Santiago is a small place. Shoot, the whole country is small. Yesterday, I was in a public car (think of a Nissan Maxima cerca 1985. Now, take out the sideboards on the door, shove 4 people in the back seat and two in the passenger seat. Pay 15 pesos a ride and you’ve got a public car. Not nearly as hilarious as converted micro-minis with wooden seats filled with 21 people seated, 3 hanging from the back bumper and two standing in the door well… but just as efficient and cheap in getting me where I need to go) when this woman gets in kind of frantic (read: crazy). She doesn’t have any money save a 1,000 peso note. They’re going to operate on her brother, she says, and she left the house in a hurry. The three of us in the car each give her 5 pesos to pay, even though the driver was going to let her ride for free. (see, there still are good people in the universe).
She goes on to tell the tale of a wicked car accident including a dominican-york (a dominican living in the states is called that because, as you might know, the USA isn’t really the name, it’s REALLY new York. What part of New York do you live in? Boston? Oh, wonderful. Oh, your sister is in the states? no, she’s in New York? What borough? Oh, she lives in Miami. Go figure). Said Dom-york had rented a luxury SUV and felt the need to show off his wealth after drinking 10 bottles of Brugal rum and a case of Presidente beer. I don’t know who is worse – the idiot who decided to drive drunk, or the idiots who decided to go with him, but the point is, he crashed (surprised? Me neither).
So, now this poor lady’s brother is getting operated on for a broken leg (or something, I wasn’t really paying too much attention). Where did this happen? In the campo. Yah, but which campo? You know, the one near that place. I tune out in these discussions, usually, because I know very little about the outskirts of Santiago. However, people start talking about these little towns and Dominicans’ radars turn on. Because everyone here is related to everyone else. No lie.
These people in the car start talking about the town the accident took place in, and BAM! The guy in the front seat says, “No way, YOUR brother is Jose?” I’m your long lost 17th cousin three-times removed! Your dad is so-and-so, right?
People sometimes stop me and ask me if I’m Amalio’s wife. Then they tell me their bizarre family lineage and how they’re related not only to Amalio but also his adopted family (Amalio moved to Santiago after his mom died and lived with another family from the same town. He claims both). As if that proves that we’re doubly connected.
Living in a place with such strong family connections is weird, especially since the US is so “immediate” family oriented. I can’t imagine ever having conversations with a random stranger about how we’re related or even knowing who my 14th cousin is. I’m lucky to even know my first cousins (and luckier that I do, in fact, know both my mom’s and dad’s cousins and their kids).
When you first move to a different country and consider the differences it’s always the simple things, and they often seem like hardships. Can I eat the food? Do I speak the language well enough? Can I handle that my 32 year old boyfriend lives with his parents (and grandparents)? Is it possible to flush the toilet paper? Where will I wash my clothes? But there are so many hidden beauties that you never know until you’re immersed – living in a country, doing the day-to-day. And sometimes the differences aren’t hardships, but things you wish you had in your own life and culture. Knowing your family – even if it’s just by stories told by others – is such a gift. And always a surprise to run into your long lost 17th cousin three-times removed on public transportation.