My reason for venturing off to Santo Domingo was for research, my reason for a swift return is for the warmth; the weather and the people. I felt right at home as soon as I stepped off the plane and into the hug of an excited seven year old. It was the daughter of my host Altagracia. I decided to rent out one of her room on airbnb. I felt to get the most authentic and inside look into the country for my research and for my own experiences, staying with a local was the best way to go. Alta had two daughters and they were amazed by an American coming to visit. Alta lived about 15 minutes from the city center in Sabana Perdida. Her neighbors were just as amazed of an American coming to visit and not opting to stay in a fancy hotel. Alta made sure that I was accompanied everywhere I went, whether it was her or her neighbor, Jhordis, a 14-year old girl that I initially thought was in her 20’s. She took me to all the places I wanted to go.
It is such a tight knit community oriented environment in the Dominican Republic. One looks after the other, who looks after the other. Everyone is their brother’s keeper and this turned out to work with my guerilla style reasearch. I was advised to seek out a drummer who lived in Mata Los Indios in Villa Mella. Jhordis’ grandmother lived these so she volunteered to accompany me. We went in a car to Villa Mella, then hoped out, Jhordis asked a group of motorcyclists if they knew where the drummer lived, they said sure we’ll take you. We hopped on their bikes and when we got to his house a lady said he wasn’t there that he was playing the drums today. I was crestfallen because I only had a limited time, I then asked her if she knew about ‘Espiritu Santo’ the topic I was researching that day, she said go to the museum, Josefina’s there. Josefina came out with the biggest smile on her face as if we were presents delivered to her. She volunteered to take us to where the drummer was playing. After a quick tour, we were off to the occasion. It was an Espiritu Santo funeral and when we introduced to the drummer, he too welcomed us with open arms. We were offered food, drink asked to take pictures. Although it was a funeral, in Espiritu Santo, the person is celebrated for nine days. I didn’t feel like a stranger imposing on a funeral, I felt like a family member that had just arrived.
I described my experience to Alta who then smiled and said “Si puro dominican, puro hospitalidad.” (Yes. pure Dominican, pure hospitality) The rest of my trip consisted of people volunteering help, as I was on the gua gua going back to Alta’s family’s store, a lady saw I was looking at the address in my hand which was very hidden as a rule I make when traveling, she then asked if I knew where I was going, I said yes Plaza Lama. When The gua gua crept up to the street a lady in back of us said, here is Plaza Lama, I thanked both of them before I hopped off. There are literally countless other situations of the hospitality of the locals and I appreciated every bit of it.
Alta and her family were phenomenal in ensuring my comfort. If I wanted to go anywhere to get a snack at the store, to catch a gua gua to the bus terminal a “no él lo conseguirá para usted” (He’ll get it for you) or “vaya con ella” (go with her) was followed but I had to decline at times because, come on, I can buy a water by myself! It was a complete immersion and assimilation into an extended family. I told Alta how I felt like I was simply visiting my family in Panama where on my last trip there my mother expressed a tinge of regret for ever leaving saying “it’s complete community and family here, everyone knows everyone and everyone looks out for each other.” This is also embodied in the Dominican Republic and my personal regret is that I couldn’t stay longer.
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