***Disclaimer: Every city in every country has its beautiful aspects and its not so pretty parts. I love where I live and am thankful for the opportunity I have to live here. I would never want to belittle the Dominican Republic by comparing it to the United States. Apples and oranges. “Developing” is not code for “bad” or “lesser than.”
I’m reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. It’s about the lives of people living in a slum outside the international airport in Mumbai, India. The stories are simple enough, at least in the context of the slum, Annawadi, but from the perspective of a white American girl the stories are scandalous. I just can’t believe actually real humans live like this. But they do. And just like I see more of who God is in Harry Potter and Sirius Black, I see more of who God is in Annawadi. Because we are all image bearers and all of our stories matter.
This past Sunday at church our Dominican pastor (our church has two pastors, an American and a Dominican) said something like, “We’ve got it really good here. We all have houses to go home to. We have food to eat. Sure, our lives aren’t without struggle but considering how many people all over the world live, we have it really good.” And we do. We really do. But I thought I’d share a little of my story today. The ups and downs of living in a developing country, something I’ve only been doing for two years, but can report on with the perspective of an outsider seeking to understand and appreciate the culture and people here. Now I can’t speak about what it’s like living in every developing country everywhere, but I can talk about what it’s like living here in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. So here I go.
SOME NOT SO AWESOME ASPECTS OF LIVING IN A DEVELOPING COUNTRY //
The plumbing. You can’t flush toilet paper here. Which means you have to throw it away. I got used to this pretty quickly but this morning when I went to throw away my used toilet paper, I missed the trash can, which meant that I had to retrieve the used toilet paper from the floor behind the toilet. I was using our second bathroom which is off the laundry room (and doesn’t technically have a door) and pretty small, so I had to essentially stick my face in the toilet where I had just peed in order to reach the toilet paper and throw it away properly. Moments like that aren’t super awesome.
Whenever it rains a substantial amount, there is flooding. Sometimes crazy amounts of flooding in a crazy small amount of time. Sometimes the flooding goes down within a few hours after the rain stops. Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes it floods eight inches in front of the school and you have no choice but to roll up your pants and not think about all of the things you pass on the sidewalk on any given day as you wade through the sewage back up.
Random power outages. Sometimes some neighborhoods in the city will get on a schedule where, for example, their power is out every morning from 5-9am. I have never lived in a place where we were on a schedule, which is nice because I don’t think I’ve ever experienced power outages more than three days in a row. They’re usually pretty spread out. The thing is, you never know when one is coming! Just a huge *CLUNK* and bye-bye electricity. During the day it’s not a huge deal, unless you were in the middle of a blog post or a TV show, but at night it is hands down my least favorite thing about living here. I’ve definitely become accustomed to sleeping with a fan since moving to the Caribbean and as soon as the fan goes off, I wake up. And start to sweat. Plus, when you’re used to sleeping with the sound of the whirring fan blades drowning out any outside noise, any outside noise is so loud and obtrusive.
The other downfall to not being on a schedule is that you never know how long the power outages are going to last. Usually the power is back within a half an hour. Usually. But sometimes you’re without power for eight hours. Hopefully not when you’ve just put chicken in the crockpot or just gone grocery shopping. The wonderful thing about living in San Pedro is that there’s always Dominos and McDonalds to go hang out in during a power outage – they have generators and air conditioning!
The garbage. Every day on the way to school I have to walk past and through garbage. Usually garbage that has already been picked through by street dogs. Garbage that usually includes used diapers. I haven’t quite gotten a handle on the sanitation system of San Pedro. As far as I can tell, there are spots designated (by whom I’m not sure) for trash. Like the first corner I come to on the way to school. Everyone puts their bags of trash there. Some mornings I pass a man with a wheelbarrow and a broom picking stuff out of the garbage, but he doesn’t haul it all off or anything. I’ve also seen garbage trucks, but not super often.
We personally just bring our trash to the bottom of our outside stairs (I live in a second floor apartment) and then the woman who cleans the apartment downstairs does something with it. Takes it to the corner maybe? I’m not sure. I don’t ask too many questions about the garbage, obviously.
Apart from the random piles of garbage bags, there is just random trash everywhere. It’s an interesting dichotomy to stumble upon during your first days or weeks in San Pedro – the citizens of this city take great pride in their physical appearance. Everyone is always defying nature with their hair and their good smells and their clean clothes. How everyone but me can keep from being a filthy, sweaty mess in this heat is beyond me, but they do. Homes in San Pedro are just as spotless as their inhabitants! Most families have women they employ who clean their houses daily. Everything inside is pristine, but when you walk out the door, you have to watch your step.
No Humane Society. I love animals and I had to become callous to the many street dogs in our city. I was just talking with a friend today about how in the States we would never pay money for a pure-bred dog, but here it’s pretty much the only option. Sure, you can rescue a dog off the streets but you’re doing so with a pretty good guarantee that that dog is sick and probably going to die an early and inconvenient death.
SOME SUPER AWESOME ASPECTS OF LIVING IN A DEVELOPING COUNTRY //
Public transportation. In this article, some individuals who had come to the United States from other countries commented on what surprised them the most about the USA. More than one person mentioned the bummer that is American public transportation. I know that some cities in the United States are more up on the public transpo game than others, but I had never before lived in a land where I thought I could survive without a car. But here I am. Carless. For two years. Not just surviving, but thriving. Road-tripping, even!
Not only is public transportation convenient (I can call up a motorcycle taxi and he’ll be at my house in five minutes!) but it’s also cheaper! I spend way less on public transportation than I would on gas money and car insurance. Not to mention the cost of the car itself. Plus without a car I don’t have to worry about storing it or keeping it from getting broken into.
In San Pedro the main mode of public transportation I use (besides my own two feet) is motoconcho (a motorcycle taxi). Motoconchos are found all over the place. You can get picked up by one as he drives by or you can walk to designated stops. There are also motos who have their own corners where they hang out when not with a customer. Additionally, most people have at least one motoconcho driver’s phone number in their phone for those times when there isn’t a moto close by. In addition to motoconchos there are gua-guitas, vans that run different routes and cost a flat rate of 25 pesos no matter how far you’re going on the route. (That’s a little more than 50 cents.) There are also buses that go from city to city and general car taxis that we use for special occasions or trips to the airport.
Community. Yesterday I was unlocking the gate to my house when a high school student rode by on his bike. He passed me, then turned around and came back. “Amiga, dame un chin de agua,” he said. (“Friend, give me a little water.”) I said, “Tiene que esperar,” (“You have to wait,”) then I walked up the stairs, got him some water, walked by down and gave it to him. Because he asked me for it and I had it. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me but in San Pedro everyone is your amigo.
Today my roommate went downstairs to pay our rent to the landlords (they are a couple who live below us). The wife said, “Sit down, let’s chat!” and they had a nice little visit, because everyone is your friend. Sometimes this can get messy, like community often does, but I know that the people I greet every morning have my back because we live in the same neighborhood and see each other every day and say, “Good morning.” Somos amigos!
Stuff’s cheap. Not everything is ridiculously cheap, but the amount I pay to live in a pretty apartment is a lot less than it would be if I were to live in the same apartment in the United States. The public transportation is affordable, especially those gua-guitas and I can get a hot dog on a stick at the park for like, 50 cents. We sit behind home plate at the Dominican League baseball games for less than $15. Stuff like that. It’s cheap.
It’s October and I get to go to the beach on Saturday. I feel like most developing countries are pretty toasty climate-wise. This isn’t based on any kind of research or geographical knowledge (my knowledge of world geography is embarrassing) but just an informal assessment of general information I’ve heard. Also, most developing countries get a bad rap for being a hot mess, but boast beautiful elements of nature. The beaches (which are just a short bus ride away!) we frequent are gorgeous. Part of living in a city is getting to know its hidden treasures and to appreciate it for all of its moving parts, the beautiful and the not-so-pretty.
What are the awesome and not-so-awesome aspects of living where you live?
*My roommate took the pictures included in this post. I stole them off her Facebook.