Saturday, April 28th
I’ve often been asked “What is the best conversation you’ve ever had in your life?” Before tonight my answer would have been Will Allen discussing worms …of all things. But it is so true. And worms/vermicomposting is absolutely amazing but tonight….everything changes.
Tonight I am in the Dominican Republic for a Sustainable Food Lab meeting about sustainable global supply chain. Before I continue, let’s put this in perspective. I grew up in rural South Georgia. I never really thought I could travel in the US much less to other countries. I consider this a trip of a lifetime. So I am in the Dominican Republic and I know that our hotel experience is not representative of the DR culture. I recently met (through conference call) Lorelei, a DR native, through a Sodexo diversity network mentoring circle. She introduced me through email to some family friends in the DR who are willing to take me around. I find the courage to dial the phone number of people I have never met…in a country I have never visited….where I am not fluent in the language…upon the recomendation of someone I’ve never met face to face. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Juancho and his daughter Klinia pick me up from my hotel and I have no idea what I’m in for as they have planned the evening. They drove me down the boulevard (a road that hugs the coastline), show me where Columbus landed in the DR (poor lost bastard) and a historic fort that also housed criminals for some time. It was awesome.
By this point, we are starting to get comfortable with each other. Remember, they’ve never met me and I’ve never met them. Klinia tells me with a smile that they thought I was going to be an old woman. Like I would have a walker kind of old lady. I must type and talk in “old lady” because to this point this has been our only communication. (Note to self – I must determine “old lady” font.) We all find this absolutely hilarious because a good part of my experience was built around the fact that I was supposed to be old. For example, they thought sticking to meal times was very important because I needed to eat on a schedule as well as selecting the bar where we would have drinks later. It’s actually very thoughtful. But still funny.
After touring some of the city, they brought me back to their beautiful home where Tati, Jauncho’s wife, prepared a traditional DR dish called sancocho that consisted of yucca, plantain, pork, chicken, salt, pepper and rice. It was delicious. It was the flavor of home and comfort and welcome.
Tati loves art and their home is filled with beautiful pieces from all DR artists, one of which is a family member.
After dinner, they suggested a walk around the town so we went to the plaza that housed their local cathedral and many buildings featuring Victorian Architecture (like the cover picture for this blog). A few blocks down was also their favorite local bar. I’m pretty sure they took me here because it caters to the “older crowd” but it’s also Juancho’s favorite bar and the owners are his friends. They were also very welcoming of me and wanted to ensure I had a great DR experience.
The bar we visited was designed for “Christy.” Like-I- would-be-an-alcoholic-because-I-would-be-at-this-bar-all-the-time kind of bar. It was designed with Spanish influence featuring rock floors and although it was covered it was an outdoor bar. I could hear the sounds of the DR – motorcycle engines, Latin music and honking horns. Juancho smiles and tells me the DR are a loud people. =)
Much like the US, the DR is currently going through a presidential election so politics are top of mind. We had great conversations about local and global politics, race, religion, gender, history and the importance of education. It was interesting to hear first-hand how United States policy influences the people of the Dominican Republic. Juancho doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Espanol so Klinia translates as needed. It was a thoughtful conversation because of the translation pause and the two conversations going on at once. I loved when Juancho would touch my arm and tell me “Christy. It’s important for you to know…” I loved how he would tell me this throughout the day so I would recognize and remember things that are important to the DR.
Klinia is so smart and studying marketing in Santiago. I’m so thankful she was there to help me with conversations. Tati knows English well so we had some great conversations too. The entire family was a gift. They were so caring and filled with pride about their country and it was very important for them to share that with me.
Here is my lesson learned. Most of your preconceived notions are wrong. Be open-minded.
Soapbox moment-If you visit the DR or other countries, leave the hotel. Spend some of your money in the community and see what’s around you. But be safe.
I realized through our conversations that I haven’t taken a strong interest in understanding the impact of global politics and the US influence on other countries. I also recognize how Americans take so many things for granted. Including myself. It was a great humbling moment. This conversation has become the best conversation of my life. How do I quantify this you might ask? It is a conversation that opens your mind and changes your life. And this all happened on day one in the DR.
It is entirely possible that I have spelled family members of Juancho’s family wrong and I might have also recollected things incorrectly. I humbly apologize for any errors.