ofkatie

I felt the feeling when your eyes met mine. 

You didn’t look at me and see just my freckles or the curves 

Of my cheeks. You looked at me like you had finally 

Found something for which you had given up searching

A long time ago, something you thought couldn’t

Possibly exist.

Serendipity flooded your face, and it was a 

Storm I didn’t want to stop causing. 

9

Dominicans know how to spend their weekends, I’ll say that much. And this is how I spent my Sunday afternoon, al play de pelota. Some friends and I went to cheer on a friend during a semi-organized pickup game of baseball. The start time was originally 1:30 pm, but the whole team didn’t show up until after 2 pm. God bless Dominican time.

We watched the game from the dugout on a ripped-out backseat of an SUV, so much better than bleachers in the hot sun! Emotions ran high during several points of the game, with crazy Dominican slang being thrown between the players. One player even bucked up at the umpire yelling about how he had ruined his white pants in the slide to home, and was then declared “out”. 

That’s another thing. In the DR, the majority of baseball terms are the English words, just said with a Spanish accent. El play is the entire baseball field. Caht-chair is catcher. Peet-chair is pitcher. Bola is ball. Ah-oo is out. Honrón is homerun. The list goes on! 

I love seeing cultural aspects such as this, something that tourists would almost never get the chance to see. Real life in the DR, which is beautiful. 

The Dominican Accent: Stories of Misunderstanding

To commence this post, I would like to enlighten you all on the incomparable aspect of the Dominican culture – their accent. Before coming here, I knew that generally every Spanish-speaking country had it’s own unique twist on the pronunciation and vernacular of the language. But honestly, nothing could have prepared me for living here and having to adjust to their accents. 

For example: 

1) The letter “s” is present when written, but rarely vocalized. So when my host mom told me that the rest of the family was waiting for me to start dinner, it sounded more like this. 

“KAAAAHTIIII, etamo eperando para tiiiii, a comer!!!!!!" 

2) Any word that ends in "ado” like “lado” or “pecado” or “aprobado”, do not sound the way they look. In instances like these, the “d” sound is omitted. So the ends of the words basically sound like “ow”. At my volunteer position at the clinic the other day, the doctor told a patient to turn over onto their other side.

And it sounded like, “al otro lao” instead. 

3) The speed with which Dominicans speak Spanish is almost unbearable. More times that I can count, I’ve simply smiled and nodded, or followed the facial cues of the native speakers around me so as to not be so conspicuously lost in the conversation.

I’m slowly making progress, but progress takes time. 

Ay ay ay. 

A Few Tips

For those of you planning to study abroad, I have a few tips for you that I wish someone would have told me before I embarked on my Dominican journey. 

1) Go out as much as you can. You won’t remember being tired in class the next morning, but you WILL remember all the fun nights in the discotecas and bars. 

2) Make as many local friends as possible. They act as the perfect tour guide, are wonderful people, and generally help your cause if the police come around. 

3) Try and have a local boo-thang that doesn’t speak your native language. You’ll be forced to practice and you get to have a little fling, too! 

4) Always carry a little more cash than you need when going out. You never know if your card will get declined or if you’ll need a taxi in a pinch. 

5) If you’re staying with a host family, and they’re the type, make as strong of a bond with them as you can. There’s a reason they decided to host students in the first place! 

6) Carry your camera with you everywhere. Take videos of what seems “normal”. Trust me, once you go home you’ll be glad you captured the everyday moments as well as the supreme photo ops of your time abroad. 

7) Don’t take it personally when people can’t understand what you’re saying. Just slow the sentence down, and try again. 

8) Follow your instinct. If something or someone seems fishy, they probably are. 

9) Be ready to experience some anti-Americanism. Confront it calmly and passively (even if it kills you on the inside, like it did me!). The last thing you need is a quarrel with someone who is so close-minded to think that any American they encounter stands up to all the standards (or lack thereof) set by the media they have consumed. If it be the case, be nice so you can prove them wrong. 

10) Watch your finances. Don’t let the exchange rate (even if it’s in your favor) get to your head. 

11) ENJOY IT! It is a unique life experience and will change you for the better! 

I have traversed many a mile,
To the Caribbean and back.
And that’s exactly what I felt
When thinking of you,
When walking next to you,
When we first embraced.
Even with ice on the windows
And snow blanketing the
Sidewalks of the city,
You took me to warm winds,
Bachata in the streets,
And sunlight through
Palm trees.

Conchos

It’s been about a month since my first day here in Santiago, and I can’t believe that the time has passed by so quickly already. I feel like my life is here now, and returning to the States feels sort of impossible. But I’ve got plenty of time before I cross that bridge. 

One of my favorite things about this city is its public transportation system. Being from a small town in South Carolina, our idea of public transportation is big yellow school buses for the K-12. But here, public transportation is a whole other ball field. 

There are four general ways to get around the city. You can drive your own car if you have one. You can take the guagua (bus). You can walk. Or you can have the most Dominican morning commute of all by taking a concho. 

Conchos are cars that, like buses, run on routes. There are HUNDREDS of these things teeming throughout the city. The routes are differentiated and labeled by letter. So, for example, to get to the city center, I need to take the M concho going in the direction across the street from my house and then get off near the fortress and take the N. So far the route letters I’ve seen have been A, B, E, K, M, N, O, PA, EN, and CA. 

Another characteristic of the concho that makes it so unique is how many passengers the drivers fit into the car. So far, every concho I’ve taken has been a 5-seat, four door sedan or hatchback. And in these kinds of cars, there are four passenger seats. 

But here, four seats does not mean four maximum passengers. It is legal to cram six people into four passenger seats — two people sharing the front seat, and four sharing the backseat. You’re essentially being packed in like sardines with complete strangers! 

In order to flag down a concho, not much work is required on your part. Why? Because the concho drivers are honking their horns the whole time that they’re driving, trying to see if passers-by need to take their route. Usually, the drivers honk and show how much room they have in the car by holding up the number of free spaces with their fingers. Then, you check what letter route they have, and if it’s the one you need, you raise your hand with the number of people who need a ride. So if it’s just you, put up one finger. If it’s you and two friends, put up three fingers. Simple! 

It is customary to greet everyone in the concho when you get into the car by saying, “Saludos” or “Buenos días” or whatever other general greeting you can think of at the time. And the second you close the door, the car starts moving. 

Now that you’re in the concho, it’s time to pay the driver. In order to get his attention without deferring his visual adherence (or lack thereof) to the road, you hover the money over his shoulder and say, “Mira chofe” or “Mira”. If you hand him more than forty pesos, he’ll probably ask you where you’re going just incase you need to pay for a longer time on the route. But normally, they’ll just give you your change. And one of the reasons why this form of public transportation is the most popular? The price! For most routes, the standard fee is RD$20, or twenty pesos. Twenty pesos in American dollars is roughly…$0.50. That’s right, fifty cents! 

During your commute, you’ll definitely have stops to let people in and out of the concho. In order to let the driver know that you’ve reached your destination, or are close enough to it that you can walk, you have to say, “Dónde pueda”. With this signal, they’ll most likely pull over to the nearest curb in a whiplash-like manner. 

Now comes the time to exit the vehicle. This is also an interesting process. Since the traffic here is so busy and loud and fast all the time, only the curbside doors (on the right side of the car) are opened. And if you’re sitting all the way to the left in the backseat when it comes time for you to get out of the concho, everyone in the backseat will exit the right-side door so that you can safely do so. And once you’ve gone, they all pile back in using only that door. 

The cars are usually late 90’s or early 2000’s models that have missing oh-shit handles, dilapidated upholstery, and the doors can usually only be opened from the outside. But on occasion, you’ll land yourself a comfortable and like-new concho. However, the drivers vary even more than the vehicles. These men range from pudgy, hirsute, and old to young, stylish, and attractive. You never know what you’re gonna get with conchos, but you’ll definitely get to where you need to go. 

Don’t tell me that you are

Serious about me, especially in the beginning.  

Don’t tell me that the women of your past were pasatiempos

To you.  

One can’t plant the seed of hope for love in the mind

Of another, and continue to 

Water it

Nurture it

Feed it

And then turn their face away in disgust when it sprouts

From the ground and attempts to blossom. 

Flowers don’t bloom just so that they can die, 

And the prettiest of gardens rarely happen by accident. 

For all the times I have been
Suspended between the
Pages of night and morning,
Rolling over and confusing
The pile of pillows next to me
For the eloquent paragraphs that
Describe you,
I find comfort in knowing that
Our time will come,
Our chapter will start,
The pages will eventually
Turn to get us there.

When he speaks of the night, 

His voice descends.

His eyes avert the shadows that are

Cast by the candlelight.

He croons from the sky, so black and thick,

And of how God himself had 

Stirred the stars together.

He says the moon is the eye of Womankind,

Ever changing her visage, 

And never revealing her entire self. 

When he speaks of the night,

He tells no lie.