You came to the Dominican Republic quiet, inquisitive, nervously taking in your new surroundings and each other. Dealing with the oppressive heat and your clumsy baggage, for some of you this was the first time travelling to a new country. You stepped forward bravely into an experience that would irrevocably change you.
Our first order of business was to rest at the delightfully strange Hostel Primaveral. The gorgeous rooms, comfortable beds, working internet, fresh water and five-star breakfast lifted spirits enough for the long drive towards chicken, rice and beans. I remember some of you saying you could eat it for every meal. That you love chicken, rice and beans. Little did you know you this was reality. Chicken, rice and beans in all of its glory was your world.
You arrived at Hotel Quemaito with skin that would soon be a bug bitten, rash infested, puss oozing, sun burned blanket of misery wrapped around your tired muscles. And so the work began. The laboratory at Cachon was the first taste of labor under a relentless sun. Without a drop of sweat Billy and his fellow Dominicans ran circles around us as we mixed cemento. You played soccer with the children. You began to form lasting friendships.
The days roll on. We asked hard questions, searched for Bills shirts, and went grocery shopping. We explored the jungles and rivers of Los Patos, lost our glasses in the sea, and found that we could work as a team in the clinics. Vitals and interviews and pharmacies and doctors mixed with chaos and broken Spanish. We overcame our egos while working toward a common goal and in the process started exhibiting the traits of leaders.
We got paint on our skin and clothes. The Dalmatian Wall was completed and made glorious with our hand prints. We climbed the hill for our water and listened to our mentors say “attention to detail” too many times to count. Chicken and rice and beans for lunch. For dinner: chicken rice and beans. And mangoes.
The bustling Haitian Market. Dusty and over-crowded. Salted fish and motos. Tight avenues of stands selling shampoo, pink sandals, soda. Every smell. The border was a dynamic and exciting thing to behold. We observed the stark differences between Haitian and Dominican culture. How could this small island be so diverse? We were also observed in this space. Curious shoppers and store owners speaking at us or just looking. Uncomfortable for some but valuable for all.
We spent an afternoon in a strange alien landscape with trees caked in beehive formations of calcium. An old town lost in the depths of that salt. Brown and murky, the apex predator of that place swam about with his eyes on us. The boat meandered its way through interstices of dead branches and we watched him float lazily in the heat. On the land, stranger still. The population of chameleon made this desert seem less like the Dominican and more like Jurassic Park.
The bus journey. Samuel was our captain. He bravely navigated unpredictable roadways and traffic. Potholes and speedbumps. He begrudgingly put up with our pop music that had blown his speakers into smithereens after a summer of sing-a-longs. As a group we listened to the same twenty rap songs on repeat everyday with open windows. Being a DJ would be an easy job in our generation. If medicine doesn’t pan out we could blast T. Cole (or whatever) at high school reunions and get paid like 200 bucks a gig if we’re lucky. Anyway, Gracias Samuel.
For much of this time we wondered what kind of impact we had if any, and began to realize the true impact might be the one formed on us. Through films, lectures, and mentor groups we thought deeply about the problems facing not only ourselves but the world. How could we go back to our own communities and begin to make them better? What kind of leaders would we be? How can we produce a sustainable future for all? It is our hope that these more difficult questions can one day be answered.
For whatever reason you initially came to the Dominican Republic, whether it be to blandly spruce up your resume, or because your parents made you, or you have a genuine curiosity about the world, a desire to help, we hope that this morphed and changed. Like much of life there might not have been an Aha! moment for you in the past two weeks. Good! Go home and think. Process. Invent. Reinvent. Challenge your own assumptions and look into the mirror! Like all good challenging things, we hope this trip made you think critically and deeply about the world and its inhabitants. We hope you made friendships and contacts, and that your curiosity and respect for the wonders of this planet have increased.
Lastly, we (Emily, Jonathan and Chelsea) would like to thank you for changing us. We were constantly impressed from day one. Your infectious energy helped us persevere through sickness. When things didn’t go to plan you always rallied. You displayed a willingness to grow and think. If we could bottle your inquisitiveness and sell it, we would. Thank you for coming and being a part of our program and more importantly our lives. We hope to see or hear from you and wish you all the best.