Saturday, March 24The eight of us arrived at the JFK airport around 4:00 am, four hours prior to our flight’s takeoff. After successfully checking our bags and going through security, we sat around and tried to fall asleep. For some of us it was easy to fall asleep right away. Others found it a little but harder, probably because they couldn’t contain their excitement about the trip. Prior to our departure we had weekly assigned readings relating to the culture, people, and history of the Dominican Republic and meetings where we were able to discuss them in further detail and ask questions. We also talked a lot about Yspaniola, the organization we would be working with during our time in the DR. This was a great way for us to be prepared for what we were about to experience, firsthand.
Our plane landed in sunny Santiago just after noon. Within ten minutes of getting off the plane it finally hit me that we were no longer in an English speaking country. I would no longer be able to quickly and easily communicate with people like I am so used to. I would have to think back to the years of Spanish I’ve studied in the classroom and actually apply them. “Is this real life?” was the constant thought that was running through my mind. We got our passports stamped and it wasn’t until someone dropped their coffee right in front of me that I snapped back to reality and really tuned back in to what was actually going on around me. We were greeted outside of the gate by the smiling faces of Julie Gladnick, our local Yspaniola program director and our awesome driver, Rafael. The boys loaded the bags on the top of our van and we were on our way.
- On our drive to where we were staying, I noticed the political propaganda everywhere! Elections are coming up in May and there are huge issues that are at stake for the people. It is hard to go anywhere in the Dominican Republic without seeing some sort of advertisement advocating for one political party or the other and it is a big topic of conversation among the people.
We arrived at the “Hub”, the place we would stay the night in about an hour. We unloaded our things and had our first Dominican meal complete with chicken and plantains – it was delicious! We then had a group discussion time about what we would be doing over the next few days and what Yspaniola was currently working on with the people of Batey Libertad. Afterwards, we walked just a few minutes up the road to the “Monumento de Santiago.” The dictator Trujillo ordered the construction of this beautiful monument in 1944 in his honor but to the Dominican people it symbolically represents their freedom from the Haitians. The inside of the monument is complete with spectacular Dominican art and history. We climbed the stairs to the top where we had a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding mountains. After taking in all of the views and art, we headed back down and walked around the city for a while. We stopped at a small grocery/convenience store and got Dominican snacks and water bottles.
The next destination we visited was El Centro Leon, a beautiful art museum you could explore for hours. The exhibits were colorful, elaborate, and historically relevant to the Dominican culture, which made it really interesting. On our way out of the museum, we saw a wedding party getting pictures taken out in front of the museum.
For dinner we went to Kukara Mukara, a western themed restaurant where the waiters dressed up like cowboys. There we met Mayra and Federico, two of the Yspaniola scholars along with Jimmy and Julio, two other students from the Batey. We had a great time conversing with our new friends and even with the language barrier; we were able to find a lot that we had in common. The food was delicious–I had the best chicken fajita I’ve ever had and several of us tried “chinola” or passion fruit smoothies, which were amazing!
This dinner was a great way to end a long but incredible first day of our journey in the Dominican Republic.
Kisha Oister, ’14