DAY 3 … Our Sunday was NOT a Day of Rest

Journey to the Dominican Republic: Day 3 Blog

Today was the first day here that we had any real structure.  Dr. Rust drove us (yikes!) through the streets of Santo Domingo (more yikes!) to pick up Hector and Belkis, and then Hector drove us to his church.  Driving in Santo Domingo is still terrifying!!  Honestly, I trust that Hector knows what he’s doing and we’ll all be ok, but there’s still something unnerving about diving into oncoming traffic! 

Every time we drive in this city I can’t believe the things I see out my window.  This time I noticed how many plastic lawn chairs there are here.  I don’t know what company makes them, but they must be making a killing because everyone seems to have a whole pile!  Every couple of doors we’d pass a group of people sitting around in their lawn chairs – often overflowing into the street! – playing games or just talking.  I would be terrified to sit in the street in America, but apparently that’s normal here.

The church itself was inconspicuous; if I haven’t known better, I would have assumed it was just another business on the block.  It was on the corner of two streets, shoved right up against the surrounding buildings.  I didn’t see (or notice, anyway) a steeple or anything marking it as a church except for the sign.  As Dr. Rust warned us, we walked right into an Assembly of God church with a large congregation and loud music.  We discreetly passed by their service to go up two flights of stairs to Hector’s church.  All through the Deaf service, those of us who are hearing could hear the music from downstairs – I even knew the English words to one of their songs!

Hector’s church appeared to be a school room, maybe a little bigger (or not) than my hotel room.  It had several rows of desks and a bench running along the wall with windows.  Some of the people at the church seemed to recognize Dr. Rust, and Hector started the service by calling him up to introduce himself and us.  We all told the congregation our names and our majors, and those of us who didn’t have name signs were given one!  Mine is an E on the chin, and I really like it!  I’m excited to have a name sign at all, but this one really makes me happy.  First, it marks a cute little dimple, which is the source of the sign.  More personally important, it’s same spot on the face as the signs for gay and lesbian.  Obviously the person giving to me didn’t intend that interpretation of the name sign, but I want to go into LGBT advocacy!  It’s perfect! 

After the students were done, everyone in the congregation (8 people, I believe) introduced themselves.  I thought it was interesting that a lot of name signs here use two letters.  For instance, one man named Luis’ name sign was LU near his eye.  Most name signs I know only use one letter, the first letter of the first name, but I’m sure that varies.

Dr. Rust voiced the service, which was helpful since we’re still picking up Dominican sign language.  The service started off with Belkis and two other women leading praise songs – I didn’t know there were songs in Deaf churches!  I figured there’d be poetry or call and response readings or something, but I was a little surprised when they mentioned “songs” specifically.  Several women got up to sign a song (for once, that’s not a typo!) and the congregation copied.  After several songs, Hector prayed.  In hearing churches everyone closes their eyes for prayer, but in a Deaf church the congregation kept their eyes open so they could see Hector’s prayer.  Hector himself did close his eyes. 

After the service, everyone stood and chatted for a long time.  As the conversation was dying down I asked for a group photo, and everyone was nice enough to oblige.  We loaded into the van with Hector and Belkis, expecting to go to a restaurant for lunch.

On the way, we passed a group of students from the National School.  I stared at them and got really excited to meet them on Friday.  As I was looking at them, I was shocked to see a student who appeared to be a transwoman (born male, identifies as female, for more info email McDaniel Allies).  We were all told that the Dominican Republic is a very Catholic country, so I didn’t expect to see any transpeople or same-sex couples.  (I’ve certainly been looking though – I’m too interested in the topic to pass up an opportunity to see it in another culture!)  She was a teenager, and I really admire her courage to express herself.  Even in America, which is not as religious, many transpeople are terrified to come out for (justified!) fear of emotional, financial, or physical retribution.  According to American statistics, transgender individuals are at the highest risk of violent hate crimes of any sexual minority group1, almost all transgender students have been (at least) verbally harassed2, and nearly half of all transgender youth have seriously considered suicide2.  No pun intended, this girl has some serious cajones, and I applaud her.  Google searches on transgender status in the Dominican Republic yield very little: Wikipedia, a personal blog, and a news piece on a documentary are the only informative sources, everything else relevant are sites for sex workers.  What I did find was that, like America, the Dominican Republic has no legal protections for transgender people.  The federal government does not count it illegal to fire someone from a job, evict someone from a house, or refuse service to someone on the sole basis of their transgender status3,4

To be fair, however, it is possible that this individual identifies is intersex, not transgender.  A genetic abnormality called 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency, first observed in the Dominican Republic5, is common enough here to earn a new word, which translates in English to “penis-testes-at-12”6.  The short version is that all developing babies are exposed to male and female hormones in the womb, but genetically male (XY) babies get higher doses of male hormones and genetically female (XX) babies get higher doses of female hormones.  Genetically male babies with 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency don’t react to male hormones, so their development is only influenced by the female hormones.  They develop female external genitalia and are pronounced female at birth.  However, their internal anatomy is male.  When they reach puberty they experience a flood of male hormones, kick-starting their development and transforming little girls into young men.  Because the Dominican Republic is so male-dominated, having a surprise extra son is seen as a blessing to families6.  If this individual was born with this condition, which falls under the umbrella term intersex, she may choose to not change her socially constructed gender identity – which is dependent on personal feelings and identifications, not anatomy.  

It’s also possible that I’m entirely wrong and I saw a cisgender female, but I doubt that.  Her hands and bone structure looked distinctly male-bodied.

Anyway, back to my story.  We left church, we were in the van, and we thought we were going to a restaurant.  ¿Comprende?

I was kind of confused when we arrived at someone’s personal apartment, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one.  Juana, our interpreter for the week, greeted us and we found out that she would be serving us lunch!  Between our group and other Deaf acquaintances of Juana’s, there were 21 people in her apartment – and she fed all of us!  Dr. Rust made small talk with the Deaf people and told us that they were asking him about his religious faith.  I don’t know what he’d told them on past trips, so maybe they had some prior knowledge, but asking someone out of the blue “When were you saved?” was a strange culture shock for me.  In America, one would never ask about someone else’s faith unless they were extremely close friends, and they certainly wouldn’t presume to know that someone believes in Jesus!  However, Dr. Rust handled it graciously.

After eating, Hector taught us a game with an empty Coke bottle.  He turned the cap upside-down on top of the bottle and had us form a line maybe 10 feet away.  The goal was to run up to the bottle with one eye covered and flick the cap so as to knock it off without knocking over the whole bottle.  Most people were surprised at how hard it was!  When I was finally persuaded to try, I’m proud to announce that I succeeded. 

We left Juana’s house between 3 and 4, and Hector drove us to a Deaf club.  It certainly did not conform to my concept of a “club.”  In America, we think of clubs in terms of night clubs, with music and dancing, dim lights, strangers, and alcohol.  The Deaf club was a sparse room with sunlight and, I believe, a few electric lights, with a pool table, a TV, and – surprise! – lawn chairs.  It is right in front of the National School and I snapped some photos of the place we’ll be working in on Friday.  When we arrived at the Deaf club, there were a few people hanging out and chatting, both in the room and on the porch outside.  More people came the longer we stayed – the place seems to be really hopping!  Max and Travis started a game of pool, which Travis won when Max knocked the cue ball in with the 8 ball.  I noticed a poster about ending the violence against women, which I found heartening in a country where men will stop driving in the middle of the road to gawk at us women.  An adorable little boy named Edwin came up to us and announced (in sign) that he was Deaf, and then demanded that his mother and father tell us their names.  This was a great experience to meet more local Deaf people and learn a little bit about what’s going on in that community.

After maybe an hour or so at the Deaf club, we loaded back into the van and went to Hector and Belkis’ house.  They said goodbye, and we all reshuffled to adjust to having more open seats.  I – just trying to be helpful! – showed Rachel how to move her seat forward when she was having trouble with it.  She tried to kill me.  She grabbed the bar while I was still holding and yanked it up further, causing indescribable pain in my left middle finger.  (I pointed it at her later… uhh, so she could see the damage.)  I screamed and then couldn’t make a sound.  I heard Dr. Rust asking me what happened and I tried to sign with my good hand that Rachel had broken my finger, but I don’t really know if that was comprehensible.  Dr. Rust told me to “Put it in my mouth,” which apparently seemed like good advice at the time.  I started reflexively crying, which is super embarrassing to do in a van full of people!  I wasn’t upset, the finger is fine, and the pain subsided pretty quickly, but my automatic response to pain is crying – I can’t help it! – so I’m sure I looked much worse than I was.  Deanna told me that the “waterworks were outside” (it was raining), and everyone said it was fine.  Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

I’ll get you later, Rachel.

Not really – it’s fine.  Just kidding … 

(Maybe.)

Oh, BTW, I have been asked to include this in the blog, so here goes: “We don’t use seatbelts in third world countries.” ~Max Ebert.  Happy?  Moving on.

Hector said at church that Dominican pizza and American pizza taste different.  We were curious, so after resting in the hotel for about an hour, we went to dinner at a pizza place.  The waiter seemed to expect us to order everything all at once, but we were still working out what kinds of pizza we wanted.  We managed to communicate that to him, but then he wanted to know if we wanted our drinks now or with our food.  I had a shining moment when my Spanish 3 education kicked in and I said “Quieremos las bebidas ahora pero necesitamos mas tiempo para la comida,” which means (I hope) “We want the drinks now but we need more time for the food.”  He nodded and got our drinks – success!  Max and I are apparently the Spanish experts now.  In any case, Hector is right – Dominican pizza is awesome!

After dinner we had a meeting in Dr. Rust’s room to review the plan for our first day of teaching tomorrow!  I’m really nervous, but I think it will be fun. 

On the whole, great day.  We got to meet and talk to a lot of very interesting people and observe how they act in their own culture.  Some things surprised me, some things delighted me, some things literally made me cry, but we grow through experience, and today was a growth spurt.

Hasta Luego,

Emily

1 Toward Acceptance, ed. Vernon Wall and Nancy Evans, and  Debra Davis, Executive Director of the Gender Education Center, Minneapolis, MN.  via Safe Zone Training presented by Christine Workman, McDaniel College, Fall 2011.

2 http://www.thetrevorproject.org/suicide-resources/warning-signs

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_Rights#Caribbean_islands

4 http://dr1.com/articles/homosexuality_1.shtml

5 http://www.newint.org/features/1998/04/05/trans/

6 Personal Notes, September 26, 2011.  Psychology of Gender, Fall 2011, taught by Dr. Wendy Morris.  McDaniel College.

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One Response to “DAY 3 … Our Sunday was NOT a Day of Rest”

  1. Tracy Says:

    Emily,
    I loved your Blog !! I loved that you looked outside the box more and found different similarities and differences in the cultures !!! Tracy

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