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Snapshot of the Dominican Republic – The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, though Dominican Spanish is its own distinct dialect with different slangs and pronunciations than other countries. Most of the Dominican Republic’s primarily multiracial population lives in urban areas. There is much economic disparity, with upper-class individuals having lifestyles comparable to the United States, while the poorer people may not even have access to basic amenities. The Roman Catholic church is the dominant religion in the country; nearly 70% of the population belongs to the church, while about 18% are Evangelical, and another 10% have no religious affiliation. The Dominican Republic’s culture blends Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino practices. The fast-paced dance musical styles of merengue and bachata were created in the Dominican Republic. Rock and rap have also become increasingly popular, especially among the youth. Baseball dominates the country’s sports scene, though basketball and boxing are also popular. Dominican meals generally contain rice, beans, some type of meat, and a small salad. Lunch is the main meal of the day in the Dominican Republic. Another popular dish is sanocho, a stew that uses several kinds of meat. Flan, dulce de leche, rice pudding, and sugarcane are all popular desserts in the country.
Snapshot of Curaçao (part of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission) — Curaçao is a constituent country of the Netherlands, and has three official languages, which are Dutch, Papiamentu, and English. Papiamentu, a creole language, is the most widely spoken language in Curaçao, though many people are multilingual. The population of Curaçao is primarily Roman Catholic, though other Protestant churches such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and Methodists are also present. Curaçao features influences from several different cultures, primarily Afro-Caribbean, Dutch, and Latin American. Baseball is the most popular sport in Curaçao, though soccer is also popular. Stews and soups are quite popular in Curaçao. Stobá, a stew that uses papaya along with beef or goat, and Guiambo, a soup made using okra and seafood are two of the most popular varieties. Fried plantain, bread rolls, and funchi (a cornmeal paste) are common side dishes. Chinese and Indonesian restaurants are also popular on the islands.
Sanpshot of Aruba (part of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission) — Aruba is a constituent country of the Netherlands. The official languages of Aruba are Dutch and Papiamento, a creole language that incorporates aspects of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and African languages. Spanish and English are also spoken though Papiamento is the most widely spoken language on the island. Most of Aruba’s population belongs to the Roman Catholic church, though other Christian denominations are also present in smaller numbers. Dutch influences are still present in Aruban culture, as seen in celebrations of Sinterklaas in December and of the Queen’s birthday in April. Carnival is a major event on the island, incorporating music, dancing and lengthy celebrations. Another popular festival is Dia di San Juan (St. John’s Day), that also incorporates dancing, singing, and the use of traditional clothing that symbolizes fire. Aruban cuisine is similar to other Caribbean nations, with a wide variety of seafood dishes available. Funchi, a cornmeal paste, is also a staple served with many meals. Soups and stews are also common, and bolita di keshi (cheesy bread balls) are a popular snack.
Snapshot of Bonaire (part of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission) — Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands. Dutch is the official language, though Papiamento (a creole language also spoken on nearby Curaçao and Aruba) is a recognized regional language. While the Roman Catholic church is the most common religious denomination, other Christian churches are present as well. Like other islands in the leeward Antilles, Bonaire’s culture retains a mix of Caribbean and Dutch influences. Music and dance are important in Bonairean culture, particularly dance styles such as Simidan and Bari. Various festivals also play an important role in island life. Soups and stews are common in Bonairean cooking, and most meals are served with rice, potatoes, or funchi (a cornmeal paste). Seafood, goat, and beef are all commonly found in Bonairean dishes.
Members and missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has only been in the Dominican Republic since 1978, so most members are converts or within the first two generations of Church membership. Dominicans are VERY religious; the majority are Catholic and have been since birth, and while the Church is still relatively young, the people tend to be very religious and willing to learn. There is a temple in Santo Domingo as well as an MTC. As of the end of 2013, there are over 200 congregations split into three different mission boundaries within the country.
The typical Dominican meal consists of rice, beans, meat (especially chicken), and vegetables. In the words of a former missionary, “Dominicans eat rice every day, and sometimes every meal. Most Dominicans say that haven’t eaten that day unless they have eaten rice. They also have tons of delicious tropical fruit that they make AMAZING juices with.” Mangoes grow tropically around the island.
Buses, light rail, taxis, motorcycle taxis, and foot travel are all common forms of transportation, depending on the urban density of the area.
The Dominican Republic Santiago East Mission has a large share of the urban population in Santiago; this being so, missionaries—especially foreign missionaries—should be extra cautious. According to the U.S. State Department, “Foreign tourists are often considered attractive targets for criminal activity and you should maintain a low profile to avoid becoming a victim of violence or crime. In dealing with local police, you should be aware that the standard of professionalism might vary. Police attempts to solicit bribes have been reported, as have incidents of police using excessive force. Protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes turned violent… it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. Street crowds should be avoided. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, and travelers should remain alert during blackout periods, as crime rates often increase during these outages.” Petty theft, vehicle theft, and mugging occur at rates above that in the United States. Missionaries who use general precautions, employ common sense, and follow mission rules should not worry overly about safety issues, which are rare.
In general, Dominicans are very friendly and will typically open their doors to let missionaries talk about Christ. People are more friendly and open to talking with others. Direct eye contact is seen as a sign of respect and interest. Family is very important to Dominicans, who often live with or near extended family members.
- When starting a meal as a guest, the host generally says “buen provecho” (basically, “have a good meal”) as an invitation to commence eating.
Many “normal” American amenities are not generally available in the Dominican Republic. For instance, washing machines are very different. According to one former missionary,
“We would put water in with soap and our clothes. Then we would have to take them out and rinse them in a bucket, then put them on the other end to spin out all the extra water. Most of the country loses electricity probably every other day. Be prepared to live without electricity most of the time.”
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Straight from the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“Feminine Hygiene supplies.”
“Water, electricity, carpet, air conditioning, Slurpees, hot spices.”
*What did you eat the most of?
“Fruit, rice, eggs, vegetable.s”
“Rice and beans, spaghetti, fried plantanes [types of bananas], salami.”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Chicken feet-and-neck soup.”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“The poverty—what ‘third world’ really means. The way they embraced the gospel.”
“The poor, underdeveloped living conditions; i.e., material makeup (or lack thereof) of the houses, dirt floors, living in gutters and forests, overcrowded cities, etc.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission?
“Know and understand the Bible—be able to use it in discussing the gospel with nonmembers”
“Learn how to talk without words.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“How interesting and challenging it would be to have companions.”
“Have a better understanding of the Bible.”
“A mission is one of THE most valuable things I have done. It has shaped my future in the church, work force, and in other areas of my personal life. I want this experience for my nieces, nephews, and children. It will impact you and your future in ways you will someday understand.”
**Did you serve in the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission? If so, we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.**