>> Friday, March 30, 2012
Tourist or Traveler?
Sailing into the Dominican Republic this is what one experiences: deep blue water, dramatic landscapes, and the anxiety of being in a new place. Then, the wind dies as you go closer to the shore and soon the rumble of the main engine is heard on deck. The lookout notices it first-we’re sailing into bigger and bigger garbage patches as the coast becomes more developed. Then, the skyscrapers are upon us (a shocking sight after so many days at sea).
The Dominican Republic is the only Caribbean destination on this trip that I’ve been to before. It is shocking to compare my experience here as a traveler to that of a tourist. Being with Ocean Classroom you see the trash in the ocean and the poverty in the barrios. These things, the taboos that are hidden from the tourists, allow you to understand the place you are in. An understanding of the place you’re in lets you make connections to life back home and realize there are other ways to live than what we were taught as children.
“Hola seniorita” says the cook as I peer into the kitchen. His voice is one of a kind, a scratchy, high pitched tone. “Ayuda me?” I ask him blushing as I realized I had just asked him for help, the opposite of what I meant. He stared at me as I frantically try to fix my mistake-a blur of “yo’s” and “tu’s” coming out of my mouth accompanied by hand signals. He laughs, leans down, and proceeds to plop a bunch of yllo plantains (the sweet kind) on the counter. He speaks Spanish as he motions for me to peel and cut them. “ok” I say and get to work peeling the starchy bananas. “Como te llamas?” he asks and I answer with my name. He asks for a repeat “E-LIZ-A-BETH” I say, trying to annunciate as best I can. He tries to say it, but as it is a mouthful, mutters the last part. “tu ables espanol?” he asks. “pequito” I say telling him I only speak a little. He nods and starts speaking in slow, stuttered English. “I am learning englais, my name is Audi.”(Not pronounced like the car, said Awe-dee) I smile. “You speak well,” I say as I begin to slice the plantains at an angle. He points to me, “your nickname is Liz.” He pronounces it like “lease” and it took me a second to understand that he wasn’t trying to say “please”. I smile, “liz es un gato” but since Elizabeth is too much I let him call me Liz. He tells me that he will teach me more Spanish if I teach him more English. “Okay” I say, “it’s a deal.”
I get up early the next morning and go down to the kitchen where Pedro, the care taker, is cutting fruit and listening to loud bolero. Audi comes in and laughs, getting me a cutting board and some pineapple. “como estas?” he asks and I tell him I’m good. He begins to make fun of Pedro’s music, making the suave Latino beat. Even though I don’t know everything they are saying it makes me laugh. It is very awesome to hang out with people that only speak Spanish. When I was standing there cutting naranjas and pina for desayuno it was almost like the language barrier disappeared.
So there I was, in a small kitchen in the Dominican Republic with two guys who knew I was totally American but wanted to help me learn about their culture, listening to the early morning city sounds and Latino music, completely content with what I was doing. Sometimes you have to search for your cultural experience, the one where you’re not really a tourist but when you get it it’s well worth the wait.