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.


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