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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).


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. 

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



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