Sunday, September 18, 2016

Modern World Dominican- ex pat first month


It's odd to have a dream become a reality. Fellow bookworms know exactly what I am talking about because who hasn't wanted to jump into the pages of a novel or live the storied world to escape reality? Earlier this month I strolled the Calle de las Damas in the Zone Colonial, Santo Domingo with sudden claro... and my heart leapt with joy. This is the cuidad of Julia Alvarez, this is the street of the women who demanded pavement for their feet as they walked to prayer several times a day. I am not one for constant prayer but I held my heart for a moment in honor of the Mirabals: Dede, Patria, Minerva and Theresa. I couldn't help but feel the history pulsing in the morning shadows of this Dominican sunshine. Where did Minerva live? Where did her revolutionaries meet?  I walked right out of the pages of Alvarez and into my own reality. The Mariposas archetype sets a heavy precedent. I wonder will I bring any honor to this country, to its women, and my own global community while I am here?

We stride by the home of Columbus' son, wait, he had a son? And head to  museum of Liberty honoring those who stood against Trujillo.The heat of August drove us off into a shaded sanctuary and I noticed its marble walls. This is no ordinary marble and these are not modern concrete wonders high on the hill of the Colonial Zone. The marble walls lining these city buildings are older than any city in the US; on careful examination is is marked with thousands of embedded fossils. The coral is living, it is telling me stories. Go to the beach.


The beaches of this island are like mountains of Vermont in that each is distinct and everyone has their favorite. We start with Boca Chica. It was crowded with comings and goings of beautiful people in impossible heels and the smallest of swimsuits. We learned that when you attend a resort restaurant, you can order drinks and a meal and stay as long as you want. Or as long as pale, white skin can hold out against the unforgiving sun. Kata's dream became true when a glass of frozen fresa was presented on a small platter. She sipped this in the shade, ran, flipping off the pier into... blue is not the right way to describe this sea. I'll use azul because it sounds like turquoise, aqua- marine and midnight all blended into one.

Punta Cana was a two hour drive through a tropical storm. We waded through the flooded street to a tiny hotel sandwiched between two resorts. At first, it seemed that I had made a grave mistake. Our suite promised a kitchen but I guess it never promised a stove top or refrigerator or sink. It delivered a simple slow dribble for a shower and one tiny double bed. Maybe the point was to drive us out of our nest and into the lobby where fresh mango and coffee awaited us. Or maybe the point of simple accommodations was the means for pushing us out the door into a quaint street of locals and straight thru a tiny gate that led us to a palm shaded beach. Each resort claims its own beach entrance. Ours was small with only sixteen chaise lounges and a one man bar. We ran 5 strides into the water, soft sand underfoot. We could swim or walk for miles in each direction, so we did.

Punta Cana seemed so small on Google Maps- I had no idea that our guided snorkel tour of coral reefs was still an hour away. And Uber isn't in Punta Cana. We 'what'sapp' another teaching couple and caught a ride to Playa Cana, getting to our snorkel just in time. We jumped into a small motorboat and rode out a 1/4 mile to the edge of the reef.  Following a route laid out in rope on the sea floor, we snorkeled in an out of corals, viewing schools of snapper and barracuda. Did I mention coming eyeball to eyeball with the large singleton barracuda? It regarded me with gringo disdain. I swam through a bed of seaweed thinking this would be magical. The seaweed cut up my arms and face and left a stinging rash in its wake.  We recovered on a beach with the cerveza & my first burger since leaving Vermont. The tropical storms were swirling out to sea. Some boats abandoned the waters for safe harbor. The blue/ black colors chased across the vast expanses of sand and sea similar to the purple/ orange reflections I have seen in New Mexican deserts. New colors, different expanses, I like feeling small and insignificant. Marc and I quietly and almost simultaneously said, "Hemingway" as we photographed a lone dinghy abandoned on the beach. Salty and dry,

“Now is no time
to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do 
with that there is- Old Man and the Sea

Juan Dolio is only an hour away. We staggered towards her. The night before was a long one of my own making. Kata was staying with the neighbors, Marc and I entertained on our patio with all intentions of leaving early to attend the first Andy Warhol exhibit ever to hit Santo Domingo but we flirted too long with Dominican time and took off on our single speed bikes to ride the city. Because road signals and lines are a mere suggestion, we were about to do something slightly dangerous; courage fueled with intoxication -we navigated side streets to Noca, an upscale district 7 km away, missing the exhibit by minutes. We found solace in the glowing lights of a random Noca colmada- ice frosted El Presidentes,  a random concert and a fast ride home at 2am. Again, Hemingway is in my brain. Did he not mention to know a city is to know its bars? My fuzzy brain jarred awake to find a midnight text & invitation to my friend's beach house. I packed 3 light bags, some books and a brick of cheese- I had nothing else in the fridge! We sped passed Boca Chica this route out of the city becoming familiar. We pull off on a sudden side street and down a small whitewashed road crowded with solid concrete homes and apartment. A man greets the vehicle and swings wide these massive doors transporting us into another dimension. I now know what it feels like to be on the other side of the wardrobe in a C.S. Lewis story. We stepped out of the whitewash and into the blues and greens of a hide away beach head. The third floor apartment is lovely and I can't pull my eyes away from the open patio. The whole living room/ kitchen is separated from paradise by only an awning and a sliding glass door. My friend Jenn has arranged a simple wide couch bed piled high with pillows; the view draws the eyes through a frame of palms and mango foliage towards rhythmic crashing waves that roll in on a beach wider than that of Boca Chica. The clear sea is darkened by grasses thick on tables of maroon colored coral and so shallow that it seems as if everyone is walking on water. I see immediately why this beach is a personal paradise for Jenn's family.
Their beach leads into a mermaid pools. An oasis of light azul water, a natural lagoon surrounded by coral. There are several smaller tidal pools that dot the expanse with that icy blue color.  People wade out carefully avoiding fragile sea urchins to sit with their lovely beverages and their laughter. I lie as I would in a bathtub, floating and bumping along the sandy bottom of such a lagoon.. I'm nursing a running injury and find that this soak is perfect for the body and soul. Ever so often a wave sends what feels to be a cooler current of water. The Vermonter in me seizes upon every current and I see Kata do the same.

Juan Dolio is a smaller scattering of hotels and restaurants, nothing too ostentatious in comparison to Punta Cana and I already want to come back. Did I speak too soon? A helicopter lands, several Dominican celebrities teetering on high heels step out to sashay over to an all night Corona sponsored DJ Jam.  There's a temporary stage, lights, drones filming people swarming toward the music.  The stage blocks the beach so that ticket holders can swim. I see our friends from the night ride out in the waves and swim past security towards them.  I find these encounters enchanting and such a change from my reclusive persona back in the US.  Stars come out, Kata is cartwheeling in the dark with Jenn's daughter why we sip chilled wine and rest from a lovely meal.  I plan on waking up, heading to the porch to begin the day with novels I need to use in the classroom. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is waiting for me. I could feel guilty, juxtaposing George and Lenny's predicament with my own luck. Instead I choose to reread that passage about simple dreams. George kicking back and saying, "to hell with work" living in a home with food and shelter and simple necessities. Could I find such a simple dream here? For now I have another Alvarez novel, In the Name of Salomé. I'm in search of more magic.







Thursday, September 1, 2016

Modern World Dominican- Expat Week 2

In this Dominican whirlwind of daily ups and downs I look forward to a new favorite Saturday morning sound. It is that of the mango man. He cycles by with a whistle prelude, waits and begins calling out in a rhythmic voice:  "plantana, mango, pina aguacate". There is little traffic on a Saturday morning so the sound is clear and because of him I can now ask for these items anywhere I go. https://youtu;.be/LVD7BOIZNNw

Another positive comes from the nightly homework I give myself. I slowly and painstakingly writing a note to M, the woman who takes care of us and our new home. M makes a killer eggplant guisada that, depending on our hunger, we drizzle or dump, over the rice and beans.

Meat is very expensive so I'm discovering that locals eat tons of fruit and veggies and are mostly vegetarian. By building a relationship with M  through many miscommunications, we seem to understand that life is easiest when we let go of control. She makes most of the cooking decisions. We happily run out to hunt for oddities and grocery store abundances that transpire into fragrant smells of la cocina. Comfort food helps this place begin to feel like home.


Libertad- a scorching trip to the Colonial Zone after Marc did his homework on finding la bicicleta. A website, emails, & foot searches in the city secured the name of a man who sold bikes out of his apartment. For cash. Questionable or not it was an experience. Inspiration added to Marc's fluency in Spanish. So, we tested several on the streets and on the roof of his home before settling on single speeds.

We rode home along the Malecón. It did little
to separate us from short sea cliffs, rolling seas and the heavy traffic of Santo Domingo. The sea spray  periodically splashed up, seemingly beautiful until we looked down at the swirling refuse of glass, plastic and all that is wrong with humanity. I rode fast keeping my eyes on a spray that might carry a broken bottle in its force. My gringo responsibility- recycle and do more to help this country save itself from this.
Bikes bring freedom- We can outride the humidity en route to school. Kata is no longer trapped in the apartment or the small park of Mirador Sur. We have yet to find a friend her age who rides and it is somewhat disarming to have her rolling along in traffic right behind me. But the freedom to get to a grocery store or a mall or anywhere overrules entrapment. We are somewhat self reliant now.


Downs- We took an uber at the wrong time of day only to sit in the notorious traffic of Santo Domingo. Our “Uber hombre” zipped wrong down one ways, and over medians to deliver us to a less than important destination. When we left the stores to head home. We discovered how much of a battle takes place in the city between taxi drivers and Uber. Taxi drivers intimidates me w/ shouts, "no Uber!" I complied but then none would or could give me a ride. Thinking it was my poor communication skills I showed them maps, called mi esposo and made them talk to Marc for directions to no avail. Maybe they couldn’t read a map? Now its 7:45pm it was dark, Kata was scared and I'd had it. A Haitian coconut seller assisted me in French but the taxi hombres still sat without providing a ride. Women jumped in and out of rapid conversations on my behalf and still nothing. A few full taxis that lacked doors rattled by with offers for us to hold on to the fenders. Finally a man who spoke English helped me cross to the other side of a street to another mall where the right taxi there took us home in 5 minutes. 8:30 on a school night. He too couldn’t understand my map but followed my directions of izquerda & derecho. In addition, the word " cerca" is now in my daily speech.
Ups & Downs. Humidity is a constant. We’ve adjusted from 3-4 showers daily to 2. Everything changed with the onset of the tropical storm season. The winds hit briefly sending some relief from humidity. At 2 in the morning I was dragging in laundry from the deck with furtive glances at the sea, the electric sky. Downpours followed and both excitement and fear surged thru me. Would we have a storm day off from school? Nope, just another day in the DR. Transport to school meant options, Walk knee deep in water, wait for the bus or bike? We chose bike. Taking higher streets and bike fenders kept us dry. Classrooms have AC but the covered walkways between buildings are open to the elements. It was my first experience seeing walls sweat with condensation as AC met humidity. The journey home was a soaking experience as rain pelted from all directions. Two day of steady rain followed. Cars near the Malacon flooded, our Mango man stayed away. People continue to ride or wade to work but still stop and to say, “Hola how are you? And it's important to always always say hello back.
I met a colleague whom I now count as a friend. Jen Legra's advice on living here is met with great fanfare http://theplanetd.com/what-my-kids-learned-from-living-in-the-dominican-republic/ - and it has helped the city open up to me. I now get supplies at our colmada, I wait to let people smile and speak slowly for me. And I shower appreciation on M’s cooking now that I can tell her it is more than just bueno. It’s tan saboroso.