Written by: Michael Song
Arrived a little past midnight due to the delays, the two interns from HOPE graciously picked me up from the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic’s Capital) airport since my Spanish isn’t up to par, I studied French in high school… oops! They showed me back to their apartment, which was tiny, I’m extremely surprised they made it through this long without having any serious difficulties. Some serious sacrifice was made here for comfort. There was hardly any place to walk and amenities were scarce. I’m not sure if I could have done it, but it’s definitely spun my perspective of development in another country. It makes me feel very ashamed with my lifestyle back in the states even in PA which aren’t that generous.
The next day several of the Esperanza interns (HOPE partners with Esperanza in the Dominican Republic) come over before we head out to Jarabacoa. I absolutely butchered the pronunciation the first few times I tried to say it. It is pronounced har-a-bah-coah. We were all invited to this northern city for the weekend where one of the interns went to high school. The trip lasted about 2.5 hours on a first class bus (think greyhound) where we were able to see much of the rural countryside. Buses ran about $6 which seemed like a steal, but everything here is quite cheap in comparison to the States. On the way, it was shocking to see the many small shacks which were in essence four walls and a tin roof covering the top. Often times you could see through parts of the buildings. These also weren’t even the poorest of the poor, they were generally of the lower middle class.
We arrived in Jarabacoa around noon where our friend picked us up via school bus. The definition of school bus in the DR is a pick up truck where you sit in the back, much like a hitchhiker in movies. It was exhilarating riding through the streets and seeing everything up close, I think I’m going to try and sit outside every chance I get in the next coming week. After stopping in town our Jarabacoa friend took us to a Dominican café. One of the girls, a past KIVA fellow and now Esperanza fellow from Brown suggested I try the Chivas or goat. And so I ordered the Chivas. Meals here consist of rice, beans, some type of green salad and the meat. The goat tasted much like lamb or extremely tender beef. It was a delicious first Dominican food experience. Afterwards we hit the local markets looking for items to prepare for dinner. We then went back to the school, where we were staying for the weekend and went tubing. The plan was to enter the local river for a calm 30 minute ride. Unfortunately, we ran into rough waters about 30 seconds in and had to stop! Several of us were banged up pretty bad from the rapids, which unusually were stronger than our friend’s recollection.
Later that evening our master chefs, two of the interns, made mango coconut chicken, rice, and fried plantain (like potatoes) balls, which ended up tasting much like a starchier hushpuppy. After dinner we went back into town to experience some Dominican nightlife and rum. Supposedly Dominicans are famous for merengue (type of salsa dance), rum, and cigars. I was taught how to do basic merengue steps, which are quite basic but awkward since the male needs to shake his hips alongside the female. Let’s just say I don’t think my hips were meant to shake! It was a blast, however, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.
On Sunday we attended the school’s church service which seemed like any ordinary missionary church, luckily it was in English so I followed along comfortably. In the afternoon we walked around town and tried to do some shopping, but in the DR almost everything closes on Sunday. I think this is due to religion. In addition, many of the men sit out on motorbikes and simply chat all day with their friends. Just a connection note: HOPE/Esperanza and many other MFIs tend to loan the majority of its funds to females. The reason for this is because the men often are lazy, and often spend the earnings on alcohol and entertainment, whereas the women will use the microfinance profits to feed their children. It’s odd in such a poor country that people have time to spend not working, but it is a common sight. Another random witnessing I noticed was the crude way females are treated in the country. There is very little respect. Many of the men would often hiss at my female friends to try and get their attention or harass them. They told me stories of how awful it could get and it makes me ashamed that women are treated this way, yet grateful in the same time that in the States it is much better.
In the evening we visited a Dominican bakery and local restaurant where I was able to try a very flavorful fruity concoction of salmon. I noticed in the DR that seafood isn’t as popular as I thought it would be… seeing that it is an island. The staple food here is fried chicken (but not breaded like KFC). We also made chinola juice (passion fruit juice) with white ron (rum) in the evening, which is a Dominican specialty.
Tomorrow we had back to the capital, Santo Domingo where I’m going to visit the Esperanza headquarters. On Tuesday I’m going out to a bank meeting where clients meet and hopefully hear some updates with how loans are progressing. I can’t wait!