Thursday, May 9, 2013

ex-pat life.

i've been on the island for eight years now. EIGHT years. it's not always easy, it's not always fun - but i always live in a place so physically beautiful it hurts. and mostly, i love this little piece of planet earth.

it's been an up and down journey - and just when i think i've finally settled into something, i get smacked in the face with something new. sometimes that something new is great - a new job, a new friend, a visit to somewhere amazing. but mostly, it's not. 

and though i genuinely love our dominican community, i need to be connected somehow to my own culture, my own community - to be with people who speak our same heart language. (don't get me wrong, it's great to chatter away in english, but it's different to think in english with someone - if you're bilingual you'll get it). 

i've reached out numerous times to the ex-pat community and have made a few very lasting friendships. there is a dear friend i met on an online forum and now work with, another who has two precious girls around samil and amely's ages and we share motherhood trials,  another incredible woman who i met at the uni and just had lunch with today. 

but it doesn't always work out.

if you're looking to become an ex-pat, to pick up life and move somewhere new, people will advise you to "meet all the (insert your nationality here), they are the ones to keep you sane." and there is even the idea that you can't live without compatriots, because the locals just don't hack it. you can't, obviously, choose the country-mates who live in your newfound home, so you'll have to accept them for who and what they are. like it or not - they're who you've got.

all of that was part of my training when i first moved down here. and i blatantly ignored it and lived for seven months without real contact with other americans. i learned spanish, i learned to dance, and i learned to love the people around me. no, i didn't need other yankees to get me through. but at times it was lonely. 

i reached out, found people, made a huge social effort - and if you know me, i'm no social butterfly - to be with other americans. it was disastrous. first, i met up with a bunch of super rich factory manager wives who drove super-sized suvs and ate in posh cafes where a sandwich costs more than my rent. obviously that one wasn't going to work out. i chalked it up to experience and let it roll. 

then i met a group of missionaries who wanted a moms group. it was weird that children weren't really welcome at the moms group, but we made it work for awhile until amely did a little biting and i was chewed out in an email about how i just didn't react "correctly." how dare i let my child bite and not cry about it? 

and when i met some short-term teachers, i realized i am just too old and too family to fit in with 23 year olds anymore. 

 you know what? i stressed about it for a long time, and i beat myself up over "losing" those potential compatriots that most ex-pat philosophy insisted i need. who would my kids speak english with? where would i go to complain about my dominican community? who else could i hate everything and everyone with?

when i stopped searching for a "group" to belong to i realized i didn't need one. i'm not rich and maintained - and i don't want to pretend that i am. i don't want my kids around the superior mindset, that us north americans are right and these damn natives are wrong. and i don't really need to relive my all-night drinking binges. 

once i stopped searching for those "heart language" friends - i realized that i have plenty. yesterday, we played with a baby and while amely didn't bite her, the baby's brother hit amely every chance he got - because that's what kids do. and we corrected him and talked to him and at the end we gave everyone kisses and hugs. no snarky comments or threats to no longer remain friends. and this weekend, we'll have visitors who will probably sit around drinking coffee and doing crafts and enjoying each other.

i've recently gotten a lot of emails asking for advice about moving to the dr. i don't have a lot. but there it is: make friends with quality people, who you like to be around - not because you share the same homeland, but because you share the same values, interests. make friends with your dominican community. you'll be surprised. 


Erin said...

Sounds like great advice. Moving to a new place brings about a lot of these anxieties, even if you're not moving out of the country. In just moving to the South, I've had similar difficulties finding where I belong (mostly because I too old for the single, party crowd and not family enough for the rest). There's no place like home!

Cigars said...

I am going to be in Santiago DR for 9 days starting tomorrow. I am looking for a "travel guide" or "helper" to show me around the city and take me places in the DR that are nice. I can pay for fuel, food, and a daily wage for services. I would like to e-mail you the details, but I cannot find a contact e-mail for you. Please post an e-mail address.

melanie. said...

Cigars - my email address is