Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Nine

This is it, folks, the wrap-up. (There isn't really room for sentimentality in these updates, but if I sound cold then rest assured that I'm feeling excessively sad about having to say good-bye to the people I've come to love so much and I think the whole situation kind of sucks.)


I have taken on a new position at Hotel Fun: I am the head of Market Research in the restaurant. It's not TECHNICALLY a real position here, I will admit. And no one else really knows about it. But I think it's an important job and I'm doing really good work and coming up with terrifically important results. I can tell you which is the best dessert each night (Tuesday's chocolate-coconut cake and Sunday's raspberry millefeuille go on to tie for first in the category of Overall Best Dessert) and how many chicken fried tacos is too many (three). I can tell you that guacamole and nacho chips is not, ultimately, your best choice for a pre-show dinner and that raspberry-geleed chicken may sound good but is actually dag-nasty. I can also tell you how much chocolate powder you need to add to a latte to make it drinkable by me, but I admit that there is little outside interest in that particular field of study. (Incidentally, the answer is two-and-a-half teaspoons, which makes the whole coffee-drinking activity rather pointless.)

Here's something else I learned, though I think everyone who set foot in the restaurant on August 1st has the same information: Swiss raclette is the single stinkiest thing on the planet. They had a big party for the national holiday and the whole restaurant and surrounding area smelled like a dead animal of some kind, combined with rotten feet and possibly poo. Unbelievable. And I spend a lot of time with a G.O. named Petit Suisse, as I translate the coffee game for him every afternoon (bar game that can be trivia, group Scrabble, name-that-tune...) and write out the sports activity board every evening. He was in charge of this Swiss dinner and I think he didn't wash all of his clothes that night, or he had carried the smell home with his bag, or I don't know – but the guy stank for three days and he kept giving me big thank-you-for-your-help hugs (which smell boozy and smoky to begin with) and spreading the smell. I would go into the bathroom and scrub all my exposed skin with gallons of soap, but I still had to leave early to go home because I couldn't stand it anymore and had to change out of my contaminated clothes.

I can also tell you that yoghurt grows on you. I don't like yoghurt, never have, but I'm a girl living in a tropical country and spending too much time in wet bathing suits, so I have to be careful. Eating yoghurt is the best way to get those good acidophilus bacteria cells into your stomach to fight off the bad ones, is what they say. (Why can't there be acidophilus in Nutella, hmm? How hard could it be to pull that off?) And so, motivated by my acute fear of yeast infections and following the prevention-not-correction theory, I've been eating yoghurt twice a day for the last month. It was a miserable beginning but I eventually found this mixed-berry one that was less awful than the others and started hiding a couple in my little Baby Corner fridge every morning. Sometimes it has lots and lots of fruit chunks in it, which I take as good omen for the day. (Sometimes it's just smooth, which is such a crushing disappointment that I have to pep-talk myself out of my inevitable berry-less slump.) And now I can't get enough of it. Plus, if I just tuck a yoghurt in my bag, I can leave the restaurant and eat somewhere quietly and I don't have to eat with G.M.s. Maybe that's why I suddenly like it so much, is because I associate it with solitude.


The assistant to the head chef in my restaurant is Halim. How can I describe him? I can't. He is revolting. He's slimy and creepy and just the way he looks at me is enough to bring vomit up in my throat. He's gross with pretty much all the women, but has taken a special shining to me – lucky girl – and is always after me. (Alas, there is nothing surprising in this, as the creepos have always come knocking on my door.) Whatever you're picturing, it isn't gross enough.

Meanwhile, my best buddy here was Raul, a chef who transferred from Ixtapa. He's super funny, kind of looks like a hedgehog – a Mexican hedgehog, which is even better – and helped me keep my sanity around jerks like Halim and the crazy head chef, Bayram. (I hope to meet really nice Turkish people soon because the five or six I know here are hideous and I am developing a serious prejudice.)

Raul obviously didn't get along with Halim, the one being a cute and funny hedgehog and the other being a power-hungry lunatic, and it only made it worse that the two of us were so close. Halim was unabashedly and publicly bitter, saying fantastically childish things like "well, if it isn't the lovebirds" when he'd see us talking and going on and on to the kitchen staff about how I really lowered my standards when I chose Raul. (He was convinced we were dating, obviously, as he is unaware that it's possible to be friends with a girl without constantly doing disgusting things with your tongue when she walks by.) We linked arms once in the kitchen area – where both of us work and are allowed to be, and away from all the food – and Halim freaked out and said "no more fooling around! There have to be limits!" and threatened to ban me from the kitchen if it happened again. (Oh no! Not be able to come and make eight different kinds of vegetable purees for all my asshole baby-parents? But it's my favourite part of the day! Please don't ban me from making purees!)

Needless to say, Raul got transferred to Turks and Caicos last week. Ultimately, it's better for him because a) any Hotel Fun is apparently better than here, and b) he's got a really good head chef and is happy with the move. (Except that his chiquita bombon isn't there.) (That's me.) And I'm leaving this week anyway, so while I am INCREDIBLY SAD to have to spend my last days without my favourite friend, I'm glad that he ended up with a better location. However. Halim now seems to think that, with Raul out of the way, the doors are open for him. His latest attempt at seduction was to show me (and the guys in the kitchen, whose names he doesn't know even though he's been their boss for eight months) how strong he is by putting his finger on the table and smashing it with a can of beans. I thought I was going to throw up, and that was before he said "and if my finger's this hard, just imagine the rest of me."

He's continued with his leering and lip-licking and other generally lewd behaviour (he can only go so far, as he has a warning from Bayram, with whom I issued a formal complaint – though that doesn't mean much because the only two people sleazier than Bayram are Abdel, who hates me, and Halim himself) but today was the first time he came right out and asked me on a date. He was alarmed that I'm leaving so soon and asked me to go to Mangu, the infamous local nightclub, with him. He said that he'd talk to Bayram and get me off of my morning restaurant shift so that we could stay out as late as we wanted. I couldn't help myself: I laughed so hard I had to lean against the wall for support – which he tentatively took as encouragement, possibly my being blown away by his charm and good looks, but then he understood that, as hell has not yet frozen over, I would not be attending Mangu in his company.

Then there's another kitchen person, Jocelyn, who arrived a few weeks ago and moved in to the room that shares my bathroom. The first day she smoked and I went to tell her that it came into my room and she'd have to stop. I was expecting a fight but she was all apologetic and said she wouldn't smoke in her room anymore, so I figured that was that. Except that she's just kept smoking, pretty much all the time. My room actually isn't too bad; I only smell it every once in a while. But the entrance, the toilet and the shower smell like a bar – what am I supposed to say to her? Isn't it kind of bizarre to say "oh, I'm so sorry! I had no idea! I'll stop right away" and then just keep doing it? I guess since I'm leaving so soon I'll just let it go, rather than issuing a complaint and getting the chefs de service involved. (They all smoke, without exception, so I don't know how helpful they'd be.) What's good is that now I don't owe her any respect, so I can play my music as loudly as I want and slam the door on my way out every morning at 6:50. Maybe I'm a coward, but it makes me feel better.


Meanwhile, I think it might not be so good that I'm learning my Spanish here. The conjugation is all weird and they make a lot of grammatical mistakes in a very casual way. They don't bother with "vosotros," but say "ustedes" for all second-person plural. And they aren't fussed about gender: they say things like "todo la vida," which I wrote last time because I'm used to hearing it, and when I doubted myself I asked Raul. He said of course it's "toda," but I've asked Dominicans since and they still go with the masculin. It seems to be that people can personally interpret grammar as they please, so you're just as likely to hear "tu estas" as "tu esta" and "tu estan." And don't even go near the past tense. I'm going to need to sit with a grammar book and undo all of the things I have in my head, in case I want to go to another Spanish-speaking country and don't want people to think I haven't learned anything.

Incidentally, the Quebecois are easy-going with gender and grammar as well. ("Je va voir," "Te-vas-tu au piscine?") It works in their accent because it's part of the deal, but I have to be careful not to be influenced by their funny words and stick them in my French, as in my accent it will sound: wrong.


I have noticed an increasing number of rat traps around the back room of the restaurant, where I have to go all the time for my baby food and milk boxes. Sometimes the cheese has been nibbled; clearly the rat traps are highly effective. (I've suggested peanut butter but they're determined that rats only like cheese.) So now I have little waves of panic every time I open that door. Dios mio, please don't let me see a rat with my baby food.

And I have no problem with lizards or with their poo, which I understand is a necessary part of life. But the other day I pulled back my covers and there was a big lizard poo ON THE SHEET. Isn't that weird? I make the bed normally, as in tightly, and I can't imagine how or why a lizard would be crawling in the sheets and pooping. Maybe it was on the outside and bounced in when I moved the covers? Or maybe it was while I was sleeping and I didn't notice it while I made the bed – which is kind of weird, too. I like lizards. I don't need them crawling around my body while I'm sleeping.


The chefs de service have bicycles, which is how you can tell them apart from the rest of us sorry bastards – that and their giant, giant heads. So the latest game in the village is bicycle-thieving – how funny is that? People steal a bike from outside of wherever it's parked and leave it somewhere on the other side of the village. It can't be easy because we all know who is and isn't supposed to be on a bike and if you get caught riding around, you're in big trouble. So kudos to whoever is clever enough (and juvenile enough, quite frankly) to be pulling this off.

Remember that tooth-sucking thing that Guadeloupans do to show you their displeasure? That thing that makes me want to stab my own eye out? It turns out that Haitians do it too.

I'm trying to take pictures of all the people I care about before I go, and I don't have a digital camera so each picture actually matters. (I know I have to specify because there are maybe two people reading this who still use a real camera – my problem would be easily solved if I could go home and erase everything I didn't want.) The thing is that people around here love being in pictures. If you take a picture of someone, someone else you don't even know will come over and ask for you to take one of them – why, exactly, I'm not sure. They'll never see it. I'll throw it out. But oh, they want me to take their picture. And they don't want to be in the group photo, either; they want a full-length shot, preferably leaning on a tree. So I have to be super crafty about it and isolate the person whose picture I really want. Also, if I ask someone to take one with me in it, I automatically have to take one of them - I've learned to just shut the lens cover and then "take the picture," which they don't notice but which has probably saved me a roll and a half so far.

French men: they're all about wearing a t-shirt and a cute pair of khaki shorts, looking all beachy and fun, and then loafers. Some with pennies in them. Why?

The other night, after the first few numbers of the Mini Club show, with six hundred children onstage, backstage and around the theatre and their bajillion family members in the audience, there was a power outage that lasted over thirty minutes. We couldn't let anyone leave because it was too dark and we had to wait it out – and ultimately went on with the show, which then ended after 11:00 p.m. – so I will just let you imagine the hell and chaos of that many children, pumped up on performance adrenaline and stuck in a hot theatre in the dark for half an hour. If ever I am sent to war, I will consider myself prepared.

The latest joke in the restaurant is to stand on someone's foot when you're both talking to a GM so they have to act like there's nothing wrong. It might only be funny because everyone's so tired and so sick to death of being eternally friendly to rude GMs, but no matter; it cracks me up. The foot-stander makes the conversation drag on as long as possible, which is in itself a difficult skill and very funny, and stands there, kind of swaying back and forth on the person's foot – hoo-wee. Hilarious.

Funny kids in the restaurant:

1. Two eight-year-old boys came up to me the other night and said "table for two, please" and then sat and had a quiet dinner together, like old friends. (I took away the wine bottle and one boy said "do you have any cognac?")

2. The restaurant entrances are always decorated to fit the dinner theme. On Tex-Mex night there's a whole sombrero-and-cactus scene, with hammocks, Mexican ponchos, stuffed iguanas and a sunset in the background. Last Wednesday I noticed that there was a boy standing in the middle of it all, leaning on one hip and alternately pointing a finger out at passers-by, finger-gun style, and taking a break to finish his ice cream cup. "What are you doing?" "I'm being a cowboy."

The camareros have said they're going to miss me when I go and asked for a picture of me that they can blow up into a life-size cardboard cut-out and prop up in the restaurant entrance/baby corner intersection where I stand for hours a day. I think it's the best idea ever and I'm trying to make it happen before I leave – though getting Abdel's "okay" might be tricky. One of the camareros said "but it won't be squishy like you" and I didn't know if that was a cute thing to say or just really, really irritating. Squishy. Hmf.


I mentioned to my G.M. friend, John, that I was afraid some punk kid would casually give away who dies at the end before I'd had a chance to read it, as happened at drama camp for the last major death. So what did he order for me from Amazon when he went home? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! Hooray!

I always read them in one sitting and was nervous about breaking it up and losing the precious Harry Potter atmosphere that I love so much, but it was actually fun to read in bits and pieces when I had time and have something to keep sneaking home to. I was halfway through when I had to do the circus show and I couldn't concentrate because I was obsessively thinking about horcruxes and hallows and duels to the death. I am pleased to report that exactly what I thought would happen is what happened. I am less pleased to report that she did a "nineteen years later" epilogue, which is the thing I hate most in books and movies. Don't give us a cheesy wrap-up, let us figure it out for ourselves. You know?

And I was greatly envied for having received the best on-record G.M. gift, but it only confirmed people's ridiculous idea that I am having an affair with a 50-year-old New Yorker who was here with his teen-age daughter. Though I also had someone ask me if it was true that I had had a fling with Abdoul and that's why we weren't on friendly terms anymore – what can you do. People will talk and it will be ridiculous.


Just something I learned about parents: they really are blinded by their love for their children. A kid was standing in the middle of the restaurant, staring into space and holding a chocolate-covered fruit-kebob without a plate or a napkin, while people bustled around him with their food. His mother saw me watching him – I was wondering if there was something wrong and I should go wake him up from his dream – and came over to tell me that he's quite a thoughtful boy, sensitive and even brilliant. And not because she's his mother, she assured me, but just because that's the way it is. ("Je constate, c'est tout.") Then she called him over and when he got to us, he saw some of the chocolate drip down onto his filthy, mud-caked sneaker. He bent over, wiped it off with his finger and ate it, too quickly for his mother to realize what he was doing or to stop him.

And there it was. I thought: I'm standing here with a total moron of a kid, a complete space cadet with no manners and no sense of hygiene, and his mother, witnessing the same behaviour, sees artistry and thoughtfulness verging on brilliance. There you have it.


I know it was long, but it's been a while and it's my last one. I'm trying to have the best time ever this week and I'm eating so much fruit I'm afraid I'm going to get sick. (I know how sad I'll be when I get home and the pineapple is twelve dollars a pound and pale yellow, not to mention the bitter mangoes. And can we even get papaya?) I'm also trying to spend as much time as possible with the people who have been so kind with me, these camareros that I love so much I find my heart aching when I think about it. And I know that there will never be any way to describe them without sounding predictable and cheesy - they were just so warm! - but they were so wonderful that I hope I'm able to pay it forward someday. Too bad the people in charge here are such royal asses, since there are so many good people but you're too pissed off and overworked to appreciate them.

Thanks for following along and see some of you soon,


Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Eight

I'm winding down my time here – leaving sometime this week-end or just after – and my list of "Things to Mention in my Update" is too long for me not to send out an e-mail. I think I will use subject headings because that makes the whole thing tidy and pleasing.


We went back to the Maimon a couple of times, where I experienced the deepest peace and tranquility I have felt since my arrival in Punta Cana. Clear, warm, beautiful sun-sparkling water, good friends, mangoes and sugar cane to munch on – and not a GM in sight. Paradise. The only thing to slightly dampen the perfection of those days was the knowledge that they would soon be over.

I spent a lot of time working on my underwater handstands – which are now so good that it's downright suspicious how bad they are on dry land – and somersaulting back and forth, to the endless amusement of my friends. They are, it would seem, incapable of doing a somersault in the water, however clever or generally able-bodied they may be. The kids playing in the river also couldn't figure it out: they'd say "Katy, mira asi! Mira asi!" and kind of wiggle around a little under the water, then come spluttering up and ask me if that was it. Eventually I started saying "good! you did it!" because they were getting so disappointed. (Quote of the day from one of these boys: "Katy, are you a gringa?")

Yesterday we got to the Maimon and found that it was muddy and dirty, whereas the nearby Boca de Yuma was not, and at first I was sad not to spend my last day off in my favourite river. Then I went for a quick squat-and-pee in the long grass and only realized afterwards that the group of German tourists on the bridge could see me – and, indeed, several of them were watching me, interestingly enough – and I felt really uncomfortable and was only too happy to get back on the bike and boot it out of there.

And this time, I was the one driving! Emmanuel has been trying to get me to learn to drive since my first river day, and I keep saying no, I am perfectly happy to just hold tight and enjoy the ride. But the others go home early to catch the bus to work and he's right that I should know how to drive in an emergency, when it's just the two of us in the mountains.

(He bizarrely used the example of a bear attacking him and wounding his leg, though your chances of finding a bear in the Dominican Republic are almost as slim as your chances of finding a Dominican man who is faithful to his wife; don't count on it.)

So whenever we're on quiet roads – where there's no chance of somebody avoiding a pothole and driving straight towards us at top speed – I drive for a bit. It's never a very smooth ride, let's tell it like it is, but I get the job done. Bring on the bears.

We often stop in to play pool, though it's hard to know when they're going to be open because they don't even pretend to respect the hours of operation they've posted on the door. The neighbours sitting around don't tend to have much information, but will talk you in circles about the fact that yes, sometimes it's open, and you should come back, we have no idea when. (Carlos: "Sometimes I hate Dominicans.") My biggest challenge is figuring out how to say "wow, I can't play billiards for shit" in Spanish – no luck so far.

We also stop in every week for a visit with Emmanuel's family, including a bunch of children who are so excited by arrival that they run around, jump off of the fence, hide their faces, come up and throw themselves in my arms and then run off screaming and giggling – it’s wild. Apparently they talk about me all week and are so worked up by Monday afternoon that they just sit outside the house and watch the road, waiting for us to arrive. And then they're terrified of me! Only one girl has the courage to talk to me, though she can hardly answer my questions through her uncontrollable giggling. One little boy was so excited yesterday that he peed. Wild.

Emmanuel takes a different route back to Higuey each time to show me the countryside, on dirt-and-rock roads that make for a bumpy, if beautiful, ride. He has suggested that I shouldn't complain about getting a free bum massage. (I'm always pleased when bums come up in conversation, since they're called "pompi" and it's my favourite word here. I try to talk about bums as much as possible.) Yesterday's ride was the roughest yet and at one point I think I almost died: I accidentally chose to let go of Emmanuel and root through my bag at the exact moment that we bounced through a giant hole and bucked up on the other side. I flew up so high off the motorcycle I almost didn't land back on it – what can I say, I needed some lip balm – and when I did land, I can assure you that I felt it. As did my pompi.

The bus ride home was long and difficult, as there was some kind of strike action over making the bridge wider. It involved machine-gun-toting police and excited cameramen (giggling as they ran along with the crowds), as well as some kind of spray that the protestors were getting in people's eyes (especially in the eyes of other protestors; this group seemed to be lacking in organization). We sat dead still at one point for almost thirty minutes, which is an eternity when you're on a packed bus, in the afternoon sun, with the windows shut against the mystery spray and the rocks being thrown at said bus, with a hot child on your lap because there's no space anywhere. And as far as I could see, they were doing construction on the bridge to make it wider. Why all the fuss?


We have crazy, impossible parents here – I won't even go into it – and had to hire extra babysitters because so many families want full-time care. (Hotel Fun parents don't actually like their kids and have no intention of spending any time with them: when mini-club is over for the day, they have a babysitter waiting at the hotel room.) The babysitters we already had are awesome, really sweet girls, smart and capable. (They're the ones in the picture.) I assumed the newly-hired ones would be the same, but have had so many problems since they arrived that I wonder if there's any point in their being here.

One girl stands out as being even dumber than the others, the one who couldn't figure out on the schedule if she had to come in at 7:30 a.m. or p.m. (This is a regular work-hours schedule, a chart with the sitters' names at the top and the hours down the side, starting at 8:00 a.m. and moving down the page until 1:00 a.m. I put a square where they're working and write the hours again, but apparently that's not enough for Fiordalisa, who didn't know what I meant by 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. – that's the kind of understanding we're dealing with here.)

I write their next day's schedule on a paper for them to take from the binder so that I won't have to call them, and I've started bringing it into the restaurant with me because I always see them in the Baby Corner at dinner. On Sunday I saw Fiordalisa and told her that I had her paper and to come get it when I got back with the baby food, unless she missed me, in which case I would put it back in the binder. Seems simple enough.

I didn't see her, I figured everything was okay. Then, at the end of the circus show, when I was at the front of the stage, in the spotlight, in front of our 600-person audience, wearing my nightgown, with Bazz taking my hand to lead me back to sleep – CLEARLY in the middle of something – I felt someone tapping my leg and saying "psst, Katy!" Would you like to guess who it was? Why, Fiordalisa, of course, looking for her paper. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Hotel Fun.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Seven

I have today off and decided to just stay in the village and sleep, which means that I am both enormously refreshed and severely depressed. Staying here on your day off is a bad idea. I have a buddy this week, though, a funny New Yorker who's here with his daughter – and whom everybody thinks I'm dating, which is so widely impossible that I can't even defend myself – so I'll be able to stomach my GM contact over dinner, as I'll go to our usual table for two and hear the latest in the news and whatever stories about his father's Greek restaurant he feels like telling. (He's leaving tomorrow and has been really fun to hang out with, so I feel generous with my free time for a change.)

I'm looking forward to getting back on track with my Day-Off-Local-Adventure next week, though, as they are so much more fun than anything I can think of to do in the village. Two weeks ago the boys took me to another river – this one with both rapids and giant, calm pools – and I knew it would be a good day when I got off the bus in the morning, turned around and saw the four of them pulling in to meet me on their motorcycles, Swingers-style. (For any of you who don't know what I mean, I won't describe it because you really should have seen Swingers by now.)

We started with a thorough tour of the city, stopping at the houses of various friends and family members so that I could be paraded around, their prize foreign girl – and they all love the Blue Jays, which makes them the only people I've met here who aren't hostile about Toronto – until we finally busted out onto the curvy mountain roads, stopping a few times to pick fruit or say hello to the cows on our way to the river.

Having initially been terrified of anything to do with motorcycles and my being on them, I am pleased to report that I am a bike convert and want nothing more than to spend all my days riding around the mountains, preferably with a long scarf so that I can stream it out behind me, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-style. (Again, I won't explain further; see "Swingers," above.) That being said, it took me a while to get completely comfortable, as illustrated by how quickly I earned the nickname "Watch-the-Road!", inspired by the boys pulling up beside me to say nice things or make funny faces, which I JUST don't think is appropriate behaviour when you're on a quickly-moving vehicle.

To be fair, though, we were never moving that quickly. I rode up to the river with Emmanuel, who was extra careful to keep his speed down, to the point where the others had to keep pulling over to wait for us – the mango and cow stops, you see, being only because they had nothing better to do. Sometimes he would speed up a little tiny bit – he must have been losing his mind with frustration! – or swerve to avoid a pothole, and once he told me that he was torn between wanting me to feel safe and secure and wanting me to get a little scared so that I'd hold him more tightly. Cheeky!

Then, when I rode back to Higuey with Dujaric, who is shorter than Emmanuel and over whose shoulder I could see the speedometer, I saw that when I felt that we were going unreasonably quickly, we were actually moving slowly towards sixty – which means that Emmanuel must have been driving at approximately twenty-three kilometres an hour and our forty-five-minute drive to the river should have taken eleven minutes, including the mango and cow stops. Sorry, boys.

There was too much rain to go to the river last week – all dirty and super-fast-current – so I went into town a little later and met up with Dujaric, who has the same day off as I do. (The others just come out for the morning and then head back for the 2:30 bus to the hotel for their afternoon/night shift.) He took me out to the country to one of his favourite beaches, only on the way we stopped in at the houses of all his relatives and friends. My favourite thing was how the women always said "oh, a skinny blond!" (which, I'm sorry to say, is just not true!) and then asked me how many Dominicans I'd slept with because they wanted to know if sex really was better with their men than ours. (Awkward silence ensues...)

When I couldn't take being stared at any longer, we drove out to the beach. It was pretty wild, like the Guadeloupan beaches with mountains in the background that I loved so much, and dark packing sand, perfect for being buried alive. I think we literally spent two hours burying and unburying each other. (I also had the stupid idea that we should rub sand into our skin as a natural exfoliant, and five days later I'm still finding the grains in my clothes at the end of the day. And my skin doesn't feel any softer, for the record.)

We spent so much time buried up to our necks that we suddenly realized it was almost 5:00 and I was going to miss the last bus back to Punta Cana, so we booted it back to the city – and I loved it! It turns out I'm a speed demon! I needed to get past the shaky part, where I think maybe I'm scared, to realize that I'm not scared at all and I want to go faster, faster, faster. (No, Katy, says Dujaric, this is plenty fast enough.) And everything is just so green and lush, fertile and natural, which inspired the unlikely song loop of "To Life, To Life, L'chai-im" in my head for the entire ride home. Driving past the green pastures ("to us and our good fortune...") and through towns full of people sitting outside of their houses to watch us go by ("be happy, be healthy – LONG LIFE!"), I came to realize that this was actually the perfect soundtrack for this moment in my life ("and if our good fortune never comes, here's to whatever comes") and frankly, it's a shame that more Russian Jews didn't think to settle in the Dominican Republic in the first place. What a missed opportunity.

I had a couple of moments of significant self-doubt when Dujaric dropped me off at the bus, as I realized my Spanish isn't always so hot after all. First, an old lady was literally yelling and yelling at me – I thought because she was telling me that she really liked my dress, but it turned out that the dress had blown up on the bike and everyone could see my underwear. Ahem. Then I was moved by a man's pity speech on the bus and gave him money for the students he was organizing on some kind of a trip, not realizing that I was actually purchasing about five kilos of smelly chicken wraps that he insisted on my taking and which I had to hold on my lap the whole way home.

As for work, things here are the same.

-Baby Welcome: sucks.

-Circus show: I still look like an ANGEL.

-Yoga: a yoga instructor from California came to thank me for the ideas I gave her for her course – and then asked me about my qualifications and where I had learned those moves and I had to tell her that I came up with them based on my sore calf muscles and the stretching that I was in the mood for and that I have zero qualifications as a yoga instructor but took dance classes a long time ago... And you know what? She was okay with that.

-Health: I had been playing soccer three or four times a week for a while – there's a G.O. vs. G.M. game every day – but it stopped being fun when all these young Italians came and turned it into a France/Italy World Cup rematch; the mood has been spoiled ever since. (That first game, incidentally, ended with three injuries, including a split head that the guy refused to have stitched up. I know this because, as the only girl, I was sent to the infirmary with him even though I don't speak Italian and he was a son-of-a-bitch whom I had no intention of helping in any way. Because girls take care of split heads while boys keep playing soccer – case in point of how it stopped being any fun.) It also stopped being good exercise, as I ended up stuck in the net for forty of the fifty minutes and the whole notion of "fitness challenge" disappeared. So, despite the fun fact that the G.O.s had started calling me "Pele," I abandoned el futbol and started doing the Body Sculpt and Pilates classes a few times a week and I don't know if it's making much difference, but I definitely have a harder time doing the yoga class when my butt muscles are too stiff for me to quite sit down properly. We'll see how it goes.

-Snorkeling: I did it a second time and got sea-sick again, which seems to indicate that it was never a question of having been sick and dehydrated, but rather just a question of my body not handling boats very well. Good thing I discovered motorcycles in time to cancel out my disappointment!

-My identity: first, Katy in French is "Kah-TEE" (and in Spanish "KAH-tee"), so when people say my name in English it becomes "catty" and I'm just not a fan. Second, a significant number of the camareros have this funny speech thing where they add "s" all over the place – even though Dominicans in general cut them all out and it's hard to figure out what's going on. So "como tu estas" (how are you) becomes "como-tu-ta" in Dominican and then this special group says "como stu ta." This means that "catamaran" becomes "castamaran," "toda la vida" becomes "stoda la vida" and "Katy" becomes "Kasty." There is no one called Kasty here, so I always know it's me, but it has morphed into "Castille" for some of the guests who heard the camareros talking to me and misunderstood what they were hearing. Two G.M.s have now sent letters to Hotel Fun to say that Castille at the restaurant was really helpful and made their stay more enjoyable. (They couldn't figure out who the first letter was talking about, but then the second one mentioned babies and it all came together.) So someone posted the letter on our G.O. notice board and now everyone calls me "Castille." Or "Pele," or "Watch the Road!" or "Katy Judiciaire" (Judge Katy, from my anger at their homophobic comments or their sexist talk or their general xenophobia.)

And I guess that's it, since this e-mail is much, much longer than I had planned. It turns out it's a good thing when people are in the office watching me type because I feel guilty and cut it off really quickly; tonight there's no one here and apparently I can't shut up.

I hope things are going well for you all.
See you soon,

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Six

My biggest disappointment with Hotel Fun life (if it's really possible to choose the biggest...) is the lack of contact with the country in which I'm supposedly living. Having come here as an attempt to relive Guadeloupe, I've been getting itchy for rivers and jungles and mountains and all the things that you're supposed to have in the tropics, more than just pretty beaches – and the same pretty beach every day, at that.

So when Mateo, a painter with the maintenance team here, invited me for a day at the river, I was torn between my desperately wanting to go and my not so much wanting to hang out with Mateo all day. Which turned out to be exactly the right way to feel; the river was gorgeous and soothing and all manner of good things, and Mateo was irritating and heavy and couldn't go five minutes without coming back to how pretty I was and how much he would love to have a girlfriend like me and how he knew I wasn't looking for a relationship but (sigh) it sure would be nice to give it a try and see where it could lead...

So this week, I went with Emmanuel and Cristobal, a couple of buddies from the restaurant – it’s hard to co-ordinate because we don’t have the same day (or days, for them) off, but they start their night shift at 3:00 p.m. so we met bright and early and did a river morning instead of a full day. I knew it would be perfect from the moment I saw them, waiting at the ugly basilica for my bus to pull in, wearing their regular clothes instead of uniforms (obviously, but it's a change for me), holding an assortment of fruit that they wanted me to try; sometimes I have so much love for these guys that my heart feels like it's going to burst out through my skin. (I don't think I can explain it properly to you – I certainly can't explain it to them – but there it is. Giant, aching love for people I'll never see again after August.) We went all three on Emmanuel's motorcycle, which I thought was really pushing it but turned out to just be really cozy – when Ambioris met up with us and we went two and two, it actually felt kind of lonely! – and drove through hills and jungles that looked like Guadeloupe and filled my heart with even more desperate love.

The river was wide and calm, more like a lake, really, and I was glad to be there with boys: they had contests to see who could hold their breath the longest, who could swim the farthest or fastest, who could jump from the highest point or do the best dive – all the stupid things that stand-around-and-talk people like me never feel compelled to do. I'm more of a chicken than I thought, and was way too scared to jump off the platforms like they were doing, but I did some twisty jumps and an impressive handstand dive that none of them could do and I might be able to psyche myself up for the big jump next time, since they asked me to switch my day off so that we could do a whole day, picnic and all. I think a little bit of exposure to idiot behaviour can only do me good; I definitely need to loosen up a bit. (But next time I'll be more careful with my swan dives, as I scratched up my chin, chest and foot and got so many pebbles in my bathing suit that I almost lost my top to the extra weight. The boys were torn between trying to be gallant and show concern for me and my injuries, and falling over laughing with how wussy I turned out to be.) I do love a good day at the river.

Otherwise, things are good and bad here, as per usual. Good, for example, because I'm now in the circus show as the little girl who dreams of all these magical performances around her. They kept having one of the acrobats act as a character, sort of off and on between his or her own numbers, and when I suggested that they should bring someone in from the outside, they asked me to do it. (Which made sense because I know the show and I hang out with them all the time.) I wear a babydoll nightgown, carry a teddy bear and have my hair up in ribbons, and the G.M.s are all saying that I look like an angel. An angel! At the end, all the acrobats lead me to my bed and put me back to sleep, at which point the audience, who has been eating up the story, always gives a collective cheer. They love the magic of the circus.

And Abdel, who hates me almost as much as I hate him, has to stand on stage at the end and introduce me with all the others – possibly the most beautiful moment of the week, as he looks so miserable and squirmy to hear my applause.

Also good because I've started teaching the yoga class a few times a week and it feels really good to stretch and breathe in front of the ocean. Stephanie, the fitness instructor, does about six fitness classes a day (don't forget how hot it is here) and can use any break she can get, and I obviously am not in any kind of shape to lead her kick-box or body sculpt class. So yoga's kind of the default, but I teach it well and it's just a beginner class so people are easy to please. There have been enough special requests for me that they've now made it an official weekly schedule and I'm teaching eight classes, enough to vary a little throughout the week. I love the peaceful 9:30 class because it's 45 minutes – still short but long enough to do a thorough warm-up and some good poses. The 5:15 one is only half an hour, which I find to be a frustrating length, and there's a lot going on at the beach at the same time, so that we have to try and focus against the volleyballs bouncing into our class, the children screaming in the ocean and The Thong Song playing at the beach disco while we hold the warrior pose and send our breath out to the water. I think there are some details to be worked out.

The biggest bad thing is that Baby Welcome is sucking my will to live. I'll give you just one example: though we have an infinite variety of baby food (any combination of fruit, vegetables, meat and beans that you could imagine), many of the parents want me to make fresh baby food every day. So I've been making five or six bowls and labeling them: potatoes and chicken, carrots and beans, beans and carrots and broccoli, what-have-you. And one little girl was having digestive problems, so her mom asked me for just carrots and chicken, which I put in a separate cup and labeled with her name. So then the other moms said, "why does Gabriella have her own cup?" and I explained that she could only eat certain things. Now, all of a sudden, all these babies who have been eating everything, with no problems, for however many days, absolutely need their own special menu. I am officially making nine specialized food cups today, not to mention however many new requests I'll have tomorrow. (I was off yesterday and they all ate the baby food jars and had no problems, in case you were wondering.) Can you imagine being jealous of another baby having a diet requirement? The parents here are petty, selfish, rude and obnoxious. Not all of them, obviously, but the ones I end up dealing with.

And that's without talking to you about my boss, possibly the ugliest human being I've ever met, the restaurant bosses, the hectic Baby Corner Gala Dinners, the babysitting crises, the mistakes with Reception that I have to fix... this job has turned out to be ass. I quit three weeks ago and they said they'd find me a replacement and then I could go work with the teens, where they don't have a single French-speaking G.O. and are desperate, but then Abdel vetoed the whole thing last week – apparently I'm doing too good a job and I can't leave – so now I'm stuck. In some ways it takes off the pressure: if I'm irreplaceable then they can just get the hell off my back, and I've made that much clear. But it also means that I'm facing down six more weeks of these demon parents, and that's hard to stomach.

Wish me luck.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Five


This week was another private reservation, but instead of being a fun, outgoing, friendly group of American lesbians who didn't need too much G.O. involvement, it was a snobby, uptight bunch of Italian bankers who didn't speak a word of English, Spanish or French but somehow still wanted us sitting uncomfortably through meals with them.

We got off to a rough start at The Big Arrival when Abdel said to us, as the first of sixteen buses was pulling in, "okay – from now on, everything is in Italian; it's important to make them feel comfortable right away." This would obviously have been a good time to refer to the crib sheet of Italian phrases we were promised, except that no one ever made one. Which means there were six G.O.s who spoke Italian and two hundred who vaguely knew how to say "hello" and count to five.

There were hardly any guests at the show that night, as most had succummed to their jet lag (or were off somewhere chain-smoking cigars, which is all I ever saw – or smelled – them do), and those who did show up slowly wandered out throughout the performance until there were exactly four people sitting in the theatre. Meghan and I, who, as restaurant hostesses for the week, worked bizarre hours and were generally out of the G.O. loop, were the only ones who showed up for Crazy Signs – and they still made us do it! Henri the Chef de Loisirs, Meghan, me and four Italian bankers who obviously wanted to leave but felt guilty about sneaking out right in front of us. Yukking it up to "Hands up, baby, hands up." Henri went all out on the microphone – “are all the G.O.s in the house?!" and the two of us had to go "whoop!"

**I don't have any pictures of that awful night, but these ones are just to show what Crazy Signs are usually like, with lots of people and general laughter and fun.

**I think I look nice in that beige-and-white-dress-code outfit, too, so here's a chance for me to be vain and sneak some pictures in!

One of our audience members decided that this was the best possible way to spend his first evening at Punta Cana and came with us to the bar, where the G.O.s had gathered for more Crazy Signs. The whole thing pooped out fairly quickly, what with there being only a handful of guests and their only speaking Italian, so Henri put on the salsa music and left us to our own devices – which meant that I was stuck with this guy from Milano. He must have taken a salsa class somewhere and now had a hugely undeserved confidence in his dancing ability as he whipped me around the dance floor with zero sense of rhythm or grace and refused to loosen his grip around my waist. (I had bruises the next day! Bruises!) I finally got out of there after three more dances ("ooh, merengue, my favourite!") and limped home, my toes throbbing from being crushed under his fancy Italian shoes, and avoided the bar the rest of the week.

We were all especially disappointed at the level of frumpiness that this group brought with them. When you hear Roma, Milano, Venezia, you think the women are going to be elegant and fashionable with beautiful curly hair and nice perfume. Well. I haven't seen so many one-piece sequined leotards since – well, ever. Black dresses with white satin bows all over them. Giant poof things and boas and weird hats. It was upsetting, to say the least. And bitchy! These women were awful! Can you actually give me cut-eye when you're wearing a cat suit with neon do-it-yourself paint on the front? Apparently you can. It may be because their husbands came in and went straight for our chests – maybe that was the problem – but when we're standing there as restaurant hostesses for three hours at a time, saying "ciao, ciao, bon appetito" ad nauseum and smiling for all we're worth, can't you at least be civil?


And here's why it was so hard to stay standing for three hours at a time: I caught the stomach bug (which the French call "un gastro," possibly my favourite expression) that was going around and my system was pretty much empty for five days. The first day I had it was the worst, as I was throwing up and unable to leave my bed, but the nurse couldn't come to see me because she had it too. I had to just suck it up. (Or spit it out, more like.) When you're super sick like that you really want some sympathy from someone – anyone! – but it's hard to find when everyone around you is sick and people can't keep track of who has what and you're all working different jobs because of the stupid bankers so nobody even knows where to look for you and find you gone. "Hey, I haven't seen you around these past few days," all casual, when you thought that the whole world had surely ground to a halt in your absence, G.O.s and G.M.s alike wandering around aimlessly, head in hands, wondering what to do without you. "Hey, Katy, you weren't at the meeting." That's the best they could do.

Here's what I discovered: when you're still sick but you need to eat something because or else you're going to pass out, don't go for peanut butter. (That unfortunate choice may have been what gave me the distinction of being the only person to stay sick for five days instead of twenty-four hours.) And if you do the soda-with-lime thing that all the Dominicans insist is like magic, stay close to the bathroom.

My friend Manuel Ali brought me this homemade concoction that is like mamajuana with medicinal herbs, said to clean out a sick stomach within hours. He said I should have some right away but didn't warn me about its potency; I took one chug, surrounded by all the camareros on their dinner break, and literally crumbled to the ground, unable to move. It's supposed to be rum and honey and whatever herbs are brewing in there but it tastes essentially like lighter fluid and let me tell you, it burns. How could it not clean out my system? It was like being fumigated. And I had literally no food in my stomach and was dehydrated and you know what? Maybe it wasn't the best time to try a ninety-six-per-cent-alcohol mix in a public place. These are the lessons one has to learn oneself.

One of the guys started to give me a foot rub because he was worried that I was going to pass out and foot rubs are apparently the way to go. Another one took my head on his lap and massaged my temples. The other thirty of them stood around and watched, comparing stories of the worst pass-outs they had seen and the biggest throw-ups and all sorts of fun things, and I had so little strength that all I could do was lie there and focus on the strange sensation of fire spreading slowly along my limbs.

And then I was better the next day. From the antibiotics, the mamajuana or just the end of the virus? Hard to say. Either way, I needed a system clean-out, as I was in an eat-my-face-out phase that once saw me consume nine puddings in two hours – AFTER eating a full breakfast. (And before getting in the pool and jumping around with babies and their pudding-free parents.) White chocolate bread, raspberry tart, pear flan, you name it. I think this "virus" was actually my body staging a revolution against itself, and it didn't come a minute too soon.


And then when I was feeling better I did some more trapeze and I am now officially a high flier. But it wasn't easy, and here's why:

There's a new circus guy, Fabrizio, who was the designated catcher, so after doing a couple of practice runs (and bruising the hell out of my legs), I went up to be the first catch of the day. Kevin was doing the ropes, Mona was on the platform, and they were both calling out instructions, which is usually the catcher's job – they said it was because he wasn't used to their system and it was easier if they were in charge. Wrong! The first time he swung me back crooked and the bar was nowhere in my vicinity – a harmless free-fall down to the net. The second time he threw me so hard and so far that the ropes got tangled with the bar and Kevin almost dislocated his shoulder pulling my ropes so I wouldn't crash into the side pole. The third time he sent me flying up so high that I smashed my hand onto the bar, which was beneath me, which I couldn't hold onto, and so which smacked me on the head on my way down. I decided to call it quits after that one.

Wrapping my hands up after, putting my shoes back on, and what do I discover? Sure, Fabrizio knows how to catch, but he hasn't done it for four years! I was his guinea pig! He wasn't sure if he would be able to do it, but now that he had a few practice runs he feels much better about it... Meanwhile, my hands are bunged up, my forehead has a big bar-size lump on it – wow, I'm so pleased that you feel better about yourself now. Thanks, team.

(I did it again with Kevin and made every catch, so the problem was clearly not me and my trapeze skill. I think I'm this close to becoming an acrobat once and for all.)


There are snakes all over the place, usually little skinny black ones, really pretty and shiny and quick to get out of your way. Just a nice little addition to the tropical flavour of this place. Then, recently, everyone started talking about the big snake in the vine tree near behind my housing complex and I figured they were exaggerating, as the locals are terrified of snakes and it was probably a little garden guy blending in with big branches.

Okay. This snake is, like, three metres long and about as thick as a Kevin the circus guy – who is about as thick as Mister T. It is huge, it slithers around the tree and just kind of watches us through the day. And now it has disappeared. Which makes me think that it's better to have a huge and scary snake in a tree than a huge and scary snake at large behind my bedroom. Am I right? I think you should be calling my room from time to time to check in on me, because I might be dead by snake within the month.

Then there's the shark, which I am convinced I see out the window of the sea-side restaurant. Just when I convince myself that I'm imagining things and it must be a trick of the waves, I look again and I'm sure it's a shark. The camareros are divided – mostly against me, but there are a few solid votes on the shark team. And Bayram, the executive chef and also a total nutbar, goes out and fishes big and scary sea creatures for dinner – baracudas and such – including the occasional shark. Small-ish, not like my champion shark out there, but a shark nonetheless. I'm just saying. Room number 718.

And what does he do with the fish he catches? He hangs them up or lays them over the table at the entrance to the restaurant so that everyone can admire them before they're hacked up and served as sushi. They are often longer than I am – I am not exaggerating; we did a test, with me lying beside the table, and the shark won by a good half a foot. And they smell like: giant dead fish. I stand there every night for minimum two hours, don't forget, waiting for the babies to arrive, and I have to actively focus on not throwing up as the waves of fish-and-fish-blood stench wash over me. ("Ciao, bon appetito, ciao, bon appetito...")

(It's hard to have your camera around when you're working, so I have to use the pictures I have rather than the ones I want. The shark in this picture is definitely one of the small ones.)


The big restaurant is being renovated (read: they're fixing the bajillion holes in the thatch ceiling so that our esteemed guests will no longer be drenched during rainy dinners) and we only have 250 G.M.s this week, so every meal is in the sea-side restaurant and the whole team is back together. (Except for all the people who were laid off until more G.M.s come, but I'm trying to focus on the positive.) This means that we're having breakfast there for the first time, which is a pain in the ass for the restaurant team – far from the bakery, crazy heavy blinds to put up and down – but glorious for the rest of us because it's blue sky, sun on the water, everything shimmery and lovely and dreamy while you eat your croissant and papaya.

The problem is that the bacon and eggs counter is right beside my Baby Welcome. The bacon smell comes straight out to where I'm standing and I'm suddenly craving this food that I normally find categorically revolting – I even snuck a piece this morning and went out to eat it in the bushes like a desperate woman. My plan is to go in early tomorrow and eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal in the hope that it will dull my bacon lust. Can I count on a full stomach outweighing a craving? Hard to say. Hard. To. Say.

I also stand in front of the orange juice station. This morning a woman came up to the table, where Victor and Nelson were standing and squeezing oranges into pitchers, and she asked "is this fresh?" They said "yes, it's fresh" – where they should have said "can you not see us squeezing oranges in front of you for your Hotel Fun pleasure, dumb-ass?" – and she asked "what is it, mango juice?" Crates of oranges all around the table. Crates. Oranges on the floor, on the cutting board. Yes, it's mango juice. Thanks for coming out.


My most touching moment since I've been here: I'm in the restaurant, waiting for babies. A little boy walking in with his mother stops dead in his tracks and points at me in wonder: "look, mommy, a princess!" He comes up and touches my arm, gazes at me until she pulls him away to find a table, and says "bye, princess, bye..."
Now, possibly there's some kind of good lighting effect, maybe something shimmery happening in my hair or making my eyes twinkle. And he obviously has a storybook at home with a princess who's wearing a similar skirt so he thinks I'm the same girl. But I don't care: it's magic and I feel like a princess. Best night of my life.

Keep it real.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Four

Internet has been down for a few frustrating weeks, but now it's back and we have TWO computers and they have high-speed service. It's just so exciting. But what should I tell you about? How can I keep you up-to-date without writing so much that you all start to hate me?

Let's start with my new job. And let's make headers for each section. Yes.


I defected from Mini Club because although I love working with children, and I really do love working with children, I couldn't take being sick all the time and exhausted all the time and having a bunch of self-important colleagues telling me what to do and treating me like an idiot, even though I'm older than most of them and have many more years of experience with kids than they do. Call me crazy. My friend Sarah left for the Hotel Fun in Florida and she suggested that I take her job at the Baby Welcome – which I did.

(I also moved into her room, since my neighbour smoked and I smelled like I lived in a pub; anyone who wants to call me can now try room 718.) (I know you won't call, I'm just letting you know your options.)

Baby Welcome: everything to do with babies under two years old. I'm at the restaurant during breakfast, lunch and dinner to wash bottles, get baby food, put various things in the blender to create baby food, get high chairs – and just be an extra set of hands for the parents in general. Frankly, I spend a lot of time chatting them up so that they feel they have a key contact person; Hotel Fun guests love to feel important.

I also run a couple of activities each day, which means that I'm in the pool with little babies, in the sand with little babies, going on walks around the village with little babies... my biological clock has clicked into overdrive and I'm worried I'll want to just go home and have babies instead of going to school as planned. It's risky, this Baby Welcome.

And I've met some really interesting people, including television reporters, a Fox News cameraman, a guy who manages the film company started by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, another who runs a music production company, a pair of architects... Good stuff. I'm not supposed to talk about very interesting or risky topics with the guests, but when you're sitting in a pool for an hour with someone who covered the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq (he told me they aren't allowed to call it a war, but a "conflict"), you aren't just going to talk about little baby Jimmy's poop schedule.

I manage the babysitting service as well, which would be okay except that bookings are through reception. It turns out the reception staff isn't so good at things like "reading the instructions I type out for them" or "calling me to signal any new bookings or cancellations as I have repeatedly begged them to do." Which means that I often have babysitters not showing up when they're supposed to (because reception accepted a last-minute booking and then didn't tell me or the babysitter) or showing up and having no job, as their booking was cancelled. You can probably guess who takes the heat from the parents in these situations, which maybe isn't my favourite thing.

On the other hand, the babysitters only speak Spanish, as does all the kitchen and restaurant staff, so it's a good immersion program for me. The Spanish here is really hard to understand, which was confirmed for me when the five new Mexican G.O.s showed up and couldn't understand a word – and this made me feel much better about my own abilities. I'm even starting to crack jokes in Spanish. Not so much at 6:45 a.m., though, which is when I start every day; is it worth it? I haven't decided yet. Yo espero que si.

So if you have any questions about babies, let me have 'em. Or, more realistically, if you have any information about babies that could help me in my job, send it along. I don't actually know anything about them, it turns out. They smell good and have soft heads and .... that's about it.


I was wrong in my indignation. This was the best week of my Hotel Fun life and I'm still sad that they're gone. 950 women who are thrilled to be here, supportive of each other, funny and loud and enthusiastic and sporty – we all had a great time, including the "tee-hee, lesbians" G.O.s who learned an important lesson about acceptance and open-mindedness.

We started with a very hectic arrival day – 950 guests in five hours is a logistical nightmare – during which we were all waiting for the usual complaints (the luggage is taking too long to get to our room, the view isn't good enough, the closets smell moldy, we have to walk too far to the restaurant, the ice machine isn't close enough, the air conditioning is noisy, the pillows are too flat, we're too far from the tennis courts, we're too close to the tennis courts and the games are loud during our afternoon nap...), but they never came. Everyone was friendly and chatty and completely understanding that things were taking longer than usual. And I can't complain about running around all day because after showing one couple to their room, I ended up staying for an hour and a half, the three of us sitting on the bed and chatting like at a slumber party; I don't think anyone else got a 90-minute break.

I loved doing the activities that week – and I had a lot of time, since they didn't want too much G.O. involvement, male or female – because there were groups of women everywhere to cheer you on. First time windsurfing? They'll make you feel like a champion. Trying the trapeze? They'll encourage you and talk you out of your fear until you feel like you were born to be in the circus. (I'm not scared anymore but I still appreciated it when they told me I was graceful like a real acrobat; I think we should install a moral support team at the trapeze so that everyone can feel as pretty as I did.) They had their own entertainment, a line-up of stellar comics for the week, and the laughter coming out of the theatre every night was unprecedented here at Punta Cana. Not to mention how nice it was to have real entertainment instead of just G.O. cabarets.

I was lucky to be sent on an excursion within the first two days, where I met Robbie and Trina, my good buddies for the rest of the week and my dinner dates more often than not. (We were allowed to hang out with them if we were invited.) I had been looking forward to a week of G.O. meals, finally a chance to just talk amongst ourselves, but then I discovered that the G.O.s are generally a bunch of idiots and I was desperate to break free and go find myself a G.M. No matter which table I chose in our sectioned-off part of the restaurant, I could be sure to hear boys giggling about boobies and sex – and by "boys," of course, I mean G.O.s in their mid-to-late twenties.


For this excursion we got in the back of an army-tractor-type vehicle and bounced along scary dirt roads for an hour to get to a guy named Christian's house. It's in the mountains, deep in the jungle, and is all stone and straw and super cute. There were cocoa beans roasting, stirred round and round by twelve-year-old boys in cut-off jeans, and various things brewing, and then suddenly Christian was there before us, on horse-back, in all his Fabio-like splendour: long curly hair and an open shirt with bead-and-shark-tooth necklaces hanging on his leathery chest. And he was very excited to see us. He picked fruit off his trees and hacked them open for us to taste the most amazing coconut, pineapple and papaya of our lives; he sang traditional Dominican songs for us; he invited us to stir the beans and he kissed us all profusely.

We then wandered around the house and up to the gift shop, where Christian and his Belgian wife (whose parents must spend all their days just shaking their heads in bafflement at their daughter's life decisions) served us home-made coffee and hot chocolate, both so strong and bitter that I believe I am still making that scrunched-up face, two weeks later. One of the mystery brews turned out to be Mama Juana – and whatever jokes you feel compelled to make, you aren't the first and certainly won't be the last – this rum-honey-lighter-fluid mix that had me passing out from the smell alone.

I had a good time hanging out with the tour guides and was especially fond of my new buddy Franky, who now brings me fruit every time he's here to take out an excursion group. I wasn't too thrilled about our stopping in at a school to gawk at the multi-aged children in their little classroom, but most of the ladies left money, which is obviously desperately needed in this education system. And I was most definitely thrilled when we stopped in a sugar cane field and Franky hacked up pieces for us to suck on; the whole day had reminded me so much of Guadeloupe, with the jungle and the fresh fruit and the smell of rum, and then here was my beloved sugar cane – I actually had tears in my eyes at my first taste and I think Franky thought I was a total loony. (But he's brought me sugar cane twice, so I'm not fussed.)

All things considered, a great excursion and a great week. I asked the women in charge if you had to be a lesbian to go on an Olivia tour and they said no, not least because it's not like they can test you before you sign up ("Oh, really? A room for two? Let's see you kiss."), and so I think my next holiday will be the cheapest Olivia extravaganza I can find.


Our nearest town is not necessarily the prettiest place you've ever seen, but it's good if you want to buy shampoo, eat delicious chicken empaƱadillas or visit a remarkably hideous basilica that must have been built in 1974, because or else there is no excuse for its flagrant overuse of grey concrete.

The thing is, to do your shopping you have to get off the bus and onto a moto-taxi, which I had adamantly refused to do since arriving in Punta Cana. I had to get over it because I was really out of shampoo, so I went with my security guard friend, Edie: he chose a moto-taxi for me, helped me on so I wouldn't burn the hell out of my leg on the EXPOSED ENGINE, and then got on behind me! Three of us on this little rinky-dink borderline mo-ped with no helmets and no street markings, where there's vaguely a sense of the right and left sides of the road but everyone mostly does whatever they want to get where they're going... I couldn't decide whether to be scared shitless or simply fascinated by the fact that we weren't dead yet.

A few days ago I was back in Higuey to hang out with Victor, my favourite restaurant camarero. The best thing on the bus ride is the money-collector: he stands on the step and basically hangs out of the bus for the whole ride, including when it's going at 90 km/h on the open stretches of country roads. Half the time he jumps off while it's still moving, or it leaves without him and he has to run and jump back on – never laughing, never acting like it's a joke or an inconvenience or anything other than The System. This is my job, I hang out of a speeding bus with a wad of cash in my hand and the driver leaves without me every third stop.

I also had a nice little chuckle over the Dominican mama walking through town with children all around her, wearing a shirt that said "I [heart] Farmer Tans." Now THAT'S comedy.

Victor picked me up at the basilica on his motorcycle, and maybe because I know and trust him, or maybe because he's a good driver, or maybe just because you're less uptight the second time around, I loved it. I would like to look into purchasing a motorcycle of my own when I get home. We whipped through the streets on our insider tour of Higuey, zig-zagging around potholes, going up on the sidewalk to avoid women with strollers, screeching to a stop when someone came zooming in from a side street somewhere... awesome.

AND I found the prettiest polka-dot dress in the world for red and white night, which is tonight, and just might make this entire experience worthwhile.


Maybe you won't find this as funny as I do, this complete lack of irony in so many people here, but my friend Michelange really likes the Aladdin soundtrack – you often hear it blaring out of his room when he's in the shower – and has recently changed his answering machine to "A Whole New World," which gets cut off twice and then finally plays through. When I'm feeling kind of blue, I call him up and listen, just to have a good laugh.

Oh, and my voice is back! After three months of scratchy throat and pharyngitis and not even being able to hum in the shower, my few weeks away from Mini Club have given me just the break I needed to heal my voice. It's like finding an old friend: I keep running home when I have time and whipping out the guitar – I think my colleagues think I'm having an affair.


Alright, that's it. There's so much more, but I still do have at least a minimum of self-restraint. I hope all is good with you and see you in the fall.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Kathryn Goes Republican, Chapter Three

Last time I wrote I was in Higuey, the somewhat nearby town where I can do internet for 20 pesos an hour, I can wear whatever I want and I don't have to greet everyone I pass – though I still do; the brainwashing seems to be working.

Local friends of mine had told me how to find a cheap internet place, but of course it was much more confusing when I got there and tried to work my way through all the winding streets, so I asked a young guy to confirm that it was, in fact, ahead on the left. He said "come, I'll show you" and walked with me the thirty steps to the Spider Cyber Cafe, introduced me to his friend who works there and sat down to wait. I thought he was just hanging around with his buddy, or maybe waiting for me to be seduced by this loud, slurpy kissing thing he kept doing while winking suggestively. It turned out he was being my unsolicited tour guide – a guy in a souvenir shop (where Yoel took me after I was done internet) explained to me that this is the system and I'd have to come up with some kind of tip.

Frankly, it was worth it; this Yoel was so much fun to hang around with! I was looking for black clothes so that I wouldn't keep wearing the same outfit every Friday (dress code: black elegant) and it was impossible to find anything that wasn't thick polyester and heavily sequined. (Any entrepreneurs who want to make a fortune should look into selling the BeDazzler in the Caribbean; these folks LOVES a good sparkle.)

But rather than becoming a long and frustrating marketplace search, it turned into an extended fashion show, with me trying things on and Yoel giving me the thumbs up or down. He doesn't like me in yellow, it turns out, but is ready to marry me in anything red. I found a sexy halter-style polka-dot dress for Sunday (dress code: black and white) and knew it was a keeper when Yoel yelled "¡Dios mio!," fell on the floor and convulsed, Dominican voodoo style. I also enjoyed his signature Bollywood move of putting his hands under his shirt and miming a beating heart, as well as his habit of putting his arm around me, hitching his thumb into imaginary suspenders and calling out "how do you like my girlfriend?" whenever we passed someone he knew. I couldn't get enough of it.

Yoel's biggest challenge was finding me a public toilet on Easter week-end (everything closes for Jesus, it would seem), but he eventually led me to the bus station and to the "clean, safe toilets" to be found there. Do I even need to tell you what "clean" and "safe" mean to Yoel? I'm sure you can imagine the stopped-up toilet, the suspicious brown water all over the floor and the complete lack of toilet paper or a sink without my going into detail. But here's the tricky part: there's no door. No curtain, no piece of plastic, no shifty piece of fabric – nothing to hide my squatting self from the men sitting on the bench at the bus station. Nothing, that is, except for Yoel. My brave soldier stood (with his back to me, of course), gallantly shielding me from the men's view and even singing so he wouldn't hear me pee. AND, when he saw that I was using my bottle of water to wash my hands, he mysteriously and gleefully pulled a bar of soap out of his pocket. I'm telling you, this guy should run for president.

Incidentally, next time I attempt a day in town, the plan is to not ingest anything even remotely liquid so that I can save my desperate pee break for my own toilet. What would I have done without Yoel?

Every night there's a children's show at 8:15 and then an everybody show at 9:30. Two of these later ones are circus shows, one in the theatre and one outside on the flying trapeze, and they're fantastic. I'm borderline in love with Mona, the Swiss wonder whose acts I refuse to describe, as no words can do them justice. They have a Cirque du Soleil vibe, if that gives you an idea, and include things like satin curtains (for climbing and wrapping herself around in) and Chinese rugs for juggling with her hands and feet. Then there are juggling numbers and acrobatics – and an exciting three-man trapeze thing where we get to watch three beautiful and perfectly-sculpted bodies in hot red tights using all their muscles to strike and hold impossible three-man-trapeze positions. Everything draws oohs and aahs from the audience – Mona and Kevin together on the trapeze draw gasps – and is professional and beautiful.

And then there are the other shows.

It's obviously a huge disadvantage to be compared with the circus team, but these shows are nothing to write home about. (Though that's exactly what I'm doing, which I guess says more about me than about our series of cabarets...) There's a terrible sound and lighting crew, first of all (which causes problems for the circus show as well), as well as a bizarre insistence on using the fog machine as often as possible, though it smells bad, makes a stupid noise, makes it impossible to see what's happening on stage and has caused several accidents.

The shows are a series of dance numbers, though it's less "dancing" and more "putting on costumes and kind of walking around." For example: one show opens with "It's Raining Men," which I would think should be lots of men doing fun and flirty dance moves for the audience. Instead, it's about ten girls in tight and busty costumes who walk in in two lines, cross the stage so their lines move through each other, then walk back out. They do this again and again, sometimes with a little turn. And about three times, a few men in suits and bowties come and walk with them. Aaaannnnd – scene.

There's a can-can number and a snake-charmer dance that start out well but then they just do the same 40-second sequence on repeat until the end of the song and I don't think they're fooling anyone. As far as actual dance moves, the best number is "Lady Marmalade," in which the girls wear boustiers and garters and dance seductively around chairs. Isn't that weird? To do a borderline strip-tease at a Hotel Fun family show on Saturday night? (It is a French company...) They're always looking for dancers and they keep trying to talk me into coming to rehearsal; they don't seem to understand that even if rehearsals weren't from 12-2:00 a.m. (the only time everyone is free, since sleep doesn't count here), I would never, EVER put on a hooker costume and go spread-eagle on a chair for the pleasure – or not – of our esteemed guests. And I certainly won't do it when they persist in calling the show "Folise," even though we've all told them it's "Follies." Inappropriate sex is one thing, but poor spelling I will not accept.

Then there's my favourite number, the magic trick that is so unmagical it is hilariously funny. Elie and Raymond come out in tuxedos and shake hands, then Raymond goes over to the dirty curtain on the far edge of the stage (dirty enough that we should not be calling attention to it, quite frankly) and slowly wheels out a big, clunky box. It's awkward and takes forever, with the audience just sitting there watching. Why doesn't someone else wheel it out ahead of time? Or maybe Elie could do something to distract us, rather than standing with his hands together, watching Raymond struggle with the box as he tries to manoeuver it past the speakers and the other props on stage.

He finally gets it to the right spot and he turns it around to show us that there are no trap doors – except that there are small squares painted on three sides, and then this giant, person-sized square on the fourth with paint chipping away from it having opened and closed so many times. I haven't yet heard the audience break out in open laughter, but that may be because the music is too loud. (Music not unlike Job's magic show song in "Arrested Development," which makes it that much funnier.)

He turns the box so the door is facing the back of the stage, then puts handcuffs on Elie (another four minutes of waiting, as the cuffs are cheap and never work right away) who gets in a sack and goes in the box. Raymond goes backstage to look for the big flag that they can't figure out should be left in the wings, ready for action, rather than hidden in the prop room somewhere so that we hear crashing and banging while we wait for him to come back to the actionless stage. The flag is waved around, Elie ends up on the box and Raymond comes out from the audience wearing the handcuffs as a pretty girl steps out of the sack: good idea. But so clunky and embarrassing. The first time I saw it I laughed until there were tears streaming down my face. When he proudly showed us the trap-door side of the box I almost fell off the bench. (None of the other GOs could understand what was so funny – I haven't yet found a real friend here.)

Needless to say, I'm hoping to get involved with some of the children's shows so I don't have to be part of any of the cabarets. We'll see what comes up when our new mini-club chief gets here.

The most important news is that I was finally given my own room, after two months of sharing with Anouk. It's tidy, clean, quiet and all mine. I can close my door and no one else has the key – I’m pretty much naked all the time, just because I can be. No drunk roommate showing up in the middle of the night (or trying in her confusion to pee on my bed, which she did twice), no smoking, no dirty underwear on the floor or wet towels on my bed. And no 5:00 a.m. rooster crowing, since they live in the field by the other room.

What I do have is hot water, which is a godsend after so many cold and miserable showers, and the water doesn't cut out during one out of four showers, so I don't have to panic before shampooing that I will be stuck there, soapy and cold, waiting for the water to come back on. (This has happened too many times to count.) Officially, I should also be finished with tarantulas. My grand total in the other room was four, two of which I killed myself – just for your big fat information.
It's only been two days and I already like my job much, much better.

On the other hand, I had a good taste of how little Hotel Fun cares about its employees on Friday: one of my closest friends here, Rivelino, along with eight other Haitians, found out at about 10:00 that evening that they were leaving the next morning at 9:00 because there aren't enough kids this week and their services are no longer needed. Not even 24 hours' notice. Hotel Fun is booked months in advance and I'm sure they knew exactly how many kids there would be – they couldn't let them know ahead of time so they could say goodbye to people and call ahead to whoever's waiting for them at home? I tried to go and meet the bus to say good-bye but they didn't even get to leave from reception like everyone else, so I couldn't find them and I'll probably never see them again.

And, incidentally, we have over 45 kids in my group of 4- and 5-year-olds – same as last week – and are now even more severely understaffed than before. (We claim a 6-to-1 ratio but are currenly at either 15- or 22-to-1 at any time, which is obviously a lot of fun in the pool and at lunch...) Sebe, our current douche-bag boss, is now scrambling to replace the people he fired by weasling GOs from other services – as if anyone would be stupid enough to leave a cushy job teaching sailing on the beach to come run around with a group of rowdy kids all day.

One person whom I'm kind of glad is leaving is my supposed look-alike, Julie. She's Canadian (from Montreal, like everyone else here) and has basically the same colouring as I do, but that's where the similarities end. And yet everyone always tells me how great I was in the show – including once when I had been standing beside her on stage, she in her princess costume and I in my Kathryn clothes, doing the nightly song and dance with the kids after the show. "Katy, you were so good as the princess!" And Julie's still there in the costume, maybe 10 feet away from us. She's a nice girl but I won't miss having her around, you know?

Next week looks like it's going to be a lot slower than usual because there's a private reservation. Specifically, a 950-person group of lesbians who are bringing their own entertainment and seem to want a minimum of G.O. involvement. This is: Fantastic. No mini-club, no crazy signs, NO EATING WITH GMs! They don't want us at their tables, which means we can actually eat with our friends for a change, or even alone.

There was talk of their not wanting any male GOs present but I hope that's not true, first because it's discrimination and I object on principle. Sleep with whomever floats your boat, but don't rent a staff and then lock them out by gender. Second, it's no fun working without half your team. Boys are fun, you know? And third, why should they keep getting paid to NOT work while the girls do all their jobs?

So I am preparing myself to feel highly indignant. But I'm also preparing myself for a week without mini-club: no snot, no wiping bums, no day-long cheers, no one clinging to my neck and sobbing because maman would rather go tan by the pool than actually, oh, I don't know, spend time with her children in this family resort. No kids who speak only Hebrew or German and are traumatized by the amount of noise and their inability to understand any of it.

However, none of my little angels, either, and no kids all excited to go on the trapeze, and of course no kids who will then go home and send me letters and pictures and tell me how great I am – but it's good to miss some of it. That gives me the strength to pick up again next week.

Have a good end of April, everybody.