Less than 48 hours after arriving, we hosted our first guests. I hope, seeing as how we get to live in the Caribbean for the next two years, that this is a sign of many guests to come! This first visit is the product of a happy coincidence. Melissa, a SAIS classmate of ours, was on the other side of the island in Haiti for work. Her boyfriend, Adam, came down for a small vacation to see Hispaniola and they bookended the trip with a stop in Santo Domingo.
Adam and Melissa are the adventurous type, generous to a fault, and full of laughter. The pseudo-improv nature of their relationship is lovely. They’re like an old-school comedy couple, today’s Stiller and Meara. The set-ups are subtle, the one-line responses are quick, and animated voices (mostly her) abound.
We, as a group, had planned this well before Larina and I left Washington. In fact, we knew we would need bedding and supplies beyond what the Embassy provides as a “welcome kit” if we were to host our friends at even a basic level. That helps explain the preponderance of luggage we brought with us – sheets, towels, et al take up space! Although we kept our exploring brief and close to home, we dove right in. Language proficiency helped as we moved about town. In fact, during a quick supply run to the local colmado (a cross between a bar and a convenience store), Adam quipped to the bartender, in fluent Spanish thanks to his Peace Corps service in Central America, “Get used to seeing this guy’s (my) face!”
The great thing about guests is they can be a soft of forcing function for exploring where you live. I saw more parts of Jamaica, Italy, and Washington, DC - even Chicago – than I otherwise might have because of visitors. Of course, being new to the city, Ray Ray and I likely would have ventured out in these first days, at least to the popular Zona Colonial, to get a feel for the place. That is where we, and our guests, spent the most of our time during this first weekend here. We slowly wound through the streets and squares of the more touristy part of town. It has all the charm of a once-major colony, and for a moment you feel like you’ve slipped back a century or two.
I have been here for work a couple of times already, but there is only so much one can absorb while running between meetings and venturing out at night for dinner. My sense – and our time exploring with our guests validated it – is that there is a constant humming in Santo Domingo, an invisible current flowing under daily life. It’s a hyperactivity to every errand or hustle that is simultaneously tranquilo and laid back. I suspect that will take some getting used to. After all, DC is not known for its leisurely pace.
With that, our time in the Dominican Republic officially begins. It is considered one of the first European colonies and the first major outpost to serve as a gateway for Europe to the New World. Knowing what we know now about the adverse impact of settlers (e.g., disease) and how they treated indigenous populations, exploring that history can be slightly uncomfortable, though no less interesting.
That said, we look forward to many more visitors, adventures, and stories. Come see for yourself if the bartender at the colmado gets used to my face or not.