Well, I have delayed long enough. We’re back and it’s precisely because we’re back that it has been difficult to find time write. The boys and I touched ground at Las Americas last Saturday. It felt so good to be back in the land of chaos and continues to feel so nice to be home. I’m amazed at how much the DR has become home to us and yet how much what we call home is a shifting between two (or more) worlds. It stands out to me, of course, in the food we eat.
I went back to work on Monday and found myself, at the end of the day, anticipating Vilma’s rice and beans with a little salad. I had missed this. The simplicity of it. The easy leftovers. The guarantee that the boys will eat it. Knowing that Vilma (5 months pregnant and with the boys all day until school starts back up) can leave this to cook practically unattended reduces my stress level.
Wednesday we had a despedida (a good-bye party for our amazing Consul General) at the Ambassador’s residence. We still don’t have an Ambassador (which is a total bummer because the guy they have lined up sounds pretty cool…and he’s a Texan). When we have events there the food is never fancy. Not at all like those parties for diplomats in James Bond movies. But, it’s always good. And, I love these parties. Santo Domingo lends itself beautifully to outdoor festivities – especially in the evening, when there’s a breeze. Despite the simplicity of the food (which was good) there is always this cocktail party atmosphere that reminds me that we’re diplomats. It’s the type of party I pretty much never went to in my old life. Even if it’s not all sparkle and champagne, it looks more or less what one would anticipate those things look like.
Then Friday I spent the day traveling for work. My colleague and I visited an orphanage and a batey and then we stopped and had arroz blanco y habichuelas from a stand on the side of the road. It was served on Styrofoam out of plastic buckets. We sat at a card table we shared with whatever other travelers happened to come by. There were lots of bees. It was hot. We talked about what would be the next step with the community we had just visited. We laughed a lot. Our bellies full, we hopped back in our jeepeta and headed back to the office.
Friday evening we went to a birthday party for one of the boys’ friends from school. It was also a despedida. The family is Italian, have lived in the DR for many years and the husband has been transferred to another country. Besides the family, we were the only foreigners. We see this group of people all the time – the boys’ school is very tight-knit. But, at the end of the day, we remain outsiders there. People are very friendly and the boys are loved by their friends, but we have found it challenging to develop strong relationships there. People already have their lives. The party was at a restaurant called Lincoln Road – it is the most fabulously perfect kid-friendly restaurant in the entire city. They also have a great weekday lunch special. The kids were served chicken nuggets and French fries or mini-pizzas. The adults ate communally off a plate of what my girlfriends and I used to call “fried goodies.” Picking (not loading up your plate) is considered appropriate. Take one, eat it slowly. Move on subtly to the to the next item. Eating seems to happen this way frequently here (although I can’t claim to have done a thorough study) – it’s quite the contrast to the free-for-all of the driving, queuing and shopping.
As usual, I think I am beginning to ramble. It’s actually through the rambling process that I seem to work out my point – which was sitting there in my brain all along. What I love about this post: all these worlds, compartmentalized and yet woven together.
Have I mentioned before that I love Santo Domingo? I don’t love the food here. I’m not passionate about it. But, I do love having all these different areas of my life that I adore and finding that they’re joined through the simplicity of the food. At each of these events the food had the same quality – nothing fancy. But, every second, of every one of these moments I felt so at home. I felt in love. I never wanted, at any moment, to be somewhere else or eating something else. I love the wonderfully simple meals I can prepare with good ingredients back in the States, but I wasn’t racing home from work on Monday wishing I could have…I don’t know…anything different than what I knew Vilma was cooking. I don’t spend my time at Embassy gatherings thinking it would only be better if the hors d’ourves were more delicate, more cuisine-like. And, I certainly don’t secretly wish that Dominican street food were Malaysian street food even though Malaysian street food is a-ma-zing. We may have few Dominican friends, but I’ll take the moments we do share with locals however I can get them, even over a plate of nibbled fried goodies with insanity of five-year-olds whirling in the background.
I think what this all means is that food matters, but maybe the longer you stay somewhere it matters less than you think it does at the beginning. Or maybe it means that what happens while you’re eating and who you eat with matters more than what’s on your plate. On the other hand, perhaps it means I am starting to love the food simply because I love the DR and our life here. Hmmm…either way, we’re back. We’re eating. We’re laughing. We’re home.