One week ago on Monday August the 15th 3 Clark Students; Nara Baker, Molly Cooksey, Natalia Salazar, and myself departed from the U.S. for the Dominican Republic. From the very beginning our journey was rife with perils. A series of flight delays and cancelations caused Nara to miss the majority of the first day and forced Natalia to sleep in the Miami airport. Molly and I were able to make all of our flights on time, however, because of a mix up in the Miami Airport, our checked luggage got lost and we were both left to make due with our carry -on’s for the first several days.
Fortunately, the lack of the essentials I had packed was more than made up for by the accommodation and compassion of my host family. My host family is made up of my host mother, Rafaela and her husband, Victor. They were nice enough to provide me with everything I might need, and accommodating enough to put up with all of my shortcomings; from my all-together poor command of the Spanish language to my seemingly irredeemable klutziness which resulted, among other things, in my hand being caught in the ceiling fan (in fairness it was a very low ceiling fan, sometimes I feel I’m just too tall for this country…sigh).
So far the Dominican seems to me to be a country of extremes. In this last week I’ve seen sparkling brilliant-blue rivers and waterfalls deep in the middle of a lush and pristine jungle, but also, while jogging in downtown Santiago, almost fallen into an open sewer festering with trash, insects, rats, and human filth. I’ve climbed to the top of El Monumento de Santiago, a breathtaking tower thrusting violently into the sky, dominating the city of Santiago (constructed during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, supposedly to celebrate his extensive, ahem, machismo), only to walk back down to find pathetic hovels made of wood and tin. And, of course, I’ve seen the startling opulence of the wealthy class of the nation with gorgeous and well-dressed Dominican caballeros and damas burning holes in the dance floors of the dicotecas (clubs) on weeknights till four in the morning when they call taxi’s to return them to their palacios (mansions). From the door to the taxi, each one haughtily ignores the army of beggars who approach them dressed in rags with drawn, thin, and dirty faces devoid expectation or hope.
To be sure, I’m having an awesome time. From the nightlife, to the other people in the program, to my host family, I can say with certainty that I’m really lucky to be in the program Santiago Service Learning and to have this unique opportunity. I look forward to great experiences and a couple of hard lessons (hopefully not as painful as getting my hand caught in the fan tho) as I get to know the Dominican Republic.