Election Day, Sick Day, Mothers’ Day
Days come in many flavors. Some days I wake up to silence punctuated by dog barks and children’s shouts. Other days I wake up to the television squawking the results of last night’s political contests. And some days I wake up in the middle of the night to make a clumsy, flashlight-led sprint to the latrine. Every day I wake up to a different feeling. The mind that I’ve carefully trained to avoid expectations slowly starts to fill with an idea of what the day will bring. I slink out from under my mosquito net and into my flip flops and go out to face the world.
Not a day has passed since arriving to this country that I haven’t experienced some aspect of the campaign for president. In Santo Domingo, it was a gridlock of seemingly unprecedented area created by people celebrating their party receiving an endorsement from another political group. In El Seibo, it was a long line of purple and yellow SUVs and pickup trucks loaded with blasting speakers rolling down the road in the wrong direction. And in Baní, it was children and adults alike randomly spouting the catch-phrases of each party’s campaign. All of that was in preparation for May 20th, Election Day in the Dominican Republic.
We received an email from the Peace Corps safety coordinator warning us about the dangers of the election season and instructing us to stay in our sites. My favorite warning was, “Note that during celebrations, in some areas, people shoot guns off—those bullets eventually land somewhere.” Naturally, I spent most of the 20th fearing death from above. Surprisingly, my barrio was very calm. I took a walk around the town with some muchachos, played cards, and read. The first bulletin came out around 9:00pm putting the PLD (the party in power) slightly ahead of the PRD. I decided I didn’t care enough to stay up for the rest of the results and went to bed.
The sound of the TV outside my room roused me from my sleep around 6:30am. The name “Danilo Medina” caught my attention as it was said over and over again. Well, looks like the PLD won this one I thought to myself. The day after the elections was surprisingly calm as well. Except for the dead guy. Or rather, “dead guy.” I was walking with the muchachos and we went down to the river. As we arrived, two boys were leaving and told us there was someone down there. I didn’t make much of it until we walked over and looked over the side of the road. There, in the water, was a 20-something guy face down in the water with one hand up by his face and the other pinned to his side. Holy shit, this guy is dead. What do I do now? I quickly checked my panic long enough to look closely at the “body,” and realized his sides were moving. Respiration. Gracias a Dios, he’s alive. Unfortunately, someone had already called the police, reported a dead body, and then left. We threw rocks at him until he woke up. When he finally did wake up, he looked at us, startled, and then leapt into one of the drainage pipes under the road. Meanwhile, his family had seen him and was coming down from their house on the hill. “Do you know this guy? What’s his problem?” I asked one of the kids. “Yeah, I know him.” Then he made the international outstretched thumb and pinky sign for “he’s totally wasted.” It all made sense. The guy got hammered celebrating his candidate’s victory, or mourning his candidate’s loss—we’ll never know—and then crawled into the river for an 11:00am snooze. Half an hour later, the cops showed up, and I had to explain to them that the dead man had left, drunk, with his family. All in a day’s work.
Tuesday, I was on a roll. My host mom was in the capital, so I managed to make my own breakfast of spicy manba and bread with a giant cup of coffee. Then I went to the school for the morning tanda and helped the secretary and director to work on the attendance system. I kept wondering why it was important when there were glaring shortfalls elsewhere in the school, but it was an easy confianza-builder. Then I went to my host aunt’s house for lunch. She fed me way too much everything and I sat and talked over more coffee with people on the porch. Afterwards I went back to the school for the afternoon tanda and observed a class. After school I went to my neighbor’s house and talked to her, played with her kids, and then made way for the cows to come in from the mountains. I started talking to her son about school and helping him with reading and math exercises. They made me more coffee. And after dinner I sat in talked and played cards with the kids who come by the porch every night. I went to bed feeling satisfied with my day’s work.
Unfortunately, I woke up at 1:00am to the familiar churnings of disaster in my stomach. I fumbled for toilet paper and my flashlight in the dark. I tried to be quiet, but my door opened with a deep groan. Then I had to fumble with the two locks on our back door and I cringed as it scraped along the ground. So much for letting my host family sleep in peace. The next morning they were both asking me how I felt, how my stomach was, why I had to get up in the middle of the night. Rest in peace, privacy. I decided to take the day off from everything and just laid in bed reading and watching TV shows. My stomach has been iffy since then, so I’m just being careful about what I eat. I’ll get better soon enough, si Dios quiere.
Sunday the 27th was Dominican Mothers’ Day! I spent the whole day at my host aunt’s house at a family reunion. My host mom’s mom came, as did all but one of her brothers and sisters. There were SO many people there I could barely keep track of them. People kept calling me “sobrino” and I was even in a picture with my Dominican grandma, Ana. I played dominoes for the first time in Baní with three old men, and even won a few hands. The food came out and one of the many sisters led us in a prayer that was half chanting, half singing. Then I plate with a mountain of food appeared in front of me. Every time I made a dent in it, someone would come up behind me with a spoonful and ask me if I wanted more while they plopped it on my plate, regardless of my answer. My troublesome stomach was in the back of my mind the whole time, but the food was too delicious to stop eating.
After lunch we were sitting around on the porch when my host mom called me to help her with something. I went around the side of the house and found three other guys standing in the plants next to the fence. Two guys on the other side lifted up a huge square water tank, which we caught and carried to a pickup truck. They almost dropped it on me and I got run into a thorn bush, but success! It’s like I’m part of the family now, right? Then it was time for tamarind juice and thanksgiving. The sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and Mamá Ana all sat in a circle. One by one they gave thanks that they could all be together, and for their mother being alive, and for what they learned from her. They closed it by talking about being poor in money but rich in love, and then sang a song and read some poems. I sat as an awkward observer outside the circle. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday, and I can’t wait to go visit some of the people I met in the neighboring campo!