My newest wanderlust leads to a volunteer mission in the Dominican Republic. Ever since my tour in Tunisia, International Executive Service Corps (IESC), has coaxed, cajoled and finally secured another foreign assignment. My past efforts made an impact on organic producers with intentions to enter the international market. So as I fly south over the Bermuda Triangle, I admire the magnificent Cumulonimbus clouds over the wide expanse of blue and I ruminate how I can make a worthwhile impact.
The intentions of this journey are less culinary than my recent German experience. I have received dire warnings of kidnap and corruption, molestations of every imaginable manifestation. Earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, expressions of various tropical depressions were gravely possible. With strict instructions not to wander outside my hotel, I will do my best to comply. Yet the native cuisine beckons as I work with the local producers to export, market, and gain organic certification to build lasting sustainable prosperity.
And so my journey begins within these cautionary notes.
Despite the meager 4 hours of sleep my mind and body are invigorated. I feel sharp as my mind races with possibilities and promises of adventure. My bunions and arthritic fingers take a back seat. This often happens when I break pattern. Whether it is lack of sleep or the excitement of new destination I sever old connections, new synapsis fire, and the spirit wills new vitality. Change pulls me out of the torpor of the ordinary. I feel alive.
I sometimes wonder if I make these journeys for the invigoration or volunteer altruism. They are intermingled. I yearn to give as I desire the polarities and tensions of the unknown. And so my thoughts land as the plane touches ground to the passenger’s vigorous applause.
I have made it to my lodging and after a glorious nap, a dip in the pool; I am refreshed and ready to take in the evening. The hotel recommends “comida typical” which means traditional local cuisine. A 15 minute Uber deposits me outside a multi-leveled construct perched on the flanks of the warm Caribbean ocean, its water lapping rhythmically against a rocky bayou. The Mofongo is recommended so I order it with avocado.
The service is relaxed; the place is resplendent with families engaged in various stages of repose. After a soothing period of surf gazing my meal arrives. What appears before me is a giant hand hewn wooden egg-cup (a Pilon) mounded with a tight ball of non-descript origin. This glistening, warm and dense mound is plantain and yucca root flecked with succulent local pork. The meal is eaten with a spoon much like a triple scooped bowl of ice cream. However the Mofongo is dense, comforting and savory. Its richness is punctuated with the buttery flesh of green avocado nectar, abundant and native to the area. It’s a perfect yet filling starter to what might have been a relaxing evening meal.
Suddenly a ferocious Neptunian wind whips and swirls spewing its froth across my thighs. Napkins fly, cutlery shudders and awnings chatter. It is a mini tempestuous hurricane. All diners are urgently escorted away from their tables, no matter what has been eaten or that which has not yet arrived. A certain chaos ensues. No one knows where to go or what to do about their meals. I find my waiter amidst the milling and bewildered patrons pay my bill and head back. It’s been a long trip and I want to be fresh for my first full day on the Island of Hispaniola.
I awake to my one day to explore this tropical spit basking at 19 degrees south latitude. A local friend, an organic compatriot, and I head out of town toward one of the classic pristine beaches. As we drive away from Santo Domingo we pass many shanty towns cobbled together with clapboard and adobe, rusty corrugated roofs and with wide gaping doorways. No glass or screens grace these windows.
We leave the sprawling metropolis of 3 million and roll through fields resplendent with rice, oil palms, bananas and coconuts. The abundant rain produces a vertical curtain of jungle with vines, squawking birds and winged insects rubbing their legs in song.
We enter the Parque Haitises, a preserve of native trees and primordial rainforest. Volcanic mounds with every hue and hint of green and blinding red ochre soil which offsets the grassy hues. Even though the DR’s GDP is growing at 7% year over year, making it the fastest growing economy in Central America, there is a huge inequality gap. I learn that this gap is growing wider, the wealthy are gaining and the poor are falling behind. The average person makes just $388 USD per month. Yes, there is much work to be done.
We pass through small lazy villages, the barbers are clipping and the woman ride scooters with hair wrapped in rotund curlers the likes of which I haven’t seen since the 1960’s. They delicately balance their daily burdens on their head as they traverse the narrow streets. Bananas, pineapple, guava, plantains, and yucca are for sale from the doorways. Life here is simple, perhaps a bit hard but it looks as if everyone has enough to eat, and they are a relaxed and happy bunch. Merengue music orchestrates the afternoon.
Finally we lay eyes on the long stretch of white crystalline sand that spoons the turquoise Atlantic. All smatterings of sapphire, indigo, cobalt, sapphire, azul and aquamarine dance before my eyes. Unless one witnesses the cacophony of blue in person, one cannot imagine its existence in anything else but a dream. Here I am. I throw off my outer garments to frolic in this dreamy bath
We are here to enjoy and revere this special place we call home, our earth. I am here to impart a tidbit or two of what I have learned over the years in order to aid our home and our agrarian partners. And as these first hedonistic days end, I anticipate the journey ahead and much needed work to come.