Friday, April 1, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 2

At about 4:00 in the morning, we were greeted by a welcome sound: roosters crowing! Apparently they don’t have laws against raising chickens in the city. You see them wandering around a lot, and most of them look like the game chickens we used to have.

The crowing of the roosters was followed soon after by an increase in traffic. There is a road right outside and it is amazing how noisy cars can be. There is a constant sound of lots of traffic going by, which woke me up a couple of times before I decided to get up around 7:00 local time. I could have gone on sleeping, because that felt like 5:00 to me, but I didn’t want people to think I was a lazy American. As it turned out, this was actually too early for them, so I thought I would sleep in the next day a bit more.

When I was dressed, I sauntered out into the hall and saw Tati. She ushered me into the living room and asked me if I would have a seat on the sofa while she went to prepare breakfast. I sat down but soon popped up again to go get my tatting, and then I wandered out to the balcony and stood there looking out, enjoying the warm air and the new sights.

It wasn’t long before I was urged to sit down again. I think this culture is all about sitting down. I don’t know how many times I’ve been offered a seat or asked to sit down or had someone get up so that I could sit. This is very strange to me, as usually I was perfectly comfortable standing and it is an older person trying to give me their seat. However, it’s useless to resist or protest. They are more uncomfortable seeing you stand than you are standing, so it makes everything go a lot smoother if you just give them their wish and sit down.

Breakfast consisted of bread, butter, cheese, pineapple (“pan de azucar”), scrambled eggs, and coffee. I asked if this was a typical breakfast, and they said no, but they thought we would like it more. We assured them that we were perfectly willing and interested to try their food, but perhaps we will have to prove to them that we are not picky eaters. It was only Tati, Pastor Jose, Rosie and I eating, and they told us that the others hadn’t gotten up yet.

After breakfast, there was more sitting on the couch and a constant stream of visitors, relatives, neighbors, Christian friends, children, etc. and all the greetings that went with that. We tried to call home to let them know we got in safely, but our phone card wouldn’t work, and we eventually had to use one of theirs. It was a “hi, bye” type of thing, because we didn’t want to use their minutes up, but Mom was glad to hear from us.

Then Otoniel (Pastor Jose's son) arrived with the car and Rosie and I left with him, Pastor Jose, and Tati to be shown around the city.

First we went to the mall and bought a notebook for me to write my journal in, because I had forgotten one. The mall was HUGE! It was 3 stories tall and full of stores of every description. Most of the clothing looked the same as what we can find at home, but all the prices, when translated from pesos to dollars, were a shade higher. This notebook was about a dollar. (Mead, 1 subject, college ruled, spiral bound, 70 sheets. I don’t buy this kind at home unless it’s 10-20 cents.) When we went up to pay, I didn’t have pesos, so Pastor Jose bought it for me and then we went to a bank to change our money.

Unfortunately, Rosie and I had gotten traveler’s checks. What a mistake and an inconvenience! The first bank we tried didn’t change them, and at the second place, it took  f  o  r  e  v  e  r . To make matters worse, we had left most of our money back at the house, so we’ll have to go do it again. Finally that was done, and we went to a museum in El Plaza Cultural on the history of “el hombre dominicano” (The dominican man). 

The museum had information on the Indians who lived here before the discovery of the island by the Spanish, artifacts like ax heads, mortal & pestle, and flint stones. There was also a lot about how the Dominican Republic people gained their independence through three men named Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella, and their history during the following years. Most notable was the reign of dictator Trujillo. He was very cruel, sending many of his enemies to the electric chair. If he saw a girl he liked, he would ask if she had a boyfriend. If she said yes, he would kill him and take her. If she said no, he would go ahead and take her. The final straw came when he killed three famous, intelligent, beautiful, well-liked women. For this, he was assassinated. They had the assassins’ car on display. The driver’s side had 8 huge bullet holes in it. I didn’t hear what became of the driver.

The museum closed for “siesta” while we were there, so we went to the house of Pastor Jose’s sister, Debora and her husband, Gabriel (who came to the airport). Their son, Juan Gabriel, was the owner of the car we were using (a white Toyota Corolla). After getting a drink of water, using the restroom, and meeting lots of people who were at their house eating lunch, we went to a restaurant to eat. (We left Otoniel there.)

It took us a while to find the restaurant, and we drove around a lot of little tiny streets before we found it. Everywhere in the streets, especially the little streets, there are enormous speed bumps. We go over all of them as slow as we possibly can, but almost every time, the bottom of the car scrapes horribly. Turning from street to street is the same situation. Sometimes the more major streets will have a lot more layers of pavement, creating a big drop off. Other times there is a ditch or gutter between streets. Navigating these obstacles is not the only thing the drivers have to do. The streets are pretty crazy, with cars driving in the middle of lane lines, motorcycles weaving in and out between cars, and 3 or 4 cars trying to turn left at the same time. They won’t wait behind you if you’re turning—they pull up next to you and go at the same time you go. As Rosie said about midday, “I can’t believe we’ve only been in one accident.” We were driving too close and hit the car in front of us. Both of us kept on going. It was too minor to bother with, apparently.

The restaurant we went to was a buffet, and the food was so good! They had platanos! MMM! We also got mangoes. I don’t think I had ever eaten a whole mango. However, the price of the meal was $1,020 pesos, which is about $36, and very expensive for a meal. They were surprised and said that we would eat at people’s houses the next day.

We didn’t eat lunch till rather late, because they kept asking us if we were hungry, and we kept saying, “Not desperately hungry…we could eat, or we could wait…whatever.” I think they were VERY hungry by the time we ate. Afterwards, we went back for a siesta. That felt SO good! I slept for 1 ½ hours or so, and woke quite refreshed.

We went out in the car again to see some caves called “Los Tres Ojos” (The Three Eyes), but we got there after it was closed, so they said we would go in the morning.

We went to Tati’s brother’s house since Los Tres Ojos was closed, and there we had a tour of the back yard where they had a lot of different types of trees. We saw mango, avocado, and papaya, and also saw the plants for yucca and lentils. They picked a mango and gave it to Rosie. It’ll ripen in a few days.

While we were there, Pastor Jose got on the internet on Tati’s brother’s computer to check the status of his visa. Just as he was about to get the information something happened for the first time that has happened many times since: “se fue la luz.” (We lost power.) It was dark by that time, so we left.

Oh, but I’m supposed to tell what we ate. At their house, they had us sit on the couch, and they served us cracker sandwiches spread with a sort of cheese spread inside and soda that was like Coke, but better.

When we got back to our apartment, Rosie and I practiced for the first time the song I was singing on Sunday. I had finished it on the plane, so I didn’t even know for sure if the harmony part I had written for the violin would match up, but it was fine. Emily came in while we were practicing and whispered to Pastor Jose that she wanted to learn the violin between now and Sunday. J

We had dinner at around 8:00. It was mashed potatoes, yucca root, cooked green bananas, liver, and fresh, delicious orange juice. Pastor Jose was worried that we wouldn’t like the yucca, especially after Rosie took a big piece. (He didn’t yet know us! But I guess a lot of people don’t like it.) It actually didn’t have much taste, kind of like a potato, but with a more fibrous texture.

After dinner, we went to our room, unsure of what to do next. Emily shyly asked us if we were doing anything. We said no, and she asked if she could try the violin. We said, “Of course!” and got it out. Liliana came in, too, and we taught “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” to the two of them, and later to their brother, Frank.

It was interesting to observe their characters. Lili is bold, expressive, even saucy, usually smiling, and easy to like. That morning, she told her uncle Jose that she knew more English than he did, and then proceeded to inform me that she would not speak English to me. I responded (in Spanish), “That’s okay, I’m in your country, and Spanish is the language here.” She said, “If I visit your country, I will speak English, but while I’m here, I speak Spanish.” While Emily was trying the violin, Lili kept saying, “Mal, malĂ­simo,” (bad, extremely bad), with a mischievous grin.

Emily is shy, sensitive, and reserved. She doesn’t put herself forward, and because she is quiet, she is harder to get to know. When Lili picked up the violin and sounded about the same, Emily teased her about it in a much milder manner, causing a much bigger reaction in Lili.

Frank is friendly, genuine, and confident. He talks easily and I had several conversations with him. He was helpful to me in correcting my Spanish and patient when I didn’t understand. Though only 15 years old, he already knew what he wanted to study in college (some sort of technology involving computer programs and satellite dishes). Sensible and matter of fact, I found him very likeable.

I believe that this concludes the events of our first day in the Dominican Republic. Are we experiencing culture shock? Not really—nothing has been really SHOCKING. But there have been cultural difficulties. For example, we asked about the interior of the country, and the mountains, and they told us about it and about a national park there. Then they looked very disappointed and said, “But we can’t go there, because there’s not enough time and it’s too expensive and it’s too far away.” But we weren’t asking them if we could go there. We were just curious about it.

Another thing had to do with food. At first, when they asked us if we were hungry, we said, “No, not really. We could eat or we could wait. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever you want to do.” We didn’t want to say yes and have them think they had to drop everything and eat right then because we were hungry. But they kept hearing us say no, and they wanted to eat, and they kept getting hungrier and hungrier (which we didn’t realize), so by the time we finally ate, they were starving.

They eat so much here! They eat so many times a day, and their meals are delicious, but way too much food. After I have eaten an average-to-generous size portion, Pastor Jose will say to me, “Rebekah, you eat so little. Have some more.” I say, “I can’t. I’m full. I’m small—I can’t eat much.” So he says, “We are going to send you back to your mother and she will say to you, “What happened!? You got malnourished while you were away.” I exclaim, “No! I’m going to be fatter when I go home.” So about every day now, he says, “I am so sorry for your small stomach,” or “I will pray for your small stomach to grow.” We just laugh. He’s so comical as he says it.

Keep Reading: Dominican Republic Trip, Day 3
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