Wednesday, August 22, 2007


My father's" lady friend" passed from cancer a week ago. He had only known her about 3 months but had completely fallen in love with her. B said, "when you are that age you already know what you want." I'm inclined to agree with him. I called my father to see how he was doing. He proceeds to tell me about every moment in their relationship in great detail, which for once I do not mind. Listening to him was my way of showing sympathy. I knew he really needed to get all of his off his chest. He ended the call with some words of relationship wisdom which I gladly accepted.

Fifteen minutes later my phone rings and the caller id shows it's my father again. I answer and he says, "Can you send me a sympathy card?" At first I don't respond because I was trying to convince myself that I misheard him. No I was correct he wants me to send him a sympathy card. Actually I had considered sending him one before he called. Now I didn't want to send him one at all. I stopped myself from berating him but I sure did want to. I'm not sure what possessed him to call me to ask for a sympathy card. You don't ask for sympathy cards. I can't tell you why you shouldn't but you just don't. Is it sympathy if you ask for it? Yesterday I begrudgingly went to the store and bought him his card. I really didn't want to though but if that's what he needs I'll do it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Part III: Te rompiendo mi corazón

After I met with Richard the travel agent I ran to my room to change into my bathing suit. I couldn’t wait to get on the beach. I had not been to the beach in 4 years. Since moving to the East Coast I have stopped going to the beach for three reasons. I can’t deal with driving hours to the beach when I grew up only 15 minutes from the beach. In the Boston area the water is freezing and what’s the point of that. Also, as I have mentioned in this blog before I’ve gained 25lbs since then and I kept telling myself my body wasn’t beach ready. It took a lot for me to go to the store and buy a bathing suit and even more nerve to show that much of my body in public.

I strolled out there and decided that I couldn’t be concerned with my flaws. It was the beach in another country so I could not let my insecurities ruin my relaxing vacation. I find myself a beach chair and an umbrella and lay down. I took out my book with the intention of staying out there all day reading. I read two pages and then I realized that I didn’t want to read at that moment. In fact, I would not read any of the 3 novels I toted with me. I just laid there staring at the water and the beautiful white sand. I was captivated with my surroundings and I could do nothing other than gaze into the open ocean.

There were only a few open thatched umbrellas open and unfortunately I was near all the water sports equipment. After a while I realize this is advantageous as I get to watch people wind surf and go out on their kayaks. There are a group of guys who are in charge of the water sports who are constantly out there helping guest with the equipment.

“Hola!,” says the young thin man with the grey eyes. I greet him in return. He begins speaking Spanish but I have to explain to him that I don’t really speak that well. As usual he questions me about my background. There is a couple next to me and he starts talking to them in Spanish. I can understand most of what’s he’s saying. He’s telling them that I am the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. So every time he walks by me he says something to me or to them.

“I lover jor eir. Can I touch it?”

I just laugh it off. Then I realize that he isn’t always speaking Spanish. He’s speaking several languages and I realize he’s talking to everyone about me. I don’t know what he is saying but from the reactions and the pointing I know he’s talking to everyone about me. He’s acting like a teenage boy.

“Hey how many languages do you speak umm, como te llama?” I ask.
“I speak Spanish, Italian, German, French and English. Oh and my name is Gabriel (Gah-bri-el).

He was very good looking with a great body and the attention he paid me helped the day move along.

I went to lunch and on my way back I hear “Hola” again and I see someone waving at me frantically. He runs over and before he gets started I stopped him from bombarding me with Spanish. He asks me if I am interested in taking part in any water sports. I tell him I’m not and looks puzzled.

“You came this far and you are just going to look at the water?”

Indeed sir, I’m just going to look at the water. Later on he stops by my chair just to chat. He convinces me to try snorkeling. I actually get excited and I am looking forward to it. He tells me that he has to do it after work so I should meet him out there at 5pm. When the time comes he walks by and says “let’s go” and starts walking before I can even get out my chair.

He’s changed from his work shorts and is wearing jeans and flip flops. He grabs some equipment and he tells me to put it in my purse. We start walking towards the less crowded side of the beach. He continue to walk and I am aware that he’s starting to take me off property. I ask him how far we are going and he tells me we need to get to a part where the water is more clear. I am hesitant as I am alone with a stranger. We continue to walk but I keep looking back to make sure we aren’t getting that far. I tell him that I am not interested in walking any further. He informs me that this isn’t the best place but if this is where I want to stop we can try it.

He hands me the mask and explains to me how it works. He takes off his pants and we get into the water. The water is warm and we are right on a reef. Although I had been in the water earlier I didn’t feel comfortable. I’m not sure what it was but I start getting nervous. I begin to panic and he tries to calm be down. “Tranquila, tranquila,” he says. His efforts are futile and he helps me get out of the water. “You can’t snorkel unless you are relaxed. Let’s sit here for a moment and then let’s try again,” he tells me. He takes my towel and makes it into a cushion so I can sit on the rocks. I was embarrassed that I was freaking out.

“Yo creo que estoy lista pero no era la verdad,” I say nervously.
He laughs, “We will get in when you are actually ready. You just let me know.”
I giggle nervously for the next five minutes.

We sit and watch the water for a while. We start talking about where he’s from, how I learned Spanish, and our families. There are quite a few moments of silence that I welcome; something that I usually nervously fill immediately. At no point did I feel like I was talking too much or he wanted me to be quiet. The surroundings are comforting and I start to dig my toes into the damp sand. My companion notices this and begins to bury my feet in the sand. He takes care to make sure that every part of my feet are covered. I get nervous as I realize how sensual it is when he caresses my ankles to pack the sand around them. At that point I realize that I have forgotten his name. He tells me his name is Coco but I ask him for his real name. He takes his index finger and writes his name in the wet sand, C-A-R-L-O-S. Two hours pass with ease and I never get back in the water. I get hungry and we walk back. I thank him for the company. He suggests that tomorrow we go for a ride on the catamaran since that doesn’t involve swimming. I tell him I’ll think about it.

The next day I go out to the beach and I don’t even bring any books with me. I plan to just sit there all day and get some sun. “Hey Aicha, why are you in the sun? You are going to get too dark. You have the perfect Domincan color, not too light, not too dark,” Gabriel exclaims. I was taken a back at how openly people talked about skin color. This was the third time someone told me “don’t get too dark.” For some reason this day Gabriel didn’t have much to do and he seemed to be really comfortable around me. When he would walk by he would sneak up and pet my hair, sprinkle water on my feet or throw sand at me. A couple of times he just sat on the edge of my chair and made me speak with him in Spanish. During the afternoon I decide that I need to make sure I get an even tan and I start to lay on my stomach. I’m nearly asleep and then someone sits on me. It’s Gabriel, I start laughing and calling him names in Spanish. The German couple next to me is laughing too because he’s been telling them he’s fallen in love with me. I start playfully hitting him but then he stands up all of the sudden. I ask him what’s wrong.
“Coco is over there driving the banana boat and he just saw me sitting on you and started shaking his head.” he tells me.
“I bet he’s going to be mad at me,” he continues. I don’t really respond.
“Is Carlos your boyfriend? I saw you guys walking way over there yesterday.”
I looked stunned and said “No, he was teaching me how to snorkel.”
“Well he’s your boyfriend now.”

I was confused because I didn’t know what just happened. Gabriel leaves and I go back to sleep. I see Carlos and I ask when we are going to take a ride on the catamaran. “Later,” he says curtly. I start to get restless so I go take a swim in the ocean. The water is warm and I stay out there for a while. When I get out of the water I have to walk right in front of the water sports booth and all of the guys are sitting around doing nothing. I hear someone say “hey!’. I turn around and wave and I hear in unison “Hola Coco” accompanied by a thunderous laugh. At that point I am really annoyed. I was convinced that Gabriel was the mastermind of this incident. When I run into Carlos later I tell him what happened as best as I could in Spanish. “People just like to talk,” he tells me.

My last day comes around and I skip breakfast and I go directly to the beach. I get out there and walk around trying to soak my last moments on the beach. Gabriel of course is the first one out because what he loves more than me, is the beach.

“Estas aqui temprano ,” he says.
“It’s my last day out here. So I skipped breakfast since I’m leaving at noon,” I inform him.
“No! Ah, ¿porque te rompiendo mi corazón?” he asks.
“Of course I wouldn’t purposely break your heart.”
“Look she’s going to leave me here and I don’t know what to do,” he tells the Dutch couple.
They laugh hysterically.
“Well let me help you find another woman,” I tell him.
“There aren’t any other women. White women are ugly and I don’t like Dominican women,” he says with a straight face.
“What’s wrong with Dominican women,” I ask?
“I just don’t like them.”
I decide not to press him any further.

“Well, before I leave let take your picture.”
“Why? So you can tell all your friends ‘this is the crazy fucker who wouldn’t leave me alone on the beach’? ” he says in his best English.
“Pretty much!”
We both begin to laugh hysterically.

He convinces me to go out with him on kayak. I agree since I really wanted to try something new. We go and get life jackets and I see Carlos. I try to engage him in conversation but it’s clear he doesn’t want to talk to me. I am confused with his demeanor and I realize he must be mad that I was hanging with Gabriel. I laugh to myself as I realize that after two days I have caused drama amongst co-workers. I’m known for this but it never happens this fast.

At this point I was glad this was my last day on the beach. I don’t think I could have taken the drama. I was on my do nothing vacation and I didn’t need anyone stopping me from relaxing. A couple more hours pass and I say my farewells. Gabriel was out on the boat and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I hugged Carlos and went on my way.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Part II: Solamente en Español

Based on the reviews at, I knew that most of the resort staff would not speak English. This was simultaneously exciting and nerve racking. In 1998, I was nearly fluent in Spanish. After 3 years of high school Spanish and one semester of college Spanish, I could have a conversation in Spanish with almost anyone. Nearly ten years have passed and I have lost most of my command of the language. My career and my social life could benefit immensely from knowing Spanish.

Upon arrival, the first person I encounter is the bell hop. He says something I don’t understand. I assumed that he wanted me to leave my bag with him so I did. Another guy says something that I understand to mean that I should register then come back and tell them my room number. After leaving my bag with him I headed to the registration desk. I hesitated to talk in Spanish lest he think I could actually speak Spanish. I was able to check in using a mix of English and Spanish and I was on my way.

As I waited for the bellhop, I sat next to a very dark skinned brother who started speaking to me in Spanish. I gave him a sly smile and said “Solamente hablo un poco de Español.” He started asking me questions and I could only understand 30% of what he was saying. After that we were very quiet until he wanted to know the time. “Diez y diesicuatro,” I said. Then I realized fourteen was catorce and not the literal way I said it. I’m sure he now really believed that I wasn’t Dominican. The bellhop comes to pick me up and asks me for my room number. “Seiscientos y veinte ocho” I tell him. He starts to speak to me in Spanish but I inform him that I “entiendo mas que hablar”. “You aren’t Dominican? You don’t speak Spanish?” I'm sure it's also strange that I keep telling people in Spanish that I only speak a little Spanish or that I understand better than I can speak.

At that point I didn’t realize that I would be asked this every time I encountered a staff member. The bartender, the waiter named Amable (which I knew meant friendly), the hostess and the travel agent all thought I was Dominican. The resort does get a few local tourists on the weekend so I was starting to understand. I wasn’t expecting any Dominican tourists.

During my first day I met with Richard from Coco Tours to inquire about excursions. I knew I did not have time to explore but I wanted to know more about it for next time. He spoke English well and is very animated since he is a salesman. At lunch Richard sees me eating alone and joins me. We start making small talk in English. The waitress approaches me and asks me what I want to drink in Spanish. Richard interjects “en ingles” but before he could get it out I answered “Coke por favor.”

“You speak Spanish?” Richard asks in spanish.
“A little I learned it in High School.”
“Well then, solamente en espanol.”

For the next 30 mins I had to speak in Spanish. I was nervous but excited for the challenge. We talked about New England as Richard got a scholarship to go to Providence Community College. He studied mechanical engineering in undergrad but he is a travel agent because he loves to travel. He’s going to Brazil in September because Sao Paulo is so popular. He also loves baseball but informed me that Dominicans don’t like Alex Rodriquez because he denies his culture. We also talked about my fear of water sports and he encouraged me to try something out while I was there.

I was actually hoping that I would find time to have a full conversation in Spanish. I got my wish. I felt somewhat confident that I could even understand what he was saying. However, I was disappointed that I couldn’t speak better. At least my accent still sounds authentic. I’ve been meaning to take Spanish classes at the USDA graduate school and this ensured that this time I would actually do it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Part I: Welcome to the Dominican Republic

I arrived at night to Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic. As I walked down the stairs of the plane I had to assume that the thatched roof structure in front of me was the airport terminal. It is an open-air airport so the weather is right there with you as large ceiling fans try and cool you down. I wasn’t sure how long I would spend in immigration and customs before I could get on my way. Surprisingly it took about 30 seconds to clear immigration, 5 minutes to get my bags and 3 minutes to find my driver.

After booking my trip I didn’t realize how far my resort was from Punta Cana. On the map it looked close but it was really 90 minutes away. There was another airport that was closer but flying there cost about the same price as my flight with transportation. However, I would have loved to save the time. I get into the van and we start on our journey. As we drive through the mostly two lane roads of the DR, it is quite dark and I cannot see much but the lush vegetation. However, I can smell everything and I am able to use my sense of smell to discover what I cannot see. I can identify sugar, trash, and cow dung. When I could see I rather close my eyes.

Dominicans are very aggressive drivers, which left my heart in my throat for most of the ride. It’s common place to pass drivers on the left on a two lane road. It often turns into a game of chicken as the driver tries his best to pass while another car is coming straight for us. Plenty of people walk uncomfortably close to the road and the cars don’t bother to move over. The main mode of transportation is the moped. When you are in a city you see women or two to three men on a single moped speeding along on the road. The cars get very close to the mopeds asserting that the road belongs to them. The mopeds ignore their flashing lights, honking horns, and the fact that the cars are less than an inch away from mowing them down. Driving is like ballroom dancing and I suppose they were driving Bachata, very close, very trusting but dance with the wrong person and it can be dangerous.

In the cities of Punta Cana and Higuey, I was able to see many local people before I got to my white washed tourist destination. I don’t think I saw a single person with skin lighter than me. It felt like I was at a family reunion and everyone could be my cousin. At 9pm on a Saturday you see packed churches, bars, and pool halls as evidenced by dozens of mopeds in front. It’s colorful, the flat roofed homes in every pastel imaginable. Merengue and Reggaeton continuously blare from the pool halls and clubs. Women with painted on jeans, halter tops and a fresh blowout or cornrows. This is the DR I want to eventually experience but not on this trip.

After 90 minutes we finally arrive at Canoa Coral my home for the next three days.
Just a Start....more to come

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