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April 18, 2003
A Cruiser's Day in the Life of the Dominican Republic

This afternoon was blazing hot. So hot that Curt fell asleep below in the shade, and the whole anchorage was still from the cumbersome weight of the heat. It felt like a wool sweater around my shoulders in the dense tropical heat. When the sun sunk lower in the horizon and the shadows began to grow long, it had cooled enough to try to make a trip to town.

The usual pack of stray dogs met us at the dinghy dock, doing their best to block our way from coming ashore by making jovial mayhem and stealing our flip-flops out from underneath our feet. We came down the main street to find that the slight relief from the heat was waking up the town after the afternoon siesta. Music pumped out of the bars, restaurants, and markets. Motoconchos brimming with as many as three and four passengers were zipping down the streets, dodging dogs and chickens. Families had moved their chairs out into the shaded sidewalk porches and sat with cool drinks while they watched their children play together, or gossiped with passersby and neighbors. The smell of smoke and barbecue filled the air as the sidewalk grills fired up chicken and goat meat. Everywhere there was laughing and smiling faces. As Curt and I passed down the street, we were greeted with now familiar faces, nodding heads, smiles, and "Buenos tardes" ("Good afternoon").

We passed an open-air restaurant with a thatched roof and heard someone calling our names, "HEY Curt! Allie!" We peaked in to find our friends Linda and Dina. American cruisers, they were covered in mud and donning a tinge of red from an afternoon riding horses through the hills of Luperon with our new Dominican friend, Mario. We joined them for a frosty cold beverage and chatted about nothing much in particular. Other folks walked past, paused to say hello, and walked on. Brycie from Smidgeon sat down to join us. The atmosphere was easy and relaxed (save having to talk over the booming music pumping from throughout the neighborhood). Surrounded by new friends, cooling afternoon air, and an overflowing of general bright cheer - it was hard not to pause and think that life is truly good.

My mind returned to the email rebuke I'd just received and I tried to view the scene from a middle class American perspective. The people around us were the poorest we've seen anywhere. Their houses are pieced together with plywood or corrugated metal. The children have little in the way of clothes. Mud covered dogs and chickens roam the streets, along side the prostitutes and women returning from a visit to the vegetable market. I suppose this would all appear quite bleak from the perspective of an American recently cast off from one of the wealthiest and most decadent cities in the world.

However, the two places that I've loved the most in our travels are probably the most poor, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. I go through town in Luperon with my list of things to do for the day: buy a loaf of bread at the bakery, pick up laundry from the lavandera, hop a guagua to Imbert, stop by the vegetable market to see if there might be something fresh to use in our dinner, perhaps I might check email. Life here is simple: vastly different from the way we lived at home. The things that brighten my afternoon are having a toddler come coax me into playing with her though we don't even speak the same language or have the same color skin, or seeing a beautiful new village meandering up a hillside, or discovering some interesting new dish made from the warmth of a local's kitchen. It isn't a new top from Nordstrom or fancy bag from Macy's, and nor is it a big promotion and commensurate salary increase. I consider it a wonderful and priceless gift from the new cultures we've had the blessing of traveling in.

It's been over a year since Curt or I have worked or earned a dime. When we left, the conventionalists indignantly said we've turned our back on our "responsibilities" and flat out become irresponsible and slack. I'm sure in their view, this is true. At the time, those words hurt me and made me wonder if we were making the right decision. But after the experiences of the last year, I recognize the priceless gift that we've learned and how much more valuable it's been than any money we could have made, or experience we'd gain behind a desk. It's changed us irrevocably. No, I still don't feel sorry for the Dominicans we know here. I feel sorry for the Americans that see them as people to be pitied rather than a peer to celebrate the day you're given with.

Already, I wonder what it will be like when we return to the States to witness our native society through the lenses of this new reality. I've heard other cruisers say it… that to go back seems all but impossible. That the conversations that once seemed normal (interest rates, office politics, the new interstate construction and so forth), are all at once intolerable and ex-cruisers no longer have anything to contribute to the idle chit chat. They seem to be left with a sense of isolation - not really feeling a part of American society, but no longer afloat and tasting societies of other nations either. I understand with time, oil and water find their balance, but I am curious to see how it will unfold for us when we return.

I hope with all my heart that a return to the States and our native society doesn't blur the clarity with which I see this now - but I suspect it will. It's yet another reason I keep this travel log to help keep the memories close. So when we get back, and the answers to the inquiries of our friends' questions such as, "So how was it?" don't come without a long pause - suffice it to say, all the forgoing will be whirring in our minds. How does one answer without sounding like a philosophical fruitcake? Or can we make it all seem as real to them as what we experienced firsthand. We only have a few months more to consider. In the meantime, it's nothing to get fretful over. Today, the world just beyond our deck is waiting to be reveled in. It's time to celebrate it, just for that alone.

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