Note to readers: This is a review of my personal journal from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer more than a decade ago. I have done my best not to edit or censor what I wrote then. Time moves on, I learn things, and I no longer feel the same. Part of the joy of reading old journals is seeing a story arc where I’ve learned new things.
19 September 2001
House in Los Angeles, Santo Domingo
I awoke at six, but rolled over. Because of the springy-soft bed, I didn’t sleep remarkably well. I also had to sleep, by order of the Peace Corps officials, under a mosquitero, a netted canopy for keeping mosquitos out. No one else in the house had to do that.
At seven, Donña Ondina woke me again, and I hurriedly washed and dressed. There is indoor plumbing, but no water comes through the pipes. One bathes by dumping cold water out of a bucket.
For breakfast, Donña Ondina served me cheese bread, coffee, and lechoga, which is red papaya. We walked out to the Autopista Duarte, where we caught un carro público to the entrance of the Pantoja neighborhood at a cost of $RD9.00. We then got in a much shabbier vehicle to go to the next half-mile to Entrena [the training center, Entrena, SA].
I won’t say much about the lessons at the training center except to point out how the language component has shown me how much more I have to learn. Additionally, the vocabulary here is pretty damn different from the Mexicano that I’ve previously learned.
Lunch was rice with greens and fruit. I skipped the meat. Before lunch, we received vaccinations for tetanus and rabies. The nurse complimented me on my politeness, and I credited it to my mom. At lunch, Chris and I had some fun trying to translate N.W.A. into Spanish.
About halfway through the afternoon, I realized that it was my birthday while I was waiting for Papito to escort me home. I talked with the other trainees from my barrio– Erin, John- to invite them out for a beer. The host family liason, Divina, emphasized very firmly that I should have just one beer, and no more.
Returning with Papito, I watched the tall, well-dressed chavo as he said hello to everyone in the neighborhood, especially the females. He tried to teach me his greeting “essooooooooooo.” Él es muy chingón, muy cabal. He left me at the park near the house, and I walked up to find Doña Ondina.
Doña Ondina is an evangelical Christian. I’m not quite sure why so many of the families that host volunteers are Protestant in this majority Catholic nation, but that’s the way it is.
I greeted Doña Ondina politely. She asked me how my day went, and I told her it went well. I asked her about the test results she received from the doctor today. She said there was a “small problem.” I asked “Really? Just a small problem?” I tried not to probe too deeply as I don’t know the woman so well.
There’s always this thing for me when I’m an international guest. What happens is that I want to accept things as they are, but my host wants to go out of his/her way to make me comfortable. I never know quite what to do. In my own culture, it’s important to protest a bit if someone goes out of his/her way for you. It’s not so polite to make demands on a host. Rather, one is supposed to graciously accept the situation of being a guest–i.e. be happy that you are being fed and housed, without regards to whether you’d prefer to eat this or sleep there. For me, this gratitude is the central idea of what it means to be a guest.
So I’m not sure what to do when she asks what sort of food I want or whether or not I slept well. The polite answers seem to be “I slept great, thanks!” and “I’ll have whatever you make; please accept my thanks.” But there really is some tension there for me.
Doña and I discussed my plans to have a beer. She reminded me that as an evangélica, her house was off-limits to alcohol. She also implored me not to get drunk since a number of assaults against Peace Corps folks have involved alcohol.
After some negotiation, I walked down to Erin’s house. I told her host mother of the plan to celebrate my birthday. She insisted that it would be a bad idea to hang out in front of the colmado and drink without a Dominican chaperone. “Why don’t you take the beer to Doña Ondina’s?” she inquired. So Erin and I resigned ourselves to share a coke or something at my place. We went to find John.
John was out running, said his fictive parents. Erin and I resigned ourselves to sharing a Coca-Cola toast to celebrate my birthday. On the way back to Doña Ondina’s, I gave him bad direction, unintentionally ensuring he’d not be joining us.
At Doña Ondina’s, we came in and I introduced Erin. Papito, el tigüere, totally scoped out Erin, who is good-looking, for sure. Doña Ondina insisted that I eat, so I did, while Erin looked on.
The usual scheme of things is that the host mom usually watches you eat, but now Erin was getting a chance to watch someone else eat. I, of course, as a gringo, felt self-conscious eating in front of her, but there was nothing that could be done. We toasted each other in honor of my birthday.
I walked her home, hearing catcalls aimed at her all the way there. It’s really crazy walking the streets here. There is so much going on & so much noise. Motos pass doing wheelies. It’s really hard at this point to do things like assess my personal safety. And furthermore, I felt somewhat protective of Erin, even despite the knowledge that she is a strong and capable woman.
As a side note, I had a conversation with how Pablito (Papito) checked her out, and about the word tiguere, which seems to indicate macho-ness or something. I told her that despite my pro-feminist and generally sensitive new age guy pose, I recognize that I, too, continue to check out and go after the women. It was a kind-of awkward moment.
Of course, I’d love to have a real good buddy or even girlfriend right now. It’s inevitable that I’d want that sort of support. Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t?
After returning, I watched TV with Pablito– beísbol, which I claimed to like. John finally showed up with this guy Nelson, who was the son of John’s fictive parents. After some confusion, we decided to go to the colmado. John bought a round. We sat in front of the colmado.
After some time of trying to field Nelson’s questions about who we were and so forth, he was still convinced that John and I were professional baseball players. He said he’d take us out clubbing in his father’s car. It also emerged that he was a singer for a forming rock band. I offered to show him my guitar, and he agreed. I played a couple of songs. Before he and John departed, he gave me his number and encouraged me to call.
- I just heard Patsy Cline on a local stereo
- Ondina went to church today, i.e. tonight. Which one?
- I think I talk too much in class.