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 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 November 22, 2012
Above: Standing in front of Las Ruinas in the Colonial Zone
I feel things have come full circle for me here in the Dominican Republic.
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States but a very different sort of day for us: an end and a beginning. We got up early and packed up the rest of our stuff. We sorted what was left into trash, give away, and to sell. Then we loaded the suitcases and came to a hotel in Gazcue. It was in this sector called Gazcue, a nice tree-lined area near the historic Colonial Zone, that both Karan and I first lived in the Dominican Republic. It was also the neighborhood where we met.
I defined my success, or lack of, on whether I could live in Gazcue or not. It is not, by far, the most expensive area to live in. It is modestly upscale, gentrified, but of all the places I have lived in the Capital, I like it the best.
When I first lived here it was in an apartment by the Malecón (road that runs by the water) in Gazcue. Then the economy here bottomed out and I moved to “que lado” (the other side) and life got much much harder. Gazcue is one of the few neighborhoods in the Capital where the power almost never goes out. Water is a problem but a tinaco (water tank) fixes that pretty easily.
It took me 18 months to earn enough money to move back from the other side of town but I still couldn’t afford Gazcue. Instead I moved to the Zona Universitaria, the sector right next door, and kept working. Six months later I had enough money to move back to Gazcue and stayed there for 5 years. In the fourth year there things started getting tough again financially and I lost my car. I started walking to the grocery store 3-5 days a week. My route took me past this house where a group of ship mechanics from India were living. That is how Karan and I met.
One year and another apartment later, still in Gazcue, Karan and I started dating and then he moved in with me in Gazcue. But we were both struggling financially and it wasn’t getting better so by the end of the year we decided to move to “que lado” but in a much nicer area than I had been in before.
For three years our lives in the Dominican Republic have taken place on the other side. From Gazcue it is very easy to get around the Capital but from the other side we took buses which could take hours, oppressively hot and filled with noxious fumes. Everything was farther, less accessible. From Gazcue I would walk a lot but from the other side I was home bound.
But this morning we left the other side and came to a hotel in Gazcue. Not just any hotel, but the exact same hotel I stayed in when I first moved to the Dominican Republic. How is that for full circle? Wasn’t even planned.
Karan spent the day on the other side, cleaning the apartment so he could hand it over to the landlord. I spent the day in Gazcue. I spent it alone, just like I did many years ago, but that is where the parallels end.
Posted on November 21, 2012
Dominican Words or Phrase Worth Learning
This is a list of words or phrases that are commonly used in the Dominican Republic. This is by no means a complete list nor meant to be a Spanish dictionary but just some that I have found useful living here. I will add to this over time.
Aguacero (Ah-gwa-ser-oh) — this means a downpour of rain, a frequent event in the Dominican Republic. Rain stops all outdoor activity for Dominicans, including one of their favorite – going out dancing.
Ahorita (Ah-whor-ee-tah) — this is a confusing word which can mean both past and future depending on context such as “I will call soon.” = “Le llamo ahorita.” or “A little while earlier I ate.” = “Ahorita comi.”
Apagone (Ah-pah=goan-eh) — this means “blackout”, when the power goes out in an area, another frequent occurence here.
Aplatanada / Aplatanado (Ah-plah-tah-nah-da / Ah-plah-tah-nah-dow) — this is a Dominican phrase which means you have become a Dominican because you have eaten your share of plantains. Once you have been here a while, you can surprise them by saying “Estoy aplatanada.” and they will be shocked that you know that phrase.
Basta (Bah-stah) — this means “stop, that is enough” and for further emphasis you can say “basta ya” which is stronger.
Cansado (Khan-sah-do) vs. Casado (Khah-sah-so) — a lot of Spanish words sound the same to the untrained ear but have completely different meanings. Although there are examples of this in all languages, this one is particularly important not to get confused. “Cansado” or it’s feminine form “Cansada” means tired as in “I am tired.” = “Estoy cansada.” “Casado” on the other hand means to be married. “I am married.” = “Soy casada.” When I first lived in the Dominican Republic I used to walk around by myself a lot and often men would ask me “Es casada?” and I would think they were asking me if I was tired because I walk with a limp. Due to my pride, I would always answer “No!” and then could not understand why the men would then want my phone number…
Chin (Chin) — this a Dominican word that means “a little bit” such as “un chin más” = “a little bit more”
China (Chee-nah) —this is another Dominican word that works double duty. Dominicans often refer to people by their nationalities so I am “Americana” which literally means “American woman”. “China”, therefore, can mean “Chinese (or Asian) woman”. But “china” is also they Dominican word for “orange” as in the fruit, not the color. “Naranja” i the word for “orange” but in the Dominican Republic they only use that word for the color itself.
Como tu ta? (Ko-mo-too-tah) — this is the Dominican slang of “How are you?” or “Como tu estas?” Dominicans tend to drop the “s” on words and other letters if they can so “gracias” becomes “gracia” and so on.
Cuarto (Quar-to)— this word means two different things depending on context. It can mean “room” as in rooms in a house or it can mean “money” as in “No tengo cuarto.” “I have no money”
Deja me (Dey-ha mey) — this means “leave me alone” which is useful when someone is offering ‘help’ when you don’t need it or generally bothering you.
Donde puede (Don-dey pwey-dey) — literally means “where you can” and it is used when traveling on local transport and want to be let off.
Embarazada (Em-bar-rah-zada) vs. Pregunta (Pre-goon-tah) — many Spanish words look like English words with a slight variation in spelling. “Tranquila” means almost the same as “tranquil”, “sofá” is in fact a “sofa”, “repetir” (rey-pet-ear) means “to repeat”. But these two words look like English words but mean something totally different. “Embarazada” looks a lot like “embarrassed” but it means, in fact, to be “pregnant” whereas “pregunta” looks a lot like the word “pregnant” but it means “question” as in “Tengo una pregunta.” = “I have a question.” Therefore it is important to be careful about guessing the word’s meaning just by appearance.
Equivocado (Eh-key-vo-ka-doe) — this is by far the most valuable word I learned in the Dominican Republic. It literally means “wrong” so it is useful if you are disputing an issue but by far the best use is when you receive a call meant for someone else. Explaining who you are and that the person they are looking for is not at that number, even if your Spanish is perfect, will not work. The person will keep talking and calling. But if you say “equivocado” they will hang up immediately and leave you be.
Frito (Free-tow) — this word literally means “fried” but is commonly used to describe fried plantains, also called “tostones”.
Galleta (Guy-etta) — this is a confusing word because depending on context can mean something completely different. It means “cracker” when talking about food, such as “galleta salada” = “saltine cracker” but it can also mean a “hit” or “slap” as in “me dio una galleta” = “he hit me”.
Guappo / Guappa (Gwap-po / Gwap-pa) — in all other Spanish speaking countries that I am aware of, this means “handsome” or “beautiful” as in “Un hombre guappo.” = “A handsome man.” but in the Dominican Republic it has a totally different meaning which is “angry”.
Guineo (Gee-nay-oh) —this is the word for “banana” in the Dominican Republic.
Habichuelas (Ah-bay-ee-chu-ay-las) — there are certain words in Dominican Spanish that are originally Taino words from the native people that originally settled this area. “Habichuelas” means “beans”, such as “habichuelas con arroz” = “beans and rice”. In other Spanish speaking countries the word for beans is “frijoles” but in the Dominican Republic “frijoles” is only used for fresh green beans “frijoles verdes”.
Lechoza (Ley-cho-zah) —this is the word for “papaya” in the Dominican Republic.
Nitido (Nee-tee-doe) — an expression to describe something really nice, perfect.
Que lo que? (Kay-low-kay) — a common greeting in the Dominican Republic. Literally it means “what is what?” but really means “What’s happening?”
Si Dios quiere (See Dee-os key-err-ay) — you hear this one a lot and it means “If God wants.” and it is used all the time when making plans or commitments. Seems more like an excuse to me but if you say to a Dominican “See you tomorrow at 8. ” They will nod and say “Si Dios quiere.” so if they don’t make it then I guess it was not in God’s plan…
Silve (Sill-vey) — this means “function” or “operational” as in “doesn’t work” = “no silve” and is used to explain just about everything that is wrong.
Tigere or Sanky (Tee-grr-ay or San-key) — see previous post, part 1
Tranquilo / Tranquila (Tran-key-low / Tran-key-lah) — this means “relaxed” and it a common answer for “how are you?” You can also combine it as “deja me tranquilo” to say “leave me in peace”.
VIna (Vie-nah) — this is a Dominican word that is used often to mean “thing” or “that” such as “dar me la vina” = “give me that thing” or also can mean “What a drag!” as in “Que vina!”
Ya (Jah) — this means a wide range of things from “stop” like if someone was bothering you, it can mean “that’s enough” if someone is pouring you a drink or offering more food, it also means that something is finished or completed like if someone asks if you have had dinner or if you need a taxi but already called one. This is especially useful when you don’t know past tenses of Spanish verbs.
There are also several words that started as brand names that have now become the word for the product no matter the brand, very much like “kleenex” is used to describe tissue in English. Some of these words are:
- Cloro = bleach
- Pamper = disposable diaper
- Mistoline = cleaner
- Jeepeta = any SUV
- Cornflake = cold cereal
Also, you will see some bad translations become the mainstream word or phrase used such as “Chicken Gordon Blue” is how “Chicken Cordon Blue” Is always written here and “gastronomy” is the word often used as the English word for “dining”, as the literal translation of the Spanish word “gastronomia”.
Posted on November 20, 2012
Above: Karan receiving the packet from the Consulate.
In the Dominican Republic, progress is like trying to go up a slide that is covered in molasses. The amount of effort it takes it do small things is insane. People don’t keep appointments, answer their phones, the phones don’t work, the signal is bad and you can’t connect, everything breaks down all the time, power goes out, the rain comes (which stops everything like it was a volcanic eruption), jobs are changed, responsibilities shifted, papers lost or not properly stamped, the wrong information is given or no information is given at all. Daily life in the Third World.
When you spend some time living in a Third World country, your expectations get worn down until you are surprised if anything works or gets done on time. You surrender to the obvious lack of control. That is where I was this morning. Being a holiday week, I awoke with the awareness that we had today and tomorrow to find out anything or the week was lost. Yesterday I had received a form email from the Consulate saying that they would respond to my inquiry within 48 hours. They wouldn’t and I knew that. My lawyer friend had emailed on Wednesday of last week and they still hadn’t responded to her.
I just couldn’t do nothing. On Friday a congressional aide inquired for us, a favor for a friend, and were told our petition was approved, yet we still had no word from the Consulate nor anything in writing. I had gotten excited so many times before, only to have my hopes dashed, that I needed more confirmation. My lawyer friend suggested we go to the Consulate the following morning with the information on the specific congressman and where they called. I emailed a follow up to the aide.
Meanwhile, we had already paid for the delivery of the visa in the passport on the date of the interview. The company is called DomEx (modeled after FedEx) and you get a tracking number. Karan suggested I check the tracking number to see if it showed anything. We had checked before and it showed the visa was in transit in the Consulate. Today, however, it showed the visa had been received on today’s date and was in process. We got excited but I still wasn’t sure what that meant so I called. I gave the lady at DomEx the tracking number and I said I wanted to find out the status. She then says that we can’t pick it up from the office because the courier had already left. I was still cautious about what that meant, unable to believe that the visa was, in fact, ready, so I ask when we can expect the package to be delivered and she said the package would be delivered today!
Part of the magic of this country is that after trudging up that molasses laden slide day after day, every once in a while you get a break, with no warning, and it feels like jet propulsion. It is actually just normal progress in the Western world but here it is all relative.
It was 10:30am when we got the news. We got the passport 4 hours later. While we waited we could not stop smiling but there was still a slight tension in the air. We didn’t want to be fooled. What if the passport came without the visa? What if it didn’t come? We knew these were foolish fears so we didn’t say them out loud. Instead we just smiled and waited, not able to eat or work. Finally at 2:30pm, Karan heard the gate open downstairs. Like two kids on Christmas morning we rushed to the window to see if it was the delivery man. It was.
There will be plenty more challenges in our lives but after this we are ready. We leave on Friday, one month to the day of my arrival. In all these days this trip, with all this stress, we have had only a few difficult hours between us. No relationship is perfect but after all we have been through, we do not sweat the small stuff.
Whew, feels good to be vindicated.