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Bienvenidos!

Welcome to our blog page for CIEE's Liberal Arts program in Santiago, Dominican Republic, CIEE's longest-running program in Latin America. Here, you will find submissions from various CIEE participants and staff-- we'll include a little culture, some info about CIEE's trips and activities, personal student experiences, y mucho mas-- to keep friends, family, and past and prospective students privy to some of what we're all up to in Santiago. Enjoy the blog.

01/31/2017

Misunderstanding of the Week!

Every time I travel to another country, whether I speak the language or not, miscommunications are responsible the bulk of the stories I tell afterwards. Whether it be in Poland, locking my AirBnb host out of his own apartment at 11pm or in Spain, shocking an unsuspecting movie theater cashier by confusing the Disney film Vaiana (better known as Moana in the US) with the spanish word vagina (and yes, it means exactly what you think), I always find a way to embarrass myself and laugh about it later. And the Dominican Republic is certainly no exception. My “favorite” misunderstanding this week was by far my excursion to the military police headquarters. In my defense, I thought it was a castle. (To be fair, the word castillo is written in bold above the arching entryway.) In any case, as I stood at the top of the hill taking in the beautiful view of Santiago, I didn’t have the slightest idea that I was walking a thin line between forgivable but idiotic gringa to trespasser. After looking around and seeing a few Dominicans staring at me, I walked into a courtyard. Still taking in the sights, I didn’t pay attention to the armed military policeman marching towards me. He shouted and began to explain (in rapid fire Spanish) why I shouldn’t be there, while another group of policemen watched from the edges of the courtyard. Instead of explaining my misunderstanding like an adult, I ran away, darting across a busy street and into a crowd of pedestrians. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what that policeman said or what exactly that building was used for, but I don’t think I’ll be heading back to find out anytime soon.

But when I’m not accidentally encountering Santiago’s police, this is what I do:

Blog de jaiden 2


Blog de jaiden 2


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Blog de jaiden 6


Blog de jaiden 6

-Jaiden Sakamoto

12/13/2016

The girls of GAP year in Cayo Levantado. Also known sometimes like "Island Bacardi", is an islet in the bay of Samaná, that belongs administratively to the Province of Samaná, to the northeast of the island Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It is a tourist destination known in that country. The nearest airport, Samaná, is 68 kilometers away, and the island has a hotel. It has about 1 kilometer in length. It has a moist forest vegetation and white sand beaches.

11/18/2016

Mannequin Challenge By CIEE Students from Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Taino Face is one of the most beautiful places in Dominican Republic. We learned how the Tainos lived in the past, we had so much fun and an amazing experience. 

 

11/07/2015

Thoughts of Every Study Abroad Student: Santiago Edition

Santiago

Studying abroad is an incredible experience, and it’s different for every person. However, there are many thoughts that every student in any given city share. These differ from city to city and program to program. So here at CIEE Santiago, we thought we would share our typical thoughts on living in Santiago.

 

  • How can I put on this much bug spray and still get bitten this much?
  • Please, no, no more rice!
  • How on earth is it possible to fit 23 people in this van?
  • Do I even know how to Spanish?
  • What do you mean, you don't know what iced coffee is?
  • THERE'S A TACO BELL HERE? WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THIS 2 MONTHS AGO?!
  • My favorite part of Samana? Definitely being able to lie in bed and be on wifi at the same time. Oh, and the beach was kind of nice, too...
  • Wait, Thanksgiving isn't a world-wide holiday?
  • Well, I don’t understand much in my classes, but I’m going to guess Trujillo is something pretty important here...
  • Does anyone here actually know what a stoplight is and what it means?
  • Why don't they make body wash with bug spray in it?
  • I should bathe in deet.
  • Ok, I think I got it, but just in case, can you re-explain that entire 2-hour class to me, but in English this time?
  • You have a mosquito bite? Dengue, you definitely have dengue.
  • My parents always taught me about Stranger Danger, but my program is encouraging me to get into cars and vans with complete strangers? Seems legit.
  • Oh no, I think I swallowed a drop of water in the shower. I’m probably going to die of amoebas now…
  • Since when is a page and a half double-spaced considered an essay? That’s a passing thought!

 

All jokes aside, we love it here and are learning so much about both the culture and language and about ourselves. I know that, for me personally, I have spent a lot of time reflecting lately, and I can see clear growth in my life in many areas. I know that this is where I’m supposed to be right now and that this is exactly what I needed, and I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity!

10/27/2015

Worlds Apart: Exploring Cultural Differences in Education

One of the beautiful things about studying abroad is the opportunity to learn first-hand about a new country’s culture. It’s an absolutely amazing experience, and it is eye-opening if you let it be. While many of the more obvious differences from the US have been present in my time here, a couple of them have just affected me in the last couple weeks, and I want to take a minute to share some of my thoughts on these topics.

The first area of difference: education. Overall, my classes have been incredibly easy here. I thought I had it easy at AU, but it’s been even easier here. That is, until I reached my first set of exams. I did well (better than expected!), but I definitely noticed the difference between measuring understanding here versus in the US. Since I began studying at AU, I have taken very few exams in comparison to the number of essays I have written. Here, the exact opposite is true. Essays don’t really exist, and exams are everything (my mid-term essay for TESOL is a blog post of 550 words!). A single exam is 15%-20% of your grade for the semester, and that’s not even a final exam. Personally, I prefer writing essays, and I think they are a better measurement of true understanding (in most fields). For example, I took a literature course last fall and I’m in another now. In the course last fall, we took SMALL quizzes over each group of authors, mainly to test us over which author wrote which piece, and then we wrote 4-5 page analysis essays. In my literature course here, we take exams over the authors, the pieces, and the little details that come with it. There’s significantly less analysis, and our only essay is part of our final. To me, I think that essays are a better measurement for literature courses and others. I think it’s more important to display the ability to analyze and think for yourself than to memorize random facts about authors and their work. But that’s what they value here. We were told in our orientation week that Dominicans have a great respect for authority and don’t question anything said by authority figures. We were told that plagiarism is actually accepted here because those are the words of authority, and it would be wrong to come up with ideas contrasting those of authority. Students have lost points on short-answer exams for not writing the exact wording found in the textbook. There’s a strong respect for authority, and it carries over into the education system. It’s taken some adjustment for me, since US universities value critical thinking and encourage students to question and challenge what has already been said in order to form their own beliefs.

The second area of difference: music education. I’m taking a course here in singing, and it has been an incredibly interesting experience. We meet once a week in a “theatre,” which is actually just a large classroom with tiered rows of desks and a small stage in front. There’s no piano or other musical instruments. There’s actually nothing music-related in the room at all. Our class consists of the professor calling us onstage one at a time to sing a capella in front of the class (which is frightening, because the Dominicans in our class are intimidatingly good!). Yesterday, our professor brought in a small electric keyboard to use, and we worked on some very basic ear training. He would play an arpeggio, and we’d have to sing it back to him as a group. Then he’d play a single note and pick one of us to give the notes of the arpeggio to the others, making a chord vocally. In reality, this is a very simple task. But I was amazed at how everyone struggled, other than another US American and me. They couldn’t match the pitch the professor gave them, vocally or on the piano. And when they were told to sing the arpeggio, the couldn’t get the intervals right. I was blown away that these amazing vocalists couldn’t do something as simple as match pitch or sing an arpeggio. But as I thought about it more and asked some questions, I realized yet again how blessed I am. I’ve never had intense aural training or anything, but I’ve had music class in school since first grade. Here, music and art education isn’t a thing. The only music or art instruction kids receive here is private, and only wealthy families can afford to put their kids in these classes. They don’t have these options as electives until college (if they go), and even in college, there are incredibly limited options. Majoring in anything artistic simply doesn’t exist, nor do ensembles. Incredibly basic classes are the only offerings in the arts. So how did these students learn how to sing so well individually? They listened to recordings and copied what they heard. And they do it well, but it doesn’t help them sing in a group setting. When I realized these things, I suddenly realized how I’ve taken for granted the education I’ve received in the US. And it makes me want to fight for music and art education even more.

I feel like I can’t go a single day without realizing even more how blessed I am and how ignorant I am. I know I’ve said it before, but I am just so incredibly grateful that God won’t let me stay ignorant and continues to teach me and show me new things. I have learned so much in my time here, and I know that there’s so much more to learn, too much for just two short months. But that means I have reason to come back again in the future, right? ;)

04/04/2015

This is what happens when your world is rearranged.

First you are angry and then you are confused. No, not necessarily in that order but be forewarned, both feelings will demand to be felt.

Everything others admired about you and everything you took pride in, will be ignored, criticized, or (barely) tolerated when you move to Santiago de los Caballeros. That is, if you’re a skinny Black girl with West African features. If you admit you’re emotions are like a pendulum and swing from funeral like-gloom to manic glee. If you’re a people-pleasing non-conformist…if you feel like the strangest person in the world and wish for everyone else to start embracing their own “weirdness” so that said weirdness will actually be less weird and you’ll finally be considered normal (for a moment anyway). If you’re anything like me, you will struggle during your first months in the Dominican Republic.

Both externally and internally life in the, la segunda capital, of the Dominican Republic will be an exam. The subjects:
How much can I put up with (today)?
What do I truly want and need from my environment?*
How can I tolerate and attempt to understand cultural norms that degrade my personhood?
Will I punch the maybe eight year old boy in the face who just whistled at me with the encouragement of his father?
*Finding the answer will not be as easy as you think

I’d like to say I’m exaggerating, but that would be a disservice to whomever is reading this.

I know moving outside your native country can be trying and difficult for anyone. This is especially true when most people in your new country don’t speak your native language. Still, I feel the set of challenges I experienced as a young woman of West African descent—who wears her heritage proudly—are different from a foreign woman who fit Dominican standards of beauty (i.e, “A slightly tan version of Barbie”). I pride myself on being independent and having a wealth of common sense and reason. I do not and have never needed societal approval of my actions—and yet, I cannot say I wasn’t bothered when people would look through me…facet of my identity said I did not deserve to be treated like a person?

But.
If you are anything like me, you should go.
That is, if you enjoy learning and growing—if you enjoy experiences that affirming that you really can do anything.
If you have the opportunity to learn, and/or work, and/or study in a place so far from your home you constantly question your sanity—then you should definitely take the plunge and move to your own Santiago.
When you do, you solidify and separate what you need to survive and to thrive. You can effectively communicate and empathize with everyone who matters…and that is what happens when your world is rearranged.

03/12/2015

Beach Adventures

Originally posted on my blog January 26th. Someday we´ll get you all caught up I promise!!!

This week was more play hard than work hard. There were national holidays Wednesday and today, Monday. But, a little update on the school front, all my classes are set. They are: Advanced Spanish II, Socioeconomic and Political Processes in the Contemporary Dominican Republic, Afrocaribbean Cultures, and Dominican-Haitian Relations, Intro to Singing, Dance for Foreigners, and Theater Arts. Woo! So much fun to be had. And an ultimate frisbee update - I have practice tomorrow!
Well that was my "work" update and it doesn't really sound like work. Well here goes the fun update:
Wednesday a group of exchange students from CIEE and ISA as well as PUCMM students hopped on a couple guaguas and made our way to Playa Alicia. This is close to Playa Sosua but is less populated and has bigger waves. It was a fun day complete with Spikeball, frisbee, and a pair of sunglasses lost to the joys of body surfing.

 
Saturday was a planned CIEE day trip to Playa Ensenada but Brianne had been doing some scheming and the two of us headed North a day early. We left Santiago around nine on a public guagua to La Isabella. From there we took a motoconcho to our hotel - Casa Libre. The journey was relatively easy. Definitely could have been a lot more interesting! We got to Casa Libre and promptly realized we were in paradise. The place consists of three cabins on stilts overlooking the beach. There is greenery everywhere except for a little path that connects the cabins and winds down to the beach. 
View from the room
 
Pathway to the beach
 
Super fancy hotel sign
 
The cabin's porch
 
Once were a bit settled in we made arrangements to get to the manatee reservation. Turns out the best option is to rent a 4x4, a deal which also got us a guide and some side stops to even more remote beaches with coral cliffs that had once been under water. It made for quite the adventure, especially since we were expected to drive, which we did quite capably upon receiving some instruction. 
Here I am enjoying the vistas. 
 
The manatee reservation was cool, quite rustic, but had lots of mangroves and our guide was able to tell us quite a bit about the ecosystem. The manatees showed their noses here and there but were not very photographable. After all this we made our way back to Casa Libre and with a few hours before dinner we went for a sunset walk. It was beautiful!!! 
Dinner was pork tenderloin with a white wine sauce and mozzarella for Brianne and potatoes, broccoli, salad and french bread for me (and Brianne). We were joined for dinner by a Swiss man who had been living in the DR for 11 years, his Ugandan wife, and the man who was currently filming a documentary of the couple. I failed to accurately extract the reason for the documentation. Dinner was a mix of French, German and English, with English being the most successful common denominator. (Breakfast the next morning was enjoyed with a french couple that knew little Spanish and less English, so French became the common denominator for that meal.) Brianne accurately pointed out that it felt a lot more like we were in Europe than the Caribbean. After dinner we headed back to the beach for a late night dip and some stargazing. The water was a tad chilly so I only floated and stargazed for a minute or two, but the view was just as epic lying in the sand. The stars were visible from horizon to horizon as there is very little light pollution. I saw two shooting stars. I had not seen shooting stars since I was on the shore of Flagstaff Lake with my FOP trip freshman year. 
This is the sunset from that night in Maine - remarkably similar, but a lot colder...
 
After our star gazing we went to bed. Breakfast the next morning was eggs, wheat toast, fresh fruit and tea. We went for a post breakfast walk up to the fishing town of Punta Rucia. Then we came back to collect our things before walking the other direction along the beach to Playa Ensenada where the rest of CIEE had arrived. We joined them for the day, shich included lunch at Teo's - typical Dominican fare - yum! And snorkeling at "Paradise Island" which is essentially a sand dune six miles off the coast where you can snorkel. It was nice. Not the most colorful reef, but there were lots pretty fishies. It was a pretty touristy event, but other guests at Casa Libre said it was less crowded other times of the day so that would be something to keep in mind if I were to return. All in all it was fabulous week full of fun in the sun!
 
 

 

03/05/2015

First Excursion for Spring Semester: January 16-17

This is a delayed post from my personal blog! We've got some catching up to do on the CIEE blog so I'd thought with a piece I wrote about the group's excursion to Santo Domingo.

Friday morning the CIEE group left for Santo Domingo. In an unpredictably predictable manner, getting there, in and of itself, was an adventure. One of our two guaguas (buses) broke down about half an hour from our first stop so we all piled into one guagua. It was quite cozy. (AKA 41 of us in a minibus with luggage.) And when I say cozy, I actually mean relatively uncomfortable at many points. (Shoutout to Elainer for letting me sit on her lap. MVP!)

 
Our first stop of the day was at Alta Gracia, a Zona Franca, unlike any other.  Zona Francas (perhaps known in the US/English as Free Ports) are areas with loosened customs and other regulations. There are many in the DR and Haiti as well as around the world. They have a tendency to have horrible conditions and do more harm than good for the economy. They do little to support the local economy because of the emphasis on exportation and the lack of relationship with the communities. Alta Gracia is a Zona Franca with a very different story. Workers get three times the minimum wage, three square meals a day, access to childcare, educational opportunities, and transportation. They can play music while working and take as many bathroom/water breaks as needed. Someone who starts out with a low-level job has the opportunity to move up the ranks, especially if s/he takes advantage of the educational opportunities available. Alta Gracia makes T-shirts and other customizable apparel, which is predominantly sold to colleges and universities in the United States. Here are some photos from our tour/ conversation with the jefas/jefes (bosses).
 
 

 

Pre-Shirts
 
Our second stop of the day was lunch. It was amazing. I had the best eggplant parmesan I have ever had. (They are really good at eggplant here.) I also had three pieces of cake....After lunch we were relieved to learn a second guagua had been acquired and our group bonding could be a little less physical.
 
After that we went to Ingenio Boca de Nigua a former sugar cane plantation. It was really powerful to stand on the same ground as the slaves who were worked to death making sugar did. Ingenio literally means genius. Originally it referred to the machine that pressed sugar (liquid form) from the cane using animal power (mule, horse or slave) but later came to refer to the whole plantation because that one ingenious invention was so integral to the process. Slaves on this type of plantation had a life span of approximately seven years once they stepped into their new world.
 


Below: Here we are looking down on the Ingenio. Slaves fed cane back and forth on the lower level as animals (or slaves) walked in a circle on the upper level generating the power to squeeze the liquid from the cane. Working for hours on end and struck with fatigue, slaves often lost fingers, a hand or even an arm when unable to maintain the focus required to safely do this job. 

 
 
 
This sunken area is the slave yard, where punishment was doled out daily in the mornings. It is a lower level so as to inhibit slaves form running away upon hearing they were to be punished.
 


Here we see where the liquid was heated to its crystallization stage. Slaves below ground were chained up an forced to feed the fire. The intolerable heat necessitated the chains on the slaves with this task. The resulting sugar is what we know as brown sugar. Through the drying process excess molasses would drip off the sugar and be used to feed livestock and slaves. Brown sugar was the final product, which was shipped off to Europe to be treated and become white sugar.

 

This climbable structure was a hell hole of a bunkhouse. Inside, slaves slept in layers on wooden slats in shifts of eight hours, again chained in place to prevent escape.

 
This particular plantation was the site of a failed slave revolt. The attempt, however, is a source of pride for locals and those beyond. At one point Toussaint Louverture, the predominant leader of the Haitian Revolution, stood at this location when France formally handed Haiti over and peace with the Spanish was negotiated. 
 
We piled back into our TWO (phew thank goodness we were back to two) guaguas and headed to Santo Domingo and our hotel. Once we were all checked in and a little bit settled, we went to dinner. On our way to dinner we stopped at a salon. "Sophie, why did you guys stop at a salon???" Well, let me tell you. Because this salon, albeit little, is kind of a big deal. And when I say kind of a big deal I actually mean a really big deal as it represents part of a social and more broadly political movement. "Sophie! I still don't get it. How?" Well, let me tell you. Because it caters to women who wear their hair naturally. You will not get your hair relaxed or straightened our otherwise treated to conform to Eurocentric norms regarding hair. Women come here to embrace their roots (pun intended). This salon is one of three in the country that provide services for natural hair. Miss Rizos (the salon) was a beautiful space with a beautiful story. Several of the chicas in our group went back the next day for an appointment or to purchase amazing Yo <3 Mi Pajón shirts.  
 
That night we were free to do as we pleased and many of us headed out for various amounts of time to practice our merengue, salsa, and bachata skills, but many of us called it quits fairly early because of the promise of the next days adventure (and the threat of the hour at which they began).
 
The next day my body was kind of rejecting the Caribbean, or at least something I'd eaten, so I had to lay low for the morning. I headed out with the group but was not feeling great enough to continue. The group went on a walking tour of the Zona Colonial and Los Tros Ojos. The link at the end of this post has photos taken by Brianne of these adventures. In the afternoon I rejoined the group as we walked around and had lunch before heading back to the guaguas and Santiago. 
 
Hydrating

The trip back to Santiago involved a lot of sleeping, no breakdowns, and a warm greeting from my host family!

 
 

01/11/2015

El fin de mi primero semestre en la República Dominicana

My last two weeks on the island before the holiday break were a whirlwind. I took advantage of every moment I have left with my friends.

The first week of December was my last week of classes. It was filled with finals, presentations, and essays. Although I turned in a lot of work and took a handful of exams, I have to say this was the most relaxed finals week I have ever experienced.

2014-12-04 10.33.51

Thursday the 4th was our Fiesta de Despedida with CIEE and our host families. Before the fiesta we had a group meeting to talk about reverse culture shock. We remeniced about our experiences and what we learned during our time here. This reflection has really changed the way I have looked at my time here. I have cherished every moment since then and have enjoyed reflecting on how much I have grown over the semester. After our meeting our families arrived. We had a great party in a function section of a local restaurant. Of course there were lots of thank-yous and gift exchanges during the party but for the most part lots dancing and laughs. After dinner the host families made their way back home while all of the students in the program and Estudiantes de Apoyo (our friends from the university) danced the night away. We danced in the party hall until it closed at 12; however a handful of us went out to continue the celebration at a club afterward. This party was a great way to kick of the last 2 weeks I we had left together.

  Zzz

On Saturday, I got to help one of my best friends, Riley, get ready for a Dominican wedding. Annie’s host mom, Caridad, and her neighbors helped put together her whole outfit. This wedding was much more formal than we had expected. Riley wore a gorgeous black and white full length dress that was accessorized perfectly, thanks to Caridad. Riley and I left her room all ready to go after doing her hair and makeup. Her host mom had just got back from work and told Riley she wanted to do her hair and makeup. Riley repliied "But I just got ready". We both got a kick out of the experience as her host mom did her make up to look “more sexy” and crafted a beautiful up-do. Although the end product may have been different that Riley expected, she looked stunning.  Her host mom was so excited and sung around the house until Riley's boyfriend came to pick her up.

 That night I went out to a bar with some of my closest Dominican friends. We ended up having a blast and going to a concert at a nearby club. I originally planned Sunday to be a day of rest and studying however my friends convinced me to come over for a barbeque instead. My exams on Monday actually went really well despite the fact that I did not spend all Sunday studying. It was well worth spending Sunday relaxing with my friends.

2014-12-09 01.08.59

Tuesday ended up being filled with some of my favorite memories. My sister presented her thesis in arquetecture that morning. I got to go and support her with my host mom and her friends.  I felt so lucky to share the excitement with everyone as Alejandra received an A!  My mom’s face was glowing with pride all day.  I couldn’t have been more proud of her either. It also warmed my heart to see that my sister wore the earrings my mom had given her when my parents came last month.  We had the family and friends come over for lunch after the presentation. The joy of that day filled every nook and cranny of the apartment. After the lunch was over and the guest headed back home the family hung out in the living room. It was nice to see my sister so relaxed again after a long semester of stressful all-nighters and piles of work.

2014-12-09 01.19.40

Tuesday night I, along with a handful of other students, went over to one of our professor’s house to make cookies, drink homemade hot chocolate, and chat. We had a blast and one of the students make gluten-free dough so I could eat some of the cookies. It was a nice way to say good-bye to some of my friends in the program. After our get together I went with my friend Valerie to her sister’s dance recital. It was so much fun to watch all the performances and wonderful to see the confidence and love of dance the young women and girls exuded while they were on stage.

Wednesday morning was my last exam. Right after I passed in my exam I went home, packed, and made my way to the South with my friends Riley and Tim. Tim and I had both volunteered with the sustainable development organization Bridges to Community, in Nicaragua, when we were in high school. Since then the organization has expanded to the Dominican Republic and one of the trip leaders Tim had during one of his service trips to Nicaragua is now working in the DR. She invited us to visit her in the South and to join her on a day in the community that Bridges was working with.

Zzas

We made the long journey down to the providence of San Juan which geographically is really close to Santiago. When looking at a map the two locations are extremely close, however, they are separated by a huge mountain range that does not have any roads through it. So we had to travel southeast to the capital and northwest again to arrive at our destination. After a long day of travel we made it to the small city of San Juan de las Maguanas. Sabrina, the trip leader, met us at the bus station and took us to a local restaurant. I got to try chinchin, a local polenta-like dish that was delicious, creamy, and perfect for a late night dinner. She took us around the city and we got to see a bunch of beautiful parks the were designed by a local artist, most of which had interesting social, political, or cultural themes.

Zzja

Bright and early the next morning we head out to the community Sabrina works in. On our way we picked up one of her co-workers and stopped at an extremely interesting landmark called El Corral de los Indios.  San Juan is the providence that was once home to the post powerful chiefdom of Taino Indians on the island. The landmark we visited was a legendary rock that is located in the very center of the island surrounded by a perfect ring of rocks that are 7 meters aprart and the circle measures 757 meters in circumfrance. Thousands of years ago this, relatively phallic-looking, rock stood straight up and was used for many fertility rituals by the Tainos. Rumor has it that when the Spanish first arrived to the island the rock fell down. Since then the rock has never been erect, not even with the help of a cement foundation. Another eerie rumor is that once, when the rock was moved to be displayed in the Museum of Human History in Santo Domingo, there were seismic storms that did not cease until the rock was returned to its original spot.

YzYzz

I find this legend to be an extremely poignant metaphor in relation to the history of exploitation the violation of the island that began when the Spanish arrived. Not only did the Spanish rape and pillage the Tainos, they extracted the majority of gold from the island and continued to exploit the earth with sugar cane production. The environmental exploitation continues today with the extraction of natural resources through mining and tilling. Moreover, the tourist industry, a huge part of the Dominican Republic’s GDP, pollutes, disrupts, and kills delicate ecosystems while overusing scarce resources.   In a way the discovery of the new world has lead to the slow death of the new world through the exploitation of its people and environment.

2014-12-10 23.37.47

After stopping at the landmark we drove through beautiful farmland and up windy hillsides to get to the community. We made a quick stop at a market filled with colorful produce and homemade elixirs.  Upon arriving at the community we made many stops to chat with local community leaders. Sabrina gave us a tour of the projects that Bridges to Community has worked on such as building more classrooms and schools, constructing latrines, installing environmentally friendly stoves, and creating a collective organic farm to promote biodiversity along the deforested hillside. One project that was in progress was the construction of a youth center. Instead of using cement blocks, Sabrina had the idea to construct it from plastic water bottles filled with sand. Not only does this use less cement but it also repurposes discarded plastic bottles and shows the community how much they consume and throw away.

2014-12-10 23.46.35

We had the opportunity to attend community meetings with Sabrina and see what goes on behind the scenes of an organization like Bridges and the challenges organizations face when recreating a development model to function well in a different culture. We had an amazing lunch in the house of one of the community leaders who hosts and cooks for service groups. To say the least, lunch was spectacular. We also met the oldest person in the community who is somewhere between 104 and 108 years old. Although no one remembers when he was born, he remembers an epidemic that took place in 1914. He was still very sharp and extremely kind. I wish I had more time to speak with him.

2014-12-10 23.42.00

That evening Riley and I started our journey to Barahona, a small coastal city in the southwest of the country. We had to catch a guaguita and then change gauguitas half way through. On the first leg of the trip we drove through the countryside during sunset. We literally got to see the country through rose-tinted glasses. It was stunning! Everything glowed in the pink light. We arrived at Quince, a crossing point, and waited for the second guaguita for a long time. It starting to get darkre bought come casave and ate that with some peanut butter we bought from a women’s collective we passed along the way. It ended up being a surprisingly satisfying dinner.

We finally caught a packed guaguita just as the night became extremely dark. The bus was so packed that I had to sit on Riley’s lap almost the entire ride. We did make friends with a handful of Dominicans as we were all squeezed in the back of the bus. One of the young women on the bus offered to give us a ride to the hotel we were staying at seeing as it was unsafe to travel as foreigners at night in the city. We were extremely grateful and lucky to have met someone so kind. When we got to our hotel, we settled in and went to sleep within an hour. Unfortunately the hotel was located next to a gallero (a cock fighting club). The roosters started calling at 2am and did not stop all night. I stuffed paper towel in my ears which cut some of the sound. Let's just say we were not very well rested that morning.

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Early the next morning Riley and I made our way to San Rafael, a gorgeous beach 30 minutes outside Baraona. The ride there via guagua was breathtaking. The guaguita wove in and out of a jungle passing by small communities perched on the mountainsides with the stunning aquamarine Caribbean Sea twinkling in the morning light. Since there is no formal/ well-functioning postal service, guaguas often function as a local delivery service. It was interesting to see how our driver knew where and when to drop things off. We drove down to see the stunning beach just ahead. We got off the bus and walked down the hill to realized we were the only people on the beach except for the few people working at the fishshacks. It was beyond stunning. Instead of sand, the beach was covered in the smoothest rounded stones you could imagine. Walking along the beach was like getting a foot massage.  Although the giant waves made it a little too dangerous for swimming, the mist from the waves cooled us off as we rested on the warm smooth rocks. I had never been at such peace. Unfortunately we could only stay there for the morning since we had a long journey back to Santiago. Although the ride back was long and exhausting, it gave me ample time to reflect on all of what I had seen.

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Somehow Riley and I mustered up the energy to go out with our friends for one last time as a group that night. We had a blast and danced the night away. The days up until my departure were lived to the fullest. I was able to support my two best Dominican friends present their thesis, celebrate with them, spend time with my closest American friends and have an absolutely fabulous time. I lived in the present and learned how to appreciate the moment. Although the tear-filled good-byes pulled at my heartstrings, I know that the experiences I shared with my friends here and the depth of our friendships will be something that are going to last a life time.  

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12/05/2014

En la cocina con Arecelys

After partying to hard with my parents I ended up coming down with a pretty bad strep infection. Since getting sick I spent a week at home recovering. Although my sickness put a damper on going out and having fun with my friends I have learned a lot during my time at home.

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I got to spend some time in the kitchen with my host mom and I learned how to make some of my favorite Dominican dishes. My mom makes a killer berenjena (eggplant) dish that I have been dying to learn how to make. I diligently followed her around the kitchen taking notes on everything she told me. I love cooking and being an active participant in the kitchen but my host mom insists on doing all the grunt work and chopping. In the end, that was probably better because I was frantically trying to write down all her advice.

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She also taught me how to fry plátano maduro (ripe plantain) to perfection. The real skill is to know when your plantain is ripe enough for frying. Once you have that down you simply peal it, slice it, and throw it in the pan with some oil and you have a sweet treat.

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Being away from home for Thanksgiving pulled at my heart strings. This was the first year I was away from home for my favorite holiday. My mom and I usually spend days together cooking in the kitchen and catching each other up on all that happened during the past 3 months. But this year I learned how to make things that were not the traditional recipes we make for the holiday in the US. And although we do not have any snow here, the holiday decorations are in full swing, snowmen decorations and all!

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Another learning experience I had while I was sick was navigating a new healthcare system. At first I started my treatment by going to the clinic at the university. Seeing as my infection was extremely advanced I eventually had to seek out a specialist.

In the DR there are two types of facilities where you can go for treatment; clinics and hospitals. Generally clinics are much more affordable and are much easier to access. Hospitals on the other hand tend to be much more expensive and for people who can afford to pay for high quality care. I was lucky enough to have insurance and the financial ability to see a specialist.
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In order to see a doctor you do not call and make an appointment. Culturally, that just would not make sense. Instead, doctors have visitation hours and your appointments are determines on a first come first serve basis. I was able to get a good spot on the waiting list however the doctor showed up almost 2 hours late. Although staying in a chilly hospital was not ideal for a sick person I did get to observe a lot of things in the waiting room.

First of all, the waiting room in combined with that of many doctors. The room is filled with doors to different doctor’s offices with desks in front for the receptionists. Most of the people waiting were dressed quite nicely.  Many people were carrying copies of x-rays and other folders. There was a heartwarming interaction next to me as a young man read a pamphlet and prescription to an older woman who did not have her glasses. Most of the people waiting were adults and were with another person.

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When I was called in to see the doctor I walked into a room that was far more elegant than what I have ever seen in any medical facility. Behind a grandiose chestnut desk was my doctor. The whole room was rounded with beautiful dark wooden drawers.  I felt like I was in Downton Abbey, medical suite, DR addition. After looking at my throat in the fancy patient’s chair he gave me his diagnosis and a new prescription which included an injection of a steroid to reduce the swelling. To my surprise the injection prescribed is purchased at the pharmacy located downstairs and brought to a nurse to administer in the emergency ward. I navigated my way through the hospital and got everything I needed however it was a learning experience to not have everything simply brought to you as it is in the US.

Thankfully my treatment is working and I am finally getting better. I want to make the best of my last three weeks on the island. I am still in awe at how quickly time has flown by and am so grateful that I get another semester to continue living in this beautiful country!