The first two weeks

Two weeks have gone by since I arrived in the Dominican Republic, and as expected, time is flying by. There is often mention of Dominican time in reference to daily life in this Caribbean country. The heat slows travel (and thought) and punctuality is not exactly a cultural value. Where life seems simpler in the amount of choices available here, it has become more complicated in adjusting to a new physical environment. I packed light for my trip, but brought with me a rather angry case of poison ivy that has given me the "opportunity" to test the Dominican health care system beyond merely learning about it. Transfering from a hyper-connected culture in the US, my patience is being tested by the occasional apagones, power outages; long walking distance to an internet cafe and expensive calling cards. Oh, and by the way, everything is in spanish...

I first arrived in Santo Domingo, an expanding city of four million people that was recently dubbed to be the most polluted city in the world by human waste factors. It is on the south coast of this nation that reluctantly shares a border with Haiti. Santo Domingo was the first city founded in the Americas by Columbus and is rich in history, but lacks the infrastructure to support the growing population. Currently, it is building a controversial subway system, meant to help improve transportation. Driving in the city is risky business as mortality from motorcycle accidents is high and few people wear helmets. Lanes are nonexistant and salesmen hawk cell phone chargers and covers on every corner. We toured the colonial zone as part of the two days spent in the capital for the program orientation. Then, we made the three hour journey into the heart of the country to Jarabacoa, the home base for the program. It was a nervous journey, because when we arrived, we met our host families.

Jarabacoa, a city of 50,000 people is set in the middle of the country. I am living with a wonderful family and studying with a great group of students from all over the US. There are 29 of us in total, most here to study abroad in the health field and improve their spanish. Coming into this program, my level of spanish was mediocre at best. The first time I met the family I am living with for two month, I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to communicate beyond the simplest of phrases. However, I have improved markedly in just two weeks and can understand most of what people say to me. Luckily, my hermana, or sister, speaks very slowly and clearly for me. I chose this program for the opportunity to improve my spanish and it is definitely inescapable. Every day I learn dozens of new words and am becoming more confident, though sometimes by the end of the day my brain is so drained all I hear is jibberish. Overall, learning spanish excites me the most. In itself, it is a passport being a language a part of the world speaks, increasingly so in the US.

I have to say that the country is not what I expected, the program director, Christine, questioned the class as to what we expected the DR to be like before we arrived, and my immediate response was 'the amazon'. I expected a thick jungle outlined by beaches of sheer perfection. I was right in someways, but I didn't take into account the DR's bustling population of 9 million people. Jarabacoa is a pueblo, a midsized city that is being increasingly inundated grand American made SUVs and choked with pollution by motoconchos, motorbikes, that drive everywhich way, on sidewalks and swerving through traffic. This is an extremely noisy culture and a loud muffler is a sign of pride. Afterall, only in the past twenty years or so have people been well off enough to afford vehicles.

There is much more to come about my time here. I am writing from an internet cafe with my two friends, Katheryn and Jessica, the two gringos in the picture above. Then, I am off to my home in the barrio of Yerba Buena to see my family, a 27 year old woman named Frederissa and her 6 year old daughter, Freidelly. I miss everyone back in the States, but have much to do here in the DR and only a little time to do it. I am just getting started on my research project on globalization and nutrition and will be developing a nutrition program for my internship in public health for my degree at IU. Until then, I'll leave you with a picture of Playa Alicia, a beach near Sosua, a beach town on the north coast where I went to last weekend with friends. Take care...