A Typical (?) Weekend

7 02 2011

I put a question mark after typical because I have decided that perhaps nothing can be qualified as typical anymore. On Thursday I thought, ahh finally a nice weekend in Santiago I will study, finish perfecting my article, and maybe do some shopping. I was partially correct. Friday began with some homework and Blackberry problems and concluded with a jazz concert. And somewhere in between I managed to call Sprint, negotiate with the cell phone store here to convince them to try to repair my phone, buy about six articles of clothing (Mom, I know you’re dying, yes more clothes) for under $20, and learn about 50 new medical terms (in Spanish of course). My Blackberry sadly died Friday morning. I am not sure how or why but the keyboard doesn’t work. There are no problems with the service, I was getting calls, texts, and emails but I couldn’t get to anything. You really don’t know how frustrating it is when your phone is vibrating and you know there is something potentially important and you can’t get to it! I am sure that I probably sound like one of those people that is dependent on their Blackberry, and I will admit that I have a very close relationship with mine, but really it is a wonderful tool and resource. Especially here. I can’t tell you how many Facebook messages I have received from my Dominican friends asking why their BBMs aren’t going through- EVERYONE and their mother have Blackberrys because BBM is free with the monthly data plan and the data plan is very inexpensive (I’m talking 1/4th of the price that it is in the States). So, I have been Blackberry-less for a few days now and praying that the people at the phone store here can repair it. I do have a phone in the meantime, luckily I kept my phone that I used last summer, but it just isn’t the same. I seem to have phone problems a lot back home too, I guess relocating doesn’t change some things!

Now to the more interesting part: shopping. A friend of mine is doing some community service teaching English and dance to sex workers. Where she teaches is in the heart of the city near Calle del Sol which is sort of like the Soho of Santiago. (Sort of). Basically a lot of street vendors, lots of retail shops, banks, restaurants, people, etc. She had to teach on Friday and she invited me to walk with her and then spend the hour milling around while she had her class and then accompany her back. It was probably one of the most productive hours of my experience so far. I found the VIVA store (cell phone repair place) by asking various people where it was. Another thing I love about this country, no one uses a GPS because you can always rely on the fact that other people will know where something is. But, you have to be careful because some people don’t actually know. So I have a rule. I ask three people for directions and go where 2 out of the 3 say to go, because without fail, there are always two responses that are the same and one that is different. After the phone store I continued on down the street without any goal or expectations, I just wanted to observe. This wasn’t my first time to Calle del Sol (in fact, I can’t even count at this point how many times I’ve been) but this was my first time back since the summer. It looked the same but the experience was different. This time I understood the piropos, felt more comfortable talking to the people, and there were masks and other costume items for Carnaval everywhere. I perused in and out of various stores- made some friends with sales people who asked me at least five times where I was from because “usually the Americans that come here can’t speak any Spanish”. I thoroughly enjoyed my time just absorbing this central part of the city. I think when it’s time to pick up my phone I will factor in an extra hour 😉

Saturday I went with my family, which was my host mom and dad, two uncles and an aunt (and yes, we all fit in one car) to the capital for a Baby Shower. The first thing that I found to be interesting, they call it a “baby shower” and all of the favors and decorations were in English. Apparently, there is no Spanish translation- or perhaps it’s just another example of how much American influence is present here. But before we got to the baby shower we went to IKEA. Dominicans love IKEA. And I have to say, I really like it too. There is so much stuff in that store. It’s like stimulation overload. It was great for my vocabulary because all of the signs were in Spanish. I asked Mary before we went in if there was anything in particular that she wanted and she responded “no, but I’m sure I will come out with more than a few things”. Sound familiar, Mom and Dad? And she was right. A few things for the boys room, a new CD/DVD rack, some plates, and even a watering can. After IKEA we went to Quizznos to grab a bite to eat. Food is very inexpensive here, with the exception of all of the American chain restaurants- they are more expensive than in the States. They import everything. If I could make one suggestion to improve the economic situation, it would be to eliminate chain restaurants. Perhaps this would encourage more Dominican businesses and stimulate the agriculture here. Next came the baby shower. It was held at a country club type place that was for families of government officials. There was an open bar, traditional music, baby shower games, and lots of laughs. I have never been to a baby shower in the States (at least not that I can remember) so I am not really sure about the customs, but here the entire family attends and the alcohol flows. (Mom thinks the latter is why people here are always so happy, she might be right).

 

At the Baby Shower with the Mother-to-be

Sunday I went to Carnival in La Vega. I was SO EXCITED and my excitement was met with a wonderful experience. My uncle has friends who got us free passes to the VIP section hosted by Brahma Light (a Dominican beer). VIP meant free and unlimited food, drink, and a wonderful view of the festivities from above. Here is a little history about Carnival: Carnival is celebrated the entire month of Febrero/ February filling each weekend with parades, events and competitions. Each town offers their own twist to the event. The celebration climaxes on or near the 27th of February, Dominican Independence Day. It is an experience that everyone should have sometime in their life. Visitors and Dominicans alike wait with anticipation for this time of year. The celebration brings with it so much color and tradition from the vivid colors of the costumes, the spirited music and lively dancing. The droves and crowds of humans with voices raised. Experiencing the electricity (even if the electric power may be out) coming from the participants and viewers alike as all join in the festivities. Carnival is a true Dominican experience. The use of masks to symbolize spiritual, supernatural and unknown spirit world entities has been used since before recorded history. Africa tribes and Native Americans, among the many ancient peoples, used masks to either depict, get the attention of, or to hide themselves from a higher, or more spiritual being. The natives of the island, the Tainos, and the natives of the surrounding islands had their own festivities long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Their celebrations were called areitos. Mainly they were to commemorate planting and harvest times. They also honored weddings, death and other significant happenings in their lives with these celebrations. They would use body decorations, tattoos, paint, jewelry, and masks during these festivals. With the arrival of the Conquers and the African slaves they brought with them carnival celebrations evolved. The African peoples brought with them their own festivals and celebrations. These contributed the vibrant colors, and some of the traditions of making frightening masks, the musical instruments, dance and songs. They also gave a little humor to the mix by making fun of themselves and life. It was a way to escape the hardships of life. Making their existence a little easier to bear by making jest of themselves and their circumstances. The most popular Carnival activities are in the town of La Vega. Normally a very quiet town with not much tourists draw. Durning carnival here is where thousands of people go every Saturday and Sunday during the month of February. People gather on Calle Padre Adolfo (with the cathedral lurking in the distance), in front of the Parque de las Flores or to watch the spectacular event. The registered groups, known as comparsas, participate in the Carnival parade. These groups can be well organized. Many have participated together for many years. The groups may include from 10 to 15 people and sometimes many more. The traditional costumes are carefully sewn months in advance and are very intricate and colorful. (http://www.colonialzone-dr.com/traditions-carnival.html). The streets were flooded with people and there is a tradition that makes Carnival a bit dangerous. “Amongst all the colors, activity and music in abundance one must always be on high alert for the vejigas/ the inflated bladder weapons and the látigos/ whips. The vejigas are a balloon type weapon dangling at the end of a strap, toted by these wicked creatures. These balls are traditionally made of either cow or pig bladders and filled with air. They are also sometimes made of rubber these days. These are used to hit the people that happen to get in the way. Always aiming to hit on the lower part of the body but with all the commotion in the street it is a free for all. Originally these balls were used as crowd control to make way for the costumed peoples. It is said that getting hit brings good luck. I think it is more lucky if you can avoid being hit. I suggest staying away from these weapon-bearing creatures because getting hit hurts. Getting wapped in the butt is not pleasant but it is all part of the Carnival experience.” Yes, I was hit, luckily not too hard. And only once on our way to the safety of the VIP area. The experience was just as it is described above, lot of music, people, energy, and smiles! The costumes are absolutely incredible- I am so happy to have my Nikon to help me capture the beauty and intricacy of the different costumes. The program brings us to Carnival as a group but I don’t think we get to be VIP. My uncle said that when the program takes us to let him know and he will get me (and perhaps a few lucky friends) some passes!

 

Carnaval, La Vega

 

VIP- Brahma Light

 

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2 responses

8 02 2011
MIMI

Wow!! what a wonderful blog installment and such a fun weekend at the carnival with your family. The costumes and masks are really remarkable. A work of art in themselves. Talk about color making a statement!

I’m glad your camera is performing beautifully, and sorry for your blackberry troubles- – – -Maybe you just got a lemon. Hope they can give you a new one.

If I ever get back to the DR It will have to be in Feb.

P.S. I have finally found my snapshots I took while on my trip there. Yeh!

TE QUIERO

15 02 2011
Aunt Nina

It is so exciting to read about your adventures!! I just love the picturers. My
favorite is the one with all of the girls jumping in the air on the beach. You
will always cherish this fabulous experience !!! So glad the shoes arrived.
I hope that there will be many happy feet! I loved getting your phone call.
I’m so sorry I wasn’t home.

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