Rachel en la República: First Impressions

A Travel Tip: if you find yourself sitting aimlessly waiting for your plane to take off, make a friend. I spent a good part of my flight from JFK to Santiago, Dominican Republic talking to a NYC native, 19 years old, on her way to visit extended family in San Francisco (a small city near Santiago). Her last trip on an airplane was when she was 6. She shuddered when our neighbor opened the window shade as we were landing, but I was so thankful that he did. My first impression of the country where I’ll be living for the rest of this year was peering out through that window. I could see the rich green landscape, rumpled with mountains.

Once we landed (uneventfully, thankfully for my friend’s sake) I entered the terminal, where I had to wait in line for a few minutes to get my immigration papers checked out. Otherwise, getting my baggage was a quick task. While waiting, I noticed another gringo in line, then suddenly there were several, and all wearing the same blue t-shirt. Said something like “Thisthatandtheother Mission Trip.” I’ve had friends who’ve done mission trips in high school and friends of the family who go do projects with their churches. Well-meaning folks, I can say that for sure about the ones I know, and the DR is a country that is a classic mission destination (and development projects for that matter). I wonder what we all look like to the Dominicans, what they think of when they see a pack of Nortamericanos in matching t-shirts, with two adults at the helm, collecting and redistributing everyone’s passports, gabbering in English. I’m glad I can be a little more inconspicuous. Just a little though. I reek gringa in other ways.

I met the headmaster of the school, Dr. Maldonado, who took me out to pizza with his family at the “best” restaurant in Salcedo. I hear it’s one of two. (That’s two restaurants total). Driving around in the evening, Salcedo looks like Arica, with bumpy roads, painted store fronts, locally owned everything. A section of Arica was more built up, however; I remember the main drag had some good shopping and a McDonalds (the ultimate early sign of gringification). Salcedo is small, though. I just got a quick tour from another profesora with whom I’m bunking for a few days. I bought some groceries (Rice and beans. Hopefully I’ll learn to cook other things, too. I have a feeling the old staple meal will get old quick, especially since that’s what they serve for lunch at school everyday in some variation (according to one of the Princeton fellows who’s been here all year)).

Obligatory picture of one of my first real Dominican meals. Arroz con pollo (hey dad!)

Obligatory picture of one of my first real Dominican meals. Arroz con pollo (hey dad!)

My first job is going to be running a program (with another volunteer, thank god) for the day camp. The next two weeks, I’m going to be doing an English immersion camp focused on theater and movies. Dr. M envisions each student learning a monologue in English and performing it, and making their own movies. Oh, and my co-counselor is  German woman. For those of you who are less familiar with my high school self, I’ll just tell you that this is a weirdly perfect situation for 18-year-old me.

I could go on forever about my first day and a half here, but I’ll finish up for now. I’ll just let everyone know that I have wifi in my current apartment, have already made a friend, and am so so so excited to start working at the “day camp.” (You’re welcome, Gabe).

One more thing. I wanted to make a shout out to Evan, who was amazing and came with my mom to drop me off at the airport at 5am yesterday. My mom is also awesome for doing that, too, but that’s what moms do. I’m going to miss them both immensely and look forward to their inevitable visits to mi hogar nuevo.


The field across the road from the school's main building. Typical looking country side

The field across the road from the school’s main building. Typical looking country side