In the summer of 1998 when I was 21 years old, I studied for a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic. As part of my program, we were required to do a “village study.” The premise of the village study was this– divide college students up into groups of three/four (with at least one male per group, for ‘protection purposes,’ I would suppose), and send the group of students off to a village to ‘interview’ residents of the community and produce a report with their findings. We were given a stipend of money to use during the trip to cover transportation, one night’s lodging, and food; however we were responsible for “figuring out” public transportation to the village and finding our own lodging once we were there.
So, my group and I spent quite some time at a bus station in Santo Domingo figuring out how to get to our assigned village of Peralta. All I remember is that we took a couple of buses, then a “carro publico,” and then rode in the back of a pick up truck filled with chickens and men dressed in camouflage and carrying M-16s. Our 21 year old selves were thinking, “This is frickin’ awesome, but perhaps borderline sketchy?”
When we got to the village, we asked some of the residents about finding a hotel. We went inside the “hotel” they led us to, which was basically a house that this man lived in with two empty bedrooms and an outhouse. We were about to tell him the version of, “When hell freezes over we will stay with you,” in Spanish, but before we could speak the words, he read the disgust and worry on our faces and informed us, “You may not like it, but it is the ONLY hotel in the town of Peralta.”
So that kinda sucked.
But, we were determined to make the best of it and walked around the town that evening, mingling with villagers, dancing bachata at a discoteca, and even were invited over for dinner at someone’s home. When we went back to the “hotel” that night, Kirsten and I both had to pee.
After taking a look inside the outhouse, we decided to hold it until morning. At night the biggest flying cucarachas I had ever seen had come out and were congregating.
We went back to bed, and laid at night on the mattress with springs poking out at us and no sheets. We couldn’t sleep, and the more we couldn’t sleep, the more we thought about how much we had to pee.
I remember promising Kirsten that I would use the outhouse if she did. Some kind of pact we made that gave us the courage to face the cockroaches, I suppose. Kirsten went into the outhouse, but while she was in there, I suddenly envisioned a cockroach crawling up my leg as I was squatting to pee. And in the midst of this vision, I immediately dropped my panties, squatted outside, and peed my heart out.
Well, apparently the “hotel manager” owned peacocks and wild turkeys. Because as soon as I was feeling the relief of my bladder slowly emptying, what seemed like a million peacocks and turkeys ran towards me and literally surrounded me. I just remember the chorus of their calls and thinking, “OMG–they are totally going to attack!”
But they just stared at me, talking at me–right in my face. It’s like they were saying, “Chill the heck out. Just chill.”
So it was one of those weird moments, just like your first kiss, or graduation day, or the day you broke a bone that is just plastered in your mind. And I suppose it’s plastered there because it was a turning point in my time in the D.R. I kinda realized in that moment that I was never going to have an experience quite like this ever again, and although I had come there to study another culture, I ended up becoming acutely aware of how my American vision of “how things are supposed to be,” was getting in the way of enjoying the rarity of what I was experiencing and feeling everyday. And once I finally shifted that perspective, I was able to actually enjoy the life I experienced there–everything from the warm water in a jug my host mom heated up for my bath every morning, to picking oranges off a tree and devouring them with my host sister.
So, in memory of those experiences, here’s one of my fave D.R. recipes–arroz con maiz. Simple and easy!
1½ Cups of rice
3/4 cup of cooked corn
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of oil
½ cup of chicken broth
1½ cups of water
In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoon of oil and salt.
Give it a minute to get really hot, to where the salt almost looks like it may dissolve, but not quite. Next add the ½ cup of chicken broth and 1½ cup of water. Wait for the contents to come to a boil.
Add the raw rice, and blend together on the stove for 1 minute. Cover the saucepan with a lid, reduce the flame- allowing the contents to simmer for about 10 minutes. After this time you will add the corn, blending it together with the rice. Replace your lid and return to the stove with a low flame for an additional 15-18 minutes.
And since I couldn’t find a picture of the peacocks, here is one of me and my dear friends, Pachy, Rocio, and Angelo, who I met during my study abroad.