Some religions will tell you that God created living things for man. In the Dominican
Republic, you learn the truth: God created man for mosquitoes. Elders speculate
that God is a mosquito who conferred upon humans the appearance of dominion so
that they would breed more bountifully.
To stay this side of devoured, Yahaira and I slept under a net (how else
would captives sleep?). Every night we tucked that mesh into our bedding
like our lives depended on it. If nature called in the wee hours, we didn't
answer. No white man has ever survived the Mosquito Gauntlet.
And though we tucked with all our might, there was always one vampire who
got underneath and gorged himself till morning. The others stared from outside,
drooling blood and making high-pitched envy noises. The second morning I
awoke to a constellation of bumps on my forehead.
I could still hear the fly-fisher's advice at Big Five: "This here
repellant is 28% deet, and no creepy-crawly can stand that kinda deet."
I had deet in my hair, deet in my feet, deet in dark places you wouldn't
repeat -- and yet they continued to suck. Despite what you hear from the
mental giants at Big Five, island mosquitoes are on to the whole deet thing.
They have been developing resistance over the years, introducing it to their
system little by little. One mosquito landed on my can of repellant; I swear
that it was smiling.
Mosquitoes fancy the DR for its steaming flesh, which brings us to something
else I learned: just because it's 200 degrees outside doesn't mean that it
can't rain. The tropical sun visits everyone individually, sitting on their
laps at times, but doesn't do anything about the drizzle. I wondered if it
wasn't tenderizing our skin for Them.
The natives have accepted the oppression, but sometimes it catches up. One
day I saw a farmer drop his barrow, point madly at the sky, stomp his feet,
and return to work like nothing had happened. They call it "getting
the sun off." So it goes.
Tia Delpha took our bags and smiled so pretty that the heat went away. If
you looked closely enough, you could see the love ooze from her pores. To
accommodate Yahaira and me, Delpha slept in her children's bed, where Cram
Theory also applies.
We tried to protest, but she raised a scary finger and said, "This
is your home now. Yayson, did you eat on the airplane?"
"Bueno," she smiled, opening her bedroom door.
At which point we encountered a blast of wind you wouldn't expect outside
of Mount Everest. It came from Delpha's ceiling fan, which was set on Tornado.
This served two functions: one, it cooled the room to 100 degrees; and two,
it made the mosquitoes think there was a tornado. The fan had been raging
like this for years. The base had, in fact, seceded from the ceiling and
was held in place by faith alone.
One night I woke up in a pool of deet, thinking I had been attacked by a
Later that morning we were roused by Tia Ena, who was cooking over an open
fire -- three feet from our window. Once that smoke hit the squall-like conditions
in our bedroom, it was like sleeping over a campfire. Of course, we would
have woken up anyway on account of the merengue blasting in the den. These
were, incidentally, the same tactics used by the FBI to defeat the cult in
Merengue is indigenous to the DR. Historians say that the stomping dance
comes from slave days, when black men's feet were chained but spirits were
not. Today Dominicans treat music like an elixir: The electricity is out,
the sun is on my lap, and I'm still looking for work...Turn up the music!
It's hard to pout when everyone around you is singing.
"You look tired," said a neighbor visiting at 6 a.m. "Would
you like some moro?"
Moro is like rice and beans, only you eat it 50 times a day.
"No, thanks," I said. "Do you have any sleep?"
I spoke in English so as not to offend. The neighbor laughed, which made
Yahaira laugh, which made the kids laugh, which made Ena laugh, and so we
enjoyed the first of many chain giggles. Everyone in the DR speaks laughter.
Yahaira and I plodded over to the kitchen, where Delpha was dance-cooking,
gliding gently in her slippers, smiling for no special reason. The children
were dance-setting the table. Ena, who was in charge of smoking out late
risers, was tapping her bongos -- er, Tupperware.
It impressed me so much that the tired left my eyes. Despite the fact that
these people lived in everlasting heat, under siege of mosquito, and with
means that make Compton look wealthy, they were happy. Consistently, laugh-out-loud
happy. They prayed to God even as you were speaking to them and marched to
the beat of their own Tupperware before coffee!
Delpha caught me watching and asked me to dance. Being Caucasian, I declined.
She seemed okay with that as she grabbed my waist and taught me anyhow. The
whole family took turns teaching the white guy to dance. By week's end, I
was stomping all over town. Children pointed at the first American they had
seen outside the television, wondering if we all had bumps on our forehead.