I truly love talking about my typical days here in the Dominican Republic. I don’t enjoy doing it because of how interesting my days are; they can be torturously boring. However, my typical days here are often filled with small, strange moments that must be heard to be believed. I can only speak for myself, but these moments have provided me with an enormous number of stories that better describe my life than any schedule could. Thus, to honor the typically crazy, regularly hilarious lives of PCVs, I’ll use this space to tell a few tiny tales:
- Earlier today I went to a weekly Haitian Creole class I’m taking, but due to the rain, only three other students showed up. In response, our teacher decided to collect some money from the four of us, sprinted to a colmado close by, and bought ingredients to make a cake. I planned for three hours of a foreign language. I got a cake instead.
- Recently, I was invited by my host family to attend a party in the community that my host mother grew up in. Upon arrival to the house where the party was taking place I walked into an approximately 10-foot tall shack that had been designated the dance floor for the party. When I walked inside I was greeted by an incredibly friendly, well-dressed, elderly doña. After shaking hands with a few others inside the shack, I walked back outside and sat down at a dominoes table. Once I inevitably lost the game of dominoes I was playing, I aimlessly wandered around the party till I found my way back inside the shack. But, instead of dancing, everyone was looking up a something. It was the well-dressed doña from earlier. She was writhing on her back on top of one of the rafters of the shack, suspended 10 feet in the air. I still have no idea how she got up there.
- On my first day in site I was asked by a woman if I would impregnate her. This was the second question she asked me after, “What is your name?”
- My 11 year old host sister Angela once asked me to translate an English expletive to Spanish. When I refused, Angela, her 3-year-old brother, and her sister all started running around the house screaming, “What the f**k!” until I told them what it meant. They did not stop.
- I once caught a bola, or ride, with a neighbor to the other side of my pueblo where most government offices are located. Once there, he asked if I would come inside the nearby courthouse. I accepted, not really thinking about what this might entail. Once inside, my neighbor sat me down in a seat near the front of the tiny court room. I later learned that this seat is normally reserved for the most important witness. What I realized as soon as I sat down was that the man who was sitting directly across from me was the local brujo, or witch.
- One night, after spending all of dinner sweating buckets over a steaming hot bowl of noodle soup, I got up to grab a glass of cold water. As soon as I reached the refrigerator my host mom screamed at me to stop. She asked me what I was doing. I responded that I was thirsty and needed water. She looked at me like a mother looks at a particularly stupid child and explained to me that I couldn’t drink water. Since I had just eaten something hot, I couldn’t drink something cool; the combination might kill me. “I would know,” she said, “it happened to a neighbor.”
Why do situations like these arise with such regularity? And why not just talk about a regular day? The truth is that the cultural differences that make these situations strange and hilarious perfectly capture my experience as a volunteer. Since I’ve only been in my project site for 5 months my typical day is defined by my lack my inability to navigate Dominican culture. When I describe my day-to-day life to friends and family back home my descriptions may be accurate, but they often fail to capture the funny, uncomfortable truth about acclimating to a new culture. These stories, and the many others I haven’t shared, are normal parts of typical days. They’re weird, but they’re typical.
Name: Alex “Ale” Lopez
Sector: Youth, Family and Community Development
COS Date: October 2018
Site: Comendador, Elias Piña Population: ~30,000 in habitants; Houses: Too many Description: Self proclaimed capital of the Haitian-Dominican border. Where foreign aid disappears without a trace and governments dare not tread.