Even though I tried to maintain a professional demeanor with the Puerto Plata bomberos at all times, I had my moments where emotion spilled over. Two days after Chief Martínez, Pedrito and Roberto arrived, we planned a trip to Niagara Falls. The committee member who was instrumental in arranging the bomberos’ stay needed a passenger to interpret for him as he described landmarks along the way. He turned out to be a walking (or in this case, driving) encyclopedia of knowledge.

I even learned some new vocabulary. Not being an observer of wildlife, I did not know the word for “raccoon” in Spanish. Don’t ask me why the French call it a “washing rat” (raton-laveur) but in Spanish they switch to a bear (oso lavador). I seldom ride on horseback, so “horseshoe” (herradura) is not a word I use every day. I did need it to explain how the Horseshoe Falls were named.

The Horseshoe Falls

After boarding the Maid of the Mist, I was glad I was not a sign language interpreter who needed both hands free. I allowed Spanish to flow as vigorously as the Falls as I held on to one of the young men to keep my balance. I admit that I laughed out loud and cried out ¡ay! while the boat pitched and rocked. It is a wonder that Pedrito and Roberto took such focused pictures with all that motion.

Upon our return to the fire station, Pedrito bent down to give me an abrazo de oso (bear hug) and lifted me off the ground. All three bomberos were well-versed in the practice of giving bear hugs, and the firefighter who was on duty and witnessed these heartfelt displays of gratitude could not hold back a chuckle or two.

French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once said that the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of. I put it into my head that I would learn Spanish, and seven years later I can call the Dominican Republic my second home.