Aboard the plane to the Dominican Republic, my mind was engulfed with images of barren cities and hunger stricken citizens. The entire demeanor of the country that I envisioned was desolate and defeated. When I stepped into the airport terminal out of the air conditioned United Airlines jet, I hit a wall of seemingly solid humidity and after more then a minute of discomfort, met the gaze of a small boy eagerly holding with outstretched arms, a wooden box filled with cleaning materials. After a brief conversation in my broken Spanish I gathered that the boy wanted to clean my shoes. The boy left with double the paesos he had requested and a grin that shone out of his dark face. The transaction left me with a pair of shoes red from some unsuccessful cleaning product and myriad new emotions to process.
The bus ride from Santa Domingo to the small mountain town of La Descubierta whizzed by in a blur of strange, stunning and quirky sights from thickets of tropical forests that captivated my eager gaze to the outrageous acts of the populace in the cities we passed through. The late night arrival in La Descubierta was met with my great relief to be off of the dangerously top heavy bus teetering down a mountain road in the dark with broken headlights. I was greeted by a noisy, warm, voluptuous women who was to be my mother and a happily rounded, always smiling man who was to be my father. They led me to their corner store that blared music despite the late hour. Above the store was a house in which I was given my own room while three of the women shared a bed in the room next door. No matter how much I protested this I was not allowed to give up my bed.
Over the course of the next two weeks I learned how many things the poor posses that Americans have forsaken in exchange for their numerous wants. Rather then sitting alone in a room playing video games, I engaged the local children in thunderous domino games. Rather then watching an action movie on T.V., I experienced a cock fight in the narrow back alleys of La Descubierta. Rather then swimming in a secluded backyard chlorine pool, I dove into the refreshing mountain river that the entire community diverged to during the scorching midday. Rather then watching life from my house, I lived it with colorful, affectionate people. The ageless poverty cost the people of the Dominican Republic much, however it could not touch their exuberant enthusiasm for life.
The trip was not without its share of emotional turmoil. The truck ride over the mountains from the Dominican Republic to Haiti saw the lush green countryside disfigure into a scarred and windswept terrain. The battle between the Haitian people and disease was visible. Young children having their first encounter with a white person fled the area in terror from the presumed “ghosts.” The pain of the Hatian people was difficult to bear witness to. Inspiration was to be taken however, from the hope that still prevailed within their weary souls. The trip of only a few hours provided me a lifetime of perspective.
My journey to the Dominican Republic was a vital one to me, not only because of what I experienced there, but because of the ideals I brought back. The Dominicans are outdoor, front-yard people, rather then indoor, back-yard people. The front of ones house has infinitely more space then the back, as I was told by my mother Sondra.
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