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.