Day 4- ESP and Secret Girlfriends

This morning, Merlin was supposed to pick me up at 8 am to go to work for the day.  At 5 minutes til, there was a knock on my door…he was here!  With lots of “Buenos dios’s” and “Hola’s” we were off. Today he took me a different way to the school and we spent more time in the neighborhoods before being spit out into the hustle and bustle of the center of town.  The sky was bright blue and the heat was coming off of the street in waves.  Between that and the smog from the cars, it was a bit of a shock to this poor girl who had not had her coffee!!  Speaking of which, there is no such thing as ‘to-go’ here.  And if I were to ask to run into a shop and down a quick cup of espresso, Merlin would immediately insist on marching me back to his mother and have her make me a cup!  For now, I will just deal with the caffeine headache and enjoy my surroundings.  This much noise, color and life is surely enough to distract me! J

When we arrived at the school, Merlin went to find out which room we were working in and within 15 minutes, I was spreading out my tools and taking in my first bow. Ahhh…I cannot tell you how good that felt!  Don’t get me wrong…there is nothing wrong with just being a tourist and having a good old-fashioned vacation!  But I have been focused on coming here and doing some good for a long time and the last couple of days have made me somewhat antsy!  Two clips of the scissors….old horse hair falls to the ground, and I heave a sigh of relief.  This is what I came here for.  The first hour went be so nicely….I had three bows come in and I was leisurely putting a thumb leather on one while listening to the symphony rehearsal next door. It probably should have occurred to me that the majority of the bows were actually over there being played!! Sure enough….rehearsal ended and bows started flying through the door!!  And just when they slowed to a trickle, here came the students from the local middle and high schools!

I looked at the giant pile of bows and decided that I had officially lost my mind!!

I spent the next two hours rehairing like mad! When Merlin asked me if I wanted to go to his house for lunch, I decided that it was HIM who had lost his mind!!!  I couldn’t go any where, and told him so.  I had a bag of nuts and a protein bar in my bag…if I could find time to eat them.  J  The afternoon sped by with Merlin dropping in from time to time to help. He is actually quite good at faceplates, so as soon as I got them all glued on, I gave them to him to cut out, which worked great cause I was still rehairing like crazy.  J Merlin tried to explain that I didn’t need to clean and lubricate the bows…just put hair into them.  No way!   I tried explaining that you have to do this….the bow will last a lot longer and perform better if all of the parts work well together and aren’t gunked up with the residue of 10 years of hard playing in the heat and humidity of Cuba.  I don’t think he really understood me…it did lose something in the translation, but being respectful of my place there as the guest and his teacher, (his words, not mine), he let it go.  J

The room we are working in is right on the main square of the building and has giant French doors that open out into the courtyard.  I draw quite a crowd for most of the day and one man in particular sits across from me and watches almost all day long.  It turns out that his name is Lasier and he does all of the woodwind repair for the symphony.  He is really paying attention and within a half hour, anytime I search for something in the pile of tools in front of me, he actually picks it up and hands it to me!  I am going to be sorry to see him leave!  It is like having your own bow-rehairing assistant!  J  I offer to teach him to rehair, but he says no, that he prefers watching, so I continue enjoying his assistance.  At one point in the afternoon, he left for a moment and returned carrying two small fried apple dumplings.  He handed them to me with a smile and said, “For you”.  I was so touched.  And I really appreciated his thoughtfulness.  I was beginning  to get quite grumpy when it hit me that it was 4 o’clock and I had not had anything to eat since last night.  Lasier surely saved the day and I resolved to take a little better care of myself tomorrow.  It would be a poor showing in Cuban/American bow relations is I bit someone’s head off for no reason at all!!

Finally at 6 o’clock, I call it a day and tell him that we are done.  My will is strong but my eyes are shot.  As we clean up, he keeps saying, “Do you want to go to my house for a beer?”.  After going round and round, I finally convince him to sit with me in the square to enjoy our drinks, rather than sit inside.  He takes a seat next to me on a wall and looks bored as the people stroll by and the breeze rustles the trees.  An elderly man walked by carrying flowers and I asked Merlin who he thought the flowers were for.  “They are for his wife”, he said with disinterest.  “No!” I cried, “I think they are for his secret girlfriend!!”  And with that I introduced him to my favorite game……making up completely ridiculous stories about the people that are walking by.  J  Soon, a man carrying a shoe box and a woman with a drink sat across from us.  “He is in love with her!!” I said with great dramatic affect, “But she only likes him for his drinks!”  Merlin deadpanned, “And because he buys her shoes. “  I laughed and laughed and finally said to him, “See…..isn’t this fun!?”  “At this moment, I am very happy”, he said softly.  We talked some more about secret girlfriends, (he has two) and working hard, (he has three jobs), before throwing our cans away and heading for home.

On the way to my casa, I try to explain to him that I don’t want his mother to cook me dinner and for him to entertain me.  I want to go check my email and have a quite dinner.  He takes a lot of convincing, but finally says goodnight.  What does one do when kindness clashes with conscience?  I love his family, and enjoy spending time with them, but I do NOT want to be a burden to them!  Feeding an extra person three times a day is not only a big expense, but is a lot of extra work for his mother It seems that when Martin, the other LSF person, comes to visit, he eats all of his meals there, spends all of his free time there and even has his laundry done there!  I don’t know, maybe that was what was expected of me?  But no one told me and I just don’t feel good about it.  I am hoping that in the next few days I can feel things out so that I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

I ended my day at the nearby hotel checking my email and having dinner.  It was there that I heard a violin plucking.  I turned around and it was one of the men from the symphony whose bow I had rehaired earlier today!  He came over to say hello and showed me his violin.  It feels neat to actually be out and run into someone I know. J J After listening to his band play for a while, I finally head home.  Anna, my land lady, greets me at the door and runs to the fridge.  She hands me a plate with a small pineapple on it.  With a smile, she lifts up the top and it is filled to the brim with chopped mango and pineapple, “For your breakfast” she says.  How wonderful are these people?  I am going to sleep now, feeling content and well cared for.

Good night all,


Day 3- Cuban Mamma’s and Muey Linda’s

Day 3

Did I just get here yesterday?  It is already starting to feel like I have been here a long time.  Every time I go somewhere, the first few days are like a first date.  Of course, I am on my best behavior, but so is everyone else.  They are formal and polite and we eye each other carefully, not quite sure of what to make of each other.  Then it gets a little better, each person a little warmer.  Today, that started happening.  By Sunday, I suspect we will all be one big happy family. J

This morning Merlin was supposed to pick me up at 8 to have breakfast at his house and to go get my visa to work at the school.  I sat on the front porch talking (sort of) to the woman that owns the home I am staying in.  Her name is Anna also, and it turns out she is a retired genetics professor.  Her husband, Alejandro, is the director of the TV station here in town.  In Cuba , the people who have rooms to rent are some of the richest in town.  Their home is lovely, and I am paying $15 dollars a night to stay here.  (Of course, I am paying in Cuba dollars, which is a little bit stronger than the USD.)  Anyway……we sat and 8 o’clock went by, 9:00…..10:00……..finally, she took pity on me and brought me a bowl of fresh pineapple and mango. Yummmm!!!!!  The mango is amazing!!  When Merlin finally showed up, I was only half finished with it, but she kept it in the fridge in my room so I could enjoy it later. J

I figured Merlin was on Latin time, (this is an actual thing according to my guide book!!!  Count on everyone being at least 30 minutes later than they say), but it turns out that he was sick.  Not ‘oh I am so sorry’ sick, but “ohhh I should NOT have had an entire bottle of rum last night’ sick. J  Bless his heart; he was seriously, amazingly, terribly hung over.  I asked if he wanted to go later and sleep for a while but he said no, so off we went through Santiago , looking for my visa.  In his neighborhood, we walked down the middle of the street with him greeting just about everyone.  There were people walking everywhere and any time a car, horse drawn cart or motorbike would go by, they would just swerve around us.  The horse or mule drawn carts are loaded with fruit, and each one is topped by an elderly man who looks like the cover of the National Geographic.  You know the type………deep lines etched all over their faces…. thin with gray hair and gnarled hands that look like they have seen 30 lifetimes of work. They don’t pay me much attention, but the other passers by look at me curiously, breaking into big smiles when I smile at them.  Every person but one did this and it made me feel so happy!

As we neared the center of town, the traffic and noise swelled and I found myself straining to hear Merlin’s conversation.  We walked for 45 minutes, passing a million pastel-colored shops and businesses, finally arriving at the school.  The sounds of a woodwind quintet battle with those of a saxophone quartet and everything is bouncing off of the salmon colored terra cotta walls.  The entire place has a hacienda-like feel, with the halls being open air and doors leading off to rehearsal rooms and studios.   I know that they don’t have much money, or very expensive instruments, but that has not stopped these people from learning how to flat out play!!

Merlin converses with a group of people in muey rapido Spanish and after waiting a while, a man comes and takes my passport.  I am told that he will have it for two days and they give me a copy to carry around for ID.  Now I am not stupid…the very first rule of international travel is to guard your passport with your life!!  I know that in Europe , the hotels hold them while you are in the building, but you don’t actually GIVE your passport to someone for two days!!  However,  amid a chorus of “No Problema’s” from everyone there,  I realize that this is how it is going to happen.  Sometimes you just have to trust the people you are with and this is one of those times.  J  In the middle of all of this, Merlin makes many rapid exits to find a bathroom.  His late night revelry on the beach is soooo not agreeing with him and he looks terrible!!!  As we leave, I tell him firmly to go home and go to bed. I can tell that he is torn…he wants to be a good host, he wants to take care of me, and mostly he is muey embarrassed, but he desperately needs to go lie down. I explain that if he throws up on me, it will most likely affect our budding friendship, and anyway, I need to find the internet.  J

So I drop him off at his house and I take off to find the Hotel Santiago.  Ahhhh….I wondered where all of the tourists were!  I still haven’t seen a single American, but this is definitely where the Europeans are.  I find the hotel and it is waaay swanky. Huge and fancy with a convention center, I feel just a little guilty for wishing that I could stay there!  I wonder what it is like to live the kind of life where you travel and stay in places like this.  But the thought is fleeting….if I was staying here; I would have already missed a thousand memories with my new Cuban friends.  Give me a room with a local family anytime.  J  I find the internet and check in back home.  It appears that Yahoo has either frozen my account because they think I have been hacked, (because all of the sudden I am trying to log on from Cuba ?!!? ) or they don’t actually allow communication between their US customers and Cuba . In either case, I can’t access my email there at all, so there is no telling when these reports will actually get to my friends.  We will see…..  J I can access Gmail so at least I can tell my folks that I am well and that life is good.

After a nice lunch at the hotel and a long nap at the house, Merlin is back, looking a bit better.  J  He takes me to his mother’s house to wait while she cooks us dinner.  We sit in the front room of their home, on five rocking chairs all facing each other about two feet apart.  The small room is made up of cinder blocks that have been white washed and there is a big pile of bricks lining one of the walls.  Merlin’s father explains that they are slowly doing construction on the house and that when he has the materials, he can do the work, but it takes a long time to save up for the materials.  The rest of the house is in a room behind a sheet that has been nailed up across the doorway.  I catch a glimpse behind it and see a small space with a double bed taking up most of the room.  I know that the cooking takes place in there, but I cannot see where.  As we are talking, the conversation turns to coffee and they explain that the best Cuban coffee is exported and that the locals only get the poor quality.  I tell them that in the US , Café Cubano is wonderful and is the best part of going to a Cuban restaurant!  Merlin’s mom makes me a cup and it is perfect…heavy, dark and sweet.  I have to learn to do that at home. J

As the evening wears on, Merlin comes and goes, as does his father.  Conversation is at its best when Merlin is here because he speaks pretty good English and can translate.  However, when his father is in the room, most communication shuts down.  It seems like his dad is very, very upset at him for having…ahem….such a good time last night, and is not speaking to him.  I try to keep the conversation going, laughing and saying silly things but it pretty much is going over like a lead balloon. J Oh well,…..

When his mom finishes dinner, we take it to his apartment to eat.  She carries part of it and sets the table before leaving.  I ask if she will stay and eat but she says no, she will eat with the rest of the family.  I am feeling awkward.  I ask Merlin why we are eating at his house, not his families, and he explains that where they eat is very, very small and that there is not room for one more person.  I take that at face value and sit to enjoy the meal.

You know how I have talked about several ‘firsts’ when I travel?  The first moment I know my adventure begins and the moment when I relax and start feeling more at home?  Well, there is another ‘first’….it is the moment when you realize that your best laid plans for keeping your body, more importantly, your digestive system, healthy are coming to a screeching halt.  You can do your best…buy bottled water, brush your teeth with it, not eat fresh fruits and veggies that you can’t peel…..but there is always that moment that washes all of your good intentions down the drain.  It actually happened last night, but then happened again tonight.  Merlin plopped down a glass of cold water from the tap….in a glass that has also just been rinsed off in the tap.  He looked at me expectantly and said, “It is ok…the water here is very good….it will not make you sick”.  Hmmmmmmmmmm……………  I am sorry, I know that a savvy world traveler would have kindly said, “No, thank you”, and left it at that.  But as I looked up into the face of this young Cuban man who was trying so, so hard to be a great host to me, I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t say ‘no’ last night, and I couldn’t say ‘no’ tonight.  I may pay for it later but some things are more important.  As I ate the cooked pork and rice his mom made, I felt very lucky to be welcomed into this family.  I ate the un-peeled fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, knowing that this kindness was worth all of the traveler’s stomach discomfort in the world.  J  I will double up on all of the immune system stuff that Ann gave me and get on with life.

After dinner, Merlin showed me his collection of double bass music, and before I knew it, he was taking off to get his bass.  On a bicycle.  In the rain.  J  His mom came and sat with me and we talked for 45 minutes, her thinking I know a whole lot more Spanish than I do!  She has no English at all, but we made do. With a lot of laughter and a little help from the worthless Spanish/English dictionary I have, we covered topics like marriage, tennis shoes, music, Salsa, her daughter and the reason she wasn’t playing cello anymore.  At least, I think those were the topics we covered.  J  There is so much I want to know about her…how she met her husband, what she does for a living, and what she thinks about her life.  But for now I will have to be content with shared smiles, laughter and a rough idea of what our shoe sizes are. J

Merlin finally arrived with the bass, which he had indeed carried on a bicycle in the rain.  He wiped it off and we proceeded to play a bit.  When he took off to see if a friend of his had his iPod, I continued to play softly while his mother cleaned up from dinner.  “Muey linda……muey linda…” she said softly as the rain continued to fall outside.  I played all of the pretty things I could find, doing my best to make it as beautiful as possible, knowing that tonight, this was the only way that I could say thank you for the kindness she has shown me.   When she walks me home later, I thank her for being my “Cuban mama” and she just laughs and hugs me.  Really, how did I get so lucky?

Buenos Noches,


Day 2- Cuba Libres and Cuban Sunsets

Wow…..just….wow………It is day 2 of my adventure and I am in Cuba.  Seriously, can you believe it?!?!  J  Most of the day was spent getting to the airport, getting my ticket and waiting to board the plane.  Everything took forever, and due to the unusual-ness of my situation, everything had a covert feel about it.  The other violin maker, Martin, had arranged for my ticket and none of the rules seemed to apply….instead, I stood in my own line, had a certain person I had to work with and was greeted by name, even though I had not even produced my passport yet!  Oscar, the ticket agent was ready for me and treated me wonderfully, so covert operation or not, I was in.   While waiting for my ticket, one of the young men who worked for the airline asked if I had ever flown to Cuba before. When I said no, he smiled kindly and said, “Don’t be scared”.  I grinned and said, “Who, me?  I am not scared!”  But I did wonder what he meant by that……

When we finally walked out to the plane, for the first time in this whole process, I had some serious misgivings.  Now, I know what he meant by that.

I am pretty sure that the plane was about 135 years old.  Seriously….peeling paint, bald tires…the whole bit.  Geeesh….I don’t like to fly anyway, but this was really pushing it!  When I got on, it turned out that I didn’t have a seat assignment, but the flight attendant waved her hand and said “Sit anywhere…the plane is empty!”.  Well, the plane seated 48 and was half empty…..but it took me three tries to find a seat that worked!  The first one actually laid down flat into the seat behind it!!  J  Well, I snuck a quick peek at my phone to make sure that there were no, “Get off the plane, I have a bad feeling about this!!” messages from anyone that I knew, and seeing that there were none, I figured I was ok.  J

I spent the flight writing in my journal and only looked up when the flight attendant passed out meals.  This is a two hour flight and they served a meal! Who does that anymore?!  And THEN….she offered me the beverage of my choice…coke, water, fresca, orange soda, wine or a Cuba libre!!  For those of you that have not seen the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, that is a rum and coke!  Who does THAT on a plane!!?  No charge…just welcome to Cuba. J  Needless to say, I was all in. That was followed by a shot of Cuban coffee, very strong and very sweet. What more could a girl ask for?  It also goes without saying that on this flight, there was none of that ‘switch languages in the middle of the flight’ moments.  However, they did try and repeat some of the announcements in English, which I am certain, were solely for my benefit.  I know that tourists go to Cuba, and the people on my flight might not have been Cuban nationals, but they were all definitely Latin.  Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore…..

When we finally touched down everyone was craning to see out of the windows (none of that silly ‘keep your seat belts fastened’ on this flight!) and there was a smattering of applause.  I got all bubbly and teary…I am in Cuba!!!  Then the nerves settled in.  All I have been hearing from Martin is that Cuban customs is a nightmare.  They held him for over three hours last time and as of two days ago; I did not have the appropriate paperwork to enter the country.  Mom and I joked about me being like Tom Hanks in that movie where he got stuck in the airport, but once I entered the…ahem…terminal, I knew that spending the week here would be no joke.  A large, yellow metal room with nothing in it.  Except a drug dog sniffing everyone’s luggage and a whole lot of scary looking people in uniform.  I eyed the rows of doors nervously…..supposedly, that is where they take everyone to question you.  “Be nice”, Martin has been imploring me for the last month.  “Just be nice…be patient and don’t argue”.

First, the guard steered me towards an immigration booth that said VIP and the guy behind the glass eyed me suspiciously and kept saying something in Spanish that I did not understand.  I finally figured out that he was telling me to stop piling all of my paperwork on his counter.  As he asked questions, I stammered through an attempt at explaining why I was here.  In Spanish.  Note to self….the next time you fly to a Communist country, learn how to say why you are there in Spanish!!!  However, after several minutes of my stumbling over my words and him glaring at me, he sighed and handed me my paperwork.  “Adios”, he said as he pushed the buzzer to unlock the door. I made a quick escape, thanking God for the millionth time for the ‘yes’ face that I have been blessed with.  J

After that, I picked up my luggage and headed for the customs guy.  I was not looking forward to trying to explain horse hair, super glue and chisels to these guys in Spanish. I started to dig out my paperwork that says why I am here and why they should let me in and that I am harmless.  I opened my mouth to say “Hola” and he opened the door and said, “Buenos tardes. Have a nice day”.  I was so surprised that I almost forgot to move!! But then I did.  I grinned and headed out that door before he could change his mind and search my bags.

15 minutes start to finish….it has to be a record for Cuban immigration!!  J J

A tall, handsome young man walked up and said, “Are you Anna?”  Merlin, my new Cuban friend and guide for the week, was here and life is officially grand.  He helped me to a car driven by his friend Carlos, a fiat copy that is literally falling apart.  Carlos explains that to have a car in Cuba is very rare and that his car is his priceless, prized possession.  To me, it was wonderful.  After a quick blur of Spanish, Merlin asked if I liked beer and the car veered into a gas station.  The next thing I know, we are rolling through downtown Santiago, windows rolled down, salsa music playing loudly, sipping beers and laughing. (Carlos, our driver was, of course, NOT sipping any beer!)  JSeriously…does it get any better than this?!


Santiago is…well, it is just something else.  I have to pinch myself to see if I am really here!  You know how everyone says that in Cuba it is still 1955?  Well, that is totally true. But you have to imagine that everything stopped then, but that time kept going.  So all of the buildings are falling apart, and paint is peeling everywhere.  Yet, it is beautiful!  It is very, very clean and the age of the buildings doesn’t keep the original pastels from glowing in the sunset.  It is obvious that there is a lot of poverty, but it has an order about it that is very interesting.  There are cars going every which way, and the occasional donkey-drawn cart ambling down the road.  It is a little chaotic, but still comfortable, and by far the calmest Latin city I have visited to date. J  There are people walking arm in arm up and down the streets, while others congregate on corners and in doorways. You get the idea that they are enjoying the twilight and the relief from the oppressive heat.  Lights are starting to turn on and more and more music is playing as we drive through the neighborhoods.

As we drive, Merlin tells me about his work repairing instruments and performing with the symphony.  He is a bass player too, and when I told him that I played also, he said that we have to play together. He has a duet transcription of the Eccles Sonata and declares that tomorrow we will play it.  “You do read music?” he asks worriedly.  After assuring him that I do, it was settled.  After quite a bit of driving around to get my money changed, and a quick stop at the house that I am staying at, Merlin took me to his apartment.  He spent the whole day patching and painting the walls and took a lot of pride in it.  We hung out with Carlos for a while and were soon joined by a friend of Merlin’s that is a saxophone player.  Merlin’s mother sent over some dinner and we ate around a small table under the light of a hanging lamp.  His apartment is small and peaceful and I am touched to see how proud he is of it.  He is 27 years old, but I get the idea that 27 here is more like 19 in America.  He and his friends are all single and have a youthfulness about them that reminds me of the students I taught in Haiti. I feel completely at home with them, even though I can’t understand most of what they are saying. J

After catching me yawning, Merlin took me for a quick visit to meet his family, which live three doors down.   I was able to give them the giant bag of M&Ms that I had brought for them and they  smiled and passed them around before I said goodnight.  We had one more quick stop….a nearby apartment where I can pay $1 for a half hour of internet use.  Well, it took 20 minutes to find a way to email mom and dad and tell them that I am safe.   Between the dial up speed and the fact that Cuba doesn’t seem to like AOL or Yahoo, I was finally able to log onto Gmail and was able to send a quick message home saying that I am in one piece and that life is great. Now I am back at the house and am eyeing the bed.  The mosquitoes are voracious, (as they were in Santo Domingo) and if I can get my bites to stop itching, I might just get some sleep before Merlin is back to get me at 8 tomorrow morning.


Buenos Noches…..


Day 1- Taxis, Cannons and Banyan Trees

(I will add photos later, but for now… is an accounting of my latest adventure!!!)
The DR, Day 1- Taxis, Cannons and Banyan Trees
There is a moment in every international flight in which I feel like I have truly left home and arrived in another country. I could happen anywhere in the airspace between ‘here’ and ‘there’. It is the moment in which they stop giving airline instructions in English first. You know how it is…..instead of ‘please return your seat backs and tray tables to their upright positions’…pause…’the-same-thing-in-Spanish/French/or-wherever-it-is-you-are-going’, it gets turned around the other way. I am sure that the airlines have a particular time that they do this in a flight, but to me, it is my own little universal sign….’your adventure begins NOW, Anna’. It is official….I am in the Dominican Republic. 
Once the airplane landed, I went into serious ‘follow the other passengers’ mode. I have no idea what to do and I find that this is a great time to become a lemming.  Through the line to pay for a tourist visa, which they immediately take away from me in the next line. …..On to immigration and customs…why is it that they are never as happy to see me as I am to see them? 
Finally out into the sun to get a taxi. $40 USD later and I am screaming my way towards the center of old town and my hotel. I am looking around like crazy, trying to see some sort of semblance between here and Haiti. After all, not only are we on the same island, we are actually not that far from Port au Prince! It kind of feels like Haiti, but it is obviously wealthier. There are palm trees and tons of colors everywhere….on the buildings, in the graffiti, and on all of the signs. As I study all of the buildings around me, I realize that my driver is going really, really fast. Like….WAY faster than I-285 around Atlanta! As I try to catch a glimpse at his speedometer I notice that it says he isn’t driving at all….and that he has no gas…and no RPMs. Hmmm…..I am thinking it is broken.  As he whisks between two buses, I nonchalantly click my seatbelt on and say a quick prayer. It is best at times like these to realize that you just have to relax… are not like you can do anything about it!! 
After finally arriving at my hotel, I check into a dark, stifling little room. I am thinking that it would be about a 1 star hotel in Europe, but it is sparkling clean and seems to be in a safe neighborhood, so I am happy. The bell boy motions to a couple of threadbare towels, clicks on a wall air conditioning unit, and turns the TV onto a German channel. (Does he think I am German? )
I dump my stuff quickly and go ask how to get to the cathedral. I have one afternoon here and am not going to waste it!!! After five minutes of fruitless conversation with the woman at the front desk….her, no English….me, less than no Spanish….a cute, cute young man from Spain took pity on me and stepped in. With his hand drawn map, walking directions, and a business card from the hotel (for the cab ride back in case I get lost  ), off I go. It is very hot and humid but since I am already all sweaty from checking into the hotel, I don’t mind. It actually feels like Atlanta in July!
The roads are narrow and there are colorful, pastel buildings everywhere. Some are other hotels, all hidden behind wrought iron gates and climbing vines and some are businesses. There is a lot of trash on the streets, and I spend the next 15 minutes dodging piles of garbage while looking around at signs so that I can find my way back home. The women that pass me all smile and we exchange friendly “Hola”’s. The men all want to sell me something….belts, necklaces, tours of the old town, and as my “No gracisas” come out with increasing frequency, I know that I am close to the touristy center of town.  I finally find myself walking up a long pedestrian street with salsa music coming out of various windows. Being Sunday, a lot of the shops are closed up behind gates, but there are a lot of street vendors out selling paintings and cheap souvenirs. I know that I should probably buy stuff for friends and family, but this stuff looks bad!! Cheap and tacky, I think I will hold out til later.
As the crowds grow, I suddenly find myself looking at a giant, stone building of sorts. One of the men approached me and asked if I wanted a tour. When I asked what it was, he told me it was the big military fort. It seems I have missed the cathedral somehow. Oh well, when in Rome, right? So I paid him $8 USD to take me around and tell me about it. It is really cool!! Giant thick walls, cannons, and gun ports, all right on the river that runs through Santo Domingo. And beautiful green grass in the middle. It turns out that Christopher Columbus’s son and his wife lived here for a while and there were various battles, torturing, etc that took place here. It feels so nice for a place in which no-so-good things happened. 
After our tour, Juan, my official tour guide, (he had a business card that said it, so it must be so!!)  offered to do a walking tour of the old town. Unfortunately, I had to turn him down. It is 700 degrees out here and my pesos are in short supply. I promise him that if I change my mind, I won’t do a tour with anyone but him and I take off to find something cold to drink.
As I wind my way through the streets, passing old stone buildings, I come around a corner and find myself looking at a giant, pock-marked stone building,….tall, grand and beautiful. My stomach filled with butterflies and goose bumps covered my body. I have found the cathedral. I don’t know why it affected me so much, but tears filled my eyes and I was just so happy! It is very plain compared to the cathedrals in Europe, but there is no denying its purpose. It is the first cathedral ever built in the Americas and it is beautiful. There was a small, metal gate open with a guard inside. He motioned me in and I walked around the grounds. The cathedral itself is closed, and as I walk around the entire thing, I realize that every gate is locked up tight. I am not sure that I am even supposed to be in here! I am the only person walking around and I know that the guard said that it was ok, so I continue on. There are gargoyles stacked up along one side of the building, and I assume that they are doing construction on the building, even though there are no other signs of work being done. As people reach in through the wrought iron gates to take pictures, with me standing on the inside, I finally decide that maybe I am not supposed to be in here and work my way back around to the open gate. The guard smiles and nods, and I stop to talk to him for a moment. He has just enough English to tell me that I am more beautiful than the cathedral. Laughing and shaking my head, I take off, still in hopes of a cold drink.
Coming around the corner, I find the main plaza of the cathedral and know that I have found my home for the next few hours. There are people everywhere, most locals as far as can tell. In the middle of the square, there are iron benches with old men sitting on them feeding the thousands of pigeons that are congregated around. Hot, hot sunshine intersperses with dark shade under huge trees and it is here that the locals are gathered. The children run out into the sun to chase the pigeons, which fly up in droves, only to settle ten feet away. It seems that it is too hot for them to fly far.  No one is moving very quickly and everyone seems settled in to enjoy a nice Sunday afternoon.
I find an outdoor café and settle in for some serious people watching, putting on my sunglasses so that it doesn’t seem like I am rudely staring. I order a cold Bohemia and a bottle of water, while trying to decide if I want to eat. I didn’t have lunch, but it is so hot that I have no appetite. It turns out that the restaurant is out of almost everything on the menu. After the waiter tells me that I can have the fried squid or the fried-egg-something-or-another, I decide to stick with my beer.  The smell of cigars wafts through the air and giant leaves from what looks like a banyan tree keep floating down on my table. Two men at the table behind me are having an animated conversation in German and the table of locals next to me is gossiping about everyone that walks by. I know this because anytime someone particularly interesting walks by, the woman sitting with them meets my eye and raises her eyebrows as their conversation escalates. Some things are easy to understand in every language. 
After a couple of hours of great people watching, writing in my journal and just plain relaxing, I decide to head down the road to another place for some dinner. It is 7 pm, and I know it is way too early for the locals to be eating, but I am exhausted and the idea of waiting another two hours before eating and heading back to my tiny, clean hotel room is more than I can take. I find a nice hotel restaurant a few blocks down and settle down beside two huge, elderly local women that seem to have moved in for the evening. They, also, are talking about everyone that walks by. There seems to be a preponderance of older white men with attractive, younger local women, and as my suspicions grow, one of the couples walk by. The two women next to me catch my eye, raise their eyebrows and say, “Mmmmm….” Yep, some things really do transcend the language barrier. 
Grinning, I finish my dinner and start thinking about sleep. I am only about 12 blocks from the hotel, but it is full of dark now and I have no idea how safe the area is. I ask a taxi driver how much to take me to the hotel. After he says 200 pesos, (about $6 US) I climb in. I am fully aware that I am being overcharged, but I am thinking that the people that love me would consider $6 a small price for me to be delivered safely to the hotel. 
Tomorrow I am headed for Cuba, but for now, I am lying here watching a subtitled version of “The Holiday” on TV and fighting my drooping eyelids. Time for bed…..

The Last Day- Haiti Day 11

Anna in Haiti-the last dayP8040347
Today is my last day in Haiti. I am half sad, half ecstatic. Sad because I have come to feel like I now know part of Haiti and that I am blending in and finding myself a temporary home here. Ecstatic because I have not really been home for three weeks and I miss it terribly!!! For now, though, I have one more full day of bow teaching, bass teaching and a party for my boys. J
  Robert is feeling much better today. The doctor came and gave him some antibiotics, so he is on the mend. He takes some of the guys into the workshop, so I am back down to 3-4 of the boys. I call them ‘my boys’ because age is very different here. A person is considered a child and still lives in the home of their parents until they are 30. They rarely get married before they are in their 30’s, and are definitely still expected to obey their parents. Even at the age of 28 or 29. As a result, a man can be in their upper 20’s, but they will still act like a teen-ager. Simply put, my boys may be in their 20’s but they still act like a bunch of Labrador retriever puppies. J J They are delightful!!
  During lunch, Cynthia and I head down to the art gallery for some last minute purchases, and then I go to the market for party food. Armed with cookies, chips and lemonade, I made my way back up to the church. Sweat is pouring off of me…..the sun is out and it has to be 100 degrees!! The roads are packed and I realize that this is my last venture out into Petionville. It makes me sad and I try and take special notice of all of the sights and sounds around me. And yes, even the smells. J
  After several more hours of class, it is finally time for the party. The boys bring in a boom box and an amplifier to plug it into. I have no idea where they got that!! However, it makes for a festive addition to the party and we all dance around a little as I set out the plates of cookies and chips that I brought. I perch up on the desk and nibble on a cookie as I watch the guys scarf down the food.
 I am so proud of them that I could pop! Several of them aren’t even string players, and most of them had no wood working experience at all. But here they are, 10 days later, rehairing bows functionally. That was my goal….to leave and have them truly be able to work. Mission accomplished. Several of them can even do faceplates and thumb leathers. And of course, there is Allande and his silk wraps. J
  At some point, the boys all ask Robert and I to come forward and they make us sit in two chairs as they line up in front of us, grinning. Reginald proceeds to make a heartwarming speech to us both, talking about how much they appreciate us coming and teaching them and giving them this new skill. And that they love us very much and hope that we will come back as soon as we can and as often as we can. Ruby translates it all into English for us and I get all choked up again. Seriously, how great is this? J
    Then they present us with gifts that they had all gone in together to buy. We have carved wooden Haiti signs with little flags sticking out and colorful plastic Haiti bracelets. I immediately put my bracelet on, saying that I will not take it off until I get home. They also give us each a thank you note that they have all signed. I am touched beyond reason. J
  Finally, the afternoon wears on and the guys start to leave one by one. I grab Cannis and dance with him to the music, him belly laughing the whole time. With this, we all say good-bye. Full of melancholy, I go up onto the roof one more time and am joined by Robert. We can hear the orchestra rehearsing Beethoven 9 below us and I am struck by how surreal this all is. I am sitting on a roof-top, in Haiti, looking out on tents and squalor, street vendors and families, in the midst of a beautiful sunset, while “Joyful, Joyful we Adore Thee” circles around me. I had yet another one of those moments…..”How in the world did I end uphere?”. Not bad for a nun from Georgia. J J
I am leaving at 6 am to go home tomorrow, so I will sign off from here. As far as adventures go, this has been one heck of a summer. I have learned and grown more than I thought possible. It has actually been quite painful at times, but mostly wonderful, and once again I am full of gratitude for this life that I have. All I can say for now is, ‘thank you, thank you , thank you…….”

We’re Gonna Dance Upon This Earth!