March 31, 2015

The Little Things

Whenever I talk to someone about my life in the D.R. the big changes in my life always come up, like speaking Spanish, the heat, and living without running water. However there are many small differences in my life in the D.R. vs America that never get mentioned because people don’t even think to ask; I didn’t think about how my life would change in so many small ways before I left. 

Here are some examples of the little things I miss from home:

Carpets - I once visited a volunteer who had a mosque in his community. When we visited the mosque he told me, “Remember what this carpet feels like because you will never feel carpet again in this country.” He was right. I do not know any Dominicans who have carpeting in their homes. Most Dominicans have cement or tile floors; an initiative of health volunteers is to upgrade homes with dirt floors to cement. I can only guess the reason behind the lack of carpeting is due to the cost and that in order to clean carpets you need to use a vacuum, which are also absent from the island. Plus, lying on a cool cement floor during the summer is downright refreshing. 

Instead of pennies I get cough drops
Vacuums - Brooms and mops are the common cleaning instruments on the island. Although a vacuum is more efficient than a broom, a broom is much cheaper and does not require electricity. As I have previously mentioned, electricity is in short supply on the island. Nobody wants to wait around for the power to come back on to clean up a mess.

Paying with “large” bills - Whenever I go back to America, I have to re-adjust to the idea that I can pay for a $1 item with a $20 bill and not get flack for it from the cashier. At the colmados, corner stores, in my community I never bring anything higher than a $100 peso bill ($2.27 dollars), and even then I sometimes get change in candy (equal to one or two pesos depending on the brand).

Cash-Back - I had forgotten cash-back existed until I was in America on vacation. I became overly excited when the cash-back option appeared as I swiped my debit-card at Target. I took money out just for the novelty of it - and I forgot that Americans barely even use cash-back because you can pay for everything on your card.

My host family's couch is not suitable for napping
Couches - Oh how I wish I could stretch-out on a nice comfy couch at the end of a long day. Instead I just have plastic chairs. Some Dominicans have couches but they tend to be more wood than cushion. Plastic chairs reign supreme in the D.R. Anywhere you go you will see Dominicans sitting in the shade by their houses watching people pass on the road. In the summer that’s about all anyone can do during the heat of the day. Add some mangoes to the mix and you have a perfect summer afternoon.

Electricians - I have not had electricity in my bedroom since December 6, 2014. I have asked the neighborhood handy-man to come by and fix it multiple times but to no avail. I really wish there was a phone book with a list of electricians I could call. I have come to accept that I probably will not have electricity in my bedroom for the rest of my service, which is ending in a mere 36 days!

March 2, 2015

Pick-up lines and Poetry - One and the Same

Piropos (catcalls) are a national past time for Dominicans of all ages, both male and female. Dominican men consider it their duty to compliment women they pass them on the sidewalk or as they cruise by on their motorcycle. Likewise Dominican women expect to receive remarks from men as they walk down the street and will often assume they don’t look good if they don’t hear any comments. In short, piropos are not considered insulting, they are a way of recognizing the beauty of the female form. And so it came to be that the boys in my community recited “poems” a.k.a. cheesy pick-up lines to me in front of a large crowd at my surprise birthday party. I loved every second of it - yet another sign I may have become too integrated into Dominican culture.

Below are all the poems the boys recited, plus a few PG-13 ones that they shared with me later when I asked them for more examples. All the piropos are first in Spanish so you can see the rhyme in each one, and then translated into English. Enjoy!
  • Si yo fuera mexicano te cantaría una canción pero como soy dominicano te llevo en mi corazón - If I were Mexican I would sing you a song but as I am Dominican I will carry you in my heart
  • En la naturaleza no hay más bella que ti - In nature there is nothing more beautiful than you
  • La rosa en agua dura siete días pero mi amor por ti dura para siempre - The rose in water lasts seven days but my love for you lasts forever
  • Si quieres saber cuanto te quiero, cuenta las estrellas que hay en el cielo - If you want to know how much I love you, count the stars that are in the heavens
  • Una paleron* con su espada conquistó una nación y tú con tu mirada conquistaste mi corazón - It took an assassin with his sword to conquer a nation and you with your look conquered my heart. *Refers to the assassins used by Dominican dictator Trujillo to eliminate political rivals.

Receiving a piropo from Joan at my birthday party.
Dominicans culture places an importance on God - even in piropos.
  • Si fuera Dios te llevaría a la gloria pero como soy Joan, te llevo en mi memoria -If I were God I would take you to heaven, but as I am Joan, I will carry you in my memory
  • Si amas a Jesus que murió por tanta gente porque no me amas a mi que muero para ti solamente - If you love God who died for so many people why don’t you love me, who would die only for you
  • Si amor es un pecado dile a Dios que yo peque y seguía pecando porque siempre te amaré - If love is a sin, tell God that have sinned and will continue to sin because I will always love you
  • No tengo alas para ir al cielo pero si tengo palabras para decirte te quiero - I do not have wings to go to heaven but I do have the words to tell you I love you

The following were not recited at my party because they were a bit more explicit. However, this first one would just be insulting as I am neither a liar nor a traitor:
  • Los ojos azules mentirosos, los ojos verdes traicioneros, los negro y marrones los verdaderos - Blue eyes are liars, green eyes are traitors, black and broth are the truth. 
  • Quisiera ser un mosquito para entrar en tu mosquitero y decirte al oído lo mucho que te quiero - I wish I was a mosquito so that I could enter your mosquito net and tell you in your ear how much I love you
  • Pan es pan, casabe es casabe, tenemos un amor y nadie lo sabe - Bread is bread, and casabe is casabe, we are in love and no one knows
  • No me tires piedrecita que me puede lastimar. Tira a me un besito que me puede enamorar. - Don’t throw at me a stone that could hurt me. Throw me a kiss that I can love.
  • Anoche soné contigo, sonaba que me besaba y de tan bueno que estaba anda me caí de la cama - Last night I dreamed of you, I dreamed that you kissed me and it was so good that I fell from the bed
  • Cinco sentimientos tenemos, cinco sentimientos perdemos cuando nos enamorarnos - Five senses we have, five senses we loose when we are in love

Not surprisingly for an island nation, the ocean is another big piropo theme:
  • Fui al mar a ver si te olvidaba y las olas me dijeron no la olvide que ella te ama - I went to the ocean to see if I could forget you and the waves told me not to forget that you love me.
  • Quisiera ser el mar y tu la roca para seguir las olas y besar tu linda boca - I wish I was the sea and you a rock so that I could follow the waves and kiss your pretty mouth
  • Me gusta las olas cuando chocan de la roca, me gustan tus labios cuando chocan de mi boca - I like when the waves crash on the rock, I like your lips when they crash into my mouth

Lastly, a warning on respectability:

  • Me gusta las mariposas que van rosa en rosa pero no me gusta las chicas que van boca en boca - I like the butterflies that go from rose to rose but I don’t like the girls who go from mouth to mouth.