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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 2 Dominican Experience

Sunday March 7, 2010

Today was a later start for us, up shortly after 7am, and I got to take my first Dominican shower. The water was hot (I think the only day I got hot water), but the pressure left a lot to be desired. It was enough to soap up and rinse off. Each of the homes have large black water tanks on the roof, the homes water is all gravity fed. I don't think I will ever complain about my water pressure ever again.

Breakfast was ham and cheese sandwiches on white buns, very North American... except that's something we normally have for lunch here. The buns were paired with fresh pears, cantaloupe, and tamarind juice.

Us ladies with Berto, going to meet with the students
The chapel in the poorer area of the barrio

Berto picked us up once again, and we went with him through the barrio picking up the students at their Dominican homes. As a group we moved on into the poorer area of the Barrio to a very basic chapel. It was built with cinder blocks, and had a dirt floor (made the mistake of putting my backpack on the floor!). It wasn't long after our arrival that first one of the neighbourhood kids showed up, slowly the number of local kids kept growing. They stayed the whole time we were there watching and listening to our discussion.

Neighbourhood kids observing us at the chapel

Robert the program director

Once Robert arrived our day began with a prayer. Robert took the time to explain the rules to us as a group. They were very simple rules, such as :

1. Don't go anywhere unescorted by a Dominican
2. We must be in our homes by 9pm, this is the "off" time for our families
3. Do not give items to the people we meet, we may give gifts to our families but not people in the streets. If anything is to go to people, it had to go through the program.
After the rules were explained we went around the circle in reflection of our first 24 hours in the Dominican Republic, sharing our impressions/feelings.

My reflection was about the immediate culture shock/fear I felt once we had left the airport (as I talked about in my day 1 journal entry) in La Romana. I explained how prior to this trip I had no fears about being in a country so poor. I was taken aback by the feelings I had, I really didn't expect that.

Meoced singing for us

The reflection was wrapped up the "theme song" for the program, complete with gestures/moves to go along with the song. To this day I still don't know what it translated to, I meant to ask and but never got the chance/forgot to. Mioced our lead guide sang us a beautiful song in Spanish. Before heading to the bus, I asked if I could use the bathroom. I was taken to one of the homes nearby, that was my first experience of a toilet without a seat (should of done squats before I left!).

Beans for sale at the local market
Our day trip started out in downtown San Pedro de Macoris, the first stop on of the markets in the area. It wasn't an open air market as we have in North America, we travelled through narrow, dark passages where there were different stalls/shops. All were selling food of some kind, grains, spices, fruit, vegetables. All the meat vendors were all in one area in the center of the market. Each vendor had their meat out on the counter on display out in the open air. I was told its to show to the shopper that it was fresh. The smell was out of this world! I almost wanted to gag, I had to go through the meat area breathing through my mouth. I was told that this market is where the poorer people go to get lower prices on their food. While we were there one of the shop owners asked Ricardo "why do you bring these rich white people here when they buy nothing." That is how many countries see us white, North Americans that's sad.

Entering the meat market
Upon exiting the market you couldn't help but notice once again, the garbage! It didn't smell pretty either, there were dogs eating what they could from the dumpsters.

In this same area was also an area where there were people making and "packaging" charcoal for cooking (for those who can't afford fuel to run a stove). The charcoal wasn't the pretty little bricks we get at home, it was chunks of wood put into little plastic bags.
Well constructed, nice homes next to shacks in San Pedro de Macoris
Taekwon-Do school in San Pedro de Macoris
Following the market we walked all over the downtown area. It was amazing to see shacks that look like they're about to fall over next to very nice homes. Along our walks I found a Taekwon-Do school! Even here in the Dominican Republic martial arts are still practiced, and from what I came to find out, its quite popular. In contrast to the small, cement buildings was this gorgeous church. We eventually made our way down to the ocean front where we stopped for an ice cream. It was so tempting to go with my favourite, cookies n' cream but I was adventurous and tried raisin and rum very yummy. We enjoyed being by the ocean while we waited for the bus to pick us up.
Beautiful church in the middle of such poor conditions.
Getting ice cream
Enjoying the ocean view
After the first half of our day we were brought back to our families to have lunch. Patricia prepared lunch for us today, she was a little embarrassed stating that Dulce's cooking was much better. Lunch was good, she had nothing to be embarrassed about. Our main course was rice with salami and a salad of tomatoes, carrots and something she called Toyoda, she also prepared for us mature plantains that were cut into long strips and fried, very yummy. Again we had tamarind juice. I went down for a quick siesta after eating, I was pooped from all that walking.
Once again we were picked up and loaded back into the bus, after a cool and rainy morning, the sun was finally out and things warmed up. For our afternoon we went to the nearby town of Consuelo to visit the barrio of La Loma where we were introduced to three of its elderly residents.
Mary's home
The first home we went into was quite disturbing, and upsetting. We met Mary who is in her 70's who is in a wheelchair, paralyzed probably from a stroke. She shares her tiny shack of a home with 7 of her children and grandchildren. She told us about how she had lost her parents at the age of 8 was raised by an aunt in La Loma, she had a very hard life with really no happiness at all. She had worked hard all her life, to stay exactly where she was. We were all brought to tears when her advice to us was to "be good".
Gladys's home
The second home we visited belonged to Gladys, she was a complete joy to meet! She was so happy to see us and welcome up in her home. Her circumstances were so different from Mary's and her life has been a happy one. She had hugs for each of us as we entered her home, as she spoke she often reached out touching the people closest to her. She supports herself by selling food to her neighbours who care for her as she has no family. We asked to see where she sleeps, she was worried we wouldn't find it nice. After going into the area that was her room in the one room house, I assured her it wasn't. Her joy for life was very contagious, and a complete 360 from Mary.
Condo's home

The final home we visited was that of Condo, a man in his 70's who has Alztimers. His house is just one room with a bed in it. No kitchen, no bathroom, nothing. We were told he wears diapers. Like Gladys he has no family he never married, his sister comes to care for him and feed him.

The barrio was such a contrast to the view we discovered behind Condo's home. It looked out over a gorgeous river valley with hills in the distance.

Me with a couple of the batay children, lovely smiles!

After the barrio we visited the Batay of Don Juan just outside of Consuelo. We only stayed for a short while, meeting some of the children. We played baseball with them, and they clamoured to have their picture taken. The kids were just so happy.
This young boy had just come in from the sugar cane fields, he did not smile for me
We were returned to our families again for dinner. Dulce Maria prepared for us scrambled eggs to go with it we had boiled yucca and plantains. I have to say I didn't care much for the yucca or the way the plantains had been prepared.
It was time to be picked up for the final time that night, and taken to reflection. We went to a nearby complex where people learn to become future teachers. It was very emotional as we all had thoughts of Mary foremost on our minds. Today was our first exposure to very poor living conditions, but on the other hand the faith the people have and the joy shines through as well.
It was a good day.


Alice said...

Thanks again for sharing these stories. It sure is an eye opener. Such sad stories some of the people have, and yet can find happiness. You have taken wonderful pictures.

valerie said...

Great photos Dani. I can relate to your feelings having family living in a 3rd world country. We're considered well off there because of a nice house and indoor plumbing. Things taken for granted here. I'm glad your sharing your experience here.

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

Wow. what an eye opener and wonderful experience for you guys.
Be always in stitches.

Anonymous said...

How you must have grown as a person through experience. I am enjoying see it through your eyes

Karin said...

What an amazing trip - can't wait to see more.

Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing your 'trip' with us. Very interesting pics.

Lillie said...

Very touching but kinda scary with the rules. Lovely pics.

jane said...

I am finding your reports from DR very moving Dani, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. I guess we should all take time to be grateful for the things we take for granted.

ollie1976 said...

All I can say is wow.

Von said...

You can really see that happiness comes from within and not from things we possess, which really possess us. I'm really enjoying these glimpses of your trip, Dani.

Stitchingranny said...

I am enjoying reading of your experiences and looking forward to more.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing - makes us realise how much we take our comfortable lives for granted, doesn't it?

Olenka's Stitches said...

Thank you for sharing your amazing experience with us - very interesting and the pictures are perfect.

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing this with us Dani. It's really amazing seeing through your camera lens what we've only heard about. Makes you realize just how blessed we really are.

Julie said...

Its wonderful to see and read about your experience. Some wonderful pictures, the church looks so beautiful.

Michelle said...

Dani, please visit my blog to accept an award!

Brigitte said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. It's so important to know that there's still "another" Dominican Republic besides the tourist area.

Suzanne said...

I look forward to reading the next installment of your experience. Thank you.

Ingrid said...

Wonderful pictures.Thank you for sharing .I love to reading your blog !
Hugs Ingrid