While in Santo Domingo I met two great people by the name of Jay and Ryan who presented me with the opportunity to help one of the local communities in the San Jose de Ocoa area. The organization they represented titled "The New World Community (thenwc.com)" and in association with "Adesjo" were helping out the local communities in the mountains. Every year high schools and universities from Canada fly down to the Dominican Republic to perform community service with the local organizations. Organizations such as Adesjo has been helping with building houses, aqueducts, schools, in the outskirts of the mountains for over 50 years. Working with a Adesjo and Thenwc we went out to a small community in the mountains called La Bocaina. We were to build a house for one of the families in the area.
The PeopleOn the first day in La Bocaina we got a tour of the local community from Louis. He was the community police and a teacher of mathematics. He introduced us to a the local families in the area. They were grateful to meet us and happy that we were there to help their community. Louis himself was very funny. The men in that area were huge fans of baseball and loved the New York Yankees and any team that had Dominicans. They were proud of the players that came from the small island and became super stars like Jose Reyes. They knew all the stats. One of the men we spoke with was telling us that Jose Reyes played near their hometown and he wasn't as good as he is now. But they are happy for his success. Speaking to the the men through broken Spanish, I explained to them that I was Haitian American and they seemed intrigued. They don't encounter to many of Haitian Americans in the mountains. Through translation, one of the men said that Haitians and Dominicans go through similar struggles and I was lucky to grow up in the states. One of the college volunteers had blonde hair which is rare to see in the area. They were really fascinated by her.
The LandscapeThe houses in the area are made of wood and some of them are made of concrete. I didn't notice internal plumbing. Outhouses were located a few feet from the house and showers were taken outside. There was little to no insulation. It wasn't like the houses you would see in Santo Domingo. The people were proud of there homes and were happy for what they had. Living on these mountains you are one with nature. The people wore rain boots because when it rains it pours. I've seen bugs that I’ve never encountered before. The mosquito’s are relentless. The mountains had a river flowing through it.
The WorksiteWhen we arrived at the work site, the family we were helping wanted a picture before we broke ground. It showed how much they appreciated what we were doing. The ground was already lined out in chalk to show us where we would start shoveling.The men explained what they wanted us to do. We were to shovel within the white lines and save any big stones we came across. Surrounding us were trees, fruit plants, small lizards, and chickens. We worked everyday for 6-8hrs and took lunch and water breaks. The area was filled with mosquito's but they didn't seem to bother the locals. Maybe it was because they were wearing pants and we came with shorts. We worked as a team filling buckets with water, mixing in the dirt and cement, filter the rocks from the pile. It was a great working at the site. These workers had years of experience building houses. Home and Garden TV would be proud. They used fish hooks to tighten up loose metal. They used wheel barrels as a measurement to figure out how much sand or cement to mix. It reminded me of all those math classes that I took and that I thought would never apply in real life. The men were impressed with our work effort.
Adesjo and Thenwc Community Service meetingAdesjo and Thenwc had a meeting in their second location on the mountain tops of El Huguito. At this location they were repairing the roof of one of the residents of that community. The meeting was a chance for the executives of Adesjo to thank everyone for helping. Each leader thanked everyone for sharing the vision of the founder of Adesjo and their continued support of the local communities. They wanted the youths that came in from Canada to be ambassadors of Adesjo in Canada. They were grateful for the youths for coming and helping the community and instilling hope to the people. They were glad we took our time to help the poorest of the poorest. The message the community leaders wanted us to take home was this"Adesjo is interested in the people coming, the money is the least important to them, it's our time and energy and physically helping the locals that matter." The dedication is what's important. They wanted us to get the experience of helping others. They love their small community despite the advantages of the city. They are grateful to live in their community with the advantages of water, electricity, and their music. As gifts for helping they gave everyone hats with the Adesjo logo.
What I learnedIt made me think about all the 1st world problems that I complained about and how they don't matter. I should be doing more to help myself and others. I'm thankful that I was able to meet Jay and Ryan who brought me along. It was a real chance for me to interact with the local community and the Canadian students who took time out from their college break to help communities such as this. This has been an inspirational and life changing. It was a great break from the tourists world into the reality of how Dominicans outside of the city continue to live.
El Conde If you are a tourist in Santo Domingo such as myself. The Typical tourist spot is located in the Conde or El Conde, it starts on the intersection of Calle Palo Hincado and continues down to the Harbor. This one street goes down a little more than 2 miles, you can find hotels, hostels, restaurants, tourist gift shops, cellphone stores, massage, paintings, barbershops, bars, clubs, historic sites, and street performers. El Conde is a one stop shop to everything you need. Chinatown or Barrio Chino Chinatown or Barrio Chino is your other option to shopping in Santo Domingo. If you are feeling a little more adventurous and want to practice your bargaining skills, Barrio Chino is the place for you. You can either walk to Barrio Chino, take the bus, or a taxi. Walking takes about 15 minutes from El Conde, take Av.Mella. Make sure you get a map if its your first time. Like El Conde, you can find everything you want in Barrio Chino but for a cheaper price. Just make sure you check the quality before purchasing. In that same area, you will find alleyways of people selling and doing hair, sugarcane, and different types street foods. Thrift shops and stores around Barrio Chino Intersections such as Ravelo and Juana Saltitopa, Ave. Jose Marti, and nearby streets a filled with street vendors selling jeans, fruits, sandals, jeans, CD's, movies, belts, shoes, shirts and anything else you could think of. Similar to Barrio Chino, they are very cheap and you can bargain with the vendors to get a better prices. The place is usually packed with tourists and locals looking for great deals. The Malls The Mega malls are also a great place to shop. If you don’t like to bargain, these places are great to walk around and enjoy the Air conditioned environment. The malls offer local and international products.
Since I was staying at the Conde on Calle Palo Hincado, some friends and I took the bus on Av. Bolivar and Uruguay to San Jose de Ocoa. The first bus comes at 7am and is marked Ocoa on the back of the van. The trip is about $250 pesos and takes about 1.5hrs to 2hrs depending on the traffic. You can take the bus in several different areas, just ask the nearest taxi or hotel for information and they will know. One thing to note is they don’t except foreign money on the bus because it costs them to exchange it. Bring extra DOP if necessary. Along the way to San Jose De Ocoa, the bus makes several stops. As you wait for the bus and while at each station, people will be selling food and drinks in case you are hungry. Its part of the business, everyone has to make money. The bus has AC, a driver and another worker that collects the cash and yells out bus to Ocoa at each station we stopped. The seats are comfortable and the bus is clean. As the bus gets closer to San Jose de Ocoa, it gets a little cramped. Make sure you don't sit on the hump or else you will get cramps. I enjoyed the bus ride to Ocoa because it was scenic. It gave me the opportunity to see different parts of Santo Domingo and the nearby towns or villages in route to San Jose De Ocoa. Once you get closer to the mountains, the scenery is beautiful. As we changed elevation, you will see the beautiful landscapes that make up the Dominican Republic. At the time that we were heading to San Jose de Ocoa, they were rebuilding the roads on the mountains. It was explained to me that during the hurricane seasons or earthquakes, the road gets ruined and its hard for them to reach San Jose de Ocoa and other villages in the area. They are rebuilding the roads to make it easier to reach San Jose de Ocoa and the other small villages in times of emergency.
The best time to travel is now! Like right now! Read my article on the international checklist and drive to the nearest airport and get on the next international flight. Be spontaneous! Well at least once you are done reading this article you can go on your merry way. There are many reasons why people don’t get out of their comfort zone and see the world or even the next state. But the worse excuse is “I’m Busy.” The last time I checked, we only had one life to live, so why waste that time being busy and not taking the time to explore this beautiful world? Now, I’m not saying you use every bit of your time traveling the world (but if you have the money for it, do it) but for the rest of us who are working a 9am-5pm or longer, ask yourself this question? When was the last time you took the time to go visit an aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend in the next town or the next country? When was the last time you and your spouse went somewhere together and just enjoyed where you are? No work deadlines, no annoying family members, insert any distraction in that sentence. The point is, when was the last time you took a break? Some of us go through life thinking that we have an abundance of time and tomorrow is promised. When in actuality, it’s not promised. From the time you were born, your time on Earth started ticking till the day you meet your maker. I am not trying to be dramatic. Just putting things in perspective. As a society, we need to learn to take mini vacations. You don’t have to wait till you’re retired to enjoy the good life. Enjoy it as you go. You don’t need to go around the board once to collect $200. Traveling gives you a different perspective on life that you can’t get behind a cash register or working in a cubicle. I’ve made it a personal goal to visit at least one new country every year. So far I’ve traveled to many parts of South East Asia and China and that in it’s self is a life changing experience.