My apologies for not writing in so long, I have been incredibly busy the past three weeks because in addition to my normal classes I had a condensed 3-week philosophy course. Fortunately, the professor was the sweetest little Chinese lady or the three-hour classes every night would have been unbearable. By some very poor planning, I also had to write a 20-page paper for my social justice in the Dominican Republic class, make a 20-minute newscast for Spanish class and had a ton of little assignments for all three classes. Needless to say it was a very stressful three weeks and, surprisingly, after writing the 20-page paper and philosophizing for three hours I never seemed to feel like writing a blog post!
The best part of the past month or so since I’ve last written was the incredibly visit from Mom and Aunt Lisa! It was one of my happiest moments watching the taxi pull up and the two of them jump out, running to give me a hug. I won’t go into a ton of detail about their trip considering most of you have probably heard about it from Mom and Lisa. It was so rewarding to share the Dominican Republic with the two of them, so that they can have a first hand experience about the things I talk about. I can describe things like a guagua ride with a million words, but it still doesn’t compare with the experience. I am so grateful that Mom and Aunt Lisa were such good sports and adventurers throughout the sometimes frustrating and difficult escapades that come from traveling in another country. On the first full day we traveled to Jarabacoa to ride horses to a waterfall. Everyone seemed to have a ton of fun and Mom certainly didn’t care about getting yelled at, she took off past the guide at every opportunity! The funniest moment of the experience was when the guide ran past me in the mud, completely splattering me with mud. Mom scolded him in English, none of which he understood, but the look of shame on his face was priceless. Back in Santiago, we climbed the monument and looked out over the gorgeous view of the city. We had a delicious Dominican dinner at a restaurant at the base of the monument. The next day we headed to the capitol, Santo Domingo. A couple of my friends I met the last time I was in the city work at a chocolate museum, so we did a workshop to make chocolate literally from bean to bar! First, we roasted the cacao beans, then peeled the shells off and mashed them with a mortar into a paste. It was hard work so a machine mashed most of the beans. Our chocoteacher, Wascar, made us all kinds of different teas and drinks from the beans and the shells of the beans. Lisa was the only one who liked the spicey, Atzec tea. After the beans turned into paste we added sugar then poured them into molds adding fun things to the bars like M&Ms, cherries, and even vanilla liquor. I don’t mean to be prideful, but I do have to say, we are expert chocolate makers. The bars were delicious! The next day we explored the city’s fortresses, old buildings and cathedral before heading to Samana. The travel did not go as smoothly as planned. We were supposed to get off in Sanchez on the way to Samana because our hotel was actually in Las Terrenas which is North West of Samana, however the driver did not say “Sanchez” when he stopped he said some other strange name. To make matters short, we ended up in Samana and because it is a very touristy area it cost us a $45 taxi ride to get to our hotel. Thankfully, Mom and Lisa were very gracious and did not get mad at me for my poor traveling skills. We got to the hotel pretty late, but when we did it was heaven. The buildings looked like they were transplanted from the coasts of Greece and the beach well lived up to its name “Playa Bonita”. The next few days were spent relaxing in the sun by the gorgeous teal ocean. On one of the days, Mom and I set out for whale watching in Samana. After figuring out how outrageous the taxis are, we decided to rent a car. I don’t know if I have mentioned how insane the driving here is, but Dominicans are crazy! They barely have any stoplights or signs or generally any driving rules at all. I was nervous about driving ourselves around, but luckily someone else wasn’t. Mom was a natural Dominican! She weaved in and out of cars and jumped the gun at every intersection. At one point she even yelled, “Get out of my way you Gringo!” at a slow car. It was one of the funniest moments of my life. Whale watching was a blast! We followed a baby whale with its mom and an escort for quite a while. The baby was very active jumping, waving its fin, slapping its tail, and spinning! We had prime viewing seats on the top of the boat. It was an unforgettable experience. It was unimaginably difficult to say goodbye to Mom and Lisa after such a perfect week. I am so thankful they came out to visit me! The trip with them also showed me how far I’ve come in the past 2-3 months. I was very proud of myself for navigating to a part of the country I had never been without really having a plan about how to get there, but instead asking around to figure out the way. I’m used to having several other people in my group so that we can work together or help each other understand, but since out of the three of us I’m the only one who speaks Spanish all the navigating and communicating was on me. It was extremely stressful at times, but very rewarding looking back on the experience.
After Spring Break we went as an educational trip for our social justice class to the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti to learn about the migration and immigration process. On the way we visited a campo to talk with the leader of a group that works to make sure the rights of migrant workers are respected. The man, Johnny, reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. He stands up to the companies and managers that treat their workers poorly and advocates in court for the workers, which often results in the companies having to pay a lot of money. Because of this, Johnny has many people trying to force him into silence. In the campo a woman was murdered and Johnny was convicted of the crime. Shortly after his imprisonment, the true murderer confessed, however Johnny remained in jail for almost two more years. One company owner told him that he would spend every last peso to keep Johnny in jail for the rest of his life. Johnny only got released from jail last month and since then he has received many death threats and even murder attempts. He refuses to move or to hire a bodyguard because he believes God will protect him. I can’t imagine having that kind of faith. The next day we traveled to the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We were able to bypass every line and stand on the bridge between the countries without ever being stopped or asked to see our passports. On the other hand the Haitians and Dominicans waited in long lines and were constantly pestered by military men. As we stood on the bridge we watched a steady stream of people crossing the border through the river, then paying the border patrolman. People cross the border illegally for countless reasons, but I can’t imagine how rough legally crossing the border must be if so many are willing to cross a dangerous river with their valuables held above their head and pay large sums of money to the guard. We also saw the bi-national market place where Dominicans and Haitians come together to sell their wares. Every square inch of the sweltering hot building was packed with people. Looking around I saw Colorado Rockies hats, American brand medicine, packaged food, t-shirts from various random events like “Back to School BBQ 2011”. It was clear that the majority of the wares being sold were originally donations from places like the United States that the Haitian government sold to the poorest people who in turn sold them to the Dominicans. The experience at the border was very eye opening and made me think a lot about the immigration in the United States.
My friend, Aly, and I traveled to the capital, Santo Domingo. Our philosophy teacher, Dr. Yuan, wanted to tag along because she doesn’t know any Spanish so it’s hard for her to travel alone. Unfortunately, someone told her to go to the wrong bus station and she didn’t have a phone so we couldn’t get into contact with her. We ended up taking our bus so we wouldn’t lose our money. Once in Santo Domingo we went to the hostel she was supposed to be staying at. We asked for the “chino” and immediately they knew whom we were talking about. She had been moved to a different hostel, but the manager was able to lead us directly to her room. When she opened the door she was so excited to see us and surprised that we were able to find her. The three of us went to Los Tres Ojos a national park in Santo Domingo that has four lagoons in underground caves. It was absolutely gorgeous! For the final, and most beautiful lagoon, we had to take a tugboat and then walk through a cave that opened up to the sky and revealed a secret paradise. There was a “Save the Planet” type concert in the square. One of the musicians was really talented. We all held up candles and danced under the starry night. It was very picturesque. Later we had a great time hanging out with some friends we had met previously dancing and discovering new bars.
For Easter, my wonderful boyfriend came to visit me! We had a very relaxing few days. We took a few day trips to the beach and discovered a little hidden beach called Playa Alicia. The waves were crazy; we had a lot of fun body surfing and getting thrown around by the crashing ocean. One day we road the cable car in Puerto Plata to the top of Pico Isabel. The view was absolutely incredible. We could see miles of beach, ocean and coastal land. There was a smaller version of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the top of the mountain. One of the guides at the top took creative pictures of us high fiving or holding up Jesus. There was also a beautiful garden and a taino cave. Even though it was a short trip we had a ton of fun!
Right after Rhett left, we headed to Los Tres Pasos for our second campo immersion. This immersion was more laid back than the previous one because we didn’t do hard labor. Instead in small groups we created a lesson for the kids in the school in the campo and the one in the neighboring town that a lot of kids from the campo go to. My group made a lesson about how to dispose of trash instead of throwing it on the ground, which is a huge issue in the country. We had a little skit where we took turns throwing different trash items on the ground and saying that it wasn’t important because everyone did it, but then at the end we wanted to play soccer and couldn’t because there was too much trash on the ground. Then we held up different trash items like plastic bags or soda bottles and had the kids guess how long it takes for them to decompose. We had a discussion about the dangers of trash and better ways to throw it away. Finally, we had some fun games and races about cleaning up trash. In one of the groups we were about to start our final game and we told them it would be a race to see which team could pick up the trash the fastest. Instead of picking up the trash that we had laid out on the ground, the kids ran like crazy and cleaned up the entire schoolyard. They filled three buckets full of trash. It was a very rewarding moment. I enjoyed this campo experience even more than the previous one because we had a lot more time with our families, which meant that my relationships deepened dramatically. We also ate dinner at different people’s houses every night, which was so fun because we got to experience the different areas of the campo and meet each other’s families. My favorite moments were eating a second dinner with my family, talking to Beatriz and Kennedy, helping Kevyn with homework, and playing with all the kids. One of my favorite moments was sitting with Kevyn on his bed racing cars and watching the Discovery channel. He was so cuddly and fell asleep wrapped in a blanket in my lap. I spent countless hours as the kids’ “caballo” racing between trees and over hills with a little kid on my back yelling “Corre!” All of the children were extra affectionate this time, constantly asking us to play, giving us hugs and kisses, and sitting on our laps. One day we had “Take your Gringo to Work Day”, Beatriz took me to the hospital with her. It was a very interesting experience. The hospital was small and dirty. There was some construction being done on the hospital, but there wasn’t a barrier between the dust and debris of the construction and the rest of the hallway. Sick people lined the hallways waiting to go into just a couple doctor’s offices. The doctors barely looked at the patients for a few minutes before prescribing medicine or sending them away. None of the sheets on the cots were changed between patients. A couple of patients got oxygen and the same mask was used without being cleaned. Instead of thumb tacs to hang papers on a bulletin board, they used syringe tips. The nurses and even my host mom did not do very much besides talk to each other and fold some gauze. I helped one of the nurses fold and package some gauze and roll some cotton balls and Beatriz kept telling me to rest because I was working too hard. It made me very happy for the healthcare system in the United States. Later that day, we had a ceremony to induct the aquaduct. The community came dressed in their nicest clothes. Several community members gave really nice speeches, then the leader of the community turned on the aquaduct for the first time. The energy and excitement was exhilarating. Aly and I got even closer to Rosarie. We called each other the “Tres Panas” and pinky swore to always stay best friends. Rosarie rarely left our sides; she was always connected to one of us with a hug or hand. She continually impresses me with her humility, responsibility, and kindness. I have never met such a mature young girl in my entire life. Rosarie treats all of the kids with such compassion, even the Haitian kids who a lot of the community ignores. Watching her interact with her friends at the school in Mamey touched my heart. Most often 15-year-old girls are not nice to each other, but Rosarie and her friends lifted each other up and kept telling us all the good things about their friends like, “She is really good at English you should talk to her in English”. At one point we asked her to take a picture with us and she absolutely refused. We asked her why and she wasn’t giving us a straight answer. We finally convinced her to take the picture and when we looked at the picture she pointed to herself and said, “So ugly”. Aly and I almost cried. We told her how incredibly beautiful she is on the inside AND the outside. After a few hours of us telling her what an amazing young woman she is and her rolling her eyes and laughing, she finally was asking us to take pictures with her! The rest of the night she beamed in every picture. The entire time we spent with Rosarie my heart had an unshakeable ache. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave Rosarie in May. At one point Aly disappeared for a moment and when she got back Rosarie was extremely upset saying “Te fuiste pero yo me quedé aqui” (You left but I stayed here). She thought Aly left without saying goodbye, just disappeared. This absolutely broke my heart. I don’t know what to do to make her feel like we aren’t abandoning her. Rosarie’s family is very poor and they don’t have a phone or computer or anything and the mail service doesn’t deliver to the campo. I know that we will come back to the DR at some point hopefully relatively soon because we want to find a way to pay for Rosarie’s education through medical school. We will have to get very creative and let her know in every way how much she means to us and that we will see her again.
Lastly, on Sunday I jumped of 27 waterfalls! It was quite possibly the most fun thing I have ever done in my life. We hiked up a beautiful, rain forest trail then came back down through the river. The tallest waterfall was probably about 30 feet or more! We slid down some of the waterfalls like waterslides into a pool of chilled water. The river cut through the beautiful forest. We floated on our backs gazing up at the canopy of trees and the banded canyon walls overhead. Some of the waterfalls were inside caves that we had to climb into. Our guides were very funny and kept taking my hand and pretending that he was going to run away with me. I cannot even put into words the breath-taking scenery and the exhilaration of leaping off and sliding down 27 waterfalls!
I hope this compilation of events from the past month and a half gave sufficient explanation of the experiences I’ve been having in the Dominican Republic! I gave a relatively brief overview of everything because otherwise this blog post would become a short novel, however I would love to talk more about any of these experiences, just email or text me!