I have loved living on my island for 20 plus years. Still do! The community I live in is off the grid as far as big hotels are concerned but the area offers short stays in apartments and is right on a long strip of beach. The winter months always bring the "turistas", the tourists. These are people who want a more casual holiday than the big hotel and all-inclusive experience gives and one which gives them a taste of actual life here. On my daily exercise walks along the beach, and in the beach restaurants where I might stop for coffee or lunch I meet many of them. When they find out that I live here all year long, their usual response is, “Oh, How lucky you are!". I am usually besieged with questions about how I came here in the beginning and why. I love answering these questions because I feel lucky indeed to be here.
Only once did I get the opposite response. Two women with whom I started a conversation asked me where I was staying and when I mentioned that I live here, their response was a decided, incredulous "WHY?". Feeling like a burst balloon, I asked them about their holiday experience. They were definitely not impressed with the environment and could not imagine anyone choosing to live here with all the usual problems of island living and especially the "mañana" attitude of the local people. There is no rush here to get things done immediately, or even today, hence the use of that Spanish word which means tomorrow. This is probably one of the most frustrating experiences one can have coming here from a fast paced northern life.
Nothing gets done quickly here but therein lies the real joy for me. I remember clearly one of the first times I experienced this. As a teacher on break and rushing to get tests marked, l felt the need of a snack and so rushed out to the tiny "colmado" just outside the school gate. A colmado is a small store, not unlike a Mac's Milk or 7 Eleven in North America. The word when used as an adjective, means “full to the brim" in English. Indeed these stores are full of every imaginable food and grocery item and they usually serve coffee. Some are larger than others; this one was very tiny but the owner did a brisk business selling to the students at their break times. This day when I got there the owner was just washing up from the morning rush and when I asked for coffee he told me I would have to wait but he was making it “fresh, fresh”, as he said. I sat on the railing and watched him make the coffee. He had a great smile as all Dominicans do, and the music was playing on his small radio. There is nothing as joyous as Dominican music. The sun was shining, I relaxed and forgot about the urgency of the work I had left. I thought, “If I were in the cold north right now, I would be tapping my fingers in impatience, not even looking at the server and I would be missing the connection with another human being”.
This has happened many times for me here on my island and I experience it with a rush of gratitude every time. Standing in line at the bank is always an occasion to share a smile with the person in front of or behind me, or sitting waiting for my turn to see the doctor can be a chance to share a conversation with the person next to me.
The greeting is very important here. There is a custom here that when people enter a waiting room they say “Buenos” or “Buenas”, the greeting for Good morning or Good afternoon and just those few words signal the human connection. Those present reply in kind. It took me awhile but I soon copied the habit. Always when I approach a bank cashier, or the receptionist in an office, I hear this greeting, "Buenos, or Buenas, cómo estás?" which means "Hello, how are you?" and not only do I reply in kind but now I initiate this on my own, taking time to really look at the person and smile. This exchange is very special.
To those who asked me the incredulous WHY, I think how much they are missing. For me it is all about just "being" here.