I spent the summer in Europe where, like north America, the media is currently obsessed with childhood obesity and the increase in the girth of the population as a whole. The Dominican press has also been focusing on this issue, acknowledging that in this particular society we have the dubious honour of exhibiting both sides of the coin: childhood obesity exists here alongside childhood malnutrition. Whoever said that while some people will starve to death, many will also die of overeating, must have had countries like the DR in mind.
On the question of obesity, I decided we would try and start off my son’s academic career by bucking that particular trend. I am convinced that it is the sedentary lifestyle that is to blame for all those chubby children, more than anything. People have always eaten junk of some sort, and fed it to their kids. It may be more processed and garishly packaged these days, but it is likely that a generation ago children were eating just as much fried, fatty and sugary food as their present-day counterparts. The big difference is that while my generation was physically active, this lot are a bunch of sedentary blobs that get ferried everywhere in air-conditioned comfort by Mummy and Daddy, or in the case of some upper/middle class Dominican kids, by the family driver.
One of the reasons we chose this particular school was the fact that it is in the same part of the city. I hate having to depend on a car. Now that I finally have one, I would rather use it as a back-up option, for the times we are in a particular hurry, on our way somewhere else, or for rainy days. If we were to take the most direct route walking to the school we would probably do ourselves more harm than good breathing the fumes on the busy main road, so I identified an alternative route that takes us through quieter residential streets, a twenty minute trek from our house to the school, and ten minutes to get back home, at a brisker pace unhindered by a four year old.
The route, it goes without saying, is paved with delights and surprises. Broken pavements that suddenly give way to gaping holes, building rubble and leering workmen and wachimen, a smattering of dog turds, piles of foetid ransacked refuse bags… and this is supposed to be a good neighbourhood!
But still, this is a great opportunity for me. I have always complained that life here has been very sedentary compared to my previous lifestyle which involved cycling to work and back (8 miles) most days, and a great deal of walking as part of my daily routine. Combined with the effect of having a baby at a relatively late age, these last four years of low-exercise lifestyle have seen me go up a size, so this is my chance to challenge my body’s sad decline.
Despite the annoyances listed above, there is a lot to be said for experiencing the city as it awakes: the cool early morning air, the colourful vegetation, the whiffs of strong Dominican coffee wafting out of the houses, the friendly greeting from the lady walking her dogs, and the housewives picking up the morning papers waving a cheery hello in our direction. Just one of the many occasions when Santo Domingo manages to be both a small town and a big metropolis at the same time.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to find that walking to school is a minority pursuit in middle class Santo Domingo. The pavements are empty of pedestrians apart from the occasional power walker or a maid on her way to work. The roads, in contrast, are bumper to bumper with cars taking children to school. Everyone over the age of 30 is saying the same thing: when we were children we walked to school! What has the world come to when this has become an eccentric or even deviant activity?
- 1½ lbs of sea bass fillet (or other tropical fish) cut into small pieces
- 1 cup of auyama (West Indies pumpkin), diced
- 1 cup of potatoes, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 qrt of vegetable or fish stock
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 sprigs of cilantro
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- Juice of 1 lime
- In a soup pot mix half the fish, oil, lime juice, garlic, fish stock, carrot, potatoes and pumpkin.
- Add a qrt of water and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are cooked through.
- Add the remaining fish, cilantro and salt to taste.
- Cook over low heat for 7 minutes.
- Serve hot.