Monday, April 11, 2011

"You can't hear Christ"

The motorcycle with the PA system set a new standard. The guy had welded a 6 foot pole to the center of his motorcycle, and stuck three, full-sized PA speakers on the top. He could now create as much noise as some of the less noisy cars in the D.R.

His mother must be proud.

The Dominican Republic is considered one of the loudest nations on the planet. I heard that one preacher had lectured his flock that they are “too loud to hear Christ.”

Let me give you an example: A few nights ago several of my fellow PCV trainees decided to go to a local club. We discovered that it didn’t open until 10pm, so we went across the street to a colmado (i.e. local corner store).
Oops! Gotta stop to fill in a blank: people here don’t go to bars to drink – they go to the colmados. It’s the second biggest social gathering place in the D.R. after church.
The colmado in question had an 8-foot tower of speakers alongside it. It was blasting meringue music at ear-splitting levels into the street. You could feel the music in your chest. The only thing unusual about this was the number and quality of speakers. Other than that, this is pretty normal for the D.R.
Even on neighborhood side streets, the colmados will set up speaker system and blast music. Often they only have 4 or 5 songs in their music collection, and will play them over and over again every night.

After having a few Presidente’s and small bottles of really strong rum, some of the trainees decided to try the club (now open for business). I wanted to finish my drink. About half of them returned to the colmado 10 minutes later. Their complaint: the club was too loud.

Now here’s where the story gets amusing.

A little while later an SUV drove by the colmado playing some latin rap music. They decided to compete with the colmado’s music system. And you know what? They won! The SUV drowned out the colmado. The entire back of the SUV was nothing but modern speakers.
The noise was so deafening that I started to get physically ill and had to leave, but not before I saw several cute, young, Dominican girls gathering around the back of the SUV.
That’s when I realized why the Dominican guys invested so much of what little money they have in speakers.

There are no laws against noise. When you want to advertise an event you hire a guy with a huge sound system on the top of his car and he drives around the neighborhood, playing your message at deafening levels.

Most Dominicans have the ability to tune out the noise. It doesn’t matter whether they approve or disapprove of the noise. Their culture prevents them from protesting it.

For instance, no one leaves their doors closed during the day if they are home. When you want to visit a neighbor, you don’t call ahead of time. You simply walk right through their open front door and yell for them. Most interior rooms don’t have doors at all.

I’m willing to bet that you can get into any house in the Dominican Republic simply by standing before the front door. Within a few minutes you will be invited by the woman of the house to come in and take a seat, even if she’s never met you and doesn’t know who you are. Then she will serve you a small cup of coffee.
To do otherwise would be considered rude. I know because it happened to me when I accidently showed up at the wrong house once.

It’s a far different mentality than in America.

Let me give you an example: My host family and I were sitting around the table eating dinner one night, when some of the neighborhood kids climbed over the house and dropped into the backyard. They were only about 5-8 years old and were loudly playing.
The kids then ran through the open backdoor, right past all of us sitting around the table, and out the front door of the house. They then repeated the entire thing again.
My host family not only didn’t protest, they didn’t even appear to notice. They continued to eat and talk amongst themselves.

It seems the noise issue and the open-door issue are related. The Dominicans have traded their personal privacy for a sense of community and trust.
The children play in the street and no one fears for their safety because they are watched over by everyone, so no one would dare harm them. Everyone knows everyone because everyone visits everyone whenever they want.
On the other hand, everyone knows everyone else’s business. What you do in your own home is the subject of much speculation. You can’t expect even the smallest amount of privacy unless you take extra steps to ensure it…and that will get everyone talking.