Dominican Dominoes

I remember going to The Mission Lodge when I first started seminary. It was a government rehab program, and we’d have Bible studies with the chaps. One time I figured out the book of Ruth and gave them study that gave them an overview of the wonderful work of God in that book, and then afterward asked them what they thought. They ripped into me about how it didn’t have anything to do with their lives of fornication and murder and drugs.

I didn’t know what to expect in the Dominican Republic of course, and we all say that because we have to plan everything, or expect ourselves to, nevertheless. One of the things you always get is the culture clash of those for whom the clock ticks and those for whom it does not. The key to efficiency, Thomas Sowell somewhere says, is to value time. Things in the Dominican Republic get done, but not with maximum efficiency.

One of the things they like to do is play dominoes. Four of them will sit propping a board on their knees and on this makeshift surface they’ll play. And they do it in the most aggressive way possible too. There is a guy here from Venezuela who works in the baseball industry–exporting free agents for MLB–and I asked him what the chief difference he found was when he first came. It was the aggression. Not that they’re bad tempered, but that they don’t speak softly–not even the women, for which they seem to prefer not the word mujer, but the word hembra, female. And they play dominoes with the same aggression: slapping the domino down, crowing about their wins, tricking and humiliating each other, boasting, cheating good-naturedly, arguing. You can know they’re at some sport when everything pauses for them to argue about something, an event which can take up to half of any game. I haven’t seen that it is ill-tempered. They enjoy it–it’s how they rear their children, how they approach life.

And this interests me, so I sat and watched them play and listened to them. They think that because I don’t speak much and don’t speak the way they do, that I don’t know Spanish well enough to understand what they’re saying. Perhaps they also think I don’t understand because I don’t censure them. But I observed, and I’m thinking that Dominicans at dominoes is one of the best ways to understand them. Not that I have much time and experience, but I did find it sufficiently illuminating.

I had a hard time with my first chapel on Monday morning for several reasons, but one of them was that I was having a hard time holding their attention. I didn’t have a good breakfast, I didn’t have enough coffee, I did have a good lesson prepared but then the shambles of the preliminary activities had me in quite the sarcastic mood simply because ironic detachment helps with one’s spiritual hygiene. But I think the main thing was that I still didn’t understand them well enough.

I do a book reading in the afternoon, and I picked Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. In his preface he mentions how the Quakers advised “speaking to the condition of the hearers.” The condition of the hearers is what the evening rounds of dominoes helped me to understand better, and I returned to my place realizing why Monday didn’t quite work like I thought it would, and wondering how Tuesday could go better. I had begun to see how they think about life, and I had gotten it all wrong before.

Of course, it took prayer and effort. I didn’t realize before undertaking to preach again, how much the steady rhythm of doing so in Bogota saved me in my schedule. I did something on Romans 14 on Sunday night and I reworked it at least 3 times before even leaving Columbus. And again here. But what I needed more than anything wasn’t so much to understand what I was saying better so much as to understand those I was speaking to better. Not that I’m that close still, but I am glad for the dominoes.

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