Spending nine days traveling through an unknown third world country, smelling strange scents on dirt roads, on a school bus with over 250,000 miles, made for a truly interesting experience. There is absolutely nothing about the time in La Romana or the Bateye’s (Sugar Cane Villages) that I would consider “normal”. Somehow, this is what made my experience there all the more incredible. Every moment was a challenge. New food, faces I have never seen, and lifestyles that are so opposite from mine it is hard to grasp.
My favorite moment of the week was when my classmate, Sarah Raphaelson, and I were in our friend Gloria’s house with her mom, little sister, and her best friend Joselina. We were communicating the best we knew how and there were many more laughs than one would expect. After about thirty minutes of conversation, I did not know how to explain something to them. The language barrier was there again. But Gloria shoved the curtain, the door to her room, aside and went in. She came out thirty seconds later with a English Spanish Dictionary. I was so impressed by her in this moment because Gloria had the drive to learn English on her own. Many people in the states pay hundreds and thousands on Rosetta Stone, or fancy foreign language classes. But Gloria who does not have much to her name at all, just has a book. It was truly eye opening to realize that learning is not about the amount of supplies or experience you have, it is about the desire to better yourself and to become more than you already are.
I really enjoyed our bus rides to and from the Bateye’s a lot more than I expected to. It provided time for reflection while being surrounded by my goofy classmates, children of the Dominican Republic playing drums on the water cooler, and Professor Powers and his family. The wind in my face, the smells of chicken cooking as we drove through the city, and the butterflies in my stomach made me feel energized each day.
As I left Casa Pastoral, where we stayed, I found myself looking out the window at the train tracks. The train tracks with the freight cars were one of the first things I noticed when we arrived because they were everywhere we went. I did not realize how significant they would be. If I were to follow those tracks, no matter where I start, I would find Batey 50. I would be reunited with Gloria and Joselina. I would see Yolanda who cried as the bus pulled away on the last day. I would see smiles filled with more life than people in the United States, even though they lack basic necessities. The people of Batey 50 do not have much, but somehow they also have it all.