Flying over the ocean preparing to land in Santo Dominigo, I notice how small the island of Dominican Republic and Haiti really is. Just a little piece of land in the middle of a big ocean. I picture it on the map and am quickly reminded of just how small it really is compared to the big world. However, once we land and we are on the ground, it seems just as grand as America. I think of the Who’s in Whoville, living on that spec of dust that Horton hears.
For most of us, we are reminded of places like the Dominican Republic only when tragedy strikes, like an earthquake or other newsworthy event. However, while we live in our big world, these people live in theirs.
As we disembark the plane, I notice how loud it is. Everyone speaks various dialects of Spanish and they speak very loud. It’s hot and humid and the smell of burning brush is immediately noticeable. We walk through customs and see hundreds of dark skinned people waving to us – awaiting our arrival.
We board a “bus” – all 14 of us – while Manco and Ramon pile our luggage in the back. We ride through the country along the very windy road from Santo Domingo to Habanero and despite the loud Latino music, I am comforted by the vastness of the land. The banana trees and sugar cane that grow rampantly, the mountains with nothing on them, the hot sun on my face. I have time to think and prepare myself for the journey ahead.
I do not know what will happen once we arrive in Habanero but I can see in Manco’s eyes they are happy we are there. After 6 hours on the bus we finally arrive in Habanero. The children are playing in the dirt streets and they see us and begin chasing our bus. What I can’t figure out is who is more excited, the kids or the dental team that recognizes these children from last year.
We get dropped off at the school which will become the dental clinic for the next 5 days. The village is dusty, houses are shacks and the school smells of sweat and humidity. I am amazed by the school and what Brenda has done in such a short amount of time. Only three years and her school is full – the walls are adorned with the ABC’s, numbers, days of the week and the months of the year all in Spanish. Each room has a chalkboard, little tables and tiny chairs. Additionally, each child has a black bucket on a shelf with their name on it – a “cubby” all to themselves. Tears come to my eyes when I think of all the hard work and tireless fundraising it has taken for the school to look this way.
I look into the children’s eyes as they follow us around and I am stunned by the beauty of this culture. They are gorgeous people. I feel overwhelmed with grace and love from a Higher Power. The intensity of these children is comforting but yet daunting at the same time.
After setting up the dental clinic we all walk to Brenda’s house, only a block away. The streets are littered with garbage and children are running around half naked – following us like harmless paparazzi. We get to Brenda’s and have dinner – lovingly prepared by Carmen, Iooti and Ramona – Brenda’s blessings. There is no electricity so it’s hot and dark so we eat by candlelight. We take a quick, one minute shower and climb into bed. Bunkbeds, 4 people to a room, each bed covered by a mosquito net.
We sleep restlessly until we hear the hum of the fan at about 3:00am, the electricity has gone back on! About an hour later the roosters crow, motorcycles ramp around the corner, dogs chase the motorcycles and then fight with each other. It’s time to start our first day of “work” at L’escuela de Habanero!