Dead pigs, el Tigueres, & the Revenge of the Ford Aerostar

Last night, I did not sleep well. I have not yet adjusted to being awake in the morning and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I find that I do not like going to bed – for fear that I will miss something important or exciting, and once I am in bed, I do not like to get up. The first night that I was here was after a full day of traveling and stress, so sleep was easy, but last night I knew I needed the sleep, but ended up lying in bed for hours. Not sleeping, needless to say. This morning, after falling asleep a mere two hours previous, I woke to heat that I couldn’t believe. It was hot. Much hotter than the previous day – and it was only 8am! Pastor Mario had warned me that the first day we were here was a cool one, and I didn’t believe him. Silly me.

Right from the beginning I had to tackle a difficult task. Being as it was so warm, I knew that I would not be able to wear jeans again (like on the first day), which presented a problem. I needed to shave my legs.

This is not a difficult thing, you say? Try shaving your legs in a shower that measures a mere two feet by two feet and in which the water is only freezing or scalding. (The water has a knob to turn it “on” and the water heater is also either “on” or “off” – no degrees of warmth here!) Since it is so hot and there is no air conditioning in the house, the cold water isn’t too much of a problem. The size of the shower, and where to put my leg while I try to shave it, however, is. You should also keep in mind that in such a small shower there is no option to step out of the water, for any reason, without stepping out of the shower entirely. This makes lathering up one’s leg enough to shave it without removing large sections of skin rather difficult. Finally, after many failed attempts and positions, I ended up opening one side of the shower curtain, letting the water get absolutely everywhere, and propping my leg up on the toilet. (Classy, I know.)

After my adventures in the shower, getting dressed, and a light breakfast, I rode with Pastor Mario to his office in  the Center of Ministries. This is a small complex off of the main road that is gated and houses offices, a small yard, and a private school for children and youth of all ages. (The public schools here are very bad, and people try if at all possible not to send their children there) Here, while Pastor Mario checked and answered emails, I wandered around with my sketch book and drew. I ventured outside of the center and walked down the road (through houses and some small shops) toward the main highway. I have been discovering over the last couple of days that here, in the Dominican Republic, I am hot. I don’t know whether it’s because I actually am particularly attractive in this culture, or because I am American (Jill says it’s because I must give off a “solicit me” vibe), but everywhere I go, men hit on me. Today, while I was walking down the road I was stopped by four different men who asked me for my phone number, told me I was beautiful, or, in one man’s suave words – “I like you much.” One of these men had a tricked out car, fancy clothes (compared to many) and seemed very clever, so to speak. I later learned that these types of men are referred to as “el Tigueres” – or Tigers. From what I can gather, these types of men are usually older and slick – not unlike women who are considered cougars in the United States.

After I made it back to Pastor Mario’s office having successfully avoided the “come ons” of the morning, he drove me to the house where Jill is staying. We were to have lunch with a woman from the church and her family. On the way, we got stuck in traffic. Here, I must say something about the transportation in Santo Domingo. It is crazy. I have driven in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, and experienced the traffic in London and Paris. Nothing compares to the amount of vehicles and the lack of  regard for any sort of traffic law that is here. The highways are wide (like ours) and the streets are narrow, often with cars parked on one or both sides or ditches on either side. In neither of these cases are their lines marking the streets. A lane is designated by where one can fit his or her car on (and sometimes off) the street. Drivers ignore traffic lights, intersections, and speed limits. When you are in a car – especially during traffic hours which are in the morning around nine, in the afternoon around eleven or twelve, and in the evening around five or six, you are literally surrounded by a sea of cars that, at a glance, seem to have been sporadically dropped there by some unseen hand. Cars often hit other cars, in fact, it is expected, but no one stops. Even Pastor Mario commented at one point (as we sat partially between two larger trucks with not quite enough room to get by), “If those were older cars, I would try to squeeze through.” (Newer cars signify money, which means power. Drivers avoid hitting newer cars because then the law may actually do something about it)

Do you remember the Ford Aerostar? That awful minivan that graced the streets of the United States for a few years in the eighties and nineties? Well, if you were wondering where they all went at the turn of the millenium, they are all in the Dominican Republic. Imagine my surprise as we drove by one of the many Ford Aerostars (some hardly recognizable from dents, scrapes, and creative welding) with more people than one could count inside. So many that many of them careen down the streets and scrape through traffic with people hanging out of open sliding doors and open windows. Likewise, taxis and cars fit seven people (more if we’re talking about children) in what we would consider a five passenger car. Men, women, and children ride in the back of pick up trucks and on the back of motorbikes (they look a lot like our dirt bikes. And carry two to four people on the back!)

While Pastor Mario and I were driving through the afternoon traffic on the way to lunch, we got stuck in traffic like this on the highway.  And, with my luck, next to a truck transporting pigs. I mention this for two reasons – one to make a point in the differences in my and Pastor Mario’s reactions, and for all of you who may think that PETA exaggerates about factory farming. In the United States, the horrors of factory farming are often hidden in a way that makes many of us wonder if it is actually a problem. Here, that is not the case. As the truck drove slowly beside us, I was openly horrified at what I saw. This was a two tier truck, with pigs on both levels. On each level, the pigs were stacked two high. On the bottom layer, many of the pigs were dead or unconscious. On the top layer, they were alive and scrambling to move, many of them crushing other pigs in the process. Some of them were bleeding, several were throwing up, and the pigs on the top level had blisters all over them from the sun. It pained me to see it. Pastor Mario, on the other hand, simply waved his hand and said “There goes our meat.” When I mentioned that I thought it was a shame that they had to suffer like that, he merely launched into a story about how he killed a goat when he was younger. It was an interesting cultural comparison.

The rest of the day was spent having lunch with Jill, Ceceilia, her husband Fernando, and their two boys aged 12 and 15. They have a beautiful apartment in the city with large windows and a lot of light. For lunch we ate rice and beans with chicken and bananas. After we drank coffee and talked. One of their sons had a guitar, so I played a few songs for them and they asked Jill and I if we would sing in the church before we left (to which we agreed, of course!) Frances (the pastor of Casa Joven) and his wide, Loly picked us up in late afternoon and drove us around some parts of the city – including el Zona Colonial, which is a section of the city that is considered historic (it contains the house of Christopher Columbus) and is home to many artists, shops, and cafes. It is my favorite section of the city so far.

This evening we met in  large building in the center of the city to have a meeting with Frances, Loly, and Pastor Mario about our work while we are here, their current relationship with the sex workers (the socially correct term for “prostitutes”), our timeline, and all of the questions and concerns from all parties. It was a productive meeting and definitely cleared up some of our concerns, which surrounded transportation, the distance we are living from each other, and communication.

Finally we had dinner with Anielsa and her husband (one of the women from Casa Joven who picked us up form the airport), along with Frances and Loly. This was probably the first time that we actually relaxed and had pure fun. There was a lot of laughter, joking, and talking in both English and Spanish. They spoke to us about everything, taught us some of the local slang from the city, and the entire meal was very comfortable. I feel much better about being here today than I did the day before, and I am quickly becoming more comfortable with the language. I think this will be a wonderful experience and I am excited to be in this country and to share this wonderful culture with so many good people.

Tomorrow night we will be on the streets with Casa Joven meeting and spending time with the sex workers as they work. It will be a long day, but I will try and post the morning after.

Buenos noches!

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