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.