I’m still thinking in Spanish. Feebly – I was easily the worst Spanish speaker on the trip. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that my time in the Dominican Republic has come to an end. As I write this I'm sitting on a plane hurtling back home, getting further from the DR with each passing minute. The flight attendant’s voice resounds on the overhead telling everybody to take their seats. And I realize she was speaking in English. There’s no further need for strained listening and hastily racking my brain for half-learned Spanish vocab words. This, among many other things, feels strange to me. Like the cold air blowing from the overhead air vent. I actively dislike the cool temperature so drastically different from the mid 90s temperatures customary in the Dajabon Province (but perhaps I don’t miss the relentless humidity quite so much). The plane also feels uncomfortably lavish, with a personalized movie screen on the back of each seat. Although I’d usually jump at the chance to spend countless hours bingeing on movies, it simply felt to indulgent, so instead I sit here writing.
I haven’t decided if this is anything worthy of publishing, so it’s purely a reflective activity at the moment. The truth is I’m a bit heart-broken to realize that our trip has ended and that this may well be the last time I ever step foot in El Cajuil, or perhaps the Dominican Republic altogether. The sadness is partially derived from the fact that this project is something that I’ve been with since day one our team was still called the “New Project Team,” a team without a cause desperately hoping that we could somehow identify a community already seeking the type of projects EWB does. This project has hit plenty of roadblocks, and we’ve overcome each one. I’ve been with the team as it battled its way through this entire process. But as I step down from my project management role, this isn’t really so much my project anymore as it was always felt to me. And as much as I have full faith the chapter is being left in more than capable hands, I'll greatly miss being the DR team PM.
I couldn't have loved my time in the DR more. I look back fondly even on the most irritating components of the trip. Like the relentless heat and humidity. Like our hotel that had running water only half the day – not ideal when you come down with a stomach bug, as I did. Like the endless stream of motorcycles (whose riders couldn’t be bothered to obtain mufflers) ripping up the night sky with noises as you tried to sleep. And then there was the saga of finding a replacement GPS cable, which had broken the first day. There were so many memories. Sipping the sweet water of the coconuts Beto had shaken off his palm tree for each of our team members after extending us a personal invite to have dinner at his house. Riding in the bed of Julio’s pick up truck as the truck sped bumpily to and from El Cajuil under the night sky. Playing Bananagrams with the team as we waited for heaping plates of rice, beans, and goat to be served to us at La Placita over the blasting Latin music in the background. And there was the time we trekked to the very top of the mountain above El Cajuil in search of a spring we realized too late was hundreds of yards below the spot we’d climbed to.
Then there were the people. The water committee members who had graciously invited us into their homes and who had trekked through a tropical storm to make it to the meetings we had arranged to discuss important technical details. While we were conducting a community census that brought us to 80 some doorsteps in the community, each time we were warmly greeted, given seats (whether we wanted to sit down or not), and given the courtesy of patiently listening and answering as we inquired into community members’ water use habits. There was also Julio (a member of our partner NGO), who tirelessly carted us from Loma to El Cajuil as if he didn’t have more gratifying work to be doing. And Guido – the translator we had found last minute after our old one bailed last minute. We truly couldn’t have hoped for a more flexible, kind, and helpful translator. Then there’s Nol, the always adaptable, high-spirited, and endlessly supportive professional mentor without whom we couldn’t have hoped to properly assess the community’s existing water system.
I’m inclined to write several more pages about our experiences on this trip, as they are some of my fondest memories I can recall up when I consider my entire Princeton experience. But I don’t want to bore you. The point I’m driving is at this – this was one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. Perhaps also one of the hardest. But to all those considering joining Engineers Without Borders or thinking about applying to travel with our team next summer, this truly is a worthwhile program. I feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of both the travel team and the DR team in general and only hope other students can share in the incredible experiences EWB can provide.
Your PM, Corinne