It is March 7th and I have reached my second month here in the city of Santiago, Dominican Republic! The Dominican Republic is on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. To the west of the island is Haiti with whom relations stemming from racist perceptions and a bloody massacre in 1937 still to this day are not quite cordial. My host parents are very warm and inviting and have taken very good care of my roommate and I.
Some of the excursions I’ve gone on have included a beautiful museum, a dance class, a breathtaking waterfall at Salto Baiguate in a city named Jarabacoa, and waterfall jumping at 27 Charcos! That was truly a challenge for me because I can’t swim! The water wasn’t too deep and with the support of the guides and the other students, I made it out alive! This is a beautiful country with its numerous beaches plenteous in sand, sunshine and beach vendors that will stop at nothing.
The palm trees and gorgeous Spanish-style architecture captured my attention as well as the beautiful mix of people of Indigenous, African, and Spanish ancestry.
Upon arrival one student in my group who had studied here before mentioned to the rest of us about the car honking and how much we’d get sick of it. Boy, was she right! The Dominican people are quite impatient on the road and they don’t follow the rules of the road 100% of the time! The public transportation here known as “conchos” are small taxis with fixed routes and only cost 20 pesos which is equal to 50 cents!! I’ve ridden in a few so far and they’re pretty interesting. Four people can fit somewhat comfortably in the back and three in the front, and yes I was squished in between strangers at times! Nobody really talks to each other in the conchos; you just get in, pay, and get out where you need to.
The danger to these conchos though is that many of them are not legit. Some are not affiliated with any company and we had to watch out for those that did not have their route letter properly fixed on their vehicle. Not only this, but we were warned about pick pocketing and being targets because we are American. We could not be out past ten at night, and if we are, we have to take taxis and not the conchos.
Now to the food! The staple dish here is called “la bandera” the flag, which is rice, beans, and meat. It is served with plantains at times and a salad. I have eaten this for lunch just about every day here and it is delicious, but honestly, I can’t eat it anymore! I have never craved french fries so much in my life! Thankfully, there is a restaurant nearby that has American food and I can always rely on a delicious empanada. There is also a dish called sancocho which is like a stew and it is so good!
The university here is set on a beautiful green campus laden with palm trees, but being a non-traditional student, I struggle to connect with the students because of my age gap, but I am excelling in my courses.
The Dominican Republic is a heavily Catholic country. There are Evangelicals, but they are clearly outnumbered. There is also a presence of racism here that overshadows the beauty of this country. Many Dominicans deny their African heritage even though it can clearly be seen in the food, heard through the music and found in their DNA! All of this stems from the Spanish influence during colonization, the arrival of African slaves, and the past dictator, Raphael Trujillo who ruled the country with an iron fist and forced his “blanquieamiento” or “whitening” regime on the Dominican people. More value is placed on white skin and straight hair, especially the females. Many of the girls in my group who are of European descent receive unwanted “piropos” or “cat calls” with hissing, honking, and whistling from the men. It is a very unpleasant experience, but we understand that while disturbing, it is a part of the culture here.
There is also a very strong division between the social classes here and of course with the Haitians living here. I have gone through a whirlwind of emotions during my stay here, but all is well! During my last month and a half here I am hoping to really connect with the Dominicans on a deeper level that will leave a lasting impact on me for years to come.