By Kaitlin Green
From the minute we stepped out of the airport our group was welcomed with open arms. When we arrived at Casa Pastoral, our home for the week, Tata and the others there welcomed us, and the Powers, as if being reunited with old family.
The next day we began our first trip to Batey 50. As the bus rolled up, we peered out the windows at Batey 50, watching waves of children running toward the bus, as the adults stood nearby. As I was getting up to get off the bus, I locked eyes with a young girl, who looked about 8, with bright blue beads intertwined into her hair, framing her smiling face. I smiled back at her, and followed the rest of the group off the bus. As I descended off the bus our group began to intermingle with the children of the batey, asking each other’s names and beginning to play. Professor Powers began to lead a tour of the batey, as we followed. Out of no where, a girl ran straight towards me and grabbed my wrist, pulling me towards the tour to show me around, as I looked down, I realized it was the girl with the blue beads that I had locked eyes with on the bus. Although I spoke little spanish we exchanged basic information, I learned her name was Shaka, from then on, we were inseparable for the day.
At the end of the first day, right as we were beginning to load onto the bus an old woman, began making her way across the train tracks towards us, and proceeded to go around and hug, kiss on the cheek, and thank each member of our group for coming to help. We later learned her name was Melissa, an 85 year old woman who had lived on the Batey most of her life. That night at the class meeting, Professor Powers explained that Melissa wanted to show us her house, one that a group had built a couple years ago. The next morning, it was the first thing we did when we arrived in the Batey. As we unloaded from the bus, Melissa saw us coming and ran to her house, in order to be at the door to welcome us. She excitedly showed us her house, beaming with pride and happiness. The next day, I had the chance to talk with Melissa, and can truly say she is one of the most kindhearted and gracious people I have ever met.
Although everyone we met welcomed us with open arms, the experience of New year’s Eve, in the Dominican sums up just how welcoming people are. We arrived at the church new year’s eve service at 11:30, but it had been going since 8:00. As we walked in, men ran to get chairs and asked people who had been sitting for hours to move over so we could sit. They then proceeded to publically thank our group and welcome us. The service continued, but began to get livelier and livelier. By the time it was midnight people (including me) were dancing around the church in a conga line, as people on the stage sang and jammed out to a live band. The celebration continued well after midnight, and complete strangers greeted us as we left, giving us loving hugs while wishing us a happy new year. It was truly a new years I’ll never forget, and a reminder of how incredibly welcoming and sincere the people of the Dominican are.