In Santo Domingo, the first thing I heard when I woke up for work each day at 7am was a man shouting “Aguacate, Mango, Guineo”, in English that is Avocado, Mango, Banana. It was my alarm clock and one of many that I heard throughout the day. In the Dominican Republic almost everyone is an entrepreneur and street sellers can be found on every corner. I was always amazed at the variety of things that I could buy on the street there.
The ice cream man has a bicycle and on the bicycle is a refrigerated box that keeps the ice creams cold and a parasol to protect him from the sun. He will ride the bike along the streets and parks all day shouting “helado” (ice cream) and ringing a bell to attract the attention of passers by.
It’s the same for the men selling coconut water. They will ride or push a bike that has a cart attached full of coconuts. I do wonder how they do this all day, the coconuts are heavy and the weather is extremely hot, but they work for 15 hours, passing by shouting “Agua de coco”. When you stop him he will take his machete, cut the top of the coconut in a few strokes and pour your fresh coco water into a cup or simply add a straw! It should be noted that this is not as easy as it sounds, if you’ve ever tried opening a coconut you will know what I mean!
Even in my office, every day, at 10am, a lady came into the building shouting “La fruta” (the fruit!). She had a variety of fresh fruit for sale which we always bought as breakfast for the office. It was great knowing that you had a fresh fruit delivery every morning that didn’t cost more than a dollar!
Then whenever you drive anywhere and stop at traffic lights there’s always a man selling bottles of water, very useful in the hot climate, someone selling sunglasses (usually replica RayBans or similar), also useful if you’ve left yours at home! Then there will be a man with car accessories, perhaps in-car chargers or windscreen wipers, a lady offering the daily newspaper, a small boy selling home made sweets and I once saw a man selling colourful feather dusters! The strangest one though had to be a man wearing a space suit who was selling tickets to a local concert! All of these street sellers will be shouting to get your attention and hoping you will open your window and make a quick purchase before the lights change to green! You’ll also see sellers who display their items on the side of the road. These will usually be rugs or handmade wooden furniture.
And then there’s the beach, where you will find rows of beautiful artwork and a whole host of sellers walking with an open briefcase full of little treasures, usually jewellery or small souvenirs. They will be shouting as they walk something such as “Happy Hour, 2 for 1” or “very cheap, looky looky” to get the attention of the sun worshipping tourists who are enjoying their vacations!
What I found most incredible about the street sellers there is their determination. They work long hours on their feet all day and often in extreme heat, however, when you stop them to make a purchase they always have the energy and enthusiasm to smile! There are many people who have much more comfortable working conditions and a far less positive approach to life, in my opinion we have something to learn from these people!
I’m sure, as time goes on, things will develop in the Dominican Republic as they have in other countries and we will see less and less of these street sellers in the future. As the economy gets stronger and there is less poverty present, the next generations will hopefully be able to have more regular jobs with steadier incomes. Then they will one day tell stories of their grandfather who used to push his bike along the streets selling avocados.
Until then, I urge anyone who is lucky enough to visit the Dominican Republic to make a small purchase from these sellers from time to time. The smile that they give you when you do is worth every cent!