Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christmas in the DR

You don’t really realize how much of Christmas in the United States is based on consumption until you spend a Christmas in a country that can’t afford to do so. I worried for two weeks about what I should get for the families that are taking care of me but after a while my friend Cristian (who is in one of the families) notified me that no one gives presents for Christmas and only sometimes the children get toys. With that in mind I relaxed about giving gifts and went back to thinking about all the great gifts I was about to receive from the states (woohoo!). I stayed in my site over the Christmas Holiday and celebrated with Cristian’s family (I posted pictures on Picassa). The Christmas Eve feast that night was the same meal as the lunch we had earlier in the day and the same meal as the day before; Chicken, rice, beans and potato salad. However, the Christmas feast did feature beer. That was cool. At first, the family was sharing only one bottle between 5 of us and I thought about how moving it was to be with a family that could only afford one beer for five people. I felt like Scrooge for sitting in my apartment only an hour earlier counting the coins in my sack of money (I had about 300 pesos, that could buy four or five beers). I felt guilty and tried to explain to Cristian and his sister who Scrooge (and the Christmas Carol) was but they had no idea what I was talking about. Then I tried to explain who Scrooge McDuck (and the Ducktales cartoon) was, but they had no idea who Scrooge McDuck or Ducktales were either. Then I explained who Donald Duck was, they were still confused until I mentioned Mickey Mouse and they said “oh yeah, Pato Donnie” or something like that. I told them Scrooge was Pato Donnie’s uncle who was kind of a dick about money and then I went up to my apartment to get the sack of money. I went up and tended to Layla, the little dog I was watching, and returned with the 300 pesos after about fifteen minutes. When I got back, five people had turned into eight and one beer bottle turned into five beers, two bottles of Sangria and some mystery rum mixed drink that one of the uncles kept pushing me to drink. Well that’s better, I thought to myself. I threw in my dinero and five beers turned into eight and now everyone had one… even Tiny Tim.
The night went on and the family was pretty silly and everyone was having a good time. I brought out the digital camera and they went crazy. Picture after picture was taken and I didn’t mind at all. After a while the family members started to disappear, I guess it is the custom to do a tour of the barrio and visit the other families while they are having dinner. I got up and went to the latrine and when I came back everyone was gone. It was about 10:30 at night, I figured I had enough holiday magic and went home to watch Die Hard (the original one of course).
As for Christmas Day, it was pretty calm. Nobody really celebrates but everything is still closed. I ran out of dog food for the dog so we shared a Christmas breakfast (and lunch, and dinner for her) of biscuits with margarine. I talked to the family back home for about an hour, Blake for about a half hour and various members of the Beutler family for another 40 minutes or so. I felt like I had more conversation than I had in the past few Christmases combined. I took the dog for a long walk and made my way back to my apartment where I had planned to drink some extra Viejo Rum (the classy kind) and play some solitaire. I figured I would drink alone on Christmas just so I could say that I did; a “lame Christmas trump card” if you will. I sit down and deal out my first hand, mix a little of the rum with seven up and before I can even sit down I get a call from Kathy. She is in the next town over and apparently feels like being alone on Christmas is “depressing” and makes her “want to cry.” Whatever, I tell her, I guess you can come over here but I will have you know that you are ruining my crappy Christmas. That gives me about an hour to drink alone (it takes about a half an hour to get here and it takes Kathy a half an hour to get ready), long enough to still tell people in a couple years about how hard and depressing my Peace Corps experience could be.
As I try to sit down and be depressed, the lady from downstairs who is visiting from the east comes up and knocks on my door. She tells me that it is wrong to be alone on Christmas and she thinks I should come downstairs (for the record, she was totally making a pass at me. Apparently no one told her that as a volunteer I am just as broke as everyone else.) So I go downstairs where I expect to find the rest of her family. It was just her, which was awkward, and so we sat around and talked about how much money I made as a volunteer (not very much), and how much money I could be making back in the states as a chemist (10 times what I’m making here, but still not that much), and why I am not back in the states right now making that money (because living in the Caribbean is sweet… and sometimes I like helping people). Kathy shows up just in time, we go back up to my apartment and make a plan for the evening, she says that playing cards on Christmas and drinking would be kind of lame. I told her that was the point. She was not as excited about the cards and drinking so we decided to head down to the discoteca and break it down for a while. As we are leaving a forty-year-old bastard man/Tiguere (who will remain anonymous) sees us walking and picks us up and offers a ride to the Discoteca; his wife and baby are in the front seat so Kathy and I sit in the back. We pass the Discoteca and it’s closed but the Park should still have some dancing, he tells us. He also mentions that he is going to go out for a little while too. So we drop off the sweet little wife and baby and he takes us out to the park where we get a beer or two at the Colmado (bar/store). Kathy and I are standing there talking about whatever when the Bastard Man comes up to us with some hussy. He says something obnoxious like “this is mine” and then grabs the hussy in a very VERY inappropriate manner. Both Kathy’s and my own jaws drop as we struggle to believe what we just witnessed. He says something to me like “does that offend you? Are you some kind of homosexual?” I shake my head and say, “No, I am not a homosexual but in our culture you can’t go around recording women like that.” It turns out I was using the verb Grabar thinking it meant “To Grab” when it really means, “to record” (oops). As the native Spanish speaker, Kathy steps in to get my back and says, “What Chris is trying to say is that we think it is completely inappropriate to grab someone like that.” Then the hussy laughs at the two of us and says that it doesn’t matter because “this is hers” and then she grabs the Bastard in an equally inappropriate manner and the two of them start to laugh. “Wow, and this asshole just kissed his wife and baby good night fifteen minutes ago” I say to Kathy in English as the Bastard and the Hussy start to get a little kissy in front of us. With a polite smile on my face I told him that they both make me want to vomit (which over the past few weeks I have learned to master the conjugation of the verb vomitar). We shared a good, and uncomfortable laugh before announcing to the two that we were going to head to the other discoteca that was open. We went there and had a few bachata and marengue dances. The rest of the night was pretty uneventful.
On a side note, it is pretty funny that Bastard man has taken a liking to Kathy and is insisting that I bring her out again so that he can seduce her. What an ass.

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