Monday, November 28, 2016

Cabarete for Thanksgiving

This year was the first time we spent Thanksgiving alone, just the two of us, without family. Because we're going to be spending Christmas in the States, we decided to forgo Thanksgiving altogether and head to Cabarete.

I've mentioned before that my favorite place on the island is Puerto Plata. Perhaps I should expand that to the entire North Coast, which includes Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Cabarete. Cabarete will probably always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the first place outside of Santo Domingo that we visited after arriving in the Dominican Republic over a year ago. It's a little coastal town known for its kite beach, but it also offers good restaurants, great scenery, a relaxing beach, and a little shopping.

We drove up on Thanksgiving Day, a little worried about the weather. The North Coast has been experiencing a lot of rain in the last several weeks, which has caused flooding and mudslides. We decided against driving the usual route (which includes going over a mountain) and opted to head to Puerto Plata (via Santiago) and then cut back to Cabarete. The route was a bit longer than usual, and we were delayed by a crew fixing a bridge that had been flood damaged, but otherwise we didn't experience any difficulty.

Sunrise view from our balcony.
 It rained a bit on Friday morning and we saw a beautiful double rainbow over the Atlantic.

Double luck. Taken with our cell phone.
We took an early morning walk along the beach and then ate a leisurely breakfast and did a little shopping.

What Cabarete is famous for.

Sunset view from our balcony.
When it came time to return to Santo Domingo, we decided to drive east along the coast and turn south just past Nagua. We hadn't been that way before and were rewarded by some really beautiful views. Sadly, we also came across evidence of flooding:



I loved spending time on the beach, but I missed having the holiday. I missed the turkey and the parade and our girls.  A little bit of a lesson learned for me, I think. It's important to keep the traditions we know and love, even if we're far away from "home." Next year, I'm going to make it a point of celebrating the holiday no matter where we are.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

October

In October we made it a point to get out of the house and enjoy time with our embassy colleagues.

We went to the opening game of the Dominican baseball season with about 30 people. Before the game we got together at a colmado (a kind of local bar/convenience store/delivery service) called the Dogout:

"No minors, no guns. They'll close my business. To drink without killing."

We also had a great time at a Halloween party organized by a colleague in IV:

Our costumes. We were .... wait for it .... ceiling fans.

🍃

The major thing that happened in October, however, was that I threw my hat in the ring for a PSP (priority staffing post), and have been assigned to a one-year tour in Islamabad, Pakistan, beginning in November 2017. I'll extend here in Santo Domingo for a month to make the timing work, and I'm already bidding on a linked assignment after Pakistan. More to come on that as details emerge.

This means, of course, that we will no longer be assigned to Yekaterinburg. A part of me will always regret not going to Russia, but that's how it will be for every assignment - the assignment you get is at the expense of the assignments that might have been.

One of the main reasons that we requested to be assigned to Pakistan was to avoid language training. It's not that I have anything against learning a language. It's just that as a vintage diplomat I have a limited amount of time in the foreign service and I want to spend as much of that time as possible serving the United States outside of its borders. Russian is nearly a year-long commitment, but the Pakistan job does not require a language at all.

R will be able to go with me to Islamabad if we can line up a job for him. I'm told that's a pretty straight-forward process; we're just waiting for official orders to start his job search in earnest.

It's constant change as a foreign service officer. I love the work, and I'm lucky that R shares my wandering spirit and is with me for the adventure.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

MIA

Life is busy. And messy. The ISFJ in me wishes that life were more compartmentalized, more structured, uniform, predictable. If I'm honest, though, there is a part of me that genuinely relishes the chaos of the universe, which includes all sorts of random, spur of the moment, spontaneous events that keep life interesting.

When last I wrote, R had returned to good ol' Santo Domingo, and we had resumed our lives together (and I quickly became MIA). After a very short time, it was as if he had never been gone. This post will include our September adventures.

We unleashed our inner explorers and went to Punta Cana for the weekend over Labor Day (his first time, my second, gorgeous as ever).

In a small chapel on the Cap Cana peninsula. We watched the preparations for a wedding in the chapel as we were eating dinner at a nearby restaurant. Gorgeous stained glass windows depicting Dominican life.
R and me on the balcony of our hotel - Alsol.
On the way back to Santo Domingo, we visited the Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in Higuey:

Kind of stark and industrial, but striking and beautiful, nonetheless.


In the very center, behind the altar, is a likeness of Our Lady of Altagracia - the Patron Saint of the Dominican Republic. Out of respect to my mother, I stood in the line of Dominicans to pass by the painting, touching it briefly. I always say a little prayer for my mother, and for the world in general, when I'm in a holy place.

The outside of the Basilica.
We went to the Ocoa Bay winery for lunch on R's birthday (delicious and beautiful, but you can only purchase their wines for consumption on the property - we were disappointed we couldn't take a bottle home with us).

The road leading to the winery.

Just your typical day in paradise.

The grapes on the vines.



Also in September, We traveled to Santiago to take in the Centro León Museum, and then we stayed close to home and visited the Museum de la Resistencia near the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo.

Street art.


The Museum of the Resistance.
Museum of the Resistance
Museum of the Resistance.
  
Coming in the next blog post: our October adventures and a big announcement.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

La Ruta del Esclavo, part II

Full confession: It's really great to have R back in the Dominican Republic. I love that he hiked the Appalachian Trail, and supported him all the way, but I missed him and am so glad he's back. :)

He's been back for about 10 days now, and this weekend we decided to venture out and continue our exploration of the island. La Ruta del Esclavo has been simmering in the back of my mind since February, and we headed out in search of a third ingenio (sugar mill). This time, we did our homework and were rewarded with a beautiful ruin located in Parque Mirador del Oeste, Ingenio de Engombe.

Ingenio de Engombe.
Parque Mirador del Oeste (Mirador West Park).
The large sugar mill (ingenio) of the first photo is located to the left, just outside the frame of this photo.
A scene from the back to the front of the building.
The brick represents a more recent addition to stabilize the structure.

I love how groomed the grounds are.
A third building, complete with yardbirds. 
Haina River.
Look at the size of those roots! The building beyond is a chapel - when I tried to open the door, I found it locked, but there was definitely something inside. It whined like a dog, but never barked. It was very disconcerting, because something was definitely trapped in that building. R tried to reassure me that a park ranger or someone who had the key was aware of the creature's presence, but I remain unconvinced. 
A window through a window through a window.
Another wonderful outing in the Dominican Republic!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Vermont

R finished the Appalachian Trail!  YAY! Read all about his adventures, start to finish, here.

He finished on Sunday, August 7 (fewer than five months on the trail) and then spent a few days visiting family in Rhode Island, waiting for me to fly in to Boston on Saturday, August 13. R picked me up from the airport, and we spent then next four days enjoying Vermont. 

We had a really great time shopping, visiting the Ben and Jerry's factory, touring the Rockefeller mansion in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, and visiting the stunning Shelburne Museum. I love how diverse the U.S. is, even in one small state.

So, I couldn't get that old "Reunited" song by Peaches and Herb out of my head.
R, looking mighty slim after his hike.
Bandboxes at the Shelburne Museum.
Closeup of a cross-stitch sampler at the Shelburne Museum.
Close-up of a postage stamp quilt containing over 12,000 pieces.
The grounds of the Shelburne Museum.
Antlers of an extinct deer that were found in a peat bog in Ireland.
The deer stood seven feet high at the shoulder and the antlers span 12 feet.
In the rain, near a covered bridge in Vermont. So happy to be together again.

Friday, August 5, 2016

First Week in Immigrant Visas

This week I began my work in the Immigrant Visa (IV) section of the embassy. Although I haven't yet conducted any interviews at the window, and have been limited to "shadowing" my fellow officers and completing routine "desk" cases to become familiar with the software, I know I am going to love it.

Some of the work at the window is surprisingly similar to the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) interviews I did in American Citizen Services (ACS), so at least I'm a little bit familiar with the expected outcomes and the questions necessary to arrive at an informed decision. This is in contrast to my first week in ACS, when I had no previous experience or knowledge from which to build a foundation.

The laws regarding immigration can be complicated, but that's part of the fun. It's like a puzzle, but with the ability to make judgments about how the pieces fit.

I can tell that the year ahead is going to be very rewarding. I like to work, and there's plenty of work to do. Santo Domingo is second only to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico in processing immigrant visas. Second in the world. The Dominican Republic is a nation of only 10.5 million people, but we process more immigrant visa applications than all of China (with a population of 1.37 BILLION, or 130 times larger). Yes, indeed, we stay busy. From what I can tell, we have a crackerjack team of professionals to get the job done. Usually, the section sees over 500 people every day. Crazy busy.

When I was in ACS and would ask my colleagues in IV what the work was like, there would always be a pause before they answered. They would carefully measure their words and say that I shouldn't expect the reasonable pace of ACS work. So I began to worry, to unconsciously dread moving to IV. But now that I have an idea of what the work is like, I'm really excited to get started. Maybe it's because I'm a consular-coned officer and this is what I'll be doing my entire career, but I'm genuinely looking forward to learning every aspect of the law, how to apply it, and all the nuances that make the work interesting.

I'll probably get "on the line" (i.e. begin interviewing) next week. Can't wait!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Fourth of July

I had a really wonderful visit to Wyoming over the 4th of July. It was the fourth time I've been back to the U.S. since arriving in the Dominican Republic last year, but the first time in Wyoming. I flew in to Salt Lake and spent the night with my dear sister, then drove the 4.5 hours to Lander the next day. My heart lifted as I drove over South Pass: I was home.

Wind River Mountains.
Red Canyon.
My sister-in-law graciously put up with me, H (and H's boyfriend) and L (and L's girlfriend) for several days and we had a great time. I got to go running outside for the first time in a year (yay!) and we hiked to the Popo Agie Falls. We went to the parade on the 4th and the Buffalo BBQ in the park, and then watched as the town exploded in fireworks as soon as it got dark. I got to discuss a book with my dear book club and spend time with friends. And I got to see my dad. 

It was wonderful.

The good friends of my book club. I miss them already!
On the hike to Popo Agie Falls. 
Love all these girls!
Popo Agie Falls.
Me and my dad.

Dad and H and L and me.

My amazing girls.
Me and my sister getting ready for Finding Dory.