Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why only Dominicans Can Turn an Epidemic into Pop Culture

Dominicans are hella good at small talk. I'd venture to say they're professionals. I'm going to go ahead and admit that I'm getting pretty good at it too. You see, there are a few main topics to touch on in standard small talk in the DR.

1. The weather. "hay dios, que calor" or "Oh lord it's so hot, "Quee solazoooooo" or "What sun!", "Nos vamos a quemar!" or "We're all going to burn up!" All typical phrases, especially this time of year when it's realllllly starting to get steamy up in here (listen to me, what am I talking about? This place is an inferno year round). Typical responses are, "Buuuuenoo" which is a stark agreement, "Que dios nos protege" or "God protect us" and the usual "hay si!" or "oh yes!". 

2. The family. "Y la familia?" so typical, and this island is seriously so small that even I who have been here for only a year and 3 months can talk to someone in the capital who knows someone in my pueblo who I know. Typical responses are, "ah tu no sabia que fulana 'ta embarazada otra vez?" or, "oh you didn't know that (so and so) is pregnant again?", "viviendo de uno" or "living off of one (that person)", and "estan bien!!" or "they're good!". 

3. The electricity or "luz". Asking what time it went out, what time it's coming back or how "ella no sirve" or "it's not worth a damn". Also consistent complaining about how it's never on.

And now ladies and gentlemen I present you with the newest topic for small talk that's caliente in the country right now.

La Chikungunya. Sometimes referred to as the Chimichanga, the chichiguya, or the "virus".

If you are reading this and you don't live in the DR, here's some background info on what it is. Chikungunya iMakonde for "that which bends up". It is transmitted similarly to dengue fever and causes an illness with an acute febrile phase lasting two to five days, followed by a longer period of joint pains in the extremities; this pain may persist for years in some cases. 

I think it's officially an epidemic. EVERYONE has had it and EVERYONE is talking about it. All you have to ask is, "so, have you gotten it yet?" on the bus and everyone erupts in conversation about how terrible it has been. 

This is a parody on a powdered juice label that's very popular in Latin America:

There was also recently a dembow (Dominican version of reggaeton) song and video made about it which you can see here. The mosquito pictured is actually very accurate, it looks just like the one that carries Chikungunya. 

It's no joke though, this has been wiping out entire pueblos at a time and in every organization there is at least one person sick with it. I see people hobbling to the corner store to buy their daily food items, grabbing walls and trees to be able to stand up. Some of my own family members had it weeks ago and are still suffering from joint pain, swelling and stiffness. It's even harder to see an infant or a small child struggle with it. 

As a development worker living in a developing country, it's eye opening to realize how much more prone these populations are to health issues and how fewer solutions there are for them. I'm sure in the cases in the US people have been hospitalized for days until they feel better but here people don't have options, they have to lay in their bed all day under a smoldering zinc roof with a fever that takes more than 24 hours to break. 

Public health have given workshops in almost all areas about filling in puddles, covering water tanks, sleeping with mosquito nets and using insect repellent. I just read here that totals in the caribbean have reached 190,000 reported cases. Doctors here in the DR are predicting that 5 million people (that's half of the population) will have had it by the end of the summer. 

But it sure does make great small talk to pass the time, and no, I have not gotten it yet. 
Hope you think of me next time you kill one of those clean US mosquitoes!


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