The day I landed in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, David, his uncle, and his aunt picked me up from the airport and we went directly East to Bayahibe (as we made our way to Punta Cana to visit Deborah). I would return to Santo Domingo later. My first impression: breathtaking. I had come from the winter of Washington, DC to the tropics. And the first thing we did was have a fish dinner IN the Caribbean Ocean (that’s right, we moved our table and chairs into the water), watched people dance bachata, and swam. We took a walk and found this graveyard on the beach.
The next day we made our way closer to Punta Cana, heading North and stopping at Higuey along the way. A major city on the Eastern side of the island (the capital of the Altagracia province), and home of the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia, pictured above.
As we continued northward from Higuey to Punta Cana we found wide open spaces, lots of fields and smaller towns. We stopped by this fruteria, beautiful in its glorious fruit display. Across the street I found the sculpture below: baseball, the national sport of the Dominican Republic. We wanted to see a baseball game while I was there (being a major Phillies fan myself), but we did not have the chance. The batter and catcher (pictured below) were set up several feet from the pitcher.
I had never met Deborah before, and was very excited to get to know her. When we reached Punta Cana, a resort town on the Eastern edge of the island, she had been out on a dive. Deborah was planting coral in the sea and monitoring the growing process. I may have this completely wrong, but that is how I understood it. I had never been in a resort before, but since she volunteered there we were given access to the resort as well!
Resorts are not my thing. Neither were they David or Deborah’s. But why not enjoy it if we have the access? We sat on the beach playing dominoes, went out with some of Deborah’s co-workers. My favorite part, however, was swimming in the ojas indigenas– very blue water holes.
After a few days in Punta Cana we took Deborah back to Monte Plata with us. Monte Plata is basically in the center of the country; David and Deborah lived there. They had amazing friends in the city with whom we spent a lot of time (family photos further down). At some point David needed to go to Santo Domingo for some work, so Deborah and I went along. Santo Domingo turned into a place where I reflected a lot. For me, a major part of the travel experience is to connect with the history of the country and understand it. Of course as a person from the Western Hemisphere, this place carries a lot of meaning for me. Above is a plaza where I sat for a while, staring at the statue of Christopher Columbus in the center. This was the place that it all began: where the Spanish (and by extension the Europeans) landed and never left. I needed to reflect on that– and I did. I glanced at the shoreline and then darted my eyes back to the plaza. I grieved and got lost in thought at this physical place and the repercussions of that landing some six hundred years back when Europeans became aware of the presence of the Americas. It held a lot of meaning for me as a Palestinian, an indigenous person who was also displaced by colonizers from the sea, and whose entire society was erased and replaced with another society. All of this as I sat in this plaza thinking about this country and its past. Santo Domingo was important to me on another level as well.
Architecture like this in the Caribbean, or in Latin America in general, reminds me of the smallness of the world. Every time. The architecture above is a typical example of evolved Arabic architecture, which today is known as Spanish architecture. Just before Ferdinand and Isabella funded the voyage of Columbus, the Spanish had conquered Spain (mostly the South) from the Arab empire and purged the Muslims. This was the time they set up the inquisitions. In fact without the wealth and navigation knowledge of the libraries of Andalusia, the voyage itself could not have been possible. In the Spanish colonies (even in the American South and southern Midwest) there is a distinct type of architecture. It is all Arabic-inspired architecture that the Spaniards brought with them from Andalusia. The world was once a much more porous space. Nationalism, a very modern concept, created the rigid border divisions that we have today. We believe that communication is now expanding and globalization is making the world smaller. In fact, we divided ourselves and are just now slowly moving away from the rigid divisions we only created recently.
The Dominican Republic is a very Catholic country. However, as in other Caribbean cultures, there is a fair amount West African religious influence. As we walked around the city we discovered this cathedral that also had a beautiful courtyard; and in the middle this statue. An anti-abortion sculpture, the inscription translates into:
“Human life is sacred and not to be violated, in every moment of its existence, including its initial moments that precede birth…” Joh Paul II.
As Deborah and I walked through Santo Domingo, we found a small shop where this man was rolling cigars. They’re not Cuban, but it was cool to watch. He welcomed us in and showed us how he rolled the cigar, then asked me to photograph him. I loved the way the colors came out in the photo.
My friends and amazing hosts, David and Deborah. On a trip that David made to DC for a few interviews, he stayed with us and invited me to visit them in the DR. Naturally I booked my ticket as he was inviting me! I am so glad that I did. This was the first time that I met his partner Deborah. This photo was taken just outside of their house in Monte Plata. To the left, not pictured, was their house, and specifically the window to the room I stayed in. Every morning the water truck drove past, selling potable water. Being from the Arab World myself I was used to obnoxious noises coming from gasoline, water, and vegetable sellers butt early in the morning. But the water truck in the Dominican Republic was different. This truck played a salsa song about agua. It was a fun song to wake up to, and unlike when the trucks that sell things in the Middle East come around, I was not unhappy to be awakened at 5am! I would even sing the agua song throughout the day.
This amazing girl, whose name I cannot remember right now, became Deborah and my instant friend. We met her at the clinic that David worked at when we accompanied him there for the day.We played with her for a bit, and then her mom took her away to where she needed to be. Moments later she strolled back to us by herself. She left her mom, who later showed up frantically looking for her, and walked around searching, until she found us. Her mom let her stay with us until we left. She was an endless source of entertainment, as most two-year-olds tend to be. She sang us songs and demanded that we applaud: UN APPLAUSO! Here Deborah showed off her glasses to our little friend, who also wore glasses.
The next few photos are family photos of Deborah and David, their friends Matilde and Moreno, and their children.
Finally, at the very end I returned to Santo Domingo. The city, and in fact the Dominican Republic, saw me off well. Here we randomly found a party at the central square. Live salsa music, hundreds of people dancing, fruit vendors. It was the perfect end to the vacation, topped off only by a bitter-sweet goodbye over coffee the next morning.