So Monday was one of those you-know-when-you-live-in-the-Dominican-Republic days. It started how most mornings do here – roosters crowing, kids in uniforms vocear-ing my name while they pass by my window on their way to school, the water truck blaring its horn, neighbors impatiently tapping their pesos on the counter of the colmado to get Pepelo’s attention to sell them a sobre of coffee which they will brew with spoonfuls of sugar and serve in tiny cups, my cat jumping down on top of my mosquito net after having finished his night shift of patrolling the tops of the blocks wall for mice, music blasting too loudly and too early considering the sun is still peaking out from behind sugar cane and plantain trees back-dropped by the thirsty, southern mountains – busy, but still somewhat peaceful. I’m normally a night owl, but I’ve been waking up earlier here for a number of reasons lately, primarily because it’s simply too hot or loud to sleep any later than 8. For those of you that read A Day in the Life post, no I’m not still waking up to walk at 5:15.
I made coffee, fed my cat Mio (who P.S. rode in a backpack on the back of a motorcycle with me to go get vaccinated), filled up some buckets to wash dishes that I should have done the night before but had no water to do so, ate a banana, swept my kitchen and living room, and packed a bag to head to the capital. La Cabrita is promoting their products at an agricultural fair there, so I decided to make the trip to support them and also visit the Peace Corps office.
I gave the keys to my neighbors so they could feed Mio in the morning, and started walking towards the bus stop. My landlord passed and offered me a bola to the cruce, saving me from having to pay a concho 25 pesos. I waited at the cruce, chatting with the motoconchos, until a bus heading to Santo Domingo passed by about 20 minutes later. I got on, saludar-ing a good morning to everyone (it’d be rude not to), and found my way back to the cocina (literally, the kitchen, because it gets so hot).
Not too long into our trip, the bus slowed. I noticed that a large tree branch was in the middle of the road and thought that maybe it had fallen from the nearby tree. Then I remembered that palm trees don’t really have branches. The burning tire it was next to was also a red flag. A strike was brewing. Cool.
None of the passengers, myself included, really knew what to make of the situation. There were only about 4 young-looking guys that were holding up traffic on the main road connecting Barahona to the capital. But it was no big deal. People were talking quietly amongst themselves, some closing their eyes and waiting patiently, others shaking their heads at the fact that it had been over a half hour since the strike started and the police still hadn’t shown up. After almost an hour of waiting, the guagua charged ahead, turning past the angry youth armed with rocks and detoured through a sleepy town whose citizens either didn’t know but most likely didn’t care that a strike with an unknown cause was taking place.
Normal. A strike, albeit small, sets up camp in front of our guagua, and no one blinks an eye. But, there we were, on our merry way to the capital, so it was no use dwelling on the matter. I looked around at my fellow passengers and was both amused and comforted by their nonchalantness.
Public transportation here is an experience. It’s often crowded, hot, and too long of a trip, but it can get you to any corner of the country and you normally have one or two new best friends by time you get to your destination. Plus, if you’re on a guagua ride that last longer than a couple hours, you’ll most likely stop for Pica Pollo. Pica-what? Pica pollo. Fried chicken, people; normally served with tostones (twice-fried green plantain goodness). And let me tell you, Dominicans are serious about their fried chicken. I’ve been at a rest area as early as 7am, and people were feasting on Pica Pollo for breakfast.
Anyway, after watching the passengers on the guagua react so casually to the strike, I reflected on some of the typical characters that normally accompany you on a guagua:
- The doña: sweet as sugar but still tough as nails. This lady is your new best friend; she will expose her life story, help you with directions, and share her pica pollo with you.
- The tiguere/creeper: stares at you for most of the ride, blowing kisses at you when you look in his direction. Often carrying a pillowcase with a rooster inside.
- Young mother with child: if you sit too close, you might be in charge of rocking her baby to sleep.
- The militar: in uniform, and on his way to guard a building while holding a gun that is way too big for him considering his education level.
- The singer: can be male or female. Sings along with the songs out loud (regardless of being tone deaf) for the entire duration of the trip
- The diva: also can be male or female. Applies make-up and/or perfume, cuts nails, or shaves beard while en route.
- The Haitian: might have legal Dominican citizenship, but at a military checkpoint, they are most likely asked for their documents or to get off the bus if they don’t have them because of their darker complexion. Is sometimes able to offer the policia a bribe to let them continue, otherwise they are left on the side of the highway.
- The discussers: Often Dominican men over the age of 40, but can be anyone interested in having a heated discussion about any topic (regardless of how much they actually know about the subject or not). Sometimes interesting to eavesdrop on, but most times I find myself just rolling my eyes.
- The cobrador: not a passenger, but rather the chauffer’s assistant. He charges people for the bus fare, and alerts the driver to make stops. If you give him pesos he will stop the guagua to buy you what you ask him to (a pain in the butt when other people do it, but awfully convenient when you need a bottle of water).
So long story short, these characters and I arrived safely to the capital. I got off, wishing them a good rest of their trip, and headed to the office where I got a birthday package from my mom (thanks Mindles!!) and found out the Internet wasn’t working. I had planned on working on the Courts for Kids budget, so I headed over to the coordinator’s apartment to get his help and use his WiFi. His roommates (former PCVs but now enjoying getting paid in dollars) treated me to an awesome meal, offered for me to crash on their couch, and invited me out for ice cream. Needless to say, I obliged, enjoyed the conversation, and fell asleep satisfied with the day’s adventures.
I wouldn’t consider myself an uptight person, but this country has certainly helped me to become more spontaneous; I’ve learned to coger lo suave, as the Dominicans say – to take it easy, put it in “God’s hands”, relax, fly by the seat of my pants, play it by ear, and roll with the punches. I think if you didn’t stick to this philosophy, especially while working and trying to measure progress in the DR, you might drive yourself crazy. On the other hand, if one doesn’t learn to just “wait it out”, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on some adventurous and/or rewarding opportunities that you weren’t expecting to have experienced by the end of the day.
Yesterday I ventured over to the Feria Agropecuario, an agricultural fair where La Cabrita was showcasing their product. It was huge! Much bigger and more professionally organized than I had expected. The atmosphere was not unlike your typical Vermont fall fair, except replace the country music with bachata, fried dough with empanadas or pica pollo, candied apples with homemade dulces (I bought one made with squash and coconut), foliaged maple trees with coconut-laden palms, and Budweiser with Presidente (the factory is conveniently located right down the road). Both the president and treasurer of La Cabrita were there representing the association, sharing a booth with three other organizations that had also received a loan from FEDA (Fondo Especial para el Desarrollo Agropecuario – Special Fund for Agricultural Development). Since being there on Saturday, they had sold a good majority of their product; Rosiris, the president, will stay in the capital until Sunday when the fair ends. The socios and I have finally talked things through and we’ve reached an understanding, so I’m looking forward to begin attending meetings again, continue helping them with their label (they’re still in the process of achieving sanitary registration), and collaborating with them on the commercialization of their tasty (and after witnessing their recognition at the fair, popular!) products.