Posted by: Lydia | March 8, 2010

two fer one deal

Due to my limited internet access (which I have actually found incredibly relaxin), I am posting two days worth of info in one entry.  Also, I haven’t learned to backdate yet. These things will come in time…

5 Marzo

Our first two days in the Dominican Republic should have been recorded in full by the Peace Corps and used as a recruiting advertisement. One can definitely tell that the Peace Corps has been in the DR since 1962 and that it has the Corps’ most developed infrastructure. Everything went as smoothly as Dominican Coffee and my excitement and happiness levels keep rising with every experience and bit of information we learn. Also, we really lucked out and the weather has been cool (and breezy!!!!) since our arrival.

The first evening after a brief (2 hr) lecture, a rabies shot, our first anti-malarial dose, and a comedy of errors putting up our mosquiteros for the first time, we bedded down in a convent for what was (at least for me) 9 hours of deep, dreamless sleep (I was, admittedly, a little disappointed about not having the notorious technicolor chloroquin dreams). We awoke to cocks crowing and monks chanting at 6am, and after a leisurely breakfast with the first 2 of what will be many, many cups of fantastic Dominican coffee, we were off to our entreina site just outside the city. My first impression of Santo Domingo is that it is a very polluted, noisy and chaotic city (though Turkish traffic is still worse) with pockets of intense beauty and peace dotted throughout. Our entreina site is one of these oases; a green, floral paradise containing the Peace Corps Entrena offices and many little gazebos in which we will have class. We are also graced by a fantastic kitchen crew who provides us with our main meal of the day (lunch), and today taught me a valuable lesson in listening to the difference between five and fifty when trying to pay for coffee, in addition to a primer on Dominican currency.

After a full day of lectures, our Spanish placement interviews, and a raucous outdoor Spanish class that included our Professor demonstrating the dialogue that would take place if the young daughter of the house walked in on you (a male) in the nude (apparently Dominicans don’t knock), we finally got to meet the families who will be hosting us for the next 3 weeks.

Our Dona is a Dominicana tipica in that the house is the cleanest place I have ever had the honor of stepping into outside of an operating room, and that she is a great cook and even better coffee preparer. She is atypical in that the house is relatively quiet, and we have electricity all of the time due to a set of batteries that charge when there is electricity from the city. We also have constant access to water, which I know is definitely not always the case. Dona Julia also goes to church 3x a week so I will have my first taste of a Dominican service (not sure if she is Catholic) next Saturday (she doesn’t go on Sunday, instead she has some kind of service in her home, so I’m thinking maybe no on the Catholicism). Anyways, there is singing involved so I am pretty psyched to see what it is all about.

Dinner and home time were way more peaceful than I ever expected. In fact the last two days have been much easier in general than I ever could have hoped, and I am convinced that we are indeed in the best Peace Corps program in the world (as we have often been told). Just so it doesn’t seem totally like I signed up for two years of an all-expenses-paid vacation, we do live across from a crazily decorated bar (it has a cessna on the roof) that is allegedly a den of drugs and prostitution, there are constantly car alarms going off and minibuses blaring political advertisements (elections are this month) throughout the night, and we have to flush the toilets with a bucket of water. But seriously, this has been very, very cushy so far and we feel incredibly lucky to be here.

7 Marzo

Living in Taos, Matteo y yo were accustomed to spending the majority of our non-work time alone, so our first free day in the DR was a nice way to transition into what will probably be the most social two years of my life ever. We slept in until almost 10 (on the orders of our Doña to relajar mucho en las fines de semanas), then after a leisurely breakfast we had our first experience with Dominican outdoor markets. It was pretty much like most markets in the developing world, but our Doña assured us that the markets in the countryside are much cleaner, illustrating it with a story about how once while in the campo her children begged her to take them swimming but the only place in the area happened to be in a mercado, yet despite her extreme trepidation it ended up being very clean. Lunch was fried ripe plantains and the most incredible turkey I have ever tasted. Our Doña cooks it in a marinade of the juice of a special sour orange here, garlic, jalapenos (our Dona is one of the few who cooks with hot peppers, much to our good fortune), salt, and a little rum. I am definitely going to be making Dominican turkey at Thanksgiving from now on… there is just no going back after tasting this style.

After lunch Matteo taught our voluntarios vecinos (other PC trainees who live in our barrio) how to play sheepshead, and we practiced the Dominican art of hanging out of the porch playing cards and drinking Presidente lite (which is surprisingly good). The other married couple here (who we played cards with) are former Mennonites from central PA who speak fluent Pennsylvania Dutch. I really haven’t met other married couples my age until now so I am really excited to finally get to know some folks in a similar situation (young, married, PCVs, etcetera). They have a very similar relationship dynamic as Matthew and me, share a lot of our interests, and are in our program (CEDE), so I have a feeling we are going to be friends well past our time in the Peace Corps.

After a rollicking few rounds of cards, our very gregarious fellow volunteer (who also has fantastic Spanish) convinced a neighborhood friend of his household (a teenage girl who I will call Marguerita) to take us on an extended tour du barrio, during which we met a most interesting and not slightly disturbing man.

This individual, who our guide described as her uncle, is a journalist and lawyer whose children are all currently pursuing their masters degrees abroad, yet is also a confessed racist. This guy is black (by American standards, I am unsure where his skin color puts him in the Dominican categorization), yet maintains that he is white on the inside and is proud to have married a light-skinned Dominicana. He also maintained that he is going to paint his (dark-skinned) niece white one day and that he loves Obama because he is a black guy who acts white. This guy doesn’t even like black clothes, that’s how deep this self-hatred goes. However, he then went on an extended rant about the American domination of the Dominican Republic, so I really don’t know what this guy is all about.

I wasn’t sure I was hearing all of this correctly since my Spanish is far from perfect and the Dominican accent is difficult for my ears, which are accustomed to the slow Spanish of northern New Mexico… but according to my more fluent compañeros de Cuerpo, that was indeed the gist of his impassioned speech.

I really have no idea how to respond to that kind of thing, particularly in Spanish, but that’s why we have the fantastic folks at Entrena to teach us what to say in the many, many awkward situations (particularly regarding race, which are sure to crop up con mucha, mucha frecuencia). Man is chaos, as Matthew and I always maintain, and you certainly can’t put people in boxes, particularly when you are new to their culture.

When we arrived home our Doña informed us that although Marguerita is a nice and extremely intelligent girl, she for some reason only shows up when the Volunteers are around and often tells lies. Although we weren’t forbidden from hanging out with her, we were cautioned particularly about being with her alone. The impression I got was that young Marguerita desires very, very much to move to America (with good reason) and is tremendously ambitious, but likely lacks a strong family structure and, like most urban youth in similar situations, has a dubious reputation because of her lack of supervision.

Our Doña is opening up to us more and more every day, and frequently confides in us the poquito secretos of her life, both good and bad. It is said that gossip is the national Dominican sport, however our Doña tells us as much about her own misfortunes as that of others. Por ejemplo, our Doña and Don sleep in separate rooms, and this evening we found out that it is because our Don, once had a lot of money, cars, and women (other than our Doña), yet in his old age lost everything and was left without relatives and even his six sons (by six different women) refused to help him. Our Doña took him back in, however he is forbidden from eating with us and sleeps in his own little corner of the house. Our Doña is a woman with a heart of gold the size of Texas, yet also a will of iron.

On a more positive note, and so I don’t make it seem like the Dominican Republic is a nation of bigots and philanderers, our Doña told us many stories about her father (a farmer), who was a seed-saver, excellent cook, and a man of strong ethics. I really adore our Doña because she represents all of the values and characteristics that I like in people; she is honest and trustworthy, hard-working, thrifty, kind-hearted, hilarious and always on-time (tiempo Americano!!) Matthew and I really, really lucked out with our living situation and I will be very sad to leave her and her immaculate house in three weeks, however the campo and our technical field training is calling….

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Responses

  1. Did she like the potholders? What else did you give her?

  2. WOW! You two have had so many experiences already in less than 2 weeks! I am so glad your house is clean and with good company. I can only imagine the noise of the city, but would love to see the greenery. I’ll look forward to your next post. And yeah for no poisonous snakes!

    Remember some time to fill us in on Georgetown.

  3. Great Blog Lydia!
    A few definitions of terms would be helpful for those of us linguistically challenged in spanish. Such as Dona, I can imagine she is the “Head Lady” but I don’t know what all the term denotes…..will be helpful to explain the spanish terms until we learn them. 🙂 (thanks)

  4. Very nice post. I went through the experience in the DR in 87. So much is still the same. Very lucky with your host family. It is fun to go back and visit when you can actually speak Spanish.

  5. Great Post,Look forward to all the news.


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