I'm back in the Dominican Republic for a month. It's been four years since I was last here. I was in Haiti in December for the Ghetto Biennale; I was here in 2006 at Altos de Chavon, writing. I'm here now to present a paper at the Transnational Hispaniola conference, and to connect with folks for my on-going dissertation research (I'm at the very beginning of this work). I haven't been by myself in the Dominican Republic since 1995. The many times I was here between 1998 and 2006, I was always with other people. I'm feeling challenged.
It's a different journey by myself. This is a journey that requires the greatest strength, greatest faith in myself, greatest love for myself. I come home to a quiet apartment - an apartment I keep wanting to fill with people. I think I might have to have a party there before I'm gone. But an apartment in which I am by myself. So many people do this all their lives: live alone, walk alone. I like my time alone to write, and I'm an introvert, but I also love my friends. I love laughter and life in my surroundings. Nonetheless, these few days here already have me thinking on deeper levels of what it means to be "alone".
I imagine that I am always alone on this road called life, surrounded by people on their roads, and that we call each other closer and share our walks from time to time as we continue down our parallel roads. But, this journey is mine alone. And it is what I make of it. And I have a beautiful life. I've been able to reconnect with some old friends, and to meet some new ones. We do the cellphone dance of calling each other for our numbers. We sit out by the Parque Duarte, Parque Colon and watch the thunderstorms roll in over the city. I am lucky: I've had the opportunity to make friends in many, many places. And even though I'm not so good at staying in touch, I love them and am always so happy to see them when I do.
It's incredible to be here again. I tried to pay for a mango with a 20 peso bill, not knowing that 20 peso bills are out of circulation. Last night I went with a crew of folks down to the Malecon; the area where all the chimichurri trucks used to circle up is now a `park' with formalized seating areas. There's one restaurant that rents out toy monster trucks for children. It's something to see groups of 4 and 5 year olds driving toy trucks around as the adults sit in the night air enjoying their beers. There's a karaoke bar, which is currently all the rage. Then late at night I went with E. down to a sonero's bar where we listened to son and watched videos on the big screen and enjoyed each others' company.
I'v spent the past few days in El Conde, in my "office" from where I am currently writing. It's a restaurant with wifi. I come here, order my coffee, and then lunch, and go online and work on stuff. I stare out the glass windows at the passerby. Mostly tourists and working Dominicans. School children. Some hustlers, but they generally wait for twilight. I'm enjoying people watching. My apartment is here in the center of the city. It's actually downhill from the old city cemetery, where some of the first graves from the island are located (some as old as 400 something years old). I try not to think about that too much. For those who know me, you know why. But just one block down from my apartment is the Malecon - the ocean front stroll. I try to go there once a day. Just like I try to eat mangoes as often as possible.
My friends started sharing their stories of the earthquake. I saw a t-shirt: "Haiti, tu dolor es mi dolor." That's how I feel. One friend is going to Haiti next week. I'm trying to decide whether to go with him. I want to see people. To hold them and hug them and see them in the flesh and know they are alive. All it takes is courage on my part. I'm trying to find the courage and selflessness to go. The earthquake's fault line went down to Pedernales, to the Lago Enriquillo; the waves rose up. The villages emptied as they watched the ocean retreat. I'm hearing stories, listening, witnessing, holding.
I'm present to my own road, to the greater road, right now. Knowing that even alone, my life is anything but that. Knowing that happiness is simple. Knowing that we breathe together, even as we breathe apart.