Foreign Exchange…progress

The thought of an international event in which our family learns from someone else and they learn from us sounded fabulous. Language and culture and lifestyle and food experiments without even leaving our own home? Sign us up!It hasn’t quite happened that way.

In the first week Rosí and I had a few intense discussions about poverty and universities and family and priorities and feminism and cancer. And we watched each other in horror as one of us ate egg and ketchup sandwiches and the other faked burgers out of cauliflower and lentils. We squirmed under the new living arrangement, both of us used to living with another adult and two children, and now juxtaposed in a space with four voices to contend with rather than three.

Then we settled a bit. We agreed to disagree. We found a way to respect each other and allow idiosyncracies to go unremarked.

But now I’m totally winning.

When she ran out of white bread, I bought her whole wheat. And she hated it. But a month later Spouse did the same thing. And she ate it. And now she’s having grilled cheese on bread labeled “sprouted multi-grain” the first ingredient of which is “organic high protein sprouted wheat berries.”

Win.

Yesterday she laughed until tears came out of her eyes when Spouse asked her if she’d every tried making mashed potatoes with the skin still on. She’s told me often that her favorite mashed potatoes are those Mamí makes from the box. But today, she mashed her potatoes with the skins still on the potato.

Double win.

The nuanced point that Spouse has gotten her to change her ways on both these carbohydrate fronts is not lost on me. But I will pretend I’m at least partially responsible, because I got the girl to eat a salad.

No, seriously. King me. I totally win.

Our visitor told me a story about how every year for Christmas her mother makes herself a salad. The rest of the year she knows none of the house’s residents will eat greenery. Of any type. Last night, Rosí ate half of the salad I put in front of her. Baby lettuces and raw spinach and Italian dressing. Ate it. Without gagging or laughing or rolling her eyes.

My dear readers, our teenager is now my favorite kid. Because she’s the only one doing what Spouse tells her to do. Mostly Spouse. But also kind of me.

I did it! I did it! I made a whole international exchange of cultures about forcing fiber into another person! Yay me!

 

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But enough about me

I took care of the three major sticking points in our foreign exchange tangle today. We had a talk about expectations, I made a list of chores for Rosí to do daily and another list of weekly tasks. These satisfied some nagging itches I had about being responsible for another child during Rosí’s visit.

And I made her roasted feta. Saltiest mild cheese I know, with which I killed the salt and dairy need in my guest long enough to hear her talk.

Differences. She marveled that Americans don’t cook with salt, as she picked gingerly through the dinner I made.

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Noodle birds’ nest with roasted feta and poached egg, spinach salad, and pluot. Kids’ portion, in case she didn’t like it.

I watched her shudder at the taste of the plain pasta. The friend who got us into this mess was dining with us said, “You know, the cheese is very salty. Take a little of the cheese and the egg and the spaghetti and eat them together. All in one bite.” Rosí tried it and was quite pleased. She told us about how her mother prepared food by making everything together. Not pasta with sauce on it. Not foods layered on top of each other. Sauce with noodles cooked into it.

And once she settled into eating something we could finally agree on, we hit a few moments of the stride I was hoping we’d find during this encounter.

She explained how she mops at her house every day, because with the windows and doors always open, there is a lot of dust. She told me how much pride people take in their homes and how clean the Dominican Republic is. I believe her, since she scrubbed and mopped my front porch. I’ve swept a porch in my day. I’ve hosed off a porch. I have never scrubbed and mopped a porch. But in her third day here, Rosí did.

She told me how the ripped twenty-dollar bill in her possession would be worthless in the Dominican Republic. “If you come to my country and someone tries to give you this, tell them, ‘Please change this for me.’ Because there are many stealing people in my country and this money, this break? This is not worth any money. Never take this.”

I remembered our conversations the first day about how people in her country rarely pay their electricity and water bills. Because whether you pay or not, there is sometimes electricity and water. And sometimes not. How people only park inside at night because if left on the street, a car would be stripped for parts. Or stolen entirely. She is shocked that people leave their bicycles on the porch in my neighborhood. “Doesn’t someone steal that?” she asked, shocked. “In some places, yes,” I answered. “Here, not usually. Sometimes. But not a lot.”

Today I have begun to wonder what it feels like to not trust. I’m already skittish and try to be aware of my surroundings. To not tempt those who are looking for opportunities to lie, cheat, or steal. But I’m looking for an unusual occurrence. A rarity.

But what must it be like to know that your utility company will take your money and not give you electricity and water? Or that you are paying and your neighbors aren’t? How can you trust your neighbors if you know you’re paying for their utilities because they refuse? How can you bring yourself to pay a company that doesn’t deliver services?

How do you approach transactions if you have to inspect every bill, parse every word, and look over your shoulder?

I’m intrigued. Really. She can’t sample fruit in the store without the riot police descending. She can’t take anything at face value or leave possessions out in the open.

But she made sure, when giving me that twenty-dollar bill, that it was okay. She wasn’t hiding it. She was curious and she didn’t want to stiff me on the groceries. Is part of the pride of cleanliness in the D.R. also a pride in honesty? There may be some stealing persons, but there are many, many proud and honest people?

I mentioned in my post before Rosí arrived how worried I was that we had too many things. That we had accumulated too much that we simply didn’t need. Or that would have better served us as money in the bank.

Is my focus on her stories about theft rooted in an American sense of ownership and property? We seem to value property pretty highly…legally it’s right up there with life and liberty. Or is this a difference not in perspective but of privilege? I rent in relatively affluent suburb of a relatively wealthy part of the country. We are not rich by any definition I know. But I know a very limited number of people from a very limited range of circumstances. Is part of our new mutual reality with Rosí a juxtaposition of wealth that doesn’t know its own wealth and poverty that doesn’t know its own poverty? Am I a horrible bastard for even thinking that way and asking the question? Am I a horrible bastard for not thinking this sooner?

I’m not sure someone has to be a horrible bastard in this scenario. But I do know, that with a lot of feta and some spaghetti birds’ nests, we might begin to scratch the surface of these questions.

Yay for fun on the Interwebs

Ah, the link post. You’ll forgive me when you see and read these…

Hilarity and awesomeness in this post rooted in mocking a cat lover. Please try to laugh quietly. Not sure you can, though.

An interesting game where you can try to balance the federal budget by honoring your priorities. See how much you can cut, or add, or raise, or lower debt, taxes, spending at this Marketplace Money citizenship game.

And, to round it out, a shocking and adorable and, have I mentioned, jaw-dropping video from a girl and her science project.