The Exchange Rate of Companionship in the Dominican Republic

Richard, an 80-year-old Quebecios man, built most of the Sun Camp at which we’re staying. For the last 20 years, he has come to the Dominican Republic in six-month bouts to live life to the fullest. This includes his Dominican girlfriend.

“In Quebec, if I want girlfriend,” he tells me, making a wide arc to indicate a rotund woman.

“But here, I get something more like her,” he points to Jamie, “Or skinnier!”

(This man makes my own father seem downright sophisticated).

A Livable Wage in the Dominican Republic

A fellow American confirms that the old man is regularly escorted back to his apartment by his girlfriend. A girlfriend for whom, Richard says, five or six beers had to be bought. Whenever he dances with girls in the batey, a local neighborhood comprised mostly of Haitians, he gives them 100 pesos, approximately $2.50 US. The average wage in the Dominican Republic is around 200-400 pesos a day, the same amount paid to the workers who helped build many of the buildings at Sun Camp, according to Richard.

Richard was partying last night, in part, because of another departing Canadian. Keith comes from Calgary, and works massive construction projects. He sat at the community table drinking his large bottle of rum and smoking cigarettes. He, too, has been coming back to the DR for years. He had to excuse himself somewhat early on Saturday, though; it was his last night in town, and his Dominican wife wanted to go dancing before he left. She had to be at least six months pregnant.

The Cost to those in the Dominican Republic

Back around the table, a single young man from Minnesota, perhaps 25 years old, speaks as if he’s experienced a lifetime. He’s been here six months and plans on staying six more. He laments the “danger” of Santo Domingo, purses and chains snatched from otherwise unaware people. The topic turns to relationships.

The Broken Lock of Love. Photo by Jamie Peacock.

“I would never want to date a Dominican woman,” he pauses, “Every woman who has a husband overseas has a boyfriend here.”

Earlier that day, we received the humbling opportunity to visit Daniela and Maru. Maru is the mother of Daniela, a little girl maybe six months older than Lily. Jamie and I stood awkwardly in the small cinder-block home, “Los Simpsons” on the small TV in front of the shy Daniela, as a conversation about Daniela’s school future takes place. Tom, a retired Kindergarten teacher from Florida, is looking to get her enrolled, but there are a few problems. Among them, Maru is waiting to hear back from Daniela’s father, a Canadian. Apparently promised a life in Canada, Maru avoided getting Daniela a birth certificate. The lack of certificate and immigrant status in the Dominican Republic makes it difficult to get her into school.

The Canadian has not responded to the inquiries from Diane, Sun Camp’s co-owner.

The Love Economy of the Dominican Republic

I don’t like to get on my high horse about love; I’ve long found the woman I want to be with, and don’t care if she operates entirely in USD. It’s worth it. But there’s a interesting “love economy” at play here in the Dominican Republic, with otherwise solidly middle-class workers acting as MTV-grade rock stars. For less than what most people make for a car payment, you can utterly transform the life of a family in small Dominican towns.

Guys like Richard know it. For himself, he lives mostly in the moment. The shirtless octogenarian has a heart surgery scar under his tanned, sagging left pectoral; a large beer sits before him. But he beams somewhat with pride that his girlfriend will be “set” when he’s passed. Not only has he bought her a home, but he also bought her two rental properties. I would be shocked if any of those had cost him more than $10,000.

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