Sunday, February 3, 2013

My First Dominican Republic Post

Or January Was Insane and Now I'm Insane 

January of 2013 was welcomed in at an Irish bar in Athens, Greece and that month of new beginnings saw me cross four countries, by bus, boat, and airplane, and finally land in a fifth one, my new home for six months.

Scroll through the following pictures really fast to get an idea of how all of that felt:

Christmas in Istanbul!

Ferry in Greece!

More Christmas in Greece!

New Years!

Back through Istanbul!

Lots of airplanes!

Christmas at home!

Beaches and Spanish! 

Dizzy yet?

 I'm hoping February is slightly more tranquil.

It is high time I had a first post from the Dominican Republic. I've been here just over three weeks and let me tell you, from Eastern Europe to the Caribbean is a transition to be reckoned with. I left in a blizzard and arrived (with less than a week stopover in the USA) into heat and humidity.

Moving to a new country is always intense. Even more so if the last country hasn't left your mind yet. I feel like my Georgia experience hasn't found full closure yet (expect more posts about it, and my travels after!). I miss it deeply, much more than expected. I miss the food, my small town where everyone knew me, my adorable students, the music and the dancing. But I am delving into my new country as best I can, with the smell of khachapuri (Georgian cheesy bread) still clinging to my hair.

I spent my first week trying to forget Georgian, stopping myself from saying "bodishi" (sorry) and "sahd aris...?" (Where is...?) and other Georgian phrases. I didn't always stop myself in time but I'm hoping no one noticed the strange "flaca" (skinny girl - in Spanish) saying strange words. I sat in the beach and read It's Not About the Tapas, a hilarious book which I highly recommend about a woman biking across Spain. I got sun burnt, went for runs and felt tropical and daring.

I spent my second week trying to get used to living next door to a bar, where music plays from noon until midnight (or past it) every day. I was shocked when a Dominican colleague of mine caught a pigeon with her bare hands.  I read The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, which was supposedly "post-feminist" and definitely brilliant but depressing. I mostly got used to the bugs.  I went to the market.

I spent my third week trying to remember Georgian (how do you say the days of the week?!). I joined a gym and made it through an aerobics class while a very sweaty man screamed at us. I think he was surprised the "blanquita" made it through. I finally snapped at one of the men shouting at me on the streets and told him very rudely to go away. I became addicted to Choco Rico, the very rich chocolate milk here.

Oh, and I also taught pre-school during this time, which deserves its own post entirely.

Lessons I've learned thus far:

1. When out for a jog, run fast so the cat-callers don't get even creepier.

It's great motivation! The cat calling, street hollering, general reactions here are insane. There is a thing called "sankies" in the DR - men who woo foreign woman to weasel out some money or to get a green card. It's the ultimate catch, my Dominican friend told me, to be taken back to the US with a wealthy American lady. I'm not sure if all the men who shout at me are sankies, but they certainly are enthusiastic. After spending 4 months in a country where no one gave me a second glance when walking down the street (I look very Georgian), it's strange to create such a stir when going to the grocery store. I am called "flaquita" "princesa" and "muñeca" (doll). I am told they want to take me to dinner, give me a ride, practice their English, get my number, etc etc etc. The worse is the strange "ssssssttt" hissing noise that never fails to startle me.

Of course, plenty of Dominicans are just friendly and helpful, such as the nice man who guards the museum beside me with a giant gun and shouted "good morning!" from across the street around 5 pm. And the cat-calling is mostly just a problem in the touristy board-walk area.  A nice older man told me he was surprised to see a white person walking around by herself - "like you don't care at all...tough!" because most "blancos" are afraid of "us brown people". Maybe that's my problem - I should ask my gun toting neighbor to walk with me.

This is the Malecón where I (and many others, both local and foreign) go for evening runs.
I haven't worked up to balancing food on my head yet though. 

2. Shake out your pants before putting them on.

Cockroaches will hide in them. In fact, all of the bugs of the area will find you and do their best to startle, sting and bite you until you have gone mad. This is just a test. Stand strong! (And buy the incense coil things for mosquitos)

3.  Motoconchos are magical.

Motoconchos are the motorcycle taxis. In Peru a motorcycle taxi looked like this:

It has a little compartment built on top with a seat and, if you're lucky, a door. (It's open air in the Amazon regions though).

Here it is just a motorcycle. I have seen 5 school children casually riding along, squished on the seat together, looking precious in their uniforms.  Two (fully grown) friends and I have piled onto one behind the driver, who then drove rapidly through town, over a small ditch, onto a bumpy dirt road and we didn't die or even fall off. Magic.

It's only the beginning of this new adventure, so stay tuned and I promise I'll deliver more interesting anecdotes, Dominican slang, and beach photos to make you jealous!

Not a beach, but the park near where I live

Looking down over a beach - I love the little jungle areas you can find nearby!

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