June , 2009
...Rumor has it that there is crazy gringa with silver hair running loose in Santiago. Reports say that she has been spotted in a variety of places and is suspected of being the responsible party for near accidents and severe cases of whiplash. She is also suspected of accosting strangers in supermarkets...
Yesterday, Arelis, her daughter Yohaira and I went to the supermercado (supermarket) to pick up a few items. Arelis also had to exchange the money I am using to bring food to families in Barahona/Los Patos. As we passed a Dominican man, I glanced at his t-shirt. I was so excited that I stopped him and started pointing at his chest. He looked at me like I was a little off my rocker (no comments!). “Mi universidad! Mi universidad!” The man looked at me again. I repeated, “Mi universidad!”to which he responded, “Bingo!” We all laughed. You have to understand---as a Maine transplant living in the midwest, it is a rare occasion anyone has ever heard of the University of Maine let alone wear the t-shirt. Ball State, Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue, yes. UMO, no. So you can imagine my excitement (just try, will you?) to see a little Dominican wearing a t-shirt from my alma mater. Moments later, I had regrets for not getting his picture. Dang. Just as I had that thought, I saw him a few aisles over. “Arelis! Un momento! Un photo!” I chased after him, gripping my purchases and my camera. I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. “Señor, por favor! Tengo un photo?” as I pointed again at his chest. “Que?” he asked. I repeated my question while pointing at his chest. Then in Spanish he asked me if I wanted his phone number. “No! No!” I pointed again. With a shrug of his shoulders, he said yes and I grabbed my camera and quickly took his picture. As I said “gracias”, he touched his cheek to mine and said, “De nada.“No problema.” As I walked away, I saw four teenage girls looking at what had just taken place. I repeated while circling my finger toward my chest, “Mi universidad.” They just laughed at/with me. When I caught up with Arelis and Yohaira at the bread counter, they were just shaking their head and laughing.
My hair color and white skin seems to be causing a bit of a stir as well. Of that, I am 100% innocent. I'm just made that way, you know. I don't just seem to stand out in the barrio, but everywhere I go in the city, too. I'm kind of getting used to the stares and the double-takes. It's rather comical to see the expressions on people's faces when they catch sight of me. Arelis just giggles. The other day, a Haitian man walked by the house carrying a bowl of avocados on his head. “Aguacate! Aguacate!”he shouted as he walked down the street. Arelis called him back to buy some. When Arelis finished making her purchase, He was still staring at me. “Okay! Vamos!” she had to tell him. He let me take his picture before he left. He was back the next day, shouting in Spanish through the gate, “Does the Americana want to buy some avocados today?” Arelis told me to just say no, thank you. He seemed very disappointed, almost put out. I'll tell you, though. I've never had avocados that tasted better than here. Arelis says the ones in Los Patos are even better and much bigger. She makes the size of a gourd with her hands.
While I laugh and joke about my hair and white skin, I am saddened at times about what it means. Yesterday, I accompanied Arelis to an end of year celebration at her school. One of her co-workers, a beautiful cafe-au-lait woman started talking to me about my skin. Basically, she was telling me that she wishes her skin was white and that white is better. I just told her that God made her beautiful already. There are many Dominicans here who think the same way she does. I experienced the same thing on a mission trip to the Philippines five years ago. Everywhere I went, the children would constantly touch my skin and talk about how their skin was ugly because it was brown and mine was beautiful because it is white. Man, I hate that. There were even billboards advertising products to whiten skin. The condition of the human heart is delicate and we wound ourselves even more. We are all miracles and beautiful in all our shapes, sizes and skin color. When will we accept ourselves and one another?
I keep saying that I want an adventure. Little moments like these fit the bill.