Lost Dignity and Salty Old Men: A Tale from the Dominican Republic
There are few things that women dread more than being a bridesmaid. Following every bite of your crust-less tea sandwich at the bridal shower with comments like, “What nerve, confusing periwinkle with lilac for your Save the Date invitations!” is not a girl’s idea of fun. Nor is spending $300 on a dress that is made out of the same material as early hot air balloons. Six hours of dancing in that material will leave you chaffed and smelling like an onion-bloom enthusiast.
In my case, the worst part of being a bridesmaid started over a year before the ceremony. I was living in a tiny village of the Dominican Republic with little communication to the outside world. Once a week, I came down the mountain to check my phone messages and email. One particular April day, I was delighted to see my best friend’s name pop up in my email account. Not to my surprise, she was engaged.
In high school, she fantasized about her perfect wedding, while I fantasized about how I could out-smart motherhood with men named Fabio that tamed horses for a living. I was of course happy for her until she told me she needed my measurements for my bridesmaid gown.
My salary at the time had not allowed for me to buy clothes for over a year and so I knew little about clothing stores in the Dominican Republic, let alone a decent tailor. I figured there had to be one in Santo Domingo, but I was too cheap to pay the bus fare and was not about to spend my food money on someone to measure my bust-line.
The deadline for my measurements was near approaching and so I decided to scavenge the nearest town, Ocoa, for an abuela with an old measuring tape or police man with access to a line-up wall. To get to town, I took my usual VIP seat in the front cabin of a 1982 Nissan pick-up truck while the others (usually anyone who was not female) had to hold on to the rusted metal sides of the truck-bed.
With each village we passed, another woman squeezed into the front-seat made for two. By the time we had 3 country-fed women, David, the driver, and an infant in my arms, David decided we had reached maximum capacity. In order for us all to fit, I was bestowed with the honor of straddling the gearshift, with my right leg propped in the air, while David changed gears between my legs and elbowed my left breast every-time he turned. By the time we reached town over an hour later, my boob was blue and my dignity lying somewhere in a ravine.
My first stop was the outdoor market. While browsing the cuts of fly landing pads at the butcher’s station, I stumbled upon a man who sold everything from rubber boots plastic bacinillas (chamber-pots). I noticed he had a measuring tape around his neck and so I asked him to take my measurements.
The “tailor” seemed to be thoroughly confused about where to begin. I had to guide his shaky hands through it, as his rather large, sweaty friend kept saying “Oh yeah, he knows what he’s doing! This dress will make you look mayimbe!” (nearly impossible to translate this, but our equivalent would be “goooood” with no less than five “O”s).
Keep in mind he was taking these measurements in an open-air market full of salty, old men selling vegetables. Right about when he started taking the measurements for my bust and inseam, a small but attentive audience began to form. Strangely, I was not phased because what we call sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior in the States are called piropos or “compliments” down there.
I walked away with a small scrap of paper with every measurement the tailor could invent to keep his eager audience entertained. I was not bothered though because I didn’t have to pay a peso for his services rendered. That was enough to make my under-paid and under-nourished-self ecstatic for the week!
After my intimate experience with the tailor, I decided I had been through the worst of being a bridesmaid. Now all I had to do was avoid the bouquet toss.
Author, Katie Tuider, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and is the owner of Anti-Tour, www.antitourdr.com