Once upon a time, I was 25 years old and traveled with a faded green backpack.
In it I kept the following items:
2. highly absorbent travel towel
sunscreen birth control pills
5. journal and pen (ok, that’s two things but they travel together)
I wish I had kept this backpack. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the Caribbean and we traveled light.
If I could put just five things in my backpack today, I would prioritize a little differently:
1. baby wipes
2. smarty phone
3. running shoes
5. journal and pen
For over two years I lived and worked and played hard in the Dominican Republic. Life on a mostly tropical island wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. First of all, they didn’t really speak what I knew as Spanish.
Dominican Spanish is spoken widely in the Dominican Republic. I hear it’s also commonly spoken in New York City, Boston and Miami. In order to use Dominican Spanish, one must speak at a very high speed, substitute the r sound for an l (ie. correr becomes correl or correi), and generally drop a bunch of letters and incorporate a totally different vocabulary from standard Spanish (ie. colmado for tienda, lechoza for papaya, guagua for autobus, chin chin for poco).
They also use fun words like baboso (moron) and bomba (gasoline station). Curiously, the bombas also served as discos (DR RPCV readers, please make a comment if you remember dancing to bachata at the bomba down the road from Entrena).
So it took a little time to adjust.
I lived in three places during my two + years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
1) La Capital. Santo Domingo is a large, busy, semi-modern city. It is the center of government and spralls over 100 kilometers. There are parks and universities. There are many, many motorcycles without mufflers. There are some lovely neighborhoods filled with older trees and crumbling sidewalks and colorful homes (usually found behind intimidating gates). And there is trash. Piles of it. El Malecon, the city’s waterfront, is attractive but when I was there cruise ships took the port off their stopping point due to the trash and sewage tossed into the shore – something most tourists on a Caribbean cruise would prefer not to see.
I lived in a humble cinder block home with occasional electricity and occasional running water. Once the water stopped mid-shower and I only shaved one leg. I took buses to get to training and walked a lot under the hot, hot sun. Occasionally I took a small motorcycle home which was strictly against the rules, but my host sister insisted. I was busy learning, and life-ing, and loving during these three months of training.
2) El campo campo. For six months I lived in the rural countryside of central DR. My memories of that time include sharing my house with mice and rats, boiling vast pots of water, visiting tin houses with dirt floors, walking, walking, walking, playing cards with neighbor kids, and running in the pre dawn with a kid who was training to become the next famous Dominican ballplayer.
3) Bani. I got robbed a bunch of times so I moved to a semi-urban project neighborhood in the city of Bani. Bani is a Taino word meaning “abundant water”. Ha! It rained a total of two times during the 16 months I lived there. The best part of living in Bani? Mangos and the people. The worst part of living in Bani? Heat, no running water (and sometimes nowhere to get water AT ALL) and the tigre population who lived on my street.
Every so often I consider what I would tuck into a backpack if I were to leave… tomorrow, next week, next year. Maybe I’ll write about what I’d tuck into each of my son’s backpacks next, or ask them to select five things that they would bring with them. The five items I’d pack tonight may change tomorrow.
But for now, good night, and good reading.