dragonfly painting

dragonfly painting

Photos by Dominic AZ Bonuccelli


Life is full of surprises anywhere you live. As a newcomer to this Caribbean island, I am rendered speechless every day by something unusual, enchanting, or ghastly. Here are a few surprises I’ve had while living in the Dominican Republic…

It looks like a droplet of mud remotely shaped like a frog but no bigger than my little finger nail. I squat to investigate it in detail and the miniature lump jumps!

Kites here dance merengue in the sky. During the months of March and April, boys wander in packs collecting string and sticks all over the town of Villa Riva. In the evenings there are dozens of kites mingling with the setting sun.

There are enormous spiders in my house. With their legs spread out and body flattened to the ground (they do that when they are threatened) they are bigger than my hand. Though harmless, discovering one of these behind a door or under a mat amps up my heart rate to a level which requires a forty-minute cool down period. Smashing it only makes the situation more traumatic. They are too big to squash and scrape off a shoe. I vowed there would be no more killing and I have learned how to continue my life with these quick moving, long-legged arachnids lurking on the wall beside me. To my surprise, Dominicans are more fearful of frogs than spiders. They laugh and think my freakish reaction is absurd.

There is a fruit called zapote that looks like an oversized kiwi. When the brown bumpy skin is cut away, the inside bursts with the intense color of raspberry sorbet. Its flavor is a combination of sweet plum and smooth pear.

A teacher at the primary school where I work smokes in her classroom. She also uses twigs to swat kids who are misbehaving. I can see the little sticks in a pile on her desk. It is within handy reach should Tito untie one of Igelisa’s hair ribbons and run with it about the room. My work a Peace Corps Volunteer is to teach educators new instructional methodologies and classroom management strategies. This teacher gained some new ideas, but I have yet to see them implemented.

One night as I was approaching my front door, I saw a bizarre shadow the size and shape of a baby elephant cast onto the wall of my house. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be two toads mating under the porch light.

Ready for bed, I turn out all the lights and crawl under the sheet. There is still one itsy-bitsy light blinking on and off. It is a firefly trapped inside my mosquito net!

A stench as foul as a rotting animal permeated the humid air in my neighborhood. Everyone was talking about it and guessing what it could be. Soon, people forgot about it, but I still smelled it more potent than ever. I mentioned to some students at school that the disgusting odor continued to linger around my house. Just as a Peace Corps Trainee arrived to my house for her first trip outside of the capital, a team of muchachos appeared in my yard with flaming sticks. They torched the dry grass shouting, “It’s Julio’s dog! It’s Julio’s dog!” A dead dog had been discovered outside my window! As the burning grass lowered, the trainee’s eyes flickered in disbelief. The charred carcass smoldered into the night.

If there is electricity, put papaya, ice, milk, vanilla, water, oatmeal, sugar, and a chin of salt into a blender. Liquefy. This is called a batida. Nothing can beat its flavor or freshness on a hot day.

A student brings me a coconut to thank me for my work on a school mural.

A dead dragonfly lies on its back on the seat of my chair. They are not normally inside the house. Somehow this one got in and that was the end of it. I stoop to study its iridescent wings and fragile body. All of a sudden it begins to buzz! I startle and it zooms away.

A lizard pal has attaches himself to my broom. He hangs on as I sweep, enjoying the ride.

I leave a chair outside all night and the next morning find a nutritious surprise on the cushion. Six warm eggs left by a mystery hen glow in the sunrise.

There are lizards with cellophane skin which display their insides. They are less aggressive than the green ones, according to my neighbor’s son, Carlito.

People here burn massive garbage fires. Plastic, rubber, and all other kind of materials send toxic fumes into the environment. Laws are few. Education is key. Change is slow.

A quick and tasty snack is made with bread, honey, bananas, and peanut putter.

I casually grab a bowl from the shelf and inside is an almond shaped, caramel colored frog. It springs out and sticks onto the wall with its tiny suction toes. From there, it climbs up the wall, where it hangs out while I cook. It startles me by plummeting down to the water bottle. Splat! His moist body sticks to the plastic. Moments later he is out of sight.

For my birthday, I was battered in raw eggs and white flour. This Dominican birthday ritual was initiated by my friends with an affinity for tomfoolery. I was lucky it was raining so I could rinse off outside. Soon, all the party attendees were celebrating in the water, which fell from the sky and gushed down from the rain gutters. The neighbors joined us with soap and shampoo, and more surprises awaited.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

What is surprising you these days?