After five hours of killing time in San Juan Airport, a feat which was harder than expected, it was finally time to board the flight to Santo Domingo. The contrast was immediate as soon as I stepped on to the plane — whereas the flight from Jacksonville to San Juan was basically geared to American travelers accompanied by Spanish translation, this flight was all Latino. Latin music pumped through the speakers, the passengers were noisy with laughter, the bags were oversized, their clothes too tight, in heels too tall and wearing makeup too thick. JetBlue did all its announcements in Spanish first with a side note in English. I was clearly in the minority. But in many ways I was more like them than I thought, perhaps not in taste of clothes, but in my connection to Latin culture. I was not a tourist, I was ‘aplatanada’ which means literally that I have eaten enough plantains to be considered Dominican.
Dominicans are very religious, Catholic specifically, but it is mostly for show. Still, they always cross themselves and do a silent prayer at takeoff and applaud and thank Jesus upon a safe landing. It is a ritual unique to their culture as far as I can tell and I am not sure if it stems from the awful American Airlines plane crash on November 12, 2001 from New York to Santo Domingo where all 260 people on board were killed plus five people on the ground. Or perhaps it is just from their general superstitious nature.
The flight was short, just over an hour, but the sky was dramatically lit with lightning as we approached the island. Flying above it, it felt like the bolts were signals from God, like some form of Morse Code, guiding us along the way. It wasn’t scary, the plane flew smooth, it was more ethereal and magical. As the lightning struck, the clouds were lit up like in in a rock show. The sky was a deep indigo but when lit up looked royal purple with orange and yellow hues in the clouds. Then, as we descended, we went through the clouds and the for a few seconds, as each cloud passed by, we were surrounded in a yellow-orange mist — the reflection of the plane’s lights on the clouds. I have never experienced anything quite like it.
I seemed to be the only one moved by the experience as the other passengers were eagerly waiting the chance to use their cell phones again or huddling under cover from the A/C. One comical aspect about Dominicans is that they will use anything to suit their purpose no matter how ridiculous it may be. I saw a woman who wrapped a hand towel over her shoulders to stay warm. She glanced at me and her expression contained no realization that she looked quite silly in the process.
The plane descended more and we hit the rain pouring down hard, streaking the windows. “Bienvenido” as they say here (welcome).
Finally we arrived and there was a mad dash by all passengers to be the first one to exit the plane even though the doors had not be opened yet and in fact the crew wanted everyone to stay in their seats. So a few managed to get their overhead bags and then were instructed to sit back in their seats, admonished like naughty children, and the overhead bins were closed one by one. Then the plane officially stopped and the punishment was lifted. The dash returned, resulting in complete chaos and no one, except for perhaps the first person in line, being able to move forward when the doors were finally opened. A minute later the chaos calmed down and a semblance of order resulted.
Customs was insignificant. I breezed through now that I am a resident. Soon I was greeting my ex off the exit ‘runway’.
Whenever I return to the Dominican Republic after a spell away it is an assault on the senses — so much noise, heat, smells, people moving about. Add to this assault, seeing my ex too. On the one hand I’m super excited, weak at the knees even, but on the other hand it is a tiny bit awkward as I adjust to his presence, a presence which is as intense as the country I’ve landed in, albeit in a totally different way.
But the awkwardness fades within the hour and I let my Americanness go. I am once again comfortable in my crazy upside down Dominicana world and firmly footed with my Indian sweetheart.
And the rain pounds down for hours…