Cesarito and Pedro are really proud of this blue car. I don’t know when or how it was acquired, but now it can usually be found parked in front of my house, full of pan de agua and biscochitos to be sold at Neno’s colmado. The windows are tinted, the dashboard ripped out, and the seat covers hide who knows what God-awful upholstery underneath. At night, when the jóvenes set up their empanada stand on the sidewalk by my front door, and the girls borrow books off my shelves to read by the light of one bare bulb outside the colmado, Cesarito and Pedro lean against the car and the rest of the men settle into their plastic chairs on the sidewalk. There they discuss the same three topics and continue the same game of casino, voices rising to the same tempo night after night.
Nothing ever changes. This blue car is notable for its newness. (I mean the fact that it wasn’t here before. It’s probably as old as I am.) What happens on my street, and on the next one over, and throughout the whole town, is what’s been happening here forever, and what will continue to happen until the end of time. At least that’s what it feels like. This puts my presence here in perspective. No wonder I’m so special. I came in two years ago and interrupted the never-ending routine with curiosity and enthusiasm and books and ideas… all of which have gotten less novel with time. Imagínate.
The motivation that I felt with my teachers a few weeks ago has already given way to countrywide strikes for higher teacher pay. School is now just two hours in the morning, and two in the afternoon. Truthfully, it was only three hours before, so I wouldn’t say that there’s all that much of a difference, except that there is less order than usual. If that’s even possible. So forget teacher training for the moment. My reading program marches on, but everything is affected by the ambiance of the school, the mood of the teachers. Among the many frustrating things about the joke that is the Dominican public school system, strikes are really just icing on the cake.
I spent last week wilting in my house because there was no school at all, not even two hours, and I had nothing to do but hang out with the kids in my backyard and suffer a slow, painful death of boredom and lack of purpose. Ok, that’s a little melodramatic. But at this point, I swing between complete desperation to be out of this country town and a premature nostalgia for the beauty around me here. Sometimes I love everyone fiercely, sometimes I feel kind of hateful. When you’re in a moment, it’s hard at times to remember ever feeling any differently. When you have a horrible headache, you wonder if you’ll ever be comfortable again. When you’re healthy, sickness is just a bad memory. That’s what they say about childbirth, isn’t it? You forget. Otherwise, no woman would have a second child. (Or, here, a sixth, seventh, tenth…)
But just when I think I can’t take it anymore, I’m reminded of some of the lovely, unchanging things about Tabara Arriba. A few nights ago I had a friend here who had to leave on the last bus passing by from the capital. The motoconchos we called never arrived, and it was getting down to the wire to get us to the highway… I called for the blue car. Cesarito and Pedro were so happy to do me a favor. Like, literally just glad that I asked them to do something for me.
This reminded me of the night I discovered that the horrible smell I’d been unable to identify for days was a dead rat, electrocuted by the jerry-rigged wiring system in my house. I ran out into the street, dry heaving and eyes watering with the horror of finding that lifeless beady eye in the dark upper corner of my bedroom wall, and begged them to come help me. No need to ask twice. Don’t worry about rat juices running down the walls, or the rotting smell of rat flesh four days later – these guys are just happy that I asked them to help me out. A la orden to save the day.
Compared to that, pulling themselves away from the scintillating rooster debate happening over that never-ending casino game really isn’t too much of a chore I guess. Especially if it’s to drive the Americana down to the highway in the car they’re so proud of.