Beginning a new adventure in the middle of the night due to flight delays does not make for the most coherent of transitions. Arising early the next day and joining a “guagua” full of students from the U.S. for a trip up to Jarabacoa in the “Dominican Alps” followed by a week of orientation activities was lovely, but also a bit surreal. The CIEE staff and students, my department colleagues, and my wonderful mamá afitriona (host mother) Maria have helped immensely. However, despite the fact that I’ve been in country for more than a week, I’m only now beginning to find my footing. Nevertheless, I wanted to capture a few first impressions of life in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.
First of all, the people are incredibly beautiful. Walking through the streets of town, looking around a classroom or a club, there are so many different shades and tones. Of skin color, eye color, even hair color. And, as we learned during our first excursion to the center of town, the people here call things like they see them. “Rubia” (blondie), “Morena” (brown), “Negra” (black), and even “gordita” (literally, fatty, but here without the negative connotation) are “piropos” that are thrown your way as you pass by. On our first excursion, a few of us almost started counting how many we received. The amount can definitely be disconcerting, but if I look at them through the lens of culture instead of as simply catcalls, it’s not as hard for me to accept – at least right now. So far, no one’s been overly obnoxious.
The naturaleza here is also beautiful, especially Jarabacoa and the university campus. The land is dressed completely in green, such that everywhere you turn are lush and growing things. Fruit trees, gorgeous pink and coral flowers, evergreens that are softer and curvier than those in the States. Most days the sky is the truest of blues, all have been kissed by the sun. Considering I left lots of snow in Colorado, walking around in a curtain of warmth has been pleasant except for the hours closest to the midday heat, or when traveling Calle del Sol, the busiest shopping street in Santiago.
Vibrant, but loud
Music often blares from cars, conchos, and houses here. Some of the most animated conversations among the students from the US and the DR have been about music and places to go out. I myself have been trying to catch up on my knowledge of Reggaeton which seems to be quite popular. Two artists I’ve recently discovered are Amara la Negra, and J. Balvin. And, of course, there’s still a lot of merengue, salsa, bachata, and jazz, all of which I already love. During my first evening out, the DJ let me watch him in action for a bit which was fascinating! Clubs here in Santiago love to crank up the volume, so if you want a place for conversation, perhaps a neighborhood bar would be better.
Admittedly, a few things have taken a bit of getting used to. The sheer volume of food per
meal, which – although very good- is often more than I’m used to eating in an entire day, is rough. And, the traffic is crazy! My host home is right next to Autopista Duarte and my room fronts on the highway. On weekend nights, one of the favored pastimes is to have illegal car or motorcycle races a la Fast and Furious flying along the highway. The last lap apparently happens between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sleeping, therefore, is sometimes difficult.
Finally, I’m still struggling to balance other peoples’ version of caution with my own. My host mother, the CIEE staff, and many of my colleagues have warned me about theft and about walking alone, even for the less than five minutes it takes to reach the university gates from my home. For someone who’s lived alone in multiple other countries, and who leans toward a belief that if people are living in a “dangerous” area, or doing certain daily activities safely, there must be a way of my doing the same; this overly protective stance can be frustrating. One of the other students and I had a conversation about deciding to believe the best in people until proven otherwise, while still taking common-sense precautions to mitigate the risk. Hopefully, I’ll grow more confident venturing out on my own, or better yet, find “criollas” to help me navigate more independently. Don’t worry, I’ll still be careful!
Okay, I know this first post got a bit long. I’ll try to keep future ones shorter, or at least vary the length. But, there’s so much to share and experience, even from a still slightly displaced observer’s standpoint that I wanted to include as much as possible. Hopefully, this at least gives a snapshot. Stay tuned for future adventures!