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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Real Dominican Republic part 1

The last time I was here it was to visit a much different Dominican Republic than the one I just visited over the last several days. The Dominican Republic I visited in June was the one you buy out of a travel brochure, pina coladas, excellent service, pristine beaches, pools and facilities with all the comforts of home (electricity, internet, running water, laundry etc…). I spent a week in June, a queen in paradise… I knew I was not really seeing or experiencing the life of regular Dominican citizens, but I also was uncertain what life for many people here is actually like. A couple days ago, I got back to tourist-land after visiting my boyfriend’s family in Puerto Plata and I wanted to write a little about my experiences while they are still fresh in my mind. I think the culture shock began to set in at about the point where his grandma explained the toilet and sink to me in Spanish. Usually I understand a good deal of the Spanish spoken to me, but in this case, my brain refused to really understand until I wanted to flush the toilet. Puzzled, I tried about three times. Next I went to the sink to wash my hands. I turned the knob but nothing happened. Stubbornly, I tried again. Finally, my thick brain began to comprehend what she had told me. The bathroom water was not running. “No problem, I’ll use the kitchen sink to wash my hands.” Oops, no water there either. So I asked my boyfriend if the water was just off temporarily, maybe they couldn’t pay the bill this month. Delusional American princess, running water is expensive. Ok, ok, but the apartment is so clean and carefully kept. How do they do that? Ok, it’s kind of like camping all the time. Once I had that settled in my mind, I moved on. For a while I sang and played with his five year old sister but she was very precocious and I felt that perhaps I could further entertain her by reading a story. I asked her if she wanted me to read to her and she enthusiastically agreed. I asked her to show me the books so she led me to her room. I tried to turn on the light but it seems that light bulbs are also a luxury so I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing one book after another, only to discover that all she actually had in her room were ledgers and notebooks. There were no children’s books to be had at all, and it turns out that mom lives in another country and grandma cannot read anyway. Dad runs a store below the apartment and later it donned on me that he does so by candle light. Electricity is exorbitant. What they have is coming from a friend, not paid for at all. Who can buy electricity when several months of family income can’t even pay a month of bill? I admit, as one piece after another fell into place, I was shaken. It seems that no one in the neighborhood has running water. Everyone seems to use buckets to flush the toilet and a giant bucket to essentially sponge-bathe. I never did work my way up to either a sponge bath or a #2. I just treated the whole thing like camping. While everything I have recounted is important, it hardly comes to the crux of what seems important here. To be continued...

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