Friday, March 30
It was hard when Friday morning finally came. After four days, I had become accustomed to the Batey and attached to our friends there. Getting up at the crack of dawn didn’t make it any easier, but we still got up, packed our bags in the dark, threw our suitcases in the van, and played one more game of Quien Falta before saying our last goodbyes. By 7am, we were on the road. By 9am, we had fueled up on coffee and croissants (and spent a considerable amount of time marveling at the running water at the rest stop). By 11am, we had made our way through the crazy traffic and into the capital city of Santo Domingo.
We spent our afternoon exploring the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo with Julie and Gerald. At this point, I had already fallen in love with the people in the Dominican Republic. After a few hours in the Colonial Zone, my love of Dominican culture and history had been solidified as well. As someone who has always been intrigued by history, I found the afternoon of museums and the old city to be very interesting. Though Columbus landed in the Bahamas first on his initial trip to the Americas, it was the beauty of the Dominican Republic and the rich culture of the indigenous Taínos that kept his attention. As such, the Colonial Zone is old, very old.
The Spanish influences are also quite notable. Both Diane and I studied in Granada, Spain for a semester and we couldn’t help but feel at home because of the multitude of similarities to southern Spain. When I pointed this out to Julie and Gerald, they explained that the city really romanticizes its Spanish history. Though the Dominican Republic was occupied by Spain after it was occupied by Haiti, it celebrates its independence from Haiti. This fact really surprised me, but definitely adds a new dimension to the lessons we learned at the border earlier in the week.
After our cultural excursions, we had a nice lunch at a restaurant in the Colonial zone, eaten family style so we could each try to some of the nine different dishes we ordered. While we were enjoying our chinola (passion fruit) juice, we each shared a high point of our trip, low point of the trip, and something we were excited about for the future. Everyone’s answers were unique, but we all seemed to mention how much our time in the Batey had influenced our views of the world and how excited we were to share our experiences with our family and friends at home.
That afternoon, we also had a few hours to shop and explore the city on our own. A few souvenirs and pictures later, we were heading to Hotel Residence for the one thing that could rival the coffee Julia and I had at the rest stop that morning: a shower. Coming downstairs for dinner was pretty humorous. Let’s just say, lots of “wow, you look really nice” and “I didn’t know your hair was actually curly” were exchanged.
That night was a celebration of a wonderful week together. We went to this incredible Middle-Eastern restaurant and sat in this outside courtyard with twinkle lights. We had a lot of fun trying hummus, falafel, and shawerma—probably the first meal without plantains that I had had all week. We were joined by Gerald’s mentor, Yolanda, who is an expert in all things environmental. Heading out afterwards to a culture club and for Coca Colas at a dance bar only made the night more memorable. Though Julie and Geralds’ moves put us to shame, we definitely had fun trying to keep up with them.
It was one of those never-ending days, which was actually quite perfect because I was not ready for the adventure to end. Though we had been running around all day, there was one thing about the day that stood out to me the most: the contrast we had experienced. Driving to Santo Domingo was probably the most obvious manifestation of this contrast. The journey started in one world (the Batey) and ended in a very different world (the capital city of Santo Domingo). The closer we got the Santo Domingo, the bigger the cities became, the more cars appeared on the road, and the more similar the landscape became to that of home.
When we got to Santo Domingo, my first impression was that it was breathtakingly gorgeous. I instantly fell in love with the coastal views, old architecture, and posh restaurants and felt comfortable in the city soon after. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about Batey Libertad. When we walking around and talking to shopkeepers, I found that I wanted to tell everyone about my time in the batey. I wanted them to know about the other part of the Dominican Republic that I had seen and the wonderful Dominicans I had met that had left me with such a positive impression of their country. I wanted them to know that there was a community in their own country without potable water and many of the luxuries they took for granted. Most importantly, I wanted them to care, and care enough to do something about it.
I am glad Santo Domingo was our last stop because I think it was an important step in transitioning back to my life in the United States. I think it will be hard to balance living my life where I have so much and knowing about people who are really no different from me except for the fact that they were born with less. Still, I am glad I have such an incredible experience that has added so much personal relevance to the disparities that exist in the world. I am also very grateful for the seven other Delaware students (and Julie and Gerald) who shared this experience with me. I think we would all agree that it was a wonderful last day in the Dominican Republic together.
Caitlin Woglom ’12