Sunday, October 30, 2011

Smiling Away

Last night I went with Dona Gloria to a fund-raiser for a local charity… and got my first taste of the Dominican timeline for events!  The dinner was only 300 pesos (around US$8) for a delicious dinner to support poor children. 
The invitation said dinner would be at 8.  A little late for me, sure, but what a great opportunity to experience culture!
7:30 p.m.:  We leave.  I'm driving, and hope knowing Derecha (Right) and Izquierda (Left) will be enough!  Dona Gloria is wearing a polo shirt with the name of the group (Oratorio Centro Juvenil Don Bosco).  I didn’t know she served on the committee who was putting on this event.  Cool!
The charity is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church, and does work in the community with poor and disadvantaged kids, to help give them an education, skills, medical attention, and more. 
A girl I don’t know comes along with us.  She is as cute as could be, but… despite her repeating it 3 times, I can't catch her name.  I know it starts with an “M” and is very pretty, as are all the names here.  But what it is, I just don't know.   

7:45:  We arrive.  Only a handful of others are there.  A table is set up with coffee.  Dominican coffee is served in the tiny demitasses, very, very strong, black, with lots & lots of sugar.  Hmm, we’re about to eat dinner, so why coffee now? 

Dona Gloria bustles off, and M and I sit down and look at the drink menu.  Prices from 15 pesos (approx 40 cents) for a bottle of water, up to $44 for a bottle of Jack Walker whiskey.  On the menu is also Lays Chips (65 cents).  Again, odd to see potato chips when we’re about to eat dinner! 
"M" is very sweet and patient with my attempts to chat. I find out she is 14, was born in Santiago and lived in Jarabacoa all her life, has one sister, her favorite subject in school is Spanish, her least favorite French. We keep each other company as Dona Gloria spends most of the evening running around working.
8:15: The band members start showing up.  A young guy sets up a laptop and projector. 

8:45:  The room is still less than half full.  A pickup truck drives up and several guys jump off the back and start unloading big trays full of rice.  It smells wonderful!  Oh, good, we’re getting close! 
9:15:  The waitresses bring each table a small plate of peanuts and raisins.  By this time I’ve finished more than half of my bottle of water, and M and I set off for the restroom. 

Coming back, I notice another truck has pulled up.  This one with more big containers, looking (and smelling!) like they might have meat in them.  Oh, yeah, soon now! 

9:30:  Welcome and Opening Remarks.  We watch a short video of a young man in his early 20’s who had been very involved with the project, but died in the past year.  The family is called up and thanked.  Some more remarks, and a priest prays for the dinner.  And then…
This gal actually waitressed in these!
9:45:  Dancing.  The band plays, and couples of all ages, shapes & sizes, get onto the dance floor.  Two things I notice right away.  One, women here love, love, love high heels.  And two, everyone here seems to have rhythm, lots and lots of rhythm. 

Serious gold shoes!
I have to admit to being very jealous of the couples spinning around.  Even the girls in their five and six inch heels (some may even be higher!) are swinging their hips like nobody’s business.  Dona Gloria gets out there, and wow, can she move!
10:10: The pre-dinner dancing stops.  A second prayer, and everyone gets in line.  M and I are pretty far back, and stand in the same spot for a long, long time.  People ahead of us chat with folks, and then let them cut in line.  Not only one or two, sometimes whole families. 
My friend Sissy says that when things here frustrate her, she smiles.  Standing in line I am smiling away, that’s for sure!!
10:35: We sit down with plates heaped full of moro (rice and black beans), bbq pork, tender chicken, plantains, yucca and macaroni salad (with pieces of pepper, ham, and American cheese).  It is all so delicious! 
11:15:  An auction for a really big battery (I think).  I make sure not to move my hands at all in case I accidentally bid on it!  Next a raffle for prizes for each table.  We pull numbers out of a plastic bag.  At other tables people win stuff.  I don’t understand why, but no one at ours seems to win.   
11:30: Post-dinner dancing begins.  M is getting tired, as am I.  Dona Gloria, not so much!  She dances and dances, stopping only to use one of my travel tissues to wipe off her glowing face and then gets back onto the floor. 
Dona Gloria's partner kept spinning her around
so I didn't get her facing me, but wow, can she dance!
She tells me later that she and her husband loved to dance.  (He died two years ago.)  She also tells me that she can teach me to meringue.  We just may have to see if that’s possible! 
12:10:  Dona Gloria notices we’re looking tired and asks me if I want to go to sleep.  Yes, I say, But if you need to stay, that’s okay.  She points to her shirt.  She is part of the committee, she needs to stay.  I smile some more.
12:25:  Dona Gloria announces we are leaving. We get ready, but don't leave.  She wants to dance one more dance.
12:45: Dona Gloria tells us now we're going.  Her sister-in-law comes, too, and between the two of them, they give me directions to get her to her house.
1:00:  We get back home.  My normal bedtime is around 10, so this was a late, late night!!
5:30am, Sunday morning:  My alarm sounds.  I turn it off and sleep another hour.
For me, the evening was good, but also a strain.  Very honestly, I was frustrated with how frustrated I became.  A night of fun, and there I sat, repeatedly glancing at my watch! 

It made me think of what Dominicans must think of typical American events, which generally start when they say and keep to a tight schedule. 

I wonder if it’s as jarring to them to arrive at 8:45 to find dinner already served!  What, no time to visit and settle in?  Or that folks get annoyed if they let folks in line – after all, everyone eventually eats, and standing in line is more time to socialize!  Or that there’s no pre-dinner dance to help work up an appetite! 

Next time, (and I truly do want there to be a next time!) I hope I spend less time looking at my watch, and more time genuinely smiling.  I’ll make sure to eat some crackers & peanut butter before leaving home!  I’ll also get one of those coffees! 

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