th. We're inviting all our Santo Domingo friends to Pizza Hut on El Conde pedestrian zone the night before. That's always easier than trying to make the rounds to visit everyone.

Last weekend we invited Andre's best friend Junior and his sister Paula to join us up here at L'Oase, but Paula just found a new job and couldn't come. Joseph, the hotel owner and a racquetball fanatic from way back, suggested we also invite brothers Alberto and Danelis, two of the best players in the country, who also coached Andre while I was in California. They brought their pregnant wives, Josi and Gladys. Gladys is barely showing, but Josi said her due date is now. We prepared ourselves for some excitement, but as far as we know, her son Alberto Jr. still hasn't made his appearance.

On Saturday we played in the pool, then went down to the beach to get wet again. We walked the long, scenic route, which proved to be a bit much for the pregnant wives, but still no labor pains. That night I took everyone out for rotisserie chicken. We played racquetball Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Then Joseph and his Dominican girlfriend Vashti hosted a big BBQ at their vacation home for Vashti's family, some business associates of Joseph's, and our gang. Andre and Junior slipped away to play soccer with a couple of Canadians and about 20 Haitians.

As Junior and the two couples were leaving to catch their bus back to the capitol, they all promised to come back soon. Life here in this small gated community is so much safer and more mellow than in Santo Domingo, the Land of Thieves. I didn't tell you, but Junior's new call center was recently robbed by three thieves with a pistol, getting away with a new laptop and cash. Luckily, Junior listened to Andre and put his motorcycle inside the locked area or he would have lost that too. Another day, Andre got roughed up by the Dominican police (yet again), for being Haitian. Even though he was tempted to lose his temper with these racist pigs, he called on our friends Lenni and Susanne to do the talking, since we can't afford any complications for his visa.

Andre and I have been playing racquetball once or twice a day, swimming, walking and swimming at the beach, and enjoying some great German food and fresh bread with our friends Reiner and Beatriz at R&B Bakery. Their little girl Ana reminds me of Maya, but we don't get to see her much because she goes to school in Puerto Plata and is gone most of the day. Last weekend she went to stay with her aunt., who is a veterinarian for the Santo Domingo Zoo. What a treat for Ana to see the wild animals up close and personal!