After Christmas, or any other holiday, I like to hit the road and see the south for a while. It’s a part of the country that is so different from my neck of the woods that it feels like a whole new Peace Corps experience. Getting down there is the biggest cost, about 20 bucks either way, while everything else is dirt-cheap. And dirt is pretty cheap in the south because it never seems to grow anything. Actually that is probably the lack of rain’s fault.
My first stop was a small campo where my good-natured and slightly corny friend Timo lives. I make a point to spend some time with him when I make it to the south because he has the “real” campo experience (i.e. no electricity and lots of rats). We had a good time running around his tropical jungle for a couple days. His town has all the details to give him street credit among the environment volunteers but in reality I compare the town to that of Spectre in the movie Big Fish; everyone loves that you are there and you have to take of your shoes. His biggest complaint is that the town was built by an NGO a decade or so ago and when they built the little village they put a lot of people together that shouldn’t be together. His town is divided amongst the Evangelical Christian families and the more naughty families. First we went to the gallera, the make shift cock fighting arena that is run by the Naughty families. We had an early lunch of pork and boiled bananas and hung out with the group of old men who hang out there on Saturdays. They offered us a drink, and Timo informed me that it was his first mixed drink he had ever drank in his site (Timo is a little better behaved than I). The mixed drink was beer and Haitian Moonshine, we had about a cup of it before we had to leave. Off we went to the Evangelicals, smelling a little like cheap alcohol, to play some dominos and hit the river to do some crabbing. We played the typical, US vs. DR game of dominos and tied at one game apiece. We then wandered around a river for 2.5 hours while Tim and his Dominican friend stuck their arms down holes in the river bed. The friend dug up 9 or 10 large crabs, Timo did not have much luck and my job was to follow behind holding a bag to put them in, I’m from the city and delicate. I couldn’t help but be blown away by the fact that we were going to eat something from the river by his house, I compared it to the river of black water in my site that I am afraid to stand close to for fear that I will inhale a neighbor’s shit. It felt good. We came home and had plenty of time to play a couple games of chess and some connect four (Tim and I are evenly matched at chess, but I kicked his ass at Connect Four. I give credit for Connect Four to Vermont Hills Daycare ages 3 through 11) while the neighbors cooked the crab. It was good stuff except it is the Dominican custom to eat anything on the crab you can chew, I looked like a sissy as I picked it apart delicately with the one fork his neighbors had available, no wonder they had me carrying the bag all day.
The next day we went to visit Tim’s girlfriend Kim, and yes, they get a lot of crap for their names rhyming. Her host family cooked us some lunch. It was delicious, and free. I ate until I almost exploded. We then went to a tiny “luxury” resort that was rumored to have hosted the Dominican actress who flies the helicopter in that Avatar movie who none of us can ever remember her name. Apparently she pushed someone into the pool, in a playful manner. At least that’s what someone told me the tabloids said, but people talk out of their ass a lot down here (myself included) so that could be completely untrue. We met up with another volunteer who was showing some friends around the country. The other volunteer is one of the “Batey Girls,” a group that gets the most Street Credit among volunteers because a Batey is essentially a Haitian slum in the middle of a sugar cane field in the middle of nowhere. She described my site to her friend as “really nice.” I tagged along to see the Batey and was amazed to see the Peace Corps experience I had always imagined. It looked like Africa, or one of the villages from the beginning of City of God. They spoke both Spanish and French Creole. The two foreign languages made an American twice as easy to make fun of, and I am pretty sure I was made fun of; I just wish I knew for what. All her site was missing was a river of black water, but that is only because the site was missing a river. She was living a more luxurious life than most because she actually had a latrine; most people just used the cane fields. I used the latrine, it was not a classy sit-down latrine like in Joel’s site; it was a “hike the football stance” type like in Michal’s site. Next time I am just going to hold it. I left the Batey half wishing that I could have been put in a site like that and half wondering if I could have survived it. My site being described as “really nice” struck a chord for me. I guess my consolation is knowing that we all have our different challenges, currently mine is my neighbor blaring some sort of Spanish cover to the Pretender’s “Back on the Chain Gang” at 10 PM as I write this. I probably couldn’t handle learning Creole and being crawled on by rats, but maybe she couldn’t handle Latin American artists butchering some of the 80’s greatest hits on a nightly basis.
The Batey was my last stop in the south, from there I returned to the capital and headed back up north to celebrate New Years with a bunch of volunteers in a tourist town outside of Puerta Plata. It was lovely, there were fire works.