It is a lazy Saturday morning as I write this, cloudy so our beach trip with a few students was canceled. I'm sitting around in my pajamas, drinking tea and reading travel blogs, as I do, when three little boys start giggling behind my open door, hoping to be chased.
Good morning, and welcome to my life in the Dominican countryside.
A neighbor brought by a few pancakes for us to try and now the group of kids has grown to six -
they sit in the half built compost toilet, looking at some books in English
and fighting over who gets to hold the Garfield book.
View from my yard
I haven't posted in quite some time. My little life in downtown Puerto Plata was suddenly uprooted and I moved to Muñoz, a town outside of the city, and was without internet for some weeks. Instead of car alarms, I now hear roosters and passing horses. The sun sets behind a mountain and the crickets can be cacophonous. There is STILL a bar near my house that plays music,
but quieter and not so constantly.
Specifically I live right outside of a batey (pronounced baah-tAY). A batey is a small community, usually very poor, that sprung up around a sugar cane field for the workers. Now most of the fields are shut down but the bateys remain. I live outside of the batey named La Grúa
(which means crane, as in the building equipment, as far as I know).
Roofs of the batey
View from my school doorway
I now teach not only pre-school, but also 1st through around 4th grade (grades aren't very strict here...) Another teacher (for the older kids) and I share the one room school house. Somedays, the noise of two classes and too many energetic kids in a small space threatens to even overwhelm the strident singing and shouting of our neighbors as they do laundry, bake cookies or fry up some empanadas, all in the small main street. They casually shift their pots and buckets when pick up trucks squeeze by, selling bananas or scrap metal. It's a tight little community, in all senses of the word, and I sort of love it. While it doesn't have the amenities Puerto Plata has (no running water in the bathroom, no gym, no shops, cafes, nearby beaches...oh I do miss my daily walks near the sea!), the closeness is a comfort. I recognize the dogs that stand outside the school door and can always tell when our neighbor bakes shortbread. But my absolute favorite part is that I am recognized as a teacher - instead of being treated as a tourist, with the cat-callers and aggressive vendors and panhandlers. I have a place here. It's still a distant place, but I am known in my tiny batey. My neighbors call me La Flaca (The skinny), which is fine if it means the home-made peanut butter vender keeps giving me extra scoops to fatten me up.
Inside the school
I was lonely in Puerto Plata, even with all the noise and people. Though I spoke to many people, I never felt any real connection to them. Maybe because I was seen as just a tourist, yet another blanquita passing through. While I make no presumptions to being truly a vital member the community here in Muñoz I am, if peripherally, a member. Children play in my yard
and neighbors come by to sit in the shade and chat.
While in Puerto Plata I wondered why so many people loved the DR. Ok, it has nice beaches and delicious street food - so do many countries. But now, in Muñoz, I see it. I love the nature here; the luxurious flowers and twisted jungle plants. I love the spotted baby pigs I saw on my walk back from church. I love the colors - the blue, green and pink houses, the "bright and tight" Dominicana style. (Or at least, I love the bright part, the tight is not for me.) I love that no matter where I am, a light sound of bachata can always reach my ears.
If you follow the main street through Muñoz, it eventually becomes a dirt road and wanders off into the mountains. Someday, I want to follow it for a few days.
I'm told they might need to move me to yet another school (though I would still live in Muñoz) and I'm fine with that. If the DR is teaching me anything, it's to enjoy each present moment for what it is.
So now I'll go enjoy some lunch,
as I try to ignore the sounds of the batey's weekly cockfighting extravaganza.
I'll just turn up my bachata.