Verb: SHOP! Our first experience in DR

In May 2013, Christina and I embarked on the VERY FIRST Insert(VERB)Here travel project. It was Christina’s first time traveling outside the United States (check our her story here). With nerves in overdrive and excitement on turbo, we dove head first into accomplishing the goals of the travel project:

  1. Empathy training through complete immersion
  2. Eliminating stigmas through out of the box experiences
  3. Public service through volunteer work

As soon as we left the airport, we headed to our first challenge: GROCERY SHOPPING. Now, this first challenge may sound easy. . .and  it was intended to be easy. . .but adventure had another idea in mind. Our new amigo Sam took us to the local one-stop-shop “La Sirena” – basically the Dominican Walmart. We only needed food for 3 days (we were heading to an all-inclusive resort later in the week), so we thought this would be a no-brainer.

As it turns out, shopping in a foreign country was more of an experience than we were expecting! For starters, let’s talk about personal space. “Which aisle is that on?” Other shoppers would park their cart and block you in, then proceed to reach over you for their desired food. . .all without ever making eye contact with you and seeing the horror in your face. Those that did make eye contact with you simply smiled and moved on, completely oblivious to your confusion.

Next, let’s address the blinking sign and arrow saying “THE FOREIGNERS ARE HERE!” We became a spectacle (not in a bad way) when our Spanish conversation ended at “chorizo y huevos” and circled the ENTIRE meat department looking for breakfast sausages. We circled several times – feigning looking for other items to feel less lost – until one of the employees had mercy on us and directed us via interpretive dance to the chorizo freezer.

Lastly, the conversions were a beast. This goes for language as well as currency (PhD candidates use calculators too!!). Grocery shopping definitely poked holes and sank our ship S.S. Spanish-We-Thought-We-Knew. Notably, the items that caused us THE MOST grief was SALT and PEPPER! There were 20 versions of salt, minimum, ranging from $40RD to $400RD ($1USD to $10USD)! And mostly salts costing hundreds of $RD (NOTE: the higher price did NOT translate to bulk size, rather American brands -___-). Is it THAT serious? There was no ground black pepper in regular size. There was ground white pepper in regular size or ground black pepper in Feed America size. Good thing our challenge was to try all things Dominican. We just never imagined salt and pepper to be one of them 🙂

After grocery shopping (we’re pretty sure Sam took a nap while waiting for us), we headed to our humble abode: Suncamp DR Apartments! We had our own 2 bedroom apartment with a large living area, kitchen area, and a bathroom to share. The water was warm (most of the time) and the regular bugs stayed outside. The Jurassic bugs somehow snuck in unnoticed. Don’t they always?! It’s like they receive stealth training or something! Fortunately, this only happened the last day of our stay in the apartment. The people at Suncamp were so warm and welcoming! The owner, Diane, was so passionate about helping the community in Munoz. She knew EVERYONE by name and what everyone’s individual needs were. It was clear how priceless she was to the community. Her son Sam and his girlfriend Jen were so down to earth and very cool to hang out with. It immediately felt like we were old friends. Ariel was extremely fun! He was our guide for several of our activities, as you’ll see in the coming stories. And Hugo was just too cool! He was the French chef, with wonderful music taste, who dabbled in photography/videography, and was always willing to have a laugh and a drink with us! Silvia, one of the regular visitors, was super sweet and relatable! (We now have a reason to visit Spain!) But our favorite friend, hands down, was Bobby! Bobby was the sweetest dog who never wanted to leave our side. He was always on welcome duty when we returned from an adventure and was always in chill mode.

Check out the pictures to get an idea of how we got to live in Puerto Plata, DR!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

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Tick Tock. . .

We are embarking on the first Insert(VERB)Here organized trip in less than 3 weeks! The official FundRazr has ended and I am ecstatic about the turn out! We raised $571 because of YOU!! This may not have been 100%, but it made a significant dent! YOU raised enough to cover the cost of our lodging and 2 activities for Christina. YOU ROCK!!

Updates on the trip:

  1. All flights have been booked. Adventure begins on Day 1 of the trip. Christina is flying to Puerto Plata on her own and must navigate her way out of the airport. This may sound like a small task, but in Christina’s eyes it’s HUGE. She has to figure out where to get her tourist visa, how to get through customs, and find baggage claim. . .in a foreign language! Considering it’s an airport, there should be some bilingual people around to help her out – she just needs the confidence to ask for help 😉 You’d be surprised how many people are afraid of that simple task!
  2. The apartment is booked! We will be staying at SunCamp DR in the village of Munoz, right outside the city. Here we will spend time with the community members. Our volunteer activities include teaching arts&crafts, science, and playing sports (per our specialties).
  3. Christina has begun to journal about her feelings leading up to the trip! Check out her thoughts:

“It. . .is getting. . .real. I am extremely excited to go and experience this new adventure. However, with that excitement I have fears: boarding my first international flight, expecting the unexpected, the language barrier that I will encounter, and being away from from my daughter and family – OUT OF THE COUNTRY – for this length of time. But I won’t let these fears stop me from experiencing the amazing things that I know are coming.

I was recently updated today with the next thing that I have to do: make a doctor’s appointment and get a few prescriptions. I need to get an anti-malarial and cipro antibiotic. So, today I made that appointment with doctor. However, when I read the email for my next step I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was like, “I have to do WHAT to go out of the country??? NO WAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” I couldn’t help thinking, “what am I getting myself into. . .this is crazy.” I have never had to do that the few times I have traveled through the United States. Anti-malarial meds are some serious meds and this scares me to think that I am going to a country where I can get malaria and I have to take preventatives for like 7 or so weeks. I can understand the cipro antibiotic because that is for traveler’s upset stomach. With the food (and standards) being different it makes sense to have the medication on hand. My doctor’s appointment is in 4 days….and just the thought of it makes my stomach turn more and more because that confirms that things are starting to become real.

With that going on in my head, I have also been visually and mentally packing and deciding what clothes, bathing suits, shoes, and jewelry to bring. Not to mention how am I going to do my hair (because I will need to change it up on the regular! #style). I realize I’m going to need to do some shopping for myself…*oh yes*. When I get paid, I hardly ever spend more on myself since I have to take care of my daughter. So it’s nice to be forced to focus on me a little more and what I will need to have for this trip. *Excitement*

I am extremely thankful for InsertVerbHere for making this trip possible. Dominican Republic, in exactly 3 weeks I will boarding my flight and on my way to check you out!”

©2013 by Ayana Martin