Dajabón and Montecristi
Once a semester we visit the border town of Dajabón to see the bustling free market exchange between Dominican and Haitian vendors. It’s a mandatory part of the popular “Dominican and Haitian Relations” class, but the majority of our students usually come. Some go to observe the intense market conditions, while many others are eager to test their bartering skills at buying anything from clothing and clutches to cookware. This particular visit occurred in close succession to a recent controversial Dominican Supreme Court ruling that made many Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless. In late October, the market was shut down due to this political posturing and various other disagreements between the two nations. We went after things had settled down and there was no danger of violence because seeing the market first hand gives our students a one-of-a-kind chance to observe how poverty and diplomatic relations manifest in the commercial sector.
While the morning experience was spent in the chaotic market, the afternoon portion of the day trip provided just the respite one needed afterwards. We left Dajabón midday and drove one hour back to Montecristi, where we enjoyed a relaxing buffet lunch at Comedor Adele. The restaurant is located inside a former June 14th Movement organizer’s home and its walls are covered with memorabilia and newspaper articles from the revolutionary movement against Trujillo’s dictatorship. As soon as we finished lunch, we drove a short way to one of the most unique and secluded beaches in the D.R., the Playa Detras del Morro. This beach stands out from the majority of palm-tree-lined beaches on the island, having a rocky shoreline that juts out between two rock faces, leaving just enough beach access for students to sunbathe or test their luck with the rolling waves that come crashing in close to the shore. All in all, a well-balanced day of education and diversion.
Wednesday evening, November 20th, CIEE’s Santiago Study Center joined PUCMM’s Office of International Students to sponsor the screening of the groundbreaking documentary, Girl Rising. Members from the campus community included local and international students as well as faculty, who attended the screening and subsequent dialogue after the film was shown. There were some stellar observations made by members of the audience, who exchanged their thoughts on the film´s revelations of how an educated female population reduces conflicts and increases health and prosperity in the community.
Thanksgiving Day in the D.R.
No, Dominicans don´t celebrate Thanksgiving Day, but they sure love the U.S. American typical foods that are served on Thanksgiving Day! Every year CIEE Liberal Arts hosts a huge Thanksgiving luncheon at Lynne´s house for our students, their professors, and the administrators at PUCMM. Lunch features not one but two huge stuffed-and-roasted turkeys, baked ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, and all the other trimmings—students bring the side dishes—including a wide variety of desserts. It´s a delicious way to celebrate our “academic family” here in Santiago de los Caballeros and thus help our students (and staff!) to not get depressed because they can´t celebrate the holiday with their loved ones back home.
Winter arrived early in the U.S., but here in the Dominican Republic it was (still is!) hot and sunny when we headed out early on Friday morning, November 22, for our deluxe 3-day weekend in the Samaná Peninsula. Our route led us across the new Boulevard Atlántico, a gorgeous highway carved through the mountains along the Northern Atlantic Coast of the Peninsula, with stunning views of the palm-lined coast, a coast that is still untouched by the modern age, although in another five years it will probably be wall-to-wall resorts. We also stopped to briefly explore a beautiful cave that had no opening to the outside world until a year and a half ago, when contractors blasted a “window” into it to build the highway. Once in Las Terrenas, we checked into the colorful Apartahotel Colibri (colibri is the indigenous word for “hummingbird”), followed by lunch at Barrio Latino, then we travelled to the nearby mountain town of El Limón to hike up, up, up with naturalist Victorino (some of the students opted to ride up on horses) to the beautiful Salto Limón waterfall. We ate at seaside tables on the beach of Playa Eden that night—sheer bliss! Saturday we all enjoyed crossing the Bahía de Samaná by boat to visit the Bird Islands, where both permanent and visiting birds such as pelicans and frigates build their nests and have their babies, and circle about seeking fish. Then we anchored in a quiet bay beside the San Gabriel Cave. Half the group went kayaking up a mangrove-filled river while the other half explored the cave—we switched places after lunch. Since being on the water always makes one hungry, no one said “no” to the scrumptious Spanish dinner we had that night—sangría, chorizo and Spanish tortillas, two kinds of paella, and warm brownies for dessert, topped with ice cream and chocolate-caramel sauce.
Sunday was a free day for the students to relax or swim in the hotel´s pool or at its private beach, or to explore the other delightful beaches and stores in the region. The students were given a stipend
to eat what and where they wanted for lunch. At two o´clock, we had to be packed and on the bus for the return to Santiago—no one really wanted to leave, for Samaná is like the universal dream of Paradise, but of course we had the last week of classes to return to, final exams… and warm memories of sunny Samaná.
Fiesta de Despedida, December 10th
The last couple of months of the CIEE Liberal Arts students´ fall 2013 immersion in Santiago´s academic, family, and socio-cultural life seemed to fly by! All too soon it was time for our Return to the U.S.A. /Reverse Culture Shock Workshop, followed by a very lively Fiesta de Despedida. Diana from Our Lady of the Elms College and Kassandra from St. John Fisher College were our hostesses for the evening –an evening filled with thank you´s, some of which were so poignant that they brought tears to our eyes, plus lots of dancing to lively Dominican music, delicious food, and wonderful company. Helping us to celebrate another successful CIEE semester with our staff and students were some of their host family members, our beloved drivers, several members of PUCMM´s Estudiantes de Apoyo (volunteers), professors, and some of PUCMM´s administrators—including Mercedes Muñóz, who has been Director of PUCMM´s Office of International Students for the past several years, but who, as of January 1st, will be Academic Director for our CIEE Service Learning program!