Dominican Republic: Arriving

When I was guiding 16-day long river trips in the Grand Canyon, we used to tell the clients that it took three days to ‘arrive’: the first day, you are too full of awe of where you are and what you are doing to be grounded in any sort of reality. The second day, you are still feeling the newness and amazement and giddiness, and it is only your first morning waking up on-river. But sometime during the third day, you begin to see routines, start discerning patterns and start to find your ‘self’ amongst the new surroundings. That’s the beginning of ‘arriving’ and when you are first able to experience things for what they are, and will be.

So today is my third day here, and I’m beginning to ‘arrive’. Because of flight delays, I arrived at 2AM on Thursday, and after only a few hours of sleep (in a fantastic hotel that the school puts new hires up in), we all got taken over to a bank to open our accounts (and receive a bank card with several thousand dollars to get set up!). Then, after a tour of campus, I got brought to my new apartment to unpack, but of course I was in that ‘everything is new and full of awe’ stage so there was no way to get an honest appraisal of how I felt about anything. It was enough just to figure out which drawer the silverware would go in.

Yesterday, the day was spent in meetings getting oriented to customs and life in DR, the school climate and facilities, and then we all did a trip to a megastore to get some food, housewares and other sundries. Since I did not yet have internet, I spent a bit of time just sitting in the living room staring at the wall, thinking about life and choices, then went to a local restaurant to meet up with the other new hires for a fantastic dinner.

Today, I slept in a little, then we all got bussed to Ikea for more housewares, and now I’m back in my apartment, which is starting to look pretty nice and I’m feeling like I’m beginning to get a sense of the Dominican Republic and what life here might be like. I still have very little idea about what my job will feel like, but the school leadership made it very clear that our task for this first week is only to get set up, make our apartments into ‘home’, to get to know the town, and feel centered; school stuff will come in its time. I like that strategy.

So my first impressions of my apartment and town are pretty good. I’m in an older colonial building about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from school. Many of the other new hires are in a building a bit closer to school, but I was cautioned by a departing teacher to ask not to be put in that building as apparently it is a bit dark and dingy. I’m not sure how wise that advice was, as I am by myself in this building, which leaves me feeling a bit isolated when I slow down and sit, but I think once I make some friends in the neighborhood I’ll be glad to be out of ‘the dorm’. I’ll ride it out and see.

They gave me a three bedroom, two bath flat. On the downside, it doesn’t have a balcony and there isn’t any sort of a view, and AC only in the bedroom (as is customary here) so it can get unbelievably hot and humid in the living spaces during this time of year. But on the upside, the layout is very good, it’s on the third floor so there is a nice breeze that moves through, it has a new 6-burner gas stove, new fridge, new washer/dryer and a new queen-sized bed with a great mattress, the walls and tile floors are square and plumb (having lived in some rather dilapidated places for the past 15 years, this is pretty awesome), and it comes with good quality, comfortable furniture. I will bring selected things down from Maine over this year to decorate as I plan on a couple trips back there (it’s only 4 hours and $450 to Boston!!) so I think this will be a very nice home. I am setting up one of the extra bedrooms and the extra bath for guests, and am totally planning and hoping for LOTS of visitors, especially when it gets cold in the northeast.

Santo Domingo is a modern (but not supermodern) city, with lots of recognizable things like Ikea, McDonalds and KFC, skyscrapers, crowded highways, sidewalks, etc. The part of town where I live is an upscale bedroom community on the West Side, not too close to anything touristy. The Colonial Zone (which is the big tourist draw) is only a few miles away on Uber, and there is a large city park with trees and walking paths only 4 blocks from me. I have lots of exploring to do, but when people come visit, I expect they will stay here for a brief bit, then go visit the rest of the island and see the resorts. The school is taking us all to a nearby beach tomorrow, so I’ll have more info on that. As soon as possible, I plan to buy a car so I can explore on weekends.

I’ve had many friends who have worked at this school over the years, and am getting lots of “Wow, we had such a great time in DR” messages. That’s hopeful…I think this will work out. I still have to get over some butterflies about my job, but that’s for next week. This week, I’m just enjoying setting up my new apartment, planning for the things I’ll bring down for storage to enrich the place, and learning my neighborhood.

So I’ve arrived. So far, so good.


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