Above: Dominican Republic carnival
When I know I’m leaving for Santo Domingo, at first I feel a panic. Of course I’m thrilled to go, but to leave my kids is hard. They are still so young, so fragile, like tissue paper dolls, and they need my guidance, my defense, and the ferocity of my love. I know they will be fine, in good hands with my mom, but to miss any moment with them is painful. Like the rapid tug of a bandaid off a skinned knee, I pull away.
Upon arriving in Santo Domingo I always feel too polished and clean, too update, too sophisticated, too American. Each time I come I have something new to wear or bring. Each time my life has advanced and matured but Santo Domingo seems the same. As a result, I feel more distance, more separation each time I come.
Everyone welcomes me…home. It is the taxi guy (taxista); the neighbors, the workers at the colmados… it’s as if they have been waiting too, counting the days, marking their calendar — measuring time by the milestones of my visits. Their interest is genuine, their friendliness sincere. For me, coming from a country where one can easily be invisible, their attention is disarming.
America is efficient, clean, organized, but also obvious, plain, often boring, and for those that are different, quite lonely. By contrast, the Dominican Republic is disorganized and loud, dirty and maddening, but also colorful, musical and joyful. One is accepted, no matter your shape or size, but never unnoticed.
When it is time to leave, I feel a different panic. Of course I’m excited to see my kids but it kills me to leave. But the pull of my fragile little darlings carries me back.
By contrast, when I returned to the U.S., after nearly two weeks back in Santo Domingo, now fully adjusted to my other “aplatanada” self, I felt too different, too colorful, too “international”. Everything seemed duller, boring, without oomph, predictable. I grieved for my latina side, knowing I won’t be needing my Spanish much nor my Santo Domingo travel skills. This side will need to wait until the next time she can come to life.
When I got to Orlando, there was no one to greet me, no warm embrace. I just fished my shuttle ticket out of my bag, called them and they took me to my car, Nearly three hours of driving later (got a little turned around trying to follow my travel directions in reverse), I arrived to “home” at my mother’s house in St. Augustine. Although with more comforts than Santo Domingo, it felt less like home to me.
I entered an my mom was still up. She said hi. She didn’t get up, no meal was waiting, I just merged back it. Nothing unusual, I was just different.
In my mom’s house there are only two beds so when we are all there, I share the bed with my four-year old daughter and my mother shares her bigger bed with my seven year old son. However, when either my mom or I are away, the kids sleep together. Before I left I talked to mom about making sure that the night I came home she would have Marcos sleep with her so would be room for me with Elsa. “Of course” she says. But when I arrived I saw that the kids were sleeping together — no preparations for had been made. I would have to sleep on the couch which was not appealing after a long day.
It turned out not to be a big deal, mom moved Marcos in her bed with minor grumbling. But still, it was symbolic of the difference compared to Santo Domingo. There I had been considered, prepared for. Back in the U.S. however, I came “home” feeling like an interloper, having to put mom out just to get some rest.
It wasn’t intentional of course but it is indicative of the self-less versus self-sufficient attitude that I’ve written about. Right now, just a few days back, I feel like a foreigner in my own country.
The feeling will pass in about a week and once again life here will feel normal. I will not expect warm embraces or for strangers to be interested in my comings and goings. I will be come invisible again.