This weekend I decided to return to Santo Domingo and spend time with a friend of mine that I had met virtually over the summer through an app called HelloTalk (highly recommend for anyone who wants to improve their fluency in any language or make friends from different countries). This marks the first time that I’ve traveled by myself in this country, and it actually wasn’t as awkward as I anticipated. I was happy to know that my friend thought enough of me to invite me to hang out with him this weekend and meet his friends and family. My friend lives in Santo Domingo Este, which is the most populated municipality in Santo Domingo and exists outside of the touristy part of the capital. I found the realities of this area to be very interesting and it definitely heightened my interest in learning more about the Dominican reality.
Finding a place to stay this weekend was probably the most challenging aspect of my time in Santo Domingo. Sadly, many of the neighborhoods in Santo Domingo Este are very dangerous and I had to do a little bit of digging on AirBnb.com with my friend in order to find a cheap place to sleep that existed in a fairly safe neighborhood. Actually, my friend told me that safe neighborhoods aren’t really a thing in this country and that safety is just relative. Our first night together had to end a bit earlier than I thought due to my friend wanting to make sure that I got home safe and didn’t encounter any potential gangsters that could’ve been nearby. It would’ve been nice to stay in his home for the weekend, but sadly there were no rooms in his house available.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting his friends and family. It was a bit refreshing and impressive to see that his friends, and sister, knew enough English to hold a conversation, though I would’ve loved to have been talked to in Spanish more in order to improve my listening skills. My friend knew that I didn’t get much practice in Santiago with my Spanish speaking so he found ways throughout the weekend to force myself to keep up conversations with his friends and family in Spanish, which helped a lot with my speaking confidence and made me push my brain a little harder.
I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the neighborhoods that he lived around. The homes in Este seem to be fairly insecure, although it doesn’t seem to be an issue that anybody notably has a problem with. It also surprised me how many people in my friend’s neighborhood that he knew because each time him and I would walk outside, it seemed like I was always being introduced to somebody knew (and everyone he knew could speak English as well). It was interesting learning more about how his friends feel about their lives in Santo Domingo Este and their ambitions to travel to the United States. I believe my status, upbringing, and privilege as an American is what truly makes my experience in this country and my feelings towards it different from theirs.
Heading to Bio Bar was the highlight of my weekend. My friend told me it was a hot spot for foreigners to hang out at during the weekends so I was definitely excited to experience it. Despite not knowing most of the music, I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere, the people, and, most of all, my bucket drink (I have yet to see the videos they took of me)! I was very exhausted after we left the bar, but thankfully I was able to walk back inside my AirBnb just fine (very dizzy, but fine).
Before returning to Santiago, I got to spend about an hour with another friend of mine (whom I also met on HelloTalk), and he definitely helped give me the listening practice that I wanted. What's interesting about this friend of mine is that he identifies as "blanco" even though his skin has a brown tone. What I also found interesting about this weekend was how much my other friend had an obsession with white women. Apparently racial mixing is very popular in this country and most people here have a desire to be with people of light skin tones. This friend of mine also found my hair very interesting and he said it looked good one me (but he believed it wouldn't look good on him). He also has a strong desire to improve his English and travel to the United States as well, and I wish all of my Dominican friends the best of luck with that.
I probably won’t be back in Santo Domingo until the end of October (my mom is coming to visit me!) but hopefully my friends can come visit me here in Santiago sometime soon and I definitely want all of them to meet my mother and practice their English!