The following blog post was submitted by Molly Bilker, a participant on the ASU: Health Care and Culture in the Dominican Republic summer 2014 program.
I am slow to develop: distrustful and terrified of any place I do not call home, wary of my own loneliness and yearning for the family and friends that exist in the comfortable center of my world.
Something happens when you live in a different place for a while, and a month is not nearly long enough to really feel the change. I wrote before about the conchos and the trash on the sidewalks and the exhausting heat. The mosquitos pulling at your skin. These are all things that anyone who defines “home” as air conditioning, a backyard swimming pool, and manicured lawns would be eager to leave behind. I am guilty enough of it as well, unconvincing as I was in my attempts to be even-handed in my first post outlining these parts of the country.
What I forgot to mention was the tropical trees with their wide, leathery leaves and bunches of bright orange flowers. I left out the image of the banana tree that grows in the yard of the comedor infantíl—children’s dining hall—where I work every morning, with its heavy bunch of green bananas balanced within reach from inside the airy, open room. I did not bring up the sound of the Bon helados ice cream truck playing its jingle and the way the distant, bright piano notes sound from where I rest on my bed, the overhead fan cutting its own rhythm through the air.
This weekend, 10 of the 12 students in my group took the bus to the beach. Two stayed behind, me included, and my break from the constant echo chamber of U.S. American worldview opened a door for me I had not even known existed. I have come to exist in this place without interference, at least for a couple days.
The International Studies Abroad office was kind enough to put me in touch with some Dominican students from the university nearby. Yesterday, I played dómino with a couple of them and a man who asked to be included so he could practice his English with me. As we played and talked and they sang along with the Dominican songs playing at the bar where we sat outside, I caught myself as I realized how beautiful this place is, overflowing dumpster across the street and all.
Sometimes as Americans we like to come roaring through places, tearing them up and rearranging them in our image. The number of times I have heard “If I have to eat another banana, I’ll throw up,” comes disheartening to me now.
This is not about us learning to be in a place, no; it’s about the place being itself and us existing in it, however different our fit may be.