I maintain that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is to participate in daily life from a bench, a coffee shop or a pub in the town square.
Imagine you’re walking down the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. You walk by garage-door store fronts where greying Grandpas are haggling for cigars and toddlers try out their tricycles, only a few steps out of dad’s careful reach. You pop into the market and walk down the first aisle. Green plantains explode from their meager containers as mom scans the yucca roots she’s collecting for dinner.
Main thoroughfare – Zona Colonial – Santo Domingo
You turn left and find stacks and stacks of fresh fish. A tired man stares out from behind the counter, fingers stretching outward from his palms, dirty towel draped over his shoulder. Behind him, another man delicately scales the next round of fillets.
You turn right and find the snacks. Less than we’d expect in most American stores, but similar brands, and styles. Is that a Skinny Girl Margarita? I can’t believe they get that here. More chips.
You buy a baguette, some cheese, grapes and a Presidente and head off to the Parque Colon to begin your lunch.
As you do, a lady cop spots you trying unsuccessfully to open your Presidente and sends a man to retrieve a bottle opener from the bar across the way. An employee in El Colon graciously assists, and the policewoman continues on her duties. A throng of Scandanavian tourists take selfies with the statue in the center of the park, and within minutes, a local man has carted the unsuspecting youngsters into the 4th cigar shop you’ve seen today. On his way out, he shakes the hand of the proprietor, and scans the park for his next gaggle.
Mass has just let out from Easter Mass at the oldest church in the Americas. Families fill the corner restaurant, dressed in their Sunday best, where the food is purportedly overpriced but the people watching is unbeatable. A young man pulls his hungry horse up to those waiting and a beautiful couple climb into the open-air buggy, their young one peering across the back bench and waving to the world he’s left behind.
Catedral Primada de America – Santo Domingo – Dominican Republic
Music fills the air as a quartet of strolling musicians approaches from across the way. They linger near three elderly ladies, who cannot be distracted from their tales and fits of laughter long enough to pay them any mind, and so on they go. As they traverse the square, you slowly begin to pack up your things.
From the outside, it would seem that you’ve just had lunch alone on a bench in the park. Quite contrarily, you realize, you’ve just had lunch with an entire town. You’ve become engrained in the fabric of the moment, entrenched by the peace and the people, even if for only that moment.
Embrace the moment of shared humanity. Smile at strangers. Observe with curiosity. Communicate through language barriers. Allow yourself to be fully present and carry on, knowing that you’ve come away with a deeper understanding of the folds that make the town.
Other articles you may be interested in:
Who Am I?
Where have I been?
Check out the image below for a visual of all of the amazing places I’ve been fortunate enough to experience and My Bucket List for the places I hope to visit soon.