What we do all day…

Contrary to popular belief, I do not sit around and pick my nose or eat bon bons all day long (only for a small part of the day).  I am actually really busy most days, as is Charlie, who rarely has a chance to enjoy the beach, or much of anything, for that matter.  After tests and exams, however, we both look forward to a fun afternoon and evening together.  Until then, however, here is what a normal day here is like…

I get up between 8 and 10, put away the dishes that dried overnight, and do whatever dishes were left in the sink from the day before.  Then make coffee or tea and have breakfast (usually fruit, oatmeal, or eggs) outside, if the porch isn’t swarmed with the remains of dead bugs (in which case I avoid going outside for as long as possible so I can put off sweeping them up.  It’s pretty sick.  Currently the porch is covered with the inch-long wings of these crazy rain-fly termite things.  ICK!).  If Charlie is media-siting (watching class lectures online) that day then we’ll have breakfast together, if I’m up early.  If he’s going to class, he’s gone by 8.  After breakfast I do the breakfast dishes.  Then I make the bed, clean up our apartment, put away clothes or laundry.

bug covered porch... good stuff.

If it’s a busy day, I’m up early for an RSO meeting, an assembly at CALLS, a day trip with friends.  If it’s a low-key day,  I will check emails, write a blog post, catch up on news and blogs, read about re-finishing furniture and other how-tos which I will bookmark for use in several years when we have a real home.  I’ll peruse the food blogs and book mark recipes with minimal and/or tropical ingredients for current use, and ones with fancy shmancy ingredients or luxuries not available here like berries, buttermilk, and arugula for later use (again, in several years, when I can also break out those DIY home projects, like making an upholstered headboard!).  If I’m feeling energized (which usually I’m not), I’ll walk to the gym and get in a nice air-conditioned work out, or I’ll visit my friend Brandi and play with her 4 week old kittens.  At noon, Charlie will come home for lunch or I’ll make him lunch and bring it to him at school.  We’ll sit outside under a tree by the library if the weather is nice.  I’ll head home after lunch and do some more dishes.  Then I’ll relax and watch some TV shows on my computer… The Wire, Big Love, Mad Men, Weeds.

lunch with Charlie at Pagua Bay after exams

If I’m feeling brave, I’ll do some laundry.  Here’s how this goes down without a washer or dryer: I’ll turn on our hot water heater (which we rarely do these days, as cold showers are the only way to go when it’s just as hot or often hotter inside our apartment than it is outside), put a bucket in the shower, add a scoop of detergent to the bucket, fill it up with hot water, throw in some clothes, and swish them around for a little while with a clean plunger.  Then I’ll rinse the clothes and wring them out in the shower.  Then I’ll go on the porch and rig up a clothes line and hang up the clothes to dry.  I’ll do this for about an hour and if I’m lucky, the clothes will smell nice when they’re dry.  Sometimes, they still smell sweaty once they’re dry, and I lose my gumption and send my stiff, sweaty, horribly hand washed and line dried clothes out and pay someone and deal with them effectively.

After the laundry nightmare I’ll read for a little while and figure out and google some recipes to help figure out what to make for dinner.  I give myself extra gold stars if the meal requires little to-no oven time.  Here’s why: 1. Our oven sucks.  When you bake anything, the oven handle gets so hot that when you touch it your burn your hand.  2.  Our oven really sucks.  In our last apartment, the baking temperatures were in degrees Celsius.  That I could handle, I just made a conversion chart on a post-it and stuck it to the fridge.  Boom.  In our new apartment, however, our oven is the worst.  Seriously, THE ABSOLUTE WORST.  There are no temperatures.  Yes, you read that correctly.  No temperatures.  Just a knob that says “1 2 3 4 5.”  (I really wish I were making that up.)  So, I just guess on baking temperatures.  You can imagine how that turns out… burnt everything, all the time.

every baker's dream

Good stuff.  Anyways, I figure out what to make for dinner.  Usually it’s something vegetarian because sometimes the meat here is scary and/or hard to find, or just really expensive.  I wish I could say that I bought and cooked fish all the time, but I don’t.  I’ve bought it once.  Buying fish requires walking for 20 minutes down to the waterfront when you hear someone blow a conch shell.  The problem is that where I live, you can’t hear anyone blow a conch shell, so then you trek down to the water and loiter and act sketchy and wait for several hours until you actually see someone blow a conch shell, and well, that is really not my idea of fun.  Then you trek 20 minutes home with a plastic grocery bag full of fresh fish.  I need to figure out a better system for this, because the fish is amazing.  It’s literally fresh out of the ocean, and is usually tuna or mahi mahi, for $7 a pound.  I made the best fish tacos with the tuna I bought last semester.  Note to self: figure out the fish situation, ASAP.

If it’s a Tuesday, I help my friend Emily teach a sewing class at a local Women’s Center.  (Actually, I provide moral support and do a kid-friendly fabric project with the women’s children, while Emily teaches the sewing class, since I literally cannot sew a stitch).

me with my little friends at the women's club... aren't they precious?

If it’s a Thursday, I tutor at CALLS, the local alternative high school that gives at-risk students a second chance.

me with some of the amazing girls I've gotten to know at CALLS

If it’s a Friday, I spend the afternoon at the park in Portsmouth with friends and local children at In.Light.In, an after school program and ministry, where we play with the kids, do a craft project, and then feed them a meal.

some of my favorite sassy ladies at in.light.in

Some days I’ll spend a few hours at the pool with friends, read a book on our porch or in the hammock if it’s not excruciatingly hot out, go to yoga in the early evenings, walk to the grocery story (not an option until a few months ago!), go on a hike or take a trip with friends, or meet friends for coffee at Rituals, the fabulously air-conditioned coffee shop.

after a hike and swim at Bense Pool

Charlie and I have dinner together almost every night around 7.  Usually I cook and he either comes home for dinner on the porch or I bring him a meal at school.  Then, he hits the book again until midnight.  After dinner, I do some more dishes, tidy up the apartment, and either enjoy a cold shower and some TV or a movie in our air-conditioned bed room (we have AC in our bedroom only and only turn it on for a little while before we go to bed since electricity is pricey here.  We have don’t have AC in living room/kitchen (they are the same room) which is brutal this time of year!), or a meet friends for game night, drinks, a night swim at the pool, a cookout, or a Friday night movie on campus.

By the time the day is over, I’m usually exhausted.  Between the heat, the walking/carrying everything everywhere all the time, and all the cooking and dish washing (I am the dishwasher), I am out like a light by bed time.  Charlie conks out, too, exhausted from the heat, the walking, and mostly the studying.  That, my friends, is how we spend out days!

Charlie, victoriously posing with 7 weeks of material, after Mini 2

Real Housewives & Merrie-Woode Girls

The Real Housewives of Dominica

Kristen, Rebecca, me, Brandi, Tanya, Katie, Nicole, Meagan, Taylor, Emily, Heidi, Megan

My friends here on the island are pretty amazing.  Not only are they beautiful women, but they are also all extremely talented.  Sometimes we call ourselves The Real Housewives of Dominica.  That makes me laugh.  It has been so much fun getting to know all the girls here.  For example, check out our cooking blog, Spouses’ Kitchen.  We all contribute, and the computer/design savvy girls make it look good, and we all use it as inspiration for deliciousness.  Love it!  We all come from so many different backgrounds, states (Alaska, Kentucky, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, Kansas, Arkansas, New York), and are talented in so many ways.  We are teachers, artists, nurses, yogis, spinners, cooks, bakers, counselors, fundraisers, hair stylists, designers, sewers, athletes, dancers, decorators… the list goes on and on!

Katie, Tracy, Emily, Heidi, Meagan, Taylor, Brandi, Casey, Jen, me, Megan

Sometimes this island reminds me a lot of Merrie-Woode (my summer camp growing up!), but with wine!  Here are some reasons why: wonderful girls who you get to know better and better each day… learning so much about each other quickly, because you spend so much time together…  signing up for trips and taking long rides in vans, with windy, bumpy roads, carsickness, and Dramamine… cool mountain mornings and evenings…  costume parties…  game nights… snakes and bugs, often in your apartment… refreshing afternoon and evening rainstorms… swimming in waterfalls, rivers, and swimming holes… saying goodbye to close friends leaving the island at the end of the semester…

On our girls' trip to Barbados! Me, Tanya, Megan, Kristen

While I miss my family and friends from home, I have loved getting to know all the new friends I have made here in I cannot imagine what this experience would be like without all of the wonderful friends I’ve made here.  Thanks to all of you for making my first semester such a great one!

At Cabrits! Kristen, Heidi, Mary, me, Tanya, Emily, Taylor, Rebecca

Barbados! Megan, Tanya, Kristen, me

Afternoon on the dock! Rebecca, Tracy, me, Katie

At Red Rock at the beginning of the semester: Katie, Emily, Megan, Taylor, Heidi, Tracy, Brandi, me, Meagan

Sunset at Cabrits! Emily, Brandi, Nicole, Megan, Francis (aka "the black Michael Jackson"), Meagan, Heidi, me, Katie, Tracy

An afternoon in Glanvillia: Katie, me, Tracy

Yoga by a Waterfall

I am really loving life here in Dominica.  I am pretty adventurous and am really trying to take advantage of all the opportunities I have to explore the island and try new things.  About a month ago, my wonderful yoga teacher, Trudy, hosted a “Yoga by a Waterfall” retreat at an eco-resort near Roseau.  We spend the morning practicing yoga, bathing in the waterfall, and swimming in the hot pools.  Then we had a delicious brunch featuring local dishes — fruit, juice, bush tea (herbal tea), callaloo soup, coush coush (a purple potato-ish dish), fig pie (green bananas are called “figs” here, and they treat the green ones like potatoes), fish steamed in banana leaves… it was so yummy and was such a treat!  After lunch we took a tour of the resort’s beautiful, tropical gardens — they were pretty amazing.  It was a wonderful day definitely a once in a lifetime experience to do yoga by a waterfall!

Where we ate brunch!

Papillote Wilderness Retreat and Nature Sanctuary

Saturday, Market Day

market in Portsmouth

Most of you probably know that I am hardly a morning person.  I come from a family of infamous sleepers who have been known to sleep for 16 hours straight through hours alarms, ringing phones, and blinding daylight.  (I wish I were kidding!)  We hate, hate, hate mornings.  Even here, where I get tons of sleep, I have a hard time waking up early on weekday mornings.  But somehow, I love getting up early on Saturday mornings to go to the market.  Okay, maybe I don’t love the getting up early part, but I do love going to the market.  It is exciting and full of color, and is truly an experience in itself, not to mention that you leave with bags full of goodies.

Dominica has the most incredible fresh produce.  The tropical climate and volcanic soil make the fruits and vegetables fluorish, resulting in a fabulous bounty at the Saturday morning market.  The market is open air with a covered section as well.  Vendors sell their bounty at tables or out of the backs of  trucks.  It begins around 5 am and lasts until everything is gone, probably around noon or so.  Everyone says you must get there early, like 5 am, to get the good stuff, so I was initially overwhelmed and intimidated, since I have rarely been known to get up before 7 am unless it involved a redeye flight.  The first week here I set my alarm for 6 and finally erected my zombie-like self from bed around 6:45, throwing on clothes, and running down the road to catch a bus, worrying that everything good would already be snatched up.  Five weeks in to life here, I realize that this is ridiculous.  Yes, maybe the most perfect tomato or best pineapple will be someone’s first pick, but there is so much delicious, fresh food that you can arrive at 8:30 and still get more than enough tasty stuff.

what I got at the market this morning

This morning I set my alarm for 6:00 am.  I am not sure if it even went off… but eventually I woke up at 7:45 and headed to the market around 8.  I still got everything I wanted and more: green peppers, lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, scallions, basil, pink grapefruit, mangos, cabbage, christophene (jicama), green beans, carrots…  I also bought a beautiful bunch of flowers (birds of paradise and anthurium) from my favorite lady who I buy my fruit from (she reminds me of Whoopi Goldberg) for 5 EC ($1.85)!  AND I discovered Bernard, who sells local chicken fresh from his farm, so I snagged some of that, too.  So wonderful!  Eveyone is friendyl, although some of the vendors can be downright pushy trying to sell their veggies, but you learn to keep walking, be friendly, and pick what you want from wherever it looks the best.  Many of the vendors love to chat and will tell you what unfamilair things are and how to prepare them.

A friend of mine had a hilarious conversation at the market last week.  She touched a strange looking fruit (?) and the Dominican lady behind the table looked at her and said, “You not like that.  You not Chinese.”*

“Okay, well what is it?”

“You not like it.  Don’t touch.  You not Chinese.”

“I know I’m not Chinese.  I just want to know what it is.”

“I don’t know name.  Only Chinese people like it.  Not for you.  Don’t touch.”

Alrighty, then…

(*There are Chinese all over the place in Dominica.  The Chinese government gave Dominica aid money to help build roads all over the island and sent Chinese workers to complete the project… so everywhere you go, there are a million Chinese restaurant, construction vehicles and backhoes marked with Chinese writing… And apparently the market carries special items, for the Chinese only.)

The market is colorful, lively, and bustling, and although I hate mornings, the market makes them worthwhile. Other market items that are usually available are bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, celery, spinach, ginger, pumpkin, paw paw (papaya), okra, beets, bok choy, radishes, sugar cane…  Seasonal items include guava, passion fruit, oranges, pineapples, avocados (HUGE ones!), sorrel, watermelon, squash.  The market in Roseau has an herb man and last week I bought dill, rosemary, basil, leeks, and watercress from him.  You can also get small bags of spices.

My eyes still look a little squinty from my morning excursion, but all is well!

The grocery stores here don’t have any fresh produce — they only have shelf items — canned and packaged goods, bags of flour, sugar, etc. — so if you want to eat anything fresh, you really have to go to the market.  If you miss it, there is a lady on campus who sells fresh produce, but it is much cheaper if you go to the market and get it yourself.  I have been doing lots of delicious, healthy cooking for us here, and we are eating vegetarian meals a few nights a week, substituting eggs, beans, and lentils for protein.  I pride myself on being a good cook, but am a novice baker… so I have also been working on my baking as well and making some good progress: I made pizza with homemade dough (made from scratch), plus peanut butter cookies, shortbread cookies, and pound cake for a bake sale.  It all turned out pretty well.  After 16 months here, I expect to be an excellent baker!

In short: we are having fabulous adventures — culinary, scientific/intellectual, and otherwise!

P.S. - How cool looking is the inside of this watermelon????