Dominican Republic Week 2

Day 1 – Wednesday 23 March 2011
Today I headed off to the capital, Santo Domingo, with my neighbours Sylvia & Amanda and Sylvia’s son Jorgito. We took the bus there and it was a pretty uneventful ride except for the dirty old man who kept hitting on every female in sight. We got to Santo Domingo and met up with Sylvia’s daughter Carla who is attending University there. We instantly recognised each other and hugged profusely. Spent the day tagging along as they all ran errands and then returned to Bonao.

In the evening I sat with Doña Glady, as is becoming custom, and she shared a story with me about when my mother was young. Apparently when Doña Glady’s first son, Carlito, was born my mother went crazy for him. She was probably around 10 at the time and would love coming over to take care of him, change his diaper, feed him etc. When he was 2 she insisted that she be allowed to take him to school with her. Doña Glady obviously said no but my mother insisted and would not let up. My own grandmother was tiring of hearing her talk about it. And so to appease her Doña Glady and my grandmother agreed to let her take the child to school, but they were close behind her all the way and waited at the school’s entrance for the inevitable return of the baby. The entire school day passed (mind you kids left school at noon) and my mother exited with Carlito in hand.

Everyone was astonished when she asked if she could bring him again tomorrow. The following week Carlito had his own notebook and pencil and stayed in school from that point forward. He graduated from secondary school at about age 14. He went on to University and for his graduation had asked if my mother could be his Patron (which is custom here for big events) but my mother, who hadn’t finished secondary school herself, was living abroad at the time (in Venezuela) and could not attend.

When I walked home a man with glowing red eyes was standing in the middle of the road at the end of the street. He stared directly at me. I tried not to look at him directly but kept him in my line of vision as I tried to unlock my front gate. The key always gives me trouble and I could tell that the man was staying perfectly still. I eventually got through the gate and quickly locked it behind me, got into the house and made sure it was barricaded shut.


Day 2 – Thursday 24 March 2011

I’ve noticed that I don’t really need to leave my house here for things to happen and for information to be revealed. As I sat on my porch, as I do every morning, a man approached the front gate and proceeded to let himself in. I reacted quickly but saw that it was my Tío Benjamin sprouting a silly grin on his face and so I jumped up screaming Tío and gave him a big hug. He seemed especially pleased to see me, the last time I saw him I was 16 and so it has been 10 years. He lived in Manhattan with his wife, my Tía Tata, the whole time I was growing up so I saw them fairly regularly.

I asked if he has been in Bonao long but he said he’s only been here a few days and will be returning to New York soon.

It is such a surprise to find you here Christopher, like a present landing in my lap.

And that’s when the unease sank in. Before I could even ask where Tía was he told me so you know that Tata and I are divorced right? Ok, so this man who is only related to me by that particular marriage has come to see me for who knows what, in fact how did he even know I was here?

I was in shock, this is one of the things I hate about my mother. The secrets she keeps from me – why did I not know about the divorce? This was a trap I needn’t have walked so easily into. I didn’t even have to speak as he went on a tirade of what a wife is supposed to be, and blah blah blah he was talking like a crazy man.

And since you didn’t know about any of it you probably also don’t know that it was all your mother’s fault.

Bam there it was, the bullet of why he was here. Christopher you’re a good person, not like your brothers, and I know that God has sent you to me to make things right. I have been searching for you for the last 10 years but no one would tell me where you were. When you left for University no one would tell me where you were.

Wait a minute, the separation happened in 2008, I left for University in 2002. Why has he been searching for me for 10 years? And more importantly why has my family been keeping me hidden from him? And how the hell did he know I was here?

So he went on with his rant and all I could think about was how do I get this man out of my house? At the end of his speech he asked me for my phone number so I excused myself and returned with a piece of paper and a pen and asked him for his and thanked him for coming and went and opened the door. As he walked out he turned to me and said call me, maybe you can come over for the weekend or something. And finally like planting a seed: alienate yourself Christopher, alienate yourself from that family. You’re a good man Christopher, always have been.

I immediately called my mother and told her everything he said (I am omitting many details here) and in the calmest voice I have ever witnessed come out of her she said. Stay away from him, he’s crazy.

Tío Benjamin has been crazy his whole life, I just never noticed it. He was a school teacher her in Bonao before marrying my aunt and moving to NYC. He was notorious for sticking kids heads in toilets and proclaiming ‘Be Gone Devil’ or so my cousins tell me. My mother explained all, he cheated on my aunt with a man who was renting out a room from them. The man lived with them for years… even after she caught them in bed together, he threatened her if she ever spoke a word and so she carried on living in shame, with her husband and his lover. In 2008 my aunt had confided in my mother (her cousin – we call our parents cousins our aunts and uncles) of what had happened. It just so happened that at the same time he was having a bit of an argument over money with my mom and from how he was treating my mom my aunt reacted – she had enough and filed for divorce.

Benjamin went insane at this point, he lost everything in the divorce and since my aunt was the one with a retirement account he set out to claim what he thought was his. He came to the DR where the account was held and cleaned her out (his name was still on the account as her husband). My aunt was left dry but he didn’t stop there. He started threatening my mother, stating that he was going to take her house (in DR) as his payment for what she had done and he proceeded to put a Maldicíon on our house in NYC. For you non-Dominicans a Maldicíon is a damnation – a curse. My mother would come home or wake up and constantly find faeces spread all over the front steps. Profanity written on the door. My mother made it clear – do not let him into the house.

My mother got a restraining order put on him and thought she had heard the last. She told me to call my cousins and warn them and make sure they did not let him into their house, there’s no knowing what he wants or is capable of doing. So I called Johan, as I knew that Ambiorix was in the capital today. He had seen Benjamin.

Benjamin had given him the same speech but he made another point – he was here to take my mother’s house and demanded the deed. My cousin stated that only his father (my Tío who is currently living in NYC with my mother) had it. Benjamin had no idea my uncle was in NYC (as he’s been completely cut off from family information) and then he asked… do you know how to get in touch with Christopher? I have been looking for him for the last ten years.

My poor cousin Johan, who can not lie to save his life, stated but he is here. And that’s all Benjamin needed.

I have no idea what this man truly wants of me but I can assume. He wants to hurt my mother that is for sure, and I might just be his avenue to do it.

Day 3 – Friday 25 March 2011
Today started off simple enough. Went through my morning routine as normal and as I sat on the porch I was visited by my Tío Franklin, my fathers brother. Considering how he acted towards me on his previous visit I was surprised he came back. He had a teenage boy on the back of his moto, who I presume was his son, but whom he did not introduce me to.

He asked if Ingrid (more on her in day 4) had come to see me yet and I said no. I knew I was seeing her tomorrow but I told him she might come by Saturday or Sunday but I wasn’t sure. He said I should have the neighbours get in touch with him should she come, but he did not give me his number so that I could contact him.

Just as he was about to ride off he asked when I was coming to visit him and I said when you come pick me up. He rode off saying I should have someone take me to him. I felt it bubble up inside me like an acidic heartburn.

Hate.

Later in the afternoon I sat with Doña Glady who told me the story of when she first met my grandmother. When Glady was a teenage girl she would constantly have to buy stockings to go along with her school uniform. She was always ruining them. She met a young woman (my grandmother) who was selling stockings door to door as she was recently widowed and had a mess of kids to take care of. The two developed a friendly relationship and later when Doña Glady got married she moved into the house that just so happened to be next door to my grandmother. They have been neighbours and close friends ever since.

In the evening I went over to Ambiorix and Johan’s house for dinner. The power was out and so Johan and I walked around outside while Ambiorix cooked in the dark. As we walked Johan turned to me and said I want to talk to you about something because I feel like you’re not being yourself with me. I knew what he was getting at but I asked him to elaborate.


I want you to know that you’re my cousin and I care for you regardless.

I know.

You don’t like women do you?

No.

You’re my cousin and I care for you very much. You should make some new friends here, I hear your kind of people hang out at the park at night. You should go.

Oh Johan. (you ignorant yet beautiful fool)

I smiled and in that moment all the anger I had felt today was gone.


That’s part of the reason why we have to hide you from Benjamin isn’t it?


Day 4 – Saturday 26 March 2011

In the morning, just after eating breakfast I sat on the porch as I do every morning. I could already feel the teeth grinning at me and I as looked up Benjamin let himself in through the front gate. I got up and closed the door to the house. He was not getting in and now he knew it. He didn’t fuss though and proceeded to sit in one of the rocking chairs. I sighed and sat down but didn’t say a word. We sat in silence for what felt like 3 hours and then he broke the silence talking about the importance of family. Such a nice change from the last thing he told me just two days before. I didn’t respond and he then proceeded to say that he came to pick me up so we could have a drink or lunch somewhere. I told him I couldn’t as I already had plans the whole weekend and then he got upset. He ranted for a good 20 minutes on how we watched me grow up and how he wanted to spend some time with me since it’s been so long. Then he offered me money. RD$2000 to be exact.

I rejected it.

You’re not the same kid I remember from 10 years ago.

No, I’m not.

If you reject this money, then you’re rejecting me.

If you wish to see it that way.

What have I done to deserve such treatment? I am your family.

(No you’re not) I’m not treating you no differently than I would anyone else. I don’t need your money, thank you very much.

His eyes got teary and got up to leave. I walked to the gate and closed it behind him.

He now knows where I stand and that I’m not going to play his game. His plans have been fouled, whatever they may have been, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing him again. Not tomorrow or the next day but perhaps 10 years from now.

I wasn’t too fussed about Benjamin, especially since I had an overnight bag packed and I was off to Cotuí, the village where my mother was born.

I was off to visit my Tía Ingrid, the woman who took care of me when I was shipped off to DR at the age of 6 months. I was diagnosed with Asthma and since my mother was on her own, she could not afford to take care of me – especially since she had long hours at the clothing factory where she worked. Ingrid was the typical daughter of a Campesino (peasant) family who was sent away at the age of 7 to live and work for a more affluent family. She lived and worked in my grandmothers house up until she was 18, although not related by blood she was raised alongside my mother and so they are like sisters. That makes her my Tía.

I took a guagua (a small bus that seats 9 but is crammed with at least 15 - 20 passengers) to Maimon (my grandmother’s birthplace) where I took another guagua to Cotuí. The bus stop in both Bonao and Maimon was unmarked and I simply sat at a corner until it showed up.

The visit was supposed to be simple, a day spent in the village with Ingrid and her family. Younger cousins which I haven’t seen since they were babies. But of course this trip is all about uncovering the truth and discovering new things that were never even on my radar. In this village, where my mother was born, live 2 people I have never met. Two people which would alter the course of this trip and bring into me more rage (and also compassion) than I expected.

I have gotten quite bold with my questions this week and I am surprised with how easy people talk. It seems that my Grandfather, the great man who has given us everything we have, was unfaithful.

In fact, he had 7 other children with a woman in Cotuí while his wife and children lived in Bonao. Of those 7, three died in childhood and of the four that survived to adulthood only 2 remain to this day. They both live here, in Cotuí.

The oldest, Glady – a girl…! My mother has an older sister… an older sister…

I asked to be taken to her and so I got on the back of Ingrid’s moto and travelled across the village to what seemed like the poorest part of town. Before me was a dishevelled shack with a tin roof and considering this heat, I was surprised anyone could survive in it. We walked in and a half naked youth greeted us, Glady was not present but she was at the hair salon across the street. I walked over and saw the only customer sitting in the chair. An elderly woman draped with a towel and covered in hair dye. I walked up to her and couldn’t think of what to say. She looked at me for a good long minute and got up and hugged me.

And how is your mother?

I could feel the hair dye dripping down over my arms as I hugged her back.

We sat for a few minutes and I filled her in on how my family was. My mother appears to have visited her every time she came back to DR. This woman knew all about me, even had photos of me, knew of my brothers, my nephews. Everything. I was of course filled with rage at not knowing this woman, being robbed of an aunt my whole life, but I was grateful for knowing her now. Ingrid was still with us (as this is a small village everyone knows each other and so they have been acquainted for many years now) and so I wasn’t able to really get into the deep questions I wanted to ask her – and besides her hair dye was on a timer and it was time for us to go.

The night ended with us attending a poorly organised Carnival festival.


Day 5 – Sunday 27 March 2011
I spent the entire morning walking around Cotuí in the blazing heat. It was so hot that the moment I ate lunch I fell terribly ill. My entire body cramped up and for the first time in years I had a severe asthma attack.

I returned home (not due to being sick but because I only went for one night) and on the ride there I sat in the back of Ingrid’s husband, Arsenial, pick up truck. I laid down and just watched the gorgeous sky above me, clouds so perfect they looked like paintings.

My time in Cotuí was short, but I will be back, after all I need to have a proper sit down with Glady and to meet my uncle Josue.


Day 6 – Monday 28 March 2011
Today was a simple day. I cleaned the house and did laundry.

In the evening I found myself snooping through my grandmother’s things and found an amazing old photo album. There were pictures of all of us growing up. I also found this amazing photo of my mom:

I don’t know who these other kids are, perhaps her illegitimate siblings? or maybe just neighbourhood kids… who knows?
 
Once it was dark out Ambiorix came by and picked me up to go get some food. We ate in his house and like usual the power went out. The mosquitoes were ferocious and so Ambiorix set fire to a bag of leaves. A little girl (Ambiorix’s niece through his wife) was there being cute as always. As I approached the burning leaves she stopped me and said:

Don’t go any further, there’s a dead man walking over there.

When kids say such things (she’s three) I listen.


Day 7 Tuesday 29 March 2011

In the very early hours I had a strange dream, I don’t recall the exact details but I remember there being an explosion.

When I woke up and tried to get out of bed I noticed that the entire perimeter of the bed was covered in broken glass. Not a shard landed on the bed but all around it. I looked up at the ceiling and the big bulb was still in tack – the fan spinning profusely. The lamp next to my bed was fine as well. There was no other source of glass in the room. I knew that the best thing to do in these situations is to stay calm and carry on. Luckily I was able to reach my sandals, shake off the glass and walk out with cutting myself. I cleaned up the mess – got ready for the day and left the house.

I spent the day with Sylvia and her son Abraham. It was a pretty simple day, hanging out with their pet parrots and eating. Lots of eating.

Dominican Republic Week 2 Dominican Republic Week 2 Reviewed by Christópher Abreu Rosario on 17:11 Rating: 5

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