As I continue to use (and “improve”) my Spanish, I can’t help but fall into the bad habits of the Dominicans. The Spanish here is NOT even REMOTELY like what my lovely Colombian, Peruvian, and Venezuelan professors at FSI taught me. First of all, Dominican Spanish is spoken at the pace of an automatic weapon firing on full-auto, letters and even full syllables are dropped (i.e. “¿Como e’ta’? [¿Como éstas?] or “‘Toy explotao” [Estoy explotado – I’m very tired]), and the street slang (jergas) is over-used and makes little sense. While I’ve caught up with the rapid staccato that is employed everywhere in this country and can drop letters with the best of them (R’s in Boston, anyone?), I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to the jergas. What the hell does “estoy explotado” mean anyways? “I’ve exploded,” that’s what. Really?
Our housekeeper is from Santo Domingo Norte, which means her Spanish is AWFUL. She arrives M, W, and F at 7 a.m., about 2 minutes after I wake up (yes, I plan it that way). As I’m fumbling with the coffee maker and trying to get my eyes to focus, she comes in, cheery as can be, and starts firing her machine gun of a mouth at me. It’s intimidating—no that’s an understatement—it’s downright disheartening. I finally had to say something last week—very nicely—to the effect that I should not be asked to function any higher than at a baseline level until 10 a.m. “No soy un hombre del amanecer. Tengo que tomar mucho cafe para funcionar correctamente y amablamente antes de mediodia. Por favor, deme la opportunidad para despertarme en la manaña.” See? I can be civil, even in Spanish.
“¿Que lo que?” Literally, “What’s what?” or in Dominican, “How’s it going?” Entonces, ¿que lo que, David? Todo se va bien. We’re all doing well here… My wife is adjusting very well to her work and has many a good story to tell after a long day in the NIV window. My son’s doing very well in school, and has started down the long path towards being potty-trained. The Dude (me) abides. I’m starting to look for something to keep me occupied during the days, and am making good connections down here. Hopefully something will come out of one of the networking opportunities I’ve had. I met the lead botanist for the Jardin Botánico here, and it turns out he’s a Yes fan. I just happen to have a whole bunch of Yes LP’s that are taking up space in our house. Instant friends.
I’m very much looking forward to making new friends here in the D.R. I don’t want to associate only with Americans and lately, through various channels, I have been meeting a ton of Dominicans. I’ve come to realize that the only way I’m going to get all I can out of this experience is to branch out, step out of my comfort zone, and take part in Dominican culture. No more being afraid to speak, no more lack of confidence in my Spanish ability. I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to say inappropriate/incorrect things, but since I’m a Gringo, it’ll all be forgiven.
In the words of countless Latinos I’ve met here, “¡Que bueno, Gringo!” Que bueno indeed.