January 19, 2014: Life in the Countryside

The roosters in this village don’t know how to rooster, at least not in the traditional, pastoral cock-crows-at-dawn sense. They crowed to themselves for half the night and most of the morning. Nonetheless, I slept soundly and contentedly. When I arose—or rather, stumbled ungracefully out from under the edge of the mosquito net—Elana was making coffee, and two young neighbor children were hanging around keeping her company.

(Elana says it is normal practice for people to leave their doors and windows open when they are home and available, which signals to other people in their community, especially children, that they may drop in freely.
If you visit someone who is eating or drinking, they’ll offer whatever they have to you as well, even if they have very little.)

Vigilant rooster, sleepy cat.
Vigilant rooster, sleepy cat.

Both of the neighbor kids were initially very shy. The girl, Ariany, assessed me for a few minutes, then decided she liked me and gave me a hug. When Elana and I sat down to take coffee, Ariany climbed up and sat in my lap, resting her head against me and cuddling—rather sweet. Her brother Wendry was much slower to overcome his shyness. At first, he would only peer his head around the side of the kitchen door at me, popping back out of sight if I looked directly at him. Eventually, however, he grew more comfortable, and he and Ariany slid about on the floor together, pretending to be a cow and a cat, respectively.

Thanks to the kids and their tireless enthusiasm for this game, we learned that “pull my finger” is a thing here: one person extends their middle finger, the other person grabs it, and the first person pulls their finger away while gleefully exclaiming “Jala peo!” (more or less “pull a fart”?) or other variations like “Jala mierda!” (I’ll let you figure that one out).

Once we finished coffee and had had enough jala-peo-ing, we kicked the kids out for a bit so that we could have a quick breakfast of fried eggs and cassava (yuca) bread and so that Elana could prep for a Peace Corps presentation she’d be giving later in the day.

Streets of Clavellina.
Streets of Clavellina.

Walking anywhere in this campo is a bit of an undertaking, as, at every other house or tienda (shop), we would spot someone Elana knew, say hello, and be invited to sit down and chat, as they jumped up to grab chairs for us. After several such pleasant delays, we arrived at Luisa’s place for lunch. She had prepared cerdo (pork), rice, a salad platter, and a pumpkin-pea soup, all quite delicious. She also brought out some concón (the crunchy crust of rice from the bottom of the pot after cooking) and dulces de guayaba, naranja, y leche (guava, orange, and milk sweets). Luisa kept offering me more food and fussing over whether I was hungry and if I liked the food, which was very sweet and slightly nerve-wracking, as I worried whether I had given enough compliments (Elana assured me that the persistent fussing and attempts to feed were just a normal cultural thing).


Afterward, we headed over to Luisa’s sister’s discoteca (nightclub), a nice, open, tiled patio during the day, so that Elana could work on her presentation. She pulled some tables together and prepared some poster-sized papers for her reunión (meeting). I helped her by looking up a few unusual Spanish construction terms and coloring in some of the posters’ art shmancily, and then wandered off to attempt to photograph the local animals. Most people in this village have a few chickens or goats, and you can also spot the occasional turkeys, donkeys, guineas, palomas (doves) in cages, sheep, pigs, and horses. At this time of year, many of the goats and chickens had young offspring, so I followed them around as surreptitiously as possible (not very), attempting to get cute baby animal photos, because I have priorities.

La discoteca, complete with mirror-mosaic columns and disco ball.
La discoteca, complete with mirror-mosaic columns and disco ball.

Once Elana finished her posters, we walked over to the club, a large, green-and-pink-painted patio where Elana would hold her reunión. It was due to start at 4:30PM; Elana (correctly) estimated that she would start it at 5:30PM, as 10+ women from the community meandered in late (or on Dominican time).

Elana’s presentation was about the new stoves whose construction she is organizing. These fogones mejorados (improved stoves) have chimneys, and thus will be hugely more healthy and efficient than the current cooking method used by many people in Clavellina, an open fire over three stones. With the help of a grant, she’ll be able to provide many of the stove parts and training to the community for free. This proposal seemed to be received well: all the doñas talked loudly and enthusiastically over each other, in tones that seemed argumentative but which Elana assured me are normal and positive. It was really nifty to see Elana at work with her official Peace Corps Pants on, and she handled the chorus of opinionated doñas very coolly.

After the meeting, burned out from all the rapid-Spanish interactions of our very social campo day, we returned to Elana’s casita for a while. We sat on the side porch, ate popcorn, and listened to the competing sounds of crickets and bachata music from the disco at the end of Elana’s street.

A mildly inappropriate linguistic sidenote, from the idiolects of Molly and Elana: I am accustomed to using bolsa as the Spanish word for “bag/purse”; it has been in my Spanish vocabulary for perhaps a decade now. However, early in my trip, Elana told me it was used in the Dominican Republic as slang for “ballsack.” So, logically, we just started saying “ballsack” in all sentences where we would normally say the poor, slangified bolsa. For example, you might have heard us say “Hey! Necesito traer mi ballsack?” (“Hey! Do I need to bring my ballsack?”) or “Puedes poner este en mi ballsack?” (“Can you put this in my ballsack?”). Yes, we have the humor of a pair of thirteen-year-olds, but I blame it on the creativity of Spanish slang.

Once we had recharged sufficiently and night had fallen, we walked into the dark campo streets: no streetlights, just scattered house-lights and discoteca music to guide us. The stars were astoundingly bright and clear, far as they were from any significant light pollution. We settled into wooden chairs by a tiny food cart (where a bunch of other village folk were also hanging out). There, we bought a wildly unhealthy but tasty dinner of frituras (fried food): berenjena (eggplant), bola de yuca (a ball of manioc with some cheese inside), and chulo (football-shaped yuca blobs), all deep-fried. My poor arteries.

Rubén came over for a while, later in the evening. Originally, the plan had been for all of us to go out dancing at the discoteca in town, as Sunday is the big party night here. However, it was closed, and Elana and I both didn’t feel like going all the way into Dajabón for an open disco. (This has been one of the nicest aspects of the trip: Elana and I travel very well together. We both enjoy some adventure, and we try to be up for anything, but we both also prefer a solid amount of relaxed downtime. Several times, we’ve had the conversation of: “Shall we go out tonight?” / “Sure, if you want to.” / “Sure, if you want to.” — then figuring out we mutually would most enjoy staying in.)

Instead, we spent a few minutes visiting with an acquaintance of theirs (an Argentine woman working with an animal welfare organization), then headed back to the casita. We hung out on the porch, joking en español, for an hour or two, then Rubén departed. After a visit from a gregariously drunken neighbor (who needed to know if we had any chocolate to share), Elana and I headed to bed to read and to sleep.

A nighttime visitor.
A nighttime visitor.

3 thoughts on “January 19, 2014: Life in the Countryside

  1. And Boop used to burp if you pulled his finger, too. But that’s all he did. He was dignified.

    > women from the community meandered in late (or on Dominican time)

    That’s very non-ethnocentric of you!

    I particularly like your bolsa story. I kept saying bolsa when I was telling them they lost my suitcase because I forgot the word for maleta, but they knew what I meant. Along similar lines to your story, in Guatemala, the word “chaqueta” means “jacket.” In Mexico, it’s something entirely different that you definitely don’t want to use.

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