The day is finally here- we've worked so hard fundraising for our trip to Santiago,Dominican Republic. We were all extatic and couldn't wait to actually land on the island.
March 11th, 2011
Arrived at FIU at 6:30 am. Saw all the happy faces and all the Drers in their black GCE t-shirts. Some wore sweaters, others hoodies and some took the weather like troopers and just had their tshirts on. I had my FIU hoodie (had to rep for my Alma Mater) and I was freezing my butt off that morning. It was like 60 something degrees, which essentially isn't that cold. But if you're from Miami, that temperature definitely means, Ugg boots, hoodies,maybe even bubble jackets for those extreme people. We went upstairs to Bianny,Walter and my office to grab all the donation luggages. We arrived at Miami International Airport around 7:30 am, checked in and was in the departure hall around 8 am. Most of us didn't have breakfast that morning, so we walked the halls to get a bite to eat. It was Friday ( and Lent) so I had to eat seafood, which was not available, so I went vegetarian for the day. After Walter (my coworker) and I sat down with our bowl of noodles at 8:30 am, we looked at eachother and wondered why we hadn't just bought breakfast instead, besides it was breakfast time....sigh.
The flight departed at 10 am . I sat next to Bianny , and I can honestly say that as soon as I sat down and put my pink pillow behind my neck, I was knocked out. Ofcourse, I was super excited the night before, and was busy packing and making last minute runs to Target. I had an entire wardrobe in mind, then tried the racer back tops on and realized, my preggers belly was showing more than I thought it was...I looked like a stuffed sausage NO BUENO. Ooh well, I guess that's what you get for last minute packing.
It was a nice smooth flight-we arrived around 12pm, got our luggage, and Victor was out there waiting for us. He's such a sweet man, he had a minivan, now mind you..the minivan was mini, we were 16 people with about 33 pieces of luggage. You better believe that he was able to fit every single one of us and luggage in the Guagua as they call them in DR.
It was very hot out,however, the maginificent view made up for the heat.Lots of mountains and very green. Every where you turn you'd see millions of banana plants and orange trees.In DR, platano is eaten with everything. They make mangu (Cooked, pureed plantains topped with sauteed onions), tostones (crispy fried plantains),maduros (sauteed sweet plantains. I also noticed the unity amongst the people, you'd see men playing dominoes, or just hanging out on a sidewalk, kids out playing while the mothers were chismeando. Such a beautiful sight reminded me of my childhood,the sound of children's laughter is one you don't hear outside nowadays. The entire ride to Accion Callejera, I was literally taking in everything. The crazy traffic, cars drove on the wrong side until there was oncoming traffic. There weren't any dividing lines, so any given time the highway would go from a 3 lane to a 5 lane--it all depends on the amount of cars that could drive through at the same time. From the guagua we could literally highfive a passenger in the car in the lane next to us- we were THAT close.
He took us to Accion Callejera, where we dropped off our donation luggages.We were greeted with hugs and kisses from Bentodina (the Center's Director)along with some other people that work there. This is where we would spend the bulk of our volunteer efforts. We would be working with boys,the age ranged from 7-17. Some of these boys shined shoes for a living and lived with families, while others were homeless.
After dropping our stuff off, we went to the Hostel, Hotel Colonial, to drop off our luggage. Jenny was my roommate, we stayed in room # 7. Walter was our neighbor on the left, Bianny and Anye on our right and Jenn,Chanel and Klaudia across from us. Our room had 2 single beds, mismatched linens a fan,seperate bathroom that wasn't the cleanest and a closet in the bathroom that we used to store our toiletries. I wasn't expecting much- all we needed was a place to lay our head down at nights and running water to take showers.Everything else would just be a luxury.
We made a pit stop at La Sirena, the Walmart of the Dominican Republic. We bought water- there was a malaria epidemic in the neighboring Haiti, so we were rather safe than sorry, fruit,and whatever snacks we wanted to have in our rooms.We were supposed to meet outside at 7:30pm, ofcourse that was a mission in itself-trying to coordinate with that many people was not an easy task.Walter made me promise not to leave him, apparently he has been left behind at La Sirena a previous year, so he needed someone to make sure he was there. We did the roommate check everytime we were in the guagua, but since Walter didn't have a roommate, his neighbors (Jenny and I) had to make sure he was always there.
Victor picked us up and took us to Kukaramakara, a restaurant across the street from the "Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración". This monument was originally built during the Trujillo dictatorship in 1944 and after his assassination in 1961, the government changed the name to "Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración";it is now dedicated to the heroes of the Dominican Restoration War.
We had dinner at Kukaramakara, I had shrimp with french fries, it was muy delicioso. We had to come up with a system of ordering and paying since we had a large group. We sampled eachother's meals, like family would. We had come a long way in the bonding process planning for this trip, so we were family. Some had the famous cerveza Presidente,it's said to taste better in DR- although I wouldn't know from first hand experience since I'm not a beer drinker. It was a nice evening of dinner ,laughter and excitement for the first of many memorable experiences we were about to have.
After dinner, we went to El Monumento, climbed the gazillion stairs to the top. It took Walter and I a while, I was already 20 weeks pregnant, so climbing that amount of stairs was no longer an easy task for me- and Walter, well, he's just a viejo. When we finally made it to the top (we were the last ones)- we had our first of many reflection sessions. Everyone had a chance to talk about the experience thus far and their expectations.
Then as a surprise we took a carriage ride in the town, we had to split the group since the carriage could only hold bout 7 of us. THAT was an experience in itself, we had to haggle for prices, since we were doing 2 carriage rides. One horse and carriage was manned by a boy, who looked no older than 14. Our horse and carriage had an older man, possibly the kid's father. Well, this is where the first of many adventures begun- the horses like the cars I mentioned earlier followed the same rules-NONE! They would go against traffic,gallop past cars and cut through traffic. Pretty scary, if you ask me- but we survived! Thank God.
We finally head back to Hotel Colonial and called it a night. We had to wake up super early for our first day with the kids. Had to make sure we have all the energy needed to give them 100%. Something that I later realized definitely did not require us to have a good night's rest. Just being able to see them everyday was motivation enough to give them our all.