I would like to know if there is an easy way to inform someone of a potentially embarrassing situation. We all know that if we say, "hey, your fly is down," or "there´s an enormous bogey in your left nostril," that these casual observations can quickly convert into feeling of shame and sadness on the part of the offending party, especially if said observations are reported after a manner of announcing them in a rather public way. But what do you do if shouting is your only option, and even when you do it, know one can here you?
So as usual, I have no idea if I mentioned previously how house contacting, street contacting, or communication in general works out here in the D.R. To talk on the phone, you have to buy cards from the colmados or phone stores with a set amount of minutes on them. Actually, I have no idea how many minutes are on them, because it only tells you how many pesos you paid for the card. So I know I have a hundred pesos worth of minutes, and I still don´t know much about what that means. I know when I receive a text from Orange, the phone company, saying I have 11 pesos of minutes left, that I´m in trouble, because that seems to be worth less than a minute of call time. Which is why unless someone has an unlimited talk plan, the phone convos, at least for missionaries, are pretty darn short. Which, all things considered, probably isn´t such a bad thing. But often times, if we know the conversation will take more than 30 seconds, we beep the person first, and hang up, and they can call us back. It sounds complicated, and it sure is. But once you get into the rhythm, you hardly cry at all late late at night over it...
But back to the real communication problem, which is, ironically, the face-to-face kind. Isn´t everyone lately bemoaning how we are so wrapped around our phones that we don´t ever have time for real conversations in person? Well, my companion and I are TRYING mightily to have such conversations, but we are currently house contacting in an area that is rather filthy rich. Which means the views are always fun, but it also means the following 1). The house is behind a large gate. It might be made of bronze, or painted white, or waist high or impossible to see through, but it´s there. It´s always there. 2). For some reason, many of the doorbells are either a). missing b). broken c). unreachable. C is normally, as in most standardized testing, the correct answer in this case. Through the fence, I can see a doorbell. It´s staring me in the face. But I´d have to climb your fence, pass your dog, and if I make it to the porch, I could then reach your doorbell. Instead, I have to yell "Hola," or "Saludos" at the top of my lungs to get these peoples´ attention. Or, if by some miracle to outer doorbell exists and functions, there is only a 50-50 chance that it will be answered. We´ll look at the half-full glass and say someone answers it. This person is an middle-aged lady with a paunch in a dress that is checker-patterned and either green, red, or blue. She will tell you that the owners of the house or either gone or sleeping. We then leave our invitation to the church with her and ask her to pass it on to her bosses. But all the while, I have to wonder why the workers of these houses get to enjoy the children and commodities of this amazing castle that they guard more than the people that actually live there. But I´m just a careless observer. What do I know? But nevertheless, if I had any advice for these people, it would all start with having a doorbell that WORKS and is placed in a place where people who wish to communicate with the inhabitants can easily push it to announce their presence. Just an idea. I might patent it when I get back to the states.
But the fifty percent of the people we do talk to are pretty cool. You´ve got more than your occasional weirdo, but even they are pretty fun to talk to. But the thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many people my companion knows. Often, when we talk to someone on their porch, they tell us they´re actually from Santiago, which is way up north opposite from where we are. My companion happens to be from Santiago, and even if the person we talk to lives in still another part of the country, she probably has some connection to them too. And the running joke with her is that every time she meets another Rodriguez, she tells the person, "my dad always told me I had a long-lost Aunt, Uncle, Cousin (etc.) that lived around here..." It weirds me out a little until I remember that we´re on a bite-sized island and three or four of her countries could easily fit in my state of California. So then, the "coincidences" of her knowing so many people seem, well, a lot less coincidental. It is kind of cool, and makes for good conversation starters though. The advantages of tiny island living: You apparently know everyone. The disadvantages of island living: Apparently, you know everyone, and they all know you, and hence, all you business. But there is a congeniality and sense of belonging here that is neat to witness. I think I´ll miss it.
And as long as we are talking about culture, I might as well throw in what I´m throwing down. I am totally educating my Latin companions as to the delicate art of the "Slug Bug!" Hma. Alfaro, my previous companion, never fought back and just took the slugs, even though I´m positive she saw some of the VW bugs before I did. However, Hma.Rodriguez is too slug happy, and often times, tries to slug me for cars that, in my opinion, are not even close to looking like slug bugs. I don´t know if this is passive aggressiveness or what, but I´ve been slowly and patiently continuing to slug her correctly and pointing out the very distinct differences of a Volkswagen beetle from EVERY OTHER CAR. I think it´s finally sinking in. We have to be careful, though. I´d hate for one of us to be sent home for slug bug abuse.
And finally, I will tell tale of a cool couple we are teaching. I shall call them Millie and Arnold. Millie was invited to a fruit activity we had at the church where we talked about all the health benefits of different fruits, had a slide show, and a rather delicious fruit salad afterwards. Millie immensely enjoyed the activity, and we´ve been teaching her ever since, so for a little less than 2 weeks. She works as a secretary, or something like that, in the same building as the president of this country. Pretty cool. Her husband is pretty crazy, missing his two front teeth and is often saying rather inappropriate things to his wife in front of us. He sometimes will stay and listen to the lesson if we coax him long enough, but normally he retreats to the bedroom to watch (loudly) his war movies. He´s also a big fan of Disney movies, apparently. But interestingly enough, he and I share the same birthday, and literally to the year, we are 30 years apart. This Saturday, the glorious 15th of September, he and I will be aging just a little bit more. I will be 25, and he will be 55. He thinks it´s weird I´m not married yet. I told him (more or less jokingly) that I don´t plan on marrying until I´m his age. He threw up quite the fit at hearing that, and said I´m a "Pura Jamona" (pure ham, o sea, an old maid.) MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sometimes, it´s fun to say things just to confound people. But if I would be allowed one birthday wish (I feel like I should be allowed two), it would be that I could see a piece of carpet again. No house here, not even the richest of the rich, have carpets, from what I¨ve seen. They would be a real beast to keep clean, I imagine, and I´m just so used to perpetual tile now. But someday, I wanted to walk barefoot and not have dirty feet afterwards, nor hear the echo of my footsteps. But yeah, here´s wishing myself and Arnold a Happy Birthday. May all us hopeless Jamonas live long and prosper.
One Year Older and Wiser,
Hermana Sweeney "The Fearless"
(except on Sundays)