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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, April 15, 2011

City of light and stone

My first full day in Santo Domingo began with me standing in the shower, attempting to rinse out the shampoo that I had lathered up all over my head, using the tiniest trickle of water that I have ever seen emerge from a shower head in my life. I emerged from the shower 45 minutes later and informed my roommate that we had no water pressure whatsoever. Amused, she waltzed into the bathroom and was back out in ten minutes flat, informing me with her “life is such a breeze when you have short pixie hair” tone that she had full water pressure for her entire shower. I later found out that my mistake had been trying to use the hot tap: “Who uses hot water in the Tropics, anyway?” Who indeed. 

 Our breakfast room was tucked into a corner that was connected to the living room/atrium by an open, arched doorway. Bars of light filtered in through the shutter slats that shielded the windows all along the front of the building from the bustle of the street outside. Settling into a chair, I enjoyed a cup of tea and a plate of fresh pineapple, melon, papaya and banana, along with a glass of freshly squeezed juice that tasted like a combination of every fresh tropical fruit available condensed into a single glass. It was divine. People filtered in slowly, and I got to connect the names I had been seeing in emails and on Facebook for the past few months with actual faces and personalities. Liz, who would later turn out to be my roommate during our home stay in La Laguna, was one of three Green & Black’s employees who were on the trip with us. Tall and slight, with short blond hair, and playful bright blue eyes, she had a fun-loving and bubbly personality that would keep the tone light-hearted later on in the trip when we were feeling tired or sore from digging. Kate, also from Green & Black’s in London, struck me immediately as generous and thoughtful. And Robert, Green & Black’s counterpart from New York City, was reserved, with a dry sense of humour that grew on me as the trip progressed. Apart from Leo, Arielle and myself, the other two participants from the U.S. were Nicole, a Master’s student from Washington, D.C., and Khatundi, an activist involved in empowering young girls in Kenya (through the Yayaz project), currently living in North Carolina. Our British counterparts were Max, who has built houses in Africa, been involved in sea turtle nesting restoration work in Latin America, and recently finished his ESL certificate; Bruno, who was our photography expert, and took a good many 360 degree photos that I cannot wait to see; Jamie, whose awesome sense of humour and seemingly never ending good spirit kept us all uplifted throughout the trip; Oli, who is originally German, but is studying in Manchester, and has more energy than almost anyone else I know (with the exception of Arielle, who has more energy than I had previously imagined was possible); and Elizabeth, who is a fellow blogger, and anthropology student, who did interviews with many of the families in the communities we were working in while we were in the Dominican Republic. 

In addition to the Green & Black’s crew and the Ambassadors, we had Lucie Phipps, a PR representative for Phipps (which, I am told, is just a coincidence), and our two photographers/film crew, Jim and Paul a.k.a. the Stanton boys (because their media company is called Stanton Media) to the rest of the group, or as brother Jim and brother Paul to myself and Liz (because we stayed with the same host family while on our trip). We also had Pedro as our Raleigh expedition leader, who is Argentinian, has lived most of his life in the UK, and is currently a Raleigh nomad. And in the last few days of our expedition, Teresa joined us from Raleigh in the UK, to complete our team. 

We spent that first day getting to know each other, learning about Raleigh, Green & Black’s, and CONACADO, the cooperative that supplies Green & Black’s with organic cocoa. We also managed to fit in a late afternoon walking tour of part of Santo Domingo, passing by a number of historic sites that Julian gave us some background information on. Santo Domingo by day is all light and stone. Light penetrates every crack and sharpens the grain in every stone. Much of the old city is cobbled, and, it being a Sunday, there were hundreds of people out celebrating the anniversary of the construction of their most famous cathedral. We wandered up and down streets in a daze, snapping photographs and taking it all in. Cars that sped down the narrow streets. The photographs of the Mirabal sisters mounted on the side of a building. Families out for their Sunday stroll in their best clothes. Outdoor cafes. Tiny strips of shade alongside buildings and under the outstretched limbs of the city’s few flamboyantly blossoming trees. Statues covered in pigeons. Tanks and cannons left abandoned in fields as if someone hit the pause key mid-battle, and then forgot to come back and finish the scene. The awareness that we were being watched on every side. That we were camera-snapping, lobster-shouldered tourists who stuck out like snow on a pile of coal. 


In the evening, wearing our “smart clothes,” we headed out to join the locals in one of the many outdoor bars scattered all over the city. It was warm but breezy. The moist air smelled slightly salty, laced with an odd assortment of floral and spicy perfumes and aftershave. In the kinder evening light we looked sun-kissed instead of blatantly sunburned. And everyone was feeling relaxed and full of expectation for heading out to our project site the next day. It was a lovely night filled with stories and laughter, and when we lazily made our way back to our rooms later that night, passing mangy stray dogs, piles of garbage and late night coffee shops, those of us who had been fortunate enough to not be sharing rooms with snorers collapsed straight into a deep sleep. 

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