I had written this post December 3rd in the airport on my way back to the D.R., but had yet to post it. After a hectic few weeks and a bad horario de luz, I’m finally getting around to posting it now …
Having made the adjustment from life in Los Estados Unidos to small town life in the Dominican Republic as my latest cultural adjustment (others include switching from an inner city public school to a suburban private high school, moving from Philadelphia to study abroad in Buenos Aires, etc.), I figured all the “culture shock” hype in returning home to the states was probably a little exaggerated. After all, how hard could it be to adjust to having electricity 24-7, hot showers with water pressure, not having to sleep with a mosquito net and having some variety in my diet?
That answer turned out to be a little more complicated than I originally thought. For one, I noticed that I had newly acquired Dominican instincts. For example, whenever I was in a room and someone would turn on the lights I would do a little fist pump and excitedly think “llegó la luz!” before realizing the luz was there all along. During my layover before arriving back in the Northeast, I thought to myself “is the tap water safe to drink in Fort Lauderdale?” While going through at&t’s automated customer service menu, I nearly pressed the asterisk just because the voice told me to, before realizing that the voice was in Spanish and that oprima-ing the “*” would have put me through to a Spanish speaking operator. I would occasionally see wooden pallets on loading docks or sitting outside of warehouses and think “look at all that unutilized furniture wood!” and while in stores look at certain pieces of furniture and/or products and think “I could make that.”
My flight out of the D.R. was delayed 3 hours (over twice the amount of time the short flight to Fort Lauderdale should have taken in itself) which caused me to miss my connecting flight to New York. As most of the flight seemed to be missing their connections to one place or another, I ended up traveling to the hotel where the airline put us up, with a group of Dominicans from the flight. Being back in the U.S., but still speaking Spanish for the first 12 hours was strange, but also amusing as a father hoped that the hotel would have mangú for dinner upon our arrival. A grandfather traveling to visit his granddaughter in NJ for the first time, suggested we skip the shuttle to our hotel (which was taking forever) and try to get a bola (free rides common in small towns in the D.R.), before we advised him hitchhiking from the airport in Florida to a hotel we didn’t know how to get to at midnight wasn’t going to work. As our shuttle finally came, a child complained about the AC to his mother, who was travelling with 4 young children, the mother replied in Spanish “you’re cold, you’re tired, you’re hungry … anything else?”
My initial moments back in NYC were strange as well, as I am less familiar with La Guardia than JFK and felt quite outsider-ish on the bus as everyone else sat around in their winter coats on their smart phones, as I checked the time on my non-serviceable Dominican cell phone, in the warmest clothing I had brought with me when I left in August, a hoodie. While waiting for the train, I quickly found the nearest halal food stand, where the only other customer ordered in English before turning to talk to me in Spanish. Ah America, where I am often confused as being Puerto Rican, unlike the D.R. where I’m picked out as “Americano” or “Gringo” from a mile away.
Back in Connecticut, the biggest adjustment was the cold. While still not winter, I was constantly freezing, sniffling, sneezing, and would wake up everyday with my muscles tighter than I can ever remember them being. After Connecticut I made stops in both Philly and New York. I knew I was back in Philly as I waited for a friend to pick me up from the bus stop and overheard a few expletive laden conversations, and watched a bicycler run a light through a busy intersection, yelling at the cars with the right of way that they didn’t want to mess with him (although to be fair, in NYC I saw a taxi driver hit a pedestrian who had the right of way. As the pedestrian, who was fine, calmly approached the driver telling him he was in the wrong, the driver charged out of the cab after the pedestrian cursing him out along the way, while a bystander took the opportunity to hop in the back seat of the empty cab and wait for the driver to finish his tirade).
Having gotten to visit most of the friends and family I wanted to see and having put on 10lbs in my first week from all of the food I had missed, I am happy with the outcome of my first visit back in over a year. As I finish typing this post in the airport terminal (waiting on yet another delayed Spirit flight – avoid flying Spirit if you can!), I am excited to get back to work in my community. I now have a better understanding of what sorts of projects can be successful here and what steps can be taken to assure their success. In addition to resuming my youth groups, I am most excited about the basketball league we are forming and the baseball field we are planning to build. In the last sports related meeting I attended before visiting the U.S.A., an athletic director from San Cristobal shared my distaste for meetings where a lot is said, but little accomplished saying: “Estoy harto de teorizar!” / “I’m fed up with theorizing!” After a little over 2 weeks of explaining my work and future plans to friends, family and strangers I too am tired of the talk and ready to get back to taking action in the community.