Do take care, though, because hygiene standards are not always the highest, and
especially if you have not been in the country very long, your stomach might be
a little more sensitive in comparison to the vendor’s local clientele.|
Fruit carts are often arranged with intricate care and attention, piling the
papayas and bananas in symmetrical pyramids flanked by pineapples. In the run up
to Christmas the flavor changes: and apples and grapes replace their tropical
cousins as the main fruits on offer during the festive season.
Another common sight in every part of the Dominican Republic is the cocotero,
the coconut seller, who gouges off the top of the coconut with his machete and
pours the juice into a plastic cup for you, the customer. You also have the
option of drinking straight out of the nut, straw optional. Citrus juice is
another option, usually the freshly squeezed juice of sweet oranges, known in
the DR as ‘chinas’. A traditional treat is ‘frio frio’: a cup of shaved ice with
a choice of flavored syrups.
Many of these vendors choose their spots carefully; however, naturally, some
spots/intersections are more coveted than others. Vendors frequently fight over
the more coveted spots and/or make agreements with each other to compensate for
one vendor getting a less desired location. This is the side of street vending,
the one that goes on amongst vendors behind the scenes, that motorists do not
see. Like the largest businesses, the vendors know their target market and cater
to the needs of their customers. These could be housewives, schoolchildren,
university students or employees of large companies, who all flock out to buy a
mid-morning snack or the ingredients for the lunchtime meal. For Dominicans,
these vendors are just another commercial outlet, and very much part of everyday
life. They may charge a little more than one would pay in a supermarket or a
‘colmado’, but then again, they are the ultimate convenience store – where the
goods come to your door, or at least to the street corner.
Traffic lights are the scene of much activity on the part of the vendors. As
well as food of every kind imaginable, you can purchase cell phone accessories,
phone cards, vehicle related items like steering wheel covers and windscreen
wipers, trinkets, newspapers and even puppies, caged birds and goldfish. Coming
up to Christmas time, you will see many vendors selling Christmas related items.
The vendors, and purveyors of other services such as windscreen washers,
maneuver themselves with impressive dexterity amongst the thronging traffic, and
it is a wonder that accidents do not happen more often.
Buying anything through your car window can be exciting or harrowing, depending
on how you look at it. Time it well, and make sure you have the right money,
because otherwise the transaction might end up taking too long, and once the
lights turn green, as far as the vehicles behind you are concerned your bag of
cashew nuts is simply not as important as getting across that intersection!
Some of these vendors are independent, but some are employed by larger concerns:
newspaper sellers get 4 pesos for each newspaper sold. Phone card vendors are
even issued with corporate style uniforms these days! They get 8% of the value
of each card they sell.
In keeping with the makeup of the wider informal economy, many street vendors
are Haitian as well as Dominican. The country is host to thousands of Haitian
migrants, many of whom are here illegally. They come over in hope of an income
in the DR, which is relatively affluent compared to their homeland, the poorest
country in the Americas. Haitians traditionally work in sugar cane cutting and
construction (the men), domestic service (the women), and low-paid menial jobs.
Street selling, which is informal and low-paid, is another sector where this
part of the labor force can be found.
Another local fixture is the ‘limpiabotas’ – the shoeshine boys. Many young,
poor Dominican boys can be seen walking up and down the streets with their
homemade wooden shine boxes. The boxes act as both a holder for all of their
shine equipment and as a spot where you can place your shoe while having it
shined. Generally, when the limpia bota boy is finished with one shoe, he will
“rap” the side of the wooden box to alert you that he is finished with the shoe
and ready for the other one. Some, but not all of them, attend school are under
the care of charitable organizations like ‘Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco’
(Boys and Girls with Don Bosco), which ensures that hundreds of these children
are looked after and provided with training and education. A shoeshine from a
younger ‘limpiabotas’ generally costs 5 pesos. The premium service offered by
the professionals at Parque Independencia can cost between 50 and 100, but they
do a more thorough job.
Payment in the informal economy is strictly cash-only. Neither credit cards nor
checks are accepted in this sector. However, once you establish yourself as a
regular with a neighborhood vendor, they may well consider providing you with
the goods ‘fiao’ (on credit). That way you will know you have well and truly
been accepted by the locals!