In La Barbacoa, Dominican Republic, my neighbors and I occupy the small space between two distinct communities.
On one side, El Limón is every bit a Dominican enclave. After work, young, macho, Latin Casanovas in tight t-shirts and mirrored, aviator knock-offs pose on their motorbikes. The girls strut by, hair sculpted and bosoms threatening to tumble from their low-cut blouses and tight tank tops. Loud laughing and joking fills the air as crowds cool off at the swimming hole in the middle of town.
El Limón exhibits Dominican resourcefulness without large corporate tourism. Young entrepreneurs offer tours to El Limón Waterfall in exchange for tourists’ dollars and pesos. This immense cascade supplies enough natural beauty and entertainment to feed the families and their horses living nearby.
To the east, the expats of Las Terrenas, French, German, Italian, and Dutch, have set up a different kind of shop. They provide the cafes, discos and imported meat, wine and beer to satisfy the additional demands of the visiting tourists. Haitian immigrants, who build, clean and serve at the hotels, homes and resorts, do the heavy lifting.
In the middle, I live on a hill in La Barbacoa. Haitians, Dominicans and expats live together here but distinctly separate. Greeting my neighbors is a simple exchange that highlights the ambiguity of the place.
My mornings are a quandary created by the languages in a melting pot of cultures. Should I greet my neighbors with the “Buenos Dias” of traditional, schooled Spanish to show respect for their language? More often, I choose “Buen Dia,” an abbreviated, casual greeting used by many locals.
Since lots of my neighbors are Haitian, I could employ the French “Bonjour” to greet them. Unfortunately, the best indication of language preference would be the relatively darker skin of the Haitians compared to Dominicans. Racism has strong roots here. If I’m wrong, will I offend?
One thing’s for sure, I haven’t yet fallen back on “Good Morning.” As awkward as the other greetings may be, any one would be a better compromise to respect the people where I live.