Following a long night spent in the New York City airport, it was so amazing to walk out of the Santiago airport and be greeted by warm weather! I never thought that I would be so grateful for humidity! Dana and Jon, the Yspaniola representatives, met us outside the airport with fresh pineapple and bananas they had just bought at the market, a wonderful and delicious surprise. As we traveled to our hotel, it was immediately noticeable just how different life in the DR is from the US. The towns we drove through were very poor, possibly poorer than I had expected.
It surprised me when I was told that we had reached Santiago. Being that it is a major city, I expected a more tourist-oriented environment but witnessed quite the opposite. I learned that while Santiago is a major city in the DR, it is not built for tourism and therefore does not have the features I expected to find in a city.
We then got to walk around the city quite a bit before lunch. I will admit that it was very uncomfortable being a member of a group of 10 Americans walking down the main streets in Santiago. People immediately approached us for money or were yelling at us from across the street. What was really cool though was that while walking around, we ran into four girls from the Batey that Dana knows. They were in the city for the graduation ceremony of one of the Yspaniola scholars, Julio. I later learned that Julio is the first Yspaniola scholar to graduate college. I can only imagine how important of a day it must have been for both him and the Batey.
Then it was lunch time! It is safe to say that I always had a full stomach after meals in the DR. I made sure to clean my plate, as I am preparing myself for leaving clean plates at my host family’s house. I have heard that Timami, my host mother, enjoys it when her guests eat all of their food. I think I could talk for paragraphs alone on how rich and flavorful the food here is, but I’ll save your taste buds the trouble! What was really interesting about lunch was that little children were standing outside of the restaurant selling stuff and staring at us while we ate. It was hard not to look at them. I felt bad for them when I realized that this is what they do everyday.
Our group also got a visit from a stray cat during lunch. The animal situation here is quite interesting in that there have been a number of stray dogs and cats I have seen wandering throughout the city. This was also the case during a winter service trip I took to Puerto Rico this past year. It is such a culture shock to see the dozens of hungry dogs and cats stranded on the streets.
zzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzz….It was siesta time! Having had minimal sleep in the last 24 hours, everyone came to the conclusion that rest was necessary before dinner.
Before heading to dinner, we walked quite a ways to a monument constructed by Trujillo, an infamous dictator of the DR, for himself during his reign. There were a bunch of stairs to get up to the monument, but once at the top the view was breathtaking. Unfortunately, the gates to the monument itself were locked, so we were unable to climb up higher. We hung out and watched the sun set over the mountains, a memory I will never forget.
For dinner, you guessed it! We had tostones (fried plantains) and chicken! I honestly do not think that I could ever get sick of this food. Ask me again in a week and my answer may change! We finished the day off with some ice cream and got to bed early. It is crazy to think that we have only been in the Dominican Republic for a little over 12 hours! We walked the streets of Santiago so frequently today that I already feel so comfortable with it all. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this week has in store for us!
~Nick Martin, 2016