Author: Georgianna M. Rivard Severance
July 7, 2012 – Almost a month has passed since our trip to the Dominican Republic – and the warm people still leave an imprint on my mind. The photos and my entries will keep the DR alive in the present as time moves forward. Be sure and view the photo gallery at the end.
We stayed in La Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo for 4 nights. It is the oldest European city in the Americas andwas founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus the brother of Christopher Columbus. (St. Augustine, Florida, also Spanish, is the oldest European city in the United States and was founded in 1513 by Ponce de León of Puerto Rico. Jamestown, Virginia was founded almost 100 years later in 1607 by the English. Note – with all due respect, our Hispanic heritage in the United States is older than our Anglo-Saxon roots.)
La Ciudad Colonial
El Alcázar de Diego Colón (The son of Christopher Columbus)
June 22, 2012
“Las mismas cosas en todas partes, eso sí, solo que de otra manera”
Ortega y Gasset
I try to remember this quote wherever I go – whether it is to another home, another town, another State or another country – because, like everyone else, I like to be comfortable. It means, “all things the same everywhere, of course, only in another way”.
Leal Silverman says in his book, “Siglo veinte” (continue to top right column).Purple flower – taken inside Cathedral
“Understanding a culture from outside is an intellectual task full of difficulties and dangers. It takes work to identify the norms of our culture with those of human nature in general. The temptation to believe that the form and sense of our values and concerns, our ideals and ambitions, our motives and solutions, are universal. At the same time, and without some paradoxical element, it is difficult to suppress that air of superiority that we all experience when confronted with that which is foreign.”
In my opinion, culture shock is particularly poignant when traveling in developing countries. During my stay in the DR, I was reminded of the technological conveniences of the United States, only by their absence. Everyday we take our computers, our transport system and our luxury products for granted. Our living conditions are first class because we have access to health and dental services, dependable water resources and good public education and we easily fall into the trap of believing that we are superior beings and smarter people because of these amenities. What I found in the DR is I could not depend 100% on these luxuries – whether or not the car would break down or the air conditioning or electricity would cut out. I had to be careful about which fruits and vegetables I ate, and about stepping in mud puddles with cholera infested water. The amazing thing is Dominicans live with these inconveniences everyday and in spite of everything they always have a welcoming smile and are ready to engage in conversation.
Trip to the Samaná peninsula
After our stay in La Ciudad Colonial in Santo Domingo, we ventured off the normal beat and path when we hired a taxi to go from the south to the north part of the island and back again. What I found is that traveling independently in the DR is not for the meek and mild. One must expect to bargain every step of the way and it is essential to decide on a price and hold one’s ground. Yet even once the deal is set there may be no guarantees as to what’s in store. Hiring a taxi from Santo Domingo, the capital, to the peninsula of Samaná, turned out to be such an ordeal. Melvyn, our 30 year-old driver and a gentleman with seven children, was extremely reasonable in his fee, so we settled on the deal. Nonetheless, we soon found out that the two and half to three hour ride would be an unexpected adventure as his Nissan station wagon labored to a standstill in the middle of the high mountain road. This happened several times and each time Melvyn had some trick to get it to go. On the positive side the air conditioner worked all the way. We made it to our destination, Casa Cosón on Playa Cosón, where Melvyn, upon arrival, opened the hood of the car and proceeded to pour something into its slightly overheated engine. The flip side to this story is that we had to get back to the airport in four days. So leaving matters to men who believe that despite what we do,
Destiny is predetermed, – my husband paid for the trip and much to my amazement and fear, he agreed that Melvyn would return in four days to take us back to the airport in Santo Domingo. I suggested that we find a more reliable taxi and cancel Melvyn, but my husband said, “Any of the taxi’s can have problems”. So, four days later Melvyn faithfully returns at 11 A.M. o’clock sharp, in the same car, to take us back to the airport from our paradisiacal vacation. My fears are confirmed, – the car is running even worse than on the way there, – but the air conditioner is still working! Again, the car labors slowly up the hills as we drive along the beautiful Atlantic coastline of the Samaná Peninsula. The struggle continues through the Haitises National Park, a cluster of mound-like high hills, which run along the northeastern part of the island. When our driver turns off the air, the car seems to improve, and I say, “Leave the air off, if it’s going to work better”. He was so proud to be able to grant Boris’ request to have air, he didn’t want to keep it off, but it seemed to be the only option. So, without the air we increase our speed and make some progress, but then, even with the air off, we begin to chug along at a snails pace. Getting pretty nervous by this time, I ask, “are we going to make it?”. Melvyn looks at me in the mirror, with a saintly gaze, somewhat amazed I should even ask, and says, “Por supuesto!” which means, ‘of course’. So I say, “Tengo mis dudas’, or “I have my doubts”. I didn’t want to offend the guy, but really now (a typical gringo reaction). So, we stop at the next toll, happy to see some form of civilization, when the car kills. I thought, ‘better have it kill here, than in the middle of the open highway’. Alas! – it starts up and we go along our chugging way. Then suddenly, the car begins to cough and spit, and slow more and more until the engine kills in the middle of the road. (There is of course minimal traffic because most Dominicans can’t afford to pay the tolls on this fancy new road.) Melvyn fiddles with something under the dash, and by some grace of God, it starts up again. Finally, after a couple of tolls, we pull over at a truck stop. Melvyn gets out, opens the lid of the car and announces, “30 kilómetros al aeropuerto”. So we do our necessities and then see Melvyn pouring water into the engine, and steam beginning to barrel out. A few minutes later, Yeah! ok, car must be cool by this time, so we pile back in and again we are on our precarious way, just like “The Little Engine that Could”, at a snails pace, chugging along. Signs of city life begin emerging, so I think, ‘well, at least if we completely break down now, we will be able to call another taxi’. Fortunately, we had given ourselves plenty of time to make our flight. The car continues to run, only God knows how. By this time I am really beginning to restore my Catholic faith in the Supreme Being. Feelings of relief overcome me as we begin to follow signs for the airport. At last! –We arrive at El Aeropuerto Internacional de Las Americas, with a huge, Whew! Melvyn, ever so calm, gets out, opens the hatch and takes out our luggage. Boris rounds out the bill, pays him and we all shake hands. Melvyn lets us know, he wants to get a new car (the one we were in was a rental) but he needs to make more money. He gives Boris his number to call just in case we are back in town and need a taxi. I take a photo of Melvyn, Boris and the car, and with an “Adios”, we are on our way inside to check in. Boris and I look at each other and he says,” Well, we got to help feed those seven kids”. Nothing more is said, except, “We made it!” And so, this is a perfect example of how all the technology in the world couldn’t save us and only, with a real lot of Luck, God’s goodwill or Karma, and a huge amount of faith in humankind, were we able to get back and forth from Santo Domingo and the Samaná Peninsula of the Dominican Republic! In the DR I had to relearn that instead of looking for perfection in the things around me that I had to trust the Dominicans to guide me in their imperfect technological society and their very human way, because in a strange land one must “Do as the Romans Do”, or perish. Silverman is correct to say that it is human nature to find discomfort in these unexpected differences but that once one ventures to foreign lands and embraces change without prejudice, that life becomes more meaningful and fulfilling. As Ortega y Gasset would say, “las mismas cosas en todas partes, eso sí, sólo de otra manera.” The same things everywhere, of course, only in another way.
June 20, 2012
Dominican History and U.S. Foreign Relations
Struggle for Independence
A summary of Dominican history in Lonely Planet (1st edition by Scott Doggett and Leah Gordon, July 1999) left me fascinated with the political instability of this country and the role the United States has played since the DR’s struggles for independence. I will share what I have learned to accompany the photographs I took during our nine-day stay on the island. (See photos below articles)
The country that is known today as the Dominican Republic, formally broke away from Spain on November 30, 1821 when a Spanish lieutenant governor named José Nuñes de Cáceres, declared Independence. This breaking away was influenced by the wave of other Spanish colonies of the Americas winning independence. A few years prior to liberation, this land, which shared the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, came to be called the “España Boba” or “Foolish Spain”, due to economic mismanagement by the Spanish crown. In 1821 the present day DR would be renamed “Spanish Haiti”. Upon independence, the intention of the governor was to unite the territory with The Republic of Gran Colombia, which consisted of today’s countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá and Venezuela. However, before the annexation to the Republic of Gran Colombia could take place, the Haitian ruler, Jean Pierre Boyer invaded Santo Domingo and united “Spanish Haiti” under one flag. Consequently Dominicans would be ruled by Haiti from 1821 to 1844. (Haiti had already won its independence from France on January 1, 1804 and slavery was abolished). The Haitian rule brought one good thing to the DR and that was the end to slavery! In 1844 the Dominicans regained independence when Juan Pablo Duarte, a young idealist educated in Europe, saw the miserable conditions under which the Dominicans were living. He organized a resistance resulting in a bloodless coup on February 27th, 1844. To this day February 27this celebrated as the Dominican Day of Independence and Duarte is revered as the liberator of the Dominican Republic. From 1844 to 1864 the Dominican Republic was ruled by power hungry men consisting of a military caudillo and his family, General Pedro Santana, and later, by a rich landowner, Buenaventura Baéz Mendéz. In order to keep himself in power Santana returned economic leverage to Spain. Dominicans were not about to tolerate colonialism under Spanish crown a second time, thus the Restoration War broke out and Dominican peasants fought against Spanish soldiers and forced them out. As a result, on March 3, 1863, the queen of Spain annulled the annexation of the DR and it became “fully independent” for the last time. This is not to say that the DR would be governed fairly and democratically, as we are all aware, especially, of the brutal dictatorship under the Era of Trujillo from 1930-1961.
As a result of unstable Dominican governments and threats of European intervention, the United States would play a role in Dominican history, at least three times, between 1870 and 1963. The first intervention by the U.S. took place under the government of Baéz Mendéz in the 1870’s who was trying to gain support for popularity. At this time the U.S. military was already pressuring the U.S. government to establish a military post in the Caribbean region. Coinciding with this effort, the peninsula of Samaná was leased to an American firm, which had hopes of subletting this area to the United States Navy in order to establish a base. It was even suggested by Harrison King, Secretary of State under Ulyssess S. Grant, that the Dominican Republic, like Texas, annex itself to the United States. The idea of a formal U.S. presence, circulated for a couple of years, until the U.S. Congress finally voted against it in 1871. The need for establishing a military base in the DR became less important with the Spanish American War of 1898. With the resolution of this conflict the U.S. secured the Caribbean waters when Puerto Rico was purchased from Spain and independence was gained for Cuba. Along with Cuba’s independence, a naval base was established on Guantánamo Bay, which further minimized the need for having a military post in the Dominican Republic. U.S. interests in the Dominican Republic, nonetheless, persisted at the turn of the 20th century, with continued political instability in the region. In 1916, a year before the outbreak of WWI, there was rumor that the Germans were interested in setting up a military post on the Dominican portion of the island. As this threat intensified the U.S. took action and occupied the island militarily in 1916 and stayed until 1924. In 1961, after the Trujillo dictatorship, political instability set in when the writer/politician Juan Bosch became president, only to be ousted a year later and sent into exile. The question of the transition of power and by whom, was on the mind of the United States government. Once again it took it upon itself to send 22.000 troops to the island to instill some control and insure that its choice of government was set in place. So, we can see from this history that the DR has experienced severe and constant political turmoil. We can’t help but wonder in 2012 about the future of the people in this country. Will todays new government look out for the socio-economic wellbeing of its people? One wonders how the Dominicans through out their struggles have become the hard working, warm, open and friendly people who welcome you daily on the streets of Santo Domingo and throughout the beautiful countryside. The following links will connect to interesting information about the DR.
June 17, 2012
What does one think of when hearing, “The Dominican Republic”? Perhaps Punta Cana, La Romana, shares an island with Haiti, all inclusive resorts, the dictator Trujillo, the United States invasion in 1922, and poverty, all come to mind. After arriving on the island of San Salvador, with his three fleets in 1492; La Nina, La Pinta and La Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus headed south to the north shore of another island which would be named Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic). The Santa Maria arrived in such poor condition that it was broken up and its timber was used to construct “La Navidad”, or the first Spanish fort of the New World. Approximately 10 years later around 1505, Santo Domingo was founded on the southern edge of the island by Columbus’ brother, Bartolome. Columbus’ son, Diego would become one of the first governors of the territory. In spite of the negative legacy Columbus has left behind, one cannot deny his ambitious character and wonder at his reasons to explore. Amazingly, he would make three more voyages back and forth from Spain to the New World in the next few years. Was he so power hungry, cruel to the natives and eager to acquire land and wealth, or was there a nobler reason for his adventures? He kept a copious journal – this may provide answers to some of these questions. Today the people and culture of the island primarily consist of the fusion of three cultural groups; the Tainos, or indigenous tribe (although most natives were killed off by disease and cruelty before much mixing could take place), the Spanish, or European influence, and African, due to the era of slave trade. Through photographs, I will attempt to portray elements and characteristics of the places I visit in the Dominican Republic and capture the beauty of its culture and people. These are hard to find in Punta Cana or La Romana, but rather are encountered on the streets and plazas of the cities and towns. With caution, one might venture beyond the walls of the compound, but then again, if your Spanish is a little rusty, you might think twice, or find a reputable guide. Faces, places and things of the DR.