Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tales From The Motherland, Part 1

Last month I took a little trip to the Dominican Republic. It's been nearly 15 years since I'd been there last to bury my grandmother, and, coincidentally, this trip was right on the tails of K & N's paternal grandmother dying. We only had five days to make this a fun and memorable trip and we were determined to make it happen.

Let me tell you- we had fun. We saw lots of family, ate great food, relaxed and took in some sun. But my Santo Domingo is not your Santo Domingo. People hear that you're traveling to the Caribbean and they get all jealous and begin to daydream about white, sandy beaches, clear-blue waters and lush resorts. Well, honey, that's not where I stayed.

Remember East New York or Bushwick in the 80s? Well imagine that but 10 times more dangerous and gritty. Nearly naked kids in the street using plastic bags and strings as kites. Stray dogs so thin and lethargic they looked like they were about to die any second. Stray cats everywhere, begging for scraps. And everyone living behind metal gates and padlocks.

We did not have the key for that padlock.
Once we were locked in, that was it for the night!

I heard tales of a growing crime spree against women, similar to the violence occurring in Mexico. And before I could go shopping at the local Olé (aka the Dominican WalMart) I had to remove my nameplate. Apparently even a 40-year-old gold necklace with my name on it would mark me as a victim in the street. But they speak of it so casually, as in, "Oh yeah, this block is OK but over on 3rd Street? They'll kill you for five pesos." OH WORD?! Remind me to stay here on 11th Street, then. Thanks.

Not 3rd or 11th streets, but in the vicinity.
I'm from BedStuy, so I'm no punk. But the kind of crime and danger I was being warned about in Los Mina-the kind that made my grandfather's friend shove me into the house because it was after midnight and anyone could have snatched me and the girls off the street-that shit is definitely new to me. I mean, I'm used to riding the subway at four in the morning, traipsing up and down Minna Street without a care in the world (except for racoons; they're all over my block!). This snatching people for ransom...I just...

As we settled in for the night, Papi said to me (as he left to go sleep at his girlfriend's house-MORE ON THAT LATER), "Lock the door behind me and then prop up the chair up against it." EXCUSE ME, SIR??

I slept maybe two hours that first night, snuggled up with my babies in a full-sized bed, praying we'd see the morning and listening intently in case that chair began scraping across the floor...calculating in my head how much time it would take me to grab that shank Papi kept on the dresser.

For the record: 3.2 seconds. I wasn't going down without a fight.

*smooches...promising more uplifting travel stories soon*
it wasn't all bad; I just had to keep it real for a second.