Get your dance on!

The bass booms, the walls vibrate, you can’t hear yourself think …
Your heart pounds a little faster, you can feel the blood running through your body, excitement kicks in and then before you know it, your feet and hips are moving to the music.

Not everyone loves to dance, but I for one, do. And, I don’t have to be drunk to do it! In fact, I don’t really like drinking that much so I rarely bother (once or twice a year is enough for me!). Thankfully, I’m not easily embarrassed, so I’ll head out on the dance floor to wiggle wiggle wiggle without any liquid courage at all!.

When I was in Punta Cana in April, my new friend Emily asked if I would like to go off resort and go out salsa dancing one night. That sounded like a lot of fun to me and I hadn’t really been off resort as we had been busy getting settled after the fire, then I was doing photographs and then photographing the wedding that I was there for. So, by Friday, after all of my work was done, I was ready to be adventurous! Of course, I didn’t want to be dangerously adventurous!

Emily had the idea that we could ask some of the locals who were working at the resort to go with us. We had been talking with staff on and off all week, so there were a few that we (meaning Emily lol) would approach and ask. She also had the advantage of being able to speak pretty decent Spanish for a white girl, so that helped!

The idea was that if we went with locals who worked at the resort, they would know the best places in town to go and they have to work the next day, so they wouldn’t want to kill us … that might get their bosses a little angry.

Further than that, Emily and I agreed that in order to be safe, we’d stick together and we wouldn’t drink. First of all, getting drunk off resort could possibly make us sick because of the use of local water. And, second of all, we both knew it was better to think straight than blurry! Our goal was to go out dancing and have a good time, but neither of us required liquor to do this.

Our plan was to head to a big hot spot for dancing called Mangu. We had heard that it had both American style music as well as lots of salsa dancing which was what Emily was most excited about. Me? I had no idea how to dance salsa, but I was up for trying!

Yes, yes, I know that many of you out there (including my parents) are cringing at this situation, but you just have to remember that I don’t travel to see a resort and be waited on. I travel to get a feel for what the local area is like, what the locals are like and get to know them.

Being two mature adults, we made the best choices we could in order to make the adventure out to a local club as safe as possible so that we could see what it was really like in Punta Cana, rather than what the disco at the resort with all the foreigners was like.

The group of us took a taxi off the resort and in to Punta Cana where we stopped first at The Drink. It was packed inside and out of this little bar right along the main street in Punta Cana. It seemed like a friendly place, mixed with locals and tourists. There were chairs and tables outside on the patio, a small dance floor inside and lots of people milling around in the courtyard / parking lot in front of the bar. We stayed here for about an hour or so, and then we headed off to another bar called Areito. Here they were playing a mixture of latino pop, bachata and a little bit of salsa. It wasn’t really very crowded, which made it nice. We weren’t bumping into people or pushing our way through like you would at the bars in Halifax. The dance floor was a good size and everyone seemed to have just enough space.

We stayed here for the rest of the night and never actually got to go to Mangu. We had heard it was a $10 cover charge. That was normal for us, but since we were traveling with our new local friends, we suspected that $10 US might be a bit pricey for them. So, we stayed at Areito’s.

Now, Emily already knew how to dance salsa, so no problem for her to get out on the dance floor, although the local guys surprisingly did not know how to dance salsa like we expected!

I picked up Merengue really quickly, but Bachata, that was a different story! Bachata is a dance that is very well known in the Dominican … and although I didn’t know then, come to find out, it is a very sexy dance! I got passed around between guys like a little white hot potato, each of them trying to teach me the Bachata with no luck. It didn’t help that none of them spoke English, so communication was basically nil. Then, the lady bartenders took a crack at it too and they tried to teach me to Bachata. No luck! I couldn’t be led by the men or the women! None of them (men or women) attempted anything inappropriate. I guess because I couldn’t even get the basic steps right, maybe they thought they had no hope of teaching me to be sexy and do the dance! ha ha ha This cracks me up! Despite my lack of alcohol and my lack of coordination I had a fantastic time trying to learn as well as watching the people who did know what they were doing.

When I returned home and started watching you tube to find out what the bachata was really all about, I came across this video. It is choreographed, but this is what it looks like! oooow! oooow!

Back in Nova Scotia, with plans to return to the Dominican to learn Spanish, I was determined to learn how to dance before I went back.

I checked out Halifax’s Salseraros, but they didn’t have openings for beginners until September. That would be a little too late for me! I checked out a couple of others, but no luck for lessons in the summer. Finally, I came across Latin Dance nights at Pipa and that seemed to be the perfect fit.

Pipa is a lovely little Portugese / Brazilian Restaurant in the heart of downtown Halifax. In the back and down the stairs it has a gem of an atrium where there is a bar and dance floor. Every Friday night from 9pm – 10pm the atrium hosts, Amanda Huska for a beginner Latin dance class covering the very basics of Merengue, Bachata and Salsa.

I went to classes at Pipa regularly, as well as at the Sea Port Farmer’s Market from May until July when I returned to the Dominican for the summer to learn Spanish. I got past the basics and started feeling pretty good about all three types of dance- merengue, bachata and salsa.

I was excited to show my friends from Punta Cana what I had learned so we met up and went out dancing in Santo Domingo a couple weeks after I arrived. I was the first person on the dance floor, causing quite a stir with the locals who were all looking at the ‘gordita rubia’. Not long after I started dancing, lots of others joined in. My guy friends weren’t so excited to be the first ones on the dance floor, but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance!

As I sit in my living room on a warm, but rainy winter evening, listening to my Spanish music play list, it reminds me that I really need to make an effort to get out to dance classes again.

These are three of my favourite Spanish songs … they make me want to DANCE!

Dandole – Omega

Incondicional – Prince Royce

Promise – Romeo Santos Featuring Usher


In July 2012, while I was living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, studying Spanish I was lucky enough to meet Tabea Thomaschke, founder of Dominino (site is in German).

Founder of Dominino, Tabea with one of the children from the school.
Founder of Dominino, Tabea with one of the children from the school.

As a child, Tabea had always been interested in making a difference in children’s lives and had a love for the Dominican Republic as she used to travel there with her family. As she grew older, she began working toward her goal of helping children in the poorest areas of the D.R. She started a not for profit organization called Dominino. She went into the area of San Luis, known to be one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of Santo Domingo and she started a school for the children of the community. At first, it started out very small, with only a few children, but as her funding grew, she was able to support having more children take part. The school provides education in Spanish and some German for young children, provides a meal each day and lots of love and attention from the staff. These are three very basic things to most of us in North America, but education, food and love are three things that are severely lacking in this poorest of the poor community. The school now has close to 20 students and is making a huge difference in their lives by giving them the education which will hopefully encourage them to get out of the cycle of poverty. All of this, started by a young woman in her 20’s.

I visited Dominino while I was in Santo Domingo and wish that I could have gone back again! I knew that we were heading to a poor community, but I didn’t really know how dangerous it was until I learned that taxis refused to enter the community at all … ever. Simply because it is dangerous. We got off a local guagua (bus), then climbed on moto conchos (3 of us on each) and were driven about 5-10 minutes away to the community of San Luis.

It is here where we were greeted by some very shy, but bright children who were very excited to see Tabea again, and the couple of others of us who came to visit. Some of the children were incredibly shy. Often, in fact, not even speaking to staff at the school for quite some time until they begin to feel comfortable. These children often come from abusive homes, their health is neglected, their education is non-existent and they don’t really know what it is like to be loved and cared for.

We sat with the children, singing songs and playing games. And then, they were served fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal to fill their empty tummies before heading outside to play a couple of active games in a closed in area. All the while, I was there capturing photographs of the children in their environment. Some of them were excited to be photographed and couldn’t wait to see their photos on the back of the camera. Others were cautious, but smiled shyly. Yet, a couple of children simply were scared of the white lady with the big camera. Yes, I did make a couple of children cry. To which, of course, I then stopped photographing them. I had no interest in traumatizing the children!


The most heart warming part for me in the end was that two of the children who were scared of me and my camera at first, came around and actually wanted their photos taken by the end of the few hours we were there.

One of the little girls who originally was scared of my camera.
One of the little girls who originally was scared of my camera.

Dominino is a not for profit organization that does good work for underprivileged children. They accept donations and you have the opportunity to be able to sponsor a child for a year to ensure that they continue getting education, food and love. The Dominino Facebook page is in German, but Tabea has excellent working knowledge in both English and Spanish.

Below is a collection of photos from my visit to Dominino. I can wholeheartedly say, my favourite photos from my seven weeks in the Dominican this past summer.

Hotel Plaza del Sol Review

Located in the University District of Santo Domingo, Plaza del Sol is reasonable priced and in a reasonably safe area of this massive city. As with any area, being a solo female traveler, I limited my outdoor excursions to day time hours unless I was in a group, but I never felt threatened in this area. I did, however, choose to stay inside or in a group after about 7pm each night.

The hotel itself was one of the best ones that I stayed in ($30-$45 US per night range). It was clean, had a small kitchenette and powerful air conditioning in each room. Make sure to pick up your own matches to light the gas stoves though as they don’t have any available for you. The TVs were large, new and cable worked well. The beds seemed fairly new, firm and were very comfortable! The sheets were clean, fitted and the comforter or top sheet was always white (or cream) and well kept. I was also pleased that the internet worked regularly and with decent speed so I was able to keep up with blogging, work and social media whenever I wanted.

The bathrooms were also fairly good, although each one that I stayed in was different. One had a bathtub and a great shower. If you could figure out the switches, I believe there was warm water, although it only worked once for me. The other had just a shower stall and the warm water was hit or miss. The stall also allowed water to spill onto the bathroom floor, making quite a mess.

I dealt with two staff members – a less than friendly woman and a lovely young man. The man was often there in the evenings and was very patient and helpful when I wanted to arrange my taxi to the airport for 3am.

The main doors into the hotel are locked and you need to get the staff to buzz you in or out which is slightly annoying, but also provides good security, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Call ahead to make your booking. If you can get a local friend to call for you, you can likely get a better room rate. They often have tourist rates for people who call or book online, but if a local calls, they can get it for $5-$15 per night cheaper.

The Hotel is located on Jose Contreras Street, which is one-way. Don’t be surprised if your taxi driver drives head on into traffic to get to the hotel (about 4 or 5 blocks from the main intersection). Not sure if they are unaware of how to get to the hotel from the other direction, too lazy to drive around, or if they simply don’t care about it being one way, but I was regularly driven the wrong way down this one way street.

The hotel is centrally located and within walking distance to La Sirena (Dominican’s equivalent to Wal-Mart), several local convenience stores, bars and snack shops, as well as being close to McDonald’s, Domino’s, Burger King and several pizza places. You can pick up groceries and snacks at La Sirena, or El Super Mercato National which is also within 10-15 minutes walk. La Sirena also offers a pharmacy, bank with tellers for money exchange, Claro and Orange kiosks for cell phones and a food court with local and American foods.

The hotel is about a 30-45 minute walk from Zona Colonial or the Malecon (waterfront area), both areas offering lots of restaurants, bars and historical sites to view.

Jose Contreras is also well serviced by local buses as it is a university district. If you know where you are going and what bus to take, I assume you wouldn’t have to wait long to hop on one. There were always plenty going by.

You can also walk 5-10 minutes to main public car routes, or call a taxi to pick you up at the hotel.

Costs from my Dominican Trip

I’m writing this post to help me plan for my next trip or living experience abroad. Also great information for anyone else planning the same and who needs a little guidance!

Flights: $1620
United Airlines – San Juan, Puerto Rico to Halifax – $313.90 (I didn’t use this flight because I changed my dates. Lost my money on it.)
American Airlines – Halifax to Santo Domingo – $572.91
American Airlines – Santo Domingo to Halifax – $733.73

Airport Transportation: $188
Taxi Halifax Airport – $55 CAN
Taxi home from Halifax Airport – $50 CAN
Taxi from Santo Domingo airport to home stay – $45 US (paid for with my school fees, therefore much more expensive than doing it on my own)
Taxi from Hotel in Santo Domingo to airport – $38 (booked through the hotel – 3am, more expensive than day time)

Local Transportation: $260
3 weeks of buses, public cars and taxis in Santo Domingo – $135 US

4 weeks of buses, public cars, taxis, scooter rental and moto conchos in and around Sosua / Cabarete / Puerto Plata – $125

School and Accommodations for six weeks: $2598
Spanish Lessons – $200 / week
Accommodations – $230 / week – first three weeks included breakfast and supper at a home stay, last three weeks only included breakfast at a school apartment.

Hotel Accommodations for 13 nights: $473

Travel Insurance: $67
Tourist Card: $10
Extended Stay fee (up to 90 days): $21

Food / drinks: $780
49 days Total and very little was spent on alcohol (maybe $25 total for 4 or 5 Pina Colada’s and a couple of Santa Libres)
1 meal per day for 21 days – breakfast and supper were included in my school home stay package
2 meals per day for 15 days – weekdays while I was studying in Sosua
3 meals per day for 13 days – weekends when I traveled and extra days while not in school
On average lunches in Sosua cost $250 – $360 RD / $6.50 – $9 US
On average suppers in Sosua cost $400 – $500 RD / $10 – $12 US
As a tourist, I think I could easily get by with $20 US per day for three meals. If I had eaten at more local places and less touristy places, I could have probably survived on $10-$15 US per day for three meals. If I were to buy groceries and cook myself, I’m guessing $6-8 per day.

Cell Phone: $80
This was for purchasing a local cell phone and using it A LOT to keep in touch with friends locally, make plans, calls to hotels, excursions and taxis.

Toiletries: $53
Shampoo, conditioner, razors, face wipes, bug repellant

Pharmacy: $27
bug repellant, cold & flu pills, anti itch cream for bug bites

Tips (on excursions / extra special staff): $20
Nena at Sosua school for room cleaning
Julio at Caves in Cabarete
Two girls at Tubagua who took me for a long walk and visited their families

Excursions: $218
Caves in Cabarete – $15
Puerto Plata (1400 original, I cxld – 1/2 back) – $18
Cooking with Nena – $13
Rafting – $90 (worth every penny!)
Photo CD – Rafting – $18 (not worth every penny. Only about 10 photos)
Kayaking – $64

Laundry: $30
$20 US for two weeks worth of clothes at a laundromat – WAY too expensive!
$10 US for one to two weeks of clothes, twice at the school

Spending money: $33
Movies – $8
Earrings – $10
Gifts for nieces – $15

Bank fees: $30
$5 each withdrawal x 6 times

Grand Total for a seven week trip, including six weeks of Spanish classes, accommodations, food and spending: $6315

Look for an upcoming post on how I plan to do it MUCH cheaper next time!

Lost tourist card

Often when you travel to Carribean countries you pay a tourist fee when you enter and / or when you leave the country. Dominican Republic is one of these countries. I paid $10 US for a tourist card when I entered the country and then you pay a fee when you leave the country based on how long you stayed.

In many countries, you have to have your tourist card in order to leave the country. I remember it being very important in the Galapagos Islands!

So, about three days before I left Dominican Republic, when I realized I couldn’t find my tourist card, I started to look harder for it. I looked with my passport, through all of my luggage, in every pocket, in my secret hiding spots for money and with all of my receipts that I had collected. No luck.

I left for two more days in Sosua and put it out of my mind.

As soon as I returned back to Santo Domingo the hunt began again. At this point I only had 12 hours before leaving the country. What was I going to do if I didn’t find it? The panic set in!

I unpacked EVERYTHING from my suitcase and dug through all of the pockets of the suitcase and my clothing. Nothing.
I checked through all of my toiletries, including my cosmetic bag with feminine products where I had been hiding some money earlier in my trip. Figured not too many people would search through tampons to see if there was money there! I thought maybe I had put my tourist card there.
Then I checked through every single receipt / piece of paper and business card that I had collected over the past seven weeks.

Still nothing.

I called my mom on Skype in a panic because I had lost it.

Then I shed a few tears … annoyed at having lost the tourist card and overwhelmed because my time in the Dominican had come to an end.

I did a little internet research and found out that I might get charged a fee for having lost the tourist card. Someone suggested it would be $200 RD, equal to about $5 US. I thought if that’s all it is, I could handle that.

Then I decided there was nothing further I could do about it and I would just have to wait until I got to the airport to see what was going to happen.

I got everything packed and headed to bed at around 11pm, just to get up again at 2am to shower and be ready to leave the hotel at 3am.

Of course, you are supposed to be at the airport three hours early when you are taking international flights. My flight was at 6:25am, so I was supposed to be at the airport for 3:25am. Would the airport even be open? Would I be able to check in?

Of course not.

Well, the airport was open … that was a good thing! I went straight to immigration and used my newly learned Spanish skills to explain that I had lost my tourist card and ask how to get it replaced. The man explained that I would do that on the other side of immigration, but that I would have to check in through my airline first. So, I went and stood in line at American Airlines. It was about 3:40am. Of course no employees were there at 3am! Someone finally told the line up of people that employees start at 4am. Lovely! Sure enough at 4am, about ten employees filed in the the American Airlines area and proceeded to slowly get everything ready, turn monitors on, put out customs forms, stand and chat etc. It was 4:30am before the first person in line was checked in.

At this point I was a little annoyed and super tired! I got checked in around 4:40am, but was starting to worry about getting through the line ups at immigration and security and making it to my flight on time. I had only an hour and a half before boarding.

Getting through security was relatively easy, other than the fact that I forgot to take my shoes off (required), so I was sent back through. Then, once I took my shoes off and put them through the scanner, they got ‘lost’ on the other side. So I was standing waiting for my sandals to come through and they didn’t appear. Finally I asked one of the workers and she found them, they had slipped through the rungs and were on the floor waiting for me!

Next stop, the immigration area where I would find out the real deal about my lost tourist card. The man took my paperwork, did not ask for my tourist card, saw on my immigration form that I had been in the country for seven weeks and told me I would have to pay the extended stay fee. He sent me to another kiosk to pay and told me to come back and see him after as he was holding on to my paperwork. All of this in Spanish! Yay me!

So, off to the payment kiosk I went. I waited and waited and waited … there was no one at the desk and no one around for me to ask what was going on. So, I waited more.

Finally, an employee walked up with another customer. Took care of her fees and then got ready to help me. Very nice man who spoke to me in both English and Spanish. I paid $800 RD (about $20 US), he gave me a receipt and sent me on my way.

Imagine that, no one ever asked me for the tourist card that I had lost. Hmmmm … or had I lost it? Now I wonder if they actually gave me a tourist card when I arrived or if I just paid the fee for it? Or maybe I got one, but it got collected with the immigration paperwork on my way out of the airport? Regardless, I didn’t need the tourist card to leave the country. I didn’t end up paying a fine for it to be replaced. I simply paid the extended stay fee which I had to pay no matter what!

As for the fees they were something close to this:
1-30 days – $400 RD
30 days – 3 months – $800 RD
6 months – 9 months – $1000 RD
1 year – $2500 RD

In the end, after waiting in line up after line up, I arrived at my gate for around 5:30am and then only had to wait half an hour before we boarded. It ended up being perfect timing!

Do bananas make you smile?

During my last week of classes in Santo Domingo, I met the founder of a project called Dominino. Dominino is a school in one of the poorest areas of the city, an area called San Luis. I had the opportunity to visit the school with the founder, and have much to write about. First, I would like to share a story from the trip to get to San Luis.

The five of us walked from our school, Casa Goethe, to the super market to get food to take to the children at the school for their afternoon meal. Tabea bought cereal, yogurt and bananas for the 20 small children. We then took a guagua (local bus) to the outskirts of town. The bus ride was incredibly hot, the bus was full with constantly changing people and you had to take special care to make sure all of your valuables were safe at all times, from other passengers on the bus, vendors who came on the bus to sell things and from vendors reaching in through the open windows of the bus to sell things.

We drove through areas of the city that I had not yet seen and you could see the difference in the people, the buildings and the vendors on the streets. The streets were packed with people, many children, many of them alone. There were vendors lining the streets selling fresh fruit, candy, clothing, meat and there were piles of garbage everywhere. It just simply had a dangerous vibe and was not an area I would want to be walking in. As dangerous as the buses are, I was glad to be sitting on one, rather than roaming the surrounding streets.

About 35-45 minutes in to the bus ride, a young boy selling candy got on the bus. He put a candy in each of our laps and expected us to pay. He looked sad, hot and tired, but was doing his best to sell these small candies. When each of us said ‘no gracias’ and returned the candies to him, you could tell he was one again disappointed that he had not sold anything.

As the young boy, about 10 years old, turned around to leave the bus, Tabea asked one of the other girls to take one of the bananas we had bought and give it to the boy. When Christine handed the boy the banana, his eyes lit up immediately and a huge, beautiful child-like smile stretched across his face. He was surprised, and for a moment could do nothing other than smile. He politely murmured ‘gracias’ as he started to open the fresh peel to eagerly reach the fruit inside.

The boy left the bus to return to the streets to blend in to the mass of people and vendors. A moment later, I heard a child’s voice saying ‘Gracias! Gracias rubia!’ I looked out the window behind me and there he was with a beaming smile and a half eaten banana. No words could describe how I felt at that moment knowing that my new friend had just made such an impact on this child.

Tabea went on to explain that she doesn’t like to give the children money because often they are obligated to give the money for their day’s work to their fathers, or uncles. However, if you are able to give a child food, they can eat it and it is something that is only for them. They do not have to give this to their family or their boss. It also may be the only food, or the only nutritious food that they eat that day.

I learned later that many of these street vendors are illegal immigrants from Haiti. They do not have their birth certificates or other documentation that would allow them to work legally in the Dominican Republic, so often the children are sent to work as vendors on the streets. Sometimes the parents also work, or sometimes they ‘run’ the business and wait for the children to bring home the money.

I can’t explain any better than to say that my heart swelled. These are the experiences, the opportunities and the feelings that you never get to have when you travel to a resort for vacation. You never get to see what real local life is like.

For me, this experience was a life lesson. Although I knew that giving money to the children of the streets was not a good idea and would perpetuate the idea that tourists are all rich, I never understood the deeper reason. Now I understand more of the way of life, and having experienced the glowing smile and appreciation of this young boy, it is a lesson I will never forget.

¿Puede un guineo que te hacen sonreír?

La semana pasada en Santo Domingo, yo conoci la fundadora de una escuela que se llama Dominino. La escuela esta situada en la comunidad de San Luis. Este llugar es muy pobren en el area de Santo Domingo. Hay muchos delitos y delincuentes alli. Tuve la oportunidad de visitar la escuela con la fundadora, Tabea.

Esta es la historia del principio del viaje.

Un groupo de otras chicas y yo caminamos desde la escuela, Casa Goethe, al super Mercado para comprar comida para los estudiantes de la escuela. Nosotras compramos cereal, yogurt y guineos para los ninos. Entonces, tomamos una guagua por mas de una hora para llegar a la comunidad, San Luis. La guagua estuvo muy llena e hizo mucho calor. Esto fue necisario para asegurar nuestras cosas por los vendadores en el calle y los otras personas en la guagua.

Nosotros pasamos por areas muy pobren dentro de la ciudad y tu puedes mirar la diferencia entre las personas, los edificios y los vendodores en las calles. Las calles estan muy sucias y hay muchas personas y ninos. Los ninos estan a menudo solos.

Los vendadores estan vendiendo una variedad de cosas, como carne, bombones, fruitas y mas. Esta area parece muy peligroso.

Despues 35 o 45 minutos en la guagua, un joven, como de 10 anos, llego a la guagua para vender bombones. Cuando todas las personas dijeron, ‘no, gracias’, el estuvo muy triste y se vio cansado.

La fundadora de Dominino, le dio un guineo y el sonreio mucho. Ella explico que si tu dars dineros, el esta obligato a dar a sus padres, familia o jefe, pero, si tu dars un guineo, eso es suelamente para el.

Despues el salio de la guagua, el dijo ‘Gracias, gracias rubia’, desde la calle.

No hay palabras para explicar como me senti en este momento sabiendo que mi nueva amiga hizo un grand diferencia en el dia para el. Posiblamente esa fue su comida de todo el dia para el.

Para mi, esta experiencia es una leccion de viva. Yo se que dar dineros a ninos no es muy bueno, pero no entiendo las razones o el porque. Cuando yo vi la sonrisa de este joven, yo entiendo que la comida y la amor es muy precioso para los ninos, mas que dineros. No voy olivar esta experiencia en toda mi vida.

La cucaracha war

In English, a cucaracha is a cockroach. We’ve all heard of them, seen them on tv but how many of us Canadians have seen the real thing? Yes, I am aware that it is possible to have them in Canada, but generally speaking it is not a prevalent issue. Even when you travel to resorts and hotels in the tropics, you very rarely see them, although they are probably there … lurking in the shadows!

When you travel to a tropical place it is a given that there are cockroaches around. I’ve seen them in Bermuda and in Cuba, but most of the time, somewhere outside.

The first cockroach I saw in Santo Domingo was when I was walking down a street with my friends after dark one evening. I stopped and got out of it’s way. HA HA HA Didn’t even think to try and step on it! I just avoided it all together. The second time I was with another friend and he stepped on it before I saw it. Not so bad when I don’t’ have to see it or do anything about it.

Well, the third time … let’s just say it was not one of my finest moments …

I had showered and gotten ready for bed, but needed some water before going to sleep. I went to the kitchen, turned on the light and reached for the fridge door when all of a sudden something on the counter moved.

I jumped and drew in my breath. I nearly screamed, but somehow stifled it. And then …. I stared at it, just sitting there on the counter with it’s antenna twitching back and forth. This huge bug was about two inches long and it’s antennas were as long as it’s body. EWWWW!

A few seconds later, I got brave and decided I would try to kill it. I went to my bedroom to get a sneaker as the flip flops on my feet definitely weren’t the right weapon for this war! When I came back, he was still sitting in the same place twitching his antenna. I got about two feet away, reached my arm out and slammed the sneaker on the counter, hoping I had connected, but not looking forward to the mess. To my dismay, when I looked, the little bugger darted across the counter and under the toaster oven to its dark safe haven.

Again, I stood there wondering what the hell to do. I knew he was there … I knew he was just waiting for me to leave and turn out the lights, but could I really just leave him there?

And then …

Another one (slightly smaller) scurried across the counter from a different direction, paused and then darted into the cupboards under the sink. Ay ya ay!

At this point I turned off the kitchen light and retreated to my bedroom to quiver in fear!

But, the story doesn’t stop here. I immediately texted two of my friends back home. The following conversation is real, unedited (except for the omission of a few swear words!)

Shari: I’m freaking out! There are cockroaches in my kitchen. Do I wake my mom and tell her or go to sleep?

Michelle (currently in Edmonton, but lived in Bermuda for many years): LMAO! Kill the cockroaches and go to sleep!

Shari: I couldn’t! I’m a whimp. I tried but one ran too fast when I swatted and the other went in the cupboards. I may never go in cupboards again. Mayday! Save me!

Michelle: It’s only a cucaracha! It won’t hurt ya. Was it a flying one?

Shari: Shut up! They fly? I’m dying! This is soooooo not cool!

Michelle: LOL! We had flying ones in Bermuda. Was it big? Like 1.5 – 2 inches? or just a little German roach?

Pause ….

Michelle: Where did you go?! Did it eat you?

Michelle: LOL Just teasing! They can’t eat you.

Shari: Yes, 2+ inches + antenna just as long. 2 of them that I saw. Do they stay in the kitchen? They don’t like blood like the mosquitos here right?

Michelle: No, they don’t want blood, they just want food and sugar. And sorry, yes, they can fly.

Pause ….

Michelle: What are you doing? Are you battling the cockroach? Hunting it down?

Shari: No! I’m hiding in my room, trying not to cry! Sleeping with the light on. And, phone vibrated my bed and I jumped. Thought it was a heard of cockroaches coming for me! lol

Michelle: LMAO – actually LOLing. Sorry. Just picturing it! They won’t hurt you. Trust me, they just want food and that’s not you.

Shari: Well, thank you, but I’m still not going to warm with them! God knows how many. I can’t even go get water to drink! I’m a mess!

Michelle: Ok, well at least we have now discovered that you will not be running off to live in a tropical country. LOL So that counts as self discovery … look how well you are doing already! 🙂 And, you have a new blog topic!

Shari: Not true. I’d just have to have a huge fridge to keep everything in and air conditioning. Oh yeah … and a man to kill cockroaches!

Michelle: LMAO! There ya go … A walk in restaurant fridge and you could even sleep in there when you are too hot!

Michelle: Now, you need to go to sleep. Have sweet dreams!

I slept with the light on … True story.

My thoughts on being a minority

After two and a half weeks of being in Santo Domingo, I commented to one of my Dominican friends that since he’s never left the Dominican Republic, he’s never had to deal with being a minority because everyone here is black, very little multiculturalism except for tourists. As I looked around the mall that I was sitting in, it was clear that with 50 people in my line of sight, I was the only white person. Just about everyone who walked by took a glimpse and several people flat out stared … and then there were a few who stole a few glances as to not appear if they were staring. I’m so thankful that I have self confidence because let me tell you, when you so clearly stand out, it is an awkward feeling. I know people who, at home, in lovely, peaceful, all loving Canada have issues with self esteem and always think that people are talking about them, saying something bad about them or don’t like them. For goodness sake, those people should never travel and become a minority because they will end up in the crazy house! In some cases, it is clear that people are talking about me. What is really funny is when they assume that you don’t understand, but you do! Ah ha! My Spanish has gotten better and even though I don’t understand every single word, I often get the jist of things.

As I walked along the street one day with my friend Harlem, an old man doing some renovations or construction work hollered out to Harlem, out of the blue, something along the lines of, ‘Why are you so lucky to be with her?’ A compliment to me I suppose, as the man thought that I was something special. It was funny though because I giggled, the man was surprised and then Harlem said ‘She understands.’

If I am with a local guy, everyone thinks that the guy is ‘lucky’ to be with me and just assumes that we are a couple regardless of whether we are touching or not. Apparently white girls don’t just have Dominican guys as friends here (other than me!) … all white girls are only here because they have fallen in love and some ‘lucky’ Dominican guy has a shot at his dream of getting out of this country. I say this all sarcastically because obviously, not all white girls are rich … Lots of the white girls here are students and have little to no money. And yes, I say this even in comparison to locals. Although there are many very poor people here, there are many middle class and rich people here as well. And, believe it or not, not all Dominican men dream of living in Canada, Europe or America. Although it does happen a lot that North American and European people fall in love with Dominicans, sometimes it really is love and not all about moving to a new country! And, imagine this … sometimes the ‘white folks’ move here, tossing away all thoughts that the Dominicans are just looking for a green card and freedom in another land! However, to support the stereotype, there were several girls in my school who were here learning Spanish because of their Dominican boyfriends. There is no shortage of young white women from around the world who have fallen in love with someone here!

Being white and blonde, I represent richness and most people assume I am American or European. I don’t think anyone has asked me if I’m Canadian, but they are always pleasantly surprised when I tell them where I am from. Oh, and then there reaction has often been … Montreal? I’m surprised that Montreal is better known here than Toronto or Vancouver.

I’ve come to realize how normal inter-cultural relationships are at home. I think nothing of the couples I have met who are shades of all different colors, sharing various cultural and religious beliefs. However, here in Dominican, the majority of people are some shade of black, so a white person, no matter where you are from, really stands out … everywhere. Even with a tan, my skin still glows like a glo worm in comparison to the beautiful dark skin tones here!

Being a blonde female minority has its perks and its downfalls.

On the perks side:
You are regarded as exotic and beautiful.
People are often understanding and happy to help you.
Traffic is more likely to stop for you (although still unlikely)

On the downfalls side
You stand out 100% of the time.
You can’t hide or be inconspicuous.
You are assumed to be rich which makes you a target for crime.
You are regarded as exotic and beautiful which sometimes leads to aggressive or unwanted attention.
You are clearly not a local, which means here, you are charged much higher rates for everything from taxis to market purchases to park entrance fees.

Overall, it is interesting to come from a place where I am just a normal, average person who blends in with the multi-cultural crowd that we know in Halifax and come to a place where the only white people are visitors. I can’t imagine walking around Halifax thinking that all of the black people (regardless of nationality) or Lebanese people were ‘visitors’. Who am I to assume that they don’t live in Halifax? And I certainly can’t imagine a local vendor at our lovely Seaport Farmers Market offering a hand made craft to me for $5 and then charging a visitor from the cruise ships $15, but that is exactly what happens here in the Dominican!

Oh, how proud I am to be Canadian!

Angela’s Rules for bringing home a good man

During my first week here, I was part of many interesting conversations at my homestay. My homestay mom was a lot of fun and funny too! One night we were talking about ‘chiberica’s’ or party girls and it led to a conversation about what is expected of a man who comes to her home.

Angela’s Rules for bringing home a good man.

1. No earrings
2. No smoking
3. Dress nice – no tennis shoes unless going to work out
4. No tattoos
5. No long hair
6. Don’t show up at the door with a beer in hand or be drunk
7. Ask before he sits down, or be invited to have a seat in her home
8. No open shirts (buttons undone)
9. No hippies

My favourite is #7! Now, that would be a true gentleman. I can’t imagine this happening in Canada.