The final few days of our trip were a whirlwind of activity, as we stormed ahead to finish our pending projects. But, of course, we certainly found time to enjoy ourselves, too. The Dominicans wouldn’t have had it any other way. On Wednesday afternoon, the DR’s former Minister of Health invited us over to his house. I’m not sure exactly how Jenny came to know him, but in her words, “he’s just a really nice man and a great person to know.” Expecting him to live in the city, we were surprised that the ride lasted a good 45 minutes. By the time we arrived in his town, I said to myself, “I’m definitely not in San Francisco anymore…” The upscale area was peppered with construction of new, gated developments. Billboards advertising the ritzy homes and amenities appeared all along the main road. Eventually we turned between the gates of this man’s upscale neighborhood.
We pulled through the gates of his house onto a large plot of land filled with fruit trees and beautiful flowers. His wife greeted us at the door explaining that her husband had not yet arrived (we should have known better than to arrive nearly on time). She showed us to the back yard, which was filled with not only fresh vegetation but also all types of birds roaming around freely and a few other livestock. There were ducks and swans and doves and peacocks, and—of particular interest—turkeys. Unprompted, Cassie began to make turkey calls, which was a hidden talent she had never previously revealed. Immediately the turkeys returned the call in a wildly entertaining conversation. We passed the time egging Cassie on to continue turkey calling.
We were then escorted inside and “the help” was ordered to fetch fresh coconuts. A skinny, deft Dominican man promptly left bearing his machete and returned with a green coconut for each of us ready to drink the water inside. Never before had I drank directly out of a coconut, which I learned is an acquired skill (I ended up leaving with more water on my shirt than in my belly). Regardless, the kindness, generosity and hospitality of this man reaffirmed the warmth of the Dominican culture.
Similarly, on Thursday we were invited to Ortencia’s home, who is essentially the COO of the Hospital San Vicente de Paul. She, likewise, lived a good 45 minutes outside the hospital in a beautiful upscale home. The occasion served as a reminder that our presence down here provides a cause and an inspiration for many special interactions that don’t seem to occur otherwise. For instance, even though the hospital members work closely together within a network of extremely close relationships, none of them had ever been to Ortencia’s house before—even the other executives. Yet this night hospital members and their families, as well as the community leaders, joined us at Ortencias in a gathering of close to 50 people.
Like the homes we had seen thus far, the large piece of property contained innumerable fresh fruit trees and gorgeous flowers. Ortencia’s friendly assistant and the hospital director took us through on a walk across the street through a farm to an area where they kept horses. Apparently there was a beautiful river a bit further, but an approaching thunderstorm prevented us from proceeding further. Of course, on the way, the assistant insisted we stop at a neighborhood bar for a quick spin on the dance floor. She pulled a man from the crowd and directed him to show Christie a few moves while the rest of us watched.
While we had expected to stay for some snacks and perhaps a beverage, we returned to a feast of a traditional Dominican stew containing various root vegetables and several kinds of meat. When we asked what kinds of meat, Ortencia responded, “Oh, you know, a bit of everything—chicken, pork, beef, and whatever else.” I’m glad she stopped there because the stew was delicious and I’m sure there were protein sources that we Americans are not accustomed to consuming. I’d rather not know.
After dinner, the music was turned up and dancing ensued. Before we left, Ortencia gave each of us a souvenir hand-painted dish depicting scenes from typical Dominican life—a gift which was absolutely unnecessary, but which I will certainly keep as a reminder of our experiences over these two weeks.