Here we are again… Christmas time. The lights, the candy, the music, the mosquitos, the sunny days, wait, what?
In honor of the holidays, I’m going to give you a breakdown of how daily life was different back in the States compared to my new normal:
Ohio: 24/7. Except for small outages from storms, electricity was regular.
Montecristi: The electricity here is called “la luz” and the luz goes out everyday. In my neighborhood, we generally have luz all morning until around noon or 1pm at which point it goes out until 6. While this generally means going the hottest part of the day without a fan, I’m lucky enough to live in a building with a generator that provides me with 24/7 luz. I know, I know… I get enough grief from the other PCVs already for it.
Average PCV situation: Each community has an unique luz schedule. It can also vary depending on the day of the week. Most volunteers do not have generators and go most nights without power.
Ohio: Even more regular than the electricity. Plus hot showers! You can make ice cubes with it, you can cook with it, you can even drink it straight from the tap!
Montecristi: We have water most days of the week. There is a tank on my roof that holds extra water for the times when there isn’t any coming out of the tap. However, this water is strictly for bathing, washing clothes, and cleaning dishes. More often than not, I make use of the PC-issued water filter to process this water for drinking. I do have a shower in the bathroom, but all bathing is done with cold water.
PCV: Some volunteers have running water, some do not. In the communities without, they use river water and rain water for everything short of drinking. This means bucket bathing and storing all the water outside in big tanks to use as you need. For drinking, you can purchase a 5 gallon jug for less than 30 pesos.
Ohio: Clean bathrooms everywhere. Public and private. Ample and soft toilet paper.
Montecristi: There are some clean bathrooms at a few restaurants. No more than 4. I have a toilet inside the house with a magazine rack and a sink.
PCV: I would say more than half of volunteers have a toilet inside their homes. A few have bathrooms that are just separate from the house, and some have latrines. Obviously, in the communities without running water, latrines are the norm.
Ohio: Washer and dryer. Dry cleaning if necessary. Sometimes the instructions say to hand wash, but nobody ever does that anyway.
Montecristi: I have a two sink set-up in the patio behind my house. That’s where I wash all my clothes by hand, once a week. Saturday is always laundry day. I hang them up on the clothesline in the sun and wait for them to dry.
PCV: Several PCVs have people wash their clothes for them. Whether it is their former host mom, or a nice lady across the street, many volunteers opt to pay someone of confidence to do their laundry for them. This is very common for male volunteers since most of the doñas don’t believe that we know how to do it. Female PCVs do it too, but usually not as frequently. Others have their own washing machine that they use at their houses or they borrow one for the afternoon. Dominican washing machines are small and portable and you just plug it into the wall and go. Nobody in the DR has a dryer. Maybe even the president himself air dries his boxer shorts.
Ohio: Typical Midwestern diet. You have your choice of supermarket, farmer’s markets, the whole gambit restaurants, and fast food chains.
Montecristi: Dominican food always and forever. I sometimes eat with my host family but mostly I cook my own food. While I actually enjoy the food here when someone else is cooking it, I have never once made myself rice and beans. I eat a good variety of root veggies (potato, yuca, batata) and lots of plantains. No wonder I’m always constipated. These goodies are called víveres and they are commonly served with eggs, salami, fried cheese, onions, or some combination of the like. Dominicans traditionally eat a big lunch and a small dinner. A lunch is always meat, rice and beans, and a green salad. Always. The type of meat and the preparations are constantly different, but the basic components never change. Dinner is usually very casual and in my host family’s house it was either víveres or bread and a smoothie and TV time.
I have a little four burner gas stove that I use to cook my creations. There is an oven, but it doesn’t work. I found that out after trying to turn it on one night after already having mixed up brownie batter.
I have a choice of two grocery stores in the city and their are various colmados around where I can purchase small items.
PCV: You’d be hard-pressed to find a volunteer who actually cooks rice and beans in their house. We get plenty of that. Most PCVs end up cooking their own food on stoves or eating with their former host family. Some families without gas stoves use wood or charcoal fires to cook their food.
Few PCVs have grocery stores in their communities. Most have to take public transit (or hitch a ride) out of their sites and ride anywhere from ten minutes to two hours to get to the closest grocery store.
Ohio: I had my own car, just like most other people my age. Walking was purely for exercise.
Montecristi: Walking is pure necessity. I walk everywhere. Since my house is on the top of a hill, some days when I’m feeling particularly sweaty I’ll take a moto taxi the rest of the way up. But only when I have my helmet, of course. Nobody else walks. Most Dominicans use a motorcycle or a scooter for transportation in the city and they think I’m the weirdest kid ever for not owning one.
PCV: Everybody walks. The ironic thing is that most people we interact with have the misconception that all Americans like to walk everywhere all the time. I let them think that. Transportation between parts if the country is effective, if not chaotic. There are several different sizes if public buses around, and there is always room for one more person. Always. I once rode in a 13 passenger van with 27 people in it. Including the two babies who were ostentatiously breast feeding the entire time. In the more urban areas, there are regular taxis and public cars. Public cars follow a specific route and can carry 6 passengers (four in back and two sharing the front seat).
And now ya know. I never thought I would miss the cold… And I was right. Winter in the DR has treated me well this far. The only things missing are my family and the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story.
Happy Holidays everyone! ¡Y un próspero año 2014!