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2 posts from February 2013


Retiro de Trabajo #1: Rio Grande Arriba


    What a weekend! We had our first Retiro de Trabajo in Rio Grande Arriba. I had no idea what to expect before we left, and I never could have imagined what we actually experienced. We left Santiago in the afternoon on Friday and were welcomed in Rio Grande about an hour and a half later. Members of the community gathered in the school to greet us and divide us into groups for home stays. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the community. Everyone seemed so welcoming and friendly and there really was a feeling of community in the room. They put two to four of us in each home, and before we took a tour of the community we went to our houses to drop our stuff off. The house that I stayed in with two other students was really cute. It was red and it opened up into the living room area. The woman that we stayed with was so sweet. She showed us where we would be sleeping and then made us some coffee. After a few minutes our group walked by and we left to join them for the walking tour. I think that this is when most of us really felt enchanted by el campo. The area was so lush and green. The people that we walked by all gave us a smile or said hello. The air smelled clean, something that you don't experience much in Santiago. When there was a bad smell it was the smell of an animal, not the smell of garbage. We walked up to the site of last semester's project to get an idea of what we would be doing, and by the time we were heading back the sun was starting to go down. This was the best part of the first day for me. The stars and moon were so bright that they cast shadows. I can't even get a view of the sky like that back home. It was really, really incredible. I also saw a firefly for the first time in my life - something that I was maybe a little too excited about. I think the best feeling was walking with two other women and not feeling scared or unsafe. That is something that I really miss from home. Walking at night in the warm air with friends, not worrying about anything. We walked up to a colmado where we ate dinner and chatted until Ryan and José pulled us into a meeting space to have a small conversation before we all headed to sleep. I really appreciated this part of the trip as well. They facilitated two discussions, one each night, that really got me thinking about what it meant to be where I was and to be who I was, and how I can use that to find my place in the world. This wasn't the direct subject of the discussion, but the material that we covered really struck a chord with me and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. These conversations can end up being dry and cheesy, or over-facilitated, but we were able to have a conversation that felt really organic. It was really the perfect way to end the night.

    The next day we woke up early to eat breakfast at our home stays and head to the work site. So far this blog post has made this trip seem like a dream, but I have to admit that there were parts that were really difficult. We were building an aquaduct to provide Rio Grande Arriba with easier access to clean water. We were on a beautiful mountain side, but we were doing hard physical labor for a large part of the day, sometimes in the sun. There were parts that were rewarding, but there were also points where it got really frustrating to be a woman trying to do manual labor in a community where that usually just doesn't happen. There were times when I felt like I was just in the way, times when men would skip the women in the procession line to hand heavy things down the hill, and times when the men would make comments about our ability to work. It got to be really frustrating at points, but it did lead to a really interesting and thought provoking discussion that night. I often have to remind myself that I am living in a totally different culture, very unlike the one that I left behind in Portland, Oregon. At times this is hard to understand. This doesn't mean that I have to accept the things that bother me, but it does mean that I have to be open to discussion about them. This did not mean that the day was wasted though! We all worked hard, sucked on lots of cacao, and in the end we went and had a beer with Ryan and some of the people from the community while we chatted and some of us played cards. I was exhausted and slept like a baby that night.

    Sunday, the final day, was another early morning. We headed up to the site at about 8:30, and worked until about 1. I felt a lot more useful and a lot more productive, trying to help with a little bit of everything. Despite how sore we all were from the day before, we all worked hard and finally got the aquaduct that we were building finished. There were points when it felt like it would be impossible to finish, but when it was over time felt like it had flown by. We packed up and headed down the hill, sweaty but happy. A few of us got to ride a horse parts of the way down, which I hadn't done since I was much younger. I had a huge smile pasted on my face the whole way down. We returned to our homes, packed up our stuff and headed back to the colmado for sancocho and fresh jugo de guayaba. Most of us weren't ready to go back to Santiago. The sense of community that we felt in el campo was something that is hard to find in a big city. We were all hot and dirty, but it was well worth it to stay where we were. Despite this, we had to say goodbye and climb back in the guagua for our trip home. We have now started another school week in Santiago. My muscles are still a little sore from the work that we did, and right now I am using this as a reminder not to stop thinking about the things that we talked about and thought about this weekend. My hope as I continue on into my week and month is that although in a couple of days the physical reminder will be gone, I will continue to think about this experience and what I want it to mean for me as I continue my journey in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic, and further on into the world.



Samaná (Pt 1)


¿Qué lo qué? (what's up?). This weekend we had a great, great adventure to a wonderful land called Samaná, which is on the northeastern part of the island and is part of the Samaná Bay. (See the map below- I am in Santiago, which is closer to the northern part of the country, while Samaná is to the east, near where it says Oceano Atlantico on the map).

We spent the entire weekend at an amazing resort called Hotel Colibri (which means hummingbird). The rooms were really cool because they were basically mini-apartments, complete with a kitchen, tv, balcony, and everything. The view from my room was spectacular, it was almost unreal. It was a four hour drive to get there, so we had to leave reaaaaly early in the morning...but it was totally worth it. So the first day, we went on a little excursion, and we had the choice between going on a hike to a waterfall or visiting a neighborhood that was populated by former African-American slaves who were invited to live in the DR while it was under Haitian rule. I went with the latter option and had an amazing time. There were roughly 2,000 ex-slaves who took up the offer and moved to Santa Barbara de Samaná. The neighborhood is called Barrio Willmore. It was really interesting because they mostly kept up a lot of their Southern-American customs, like speaking English (though nowadays the younger generations are kind of losing that), eating Johnnycake, and having traditional American names (for example Johnson, Smith, etc.). We spoke with a woman named Martha Willmore, who's great-grandparents came to this country. It was pretty incredible because many of these slaves came during the 1820s I believe, which means her family members lived for an absurd amount of time. She swears some of her relatives lived until 149, and she herself is in her 80s. The other interesting thing is that while they speak English, they speak an "old English" that people spoke in the 1800s. I guess I hadn't thought about it too much, but for some reason I had envisioned them speaking today's English and stuff. It makes sense, though, that they would speak an antiquated version of English- the English they learned came from their parents and grandparents, who left the U.S. in the 19th century! Isn't that crazy?

The view of the ocean as we were driving to Samaná DSC00124 Cool motorcycle I saw There was also a cave on the side of the highway!

The road that led us to Samaná Beautiful! The view from my hotel room! You could see the pool and the ocean simultaneously DSC00142
The road that led us to Samaná.  The view from my hotel room!  You could see the pool and the ocean simultaneously
the balcony DSC00145 Cool art on the way to lunch DSC00154

DSC00155 DSC00156 calamari, chicken, rice, beans, veggies, bread, and fruit for dessert Martha Willmore's house
                                                                                                                                     Martha Willmore’s house
DSC00162 DSC00163 She made us English bread, which was DELICIOUS Group photo
                                                  She made us English bread (it was DELICIOUS)    Group photo
This is the house she was born and raised in DSC00167 DSC00168 Our hotel was right on the beachThis is the house she was born and raised in                                          Our hotel was right on the beach

DSC00170 The hotel was so fancy, we walked on clovers not grass!
The hotel was so fancy, we walked on clovers not grass!

Our tour guide also gave us some more insights into the culture in Santa Barbara de Samaná: not only is their English an old English, but it also has French/Haitian influences since Haiti shares the island, Caribbean English, and of course Spanish. In addition to speaking English at home,the descendants of these former slaves had to learn Spanish in school and to converse with other Dominicans. It was also enlightening to learn that many of the younger kids are kind of rejecting learning English and instead would rather speak just Spanish. There's a lot of history there. For example, the reason the Haitian president Boyer invited the slaves there was to "populate" (there were already indigenous people living there, hence the quotation marks) the area so it wouldn't be overrun by the French again. And I bet there's a bunch more. But anyway, Martha was very sweet and in really good health for a woman her age. She was telling us about growing up in Samaná back in the day. In fact, until a few years ago she lived and grew up in the house her father had built for mother way, way long ago. Fascinating!

After that, we had a beautiful dinner on the beach. I had a delicious meal that consisted of coconut shrimp, french fries, bread, and chocolate mousse for dessert. The food in itself was awesome, but being on the beach made it even better!! After that, we hung out and just relished in being on an amazing beach and sweet hotel for the weekend.

Part two coming soon,