Week 5

2 04 2010

It was so nice to be back in the city after spending the week in Los Cacaos. It was even nice to return to classes, some stimulation! We happened to go on quite a few field trips this week. In our afternoon class, Community Medicine, we began working in La Zona Sur. La Zona Sur is an extremely poor part of Santiago where a new public health initiative has been started with the help of PUCMM.  The system is called Juan XXIII and it involves the help of community volunteers. We were split into groups and assigned an area to cover with a supervisor. The main job of the supervisor is to make house visits to check on the people and make sure that they are getting medical attention if they need it. It sounds like a good idea in theory, but the volunteers are members of the same community, have the same limited access to medical resources, and do not have any medical training. We can talk to the people and encourage them to practice healthy habits and go to the hospital but if they don’t have transportation or the resources to maintain healthy practices our efforts seem worthless.

In our Medical Sociology class we visited a part of the city that was a huge market place where produce, meats, and botanical healing medicines were sold. It’s hard to describe in words but I have attached pictures to aid in the explanation. It was packed with people, there were fruits and vegetables everywhere, and a smell of rotting food and body odor consumed the streets. As we wandered through the markets, the piropos (compliments, more like cat calls) didn’t stop! They must have been very curious as to why a group of about 30 Americans were walking through their market place. We worked our way to a store that sold botanical healing remedies and other natural products such as good luck rocks. We learned a bit about the healing powers of each of the plants and potions and I was offered “love potion” so that I would fall in love with one of the owners at the store. Good thing it was just perfume 😉

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On Wednesday evening a group of us went to a traditional Dominican club. We passed the night dancing merengue, bachata, salsa, and reaggaeton. I really really enjoyed it! The dancing and music here is so much fun and so much more social than the clubs in the US. I have enjoyed learning each style. It seems to me that every Dominican can dance, although I’m told that is not true. They do, however, learn from a very young age how to dance. I have pretty much mastered merengue and bachata but need some work on my salsa skills.

The rest of the week was spend studying and taking various exams. When Friday came around it was time to pack up and get ready for a weekend excursion to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

The guagua ride was spent catching up on sleep! We stayed in the Historical District of Santo Domingo in a gorgeous hotel. We settled into the hotel and headed out for a walking tour of the historical district. Santo Domingo was the first city in the Americas; it was discovered by Columbus and colonized by the Spaniards. We saw Columbus’ house, the first seminary in the Americas, the first hospital in the Americas and various monuments. The district really reminded me of Europe (not that I have ever been but from the pictures that Juliana has brought back they seem to look similar. After the walking tour we had a HUGE meal at an Italian restaurant and went out to experience night life in the capital.

The next day we visited una casa de arte where traditional Dominican house ware, knick knacks, and other such things were sculpted, painted, and sold. After a tour, we sat down to paint a small sculpture of our choice. It was interesting to learn about the traditional goods that Dominicans have constructed from various materials such as wood, plaster, and fruit casings. For the afternoon we were allowed to elect a trip to the aquarium or the botanical garden…I bet you can guess which one I chose! The aquarium was set up on the coast and it was open air so you wandered through a building with just a roof that was full of tanks and other natural exhibits.

We rested for the remainder of the afternoon and then all got dressed up for a big dinner out. Everyone looked so nice in their “fancy clothes”! We had a gorgeous meal in a restaurant that was built in a cavern! It was a three course meal complete with an unlimited supply of wine. It was a very enjoyable meal with excellent food and wonderful company. Our directors have said that this is one of the most likeable groups and I couldn’t agree more. All of us really get along well and there have been no problems (gracias a Dios!).  Before the dinner I was feeling a bit homesick (I am honestly surprised that this was the first time that it hit me). But Lauren was plotting the whole time and I got a surprise visit from a friend from Santiago! It was a wonderful surprise. The night life in Santo Domingo is much like Santiago except the clubs are packed with people, I think I prefer Santiago.

The next day we got up early to take a trip to a national park called “Los tres ojos”. It was an underground cavern with four lakes. It was absolutely gorgeous with the crystal clear water and rock formations. After the tour we headed back to the hotel for a 4th of July celebration! I was so happy to bite into a hamburger, hotdog, potatoes salad and French fries!! I had no idea how much I had missed “traditional” American food. It was sad not to be in the US for Independence day, but on the bus back home we all sang the national anthem- cheesy I know but at the time very meaningful.

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