The kid looks no older than 12 years old. He is grinning mischievously, looking back to see if I notice him as he passes by the open windows of my casita again and again and again- each time revving the engine of the motorcycle that he is driving.
I cringe; I am irritated by the loud, unforgiving sound. I close my eyes as I can feel each hair on my body tense with each rev of the motor.
La bulla. El ruido. The noise.
It is a staple of Dominican culture. Motorcycles, bachata music, crying babies, laughing kids, yelling adults, snorting pigs, crowing roosters, barking dogs, drive-by truck commercials, fruit vendors…This country is loud and vibrant and bold, just like the people that call it home. It is full of sounds that represent the sweetness of life, of things that make this life worth living- family, friends, music, and even, yes, precious motorcycles.
La bulla is endless and infinite here. It is like the lifeblood that pulses through Dominican communities, without it, I wonder if the Dominican Republic would cease to exist.
When I moved to this country I knew that I would be forced to adapt and to adjust to a new way of life. I thought that the hardest part would be coping with electricity that comes and goes, no running water, little refuge from the heat, the mosquitoes, the spiders, the cockroaches, the ants, the language barrier, the cultural misunderstandings, homesickness… the list can go on.
And yet unexpectedly, though all of these adjustments have just been as they are called, adjustments, none of them have been quite as difficult to overcome as la bulla.
Last night as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, I began thinking about my bedroom back home- pitch black and completely quiet, I would fall asleep to the sound of my thoughts, to the inhaling and exhaling of my own breath.
Last night I tried counting the seconds of pure, uninterrupted silence. I think I was able to count to three.
By living and working in another culture, I have quickly realized not only do you become intimately familiar with a culture that is not your own, but you begin to learn so much more about your own.
Before moving to the Dominican Republic, I just assumed peace and quiet was a value that transcended culture. It was something that all of humanity would value and prioritize, especially when it came time to sleep. The ability to sit in silence and reflect, the ability to have a conversation without yelling, the ability to go to sleep at night without dreaming about noise-canceling headphones- This is something we all want, right?
Wrong. Now I know, it certainly is not.
It has prompted me to think a lot about what other things in our culture that I take for granted. Why is it that so many Americans prioritize this type of uninterrupted silence- where one can be quiet with her thoughts or activities or sleep when it would appear that Dominican society does not share this same cultural value?
Perhaps though, it may not be that the Dominican people would not prioritize quietness as one would in the US, but often, it is more about their the ability to do so.
To have insulated walls that go from the floor to the ceiling is a privilege. To have house walls that are not pourous to the outside is a privilege. To have a room to call your very own is a privilege. To create soundlessness is a privilege. To have the ability to block out the world existing around you is a privilege.
When a family of eight lives in a two-bedroom, wood and zinc made casita, quietness would be rare if not impossible to ever experience. This is the reality for many of the people living in my community. And when I find myself getting frustrated by la bulla existing around me, I have to realize that I am getting frustrated by not having a privilege I once had.
Yeah, I constantly have to #CheckMyself
I recognize that at this point in my service I still am very much embedded in the stages of cultural adjustment. I am pretty sure I am good and settled into the stage of culture shock where everything is viewed through a lens of irritability and annoyance. I am viewing things through a lens of black and white, often comparing them to how we do it back home, viewing the way we do things in the United States as the right way opposed to just viewing it as a different way.
I know that like anything in life, this too shall pass, and I am hopeful it will pass quickly. I know that with time, patience and openness that I may even come to tolerate la bulla, or who knows, I may even come to like la bulla, and maybe just maybe with the many months to come, I may come to thrive in la bulla.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Hasta pronto mi gente,
This week in photos: