Not that I objected. Having traveled to the DR for twenty-odd years I looked forward to the challenges of living full-time in a foreign country so close to my FL home geographically, but far away culturally. Challenge is synonymous with “my life.” Embrace challenge. Then will it into submission.
So in late March 2008, I boarded a Spirit Airlines flight in Tampa bound for Santo Domingo and jumped off the ledge. A few short hours later I landed and was met by the smiling face of Alida. Thus a new chapter began.
The motley crew on the Inaugural SW Tour
Alida’s Family at her parent’s 60th Anniversary
It’s hard to believe it’s been over eight years now. What started as a great personal experiment has become my life.
Like many who had only visited the DR, I’ve learned that being on vacation did not prepare me for daily life here. Only living here can do that. Even the most experienced traveler to the DR–and I considered myself one, having traveled here frequently over twenty-something years-just cannot know. Credit goes to my bi-lingual native Dominican wife, Alida, and her warm, loving and large family of 12 siblings for easing the transition. However, I’ve had to learn many lessons the hard way. And the lessons will never end.
While on MotoCaribe tours one subject routinely will enter conversations with guests: “Robert, what’s it like to actually live here?” The question usually comes around the fourth day on tour when the enquirer has absolutely fallen helmet-over-boots-in-love with this amazing, exotic country, hypnotized from the seat of a motorcycle while adventuring in Paradise. He hasn’t seen what day-to-day living is like. The unspoken sub-question is actually a statement: “I think I’d like to live in this awesome place!”
Like any new environment, one must accomplish the basics first: get food and drink, find restrooms, a place to sleep and a way to communicate with the outside world. So you learn where the various stores are, find suitable living quarters and score cell and internet services. Getting started may be sometimes frustrating and is imminently doable…on “Dominican time.”
One does not truly live in a country until he understands the unwritten and unspoken subtleties of the culture. Otherwise it’s just a vacation with foreign props.
I could answer the inquiring guests question by describing trips to the grocery and cell store. But instead I offer cultural nuances I’ve learned from living here. The list is long, so I’ll split them in several blog posts. So enjoy the first compilation of societal subtleties I’ve picked up in the last four years:
Slow-roasted whole pig
- When Dominicans smile at you, it doesn’t mean he agrees with your words or behavior. It’s just a smile, that’s all. Don’t interpret into thinking it’s something it’s not. Conversely, a Dominican raising his voice doesn’t mean he’s angry.
- Never, ever underestimate the ability or resourcefulness of a Dominican. They could build a space shuttle out of cement, rebar and used moto parts if they wanted to.
- If it’s labor-intensive, it’s much less expensive than in the states; if it is material intensive, it’s much more expensive than the states.
- You will be the same person here as you were at home. The environment doesn’t change your basic person. You can’t run away from yourself even if you wanted to.
Rebending Givi Crash Bars the Dominican way
- Business in the Dominican Republic is much harder than in the states on many levels. Don’t compete with Dominicans on their turf in business. They will win, and you won’t know what hit you. Import your revenue, and become a customer of other Dominican businesses.
- Expect nothing, and you won’t be disappointed.
- The tourist areas are to the rest of the DR as Daytona Beach is to Kansas or Idaho. No comparison.
- “Manana” doesn’t mean “tomorrow.” It means “maybe” with a bias toward “never.”
- There are many more conservative Middle Class Dominicans with strong ethics and morals than most tourists and many ex-pats would realize. Or want to realize.
- Oregano is life. Or so it seems. It’s on everything. Wouldn’t surprise me if it’s on the Cardinal’s mass wafers…
- The least dependable people on Dominican soil tend to be ex-pats. A broke ex-pat can be one conniving SOB.
- Never assume your personal safety or the security of your possessions. It is possible to protect yourself and secure your belongings. You just have to do it yourself, and tell no one what you did or how you did it.
Proud, well-used moto