Tag Archives: dominican republic

But Things Just Get so Crazy, Living Life Gets Hard to do

In honor of Naman’s birthday, this is something I wrote about him while I was in Cuba earlier this summer. 

Naman in the Dominican Republic in 2011.
Naman in the Dominican Republic in 2011.

It is inconceivable to me how much harder it is to be here after Naman.  I plan for all the times I will miss him in America.  Graduation, awards ceremonies, memorials, fundraisers, whatever.  But Cuba?  I didn’t expect all of Dominican popular music to follow me here, which I suppose was naïve.

I guess I just didn’t count on it.   I didn’t count on him.

I never thought Havana could surprise me again.  Or at least, I thought it would continue to surprise me in the same sort of ways it always has.  But instead Havana had something new in store: memories of something old.  Of someone who will never grow old.

He was never even here, but now I see him all over the streets of Havana.  I think of him more than the residents of the Real World house, more than last year’s Cuba kids, more than all the Cubans I have left behind.  He’s in the music, the conversations with the people.  The boat rides and palm creations and children’s hand stands.  The silly things the students do, the choppy Spanish and the Harry Potter references.  Accio memories.

I suppose in this way, he will never grow old and will never go away.  He will keep traveling the world as I do, as we all do.  He will show up in Ghana and South Africa, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  He will be there at every Best Buddies race, and every SEI event.  He will be there whenever I hear Prince Royce, eat a cheap taco, or sing karaoke.

No llorare, no llorare.  No, I won’t shed a tear.  Porque sé, que tu estás junto a mí. 

Naman

In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times.

I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman was.

So we have made the Naman Shah Memorial Fund.  The fund will be used to send students like Naman, students who are passionate, smart, kind, and want to do good by being good, back to the Dominican Republic to learn what he learned, and contribute to the organizations, people, and country to which he contributed.  Today, we will be gathering in the Alumni Center of Northeastern to learn about Akshaya Patra from its President and CEO, Ms. Madhu Sridhar.  Akshaya Patra is one of several organizations Naman supported.  They provide free, balanced meals for school children, because no child should struggle in school because they’re distracted by hunger.  We will also have a silent auction, networking, and an opportunity to donate to both Akshaya Patra and the NSM Fund.

While I would love donations, I would also love non-monetary contributions.

I ask for your connections and talents; if you are able to donate anything to our future fundraising endeavors (a gift card or service from your business, for example), it would help us raise more.

I ask for you voice; if you could publicize the event, the fund, or Naman’s life’s message of living every day to its fullest and helping others to do so as well, it will encourage others to give and keep his memory alive.

And I ask for your presence, which is strangely the hardest thing to ask.  Our SEI family has circled the wagons to care for each other and launch this fundraising effort, which sometimes means crying during meetings and other times means pretending I don’t know the person we’re doing this for because that’s the only way to get anything done.  But most of the time it feels like no one in the rest of my life has any idea that I’ve lost someone, or any comprehension of how impossible it feels for that someone to be Naman.  I would love it if you could join me tonight, to learn about a cause he cared for, to hear his family and friends tell his story, and to support this segment of the Northeastern and Boston communities that is still hurting.

For Naman’s sake, I will try to smile.  I will try not to be “so belidge!”  And I will try to do a really good job.  Because that’s all we can do anymore.

Return Traveling

I never meant to be a return traveler. The allure of more and more exotic passport stamps is pretty strong. Almost as strong as the allure of new and different countries. But at this point, I sit firmly in the category of a return traveler. I went to France in 2006 and returned in 2010. I went to Egpyt for six weeks in 2009 and returned for a long weekend in 2011. I went to Cuba in 2010 for three months and returned in 2012 for a month. I went to the Dominican Republic in 2011 and went back six weeks later. I have been to Canada and most of my domestic travel spots countless times.

It makes sense that I’ve become a return traveler. In many other ways, I am not like the typical traveler, or travel blogger. I prefer my stays to last a month at a minimum. I almost always speak the language. I research the history, culture, and politics heavily and before and during my stay. This is just another way of settling myself deeper into the places I go.

One value is that I get to see the changes. Pre- and post-Revolution Egypt look incredibly different, and I loved seeing how the place and people had changed. The progress in Cuba has been amazing, and I’ll be writing about it more later on. With the Republica Domincana, the two trips were close together but that meant everyone remember me. I had the great experience of keeping my promises and seeing Mata during the rainy season we had heard so much about. France is just a second skin, and getting to know that for sure forever erased any doubts I felt when I first visited in a sleep-deprived 16 year old haze.

If return traveling seems like a waste of time, I think it either means the place doesn’t work for you or you have a very different set of travel priorities than I do.  Maybe someday this will change for me, but for now I couldn’t be happier spending my last traces of un-adult life in Cuba, for the second time.  And I can’t wait to make my way back to Egypt, France, the Dominican and Cuba once more.

HerCampusNU and Spreading the Word About the DR

Sometime last year, I read a few articles on HerCampus.com, a website dedicated to (and written by) college women all over the country.  Started by three Harvard women, it has an especially strong presence in the Boston area and a vibrant NU chapter.  Earlier this summer, in a fit of boredom, I investigated how to write for them and threw my name in the ring by applying online (which is a quick process, click here if you’re interested in writing for your school.)

One of my favorite photos from the article

While I have yet to meet all of the HerCampusNU ladies (with the exception of Christiana, who was with me in the DR this past summer), they’ve been incredibly welcoming and encouraging.  We communicate via email, googlegroup and facebook, and they’ve all been nothing but sweet.  I was surprised by how excited I was this morning to check out our first issue of this fall, but it looks awesome.  I was even more surprised to see that my article on thrifting in Boston was posted, since I had never written for them before and they have limited space.  To make my morning even better, a photo essay from Christiana and my time in the Dominican Republic was posted, including a link for donation and more information on our cause.

When I first looked at HerCampus, I’ll admit I thought it was going to be pretty superficial, all about boys and hookups and makeups and things that straight, white, upper-middle class girls like.  But as I explored, I found that they profile women entrepreneurs, and regularly post articles helping women spend more consciously, be more green in their daily lives, or get more involved on campus and in their community.  I’m pleased that there’s a place online where you don’t have to pick between being a clotheshorse and helping the environment, shopping and raising money for breast cancer, gossiping about boys and formulating your career.  Many spaces on the internet only care about presenting women one way, whether that be as shallow consumers or man-hating feminists, and neither portrayal is fair or accurate.

I’m really glad that HerCampus supports causes like Esperanza International and our time in the DR, and that we have the freedom to post on the issues that really matter to us, regardless of whether they’re about coordinating a handbag or (trying to) save the world.

Group Travel: Recognition

In light of my upcoming time in Greece with a group of 145 students, 11 other staff and myself, I’ve been thinking about what has made my past travel groups some of the best communities of which I have ever been a part. 

The way we recognize the members of our community shows a lot about ourselves, and what we value.

A fraction of the students, posing above the city

I’ve had some truly beautiful communities, like the Egypt and DR summer experiences, as well as the past spring’s Model NATO/Model Arab League travel teams.  I’m trying to draw from these good examples when I plan the activities and traditions I want to embed in this year’s N.U.in Greece program.

At the end of our Benin trip, during our wonderful Memorial Day at a Lebanese hotel (read: a pool and American food) we had two great forms of recognition: superlatives and speeches.  The superlatives covered everything, from most afraid of bugs to to most prepared to most likely to eat cous cous again.  With write-ins and multiple winners, it was a laid-back way to reminisce.  After, we gave our speeches.  The day before, each of us had drawn a name out of a hat of someone else on the trip.  That night at dinner, starting randomly and following the chain of speeches back around, we each took a turn to rise and recognize the singular, spectacular achievements and contribution that person made to the group.  While this can be uncomfortable if the group stays sectioned off, it’s a nice way leave everyone feeling good about their time.

When Esther was in Zambia, they passed a baton that had been all over the world.  The idea is to recognize those who have been excellent (diligent, polite, optimistic, helpful, kind) but who have been lacking in attention thus far.  This original baton continues on, and you can track it at The Baton Lives Free.  In order to recreate the awesome of the baton but not have to continually hijack it, SEI has opted to create a new baton or set of batons for every trip.  They are passed from Professor and Esther, and from there they are awarded to students, by students.  Each student adds or alters the baton in some way.  For example, with our capstone baton, Kevin added a star to DR on the globe.  The baton can be anything–for our Dialogue, it was a star wand and a crown.  It’s interesting to see the meandering path of the baton, and the speeches for the next recipient are thoughtful and heartfelt.  People tend to pay more attention to their behavior, too, when they know they could be publicly awarded for it (or not).

Superlatives are a great way of ending your time in any type of group.  It’s important to make sure someone is in charge of it, although I would say not a student, as people sometimes vote for cruel or thoughtless superlatives.  We did these in Benin as well as the DR, and people got pretty rabid in the DR when we delayed announcements in an effort to add photos.  I noticed that the superlatives that mean the most are more creative than “best smile” or “best laugh”, and less obvious than whatever running jokes have been present from day one.

I’m looking forward to adapting these to our large group of 145 in Greece.  We’re going to need a lot of batons.  What methods of recognition have you seen in the past?  Do you have any ideas for how to recognize good behavior and create a strong sense of community in such a large group?

Mata los Indios

This cement housing is typical of bateyes, as it was once used as barracks for sugar cane workers. Now, whole families live in them. This blue section is three separate homes, with a third one not pictured.
This is a playground.
The sweet, quiet girl who came and hung out with me while I was super boring and wrote. She sat on my lap and snuggled up with me for the afternoon. She barely even let me get this picture.
Town Leadership, and a Sister Island Project rep on the left
Ubiquitous trash on the rocky road to Mata
Ninos playing basketball

Apres moi, le deluge

I awoke last week to a facebook update from Angie: Mata is underwater.  Mata is incomunicado.  My reply: come mierda.  Eat shit.  Sort of the Spanish equivalent of the f-bomb.  For Mata los Indios and other bateyes, a flood, even for a short time, can be devastating.  It means the truck with potable water cannot get through, so people go thirsty or get sick from what few water sources they have near their homes.  It means crops die, so what little subsistence farming they have is easily swept away.  It means no new supplies get through, so commerce stops.  For those who did have the money to buy food, the current supply will run out or rot soon enough.IMG_0711

 All that week, I had been working on my project plan, my final paper for the summer 1 classes that I sometimes forget are attached to this trip.  Grades seem like an after thought not because we aren’t learning, but rather because we are so very busy doing it.  We had the option of doing a research paper or some sort of proposal that would concretely help the DR and the populations we saw.  I can easily think of research IMG_0676topics, and love doing that sort of work, but for the first time in my life, a research paper seemed cowardly.  It seems imperative that I at least outline a plan for how to do something, to accomplish some goal toward the alleviation of suffering, even if it is slight.

I don’t know if my proposal is good, or big enough, or business-y enough, and the troop of freshmen who vow to adopt the idea in real life will undoubtedly surpass my goals easily.  But when I think about these faces, think about how muddy the path was in early June, which is just the beginning of the rainy season, it seems like the only option I have is to try.

When we (the capstone class that went to Mata over spring break) first heard about the flooding, we had a collective light bulb moment: build a bridge.  Duh.  How hard can that be?  And if we can’t do it, Engineers Without BIMG_0731orders (EWB) will just get right on it.  Claro.  As so often happens with international aid (because let’s face it, that’s what this is), we weren’t seeing the whole picture.  It isn’t one river that swells and must be forded.  In fact, where that is the case, there already is a bridge.  The problem is that the entire walk, which takes 20 minutes by foot when dry, becomes muddy and flooded.  In June it was taking us about 40 minutes to walk it, and it was even deemed too dangerous for Claire, in that she might slip and fall and agitate her injury.  That must have been so hard for her, to not go back to Mata .  But they were right—we were all slipping, sliding and falling the whole way.  Nonetheless, I probably would have thrown a fit if I were told I couldn’t go back.  In fact, I went every time I could to Mata.