Friday, June 4, 2010
27. Visit the Dominican Republic, Part II: Some Things I'll Miss (and a Few I Won't)
We've been back in the US about a week, and our group has been in touch with each other in a seemingly endless stream of commentary about the things we miss terribly from our trip. It seems only fitting to immortalize some of them in the Blogosphere. So here are my Top Five Things I'll Miss (and three that I won't).
Three Things I Won't Cry For:
3. Mud. We had been told when we arrived that the Ocoa region had been suffering from a drought, and the rain arrived with us. Good for local agriculture, not so much for Americans with our stereotypical preoccupation with cleanliness. It was really just an inconvenience, but it was a bit comical to go outside and "bathe" in our swimsuits only to walk through the mud and track it all over our house with our mud-encrusted feet. The mud got so deep that most nights we just took our mud-caked shoes off once we got to the bar and danced barefoot.
2. Cock Fighting. I don't think many human societies are particularly caring to their fellow species, and ours is awfully bad when you think of practices like factory farming and our meat packing industry. But in other places I think the forms of cruelty are less hidden, and in our village, one of its prominent forms was the local past time of cock fighting. A neighbor a few doors down had a very successful fighter, and he explained some of the procedures to us, such as cutting off the crest from the head of the rooster (so it couldn't be attacked) and plucking the feathers from the legs (so extra razors couldn't be hidden there). I've included a photo of something that startled us on our first walk home from the work site -- chicken feet tied to the laundry line. We later learned that this was the final indignity inflicted upon losing birds.
1. Los Ratones. As I mentioned in the previous DR post, the clear winner in the struggle over night-time supremacy was the rats, who had the group collectively terrified in the beginning and engaged in something like mortal combat by the end of the trip. The room that held the bunks of Korinne, Ashley, Katelyn and Carolyn looks so innocuous by day, but that's the one with the most rat visitations at night. Also pictured here, because he was so cute not because he in any way affected the rats, is a photo of our most ineffective weapon --Davito, the kitten lent to us by some neighbors on hearing of our saga.
Five Things I Really Miss:
5. The Idea of Community. All of us talked at great length about how strange it was at first, and then how wonderful, to be in a setting where constant communal interaction was the norm. We marvelled at how quickly we grew to appreciate the ways it changed our everyday experiences -- from being expected to interrupt a walk to sit down and have tiny cups of sweet local coffee at anyone's house who invited you; to comforting any child in the neighborhood who had taken a spill; to being handed a baby to hold while its mother turned her attention to the rice and beans being cooked over the three-stones outdoor fire for everyone at the work site.
4. Tropical Beauty. Maybe it's coming from the austerity of New England, but I definitely romanticize tropical places and in the DR that's easy to do. The ocean, the mountains, the lush vegetation, and the vibrancy of the culture all seem connected to the tropical location in lovely ways.
3. Dancing. Not something I would have predicted, but that's the beauty of travel and new experiences. Just about everyone in the village participated, and as temporary villagers, we did too. I think the experience was a highlight for all of us, actually.
4. The Other Ten. As with other MOVE Volunteer Trips, we ended most nights with a group reflection, and one of our favorite things was the chance to do "snaps". But Erin got sick on the last night of the trip, and we cancelled our last reflection. So here's one last snap on behalf of my ten fabulous friends with whom I shared the mud, the rats, the construction, the dancing and incredible experiences of ten intense days. Here's to:
Tom, who modeled for the rest of us what it means to be a truly kind and compassionate person, and who's performance at the airport on the last day of the trip was certainly worthy of an academy award;
Erin, who taught me volumes about putting the needs of her students before herself, and who showed me how to lead with a light touch wherein she somehow managed to both keep herself in the background and still be a constant positive presence in everything the group did;
Carolyn, who caught the eye and then the heart of Jose Luis when she taught the village of Los Palmaritos an array of new dance moves, with the same sense of humor and fun she brought to everything during the trip;
Kate, who always seemed to know just what to do, whether it was displaying an amazing aptitude for new skills on the dance floor (all the while protesting that she wasn't) or knowing when it was time to take the flashlight away from Carolyn;
Eireann, who showed the same impressive level of poise at the work site as she did in connecting with the children of the village who adored her, and in shutting down the attentions of some ridiculously insistent macho men;
Mark, the king of the one-liner, who cheerfully carried most of the village children on his back at one point or other;
David, whose hilarious "Dear Ethan" letters and general commentary had us all dying of laughter, which was the best possible antidote to the rats who competed for our bed space each night;
Joy-Ann, who put a smile on her face in spite of being sick, was entrusted with babies by village women who had just met her but immediately invited her into their homes and always figured out how to be in the right place at the right time;
Korinne, who was literally the life-blood of the group. We all depended on her phenomenal language skills (and equally great general ability to communicate with anyone) as much as the villagers did, and she never let any of us down, or even acted fatigued by the insistent cries of "Korinne!" from morning till night by Americans and Dominicans alike who needed her help.
And finally, to Ashley (or Ass-Lee, as the people of Los Palmaritos insisted on calling her). If she goes back to the village there is a good chance that they won't let her go next time. She is the embodiment of the word "ambassador" and I don't think I've ever seen anyone become so beloved by an entire community so quickly.
5. Los Palmaritos. For everyone in our group, I think our vision of the Dominican Republic will be this small mountain village that we fell in love with in less than a week. Each of us made special bonds with special people there. I'll always carry memories of Yorkis, who taught me construction during the day and dancing at night and Spanish all the time, and who picked me up and carried me over muddy streams and slippery rocks as if I were visiting royalty. And as much as we'll all remember specific people we'll also remember with an equal measure of love their home, and harbor the hope that we'll be back someday.