Monday, May 23, 2011

A Neighbor, Hipermercado Olé

            La Rubia lives across the street in a small pink wood house with a galvanized tin roof and sells chicken every morning. She is tall, lean, strong and perhaps in her fifties with a gauntly aged face and is missing her top front teeth. She builds a fire outside where she boils a big pot of water to scald the chickens for plucking after cutting their throats. She rinses them with water and covers them with plastic bags, hangs a scale from a tree limb and sells the poultry for about 15¢ more per pound than Hipermercado Olé, the nearest supermarket. Usually she wears jeans when she prepares the poultry but if she has just gotten home from the disco or been dropped off by one of her chulos, she may still be wearing a tight dress or stretch leisure suit. The chicken she sells is from the U.S. as is almost all the chicken sold in the Dominican Republic. Altagracia tells me that people only cook the locally bred poultry for diversion because it is so tough.
            La Rubia owns several houses out back which she rents out and where her ex-husband lives while their teenage children live with her. One day while La Rubia was flirting with a conchista in front of her house her ex was hunkered on the ground in the shadows of the neighboring house calmly tossing pebbles at the suitor's motorcycle and when one would bounce off the spokes or the gas tank the two would glance annoyed over their shoulders at him and then go back to their quiet conversation and he would scrabble around in the dirt for more stones to fillip.

            I walk to Olé almost every day. It is like a large KMart with a grocery store under the same roof. The traffic pattern of the shopping carts resembles the traffic patterns on the streets, one must beware and be prepared to run. There are frequent discussions with strangers in the aisles over which guandules or ketchup or shampoo is the best. The price of rice is high at the moment, averaging about 45¢ a pound, but at Olé they have a bin that holds maybe a ton of loose rice that sells for 39¢ where you fill up plastic bags with grain scoops and then bring them to a scale to be weighed and priced. People run their fingers through the rice and smell it before deciding how much to buy. A full bin can be emptied in less than 2 hours.
            The check-outs at Olé use bar code scanners and accept credit and debit cards but nothing ever works right all the time. The cashier checks every price scanned for errors and when there is one, calls for the guy on roller skates who arrives after a while with a clipboard and notes the UPC number. Then another person is called who has gone to find out the right price, then one more person comes with a key to correct the price in the register. If your debit card isn’t accepted you simply follow your cashier to the next register or the register after that until a working card swiper is found. When you leave the store a person by the exit marks your receipt with a blue magic marker, I don’t know why.


  1. Not sure I understand what you mean about the chicken being from the US... I would say billions of chickens are raised here every year. Perhaps the original stock was breed in the US?

  2. You could be right but I have heard from a couple of sources that they come over as day old chicks. I don't know what's actually true.