"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

>> Friday, March 30, 2012

Tourist or Traveler?

Sailing into the Dominican Republic this is what one experiences: deep blue water, dramatic landscapes, and the anxiety of being in a new place. Then, the wind dies as you go closer to the shore and soon the rumble of the main engine is heard on deck. The lookout notices it first-we’re sailing into bigger and bigger garbage patches as the coast becomes more developed. Then, the skyscrapers are upon us (a shocking sight after so many days at sea).

The Dominican Republic is the only Caribbean destination on this trip that I’ve been to before. It is shocking to compare my experience here as a traveler to that of a tourist. Being with Ocean Classroom you see the trash in the ocean and the poverty in the barrios. These things, the taboos that are hidden from the tourists, allow you to understand the place you are in. An understanding of the place you’re in lets you make connections to life back home and realize there are other ways to live than what we were taught as children.


“Hola seniorita” says the cook as I peer into the kitchen. His voice is one of a kind, a scratchy, high pitched tone. “Ayuda me?” I ask him blushing as I realized I had just asked him for help, the opposite of what I meant. He stared at me as I frantically try to fix my mistake-a blur of “yo’s” and “tu’s” coming out of my mouth accompanied by hand signals. He laughs, leans down, and proceeds to plop a bunch of yllo plantains (the sweet kind) on the counter. He speaks Spanish as he motions for me to peel and cut them. “ok” I say and get to work peeling the starchy bananas. “Como te llamas?” he asks and I answer with my name. He asks for a repeat “E-LIZ-A-BETH” I say, trying to annunciate as best I can. He tries to say it, but as it is a mouthful, mutters the last part. “tu ables espanol?” he asks. “pequito” I say telling him I only speak a little. He nods and starts speaking in slow, stuttered English. “I am learning englais, my name is Audi.”(Not pronounced like the car, said Awe-dee) I smile. “You speak well,” I say as I begin to slice the plantains at an angle. He points to me, “your nickname is Liz.” He pronounces it like “lease” and it took me a second to understand that he wasn’t trying to say “please”. I smile, “liz es un gato” but since Elizabeth is too much I let him call me Liz. He tells me that he will teach me more Spanish if I teach him more English. “Okay” I say, “it’s a deal.”

I get up early the next morning and go down to the kitchen where Pedro, the care taker, is cutting fruit and listening to loud bolero. Audi comes in and laughs, getting me a cutting board and some pineapple. “como estas?” he asks and I tell him I’m good. He begins to make fun of Pedro’s music, making the suave Latino beat. Even though I don’t know everything they are saying it makes me laugh. It is very awesome to hang out with people that only speak Spanish. When I was standing there cutting naranjas and pina for desayuno it was almost like the language barrier disappeared.

So there I was, in a small kitchen in the Dominican Republic with two guys who knew I was totally American but wanted to help me learn about their culture, listening to the early morning city sounds and Latino music, completely content with what I was doing. Sometimes you have to search for your cultural experience, the one where you’re not really a tourist but when you get it it’s well worth the wait.



Can you imagine being born without an identity? In a world where people are barcodes on a global grind, not having an identity takes on a whole new meaning. Stateless children are Haitian children born on Dominican soil. The Dominican Republic will not recognize them and their parents’ (or grandparents’, or great grandparents’) homeland, Haiti, will not accept them. The fact that this situation exists is beyond ridiculous, it is unacceptable, but as it is not immediately relevant or important to people with the ability to change it, it continues.

Emi is a stateless orphan. She is six years old and a beautiful girl with an amazing, unsupressible smile. She is shy but if you let her in she’ll talk your ears off even though she knows you don’t understand her. When I first met Emi I was attempting to dig out a big glass bottle but I didn’t have one of the few shovels available and was getting pretty annoyed moving the dirt around. One moment it was two dirty white hands shoveling away, the next it was two dirty white ones and two small black ones.

Emi had not been one of the many touch-starved orphans to launch themselves at me upon our arrival but had waited until she had my undivided attention. From that bottle shard on Emi did not leave my side. She walked miles around her village with me, not complaining when her friends got piggy-back rides and refusing to let anyone carry her small bag because I had told her it was “bonito”. Besides being one of the most deserving, kind-hearted kids I’ve met Emi is an amazing artist. When I brought out my colored pencils she forwent the typical flower-sun-scribble and drew me her home. She drew a landscape of spirals, mountains and waves. She drew a gorgeous world, a dreamland which was unmistakably magical. Looking at her art (it was art in the purest definition of the word) I couldn’t help but compare her to myself at six. I was a spoiled child who resented the art classes my parents gave me, who refused music lessons and ditched FLY (French group). This girl had a world of potential, but unlike me, she was not going to have any opportunity to cultivate it.

I will never choose to live in guilt, but Emi is never going to leave me. Today, I have a world of opportunity. I could be anything I want, Emi can’t and in her current situation she will never be able to. People tell me that I can change the world. I am not sure how realistic that is, but whatever I end up doing it will change Emi’s life. I won’t forget her.


Little stateless child, you welcomed me with laughter and happiness.

Little stateless child, I’m sorry I can’t really communicate with you I hardly speak my own language.

Little stateless child, how curious and fascinated you are with all my foreign features.

Little stateless child, you wear my bandana as if it was made for you.

Little stateless child, I have to go for a minute to eat my lunch while you only get a glass of milk today.

Little stateless child, I’m back to play for twenty minutes until it is time to go.

Little stateless child, hasta manana! I promise I’ll be back.

Little stateless child, it’s crazy how quickly these three days have passed with I’m with you.

Little stateless child, I made a new friend this week who I will never forget.

Little stateless child, you can have my bandana as well as a little piece of my heart.

Little stateless child, you don’t know how hard it is to leave and not come back tomorrow.

Little stateless child, I wish I knew how to tell you that I promise I will be back someday.


The days spent volunteering at the orphanage for stateless children were very enlightening and opened my eyes a little more to some important aspects of life. First, upon starting work the first day I quickly came to notice that the children were very eager to step in and help. Here were kids who were of a different ethnicity, spoke a different language, had never seen us before and whose lives so far have been far from easy. Not only did they step in and help they clearly loved doing so. Secondly, it often appears that people in the USA and other well-developed nations have an obsession with material goods. Most of what we do tends to revolve around the trading, acquiring, and consuming of such goods. Lots of us also tend to believe that these interactions with material goods will make us happy. Therefore, it was pretty enlightening to see the kids at the orphanage very happy despite the fact that they have almost next to nothing. I believe it is because they have grown up with simply each other and their community around them. Their happiness seems to stem from simply being with the people they enjoy and having interactions with them. I feel that if maybe everyone lived a little more like that it would be a valuable lesson learned.


As we stepped off the bus at the orphanage for stateless children a swarm of smiling, cheering kids descended upon us. Out of a crowd a shy girl stood out to me standing away from the group with wide curious eyes. I went over and kneeled down next to her and asked, “como te llama?” She grabbed my hand, smiled and softly replied “Amallida.” From that point on she had my heart. Her sweet quiet demeanor among the hoards of rowdy kids was absolutely precious. We were given a tour of the village and walked to the river, Amallida by my side, holding my hand the whole way. When we returned to the orphanage the next day Amallida was standing at the gate and when she saw me her eyes lit up as she ran to give ma a hug. I know very little Spanish and she didn’t speak any English, but I got the feeling we understood each other. On the third day when we were leaving I knelt down to give Amallida a hug and said “adios chica”. She kissed my cheek as a tear rolled from her eye and shyly whispered “adios”. I could have burst into tears myself. I will never forget sweet little Amallida.


When you have so much it is hard to appreciate everything as we start to lose appreciation for everything from the roof over our heads to our family. At the end of our first day at the orphanage the kids took us on a tour of their town and down to the river. At the river I went and sat between these two kids, a little boy and a girl who was no older than twelve. As soon as I sat down the boy started to cry. I picked him up to try to offer some comfort and as soon as he could see her again he reached for the girl on my other side. I put him down next to her and he grabbed on to her like she was the last thing he had. After talking to the girl some I found out that he was her little brother and I realized that she really was the only person that he had.

These two little kids over the course of ten minutes made me reconsider my entire life. They made me appreciate everything again. They made me realize that we should cling to everyone in our lives like they are the last person we have while giving up everything that we have like we have ten more, because our friends and our families will only last us one lifetime which is not even close to enough time to tell them how important they are.


This week I’ve played many roles. I have been the niece that my Dominican family has not seen in a while, an excited teenager find out what colleges I was accepted to, a volunteer in a life changing community service project creating a foundation for a school, and most importantly, I’ve been a translator. Attempting to erase the language barrier while staying on my toes very happily awaiting requests on how to say things, what certain words mean, etc. My favorite of being a translator is being able to be a part of every conversation. Stories about childhoods, sharing of future plans, translating favorite colors and favorite foods, and telling somebody how to say, “I love you”. I was such an important role in communication this week. It was nice to see everyone’s Spanish improve as the week went on and seeing them rely less on me. The excitement in their voices when they would walk up to me and say, “oh my god Patricia! I just had an entire conversation in Spanish! I wish you could have heard me!”


Today we went to an orphanage. It was really dirty with trash everywhere. I was shocked to see how happy the kids were. In America kids with ten times as much are still unhappy with what they have which is so much compared to these orphans. The first day we went we cleared out some trees and put trash that we found lying around into trash bags. The next day we put all of the trash into some kind of hole that was dug up. It was very sad to leave those kids knowing that they had so little. It really made me think of all the opportunities I have and what I have been taking for granted.


The city is a big place and I am a small person.

The world is a big place and we sail it on a small boat.

Santo Domingo purrs at night like a cat filled with satisfaction.

So does my fan.

So does my belly.

The rain comes often

So do our smiles.

So do our wake ups.


On our way there we sit and watch as the people stare at us. We stop at this lot on the side of the road with a gate. Children rush the gate cheering and chanting with joy. We get off the bus and enter through the gate. The children lead us in to their school and show us around. Their school consists of two tarps hanging from the trees acting as a roof. They have old broken plastic play ground toys and beat up old desks. Despite the minimal things they had we all still had a ton of fun playing with them.


Finally we have arrived in the Dominican Republic. For the first couple of days we are staying in Santo Domingo at the Amistad Center. At the Amistad center there is a house keeper named Pedro. He is a short guy. He is really funny and kind. Even though he does not speak English we can still some how understand each other. We will miss him when we leave the DR.

- John


The life that we live

Is no longer ours

The life that we give

Is what fuels fires.

Decades ago

I did not exist.

Now that I am here

My name’s on a list.

How can I stand out?

How can I make a change?

What can I do to prove

That time has gone by?

Offer a hand

Offer a lift

Offer a smile

That’s the greatest gift.

When you’ve moved on

And all that’s left

Is a grinning image of you

And your love for the rest

Your job has been done,

You’ve made a change

And people now know

What they must arrange.


This week over all was a nice time. Working at the orphanage was extremely eye opening and rewarding. The kids are extremely happy even given the situation. They 100% deserve this new school and I wish I could have done more to help.

The second part of the week was much more relaxing then I thought it would be. It was in a beautiful place. This week was great and I’m happy to get back on the boat!


A smooth

Cocoa plume

Sucked in

Like an embryo

Because embryos

Do that sometimes

Suck in thickly

To mass produce

Like violent rock structures

To roll through

And break the earth

Sitting by the river

I watch as they head back into their cabins

Turning on the lights

So they see

Their feet

Scrape the floor

Floor scathed

And the sky still broken

I hurl into my feet bare

The part of me I love the most

For enveloping

Children of the flies

Runoff from the skies

Blessed center of the rubbled growth

Dusty river

The valley

What perplexes me

Is the pattern

Of the leaves

Slightly harmed

By the breath

Of the waves


Las Burbujas

Floating aimlessly

Through the sea of children

A wave of bubbles

Rides the morning sky


A connection.

Something shared across

Barriers of language, race, class

Needless to the backgrounds

That differ so severely.

They giggle and point

Fingers reaching and wiggling

Into the still air.

Corre, corre!

Like followers of the Pied Piper

They are led on a wild chase

Skipping, sprinting, hopping, grabbing

Captivated with delight.

Entranced by the carefree game

Until the last drops

Of solution are scraped

From the plastic bottle

Mas burbujas?

Lo siento, mi amigo, no tengo mas.

The moment has ended

But the image remains

Frozen into the smiling eyes

Of all the children

Black and white

Big and small




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