So the Dominican Republic (and several other Carribbean Islands from what I understand) are well-known for these little corner stores called Colmados. They can be anything from a formal building, to a stand, to someone’s garage. They sell all of your basic necessities like milk, ice, eggs, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), enormous jugs of water, chips, candy, etc. You know, like a corner store or I guess a 711 is comparable.
On most evenings it is not unusual to find people hanging out at the plastic tables and chairs outside of these stores. Loud Latin music draws in people of all ages to pull up a seat with friends or dance to their favorite bachata song, right on the sidewalk. These places may seem intimidating to the foreigner, but the people are always warm and welcoming (as almost all people have been so far)! However, there is definitely a system to ordering what you want from behind the counter and how quickly people speak Spanish here really can give you a run for your money!
The best part of the colmados? They deliver these groceries to your door!! So do you see that bike with the crate on it? You call a phone number, list the items you want, give the guy your address, and he’s there in 5 minutes with your goods in that crate! It’s amazing! You can literally ask for a 40oz of beer, and a pack of starbursts. There is no order too small!
Easy right? WRONG. Well, for a non-Spanish speaker it is. So, for several weeks we have had to have other people call in order to get our weekly “botellon de Agua” which is one of those huge water cooler jugs. We can’t drink from the tap here so it’s really our only option. Each jug costs USD$1.50 which includes delivery and tip. So, while convenient, there are a few drawbacks to this system. The guys who answer the phones speak a million miles per minute (because they aren’t expecting a gringo to be calling, these services are used most frequently by Dominicans of course!) and Dominican Spanish really is its own dialect. Here is how a typical conversation goes when calling one of these numbers, which by the way is a cell phone number of God knows who lol.
Me: “Hola, peudo tenir un botellon de Agua, por favor?”
Him: “awiekjnlasdkau akjsdalkejhasocnaskd, 65 asd;aslkdjal;skd”
Him: “awiekjnlasdkau akjsdalkejhasocnaskd, 65 pesos mi amor. Donde?”
Me: “Ah, Okay, Calle Federico Geraldino (insert exact address here)”
And then they never came. This happened 5 different times and while yea, we can ask people to do it for us, it really isn’t ideal to wait on other people.
So alas, we have sat for 4 weeks relying on our friends to call the colmado to get our water. Whatever that last question was, we just were not understanding, and they were not coming. To be fair, I don’t understand much at all. I only really knew what to say because one of our friends wrote us a “script” based on how she thought the conversation would go. So, we were without our independence in a country where we are trying very hard to learn the language!
Until today! Today changed everything!
Turns out, if you ask the guy to speak a little more slowly, he will. Also, it turns out the longer you spend REALLY listening to people in the context of their conversations, the more you learn. We learn new words everyday—and sometimes in the fast-forward version of Spanish known as Dominican lol. Anyway, within minutes our enormous jug of water was at our door step. We have an apartment security guard who walked the young man to our door and made sure he didn’t overcharge us. I have not yet been overcharged by the colmado but I have to say that there has been widespread support from many of the native Dominicans here so that we are not taken advantage of while we learn the language and lay of the land. The colmado guy was really sweet and for some reason this moment today really had Steve and I feeling like we can do this, and do it well. It’s a major victory for someone living as an immigrant in another country, which is really what we consider ourselves. Expat seems like a white privilege word to describe the same idea as immigration. More on that in another post.
It’s hard being somewhere in the world where the majority of people do NOT speak your language. It’s hard being the minority, something white people don’t really get to experience in their everyday lives in the United States. It’s really important to have this experience. It is a strange role reversal to be in the country of so many of my ESL students who came to my classes to learn English. It’s really hard but these small victories make all the difference. I’ve never been the person to judge another for not speaking the language, EVER. But, if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind about how difficult it is to “just learn”, take it from me.
So cheers to our water jug, the nice colmado man, and the determination despite utter embarrassment and intimidation to call the corner store and celebrate our small, but major victory.