Although CIEE may cost a little more than other study abroad programs, the amazing experiences that they manage to provide makes it worth it. On the Thursday night before the trip to the Hermanas Mirabal Museum, we made our way out to Puerta del Sol, one of our favorite restaurants/ liquor stores in Santiago. I ate a delicious sandwich and washed it down with a healthy serving of Dominican Rum. The rum here is wonderful and although the novelty of being able to drink here is lost on me (I am 22 and am able to drink state side) it is quite affordable. We took taxis to Ryan’s apartment or what his roommate introduced as the “La Mansión.” With the help of the taller students in the group a white sheet was soon hung and we took seats on the couches, plastic chairs, and hard tile floors as In the Time of the Butterflies or En el Tiempo de Las Mariposas began to play across the makeshift projector screen. The movie was both beautiful and sad. We turned on the lights, revealing the tears in our eyes which we quickly dabbed away as we discussed what we had seen and what was truth and what was Hollywood embellishment. Ryan’s roommate let us try a little of his special organic rum and we smoked a cigar on the back patio overlooking the neighborhood and talked in Spanish about America, about the Dominican Republic, about our lives, goals, relationships, and about love. All the while, the dark city sky, bleached of stars, hung above us and the hour hand on the clock made its journey around and around.
We had left for the Hermanas Mirabal museum at eight thirty the next morning. I hadn’t returned home until almost 2am and my body dragged and pitied itself for its lack of rest. The Museum is the Mirabal sister’s second home where they had resided in the later part of their childhood and early adulthood. For those who don’t know, the Mirabal sisters are Dominican icons. They lived during the time of Trujillo’s reign in the 50’s and early 60’s and worked trying to remove the dictator from power and restore freedom in the country. For their rebellion, they spent time in prison and were eventually assassinated, leaving behind their children and one of the four sisters. It was six months after their death that Trujillo was killed. The tour guide took us into the house , still filled with their belongings. The china was set out on the table, the living room furniture sat empty and ready to be filled, there were personal possessions on all of their unslept in beds, and aside from all the glass cases , it looked as though the sisters could return home at any moment and continue about their normal routine. It was haunting to walk on the same floors where they once stood and even more haunting to see the blood stained clothing scrap from the murder site. I could imagine that white piece of cloth hang drying out front all those years ago, but now it is dark and stiff with the blood spilled on that fateful day. In one of the bedrooms, preserved in a glass box, lay the braid of María Teresa which the living sister, Dede, had cut from her head in the morgue. Her hair had been her pride and even today, even removed from her head, it is awesome and beautiful. It was hard to keep the tears from coming as we walked through the shell of a home that had once held so much power and beauty. Everywhere there are butterflies, the symbol of the Hermanas Mirabal, comemerating their lives and their impact. Outside is a lovely garden with monuments in tribute to the heroines and we browsed through the statues and flowers under the hot Dominican sun.
We drove to the next site and highlight of the day, the home of Dede. Dede now lives in the Mirabal’s first home and is a lovely and inviting woman who was kind enough to spend her afternoon with our group. Dede’s home is surrounded by a beautiful collection of flowers and trees. We crowded onto her front patio and pulled up pieces of her matching patio furniture. Dede sat in her chair in the shade. Even at 86 she is absolutely radiant. Her hair is well kept and her makeup is flawless. I timidly took a seat right next to her, the powdery smell of her perfume wafting through the calm breeze. She talked and joked with us a little and let us ask her questions in our broken Spanish. Unfortunately, she had trouble understanding us Americans and many of our questions had to be conveyed with the help of Mibra and Ryan. She answered everything quickly, reapplying her lipstick in between questions. After fifty years, she has been asked it all and the newness of the pain has left. Dede really is an amazing woman, she didn’t just raise her own kids, but also raised those of her sisters. Many of the children went on to become prominent political figures here in the Dominican Republic. When we ran out of questions, a few bashfully asked for autographs and pictures. She probably posed for seventy photos that day but she held it together with grace and charm. We took one group photo and I was flattered when she told me to take the seat in front of her. She rubbed her hand across my back and rested it on my shoulder, giving me goose bumps despite the hot weather. She has been through so much and conquered it all, I can only hope to become half of the woman she is at 86. When we came home our Facebook pages were all covered in Hermanas Mirabal quotes and photos, the story is inspirational and has stolen all of our hearts.