What Country Am I In?
My life in the States is like many others who are middle-income and raising children. I wake up early to get my kids on the school bus. I work hard when they are in school. After school I juggle their activities, my remaining work and dinnertime. Bedtime finally comes and after I work a little more. Then finally a little rest before I go to sleep, only to wake and do it all again. It is a long day, 14+ hours before I get any downtime. My ability to do all this, especially as a single parent, which is what I have been while my ex has been waiting for the visa, is because of the efficiency of the United States. As long as the bills are paid, I don’t have to worry about electricity, water or maintenance. The roads are in good condition so I can get to where I want to go quickly. Everything works, simply works.
I live that full, busy life without barely a moment to spare, squeezing in quick calls to the Dominican Republic, and then suddenly everything changes.
When I arrive, I suddenly have the feeling that I’m in a place that only exists for me, a Tim Burton vision as it were, for the cultures in my family have all merged together into something new. Arriving in Santo Domingo, I pass through customs quickly because I am American. In the five days that follow, as we wait for the visa interview date to arrive, it was my American sense of order and double checking that ensures we have our paperwork ready. Next door to our apartment building is a shop that builds, of all things, race cars — just what every residential district needs is the sound of revving engines — and from morning to night they blare American pop music from the 1990s – today. Another apartment blares Salsa music but only on the days after payday, the 15th and 30th of the month. Inside our apartment my ex listens to Tamil music and watchs Tamil comedy shows or movies. The food we eat is a combination of Indian and Dominican: fish curry and white rice with a side of fried plantains for example. At night we often drink cerveza Presidente (beer), a Dominican national treasure, and in the morning we pray to Hindu deities. Talk about culture clash.
One show my ex became particularly enamored with was called Tamil Super Star: Super Singer Junior 3, sponsored by Candyman Double Chocolate Eclairs who’s slogan is “No more waiting for chocolating!” It is basically like American Idol but for the Tamil culture. For a Western viewer like myself it couldn’t be more different. Here is a video of the season’s winner.
For the finale they had a guest judge, A.R. Rahman, a native of Tamil Nadu who has achieve near god-like status in his home region. He is the music director who composed the soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire and won an Oscar. He is a local boy done his hometown proud.
Over several days my ex watches the show, catching up to the present day. He had been following it online before I arrived but then his laptop had problems and stopped working. So there I was, in the Dominican Republic, waiting for our interview at the American Consulate, listening to Dominican music next door, and watching Tamil Super Star online. Every day it has been this mix, a confusing combination, a combination that at first made no sense but now as the days go by, is starting to seem somewhat normal.
As different as these three cultures are, there are also far more similarities than one would expect. I have been blessed, I feel, with the opportunity to experience these different cultures first hand, and, as a result, see where they cross and where they connect. America is a melting pot with most Americans being a mixture of many heritages. I am an Anglo-Saxon mutt: Scottish, Irish, English, Scandinavian with a dash of German. I can trace my Scottish roots to my clan but that is still just one part of me. I grew up feeling like a ship without a rudder, no real roots to grab on to, just latching onto my Scottish roots like the pick of the litter. I longed to feel a part of a greater history in a clearly traceable way. Now, my personal heritage has not change but my family has. My children have half of my mix and half Dominican, a clearly defined culture. My ex is from the oldest living classical culture, able to trace his roots back thousands of years. Through them I am finally able to steer my ship.
So as these cultures combine, I am able to experience them directly but also step back and see them as an outsider. From this perspective I can see not only how different we are but also how similar. Mother Nature already knows this. She does not distinguish between national borders or cultural differences. Case in point, while Hurricane Sandy was battering New York City, United States — my hometown, Cyclone Nilam was drenching Chennai, India — my ex’s hometown. The same basic weather systems affecting two cultures in my family in two parts of the world at the same time.
Similar weather systems is just one example of how we are all one people, one world, but the parallels don’t stop there. Take food, for example, one of my favorite topics, the empanada is a Dominican turnover filled with meat and cheese, a samosa is an Indian turnover filled with potato and spices — different but the same. Add to this the calzone, knish, perogie, meat pie, all variations of the same basic food. For that is what we are really, as a people, variations — not different, not unique, just the same but with a different flavor, spice, or filling.
I have spent nearly two weeks in Santo Domingo and I expect to be here another two as we await the Consulate to return my ex’s passport with the visa. I don’t have to stay but I want to, even though is a sacrifice, to ensure that we both get to the United States without further problems. So while I wait, I have the gift of time, being far away from my hectic schedule in the United States, and plenty of inspiration to write down as I dance with the combing cultures that surround me.