So yesterday was one of those days. One of those WTF days. One of those days you have to bite your tongue not to ask ‘Why?’ days.

My day yesterday started at about 2:30 am. This was the time that the San Felipe planta decided to ramp up. I think there must be a law that says they have to produce the most noise possible in the middle of the night. Or they are just sadistic so and so’s! I don’t know, but the noise was so loud there was no chance of getting back to sleep. Though I did catch up on my reading!

By the time I got out of bed my head was aching and rather fuzzy. And the noise wasn’t over yet. When I hit the street for my morning walk with Mia some trick of the air or the terrain created surround sound planta screech. Until we got far enough away we were just enveloped in noise. Oh, and did I mention the toxic bunker fuel smell? No? Well, there was a heavy crude diesel smell all night too.

As the morning progressed the planta subsided somewhat. But then the heavy trucks started roaring up our road in what seemed like an endless stream. Up our rough road, rattling violently along and grinding gears and spewing their own toxic diesel stink and clouds of dust.

You’re getting the picture here, right? Long noisy night. Long noisy morning.

So I finally take my lunch break. Sit down with my sandwich to eat and watch a little Netflix and focus my eyes on something further away than a computer screen. Turn the volume up to compensate for the planta roar and pause my show for the trucks. I’m dealing with it. I think.

And then the helicopters start. Right over my house. One every 5 minutes or so it seems. It’s like being in an episode of M*A*S*H. I expect to hear Radar yelling ‘incoming’ from my yard. I turn the TV off so as not to wear out the pause button.

Okay, so now we’ve got constant planta roar, frequent truck rattle and roar and even more frequent helicopter thith thith thith roar.

Oh and, of course, the occasional loud moto roar.

I try deep breathing. I would try chanting ‘ommm’ but I don’t think I can handle the additional noise.

I go back to my desk and try to get something done. I try to ignore it. I try to get used to it. It can’t get any worse.

Oh, but yes it can.

The planta releases pressure and the noise from the middle of the night suddenly seems like a lullaby. It’s now an ear-piercing, high-pitched, hot poker through the head, god knows how many decibels screaming sound.  

You can’t breathe deep enough to deal with this. It’s hard to even breathe because this noise is just ripping through your body now.

Is it rum o’clock yet?

But there’s an upside. I can’t even hear the rattling and roaring trucks anymore. Or the thith thith thith roaring helicopters. Or the loud roaring motos.  It’s surreal. I can see them drive by or fly over but I can’t hear them. This is what it must feel like to be deaf.

Except for the planta screaming. Please somebody put it out of its misery! Or me out of mine.

And it got me thinking of the things we get used to here. In this case – noise.

I barely even hear the roosters crowing at odd hours anymore. Or the chickens sounding like they are laying an egg – which they probably are. Or the dogs barking. Or even the loud music or evangelical preacher coming up from the barrio. These are just part of my environment now. Just background noise.

And, for the most part, the motos and trucks are the same. I take a deep breath, pause and then go on. It’s just life here.

The planta quietly roaring in the background and spewing plumes of smoke into the air is not ideal, but I tell myself that it means we have power most of the time now.

And I have even come to terms with the helicopters – to a certain extent. Kinda.

We get used to these ambient noises. We adapt. We deal.

There’s a lot we get used to here (I actually spelt that hear at first – Freudian much!) that I don’t think many of us thought would be possible in our former lives.

But eventually the noise subsided and it was finally rum o’clock and all of it disappeared with the laughter and good company of wonderful friends. Listening to the sound of the ocean as our background music.

 

This one may be controversial. It is definitely a departure from what I normally do. I like to keep things light. I like to see the humour in where and how I live.

And that’s kind of what got me into this. You see I posted a picture on Facebook of a goat on the back of a moto without a helmet. And another friend posted a picture of a pig in a basket ‘going to market’ on the back of a moto. And there was blowback for both of us. And that’s fine, because everyone is allowed to feel how they feel about everything. But it got me thinking about different realities and different perceptions and different perceptions of reality.

You see the goat, to me, was a statement on the conditions of life here. A social commentary if you will. That they make a law that says the driver of a moto has to have a helmet on but not the passenger(s). So as long as he is wearing a helmet he can put four wee children on the back and drive like a maniac through the crazy and often dangerous traffic of Puerto Plata and it’s all good. It’s all legal. I now try to take carros or guaguas instead of motos. It’s only marginally safer considering the condition of the vehicles and the lack of driving skills of the driver and it’s actually cheaper, but it’s also a lot less convenient. And I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to make that choice. And I’m fortunate enough that I usually get a ride in a friend’s car to get where I need to go and don’t have to make that choice often. For many a moto is the only choice. So I guess I didn’t really see the goat as an abused animal. My reality is different and my perception of reality is different. And I guess I feel you aren’t going to get a goat to ride behind you on a moto if he doesn’t want to. But I get that other’s see it differently. And so I felt bad.

As I’m sure my friend does about her pig post. But that pig has to get to market. That’s the reality. And a moto is most often the only viable way they have to do it here. And it’s okay for you to be vegetarian and animal rights advocate – that’s your reality, from where you are. I’m big on humane treatment of animals. Their reality is a bit less cut and dry. A lot harsher. That pig is the way they will keep their family fed. A roof over their heads. Clothes on their backs. They can’t afford to feel sorry for that animal. They, literally, can’t afford to find a more humane to transport it.

And yes, I hate seeing those emaciated horses pulling carts down the road. Man, I hate it. But again, it’s their livelihood. It’s what they know. Find them a viable alternative. Or give them a supply of feed and medicine for the horse to keep it healthy. Because, odds are, they probably barely have enough to keep themselves and their family fed and healthy.

And maybe we become inured to it. Maybe we have to. Because on the other side of all the sunshine and beaches and rum and freedom we get to enjoy by living here, well, is the darker side of people living in some pretty extreme poverty. So maybe we do develop a bit of gallows humour. And a bit of a tougher hide. Maybe we do stuff down some things that shock us or break our hearts. Maybe we do the best we can to help and try not to realize that our best might not be good enough. Especially to the real world. And maybe we already feel bad enough about that. Because we know that even if we are struggling to get by, we are still living a more privileged life than so many and we have choices they don’t. The ultimate one being, for most of us – we can leave.

So forgive us if we seem to make light of some of the darker things we experience here. We aren’t horrible people. We are doing what we can and just trying our best to deal with and understand the rest of it.

I have been called a bleeding heart liberal more times than I can even remember. And I’m good with that. Because yes, if it was within my means and power, I would wave my magic wand and make everything beautiful and safe and wonderful. I would make sure every child got to school safely and got a great education. I would make sure every animal was loved and treated humanely. I would make sure every family had a safe and comfortable place to live and lots to eat and access to great medical care. I would make sure everyone was treated with respect for who they are and what they contribute. I would make it a world of rainbows and unicorns. Wouldn’t we all?

But we all live with certain realities. And we all have our perceptions of those realities. And we all do the best we can to help and effect change. And we all learn to cope with what we can’t change or help. Living here has changed my perceptions. And I know for myself that I can’t take it all on. The weight of it would literally crush me, my heart, and my spirit. It almost has at times. And so I sometimes make light of it.

And I can’t honestly say that if it was a choice between the survival of my family, and the comfort of a goat or a pig or a horse, that I wouldn’t do the same. It would be with a heavy, breaking heart but sometimes that’s reality.

And if you are privileged enough to live somewhere or be in a position to have a different reality, a kinder reality and a whole other set of perceptions of life, then just take a moment and try to perceive what it’s like for people living a harsher reality. You can bet they are doing that about your life.

This isn’t meant to be critical of anyone’s feelings about things or perceptions of life and how it should be. Please carry on being those wonderful crusaders and effectors of change. But when you see something that isn’t in line with your perception or your reality or your perception of reality, just pause, and realize it may be in line with the other person’s. And give them the benefit of the doubt.

 

A wise man once told me, when I was tending bar at his establishment, that if, every time I asked the question ‘why’ about life down here I put a peso in a jar, I would end up a very rich woman. Not that I didn’t already know, after so many years living la vida loca, that there often isn’t any discernable logic to life here in the DR – I did. Still, it was a good reminder. And you know – I wish I’d followed his advice.

So, let’s talk about some of these things that often seem so illogical to us expats and tourists. When you first come here it all seems so quirky and charming. You eat it up. Look at me in this strange new world. Not long down the road, it starts to eat you up. No matter how acclimatized or ‘aplatanado’ you think you are, you are going to find yourself asking why a number of times a day.

Why is that moto/car coming the wrong way down this one way street?

Why did he just give me a dirty look when he was going the wrong way?

Why does everybody only drive at night with high beams?

Why is he passing on this hill/curve?

Why does buying two 20oz bags of something end up costing me less than the 32oz bag?

Why is this guy passing me on the right when I’m signaling a right hand turn?

Why did my motoconcho tell me he knew where I wanted to go when clearly he doesn’t and I am now on a Puerto Plata city tour?

Why is the driver of my carro/guagua trying to fit one extra person (or two) into a vehicle where we are already sitting on each other’s laps?

Why doesn’t my mechanic do any work on my car unless I’m standing right there?

Why doesn’t my mechanic actually have any of the tools necessary to work on my car?

Why does it take a minimum of three people for me to purchase a PVC elbow joint at the ferreteria?

Why does my plumber need me to buy him a new can of PVC cement every time he comes to fix the pipes?

Why doesn’t mañana actually mean tomorrow?

Why, if they can give me candies or chiclets as change, can’t I use them to purchase something from them?

Why can’t anybody be on time?

Why doesn’t my motoconcho driver ever have any change?

Why when I ask for a hamburger do I always get a cheeseburger?

Why did the bag boy just pack my loaf of bread under my bag of dog food?

Why did the cashier just throw my carefully chosen tomatoes down the counter like they are bowling balls?

Well you get the picture. It goes on endlessly. Really it does.

The good news is that once you realize you will never truly know the answer to the question why in the Dominican Republic, well, life gets easier. You’ll still ask. You’ll probably never stop asking. But then you’ll just shake your head, have a private laugh and say what we all say – Only in the Dominican Republic! And when you go to Happy Hour you’ll have a heck of a story to tell!

Now pardon me while I go put a peso or two in a jar.