Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Real Slice of Dominican Life

Updates on my journey thus far:
  • Megan and I traveled to Rio San Juan, a small town on the northern coast. It's biggest draws are the beautiful beaches nearby and the minimal tourist presence. Nearly every night the whole town gathered together to watch teens from various neighborhoods play basketball on some outdoor courts. It was the real deal, they had uniforms, referees, score clocks, and even an emcee. Best of all they blasted merengue between quarters.
  • After five days there we said good-bye. She went east to the beaches of the Samana Penninsula with a newfound Italian friend. I went west to Cabarete, international extreme sports hotspot, where I tried my hand, with mixed results, at windsurfing.
  • And finally two days ago I arrived in Las Terrenas, where I'll be for the next two weeks working for the Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi until I head home.
The amount of expats living here is amazing. Everywhere you look there's a white face whizzing by on a motorcycle or 4-wheeler (the North Coast's preferred methods of transportation). A few blocks down from the foundation, you can find a half-dozen mulleted, middle-aged Germans sitting outside a liquor store drinking beer from noon til dark.

Like everywhere else on the coast it's hot and muggy. I sweat throughout the day and a good part of the night. It's also incredibly dusty. Fortunately the beach is only a few minutes from my hotel.

But I'm not here to sweat or meet old mulleted men. The Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi runs a small community library, the only library in town, which doubles as a community center. The library is small but neat building, with a covered seating area that can be used as a classroom or meeting area. Next to the library is a concrete structure that has a half-dozen classrooms. Outside those buildings is a large field, partially mowed, where the kids can play games. The unmowed part contains, for reasons unknown, a broken down jeep and piles of concrete. Led by a super-friendly man named Jose and his wife Annette, the foundation gives children a place to read, learn, or just come and hang out in a structured and safe environment.

Right now is the last week of summer camp, and I'm helping teach the 6, 7, and 8 year olds. It's been tiring, yet rewarding. The other volunteers are fantastic and have welcomed me with open arms. They genuinely love kids, as is obvoius by watching them for thirty seconds. We are all paying to be here. That seems to have weeded out the free-loaders and malcontents, usually those just looking for a paycheck, that I've seen at other summer camps.

Most of all, I'm glad I'm finally doing something productive. There's only so many beaches you can see before the start to blend together. And up until now 99% of the contact I've had with Dominicans was with the art dealers, taxi drivers, waiters, hotel staff, etc etc. The tourist machinary is so fine-tuned here it's hard to break free. I started to feel that I was wasting my time and my money.

But not today. As I walked to the internet cafe one kid waved at me from across the street and another, Nicolas, ran up to me and gave me a big huh. He is a story in himself, and for that you'll have to read tomorrow!

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