Published: January 25th 2008January 24th 2008
Biggest Statue I Have Ever Seen
I still don't know what this is, but I can see if from the roof of the house and it's HUGE!
Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for three whole weeks. Other times it’s hard to believe I haven’t been here longer. The last twenty-two days have been full of the excitement, frustration, discovery, and homesickness that I’ve decided are typical of the initial stages of most grand adventures. School is almost in full swing, I’m about to begin an exciting internship, and I’m starting to develop a routine that should soon help me feel more permanent than temporary here. The three-week mark is difficult, though. The initial exhilaration of arrival in a new place is over, but I’m still not quite settled in. Sometimes I miss being completely comfortable and wish I was in a place where I didn’t stand out as much. However, if I’m going to stand out, I might as well do it in a place I like as much as this one.
Santo Domingo is a busy, exciting city with busy, exciting people living and working in it. The Colonial Zone attracts foreign tourists who are intrigued by the beginnings of the New World or especially interested in visiting many ancient Catholic churches that are not as distinct from one another as the
The view from the roof
I love that I can see the water from my house.
guidebooks imply. In turn, those tourists attract a wide range of Dominicans, Haitians, and immigrants from other Caribbean and Latin American nations who sell souvenirs, taxi rides, food, company, and other goods and services for prices considered cheap by North American and European standards. Outside the tourist sector exists an economy of small businesses and large corporations that range from family-owned convenience stores and fruit stands to foreign-owned hotels and the ever-expanding Wal-Mart. At the same time that it is home to some with money to spare, Santo Domingo is full of many who struggle daily to make ends meet.
One of those people is Roberto. Roberto is Dominican and probably about twenty-five years old. Every day, he stands on El Conde (the main commercial street in the Colonial Zone) and sells cigars to tourists. Often, the vendors on El Conde mistake me for a tourist and approach me with their wares. A week ago, Roberto approached me with his cigars and tried to convince me (in English) that I needed to take some home to my “Ahmereecon boyfren.” I had been particularly frustrated with Dominican gender dynamics that day and was about to launch into a passionate speech
titled “You shouldn’t be so quick to assume that all women have men in their lives and even if they did they could probably out-smoke their partners if cigars weren’t so gross,” when I realized that the cigars he was holding were sloppily wrapped in Cohiba labels. Cohiba is one of the main Cuban cigar brands, but these were clearly not Cuban cigars. Ha! Nice try, Robertito! Instead of delivering the aforementioned monologue about gender roles, I told him I was half Cuban, that the “Cuban” cigars he was trying to sell me were clearly not even half Cuban, and that my “Ahmereecon boyfren” only smokes Montecristos anyways. He was quick to admit that they were, in fact, Dominican cigars wrapped in fake Cohiba labels but insisted that they were good anyways, that I should tell him my name and phone number, and that he could teach me to dance merengue. I did not tell him my name or my phone number or admit that I had lied about my ethnicity, and now every time I walk down El Conde he shouts, “Cuba! Cuba! Ven aca! Cuba!” My sheer amazement that I convinced someone that I was Cuban outweighs the guilt I should feel for lying. At least he doesn’t try to sell me cigars any more.
Since the last time I wrote, two of my other classes have started. They are called Migratory Processes of the Contemporary Caribbean and Social and Enthnocultural Identity of the Contemporary Caribbean. They meet at FLACSO and are for North American students in the CIEE program. The classes and assignments are in Spanish, just like my classes at Bonó. I like the Migratory Processes class quite a bit—the reading and lectures are interesting, and I’ll get to do some field work with immigrants. I’m still making up my mind about the Social and Ethnocultural Identity class. The professor sits at the front of the classroom, listens to herself talk, asks us to read what we’ve prepared for class and doesn’t listen to what we’re saying, and then leaves twenty minutes early. I’m told this is the way it goes in classrooms here, but all my other professors have been wonderful. The material is interesting enough that I’ll probably stick with the class, even though the instruction has been somewhat disappointing. My final class, Sociology of Latin America, should begin on February 4th. In addition to the four classes I’m taking, I’ll be working as an intern at an organization called MODEMU, or the Movimiento de Mujeres Unidas. MODEMU provides legal, emotional, and economic assistance to sex workers, and basically functions as an unofficial union for them. I start next week. I really have no idea what I’ll be doing there, but it should be interesting. I’ll keep you posted.
I have arranged my class schedule so that I have four-day weekends each week. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get out of the city every now and then. Last weekend I went to Santiago, a city about two hours north of Santo Domingo. I’m really glad I chose to study in Santo Domingo instead of Santiago. There’s not much going on over there, and it’s a completely different place. It reminds me of an American suburb. The streets have letters and numbers for names and the houses are eerily similar to each other. Santiago is significantly whiter and wealthier than Santo Domingo. And it’s not as charming. There are not pastel-painted, crumbling, cramped-together row houses lining every street. I didn’t see any avocados being sold from horse carts. The streets weren’t paved with cobblestones. I’m glad I’m here.