The beautiful south
Since I haven’t blogged in a while, I figured that I should do a quick wrap-up post for my semester. Hmmmm…Where to even start? I can hardly believe that my experience abroad is over already. I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight home to Milwaukee and things already feel strange:
1.) I can flush toilet paper down the toilets (unlike in the DR where I had to constantly remind myself to throw it in the little wastebaskets in the bathrooms). Wow!
2.) There are drinking fountains (or bubblers as my proud Wisconsinite self would say) with water that is fine to drink everywhere. For free! I am overjoyed to not have to pay for clean drinking water.
3.) I hear English everywhere. People are wearing shorts.
There are so many little things that I’ll miss about the D.R., including:
-The general liveliness and enthusiasm on the streets every day
-Merengue and bachata everywhere
-The one kiss on the cheek greeting
-Fresh mangos, papayas, coconuts and passionfruit
-The warmth of many Dominicans and being able to meet new people and practice Spanish all the time
-My friends from the program
-Constant new and hilarious experiences
-My host family and the great conversations we would have
-Going to Altagracia every week for my internship
Even though I’ve loved living in Santo Domingo, I’m looking forward to lots of things from home, like:
-Fresh vegetables, especially dark green ones
-Nutritious wheat bread
-Spicy foods (I’m already dreaming of Indian food at Maharaja)
-Being able to cross the street or walk on the sidewalk without fearing for my life
-Being able to bike and run more easily
-Not receiving catcalls or being hissed or stared at when walking outside
-Being able to walk alone at night
-And seeing family and friends, of course!!
The last couple weeks of the program were filled with more work than I’d been used to doing all semester, and I finished my internship research paper on women’s labor rights in garment factories, gave a few oral reports, and wrapped up all of my classes in time to do fun things with my visitors!
Mom and Dad take on the Dominican Republic
I had a great time having Mom and Dad visit me the week before the program ended! We walked around the zona colonial and took in the sites and went out to eat at Adrian Tropical, a restaurant with a deck overlooking the ocean. We also met my host family during their time in Santo Domingo and chatted with them at the dining room table over cake and freshly squeezed juice.
I had to finish up some projects and go to Altagracia on Friday, so I met up with Mom and Dad in the south of the country, in Barahona, on Saturday. We stayed at a cute place called Hotel Casablanca run by an Austrian woman. It had great views of massive white cliffs and crashing waves. We decided to go to Parque Nacional Jaragua, a large national park known for its variety of birds and other wildlife, so we waited on the street for a guagua to take us there. …An hour and a half later, we were still waiting! Luckily, the owner of the colmado on the corner of the street offered to drive us to Laguna Oviedo, a salty lake with amazing biodiversity. We gave him gas money and he acted as our tour guide for the afternoon. We saw flamingos, ducks, iguanas, and other creatures living around the extremely salty lake while we traveled around by boat. (Our guide said that it is about 60% salt!) On the way back, we stopped at a popular beach with natural pools and waterfalls nearby and ate fresh fish, tostones, and rice.
At last, we all returned to Santo Domingo, and Mom and Dad went to Jarabacoa for a few days while I finished up some more work. By the sound of it, they had a good time there, but had a scary horseback riding experience similar to mine! On the night before their flight back to the U.S., we took a walk and got dinner, and the next morning, after Ben arrived, we all went for another walk along the ocean, checking out old ruins and monuments. It was great to be able to show Mom and Dad some of the things I did day to day during the semester and I’m happy they could visit!
I got to be a tourist for a bit after the program and see some more parts of the country with Ben, who flew in a few days before our final program dinner. We saw everything from deserts with cacti to lush mountains to tropical beaches lined with palms in a couple short weeks. First, we headed up north to Cabarete, the adventure-sports capital of the D.R., to meet my friends Maggie and Jordan at a hostel. It was a great place to stay; dinner was included with the rooms and we all sat at a long table talking to other guests from all over the world and all walks of life. One night, we had a conversation with the advisor to the Haitian president; another, we talked to an engineer-turned Peace Corps volunteer. Ben and I took surfing lessons one morning and discovered that surfing is much harder than it looks!
Next, we headed to Barahona and then to Paraiso to spend a few hours on the beach. We then traveled to a hostel in Pedernales, a small town right on the Dominican-Haitian border. We talked with a group of travelers from Spain who met each other while volunteering with the London Olympics. They were all instructed to help out with the Dominican olympic team since they all spoke Spanish, and later became good friends and decided that they had to learn more about the D.R. by seeing it for themselves! We ended up splitting boat fare to go to Bahia de las Aguilas, the country’s only undeveloped beach. The water there was so blue, and there were large conch shells, the kind that merchants sell to burnt tourists for outlandish prices, all over. I hope that this land can remain so pristine.
From Pedernales, we took a bus back to the capital and spent the night in La Vega before heading to Jarabacoa. We meant to take Caribe Tours, the air-conditioned, surprisingly prompt national bus company, but the cobrador on our guagua conveniently took us past the station and said that his bus was going to Santo Domingo anyway, so we could just pay a bit more to stay on. Being on that guagua was fascinating. We bought food sold to us out of the windows and got stopped at police checkpoints a grand total of 5 times. The police were on the prowl for undocumented Haitian immigrants. Once, the cobrador shouted out that anyone “bien moreno,” or dark-skinned, had to present his or her passport. The darkest man on the bus was repeatedly harassed while Ben and I were only asked to present our passports one time. One woman on the bus refused to sit next to a woman who looked Haitian. I had never seen such blatant racial profiling before and was shocked by it, but everyone else on the guagua acted as if it was normal.
In Jarabacoa, we stayed at a great little hostel framed by mountains and fields that had a kitchen and bikes to use! We biked uphill past greenhouses, people chatting on plastic chairs outside of colmados, and lines of motorcycles to a waterfall and swam in a cold river as a reward.
The next day, we set off to climb Pico Duarte! As I wrote before, it’s the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. There are a few routes to the top, but we decided to take the trailhead in the village of La Cienaga. It’s mandatory to have a guide, and I was concerned about finding one with such a short time frame, but just as we arrived at the visitor center, a man on a motorcycle drove up yelling, “I’m a guide! I’m a guide!” He agreed to be ready to start hiking in half an hour. We were also accompanied by two mules, who carried our backpacks and water. While the summit itself didn’t have such a breathtaking view, the hike up was incredible! I loved seeing the flora change as we reached new altitudes. It took two days, and was 23 kilometers each way. We woke up at 4 on summit day and reached the top in order to see the sunrise. It was a fun and beautiful hike, and we were definitely very sore for a couple days afterwards!
Then, we returned to Santo Domingo and I said goodbye to my host family. It still seems unreal that the semester is already over! I am so fortunate to have been able to spend 5 months in the D.R. and learn about a beautiful culture, face challenges every day, and learn more about the world and myself. I’ll miss everyone I met here but will carry them and my experiences here with me and I move on to new adventures!
Thanks for reading this blog, and ¡Que se disfruten de las aventuras de la vida!
Hola a todos! Well, three of my classes (at Intec) ended this week, and I am happy to have more time now and to cut a good 6 hours off of the time I spend on public transportation each week. While I often had a love/hate relationship with Intec because of the differences in teaching style and classroom conduct, I appreciated the Spanish practice, interesting conversations, and general insight into Dominican culture that going there gave me. My friends from the exchange program and I often complained about how late the professors would show up or how students shouted over one another during class or whispered answers to each other during exams, but I think observing all of this has given me a greater appreciation for universities in the United States. Now that Intec is over, I’m mainly working on writing a research paper on women’s rights in garment factories in the D.R. and then I’ll be done with my work!!
Last Friday, I taught English classes in the morning as usual but filmed a video in the afternoon. The University of Virginia recently agreed to sell spirit wear manufactured to Alta Gracia workers in its campus shops, so I shot a few takes of a dozen workers shouting, “¡Gracias, University of Virginia!” and then asked a few individuals, “¿Para ti, que significa el salario digno?” (“For you, what does a living wage mean?”) I uploaded all of the video clips to my computer, did a bit of editing, and sent them off to a coordinator in the U.S….it’s great to know that making all of those ridiculous movies with my friends in middle school paid off somehow. 🙂
Class on Monday was cancelled, so I traveled to Altagracia again to take pictures of workers to upload to the factory’s Facebook page and show Maritza how to send large files using DropBox. I also got to interview a few women about their experiences at the factory for my research project! One woman worked at BJ&B, the Korean company that operated in the town until 2007, before Alta Gracia was opened. At BJ&B, workers were not paid a living wage, and the woman was unable to furnish her house. She told me that she only had two plastic chairs inside of it, but now that she receives more money for her work as a seamstress, she has a fully furnished home and has been able to send her kids to school.
Field Trip to Isla de Saona
On Sunday, I went to Saona, a small island in Parque Este, along with 40 Intec classmates from my Environmental Education class. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and called a taxi to take me to Intec. Much to my surprise, it only took TEN MINUTES to get there! Granted, there was hardly any traffic, but when I take a carro publico and then a guagua there for school each week, it takes up to an hour. Nobody else had shown up yet so the taxi driver waited with me until students started meeting at the front gate. Actually, the driver fell asleep and started snoring loudly and I had to shake him to wake him up!
True to Dominican time, we boarded the bus at 6 a.m. As we drove through different villages, the professor had us present information about them over the loudspeaker. Within a few hours, we entered Parque Nacional Este, got our wristbands, and hopped on some boats. My class group, Los Cuadrados, got our own little 7-person boat and had a wild ride to Saona! The guide talked to us about the 4 types of mangroves present in the park and the recent ecotourism boom in the area as we skipped over waves, screamed happily, and got splashed by other boats.
After we anchored at the little island, we got a little talk about ecology and had time to swim, relax on the beach, and explore the little shops in the area. The water was transparent and a stunning aqua color and the sky was perfectly clear. For me, it was especially funny being the only non-Dominican on the trip. I got to listen to all of the side comments my classmates made about the gringo tourists, like “They’re so pink!” One girl asked a vendor, “How much does this bracelet cost? I’m not a tourist. I’m as Dominican as plantains!”
Also, some of my classmates learned how to pronounce my last name (a lot of people think it’s really odd and have trouble saying it) and called me “Schroeder” for the rest of the day.
To the border!
Yesterday we went on our last program excursion to Elías Piña, a town on the Dominican/Haitian border. The border itself was not as I expected it to be! It is a social and historical construction and not a physical one, as other borders are. If it weren’t for the migration police watching our big tour group suspiciously, I would never have known where the D.R. ended and Haiti began. (Pictures to come.) Every Friday is market day, and the entry into both countries to sell wares becomes tax-free for 24-hours. We circled the open-air market, perspiring and listening to Creole, French, and Spanish threading together as we passed piles of shoes, clothes, vegetables, silverware, and practically anything anyone needs in life. 🙂
We got back in time to see the Wailers perform! Only in the D.R. would there be so many people in stilettos and collared shirts at a reggae concert!
These next two weeks will be busy and fun. Mom and Dad are flying in on Tuesday and I can’t wait to show them around Santo Domingo and to travel a bit with them! Then Ben comes on the following Wednesday! So many visitors!
Well, time to get crackin’ on some work. ¡Abrazos!
Well, it’s official. And all of you, my wonderful blog readers, will be the first to find out. I am dropping out of school, buying a beach house in Puerto Plata, and selling mangos for a living. Who knows when I’ll come back to the real world.
But actually, it’s really tempting to want to keep relaxing by the ocean, running along the sand, and sleeping in every day. Semana santa was really rejuvenating that way. It rained every day in Puerto Plata, so we never actually had a “beach day” per se, but just hearing the waves, cooking our own meals in the apartment we rented, and lounging around in pajamas was great. I also forgot how nice it is to wear shorts, since I try to dress as much like Dominicans as possible in Santo Domingo, which means sweating profusely in jeans or long skirts each day.
We left the beach for a day to go to Los 27 Charcos, a natural waterpark/obstacle course of sorts funded by a Peace Corps project. The charcos are a series of waterfalls along the Damajagua river, and visitors put on swim suits, life jackets, and helmets in order to complete a series of jumps and slides along with a guide. We only did 12 charcos but I had so much fun!! Our guide, Julian, was crazy, and whistled, sang, and made duck noises during our hike to the waterfalls. He also repeatedly announced that he loved us all, and asked for tips for his “enthusiasm” on the hike back.
Here’s a picture of one of the biggest jumps (taken from the internet):
The weekend before the trip to Semana Santa was just as fun!
I went to Altagracia for my internship and met a girl from Ohio who studied International Business on the carro publico. She loves working in the D.R. and will be here for a year. In Altagracia, I taught the typical English class (lots of new students came) and then helped a really nice woman named Rosa how to set up a gmail account. After the technology class, Rosa and another computer student, Ricardo, invited me to a colmado for a Presidente. We had an interesting conversation about machismo that began when I mentioned that I used to have short hair and Ricardo claimed that long hair was better for women. We started talking about beauty standards for women in the D.R. and gender roles in the country. Ricardo called Rosa “libre” (free) because she doesn’t always notify her husband before she goes out with friends. Rosa pointed out that husbands aren’t expected to ask their wives’ permission to leave the house and we began discussing the double standards present in everyday interactions. The conversation left me with so many thoughts racing around my head that I furiously scribbled everything I remembered anyone saying down in a notebook on the bus back to the city.
The next day a couple friends from the exchange program and I went to our friend Mario’s finca (farm) in the country. Mario drove us there, and it was strange being in a private car after using so much public transportation! (I am already getting ready for some serious reverse culture shock when I return to the U.S.!) First, we all went to a farmers’ market just outside of Santo Domingo and bought rice and veggies to cook for lunch. We met Mario’s family and some family friends on the farm and got a small tour of the property. Although the finca is small and not for profit, there are avocado, coconut and mango trees, bunnies, pigs, chickens, aloe plants, and much more! After the tour, we drove to a beach near Palenque that used to be Trujillo’s private beach and met another friend, Ariel. Nearby is a rock wall surrounding a small portion of ocean. This area was once Trujillo’s own aquarium; he used to command members of his army to fetch him any kind of sea creature that caught his fancy over the course of his dictatorship. We spoke with the owner of a beachfront restaurant who used to work for Trujillo as well. I am fascinated by how, even years after the end of a cruel dictatorship, small reminders of the country’s history unexpectedly surface. Nothing can ever be erased.
A family friend of Mario’s, Rene, let us swim in his pool to “quitarse la sal,” or to get the salt off of our bodies. Apparently it’s pretty typical to try to find a pool to jump in after swimming in the ocean. There’s no way I was complaining! We then returned to the finca for a wonderful feast!! Mario’s family had roasted a pig and they served fried yucca with anise seeds, tostones, rice, avocados, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and lentils. The mayor of the village, Don Pipi, who recently turned 91, was present at the gathering. He was sharp and lively and guffawed loudly every time he made a good move in the game of dominoes that went on all evening. I was so appreciative of the hospitality everyone showed us! They all asked us about our lives in the U.S. and taught us some domino strategy. We drove back to Santo Domingo as the sun set. Mario noticed how obsessed I am with coconuts and gave me 2 of them to take home!
That night, we all went to a discoteca in a cave! It was really fun to dance alongside stalactites and stalagmites.
I slept in, went running, and did some homework before meeting a group from my Human Geography class in Parque Independencia to do a project involving observing the people in various public spaces in the city. We also went to another park in the zona colonial and Chinatown.
I walked around the zona again with Edelio, Ruth, and Ruth’s friend Maryorie that night, and we ended up at the ruins for the merengue concert once more! We bumped into some other friends and danced a lot.
I have had a nice couple of weeks and feel so lucky to be able to see such beautiful places and make friends with great people! And now, it’s time for me to stop procrastinating and get back to my work!
Que les vaya bien!
This week has been as entertaining, interesting, and full as the weeks before it. I still never know what will happen or when. Sure, I have a general idea of what my schedule is supposed to be like, but things are still so variable. Will the professor decide to start talking about body piercings instead of Georg Simmel and the Chicago School of Sociology? Will I meet a fellow Wisconsinite who is teaching English here, or a young Haitian man who lived in Florida for 6 years but now studies aerospace engineering in the D.R., or a girl who grew up in Italy alongside her Dominican family? Will the guagua I’m on break down? Will the door in the public car I’m on suddenly swing open? (True story…Nobody was hurt, and the driver was especially glad I was okay. He asked if I was from Spain and I told him I was from the U.S., to which he replied, “Even worse!” If things happen to U.S. Americans in the D.R., Dominicans get in big trouble. I feel like this both creates and reflects the privilege that comes with being an American abroad, but more about that another day.)
I had gripe (a cold) all last week, and my Doña was really nice and gave me lemon tea with breakfast and before bed every day. She swears by that tea and has made it every time she or anyone gets sick for her whole life. I felt good enough to go to my internship on Friday to teach English to 5 extremely energetic 9-11-year old girls who all made me cards that said “I love you” on them after class. Afterwards, I helped more adults working at the factory set up email accounts and learn about making internet conference calls.
La fortaleza del Rio Ozama
On Sunday, I went for a stroll around the Zona Colonial with my host brother Edelio and a couple friends from the program, taking in the vibrant colors of street artists’ paintings, the pungent smell of papaya and fried yuca and the hordes of pigeons congregating on the cobblestones of Parque Colon. We all ended up exploring the ruins of an old fortress bordering the Ozama River. It was so much fun to walk through tunnels and up flights of stairs and climb over the ancient walls. We all agreed that we were acting like little kids and that it was awesome! Afterwards, we bought dinner sandwiches from a street vendor at the mouth of the Conde (a long pedestrian walkway) and went to the Ruinas de San Francisco for the weekly Merengue concert.
The Dominican baseball team won the World Classic Series earlier this week! I watched them play against Puerto Rico with my host family. My family told me that they are an anomaly because the “average” Dominican family is absolutely obsessed with baseball, but they don’t really care about it that much. Nonetheless, they were excited to see their team’s victory. The next day, the front page of every newspaper had a HUGE headline that said something like “Ganamos” (we won) or “Platano power!” (since so many plantains are consumed in the D.R., “Platano power” is a popular cry of solidarity and victory.) I saw footage of people celebrating in the stands of the stadium and the streets after the game with bunches of plantains in their hands, like this man here:
Next week is Semana Santa, or Holy Week. I only have classes until Wednesday and then I’m heading to Puerto Plata with a group to relax and explore another part of the country. Semana Santa couldn’t come sooner! This weekend, I’ll be going to Altagracia and working on some group projects.
May you all have a restful and fun weekend!
After a week of presentations, crazy INTEC classes, lots of public transportation, and getting up no later than 7:30 every day (!), it was great to escape for the weekend and bum around on the beach in Bavaro!
The rest of the group bused there on Friday, but I went to Altagracia all day to teach English and computer classes. My students continue to learn basic phrases and now they can count to 1000! Also, the workers’ union office house has a lot of stories and a nice old man who lives on the bottom floor told me to pause for a moment as I walked to the street to catch a bus to Santo Domingo. He rushed back into his house and came out with a bag of eggs for my dinner. “From my prize hen,” he told me proudly.
On Saturday, I met my amigas at Bavaro Hostel, a great little place with hammocks and a wall that all the guests sign that is a short walk from the beach. There were a lot of cool European tourists staying there as well. Bavaro is close to Punta Cana and they used to be considered separate towns before the all-inclusive resorts started popping up and transformed the area into a great big blob of restaurants and hotels. There is speculation that the word “Bavaro” actually has German origins (“Bavaria”). I hadn’t seen that many blonde people in one place in months! Also, one stretch of Bavaro Beach only had signs in Russian. Edelio and Ruth told me that a lot of Russians have settled in Punta Cana and, just as some Dominicans refer to the U.S. as “Nueva York,” (once a taxi driver said he lived in New York and we asked him which part and he said “Providence!”) some Russians call the D.R. “Punta Cana.”
It was a wonderful weekend of eating lots of food in the communal kitchen, going to a chocolate museum, walking along the beach, and going out to dance in this funny strip-mall-like area where a hundred some Dominicans flooded the parking lot. I’m happy to be back in Santo Domingo now, though, and am gearing up for another week of classes (and some midterms! Eeeeeek!)