Tuesday, October 11, 2011

trip to the Haitian border!

I have a piece of paper hanging on my wall that lists all of the places that I want to go, the people I want to visit, and the cultural activities that I want to experience during my time in the Dominican Republic. I put little empty boxes next to each item (as I do with any to-do lists…learned that from some management book in college. Try it out! :o) ) During times that I feel stuck in my site, I will add random, easily attainable items to the list so I will feel like I’m making steps towards my goals. For example, the other day I was able to check off “Chinese food in my town” from the paper, and it was a very good day. Any time I’m able to use the designated checking-off black Sharpie brings about a sense of accomplishment.

However, last week was different.

I was able to check off boxes that I had been dying to do since I arrived in this country. “See the border” and “Visit the Haitian Market in Dajabon.”

It was incredible because it was a new experience for me. Tambien, it was a sneak peek into Haiti, a country that I’m particularly anxious to visit. You see, volunteers aren’t allowed to cross the border due to safety/security/liability issues with the government. Disappointing, but understandable. However, I am already planning a trip with some friends to cross over the week after I finish my service!

In 214 days.

Not that I’m counting.

Back to the point, I went to the border!

It was one of those events that made me remember how overwhelming the DR can be to visitors. It was quite the reminder of increased sympathy that I need to show when I am giving tours of the Dominican Republic. It brought me back to how I first felt when I came to the DR, not knowing the language, culture, customs, reasons that the people were doing this or that. I felt all of this come back as I went to an area of the country that I did not, and still don’t really understand.

Although different from the laid back, good natured interactions with generally humble, friendly Haitians through a semi-organized marketplace that I had been picturing, the market was still very interesting and beautiful in its own way. Beautiful chaos might be a better description for it.

People were literally sprinting back and forth over the bridge that connects the two very different countries. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was running because it seemed like it was a free for all in terms of crossing borders. Nevertheless, with large crates of chickens and mile-high piles of toilet paper rolls on their heads, the Haitians were on a mission.

It was amazing, intimidating and saddening- all rolled into one 3 hour visit. There were countless pick-pocketers trying their best shot, as well as more focused individuals pushing barrels filled with everything from cow heads to diapers. And a 90-year-old woman with a Volkswagen-sized package on her head. Sprinting…she was sprinting.

Haitians have a great deal of racism and discrimination to overcome in the DR, and it’s really eye-opening when you get a closer look at their daily battles. There are only a handful of Haitians in my town, and I am still in the midst of the slow process of understanding their struggles. I really like a quote by Daniel Goleman that says, “The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does. You have to really see the person. If you see the person, then naturally, empathy arises. If you tune into the other person, you feel with them. If empathy arises, and if that person is in dire need, then empathic concern can come. You want to help them, and then that begins a compassionate act. So I'd say that compassion begins with attention.” Not that the trip to the border made it any clearer, but I feel lucky to have had another snapshot to make me stop, give attention, and think.

I am not sure I will ever be able to make it back to Dajabon, but I am really thankful that I made the time to see a different side of the country. The freedom to travel and experience a different side of the culture whenever I want are things I know I’m going to miss after my service.

I’ve included a few pictures from the day….enjoy!

Pictures from a nearby beach in Monte Cristi.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing the places you can see in a day trip. Glad you got to visit the border and see that side of the country and check that off your list :o) Love seeing the pictures! That beach is beautiful too! Love and miss you very much!