post 2 from the Dominican Republic — The Raven in our Home of Love, or La Iglesia de las Naglas Grandes

October 2nd, 2010
As I carried bicycle into the Hotel Nuestra Casa de Amor (Our Home of Love) a bird began shreiking full volume.
I stopped at the top of the stairs.  One of the three daughters of the family was holding a full-sized raven on her arm, and it was sounding off full blast.

The raven may have kissed her...

Estoy bien I answered. Me llamo Jaime I told the raven.

I put my bike down and watched Anita kiss the raven.  Then she slowly petted it.  I  reached out to touch it.  It quickly turned at my hand, flashing its red eyes and bit me hard.
OWWWWWW I said in English.
Si, Anita said.  Danny bites.

...but he turned and bit me hard!

I see he does.
I looked around on the upstairs roof and I saw cages and cages of tropical birds.  Anita explained that she and her two sisters rescued birds and kept them in cages.  They also had homing pigeons that returned from wherever they were released in the Dominican Republic.  The parents and the three sisters all lived downstairs.  The hotel part was upstairs, very separated from the residence below.  It consisted of four rooms in a row.  Anita told me that one of the rooms was already rented to a newly wed couple who were both working in town.  I took a center room which happened to adjoin their room.

I stripped down, showered, and then washed my clothes.  As I did I listened to incredible cacaphony of sounds coming from the birds.  But almost all of it came from the raven.

I stepped outside.  Anita was saying HELLO JAIME to the bird.  Hello Jaime Hello Jaime.  It was either looking at her suspiciously, or for crackers.  I couldnt tell which.
Jaime, listen.  He is speaking in both English and Spanish.  My sisters and I have taught him to be bilingual.  Hear him say Hello — How are you — Ola — Como estas — I am Danny. Soon he will say Hello Jaime.
First have him say I promise not to bite— and mean it.
Anita then gave Danny a cracker and then began repeating again and again
Hello Jaime  Hello Jaime  Hello Jaime
Go right ahead.  I went to my room and laid down.  I was tired from riding 50 miles into the wind today.

Our Home of Love was not what a tourist might have expected, or perhaps hoped for.  The front of the hotel had a painting of the hand of god reaching down for you as you stepped thru the door.  On the wall as you entered was a full-sized mural of a very benevolent, smiling bearded white Jesus.  The family who ran this hotel and lived here were all dark.  I guess they still trusted white men.  I had wanted a room that was clean and safe and I think I had found it.  No thief could enter this home without passing thru the family’s home AND the raven.  As far as privacy, well I only had it when I locked my room.  But I think that, in fairness of advertising, they should have named the hotel NUESTRA CASA DE AMOR DE JESUS.  Then visitors would know just exactly what kind of love they were getting into.

The family was interested in me.  Where I was from, what I did, and about my bicycle trip.  They felt free to knock on my door, wait a few seconds, and then open it.  Even the three daughters, who ranged from the early twenties to maybe thirty.  After a few times, I was a bit annoyed.  I thought I could cure them of this spontaneous door-opening by standing there butt naked and then shrieking like that goddamn raven next time they opened the door.  But I did not get the chance.  I waited a long time too…

Without asking, the daughters volunteered that they were evangelical Christians and they went to church almost every day.  Anita said that all three were unmarried, and that they hoped to marry and have families some day.  She said that Dominican men liked to go to bars and drink, and have many women.  Bad men, another sister scolded.  But God will find us good husbands, the youngest one said.  Well, good luck, I am thinking.  I was older than their parents so I was gratefully eliminated.
Was I saved?  one asked.
I knew how to handle this question.  Yes yes yes!  I am a believer and I am going to heaven!!!  Anything to avoid a theological discussion.
Then you will go to church with us this evening?
Is this a hotel, or a mission?  Damn.  How would I get out of this?  I had already napped for an hour so I could not say that I was too sleepy to go.
I have an idea.  I want ice cream!  Let me take you all out for ice cream!
The sisters all lit up like girls.  In five minutes we were walking down the muddy sewage-filled streets to the town square.  But at the town square, a bar had music on at absolute maximum volume.  Any louder and birds would be falling from the air.  And there wasnt a person I could see in the open bar.  They were probably all laying on their backs with blood coming out of their ears.  The sisters were speaking to me but I only saw moving lips.  I grabbed a napkin, chewed up some of it, and stuck wet pieces of paper in my ears.  Alas no more pain.  From here on it would be mostly hand gestures.
I gestured for the sisters to get what they wanted.
Really?  And then they sure did.
All three of them did load up on three scoops of ice cream each. Big scoops.  I got some mango sherbert, which was very good.  The girls went at their ice cream, cooing as they ate it, sounding maybe like the doves that they fed on the roof of the Casa de Amor.  I tried their flavors, bright blue chiclet, corn cream, shocking red something, and a rainbow colored creation that tasted only of sugar and food coloring.  But they loved all their flavors.  I offered them some of my sherbert.
HMMMMM! They all liked that too.  They took big second bites.  I was watching my portion get whittled down fast.  So I ordered another one for me.  Only I did not tell them that.  One would guess by the way they ate, that these girls did not go out often for ice cream.  But there is an alternate hypothesis here too.  Judging by the sizes of the sisters’ rear ends, ranging from large, larger, and Walmart extra large, maybe they ate LOTS of ice cream.  Their sizes were gradated by age, so the younger ones could see exactly where they were going.  They looked like they were getting ready to emigrate to the USA.  Just keep it up and soon they would be able to float all the way to the USA.
After we finished, we walked a distance from the town square.  Only then did I remove my ear plugs.  And just then a pickup truck came by loaded up with immense speakers blaring some outrageously loud commercial.  I acted like I had a rifle in my arms and went to shooting at it.  If they had done this in the US, they would have been busted, or shot, within five minutes.

Two of the sisters took my arms and we sort of danced down the sidewalk, avoiding the fruit peels, plastic bottles, clumps of mud, and large gaping holes into the open sewers.  They were laughing, school girl giddy.  Clearly on a sugar high.  I asked them to lead me to the open market.  They only wanted to go to the supermercado.  But no, since I was paying, it is the open market.  And there it was in its full funky glory.  Fifty types of fruit and vegetables in their full smelly, dirty, non-toxic splendor.  I bought pears, mangos, oranges and grenadines.    Then, arm in arm, we skipped back to the home.  It was getting dark when we got home.

We were greeted by the raven.


What is he saying now? I asked.

The girls looked puzzled.  They did not know.  They had never taught Danny to say that.  But he says it anyhow.  In a minute they had him saying ALLO JAIME ALLO JAIME ALLO JAIME.  They smiled proudly to each other.  Amazing.

And now we go to Church!  They literally began dragging me.  If this were to any other destination, it would have been assault or kidnapping.  But church gets a free ticket.  Well, at least this evangelical mission was on the same block.  Easily within a good rock throw straight thru its stained glass window.  So I go in with them.  Luckily there is not enough room for all of us in one pew.  So I quickly find a single seat in the rear and let them sit up front.
The man is lecturing something in Spanish and the people are making sounds of agreement.  I check out the audience.  It is about 75% women, 15% kids, and the remainder are old people.  I simply do not see one younger man there.
One thing is for sure here.  The people of this church sure have big butts.  Maybe that should be the name of this church.  La iglesia de las Nalgas Grandes.  I sort of liked the sound of that.  A name like that would surely improve attendance.  I imagine there are thousands of churches like this in the US.  But if God is going to find these sisters husbands, then he’d better start looking in other churches, and quick too.  Because pretty soon they will all at once find themselves stuck in the church doorway and that will be a terrible mess.

Then they really got worked up over something, singing and shouting and all.  The frenzy got higher and higher.  I sat in back for a bit, and then during a pause where I think they were asking people to come up and be saved, I got up and left.  I dont think the family saw me.  But my timing for leaving probably could have been better.  I went back to my hotel room upstairs and locked the door to read THE OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA.

I start to hear something from the next room with the newly weds.  It is a low rhythmic rustle, a mattress squeaking, and then some ayes ayes and ohh ohhhs.  It goes on and on and I begin feeling oh so lonely as I cup my ear against the wall.  Hey they are pretty good.  And their timing is perfect, right when all the family is at church.

Eventually it ends, and I go to sleep.  But much later that night I am awakened again, and this time they are not playing.

Ohhh Ohhh!

Well, I lay in bed trying to go to sleep again.  It wont be easy.  Eventually I do though, fitfully.

And then it is sunrise and I am up.  I pop the door open and Anita is carrying Danny´s cage.  Danny cocks his head about.

all of this in our home of love

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