Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 14

Our last day in the Dominican Republic. It was amazing how fast the time flew. We did so much, met so many awesome people, had so much fun, and learned so much!

In the morning, Pastor José took us to El Mercado Modelo to shop for the remaining souvenirs we needed to buy for people at home. We got a lot of Larimar jewelry for really good prices, as well as some T-shirts.

We also went to the old city. We went inside the magnificent first cathedral in the Americas, a gorgeous building with a vaulted ceiling made out of huge blocks of stone, lots of gold decorating everything, and little side chapels all along both sides with interesting things in them.

We walked from there to a tourist street with shops along both sides and no cars allowed. At the end of this was a monument built to Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella, holding their remains and having a larger-than-life statue of each one inside. They are like our George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—they’re SO famous and revered and well-known. They’re on the money, the street names, everything.

Then we drove down to the house of Diego Colon, Christopher Columbus’ son, and founder of the city of Santo Domingo. His house was the first palace built in the Americas, and he was like the island’s first president. We didn’t go inside, though, because we didn’t want to pay.

We had such a good tour guide in Pastor José! He knew so much about everything, and could tell us the history and the important facts about the places we visited. He was wonderful!

Before we went home, we went back to the “La Sirena” store to buy some food. I wandered around and encountered a seafood counter that had large whole fish, octopus, and other exotic sea creatures lined up on display. I went to get Rosie, and when we got back, the guy behind the counter was having an argument with a customer about where the octopus’ eyes were. They guy behind the counter was saying that there was only one eye, and it was underneath in the middle of all the tentacles. He turned over an octopus and pointed to what was really the mouth and said, “See? The eye.” The customer responded, “No. There are two eyes. On the head.” The octopus was flipped back over and the customer pointed to the two bulgy eyes. The employee said, “No. Those are just bumps. An octopus is different. His eye is down here,” going back to the mouth. I was feeling pleased with myself for understanding this whole dialogue in Spanish and couldn’t help interjecting my opinion. “I agree with him,” I said, referring to the customer. “These are they eyes and this is the mouth.” Mr. Misinformed Seafood Guy contradicted me. The conversation lasted a little longer, with neither party convincing the other, and then the two men parted, while Rosie and I walked away, laughing. Poor guy. We shouldn’t have laughed at him. He couldn’t help it if he had never been educated properly about octopus anatomy. Rosie and I brought Pastor Jose over to see the octopus, and when the guy saw us again, we could tell he didn’t like us. We certainly did get highly entertained at his expense.

We get the BEST fresh squeezed orange juice down here. Just about every day, somebody makes some. It’s so sweet and smooth and made with AWESOME oranges. Today though, we got a new kind of juice. It was called “Tamarindo juice,” and had a very unique flavor. They said you couldn’t find this in the United States, but they told us how to make it. I loved it! It was a fruit juice, but it was so deliciously spicy, like it had a little kick to it. And it smelled delicious, too.

We then went back to the house for our rest time. I planned not to take a rest, because I wanted to copy my song over for Pastor José, and this was going to be my last chance to do it.

While I was scribbling away, a girl about my age named Ela was there with her little daughter. I had met her the first day and liked her, and we had talked several times on various days. She had expressed interest in my tatting, and it just seemed like we both enjoyed each other’s company a lot. We seemed to have a lot in common, too. She told me about her interest in music and her family and her life. I didn’t understand everything she said, because our conversations were all in Spanish, but it didn’t matter. We just liked each other.

We talked a while while her daughter, Mariela, fell asleep in her arms. Such a beautiful little girl. She’s about three years old and walks around as quiet as a mouse, looking at you with her big, soulful eyes, studying your face as if she’s memorizing every detail. I attempted to talk to her, but she was too shy to answer.

I wanted to teach Ela how to tat, but we didn’t get a chance, because while I was writing the music, she was doing dishes, mopping the floors, and cleaning the bathroom. I think she is helping Pina out while she has cancer. She said Pina is like a mother to her.

At about 4:00, a man named Pantaleon Viola came to take us to his house for dinner. He was one of the founders and pastors of the “Luz y Vida” church, and was also a singer who had 2 CDs. He was a very nice man, tall and thin, with graying hair and a kind face with eyes that seemed to reveal a depth of humility and love that few people know. You feel solemn and quietly happy when you’re around him.

He took Rosie and me in his car to his house. (Pastor José returned the other car we had been using to Juan Gabriel and then rejoined us.) He told us that he had three children: Calina, Annette, and Caleb. He also had one of his CD’s playing, so it was fun to listen to his music.

When we got to his house, we went in, sat down on the couch, and began to talk to his children—in English! They were 16, 15, and 13, and they had just about perfect English. Their vocabulary was huge and they understood us perfectly without us having to speak slowly and distinctly. Where did they learn English? From watching cable TV.

One of the things in the front room of the house was a glass counter displaying a lot of eyeglass frames. Apparently selling glasses is at least one thing he does. He picked out a frame, brought it over to me, and asked me to try it on. It was the “square edge” shape that’s much more in style right now than my 5-year-old frame, and he said he could take my lenses and cut them to fit the new frame. He offered to do this for free, as a gift, frames and all. I didn’t know what to do! It isn’t every day you get an offer like that. Part of me was tempted to take him up on it. I thought, “Cool! I’ll go back home and see if anybody notices anything different about me!” But I was sort of scared about what might happen to my glasses, too, and those frames didn’t seem quite as sturdy as mine, and I’m so hard on my glasses I need strong ones, and the coating on my lenses is chipped, so I really need new lenses, not just new frames. I thanked him as nicely as I could in Spanish for the offer, but declined, explaining about the lenses and telling him he was very generous.

Then Calina, Annette, and Caleb showed us around the house. There was an upper story that was under construction (a project that began 10 years ago and progressed as money came in), and we enjoyed being up on the roof. Then we went out to the backyard, where we took some group pictures of each other and saw their mango tree.

The rest of the evening was a continual pleasure. We played music & sang, had dinner, did a puzzle, looked at pictures, traded coins, and chattered away merrily. They had a keyboard, so I got to play the piano for the first time in 2 weeks! It was one of those keyboards with the digital display and built-in piano lessons, and it was amazing how much they could play without ever having lessons. They sure were self-learners!

After that, Pastor José, Mr. Pantaleón, Rosie and I went to a Bible Study at Luz y Vida. We didn’t get there until it was almost over. At the end Pastor José called me up to the front to say anything I wanted to say to the people. I never know what to say when I’m put on the spot like that! I told them my name and where I was from and how much I liked visiting the Dominican Republic. I said, “We have a very good tour guide here,” motioning to Pastor José. That made everyone laugh. I was like, “Wow, cool! I made everyone laugh! I wonder how I did that?” Then I wondered if it was not so great to call a pastor a tour guide at a church service. All these thoughts racing through my mind drove out all further ideas of anything else that I could say, especially since my choices were narrowed down to what I could say in Spanish, so I said, “No sé,” grinned, and went back to my seat.

Afterward, Pastor José told me that I had spoken “perfect” Spanish up there, “like me,” he said. (He does have flawless Spanish.) :-D Score!

From there we went back to Pina’s house, took some pictures of everyone, and ate our last mangoes. Ela came to say goodbye and we let her try the violin. We talked so long with her in our room that Pastor José had to come in and remind us to go to bed so that we could get up in the morning. Our flight left at 7:00, which meant we would have to leave at around 5:00 in the morning. 

Keep Reading: Dominican Republic Trip: Day 15
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