Dominican Republic Week 1

So here I am in DR, after a 12 years absence, and I am loving it. The hardest adjustment I’ve had to make is to see where the day takes me and not to depend on anything actually happening. I’ll try and post at the end of each week with a small recap of the days events.

Day 1 – Wednesday 16 March 2011

The day was spent entirely in transit. I left my house in NYC at 7:30 and arrived in Santo Domingo at 17:00. My uncle Joel (pronounced Ho-el) and my cousins Ambiorix and Johan (Ambyiory/Yohan) met me at the airport. They hired a man to drive us to the town of Bonao (where we live). We spent another hour and a half stuck in traffic and then another 2 hours on the motorway and then finally arriving at my house around 21:00. Once we arrived we devoured a pizza and about 4 litres of beer. I forgot that the pizza here doesn’t have tomato sauce… don’t ask me what they use but it’s not red that’s for sure.

Day 2 – Thursday 17 March 2011

One of the first things I did was go check out the land that my family owns out here. Was surprised to find out that several of my mom’s cousins have sold their shares and so there are some random little shacks that have sprung up all over the place.

More surprisingly was the fact that some local kids set fire to the banana/plantain field and a good portion of the tress are in a severe state. Only a few of the trees bore any fruit.

Towards the end of the day I met up with some neighbours who of course went nuts when they saw me. I had to talk to them for hours about my life and answer questions about my family. Considering it had been 12 years since I saw them last I got off easy.

They in turn, without being prompted, relinquished a momentous amount of information about my past and that of my family. It took me a second to digest it all.

In other news, it just so happens that a local artist (the prize celebrity of Bonao) has just passed away. My neighbours Amanda and Sylvia have known him since they were small children and so they invited me to go with them to his house to pay our respects to his children. I went of course and was completely astonished with the amazing work of art that these people lived in. The house itself was designed by their father (C谩ndido Bid贸) and it was just amazing. The level of detail in the iron work, the terrace, the yard, the windows… everything. It would have been distasteful to take pictures so unfortunately I have nothing to show for it. The oldest son, Paul Bid贸, took a liking to me and offered to show me his father’s private collection of paintings from the world over. I gladly accepted and he began on his mission of showing me all the pieces he had hidden in various parts of the house. Just when I thought he was done he would sneak behind a wall and pull out another 10-15 canvases. It was amazing.

He invited me to the funeral the next day and also to a private gallery viewing being held at the local Art Museum afterwards where some of Bid贸’s art was to be shown. I of course accepted and looked forward to it.

Now that Bid贸 has passed away several opportunists have gotten in contact with the family and have made significant offers for all the original artwork. The Bid贸 children are at arms with what to do since they want to honour their father. At the moment they have agreed to sell his collection of acquired works but not his personal paintings. The will only left about 50 canvases to the children (when I say children I mean grown adults) so there aren’t many to go around really.

Day 3 – Friday 18 March 2011

I spent most of the day waiting for the electricity to return (as the power has gone out every day since I got here). No electric means no hot water, and yes it is hot as hell outside but the chance of me taking a cold shower is nill. And considering I was going to church today (for the funeral) I had to make sure I got a good shower in. So I filled 3 large pots with water, set them on the stove and cooked those puppies. As soon as I finished my sponge bath the electricity returned….

I got ready for church and once it was time to go I got the phone call from my neighbour that she wasn’t going to be able to go anymore and since she was my ride I could no longer go either. Crap! I know I should not have been looking forward to a funeral but I did want to show my respects to the family and also attend the gallery viewing – after all these types off events don’t just happen everyday.

So instead I called up my cousin Ambiorix to come and pick me up on his motorcycle and he took me to his house. He lives on our family’s land (although my mom does have a house on the land we do not live there – instead we live in my Grandmother’s house in the centre of town). We hung around for a bit and while I was sitting out on the porch he was out running errands. While he was out he ran into a man who was carrying two small plantain trees. The man admitted that he took them from a field, filled the holes he left behind with rocks, and was going to plant them in the dirt outside his shack. My cousin bade him a good day and came back to the house. For some reason we went out back and what did we find? Two holes in the ground filled with rocks…

Ambiorix disappeared on his motorcycle and came back a short while later. Apparently while he was coming to pick me up the man snuck onto our land and took the two small trees. Ambiorix told the man very simply – I never want to see you near my house ever again – do you understand?

A short while later, while we were eating I heard a large thump out front and made note to Ambiorix about it. He claimed it was probably just a mango falling onto the tin roof and as that does tend to happen I disregarded it. When we left the house we saw the two baby plantain trees with a note.

The note read: 
Here are your two trees.
Signed – Dying of Hunger

I begged my cousin to take the trees to the man. But he said no, he did not force the man to return them and now the deed was done.

A short while later another man came up to us and asked if he could have 2 or three bananas for his family. My cousin said yes without hesitation and even let the man pick his own.

I asked what was the difference between this man and the one before him?

The difference is that he asked.

Day 4 – Saturday 19 March 2011

When I was living in Amsterdam (after being completely broke and homeless in London) I met a woman named Larie who was related to my relatives there through marriage. After arriving here in Bonao, my cousin told me that Larie was in town and since it has been 2 years since I saw her we paid her a visit. She had a small child with her who I could tell was related (his facial features were uncanny) but whom I hadn’t met before. The boy is her nephew who so has it… is stateless. He was born to an illegal immigrant mother in the Netherlands who could not claim him due to her status and to a Dutch father who denied him. Unless his father claims him as his own, the child will not be granted Dutch papers and since he was not born in the Dominican Republic he can’t be granted Dominican papers either. His mother had no choice (as she is living illegally herself) but to sneak the child back to the DR where he would be raised by other relatives. The child (who is about 5 or 6 now) has gone over three years without seeing his mother, and never knowing his father. It’s such a shame that such a progressive country would have such a backwards policy when it comes to the nationality of a child – who cares who the father is… was he not born on their land?

Later in the day Ambiorix and I went to visit his wife’s family. They were very hospitable and were kind enough to cook for us. One of the things that I have forgotten about was the amount of (Haitian) street sellers who walk by houses with large baskets on their heads with cheap goods for sale. Dominicans still treat Haitians with a bit of disdain but at these prices they have no problem doing business with them.

Day 5 – Sunday 20 March 2011

Today I expected a torrential downpour all day long. It eventually came at 19:30. And without electricity the whole day all I could do was read. It was lovely.

Just before going to bed I went to the bathroom and stepped on a frog. I screamed. Like a girl. It was embarrassing.

Day 6 – Monday 21 March 2011

As I sat on the sofa today a man came onto the porch and yelled Hello. The door was open and as soon as I turned the corner I saw him. He looked exactly like me but about 30 years older. I knew exactly who he was but was afraid to say so. He greeted me in an awkward fashion and asked if I knew who he was. I said of course… you’re my t铆o (uncle).

It was weird seeing this man – who so closely resembles my father. I remember him being my crazy T铆o Franklin who would give me rides on his motorcycle (the same one which he arrived on today) and who gave me a chicken as a present and who then later ate the chicken when I went back to the States… ohh crazy T铆o Franklin.

I wanted to hug him so I did but he did not react well. I think he expected me to still be the little kid he would flop around on his shoulders, but instead he saw a 26 year old man (though I feel more like a man-boy). It’s weird to think that I have more memories of T铆o Franklin than I do of my own father. I suppose though that everytime I came to DR, he made a conscious effort to come see me. I wonder what he is thinking now… what he thinks of me now…

Just before he left he asked if he could come round again so that I could meet his children. I said yes of course and just as he got back on his bike my neighbour Do帽a Glady (Madame Glady) came out to greet him and took to recount memories of my origins. They were sharing moments which they recalled fondly – I could have done without hearing them… sometimes knowing the truth is more painful than the fragments of memory I’ve pieced together over the years.

I went over to my cousin’s Ambiorix’s house for lunch as has become accustomed and then later was asked by my neighbours Sylvia and Amanda (Twins) to join them and their families for dinner. While we sat there the lights went out (again) and so we sat in candlelight. They told me a story about how when they were 9 years old my mother, who had two twins of her own (my older brothers) would often let the girls look after the babies. On top of that the girls mother, Do帽a Glady, had no idea this was happening. On a particular incident my mother left my brothers, who were less than 1 year old, with these nine year old girls and went to the cinema to watch The Exorcist. At the theatre my mother, who had her eyes closed the entire time we watched Jurassic Park on a bad bootleg VHS, could not handle the film and had severe screaming attacks and had to be escorted out. At this time Do帽a Glady went to check in on her daughters and found two baby boys in their beds. My mother arrived home and the jig was up….

Day 7 – Tuesday 22 March 2011

Today was Ambiorix’s birthday and so I planned on spending the day with him. Met up with him for lunch and then I fell asleep on his couch for about 3 hours. He was looking forward to the evening so that he could get drunk but truth be told I was not too keen. The women here have been throwing themselves at me and my cousins have been completely flabbergasted as to why I rejected them all. If they only knew…

I made my excuses and headed home where I was greeted by my T铆a Dulce, T铆o Gaspar, and Do帽a Mercedes who had come to see me. T铆a took me to her house and fed me (as does everyone here) food which was grown on my T铆o Joel's land. She recounted a story about how she was robbed in her house at gun point (in the Bronx) while her husband (my uncle Gaspar) and her son (cousin Ernesto) were tied up next to her. My other two cousins Titi and Frankie were asleep below. The perp was unmasked and so she thought they were going to be killed and begged God to let her die first so that she would not watch her son being murdered. But something (call it a mongoose) told her not to ask for such a thing but instead to ask for the man to leave at this instant. And so she knelt there and prayed in silence, the thief ripping her jewellery and taking what he wanted from her drawers… she prayed and without even noticing she was being untied by Ernesto who had broken free several moments after the thief had gone. She lived in fear for a long time and refused to let any of her children sleep in that house at night. She asked for peace of mind and to know who this man was as the police were not able to find him. About a year later she met with the man again face to face while out shopping and even touched his shoulder and asked How are you sir? She learnt that he was the son of one of her workers. The man who worked for my T铆a was a good man, an elderly man, who knew nothing of his son’s treachery and for the sake of the old man (who still works for my T铆a) she said nothing and for the sake of her children’s safety did not report the man to the police (the story is much more complicated than I can write in this post). 

It’s funny to think that I have learnt more things about my family’s past in the last 7 days without having asked a single a question – than in the lifetime of questions my mother has had to endure.

It’s intimidating to think what I’ll find out when I do start asking questions… but then again it’s what I came here to do…

**All pictures taken on a Galaxy S Android Phone**
Dominican Republic Week 1 Dominican Republic Week 1 Reviewed by Christ贸pher Abreu Rosario on 18:52 Rating: 5

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