I’ve come to the conclusion that few things feel better than a cool bucket shower after a long day of travel, especially if you’re badly sunburned and your host mom served you hot chocolate for dinner…
But anyway, this weekend was a great success. Each trainee was assigned to visit a current volunteer in our sector Thursday through Sunday. I got to visit Kaitlyn in El Pino, Dajabón!
I packed light, and took a guagua early Thursday morning towards the capital to catch a Caribe Tour bus. The ride lasted about five hours and was really pretty seamless – decently clean, plenty of room, except it was freezing cold!!!! After meeting Kaitlyn at the station in Villa de los Almácigos, we took a short guagua ride to her house.
She lives with her newly adopted puppy Charlie in a cute, open, two-bedroom house in the pueblo next to El Pino, where her office and various community groups are based. She introduced me to her friend Vidal, who lives nearby and is the regional leader of Escojo Mi Vida, a Peace Corps initiative about sexual health education for youth. The three of us took it easy the rest of the day – getting to know each other, playing cards, listening to music, sitting out on the porch, and so on – it felt great to get out of the city, away from the dust and noise, and to take a break from training. Towards the end of the night, Kaitlyn mentioned that despite living in the campo, she really hadn’t seen too many creepy crawlies.
So of course, when I walk towards the kitchen a couple minutes later what do I see? A tarantula. I’m an animal lover, but these things are gross. And hairy. And huge. Kaitlyn and I immediately took to screeching, as any other right-minded person would do, but thankfully Vidal came to the rescue and killed it with a broom. I will die a happy lady if I never have to do that by myself, because that explosive, popping sound gave me the heeeeeeeeeebie jeebies.
The next day Kaitlyn, Vidal, and I headed to the city of Dajabón to check out its well-known weekly market. On our way we bumped into another PCV who happened to be from Vermont – small world!
Sidebar: Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispanola. Given that it was the first place Christopher Columbus landed in the New World, the two countries share more history than any others in the hemisphere. The Dominican Republic, about 2/3 of the island, was settled by Spain; Haiti, though settled by the French, was populated mostly by African slaves. In 1822, Haiti invaded the Dominican Republic, occupying the territory until the DR proclaimed its independence in 1844.
“First landmass colonized by Spain, one of the last to receive it’s independence, and not from Spain, but from a former colony – Haiti.”
In 1861, the DR reverted back to colonial status, primarily to avoid further Haitian annexation; Dominican independence from Spain was restored in 1865. Now, in present day, there is still controversy between the two countries, especially regarding immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. In general, Haitians are blatantly discriminated against and are treated as second-class citizens. For example, many are pulled off busses and asked to prove their citizenship, which often is not accepted until the military personnel receive an adequate sum of money. Even if a Haitian is born in the Dominican Republic, he/she is still not necessarily guaranteed a birth certificate, or citizenship. Ultimately, what it boils down to is skin color, but what boggles my mind is that many Dominicans in fact are of African decent. Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the DR for over 30 years who killed thousands of Haitians to “whiten” the country, was part Haitian.
Anyway, what inspired this history lesson is that the city of Dajabón lies right on the border of Haiti. With the river as a natural boundary, Haitians cross over every Monday and Friday to sell their goods in a large warehouse-like building. The market was a must-see experience, and though it’s impossible to put into words exactly what it was like, I can tell you that I’ve never in my life felt so overwhelmed, or white. There were thousands of people, hustling through mazes of aisles and stalls, selling everything under the sun. I unfortunately didn’t bring my camera, but even so, a picture couldn’t do this market justice. There was lots of shoving, bumping, and shouting (in Creole). We squeezed through spaces when we could, trying to avoid aggressively-driven wheelbarrows, pick-pocketing children, and overly-persistent salespeople. So much heat from overly-crowded bodies combined with the unforgiveably-blaring sun, plus the widest range of smells: body odor, various spices, chickens, dust, fruits and veggies (both ripe and past their prime), wood smoke, any and all cuts of meat, trash, fried food, smoked fish, stagnant water, and motorcycle gas. Two words: sensory overload. We bought some veggies for dinner from various vendors on the outside of the warehouse, then wandered inside where there was a bit more breathing room. It was incredible. You could find anything in that place from Hollister clothes to bed sheets to blenders to Matryoshka dolls. A lot of the goods turned out to be donated items, sent to Haiti through various international relief programs. I was secretly keeping my eye out for someone with a Woodstock Lacrosse shirt on, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. The whole thing was kind of a Wal-Mart meets pawn shop/Salvation Army meets farmers market meets border patrol. Finding our way out was definitely the most stressful part. We didn’t pick a very good route because, as it turned out, we were heading in the same direction of the border crossing. We finally made it out safely, but it took us a good 20 minutes of navigating, standing our ground, and contorting. And then we were almost the victims of a dog fight. We laughed about all the chaos over corny jokes and a jumbo Presidente.
The rest of the weekend was far less stressful. Playing guitar, sipping coffee on her porch, playing with Charlie, cooking, reading, chatting (and drinking cherry juice!) with Kaitlyn’s awesome neighbors, and swimming! Vidal took us to a great swimming hole on Saturday morning. After walking 40 minutes or so, we got to a river with rocks to jump off from. It reminded me of summers in Vermont, and was most definitely worth the sunburn.
I bid adios to Kaitlyn around 10 this morning, promising her neighbors that I’d come back someday to visit. Can’t wait to see the progress she’ll have made, and hopefully she comes to visit me at my future site 🙂 On the bus back to Santo Domingo, I sat next to a man with an innocent-looking white sack at his feet. Turns out there was a chicken inside. He went on to tell me that she was a very high-quality chicken who had ‘given birth’ to some prestigious cock-fighting roosters. He was going to the capital to breed her so she could lay some more champions.
On that note, I’m off to bed. Pardon the long post, but it was quite a weekend. We have one week left of training here, then it’s off to CBT in Monte Plata! Hasta pronto amigos!!
qué le dijo el pez al hombre que se estaba ahogando? nada…