About an hour ago I was woken up from a deep sleep by a sudden jolt as my plane touched down in Logan Airport Boston, MA: I had come home from the Dominican Republic. This whole last week has been a blur for me. My memories of the last couple of days; of finally turning in my capstone investigation, our group departure dinner, a relaxing trip to the breathtaking, Jaragua National Park with its untouched natural beauty, and all of the individual goodbye’s along with the inevitable bitter-sweet feelings they evoked, have all blended together to the point where I can barely remember the actual chronology of the events themselves.
This same phenomenon holds true, albeit on a grander scale, for much of the semester. A lot of what I did and saw these past several months in the Dominican Republic I can remember as clear as if it had happened yesterday. However, the whole experience has acquired an ethereal quality to it that makes it seem timeless in hindsight. It could have been yesterday or, just as easily, it could have been a year ago, that I was last in Los Platanitos; a low income Dominican barrio (neighborhood) where I did most of my work for my NGO Oné Respe. The sound of the rapid guttural kreyól shouted by the Haitian migrants living there, the smell of the decaying trash left out on the dirt street, and the sight of the careless smiles of the kids at the local school are timeless memories which I think that I will remember just as clearly 20 years from now as I do today.
Some things I try not to think about. My classmate, who lost his life to the police, figures prominently among them. More abstractly, I try not to dwell on the fact that there is so much that I was never able to change while I was over there. A lot of what I did seems downright fruitless. In Los Platanitos, I never did get one of my English students, Pepe, an ethnic Dominican, to refer to his darker skinned classmates by any name other than “el haitiano,” (the Haitian). In addition I saw plenty of easily reversible problems, which, through negligence, will inevitably end disastrously. For example, one young boy I know was recently diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (an increasingly severe problem in the Dominican Republic). His parents are told again and again to feed him greens, but instead they continue to give him an unhealthy diet of rice and fried food. Furthermore, they routinely neglect to check his blood sugar (although they have all the gear to do so) and his insulin is often ignored. What, I wonder, will I find if I check in on this family a couple years down the line? Will he still have all of his limbs in tact? Will he still have his eyesight? Will he still be alive?
That is not to say that the trip has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Development work always seems like some kind of Sisyphean game a wackamole; you solve one problem and 2 or 3 more spring up elsewhere. Its impossible to leave a service trip feeling completely satisfied. That said, while I still have grave concerns about the country I left behind, I am extremely grateful that I got this opportunity to work in Dominican Republic. I feel that this experience has changed me a lot in some good ways, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for the world. In the meantime, it will take me a little bit to come to terms with and put into perspective some of the things I saw and did in the Dominican Republic. So for now, I’ll let my memories ruminate in their unreal and timeless state while I get used to life back here in the United States.
Gracias por leer
Joe (José) Strzempko