Dec. 2, 2012
The Dominican Republic has problems (the electricity goes out regularly, for example), but NOTHING like Haiti. I felt like I had escaped from prison when I crossed the border into the DR. I went to Haiti because I admired the people for all the suffering they (and their ancestors) have gone through. Now, I understand that they are still suffering, and that its definitely not a good scene. And it’s unpleasant in the extreme to visit a place where people are very poor, suffering and virtually imprisoned. I mean, I didn’t really go to Haiti to “have fun” per se, but I did go there to learn about the place and to see it for myself. I had idealized it; or perhaps I just had never been to a place like Haiti before. San Salvador was close, but I didn’t stay among the poor people like I did in Haiti, and I was only in El Salvador for a few days, not a month. I will never idealize poverty and suffering again.
During all my travels, I have rid myself of the obsession with preserving my ideas of How Things Should Be. Or WHAT I NEED TO LIVE. I can live with bugs (Bugs Bunny!), but that doesn’t include lice (which are a curse and need to be dealt with right now [as in, yesterday]). Camping has taught me that. I can deal with strange, new smells (in my pillow, for example, or the bedding I’m given). It’s just different, not bad (unless the smell is shit). I can deal with a different diet or much less food (but I am careful of street food, and, despite what some fellow-travellers do, I won’t drink tap water in many countries, and I won’t even use it for brushing my teeth). I can deal with what my fastidious (compulsive, rigid) parents would deem filthy living conditions. I realized these “lower standards” won’t kill me, and that they serve just as well (and with much less worry and effort) as my parents’ standards. I am relaxing and becoming a better traveller and a much nicer person.
My host here in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is Alexei, a poet and performance artist. Here are my notes on our day together:
After espresso at home (3 huge spoonfuls of sugar [because I like to imitate the locals], we went ’round the corner to a crowded sandwich shop (delicious melted cheese and meat or fish [?] on bun). Then, to a cultural/arts center for afternoon sound check before tonight’s performance. This place has had its troubles staying alive; the Dominican government and Dominicans in general are just beginning to tolerate diversity in the form of GLTB (gays, lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals), activists, artivists (artists who are activists), women who protest violence against woman and demonstrate for women’s rights, and child abuse (just to name a few issues Alexei and I talked about).
The DR has a very ethnically mixed population, most similar to that of Brazil. Alexei is living in the apartment his parents were living in when he was born. He’s moved around, but now he’s back here; his dad owns this place. He has guard dogs which live on the roof and patrol the landing when Alexei’s not here. Alexei has been an activist since he was 18; he’s now 31. He’s been in the US a few times: at 4, 17, and recently.
The artists’ center we were at is mostly a rapper venue. I heard a lot of rapping in Spanish today. The benefits of some performances go toward building a new skate park (I even saw an actual skate boarder today! NONE in Haiti). It will be the third one in Santo Domingo and will include BMX. Women are just starting to join the music/rapper scene here. Alexei has introduced poetry-with-movement (eg., in one recent performance, he stabbed, flambeed,* and served a cooked ham to the audience). All his performance are political protests. (*To drench with a liquor, such as brandy, and ignite. French, and should have an accent mark over the first “e.”)
Caribbean people are exceptionally dramatic and expressive. They talk with their hands almost as much as with their voices. It makes me much more expressive to be around such people. I love it! “Haitians have even more rhythm that we do,” says Alexei. I noticed this; Haitians seems to always be rockin’. Then, when you hear the voodoo drums at night and imagine the scene (alcohol, dancing, trances), it’s wild and exciting.
I have given up role-playing (as I’ve recently written). Except in places like Southern California (where most women of all ages are amazingly healthy), the traditional roles for older women are repressive. It’s like we’re supposed to be sedated. And I think we’re supposed to be grateful that they let us live at all!
I did happen to mention lately that I think when people get old and very crotchety, when they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, when they can’t remember who their children are or who they are, when they can’t eat by themselves, when they need to wear diapers, it may be time to put Mom or Dad or the grandparents on an ice floe and let them drift out to sea to die a mercifully short, relatively painless death. Probably at least one of my children will do this to me someday. Good (if I’m a vegetable)! Otherwise, stop trying to get revenge for all the mistakes I made when I was raising you!
I’m making a stand for the freedom to be an old woman with no interest in children, no love of religion, a lot of righteous anger, and the ovaries to do whatever the fuck I want to do.
One of the crotch-grabbing rappers was a 40-something, bald guy. I was thinking that when a guy reaches a certain age, unless it’s a porn show, he’s too old to be up on stage, holding his dick. (Even porn has its limits.) But that same guy probably looked at me and thought, “What the hell is that old, ugly, wrinkled grandmother doing wearing tight stretch pants and coming to see a bunch of crotch-grabbing rappers with a crowd of people 40 years younger than herself?” I guess you’re getting old when guys’ need to pet their penis in public seems weird.
Latin America’s Artistic Centers (according to Alexei and in no particular order):
Mexico City, D.F.
Rio de Janeiro
(Spanish is the first language in all these cities except Rio where Portuguese is spoken.)
The bus from Santo Domingo to Santiago: Dec. 3, 2012
Cages of birds: chickens, parrots, geese for sale. Presidente beer billboards. Goat herds. Orchards. Wealth is distributed more equally in the DR than it is in Haiti. Many businesses: pottery, chairs, wooden kitchen stuff (spoons, mortars and pestles). What is “Plasbagbio”?
Even women drive motos here (at least a few do). No women drive buses or taxis here. Pigs (30 or so in the beds of several small trucks). Horses (some beautiful; many ridden, which I never saw in Haiti). Lush vegetation. Tilled fields. Woven rugs for sale. Green rolling hills with lots of trees. Clean (?), flowing rivers. Little trash (certainly when compared to Haiti).