I took care of the three major sticking points in our foreign exchange tangle today. We had a talk about expectations, I made a list of chores for Rosí to do daily and another list of weekly tasks. These satisfied some nagging itches I had about being responsible for another child during Rosí’s visit.
And I made her roasted feta. Saltiest mild cheese I know, with which I killed the salt and dairy need in my guest long enough to hear her talk.
Differences. She marveled that Americans don’t cook with salt, as she picked gingerly through the dinner I made.
Noodle birds’ nest with roasted feta and poached egg, spinach salad, and pluot. Kids’ portion, in case she didn’t like it.
I watched her shudder at the taste of the plain pasta. The friend who
got us into this mess was dining with us said, “You know, the cheese is very salty. Take a little of the cheese and the egg and the spaghetti and eat them together. All in one bite.” Rosí tried it and was quite pleased. She told us about how her mother prepared food by making everything together. Not pasta with sauce on it. Not foods layered on top of each other. Sauce with noodles cooked into it.
And once she settled into eating something we could finally agree on, we hit a few moments of the stride I was hoping we’d find during this encounter.
She explained how she mops at her house every day, because with the windows and doors always open, there is a lot of dust. She told me how much pride people take in their homes and how clean the Dominican Republic is. I believe her, since she scrubbed and mopped my front porch. I’ve swept a porch in my day. I’ve hosed off a porch. I have never scrubbed and mopped a porch. But in her third day here, Rosí did.
She told me how the ripped twenty-dollar bill in her possession would be worthless in the Dominican Republic. “If you come to my country and someone tries to give you this, tell them, ‘Please change this for me.’ Because there are many stealing people in my country and this money, this break? This is not worth any money. Never take this.”
I remembered our conversations the first day about how people in her country rarely pay their electricity and water bills. Because whether you pay or not, there is sometimes electricity and water. And sometimes not. How people only park inside at night because if left on the street, a car would be stripped for parts. Or stolen entirely. She is shocked that people leave their bicycles on the porch in my neighborhood. “Doesn’t someone steal that?” she asked, shocked. “In some places, yes,” I answered. “Here, not usually. Sometimes. But not a lot.”
Today I have begun to wonder what it feels like to not trust. I’m already skittish and try to be aware of my surroundings. To not tempt those who are looking for opportunities to lie, cheat, or steal. But I’m looking for an unusual occurrence. A rarity.
But what must it be like to know that your utility company will take your money and not give you electricity and water? Or that you are paying and your neighbors aren’t? How can you trust your neighbors if you know you’re paying for their utilities because they refuse? How can you bring yourself to pay a company that doesn’t deliver services?
How do you approach transactions if you have to inspect every bill, parse every word, and look over your shoulder?
I’m intrigued. Really. She can’t sample fruit in the store without the riot police descending. She can’t take anything at face value or leave possessions out in the open.
But she made sure, when giving me that twenty-dollar bill, that it was okay. She wasn’t hiding it. She was curious and she didn’t want to stiff me on the groceries. Is part of the pride of cleanliness in the D.R. also a pride in honesty? There may be some stealing persons, but there are many, many proud and honest people?
I mentioned in my post before Rosí arrived how worried I was that we had too many things. That we had accumulated too much that we simply didn’t need. Or that would have better served us as money in the bank.
Is my focus on her stories about theft rooted in an American sense of ownership and property? We seem to value property pretty highly…legally it’s right up there with life and liberty. Or is this a difference not in perspective but of privilege? I rent in relatively affluent suburb of a relatively wealthy part of the country. We are not rich by any definition I know. But I know a very limited number of people from a very limited range of circumstances. Is part of our new mutual reality with Rosí a juxtaposition of wealth that doesn’t know its own wealth and poverty that doesn’t know its own poverty? Am I a horrible bastard for even thinking that way and asking the question? Am I a horrible bastard for not thinking this sooner?
I’m not sure someone has to be a horrible bastard in this scenario. But I do know, that with a lot of feta and some spaghetti birds’ nests, we might begin to scratch the surface of these questions.