I’m really sorry I have no pictures from today. I had my camera, but we needed everyone’s attention as we attempted to drive in Santiago. I won’t be able to adequately describe it. It defies logic, but somehow it works.

 There’s a main road through Santiago that we took. It’s 2 lanes, each way or at least that was how it was intended. Now it’s a free for all. There are cars and motorconchos EVERYWHERE! Two lanes of traffic easily become five.  We were stopped at a traffic light, waiting for it to turn green. We were in the outside lane, and there was a row of cars next to us. Next to the row of cars were another row of cars trying to get in (they didn’t have a lane). In the oncoming lane next to us, cars going the same way as us, crowded in. So now 2 lanes have become 5 to 6 lanes. The cars in the oncoming lane, pulled in front of us because they were going with the light. Tristan brought to our attention the car BACKING UP on the sidewalk.  Not only did he back up, he picked up someone coming out of the store. It was madness! But we loved it!

 It was like this the whole day, and the great thing was that it worked. No one got mad, there was no road rage, no honking or yelling, everyone just made room for each other. Dan made a good comment on how this would never work in the US as we are too territorial. Someone would complain about someone being in “MY lane”, or “I am not going to let them get in front of ME”, or “this is MY side”. Here if someone needs to get in, you just let them. No big deal. There is plenty for everyone. My lane is your lane, my sidewalk is your lane too.

Being stopped at a traffic light produces its own uniqueness. While you are stopped, there is usually someone coming up to the car wanting to clean your windows, sell you something, or show you a big tumor on their stomach (yes that really happened). What made it even more interesting was the window on Dan’s side didn’t work. He couldn’t roll it down. We were stopped at one traffic light and a guy came up and started washing the windshield. We waved him off, but he kept going. He washed Dan’s side first and left the windshield wiper blade up. He knew we couldn’t drive away with it like that.

“He’s going to leave that up until we pay him something,” Dan says.

With Dan’s broken window, he couldn’t roll it down to put the wiper down himself, and the cars were so close, he really couldn’t open his door either. I was not happy about this. I don’t mind giving someone a tip, but if I have told you no, several times, don’t hold me hostage. I angrily rolled down my window.

“Put the wiper down,” I said.

“No habla English” he says. I know he is lying and for some reason it really just set me off.

“I know you understand English. Now, PUT THE WIPER DOWN!”

He looks at me, smiles, puts the wiper down and says “I put the wiper down in English.”  Perfect enunciation!

Anyway, after that, I was more in the flow, and didn’t go off on anyone else.

We went into a hardware store, similar to a Home Depot. It had everything. No one spoke English, but we weren’t deterred. Nearly every day since we have been in the Dominican Republic, we have been practicing Spanish. I have the kids think of something they might say that day, then I write it, in Spanish, on a cheat sheet for them. We had the basics down, “Hello”, “How are you”, “What is your name”,  “I am fine”  “My name is….”.

That day Tessa’s phrase was “Tengo gusto de el” meaning “I like it” and Tristan’s was “Donde esta” as in “Where is the” and “Desearía” meaning “I’d like”.  Dan was practicing “Por favor nos trae la cuenta” meaning please bring the bill. He has been working on this for awhile. The other day I heard him cheat, saying “Bill por favor”. I have several words and a few verbs covered, plus I carry the translation book. It works pretty well. We are fairly good at reading Spanish, sort of good at speaking Spanish, and really fall short on understanding when it’s spoken fast.  But for the most part we do just fine.

In the hardware store there were about 5 clerks per customer. None spoke English. We were looking for a hinge, so the easiest thing to do was show the hinge and ask “Donde es?”

I saw a stovetop espresso machine and a clerk came over to help me out. I was looking over the brands, trying to find out how much they were. She was very patient and gave me the price verbally in pesos. I can read and do the translation when it is written, but not when it’s spoken. She was trying to tell me 260 pesos (around $6.00) but I couldn’t understand. I could say “escribe” which meant write it down but then couldn’t find a pen in my purse. Finally she was able to say 260 in English. She was so great. She never got upset, or impatient, in fact she was so happy that she could say it in English. I thanked her and said “Gracious por su paciencia” (thank you for your patience) in very bad Spanish. She just smiled. Everyone is like that. They really appreciate you trying to speak the language. I told Tristan and Tessa later to remember how helpful she was and when we go back to the US, they need to have the same patience with people who were learning English.

After that we went to Jumbo, a Super Target type store. They sold toys, clothes, food, everything we could want, in a huge clean store. CHEAP! We were in heaven. This was our reward for all the days spent in the “Bahamian supermarkets”. Tessa and Tristan made a dash for the toy section. Tessa found a toy she wanted but it didn’t have a price on it. She asked me to find out how much it cost. I said I couldn’t because I couldn’t say that in Spanish. “I’ll find out myself,” she informed me with an attitude. I maturely replied, “Well good luck with that because they don’t speak English!”

A moment later she was talking to a man wearing a red shirt, like the sales clerks wear. She was telling him she needed to know how much it cost, as she held out the toy. He told her (in ENGLISH) that the price should be on the shelf. Leave it to her to find the only English speaking person in the store.  She told him it wasn’t not marked, and brought him over to show him. As he came over he was pushing a grocery cart full of groceries. He wasn’t a clerk, he was a shopper. He told me that I can take the toy to the scanner over there and it will tell me the price. He started to hand the toy back to me, but mistaking my lack of interest (I’m not buying the toy) for misunderstanding, he instead said, “I’ll do it for you.” He came back a few minutes later and said the scanner wasn’t working. He asked me to watch his cart and he’ll find out the price from someone.

More minutes passed. I watch the frozen food in his cart start to melt. I try to read the grocery list he has printed in a journal in his cart, in very neat handwriting. It was all in Spanish. Sadly, I can only make out cheese (queso). I wait some more. I am astounded that he would go to all this trouble for us, but then it never ceases to amaze me what people will do for Tessa. Finally he came back and tells us the price in English. I thanked him profusely. Now, however, I felt obligated to buy the toy since he has gone through so much trouble. I would put it back on the shelf but he was still close by and I know Tessa would put up a protest loud enough for him to hear. Sigh. She has outwitted me again. Luckily it was cheap.

I was proud of myself as I resisted the temptation to go on a shopping spree. I did give in and buy a new tablecloth as we really needed it, and a few groceries. Back out on the street we made our way out of the city. Dan stopped and bought me a beautiful bouquet of lilies from a roadside vendor. I was very happy.

On the way home that night, we stopped at a roadside restaurant outside Mamon. The menu was printed in English and Spanish, but we chose to order in Spanish. Tristan ordered the sea bass. He is becoming quite the fish lover. The owner didn’t speak English, but we communicated very well. The food was good, and the atmosphere relaxing. The electricity went off twice while we were there, leaving us alone in the dark for awhile, but that was alright. It really bothered the chickens who were running around our feet. Apparently they were afraid of the dark.

I forgot to mention one guilty pleasure we had in the city. McDonalds. Yes, we gave in. We figured our kids had been good sports about all the less than attractive eating places we had drug them to, and they graciously ate whatever was put in front of them so they had earned the right. And as we had back in the States whenever we finished eating at McDonalds, we declared “Never again!” I guess at least not until the next country.