When I accepted the opportunity to work in the Dominican Republic, I agreed to missing out on everything that would happen back home for a year. I was well aware this was part of the international and immersive experience I was looking for. But it really didn’t phase me until I had to RSVP “no” to two important weddings.
With my departure approaching, my sister was giving me a hard time about being a terrible family member and a terrible friend for missing these weddings; nothing unusual between the two of us. Jokingly, however, I mentioned that I would just have to attend a wedding in the DR to make up for it. But then I arrived in the Dominican Republic, and, well …
It actually happened.
Naturally there’s a bit to explain about how a gringo struggling with Dominican Spanish managed to get invited to a Dominican wedding. So if you’re anyone other than my sister, Sarah, just ignore this link and read on. Now let me back up a bit.
In the previous post I shared about the importance of family in the DR, elaborating on my own host family and their frequent visiting. So it was no surprise when I bumped into the brother of my host mom after coming home from work one evening. Another tío. We had met once before when he was in town visiting his “novia,” or girlfriend. He was also from a town farther north, so it also made sense that he was staying for a week.
Also in that previous post, I talked about my poor adjustment to Dominican Spanish. Now, I’m thrilled to admit that my Spanish has improved since. But I’ll also admit that much still goes over my head … So when I asked my tío about his visit, and he replied with something about he and his novia going to a “boda” at the end of the week, I missed the fact that my tío had come to town for his own wedding!
Several days later our whole family was spending the day together at the nearby river to escape the summer heat. A popular family activity. With everyone swimming, cooking, and climbing trees for coconuts, it seemed like a good opportunity to take out the camera and practice my photography, since it needs about as much work as my Spanish.
Everyone, especially the kids, enjoyed posing and seeing their photos on the viewfinder (which always looks better than in actual size), and my tío casually asked about my photography. How long had I had my camera, did I enjoy working with photography, etc., and he asked to look through some of my older photos. He complimented me on my work, and I had begun to tell him I was still just a beginner when the younger kids pulled me away to take more photos.
Eventually the rain came, and everyone scurried to pack the truck and head home. But my tío pulled me aside and asked if I might be interested in taking some photos the next weekend. A bad habit I’ve formed since arriving is often saying “sí” before actually piecing together what I’ve just heard. So in the frenzy of rain and packing up, I quickly agreed “sí.” In retracing the pieces I’d missed in the conversation, the word “boda” came up again. And then I realized I had just agreed to photographing a wedding.
My tío and other family members spent the remainder of the next week cleaning and preparing the church. Meanwhile, I spent my spare time at work searching photo blogs for tips on photographing a wedding with just an intro DSLR. And finally, that following Saturday, came the day of the wedding.
The morning and early afternoon passed fairly uneventfully, visiting family and doing chores around the house. My host mom was getting ready while simultaneously finishing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning the house, my tío was ironing his suit, and I was my camera batteries and cleaning my lenses. By 6:00 everyone was all set to head to the church. Well, everyone except for the pastor, who was still in a different town.
So we waited a little longer to meet at the church by 7:00 when the pastor would return. But by 7:00 my host dad, who had gone out with the car, still hadn’t returned. And when he came back at 7:30 he still needed to take a shower. Meanwhile, the sun was setting sun was making me even more nervous about my responsibility to capture the wedding in the poor lighting of the church. And yet my tío, still without a matching tie at this point, was sitting quietly at ease on the front patio.
Finally, with everyone ready, we jumped in the car, drove down the street to pick up more family members, found a tie for the groom, and arrived at the church, which by 8:00 was still nearly empty. But eventually more family, church members, and the pastor began to file in. And before anyone knew it, amidst the lengthy greetings and many conversations, the bride began walking down the aisle.
I grabbed a spot off to the side of the altar to keep my flash, and the fact that I didn’t belong, as unobtrusive as possible as the wedding proceeded as any other. And before long the bride and groom were concluding their ceremony with the kiss. Other family members kept them at the altar to pose for pictures before following the crowd to the reception upstairs. There, everyone sat crammed together in plastic chairs, enjoying food, soft drinks, conversation, and more pictures (in the Dominican Republic, most Christians refrain from dancing and alcohol).
Shortly after the cake was cut and passed around for everyone to enjoy, an already overfilled taxi clunked up to the church doors. And with shouts of “felicidades,” the newlyweds lodged themselves into the front seat, sputtering off into the night as my Dominican wedding experience came to an end.
Back when my sister was joking about me choosing the DR over friends and family, I knew she wasn’t serious. But in a way she was voicing what I was already thinking. Going abroad meant missing out on some important life experiences of friends and family. But staying home meant denying my own.
And in those moments of FOMO, it’s recognizing events like attending a wedding in the Dominican Republic, and other smaller daily affirmations that I couldn’t possibly experience back home, that I know I’m exactly where I’ve wanted – and needed – to be.