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Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 1 Dominican Experience

I'm going to share my hand written journal from my trip with you, I didn't think I'd get near a computer and I wanted to write all my impressions down, fresh in my mind. I haven't hand written a journal in a very long time! (I've blacked out the student's faces in my pictures)

Saturday March 6, 2010
Boy, Friday was a hectic day! My work day went by in a whirl wind, I received a lot of well wishes from the staff as the day went on. As the day progressed, my pre-travel jitters got worse. Not only did I have to co-ordinate myself, but also 10 teenagers!. I don't know why I worry so much when I fly, I'm one of those people who would rather be at the airport wayyy in advance and relax at the gate then be rushing at the last minute.
At the Ottawa airport modelling the knitted hats donated by a knitting group.
There really was no reason to worry, everyone made it to the airport, passport in hand (my other worry that someone would forget their passport). The trip from Ottawa to Toronto went sooo smoothly. Our two first time fliers survived without a scratch, or freaking out.

Getting ready to leave Ottawa
Friday was a late night, between the flight and getting checked into our Toronto Hotel (we had an overnight layover. I tossed and turned a lot that night, and 4:45am came way too soon! This morning, we left from the hotel with plenty of time to check in for your flight to La Romana, Dominican Republic. When we were through security and in the area of our gate, like all good Canadian Lemmings, we hit Tim Hortons... our last Timmies fix for the next 7 days! Once again, all travel went smoothly.
My first view of the Dominican Republic

La Romana Airport, on the tarmac. Celebrating our escape from the Canadian winter
As soon as we walked out of the plane and down to the tarmac we all cheered, it was warm and sunny! Also after almost a year of hard work we were finally there. Its not very hot today (for the DR), it was about 25c and partly cloudy with a breeze. As soon as we had our little bus loaded with our luggage and donation bags (we brought 14 bags of donated clothes, shoes, etc) we took a group picture in the airport parking lot.

Group shot at La Romana Airport the Dominicans in this picture are Berto (male) and Mioced (female) who were our Animators for the whole week. We quickly became very close to these wonderful Dominicans.

Garbage everywhere!
The next part of our journey was the drive to San Pedro de Macoris. This drive in our bus sure was an eye opener for me! Right away I knew "I wasn't in Kansas anymore". The buildings are small, they look run down but brightly coloured. The roads and traffic are needless to say... interesting. The roads are small and rough, some of the hills can be steep and unevenly graded. The drivers they're just crazy and vendors stand in the middle of the road, shouting into your open window if you stop long enough. The next thing I immediately noticed was GARBAGE Everywhere! There is obviously not the garbage collection programs we have, or the education (I later found out that the garbage is burnt right there on the side of the road or in ditches). Not only was there garbage everywhere, but dogs, chickens, roosters, and goats wandering all over the place! Again, so different from North America. Later in the week I noticed I didn't see any cats, but lots of dogs, tied up in yards. I asked about that, and their dogs are mainly for security, they don't keep them in the house like pets, or walk them like we do.


Loaded onto the bus and ready to head to San Pedro de Macoris
Words that came to mind during the drive (my culture shock was kicking in... I had an oh shit moment) : bleak, poor, shocking, eye opening, colourful, noisy).
The Barrio, La Servisaria
Uneven, dirt roads in the Barrio
Once we arrived in San Pedro de Macoris we went into the Barrio we were staying in called La Servisaria (probably spelt wrong). The barrio is crowded with homes that are made from cinder block and cement construction that are painted. All the houses have bars on the windows, carports, walls around the properties, actually anything that could allow someone access has bars and big padlocks, always locked up. You won't been getting out of these houses in a hurry if there was a fire or some other emergency. Also there are a lot of half started homes, or incomplete floors, apparently in the DR you expand your home (usually up) as you can afford to. The homes have barely any yards. The roads in the barrio are dirt roads, uneven, and with some steep hills! Most of the people get around by scooter/small motorcycle. The main reason being that gas is so expensive, and some of the roads aren't easily navigated by a car.
Student being introduced to her Dominican host... who the girls affectionately called "Mama D" by the next day. We were very lucky as this student speaks fluent Spanish, she was able to translate for us the whole trip! (two of our Dominican Animators Mioced and Ricardo did speak English so we weren't lost)
We first went to the home of a woman named Dora, she is in charge of all the housing arrangements. We were brought together for a prayer of welcome and thanks for safe travel. Here the students were introduced to their Dominican families that they would be living with for the week. Our girls were housed in groups of three and the boys in groups of two, so that no one person was alone. Once the kids were gone we were walked by Berto one of our Dominican animators to our home for the week (they had us four adults staying together, which was really nice) he didn't really speak any English but, Joe the male on the trip is Italian, and he was easily able to figure out Spanish and play as our translator. If I am to do this trip again, I really have to make an effort to learn some conversational Spanish.

The home of Dulce Maria King
The salon across the street from our hostess's house. A beehive of activity on Saturday and Sunday as its important for Dominican women to have straight hair. They spend a lot of time getting their hair straightened on the weekend for the upcoming week
We are staying with the family of Dulce Maria King, a family of 5. She has three kids, Kelmely (the youngest and a princess), Michael (the middle), and Karen (the oldest), they also had a cousin staying at the house as well. We were put two to a room, very comfortable room. It is obvious that we are staying with on of the families that are well off in the barrio. The home is large, and beautiful with nice toilets (important to us North Americans!), and all the modern conveniences, the only problem is the power in the DR is spastic, for hours at a time its out, they do have a generator for when power is needed but the y don't run it unless you have to. We first met Patrician, Dulce Maria's sister as she was still out at work (she's a nurse). She welcomed us into the home, and sat and talked with us. For a snack she gave us fresh, local oranges... amazing!
Kelmely our hostess's youngest daughter who hung out with us every available moment.
Dinner today was a nice surprise, it was simple yet delicious. The meal consisted of chicken, rice, bans and a salad. Now their idea of a salad is not the same as what we call a salad. Its sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli (or other local vegetables) sliced and layered with some sort of dressing (probably vinegar & oil). There's no lettuce in sight. I was really surprised at how good the food was, this was my biggest concern was the food (and the toilets!). When we ate, we were a little surprised that the family wasn't sitting down to eat with us. Apparently Dominicans do eat much later in the evening (probably because its cooler), they eat a larger lunch, and dinner is usually small and not eaten together as a family. Also they tend not to eat at their kitchen tables.
After dinner we were picked up, again by Berto and escorted to one of the many churches in the barrio for mass. For a Saturday night mass, it was packed. Again not something that's very common in North America. The community welcomed us into their church with open arms. After mass we walked with the students to each of their host homes, meeting the families and checking out their accommodations. They were not as nice as ours (we are purposefully given nicer accommodations to allow us to relax, and the kids a chance to experience the average middle class family lifestyle in the DR), but they were all excellent, smaller homes with proper, clean rooms and bathrooms.
Ricardo modelling another knitted hat, the newest and youngest animator on the Dominican Experience team
Our evening was spent by us adults sitting back and talking about the last 24 hours, which became our custom each day we were there (not once did I watch TV all week). Later that evening we finally got to meet Robert the director of Expiriencia Dominicana. He also brought with him one of his newest and youngest animators, Ricardo who speaks pretty good English. Robert was right away very welcoming and open person. Just before we came down he asked if we could buy a digital camera for the program (they would pay us back) as one of theirs was stolen during a careless moment. We presented it to him, but as a gift for the program as we could afford it from our fundraising in the past year.
It was a long day and I was glad to get to bed!

18 comments:

Alice said...

Wow, that was a long day! Great pictures.

ollie1976 said...

Great pics Dani!
-Jen

jayne@~an eye for threads~ said...

What an eye opener from minute one.
Be always in stitches.

Barbi said...

It's all so wonderful! I'm looking forward to tomorrow!! LOL

Julie said...

Welcome home Dani.
I've really enjoyed reading this, lovely pics.

Kajsa said...

Great pictures! Thanks for sharing this.

Bonnie Brown said...

Sounds like an amazing first day!

Heather said...

What a life changing trip it must have been

claudia said...

What an adventure packed day already! And the culture shock...I'm sure you slept like a log after that first day.

Heidi said...

Wow! Such a wonderful experience! Great pictures too! Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Quite an eye opener, isn't it? I went to Puerto Plata last year and although I did stay at a lovely resort, we drove through many small villages on the way. Sure makes you grateful for what you have.
Judie

Stitchingranny said...

I have enjoyed reading your experiences so far Dani and I am looking forward to more.

Carolyn NC said...

Great pics!

Aussie Stitcher said...

Great pictures Dani, thanks for sharing. Certainly an eye opener.

Dee said...

Great post!

Christine said...

Sounds fascinating, looking forward to the next installment

Suzanne said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos. I look forward to more.

Lynn said...

Talk about culture shock! I'll bet it was a real eye opener to a lot of the kids.
I'm looking forward to the next installment.