Lots of greatness came from this past week, perhaps my favorite trip yet. It was a nice midway point between the first two trips. We had lots to do, but lots of down time as well. Scheduling was more of a day-to-day task rather than abiding to a specific itinerary as in the past. Whatever the differences, it molded to my style of traveling pretty comfortably. And the morning before we left when I woke up feeling crummy and worried, well that turned out to be the worst of it and a lingering cough was all that accompanied me throughout the rest of the trip. Which was great, except for the small fact that I was only the first of
many everyone to go down. While I prided myself on my vitamin C intake, the rest of the group dropped like flies throughout the next few days. Luckily, it just seemed to be a cold. Aside from GI distress that follows us on most trips into the country, the contagious bug seemed to just be congestion, which is hardly debilitating by comparison. Anyway, I left early Sunday morning with a good book in hand headed for Puerto Plata, the northwestern peninsula of the country.
This day was mostly transportation. I packed some small snacks for the ride knowing we had not done our usual pack-the-car-with-food-in-advance-to-save-money routine, and it was probably my best decision of the day. Some eight hours later we roll into a Fridays as ravenous college students. Although Fridays would never be one of my go-to restaurants, I was able to find a shrimp salad that looked appetizing and the place had kind of a pleasant ambiance that made it an easy meal. With uncomfortably slow service, we finally left for the last leg of the journey over two hours later. Upon arrival, we met with a Project Esperanza leader and hung out for the rest of the evening. Ah, and I should mention that we stayed at this hotel before, and there was a pregnant kitten. Now there were kittens. It was too great :)I know right. Too much.
Project Esperanza (http://esperanzameanshope.org/) is essentially a non-profit organization designed toward alleviating poverty, particularly in the Haitian batey communities located inPuerto Plata, DR. We worked with them for the next three days, mostly surveying the population. As we were a large body of labor, we were put to use interviewing the families of the Munoz community about their living conditions, family incomes, and working statuses. It was an much-welcomed opportunity for me, as I mostly translated for the group,were working with Spanish, Creole, and English. While it was interesting spending so much time in an intimate community, it was also a lot of time with eye-opening poverty. Throughout our time there we learned how to cook (or rather, learned how to eat) a yummy shortbread cookie, got our hair braided, and made friends with the goofy kids. We also went into the schools and gave some short lessons in hygiene, and the school system blew me away. The teachers and adults just don’t have the resources to dedicate time and money to things as trivial as textbooks. Education is such a vital tool toward cultural improvements, and it was hard to see the basic foundation struggling at such a so level. In addition, it engraved me with a huge gratitude for the educational resources and such high quality schooling I have received thus far. That aside, I really enjoyed working, as opposed to just seeing sights, and it felt good to move around and do tasks that I knew would be a big help for the organization. And the third morning we saw waterfalls! Twenty-seven to be exact! (http://www.27charcos.com/index.php) This was too cool. We took some videos that I may get my hands on soon, but I wish I had some pictures to share. The few of us that were up for it (sick roommate and nervous girls stayed behind) left really early and embarked for the nature park that boasts the insane cascades. It was composed of a 45 minute hike to the top, and a couple hours worth of sliding and jumping back down. And it was too cool! Beyond the great natural exposure that being in the middle of beautiful, natural, waterfalls granted us, it was tons of fun just hanging out and exploring. Though the water was cold, it satisfied the adventurists of the group and was a great way to spend the morning.
Throughout the trip we met with a group called CEPROCH, and another called BRA. Both of them deal with public health, the latter with a focus on bateyes. The Dominican Republic has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, surpassing Haiti. Not only is it the leading cause of death, but its immunodeficient nature allows Tuberculosis to step in and sweep second. A large part of that is due to the touristic nature of the island and the high prevalence of sexual tourism that follows. With a heavy emphasis on education, the groups spend a lot of time in both the poorest parts of the country and the wealthiest We spoke about their statistics, their methods of attacking the diseases, and the nature of the programs. . In addition, they both also shook their heads with a chuckle when asked what kind of support they get from the government. The Dominican government also tops a statistic for paying less attention to nationwide health and education as any other caribbean country. And as such, nearly all of the programs aimed at increasing the two are run privately, as their only option. It was interesting talking with the groups, listening to their planned approaches, and seeing the work they do. They both have seen large improvements since their presence was introduced, and hopefully, it can stay improving.
That evening we headed to Santo Domingo, where we met with some additional public health groups and toured a hospital. We did not spend much time there, but enough to enjoy a delicious dinner at an open-air mediterranean restaurant and a delicious pancake breakfast. We’re back “home” for a few days before we take off on our Intro to Theater class with hopes of good eating and lots of art. Can’t wait to share it, and hope all is well in Hampton Roads, Bburg, Asheville or anywhere else you may be living life. Enjoy your weekend,