Posted on May 12, 2013
Above: Circa 2009, Elsa and Marcos after receiving a present from their Nana — it didn’t take much to make them happy.
The other day Karan and I saw something on the news about the Dominican Republic. We saw a picture of a rainy, flooded street and it brought back a rush of memories for us both of living there. We felt wistful.
When the moment passed I said to Karan in a quiet voice “I know you miss living there.”, to which he nodded silently, and I said “Me too.”
So why do we miss a place with so many problems, problems which are as clear in our memory as everything that is good? I know my reasons, I wrote about them long ago in my post Life in High-Definition Video but I was curious what Karan’s reasons were. The first, and really only reason he gave was “People are happy.” How true.
It is a conundrum that is not unique to the Dominican Republic. The poorer the country, the less they have on average, the happier the people seem to be. I remember this as a child when I visited Haiti. The children we are all smiling, flashing their brilliant white teeth against their dark skin, playing with sticks and scrap metal. Most of the children had no shoes, dirty clothes and swollen bellies from lack of proper nutrition. As I child myself, I only saw smiling faces, children full of joy and it made me happy.
Dominicans, by contrast, have more than Haitians and it is “happiness quotient” is therefore a little lower. Within the Dominican Republic, it is the upper class, the privileged, who complain more, who dwell on the negative. But the poor, who have the greatest reasons to be unhappy, find joy in every day things from a cool breeze which relieves from the blistering midday heat, to their favorite song playing on the radio.
The United States is a far more privileged country than the Dominican Republic or any other third world country and our unhappiness reflects this. We don’t appreciate that we have running water, electricity, maintained roads, public libraries, good schools…no, we don’t even think about these things and instead complain about any glitch or bump in our day. This goes back to my theory that all Westerners should live in a third world country for at least 3 months to give them some perspective.
It just seems that, on average, the less one has, the less one needs to make one happy and by contrast, the more one has the more one needs for that same happiness. The people in poor countries do not dwell on the difficulties of their life, difficulties that in many ways they are powerless to change, instead, they celebrate the little things in their life that are good. We can all learn from this.
Although as American, I am privileged compared to someone in the third-world, by American standards, my upbringings were far from privileged. Yet, for the most part, it was a happy childhood. Both parents were artists, divorced, and broke. There was lots of turmoil, little money and in the mix was the problems with my legs which kept me in the hospital most of my youth. But although there are memories that are painful, there are others that shine and those are the ones I cherish. People used to say how awful it must have been to have to spend so much time in the hospital. But all I had to do was look to the left or the right and see a kid, a fellow patient, who was worse off. This perspective is not because I am so much more empathic than others, it is because I saw, literally, children who faced much greater challenges than mine and I thought to myself that I should be grateful.
My experiences continued to draw me to challenges, to people in situations far worse than mine and that is, in part, why I moved to the Dominican Republic.
In my time living in the Dominican Republic, I went from a somewhat privileged life where I had a big apartment in the central part of town. One room with air-conditioning (a real luxury there) nearly 24/7 power and water. Then times got tough and the peso lost nearly all its value, trading from 25 pesos to $1 when I moved there to 50:1. I billed in dollars so all my clients put their projects on hold which effectively took away all my income. I was pregnant with my son at the time.
I moved, out of necessity, to “que lado”, the eastern part of the capital. The house was nice but it was in a “barrio”, poor neighborhood with dirt roads and burning trash piles. My first week there the power was out for 3 days straight. When the power went out there was also no water as the pump didn’t run. I had to heave 5 gallon buckets of water out of the cistern. I was 6-months pregnant and the father was never there. I was alone in a foreign country, pregnant and vulnerable, with limited power and water, in a neighborhood I didn’t even dare to walk around.
But because I was pregnant I kept my spirits up. I wanted to bring my son into the world with joy in my heart. Life was tough and lonely there but I reminded myself that I had chosen to move to the Dominican Republic and I needed to take the good with the bad. I reminded myself once again to be grateful for what I could — the beautiful baby inside me.
I lived there for a year and a half. Ever so slowly business picked up, life got better and finally I made just enough money to move back to the center of the capital. Oh did I appreciate the little things then. Even if the power went out, there were places to go with light instead of the entire neighborhood plunged into darkness. I could walk to places…in many ways life was so much easier.
But compared to my life now, it was still very hard. Now I live in a very nice town, in a nice apartment complex with a community pool. If there are problems in apartment there is a maintenance crew who come immediately to fix it. In the Dominican Republic I had one apartment with a filtration problem and when it rained water would drip down in to the electric switches and flames would burst out. Forget about maintenance, there wasn’t even an ambulance you could count on coming if you got electroculted. I’ve come a long way.
I have always lived by the motto “Happiness is a choice” and I truly believe this. Even before my experiences overseas I have tried to seek happiness in everyday things and let go of what makes me unhappy. I consider my time in the Dominican Republic to be a gift because I never take anything good for granted anymore. I miss their simple pleasures.
Posted on April 28, 2013
A few months ago an Indian woman that I didn’t know asked to be my friend on Facebook. This was on my personal profile, not Amor y Sabor’s Facebook page. This happens a lot actually because of the blog and I usually accept because I consider all Facebook to be public anyway. So I accepted her friend request and she began a conversation with me. She asked if I was Indian, which I replied that I was not but married to one. She then asked if it was a “love marriage”. I had heard this term before but only on the periphery so I had to think a minute as to what she meant before I responded “yes”.
Love marriage is a term used in India to indicate a marriage formed because of love, versus the more traditional arranged marriage which is formed for a variety of reasons: economic, benefit, family ambitions, astrological compatibility and necessity. The term love marriage may seem strange, redundant and archaic to a Westerner because it is our assumption that all marriage is a result of love, or at least the fantasy of love. But this is not the case in India. Except for Mumbai and some of New Dehli where India has become Westernized, arranged marriages are the norm, they are the expected outcome. In fact, arranged marriages are such the norm that many Indians who migrate to the West still go back to India for an arranged marriage.
In Indian cultures, families sacrifice everything for their children, far greater than in Western culture. It is as if the parent’s purpose is only to ensure a good life for their offspring and nothing more. Traditional Indian culture, especially where my husband Karan is from, is very strict. There are clear definitions of good and bad, what you can and can’t do. The result is that most parents feel it is not only expected, but 100% necessary, that marriages are arranged and their offspring comply with their choice.
But times are changing and more and more couples are joining because of love, often with dangerous results. It is the dark underbelly of Indian culture which, although it celebrates love through its gods and goddesses, considers duty to be more important than life itself. It is called honor killings and it is a brutal response to a betrayal of the expected duty. This duty can be to a parent or a husband. Most common it is for choosing who you love.
In India, or at least in Karan’s part of India, women marry only once. Divorce is not allowed even if the husband is abusing them. Even a woman who is widowed is not allowed to remarry. This burden of marriage falls solely on the shoulders of women because the same rules do not apply to men. Men can remarry after their wife’s death without rebuke. They can even have multiple wives. It is an unfair double standard where a woman can not even be considered worthy of marriage if another man has touched her sexually, never mind have the right to leave an abusive relationship.
This double standard for women in India was brought to international attention after several brutal rapes of women in India. Even in the case of rape, the woman is considered tainted and not worthy of marriage. No other man will have her so it is common for the rape victims to be pressured to marry their attackers as this is their only option of marriage in India’s traditional culture.
It is hard for us in the Western World to understand this aspect of Indian culture which is so obviously unfair. I do not defend or agree with it but I have come to understand it. In traditional India, marriage is the goal of all women. Not being married is not an option. But in the midst of this traditional, even ancient culture, a new mindset is starting to seep in and more and more people are demanding change — change for a culture that rewards men and punishes the victims of rape and change to stop the honor killings.
Enter a group called the Love Commandos — funny name but important work.
I first became aware of them through a news article. They have received a fair amount of press for the good work they do. When a couple comes together for love, against the wishes of their parents, they can not publicly express their love, they can not be together and they need to marry in secret. This is because their families will do everything to prevent their union, from forcing them to marry someone else to beating up them or their loved one and worse. But even when they are finally married, the danger is not over. The anger over their defiance familial duty forces them into hiding as one or both of their families can hunt them down and kill them.
The Love Commandos provides a network of safe passages and safe houses to protect the lovers, much in the same way that the Underground Railroad provided safety to the slaves fleeing servitude in America’s past. It is a wonderful organization but until there is a cultural shift, many will still die as there is not enough resources to help them all.
Before Karan came to the Dominican Republic, he had garnered some attention in Chennai. A body building champion, he was a favorite at his local gym and appeared in several local television commercials. He caught the eye of one particular girl who stepped forward one day and expressed love for him. In Karan’s culture you do not date or engage in any kind of romantic contact before marriage. Instead to watch and think until you are ready and then you express your love. So Karan, only 18 at the time, thought about whether he could love this girl and after a few days decided that he could.
With a decision clear in his mind, he went to the girl’s father to ask for her hand. Even doing this was outside the norm because the correct protocol would have been to ask his parents first but Karan has always been a bit of a rebel. When he asked the father he was flatly denied. Why you might ask? After all, he was somewhat of a minor celebrity at the time. He was denied because he is Hindu and the girl’s family was Muslim. An interfaith marriage was out of the question.
Karan, who had been considering going to the Dominican Republic to work with a shipping company as an engineer, made up his mind to leave as soon as he was denied by the father. He did feel love for the girl even though he hadn’t known her long and he didn’t care she was Muslim. To Western eyes it is hard to see it as real love, instead of a crush, but for Indians, love comes quickly and is strong and dramatic. Karan knew he was blocked from being with the girl which made him so angry that he left the country that he loves because he felt that it stifled him.
In this context one can see that when this Indian woman on Facebook asked me if we had a love marriage, it was not a light question. When I answered yes, I could feel her envy. I do not know if she was even married but the envy was of freedom — freedom to choose, freedom to love.
Posted on April 12, 2013
Due to my experience and writing in this blog about the Dominican Republic, I was contacted by the filmmakers for a new film called The Miguel Sano Story which is a a followup to their documentary called Ballplayer: Pelotero. I am always happy to oblige when it comes to supporting the arts and regional film making. To that end, here is their press release.
GUAGUA PRODUCTIONS ANNOUCES FOLLOW-UP TO BALLPLAYER: PELOTERO
TITLED ‘THE MIGUEL SANO STORY’
Filmmakers Enlist the Help of Kickstarter
Guagua Productions, the team behind the critically acclaimed documentary, Ballplayer: Pelotero has announced that they are doing a follow-up to the documentary titled The Miguel Sano Story. Filmmakers are enlisting the help of Kickstarter to raise $25,000 over 30 days to continue documenting Sano’s career as he enters his third year within the Minnesota Twins farm system.
Filmmakers Jon Paley, Ross Finkel, and Trevor Martin said, “The end of Ballplayer: Pelotero was just the beginning of Miguel’s journey. For the first time ever on film, we will tell the complete story of a future star’s rise to fame. Whether it is on or off the field on the road to the Majors, we’ll be there to document it.”
The Miguel Sano Story will be co-directed by Paley, Finkel, and Martin and picks up where Pelotero left off and will provide unprecedented access to Sano as he rises through the Minnesota Twins farm system and the challenges both on and off the field. Named one of the top-20 prospects by Baseball America, his rising status on the field has drawn suitors from every angle who are seeking a piece of the expected millions he will sign for in the big leagues, forcing him to question every new relationship. Guagua Productions will provide an intimate look at how Sano navigates the pressure of providing for his family, living in a new country and while balancing the crushing pressure to live up to the expectation that the media has of him.
The original documentary (Ballplayer: Pelotero) was distributed by Strand Releasing and followed Sano and fellow Dominican prospect, Jean Carlos Batista, throughout their journey to get signed by a professional club on their 16th birthday – the age they became eligible. When Sano was wrongly accused of lying about his age, the filmmakers got an up-close-and-personal look at how the Dominican system worked and potential corruption, back room dealings, and politics around Sano clearing his name.
Posted on April 7, 2013
The term “Indian English” is a real one. It refers to the adaption of English by Indians but I should have named this post “Karan’s English” because not only does Karan speak Indian English but he has adapted his own version of that. This makes for a comical conversation at times to say the least.
I look at a different pages that listed Indian English terms and selected the ones I hear Karan use. Here they are with their American equivalents:
Because Karan is still learning English overall, he uses the words from Indian English that he is familiar with and simplifies everything else. Plus, he doesn’t talk much anyway. Most verbs he uses are in the “ing” form and he eliminates plural form. Here are some examples of things is known to say:
- When the kids are misbehaving: Coming blood. or Broke the head. = punishment (of course Karan does not do either of these things literally)
- Wash the hand = wash your hands or put the glass = put on your glasses
- I appreciate you = thank you or that was thoughtful
- how to eating = the correct way to eat something
- go to place = put something back in its place
- nothing talking = do not say anything
There are so many more but it is hard for me to remember them all. Then Karan has is own phrases that he called “opposite talking”. He uses this with the kids to play with them. If you ask for a big piece of chicken he gives you the smallest one and says “big meaning small, small meaning big”. This becomes hilarious because the kids don’t know what to say.
Another one is “chocolate” which Karan says “do you want some chocolate?” but it means punishment if they are being naughty. As I said, he never actually does what he says but the kids pay attention and it is quite amusing to see them try to figure out if Karan is really offering chocolate or if they are in trouble.
It’s hard to share in a post how amusing and interesting it can be communicating with Karan but I have tried to share a little.
Of note: Karan will probably object to my choice of photo as it appears that he is drinking beer. It is cider actually and he barely even drank any. Karan is a a body builder and therefore a purist when it comes to what he eats or drinks but I chose the photo because it shows the fun-loving side of Karan that comes out when he talks (a rare occasion).