Sunday, October 13, 2013

Adios Santo Domingo. Hola Barahona

On my last night in Santo Domingo I was completely on my own because my schoolmates all jumped on a bus for a weekend in Sosua at the beach. There was part of me, for about ten minutes, that wished I had been able to join them but my heart was being pulled very strongly to Barahona and I knew it was time to head southwest.

I finished with school about 4:00 and was given my certificate of completion and warm hugs from teachers and administrators and then I went on my way back to Zona Colonial where I dropped my backpack at home and decided to take advantage of my only afternoon to wander around the old part of town. 

I started at the Plaza of Montesinos which is a statue about 150 feet high of Fray Anton de Montesinos, the priest who protested Spanish treatment of the slaves. It is quite impressive from afar so I thought I would check it out and see what it was like up close. Unfortunately, it really didn't have anything other than a military policeman peeing in a corner. I should have enjoyed it from afar but with my curiosity satisfied I headed toward the center of things. 

It didn't take long for me to find the area of the city where we had toured in the spring with the first cathedral and fun but touristy shopping and the statue of Chrisopher Columbus. I was thankful that the fiesta Luis, Bruna and I attended on Sunday was in that area because I knew I could walk there pretty easily. I found a shop with Larimar jewelry which I was tempted by and then I went to the square outside Columbus' house. I loved the square when we were there in the spring and I wanted a few moments to just sit and soak in the fact that I was there again. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a year ago that I would be in The DR more than once ever in my life. My life has changed beyond significantly in the last year and to just have a minute to sit and think about that was really important to me. 

From there I walked through town, stopping to watch a game of dominos for a while and peeked into the cathedral quickly as they were closing because we weren't able to do so when I was there before due to a baptism.

I decided to take advantage of the time and stop into a grocery store to buy some coffee. I figured it was probably cheaper in Barahona but to just get it done was worth paying a little extra. 

While I was there I stopped to look at the spices because I have tried to copy the rice and beans at home but haven't had luck with the flavors. I figure it is because they have a spice here we don't have readily available in the states. 

While I was looking at the spices a youngish Dominican man who worked in the store came up to me and started talking to me. His English was pretty good and he was sweet but it became clear he really only wanted to hit on me and wasn't being at all helpful. It is funny because in the states men are so passive. It's a complaint all of my single girlfriends and I have. The Latino population however is not that way. The first few days in The DR I find it a bit amusing but now, with over a week under my belt, the novelty has worn off a bit and I'm starting to tire of hearing "linda" and "bonita". I ended up leaving the grocery store with only my coffee. 

After that I walked back down by the water, checked out the sunset, saw a dead body and decided it was time to turn in for the evening. 

You know, a normal evening in Santo Domingo. 

On to Barahona. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

La escuela

I have just finished my week of school in Santo Domingo and have made my way by three hour very nicely air conditioned bus to Barahona. Before I let Santo Dimingo get too far behind me I wanted to give some information about the school I attended. I did a horrible job taking pictures and really wish I had some to share of my teachers but honestly I never even thought about taking any.

Mily, my teacher in the morning was about the sweetest person I've ever met. She is absolutely stunningly beautiful inside and out. She comes from a realitively wealthy family, her mother a doctor and her father a professor, and is well educated as well. I would guess she is about 23 years old but with the incredible Dominican skin it's hard to tell. She might have been 50. 

My afternoon professor was Victoria. I got to know Victoria a bit better than Mily because her English was a little stronger so I was able to gather more accurate information about her as time went on. She too is gorgeous and was a darling person. I would bet she is around my age and when I told her I wanted to learn baseball terms in Spanish she got 100% on board. We laughed a lot during our classes and I honestly felt like the sessions with her were the most worthwhile. She is also far more "Dominican" than Mily. She moves slowly and speaks quickly. She worked hard when she was there but as soon as the time for the session ended she was out the door. Part of that is that she had two children at home to get back to but also for most Dominicans hard work isn't really part of what they do. 

I signed up for the intensive class which meant group classes in the morning and one on one in the afternoon but because I was the only brandnew Spanish speaker I ended up having both classes as one on one. It was intense and by the end of each day I felt as though my brain was literally downloading information. 

The school I attended was a private commercial school across the street from the main university. I believe there are times there are many students enrolled but during the week I was there a total of only seven students were enrolled. They work closely with the German school at the university so many of the staff and students spoke German. People were always amazed when I could understand what was going on when they were speaking in German. It's weird that I have had more experience listening to and speaking German than I have Spanish - well up to now anyway. 

The week was very beneficial as far as my Spanish skills. The biggest issue at this point is just that my vocabulary is so limited and that just takes learning over time. My goal is to not waste the groundwork I've laid. Eventually, I should get braver and be less afraid to speak. As of now my comprehension is pretty good for the most part - as long as you use words a 3 year old would know. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013


am convinced that God regularly sends angels my way to keep me safe during various times in my life where maybe I've chosen to do something a little risky. My awareness of them began the summer after I graduated from college when three of my girlfriends and I decided to go to a Dave Mathews Band concert at the gorge. It wasn't really all that big of a deal but we camped at the amphitheater and my mom was very nervous about us being there. To make a long story short she prayed for our protection and I fully believe God sent us a Rottweiler. This dog followed us around the camp from the moment we were done with the concert, sleeping outside our tent and only disappearing at first light the next day. 

Since then I have been aware of the protectors God has continued to send to me. In Copenhagen it was the drunk guy at 8:00am on the subway. (That was a weird one) The first time in The DR it was Angel, Francis, Willy, Yuerty, Juanchy and Rambo. 

This time it has been Luis. 

Where I'm living this week is nice but it is quite a ways from school. If I could do it over (and maybe I should say when I do it again) I would choose to stay at the apartment the school has. It is where I have spent most of my time anyway because the schoolmates who have become my closest friends live there (and there is a third room so it would have been perfect!!! Ugh) but it is also right around the corner from the school whereas my house is a fifteen minute drive. 

Zona Colonial, where I live, is considered a more prestigious area of town and I'm certain that's why the homestays are in the area but frankly, other than the first night when Luis, Bruna and I went to fiesta in Zona Colonial I really haven't had opportunity to take advantage of being here. 

The other important thing to know about Santo Domingo as I'm sure you would guess, is public transportation is sketchy at best. You basically have three options. 

The first is a taxi publico which is a car, usually barely held together, that goes up and down the same streets in one direction on a set route. Usually there are four people plus the driver in each car. You get in, pay 25 pesos, about US $.50, and when they get to where you want to get off you say a magic word and they stop. The magic word is some Dominican slang word that I hear Luis mumble but have yet to learn. You can't beat the price but even Andy, a 6 foot 5 inch 20 year old Swiss man said he didn't feel comfortable in them after dark, and he speaks the language. 

Another option are the gua-guas.  They are these packed vans that go every which way and men stand outside them and ask if you want to ride. Again, this was a difficult option for me because it is hard to tell them where I need to go. Luis talked me through it three or four times and showed me the vans with the 12 route on them which goes past the school but I have frankly been too afraid/uncomfortable to try them. 

The third option and the one I've been using exclusively when on my own is the private taxi. This has proved to be the only way that I feel ok getting around. When I first arrived I was met at the airport by an incredibly attractive Dominican man named Jonathan which the school basically uses as their go to private taxi driver. He has been a life saver and for sure another angel. He has picked me up each morning with the exception of today when I didn't have morning class because Professor Mily had a presentation to give and then I elected to go with Andy, Bruna and Irma to the beach at Boca Chica this afternoon instead of having my class with Professor Victoria. Tomorrow he will pick me up again and will likely take me home. I hope to have him take me to the bus station on Saturday morning and maybe even pick me up from the station on Wednesday for the ride to the airport. He doesn't speak English but he tries everyday with me and I stumble through with him as best I can. He doesn't overcharge which many private taxis do and he's pleasant to spend the fifteen minutes with because he's easy on the eyes and hasn't once hit on me. He charges 150 pesos to get me to school (about US $3.50) a price well worth paying. 

With all of that said you can see my transportation around town has been a bit of an issue. When I needed to get something from home yesterday I just logistically couldn't do it. As a youngish female traveling alone, which in The DR draws a ton of attention on its own, but then also being white with blue eyes, dressing like an American and with no Spanish speaking ability I'm a walking sideshow. The only way it would be worse would be if I had blond hair. It's a recipe for potential disaster.

So God put the wheels in motion and first put Bruna in the picture. Jonathan had taken her to the aquarium on the way to get me at the airport and she ended up being done sooner than expected so she called him as we were driving to Zona Colonial asking to be picked up. He happily did so as she is Brazilian but can speak Spanish having been at the school for two weeks and English because she works for an American company so she and I could communicate and she helped me get on my feet that first afternoon. She mentioned she and a guy who worked for the school named Luis were thinking about going to fiesta on Sunday night and asked if I would like to join. Of course I had nothing else to do so I said I would love to. 

Enter Luis. 

Luis is from a town to the west of Santo Domingo and is working for the school I attend as a type of administrator while he finishes his degree in psychology. A really nice guy, he and I hit it off right away. When he found I was a willing participant on the dance floor he was extatic. He speaks very little English and decent German which doesn't help me at all but it is hilarious to hear him slip between Spanish and German on occasion.(Seriously everyone around me speaks at least two languages. The US is really behind in that arena.) Sunday night he put Bruna in a private taxi to the apartment, after negotiating the price in a way only a Domincian can, and then walked me home. Monday he offered to help me learn how to use the taxi publico and then ended up getting suckered into ice cream with me and watching the sunset over the Carribean Ocean at a park by my house before I had to go home to do homework. That was by far my favorite night. The struggles with communicating with Luis aside, which frankly is a big hairy terrible, gut wrenching, frustrating monster, to sit in a park on the edge of the ocean in this country that I have come to love so much with an interesting and compassionate person with whom I had an immediate connection and watch a beautiful sunset and see some of the biggest fish I've ever seen jump out of the water and laugh and notice the small things like ships coming in and out and feeling hot in the 90 degree humid air, was picture perfect. I sort of wish it had happened at the end of my week instead of the beginning. 

Tuesday Andy, Bruna, Kat, Luis and I went out to dinner and again he got everyone on their way and then walked me home. It was this night that I realized after he dropped me it took him over two hours to get home. This means most nights he was getting home about 1 or 2 in the morning and then gets up to be at work the next morning. I don't know if that is normal for him or not but I sure recognized the sacrifice. When I talked to him about it and told him I didn't realize it was so far he made it clear he didn't mind but still, what he has done for me this week has not been insignificant. 

Last night Bruna, Andy, Luis and I hung out at the apartment and again, with no hesitation, he got me home. 

I lose him tomorrow evening as he and some of the others from school will head to Sousa for the weekend and I head to Barahona and my heart is pretty heavy about it. Without him here this trip so far would have been a mighty disaster. 

God puts people in our lives for a reason and I know without a doubt that Luis was given to me for this week to make it safe and successful. I'm beyond thankful for my most recent angel, or my Superman, as he dubbed himself last night.

Even if he says Obama is better than Bush just because he's black. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Mi Casa

While in Santo Domingo this week I am staying with a very nice Dominican woman, her brother and a younger man who I haven't been introduced to and have seen only once as he left the shower in a towel. He seemed Nice enough. haha Sonja and I can't really communicate as she doesn't speak a word of English and my Spanish has been slow coming but we manage to muddle along. Last night I was able to communicate that I didn't need dinner because some of my schoolmates and I went out for a meal. I was very proud of that minor accomplishment.

Her cooking isn't good by Casa Bethesda standards which is disappointing because I really do love Dominican food. That, coupled with the heat, I'm sure I've already lost ten pounds. 

The house we live in is very nice. She has plants everywhere and a nice assortment of different decorations ranging from formal paintings to various pieces of Christmas decor. I feel right at home. 

Casa Bethesda will be welcome in a few days for the air conditioning, pool and delicious food but my home in Santon Domingo has been all I needed it to be. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The DR is for lovers

Whoever said Paris is for lovers hadn't been to the DR. Everywhere you look there are couples canoodling. I don't know if it is because of the heat or just a product of culture but it is everywhere. Behavior is very PG but it's on every corner. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised given the very brazen requests for 1) my hand in marriage 2) to be someone's girlfriend or 3) to be given a Dominican baby (yikes) when I was here this spring but I think that perhaps because I am wondering around a bit on my own I have a better chance to take in more of what's around me.

It's actually kind of nice to see. My friend Bruna mentioned to me that she has seen that Dominican people really have very little but across the board she sees joy and happiness in all of them. Luis put it a bit more susinctly - even though things are "the shit" we still find reasons to celebrate and we love our country. 

That's what fiesta was all about on Sunday night. Celebration, joy and love where all around. It's one if the best Dominican experiences I've ever had. I'm so thankful I met Bruna in the taxi in the way from the airport on Sunday and that she invited me to join them. 

I danced the bachata with success and attempted salsa although I was a bit tired and couldn't get my feet to go where I knew they needed to. It was a great way to kick off the week. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The beginning of a few weeks in a different time zone

I'm sitting in the Fort Lauderdale airport waiting for my flight to Santo Domingo. My travel day yesterday was long but uneventful. After arriving in Florida I checked into my hotel, which ended up being reasonable given the price (it was mostly chosen for the free airport shuttle) and went to a restaurant suggested to me by the people at the front desk. It was located on a marina which had some of the largest boats I have ever seen.

No trip for me would be complete without a Silver Haired Fox experience so I went ahead and checked that off the list - walking back to the hotel a couple hours later with a bouquet of roses to leave behind for housekeeping. 

Plus I got a non-SHF offer for some yatching when I return in a few weeks. 

I guess the adventure has begun. Who knows what The DR holds. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Tune Tuesday - straight as an arrow

Some of my favorite songs recently have been ones I've downloaded from the Starbucks app.  One that keeps getting played when I have my music on shuffle for some reason is a Kacey Musgraves song with lyrics I think are pretty perfect.