Dec. 6, 2012

If I stay in a place for too long, it loses its magic. I begin to take it for granted. I get bored and start to resist the place, evaluating it,  scrutinizing it for imperfections. I try to remake it in my own image; I try to recapture the perfection of my first impressions.

Trash truck going down Los Buenos Street slowly, beeping all the way to alert neighbors who run out and throw bags of trash up onto the bed of the truck. Chickens and roosters strolling along the narrow street. I got a little cup of coffee and some cookies at one tiny store on our street; got a liter of cheese (90 pesos) and a handful of cilantro (10 pesos) at another itsy bitsy store.The guy stuck a little fennel and some other herb into the bunch. THAT’s the difference between local shopping and supermarket shopping. This is how I like to shop.

Beth teaches 3rd and 4th grades at a private school here in Santiago. She told me how the kids are very “me-centered” (which is not uncommon for that age group), and she says it’s characteristic of Dominicans to flaunt their accomplishments. “I’m finished! I did great! I got 92%!”

If it is true that Dominicans are boastful, then they are the opposite of the Navajo people who act very humble. Maybe sometimes the Navajo men and women would like to scream, “I did it! I made a beautiful turquoise necklace! I sold it for $1,000!” or “I got the job with Navajo Nation Fish and Wildlife! I beat out 100 other applicants!” I don’t know. All I know is that the Navajo I met were self-effacing and reserved; bragging is not an admirable trait in Navajo culture.

The Dominicans are exuberant, loud, proud, and unrestrained in familiar environments. On the street, however, they are rather cool. I think in some cultures (perhaps this one), it’s very important to preserve one’s dignity in public, to “save face.” Such people really don’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others; it hurts their pride.

The Haitians were wary but approachable on the street. They found it both amusing and cordial when I’d say hi to them, and they’d frequently initiate further conversation.The Dominicans seem to not want to interact on the street. Maybe I’ll test this.

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I went out to the bank to change pesos into US dollars (1500 DRP = $37 USD and change [in pesos]). I said “Ola” to about 20 people; all responded, but they were dour and serious and didn’t really seem into it (whereas in Haiti they did like the greeting and chatter that sometimes followed). Do the people here just have more to do? They seem busy, as if they are engaged in business.

I also observed haw many people wear sunglasses. Almost none. (Same in Haiti.)

The barrio really picks up around 3 pm. Noise level rises,  and sounds in general increase: cars, music, voices, horns, whistles, loudspeakers, dogs barking, chickens crowing, phones ringing, children yelling, babies crying, the news blaring from someone’s radio… All the usual stuff crammed into a little neighborhood with about 30 families living side-by-side in harmony.

What I love about this culture is the Old World warmth and togetherness of neighborhoods like Paula’s where people have known each other for a lifetime. What I love about Dominicans in general is their enthusiasm. A picture-taking session turns into an EVENT with lots of excitement, love, kisses, hugs, drama, and bonding. No holds barred.

You can hear the neighbors sneeze on Los Buenos Street. That’s how close the houses are, and that’s how open they are. All day and night, in all seasons, the windows and often the doors are open. There are few secrets here.

Unlike in Haiti, religion is never mentioned in the Dominican Republic (at least not among my Dominican friends here). Spirituality is mentioned; Paula mentioned Santeria once. And I don’t cause people to genuflect or call down the spirits when I wear purple on the street.

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Bachata is some of the wonderful music here in the DR. It’s great dance music. Here are two links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =ZNN7NTl83cI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =foyH-TEs9D0

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