Wednesday, August 18, 1999

San José de Ocoa

When things were going well for em, they seemed to be going ridiculously well—9 declarations in an hour of teaching in Ouanaminthe. (I’d never seen anything like it and I’m not even sure it’s a good thing.) Then when they went bad, they were horrid. All of their plans for joining the Dominicans on the other side were dashed by a sudden, unforeseen inability to land visas—among other things the generality of Dominicans are fantastically racist toward their neighbours—and the group foundered in a mess of bitter arguments. Some of the leaders wanted to defer to the wishes of the group as to whether they should cut their losses and head home early; others crumpled their voting slips. Nothing of Bahá’í consultation in any of it, and everyone except Myriame came out looking bad: when all the anger died down she quietly suggested a plan that everyone could agree on, though one of the leaders held out for a while out of arrogance, and they went back to Ouanaminthe one last time on Saturday morning to give a presentation before they went home. Three people came. They went. These were the circumstances under which Iris (Hawaiian) and I quit the group and started our wholly undeserved vacation in the Dominican Republic. In words of Phadoul: “You’re along with the group, but not a part of it.” And Goddamn it, isn’t a people guaranteed to fail when they’re nearly right in believing that the whole world’s against em?

So: overnight in Dajabón. Went out to visit some Bahá’ís in Corral Grande just outside just outside, turned out that the remote country is much like Haiti, except that they have washing machines and did some clothes for us. Wicked nice but of course we could barely get a word through.

Sunday 1:30 to La Vega, a singular Las Vegas which apparently was near “Ochoa,” where I remembered Robbie’d said he’d be. Steven Seagal movies on the bus distracting me from the plains and cock pits rolling by out the window. Trouble was, the people on the bus didn’t think Ochoa even existed, so we got off in the big city of Santiago to readdress the issue.

Ran into a Raphael by complete fluke in the bus station, a bank worker who refused to accept money for driving us to an online computer … turned out it was at his home, double-checked Robbie’s message, which turned out to be even more imprecise than I’d thought: his “village 50 miles out of San José in the Ochoa region,” considering that San José doesn’t exist itself, might translate best into “village 50 miles out of San José de Ocoa,” where we set our sights.

Raphael drove us back to the station to catch a Santo Domingo bus before heading off to see how his dad was recovering from his surgery. I don’t know why he was so nice to us—he’d heard of the Faith but thought it was something exclusive—maybe it was some kind of good luck charm for his father.

We called contacts in the capital at 9:00 at night, and a young guy named Alí Benzan came by to pick us up. He introduced us to the Canadian Bahá’ís first off, who turned out to be a bachelor pad of medical students (nice) and teenaged businessmen (craven), the latter trying to convince me that moving to an underdeveloped country was just a subconscious way of saying I was better than everybody else. I asked him if he had an inferiority complex and he didn’t know what that meant but he’ll be a millionaire by the age of 20 by printing CDs for Tower Records. They all punched Iris’s addy into their cell phones and Alí drove us off to a pención.

If Monday hadn’t been Restoration Day, when the whole country closes down to celebrate their declaration of independence from Spain, and if we’d been more confident that Robbie were in San José de Ocoa, we’d have met him there on Monday afternoon after just two days in the country. But we didn’t know and to get more information we’d have to wait till Tuesday morning. Which we did. Spent Monday visiting the Old City, a happy cross between the open squares and cafés of Montreal and the parapets of the Kremlin. Palms and creepers everywhere. We took Alí to dinner where he introduced me to mofongo, which is mashed plantains and pork rinds and garlic. It’s no-holds-barred awesome. Must remember to send Alí a copy of Dune from Canada.

Tuesday morning got to work: changed more money and found the Canadian embassy and got a number for Hope International and learned that Robbie was in a town called Yutia NE of SJdeO … at noon we caught a bus, but when we got there it was too late … Robbie’d been right in town since Friday, but that morning his team had returned to some inaccessible village in the hills. Had to wait for Wednesday. At midnight we were woken from our hotel bed by a serenade to a visitor who was leaving the next day … beautiful singing … “America, America … patata lluvia trópica.”

This morning we caught two of the motorcycle taxis they use over here and found the building where a bus is supposed to take us to Robbie. Iris is drinking coffee in the lobby. Woo-ha woo-ha.

My travelling companion is 18 years old, and she seems young. Every so often she claps her hands and gushes about how this is her first real “adventure” and then refuses any food that doesn’t resemble a Big Mac. I think she used to be overweight in high school and she still carries a bit of psychological residue … a bit insecure etc. Drinks water pathologically and had to stop the bus to Ocoa to keep from wetting herself. Nice enough, and I have to remember that this is my undertaking so it’s natural that I have to make the decisions.

Too bad that my drawings are limited to when I have the time. Santo Domingo could have occupied me for a solid week, it could be so lovely. Instead I get one page of a mediocre seafront.

[Picture of wind blowing on a barn, with the following legend: “Can’t write much with this blunt pencil, but in only six weeks my life has changed (and yours too). And Nathan’s here too. Robertico”]


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