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.