With a mouthful of Cheetoes, Anna Isabel twirls around in her pink dress and white shoes with matching tights. Dribbled down the front of her starched Sunday pinafore is a bit of bean from lunch that her mother has tried to clean off with baby powder. Her hair has been combed straight with plenty of shine cream and parted into two pony-tailed ringlets placed symmetrically on each side of her head. A third pony in the back is split into three wee piglet tails.
Her uncles are all behind the bar grilling sandwiches and twisting off beer tops. Everyone else in the place sings the words to the upbeat merengue song playing overhead. Pedro Julio, Ana Isabels brother, is on one of the barstools spinning himself silly. I pretend to know the words to the song and accept another beer, graciously. Observing the light liquid as it fills my plastic cup, Uncle Ranulfo places a fresh napkin underneath it. It is what a well-mannered gentlemen does when he buys a drink for a lady, to prevent condensation from rolling off the cup and dripping onto her. He looks up at me with approval and I smile.
From across the room, my Dominican grandmother shakes her finger at me with a scolding look. She comes over and explains that its not good to mix beer with habichulas dulce a dessert we will eat later which she has prepared with beans, milk, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, raisins, and crumbled cookies. She then adds that with her high blood pressure she cant drink any alcohol, though she may have an occasional sip of rum to help her digestion.
Its a Sunday afternoon and rain is now plummeting down as if we are underneath a waterfall. We are barely sheltered in this lively neighborhood colmado, a corner beer and snack stand, owned by my adoptive Dominican family. Passers by look in for their friends or waves to one of the uncles. Though Ive been in the country only a short time, I smile back at them and nod hello, feeling as if Ive been a part of the community for years.