Greetings from the Dominican! Much to the chagrin of my mother, this note is coming almost a week after arriving week here and there is so much to tell! The first few days of my program have been a whirlwind of sights, sounds, smells and experiences. After leaving Denver at midnight, I finally arrived in the Dominican about one in the afternoon—it was a long day of travel, but worth it to see the island’s coast come into shape. Side note: Baseball is a big deal here and we passed seven or eight fields on the way to the airport- about one per major population center we flew over.
So far life seems to move both slower and faster at the same time. Lunches are scheduled two hours at a time (which is probably the only way to accommodate the plethora of amazing food we have for afternoon meals), meetings are much more informal and the Dominican definitely functions on a Latin American schedule (where 15 minutes late is actually 15 minutes early). Well, except for my mother. Just like my real mom, it makes Janet super nervous to arrive somewhere late, which is why we spend quite a bit of time waiting in the ISA garden. And why I intend to have a fully functional botanical vocabulary by the time I come home.
But I must confess that part of my delay in posting is due, in part, to a realization that there is so much to describe about this city that I could not have been fair to it until now. Not all of my first impressions of the Dominican Republic have been positive and while I simply cannot enumerate upon the kindness of my family and the people I have had the pleasure to meet so far, there are lots of things here that are frustrating or scary or both. I wanted to make sure that I gave the Dominican a fair view before posting here. This is such a multi-faceted part of the country that trying to describe its first impression is more like describing someone’s ear instead of their face- it’s a small (and possibly misleading) part of something much more complex.
Though there are some monuments and museums in town, the north part of the island where we live in Santiago is not built much for tourism. Marleny, one of the girls in the office says that there used to be a great deal of colonial houses and buildings but they were all destroyed by an earthquake in the 1500s. Whoops. I live in a very nice neighborhood called an “urbanización” with my host mom and sister and another exchange student in a medical exchange program from Columbia (the university, not the country). Interesting fact: houses and apartments in Santiago do not have glass windows and none have screens. Two (out of nine) of our windows have glass, which seems to be a status thing here. The other windows have Venetian style blinds that fit very snuggly together when closed (don’t worry mom—we live on the third floor!). It takes some getting used to but there are very few bugs and it’s actually cooler in the apartment this way (there is no air conditioning).
One of the things that has surprised me the most about the Dominican is the amount of litter all throughout the country. Almost no one recycles on the island and trash is either hauled to dumps to be burned or left on the streets. Or in the river. Or in the ocean. Or in the forest. Or, well, you get the idea… It’s been hard to fight the urge to pick up bottles on the beach or in the park, which would mark us clearly as “americanos,” but even if we did, there would be no place to put the waste as there are very few trashcans in public spaces. More to come on this later, as it plays an important role in the community I am teaching in.
On a more positive note, the people here are so ridiculously kind and understanding that it’s been easy to use and experiment with Spanish. My host family in particular goes out of their way to talk with me and gently guide my grammar as they sit patiently, waiting for me to explain through charades that Red Rocks is a natural amphitheater or that I ate such-and-such-today-and-what-is-that-called? Many of my sentences end with “and-was-is-that-called?” It feels very much akin to being four again.
These were briefly referred to as “I-ate-a-red-caramel-like-candy-at-the-beach-with-coconut-inside-on-a-stick-and-what-is-that-called?” Complete with charades and just short of an interpretive dance. Apparently the rest of the country just calls them “memelos.”
So far, I’ve toured around the city a bit, visited one of the schools I’ll be working at, traveled to the mountains to see a coffee factory, swam in a waterfall, galloped on a horse, learned to cross the street by myself (which is absolutely terrifying here), eaten to the point of bursting, snorkeled on a beach and met some fabulous people.
More to come later, but please know that I am safe and happy and learning loads!