Saturday, March 15th
So, I’m sitting here in the lobby of our hotel, La Jaragua, at eight o’clock pm
on a Sunday, trying to figure out what to write. I look around me and see the expensive, sparkling chandeliers, the vaulted ceilings, and the marble floors. I can’t help but be struck with the feeling that I’m in a typical high-end resort. The only reminder that I’m in another country is that the people passing by me are speaking in Spanish rather than English. However, when you step outside the hotel grounds, you enter a completely different world. One in which the people are impoverished and the buildings are crumbling before your eyes. The homeless sit on street corners looking desolate and the stray dogs lay stretched out on the sidewalks. People approach you from every direction trying to sell something or guilt-trip you into paying for their services. All the people here in the capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, are just trying to make a living as best they can. I don’t live far from the Washington D.C., so I have seen homeless people before, but in the Dominican Republic the majority of the population lives in poverty relative to our standards. You can attempt to imagine what this city looks like, but it is an entirely unique experience to actually be here. The emotions that flood you just walking down the street are overwhelming. Feelings of sadness and guilt invade your thoughts because we take so much for granted in our country.
Yet, there is a serene beauty here. The cracked pavement giving way to the plant life, the New Orleans-style architecture, and the colorful art painted on abandoned walls. You come to also appreciate the people, even if their driving is terrifying. There is a sense of community here and strangers are greeted with friendliness and open arms. One kind lady at a grocery store called La Cocinada allowed all of us to pass in front of her and she let us use her membership card. The wish to see a different style of life for the people of the Dominican Republic is such a strong desire in all of us.
Our first full day here began about 10:30 with a walk down the street to La Cocinada in order to get snack food for our hotel rooms. It was the first time we had actually seen the city, beyond the hotel in the daylight. The currency here is the peso, the exchange rate is 43 pesos to the dollar. I have to admit that my heart skipped a couple of beats at first when I see a sign that read 19.99 for bags of chips, which is more like 50 cents. When we returned to the hotel some people napped and others went swimming in the outdoor pool. The pool is really nice in the heat of the afternoon at 83 degrees Fahrenheit. We met again at four o’clock and drove to the mall, which was harrowing to say the least. Drivers don’t seem to obey any of the stop signs or traffic lights. The mall was huge, five floors. The view from the second to top floor of the parking garage was fantastic. We got some food to tide us over until dinner at the food court. I was surprised by how many American fast food chains there were, like Taco Bell and KFC. There was a smaller version of Walmart inside the mall and we went shopping for supplies for our lessons that we are going to teach on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday is a beach day at an all-inclusive resort!
That evening we dropped off the supplies at the hotel and drove to the oldest part of the city, where Columbus landed and his son built a house when he was the viceroy of the New World. We are planning to tour this home later this week. We had dinner at this club-like restaurant in the VIP section cause our group was too big to fit anyone else. Afterwards, we were all exhausted. Some of us went straight to sleep and others went to the casino to play a few games. Overall, it was a great start to an amazing experience in the Dominican Republic!
P.S. I just want to give a shout out to McDaniel College and the Deaf Studies Program for making this trip possible. Also to Tracy, who drove us the two hours to the airport and reminded us not to forget sunscreen! Finally, to the greatest professor and trip leader ever, Mark Rust!
Adios for now!