Haiti Fact #6:
Elections for Haiti’s next president will take place on October 9, and the campaigns are in full swing.
It happened fast, but on October 7 we will hit the three month mark. A tourist visa in Haiti only is good for 90 days, after which one must leave and reenter the country to get the required passport stamps and a new visa. The approaching deadline to leave the country coincided with a lull at work, so we decided to make an adventure out of it.
I majored in Spanish and have always wanted to spend some time in a country where it is spoken. So Eli graciously agreed to make our destination Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Through a sister of a friend we got some basic information about the city but ended up just going with less of a plan than even I would like. We got hit by surprise fees and taxes at the border both times, but our passports got the necessary stamps and the legal reason for the trip was satisfied. But who cares about that? We had a great time.
We ended up staying at a hotel/casino that might have exceeded our price range but ended up being worth it. Staying there meant free breakfast on the patio looking at the ocean and palm trees just before the day starts to get hot. And at the end of the day, day to day living in Haiti is cheap so a little excess just once didn’t break us. After almost three months in Haiti, it was great to hang out in a modern city like Santo Domingo. Every day brought a new surprise.
|The view of Santo Domingo from the hotel|
I used to hate the mall in the US, but going to a huge, gorgeous Agora Mall made me reconsider my position on malls. Just taking a subway and hiking around a state park felt so much like home. We managed to find a movie theater that even had one (terrible) movie in English, that we enjoyed nonetheless. On top of all that, there was an Episcopal church around the corner with an English service. It had been months since I experienced any of that. It also surprised me how air conditioning, good internet and hours of sitting around the hotel helped me recover from months of challenging transitions. But most importantly, I got to speak Spanish.
|Mirador del Norte Park|
The sister of a friend I met in Cap-Haitien made all of this possible, but if I didn’t speak Spanish it would not have worked out either. Thanks to her we saw a lot of the city and avoided a few rookie mistakes. But as in any travel situation, the best part about hanging out with a local is getting to skip the tourist traps and have some real experiences. It wasn’t always poetic, for instance the time she took us to a grocery store to buy tons of junk food not available in Haiti, but it was always awesome. After a day or two of running around, Eli preferred de-stressing in the hotel. That gave me an opportunity to dive deeper into the culture of the city.
The trip peaked at a pasta dinner with five Dominicans yelling over each other and mostly ignoring me. For one thing, no one ever ignores me in Haiti and the stares get tiring after months. But to simply sit and try to pull some meaning out of so many conversations without being expected or pressured to respond was exactly what I needed. It was a glorious moment to relax and eat while surrounded by chaos that I didn’t have to try to understand. I could choose to engage or choose not to. It got even better when I started to pick out what they were saying. That experience completed the trip, and I learned so much just in that moment.
So while getting better at Spanish over a few days was awesome, it can’t top the experience of hanging out with some Dominicans and getting a taste of how they live. I rode the subway, helped out with some English homework and sat at an outdoor park on the waterfront drinking cheap beer and almost blending in. That was a real vacation after the past few months. It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains every day, but it’s better when it’s not staged. So yeah, we took a little risk just heading off to a new city without much of an idea what we would find. There are a thousand things that could have happened. But those unknowns and surprises took the trip from relaxing to recharging. Now we’re back in Haiti and I am re-energized to make this job the best it can be.
A special thank you these donors:
The Corbett familyMeg Mitchell