learning the get-to-know-you dance here is a lot like learning the merengue dance. after eight years i've mastered neither. the difference? i like to dance merengue.
the dance changes steps ever so slightly depending on who you're dancing with - dominican or ex-pat? sometimes you get to lead - and thus avoid the awkwardness of the personal probing, but sometimes you follow and have to answer all those questions and avoid stepping on toes.
i'm melanie. no, i'm not dominican. neither are my parents. or my grandparent. why thank you, i've worked very hard to speak spanish well. yes, i know i have an accent... and i always will, thankyouverymuch. no, my husband doesn't have residency and there are tons of reasons why we live here. no, i don't think we need to explain our reasoning to you, complete stranger.
but. in the spirit of disclosure, i'll let you, complete-internet-strangers, a look into why we've decided to live here.
it is always warm.
i know that sounds like a terrible reason to live somewhere. but after living through northeastern us winters and braving a few chicago cold-fronts, i was done. and it goes to 60 degrees here and amalio's in sweaters and wool socks. can you imagine if he was faced with constant 20 degree temperatures? he might die. in fact, samil tells him frequently that he can't go to philadelphia because he doesn't have a coat. papi won't like the cold.
the people are also warm.
there is no hospitality quite the equal of dominican hospitality. you can enter a house, completely unannounced and within minutes, food and drink appears. should we cook for you? are you sure crackers are enough? coffee? when samil was born, one of amalio's coworkers slept on a chair in the hospital so my mom wouldn't have to. if you're sick, people will bring you food. sometimes people show up to make a sancocho, just because. and while this warmth is not always comfortable, it is immensely appreciated more often than not.
we know our neighbors.
by name. and things about them. in fact, two of my closest relationships here were/are with neighbors. our kids play together. i have neighbors that i know i could leave my kids with in an emergency, ask for sugar (but not salt, apparently only witches ask for salt) or, as has often happened when the gas tank runs out mid-meal, go to with my pots of rice and plantains to finish cooking. once, our chicken - our beautiful, expensive, black and white hen, Michael - got out and our neighbor brought him back to us. and while everyone has bad neighbors (we've had our share - from dirty, messy to laundry-theivin'), we've been blessed with enough good to outweigh the annoying.
we are useful.
when we first decided to marry, we really discussed where to live. by the end of my first year, i was ready to move back to the states and forget about this place. but, when we weighed the options, dr won. why? because here we have the opportunity to do good things without all of the red-tape that hinders good things in the us. my friend rebecca calls this being a good human resource. we are passionate about education and the future generations, and have so many more opportunities here to serve.
professionally, we are awesome.
it's not true for all people. in fact, most people in this country can barely survive. but we, as a family, have always had plenty of opportunities for success. and the option of flexibility. this school year is the first i've worked "full time" since 2006. and last semester, i was free two afternoons a week with weekends completely to myself. there is opportunity for us to grow here, and while i might have that opportunity in the states, it would be much harder for amalio, whose english is minimal and lack of connections would make it difficult to find a job in his area. here, he's the academic coordinator of a school with a masters.
our kids get more of us.
because we don't have to work back-breaking jobs just to make ends meet, and i am usually free a few afternoons in the week, we actually get to spend time with our children. which is excellent because the education here is bad (downside to living here), and having that job flexibility helps us to even that imbalance out. granted, i haven't been a great "schooler" these past few months of adjustment to the new job, the kids get us way more than they'll appreciate when they're teenagers.
there are downsides to living here - things are disorganized, everything runs late, traffic is insane and the educational system is dismal. but, it balances out. most of the time. we don't really know what the future holds. who does? and in a few years, we might decide to relocate. but we're not thinking that far ahead. looking forward to the future takes away from today.