Tuesday, March 18, 2008

five senses dominicanas

Sight: The Dominican Republic is a very beautiful country, with gorgeous tropical foliage and beaches to die for. The Entrena center where I attend classes every day is beautifully landscaped, with banana trees, well-manicured hedges, and giant pink flowers everywhere. However, the Dominican Republic is also a country with a severe waste management problem. I have yet to see a trashcan in this country. In my house, there is a trashbag tied to the counter in the kitchen and a small wastebasket in the bathroom, but it’s unheard of to have a garbage can on a street corner, and Dominicans think nothing of simply throwing garbage into the streets. There is apparently some sort of waste management system, meaning that every once in awhile I see someone picking up trash off the streets, but there’s not the kind of organized trash pickup we have in the US.

Smell: See also: lack of waste management in the Dominican Republic. Gross. However, there is also often the smell of delicious food cooking, or the fragrance of tropical flowers.

Taste: When I began applying for the Peace Corps, I was prepared to compromise my vegetarianism, knowing that some cultures simply do not understand the concept. For me, the Peace Corps experience was more important than not eating meat, especially since meat in other countries often comes from your neighbor’s chicken coop rather than a giant factory farm. However, PC told us that in the DR it was possible to maintain a vegetarian diet, and this has held true, although when I first told my Dona I was vegetarian she said, “Oh, OK,” and then asked me if I ate salami or hot dogs. But when I told her no, she came up with hard-boiled eggs and salad, and she’s been great about working around my diet. Last week I spoke to another vegetarian volunteer who has been in-country for about a year, and she told me that all three of her host families had been very accommodating towards her diet, and she found that after she lived with them, her families began to eat more vegetables, too. Vegetables are not a very common part of the Dominican diet for the most part—the basic dietary staples are meat (mostly chicken or fish), plantains, potatoes, and rice. But my Dona gives me okra, carrots, yucca, eggplant, cucumbers, and potatoes. (Although somehow she cooks the potatoes so that they turn pink and look exactly like ham?? It’s kind of unsettling but they taste just like normal potatoes.) Also, I’ve been comparing notes with other PCTs and apparently it’s not just my family; a lot of Dominicans are crazy about saltine crackers. I also get rice and beans pretty often, which is one of my favorites. Breakfast most days is cornflakes & milk, plus café con leche. (Dominican café con leche is made roughly according to the following ratio: one fourth coffee, one fourth sugar, and one half milk. It’s very, very sweet and not very coffee-y.)

There’s also tons of great tropical fruit available here in the DR, but again, it’s not a big part of most Dominican diets. At Entrena they give us fruit for lunch a lot, because they are familiar with the peculiar American tendency towards fruit-eating, but I don’t get it very often at home. The other day, though, I got fresh pineapple and papaya for dinner (along with some saltines), and it was amazing. Plus, both times so far that I’ve visited Karina’s house, her Dona has given me delicious homemade pineapple juice. Mmmm!

I’ve also discovered las galletas Dino, dinosaur cookies. They are the Dominican equivalent of Oreos; they’re not quite as chocolatey as Oreos, but they do have completely adorable smiling dinosaurs stamped on them.

Sound: Santo Domingo is LOUD. There are always tons of things going on: motorcycles zooming past, roosters crowing, dogs barking, sirens going, the telanovela in the living room, your neighbor playing merengue music at volume 11, and your neighbors yelling a conversation over the merengue. Since I can barely understand Dominican Spanish in ideal circumstances, you can imagine how hard it is for me to understand people trying to talk to me while we’re watching TV, the dog is barking, and someone is playing loud music in the next room. Almost impossible! I’ve adapted to the noisiness for the most part, although I still wake up every day around 4am when those darn roosters start crowing.

Touch: Dominicans in general need much less personal space than the average American. I’ve mentioned before how in carro publicos, seven adults fit in a five-passenger Toyota Corrolla. I’ve also seen up to four people on one motorcycle. Plus, it’s always in the 80s here… so people are often pretty sweaty. However, I’ve already adapted pretty well to the level of closeness, and carro publicos no longer seem that strange to me. The first time I rode in one I didn’t understand how it was physically possible to fit so many people in there, but now I know that it can and will be done!

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