Castles and Cathedrals

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Feeding ducks in the Thames

London, Bath, Windsor; scones with clotted cream and misty moors; gentleman smoking pipes among billows of factory smoke; women with curls dancing waltzes.

England is, for many of us, a legendary land. Along with Jane Austin’s romantic heroines; the grimy slums of Charles Dickens; and the bombings of World War II, rise older, more mystic images: King Arthur and the Code of Chivalry, the elusive Stonehenge, castles and boiling oil, and – of course – the Holy Grail.

Despite my now having been on British soil, England’s mystery has not dimmed for me. I’ve seen London, I’ve seen Windsor, I’ve seen the English countryside. But even so, England escaped me; I couldn’t grasp it. History is something we can study, but never possess. The voices have already faded, and the buildings have shut themselves up into the secrets of those who lived and breathed in them.

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The Tower of London

We began our tour with the Tower of London, the site of so many senseless beheadings, kidnappings, and mysterious disappearances. The stories are terrifying to any decent human being – people display an astonishing capacity for brutality. And when in power, evil people have an amplified platform from which to commit atrocities.

In St. Peter’s Chapel within the Tower, I sat only feet away from the grave of Lady Jane Grey, one of my most beloved heroines – a 17 year old who was executed along with her young husband under a false charge of treason due to the ambitions of her relatives. She was a profound Christian and an extremely intelligent young woman.

Westminster Abbey

After the grimness of the Tower, the sacredness and wholeness of Westminster Abbey was illuminating – it filled me with light. I felt as if I was being buoyed up and lifted straight to Heaven. The pulpit to the right of where we were singing was inscribed with the words: “Attempt great things for God.” As we quietly absorbed Evensong, basking in the strains of music that drifted to the ceiling and the priest’s melodious voice, I was surrounded and wrapped up in Eternity.

St. Paul’s Cathedral took my breath away. I can’t describe it; there aren’t words beautiful or expressive enough to capture the incredible grandeur of the place. Picture-taking is forbidden within the Cathedral, and it’s better that way. What is sacred should be kept sacred. You must physically be in the Cathedral to absorb the magnificent immensity of Whispering Gallery, with the dome rising above you and statues of the saints – Jerome, Augustine, Gregory – surrounding you. The builders of the Cathedral sacrificed time, strength and creativity to construct something for which they would never get glory – we don’t know their names or the sacrifices they made to participate in this great work. But they counted the Creator of the Universe worthy of the sacrifice.

Inside of the Globe

The next stop was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, built in the late 20th century as the third Globe (the first burned down in the Great Fire and the second was torn down by the puritans). We bought tickets for a Mexican version of “Much Ado About Nothing” and settled down to watch Shakespeare in the context of Revolutionary Mexico. Scores of people clustered in front of the stage to watch the entire performance standing, just like the riffraff of Shakespeare’s day. Fortunately, these standers were not drunk and filthy like those of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was believed in those days that chewing garlic prevented one from catching the plague…

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Convent Court

Paddington Station, Friday. After boarding the train and chugging through the English countryside to Windsor, we caught a cab to Convent Court, a renovated convent transformed into a set of apartments.

Library at Blenheim Palace
The library at Blenheim Palace

The next morning we drove to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the birth of Winston Churchill and the home of his uncle. The palace breathes with dignity; we walked through room after room of grandeur, gazing at family portraits, luxuries oddities, and faded tapestries. But when we stepped into the library, I was overwhelmed. It felt as if I had stepped into Beauty and the Beast – tiers of books, shelves of books, rows of books of different languages and colors and sizes stretched along the walls invitingly. And at the end of the long, airy room, a grand organ rose in majestic taciturnity until melting into an alcove. Our guide explained that Churchill, who visited the Palace often and struggled with insomnia, used to ensconce himself in an armchair by the fireplace and read into the wee hours of the night.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

On Sunday we toured Windsor Castle, the perfect fairy-tale fortress. Begun by William the Conqueror in 1070 and improved throughout the centuries, Windsor Castle has been the home of England’s monarchs ever since its construction. Its luxuriance was overwhelming; its opulence stifled and dazzled me. As Anne of Green Gables said, such richness “leaves no room for the imagination.” My imagination had become reality, and I didn’t know how to handle the incarnation.

Inside Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

On Monday we boarded the train to Bath and spent the morning peeking into Bath abbey and touring the Roman baths. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that two thousand years ago the Romans had walked on the stones my feet were touching, breathing in the same space where I was breathing. One of the exhibits that impressed me most with the strange distance between the Romans and I were the “curses” of the ancients – imprecations against suspects of theft or other wrongdoers inscribed on led and tossed into the baths in the hopes of obtaining justice from Sulis Minerva, the goddess of the water. The Romans wrote curses for crimes as little as the theft of a bathing tunic, begging Sulis Minerva to take revenge on the miscreant who had dared to rob them of their possessions.

Tea at Bath
Tea at the Pump Room

We commenced the afternoon with an authentic English tea at the Pump Room, complete with a live pianist and a three-layered tray of tea sandwiches, scones, and darling little desserts. And at the end of the day, we relaxed in a spa, refreshing ourselves in naturally-heated water just as the ancient Romans did.

But despite my enjoyment of the tea and the bath, I still remember vividly the grave plaques lining the walls of Bath Abbey:

Here lies the body of Mrs. Hannah Alleyne, wife of Thomas Alleyne Esqr. of the Island of Barbades. How amiable of the many virtues she possessed!

But none more religiously exemplary, than in the exercise of her patience and entire resignation to the divine will during a tedious and painful illness which she bore with a truly Christian fortitude, and died as sincerely lamented as she was beloved.

Or another (edited for the sake of legibility):

Near this place are deposited the remains of the most noble Jane Marchioness of Ely…Endued with unaffected piety, unassuming manners and unostentatious benevolence. She manifested in her life an eminent example of religion, meekness and charity, and in her death of patience, tranquility and resignation, esteemed and regretted by those who knew her, beloved and lamented by those connected with her.

No, I am not morbid. But I do believe that studying gravestones can be an edifying exercise. In the midst of the excitement of seeing new places, it is crucial to refocus, to remember that in the end, all human accomplishment will cease and only that which is done in Christ’s name will endure.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of travel recently – its purpose and how to do it well. If we go merely as sightseers, if we merely want a sensation, I think we’re missing something. I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past year, and I’ve come to realize that travel for its own sake is empty. Travelling, just like all endeavors, must be a search for Truth. It should give us new perspective, guiding us to eternity by reminding us how rich, deep, and fragile is this world and its history.

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View over the Roman Baths towards Bath Abbey



First Days in Spain

Yes, I’m finally settled here in Spain. Some of you think I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth, and that’s partly true. Honestly, this past year has been such a crazy adventure that I’m only now catching my breath enough to process everything that has taken me to up this point.

The adventure started last winter when my initial gap year plans crashed, leaving me with a thousand possibilities and zero certainties. I frantically searched for an alternative gap year option, desperate to have a plan. Those were scary, soul-searching times. At one point, I even considered going to China for a year, but that’s another story…

After a long and complicated journey, I ended up in a teeny village in Spain called Moreruela de Tábara, a village so small that it barely makes the map. Before coming here to Moreruela, however, my sister and I spent a week sightseeing in Madrid and Barcelona, only days before the terrorist attack on La Rambla of Barcelona.

El Palacio Real, Madrid

Madrid is a clean, sophisticated city with stunning architecture and narrow, quaint streets. Our apartment was located within walking distance of a lovely cathedral, an art museum, and a botanical garden. I generally don’t fall in love with big cities, but I could imagine myself living in Madrid. The atmosphere is very different from, say, New York City – more relaxed, more congenial. Here people spend hours sitting in open-air restaurants chatting and watching the world go by.

One of the highlights of the trip was el Palacio Real, a magnificent edifice full of ornate furniture and beautiful artwork. Walking through el Palacio Real is like taking a tour through a Medieval conception of Heaven, complete with a Stradivarius violin and statues of Ferdinand and Isabella. I now understand the awe and respect with which 17th century peasants viewed their sovereigns; the palace breathed dignity.

La Chocolatería, Madrid

Of course, the awe-inspiring aura of el Palacio Real didn’t prevent us from enjoying the traditional hot chocolate and chorros of la Chocolatería in Madrid, which were absolutely delicious.

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La Rambla, Barcelona

After an 8-hour train ride to Barcelona, we spent a day visiting the beach and walking along La Rambla, a famous line of shops and stalls in the heart of the city. Surprisingly, although Barcelona is a famous tourist destination for Americans, Spanish natives don’t consider it as a prime city to visit.

Getting to the beach was trickier than we imagined, since we took the wrong bus two or three times before finally getting to our destination. But no worries – at least we got an informal tour of the city!

A music shop in Barcelona

We experienced a bit of a shock at a seafood restaurant after our afternoon at the beach when the waiter brought us a plate of little fish (heads and tails included) as an appetizer. Not only that, but I made the mistake of ordering “arroz negro,” thinking that there couldn’t possibly be anything dangerous about rice…until I was presented with a platter of rice smeared with black squid ink. Let’s just say that when dessert came around, I was happy not to find any surprises with my lemon sorbet.

Here in Spain street musicians liven up city squares and subway tunnels with the sounds of violin, flute, cello, and guitar. For any student interested in the arts, Spain is a utopia of cultural experiences.

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Me riding Poppy bareback

Now that I’m here in Moreruela, life couldn’t be more tranquil. I feel like I’ve been planted right in the middle of Belle’s “little town, it’s a quiet village, every day like the one before…”. The majority of the population here is at least 40, so I haven’t met many people my age. My days are filled with picking vegetables from the garden, visiting the animals, reading, and, of course, speaking English with two-year-old Julia. We have two horses, Poppy and Mistral, three dogs, and a guinea pig named Florindo.

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Marta, Julia, and I

My Spanish host family is extremely nice, and immediately accepted me as one of their own. I have my own little house, including a kitchen and an office where I can teach online Spanish classes, write poetry, and sketch. Little Julia is sweet, stubborn, and adorable, and has already begun to repeat some words in English (including her favorite

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Julia and I at a birthday party 

 food, “peanut”). I’ve loved entering into village life: going to a Spanish birthday party, walking around the historic city of Zamora, signing up for my library card so I can borrow books from the Bibliobus (a mobile library), riding our horses…

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A field of sunflowers owned by Luis’ family

One thing that took me by surprise is the traditional Spanish greeting: two kisses, one on either cheek. People here rarely shake hands, let alone hug. Everyone kisses you when you’re introduced, which can be awkward at first. The culture here in the village is warm and relaxed, perhaps overly so. When Marta and I asked the mayor to sign an important document for my visa during a local gathering, he cheerfully set down his bottle of beer to sign the paper without even reading it.

Fish at the supermarket

Another thing that surprised me is the Spanish meal schedule: breakfast in the morning, a snack at 12:00, lunch at 3:00, a snack at 6:00, and dinner at around 9:00-9:30 (or later, as generally happens in our case). For a morning bird, it’s been an interesting adjustment to make, since 9:00 for a Spanish native is still practically daytime. But I’m not complaining about the scheduled snacks; that’s something I can definitely handle! We have an endless supply of fresh vegetables from our garden, a leg of cured ham on the counter (technically it’s raw, but preserved with salt), a Tupperware of blackberries picked from bushes not far from our house, and a basket of nuts above the refrigerator: peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios. I still haven’t gotten used to the lines of whole fish (heads, eyes, tales, fins, and everything in-between) in the supermarket, but I’m taking it one step at a time…

A Summer in Constanza

Okay, I’m finally sitting down to write about this summer and to be honest, it’s a daunting task. I feel like I lived a lifetime in the past six weeks, and to come home and find everything the same (even my car keys were still sitting on my desk, exactly where I’d left them) is jarring. But now is the time to step back and thank God for the rich blessings He gave me this summer…

IMG_3519After a few days of training in Jarabacoa, I headed off with the other interns on my team to Constanza, a little farming town nestled in a valley and surrounded on all sides by mountains.

The place where we worked, the Ark, is both a school (open to community and orphanage kids) and an orphanage. The Ark is very unique in that the orphanage is made up of four separate houses, each of which has house “parents” and several children. That way, each child feels like he is part of a real family. Each child has a place to belong.

I was placed with four other interns in Constanza: Grace, Mac, Erin, and Augustyna. All of us except Grace and Mac, who were younger, lived in the director’s house (the old director had left, so the house was open) inside the Ark compound, which enabled us to be a part of the orphanage community. Erin was a mother of three children (adopted from Guatemala), so I had three little siblings for the summer!

Augustyna, Erin, the kids and I

I helped teach second grade in the mornings, which was a difficult but also a beautiful and rewarding job. The curriculum we used focused on a different Asian country each week, with coloring pages and activities to go along with each country.

The community kids came from difficult home environments, which meant that we had several discipline issues; there were days when it was extremely difficult to maintain any degree of calmness in the classroom, let alone actually teach. However, it was encouraging to see the way God softened their hearts as the summer progressed.IMG_5087


One little boy in particular, Feivi, could be very difficult to work with and sometimes displayed aggressive behavior. One day he was having so many behavioral issues that I stayed in the classroom with him while the others went out for recess. At first, he paced the room knocking over chairs and kicking things aside, refusing to look me in the eyes and pulling away from me when I touched him. Eventually, however, as I spoke to him gently and let him sift through his frustration, he calmed down enough to read a simple picture book describing God’s love with me. That time with him, when he calmly listened to me explain how much God loved him, when he looked at the sweet drawings in the book, was a beautiful moment for me. After that day, he was more open to building a relationship with me and more open to physical touch. Even though he eventually was kicked out of summer  school for violent behavior and so I was no longer able to reach him, I know he’s in God’s hands. The seeds that have been sown will continue to grow and hopefully will bear fruit some day. As Vick and Lesley, a missionary couple in Jarabacoa, explained, it’s hard to let go of those kids, but you have to recognize that God has them even when you don’t.

Another of my students, Yorlenis, was a sweet little girl who always listened and who sat quietly while the others misbehaved. Twice I walked home with her after school was over, which showed her I was invested in her as a person, not just as a student. That act of friendship strengthened our relationship and enabled me to understand her, and other kids, better. When a relationship extends beyond the school walls and into a child’s personal life, that relationship has a great deal of power.

It was hard to see the more difficult kids wasting time and preventing good students like Yorlenis from learning, to spend so much time addressing behavioral issues that there wasn’t much time left to teach. But God views productivity differently than we do. What really mattered to Him wasn’t memorizing facts about China and Japan, but instead pouring into each child’s life day in and day out, even when it didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere. What God really cared about were the relationships I formed with each of those children, relationships in which each child knew he could trust me to discipline him in love. When a child realizes that you’re dedicated to helping him change his behavior for the better, he trusts you more, even when discipline hurts.


One of the little boys I worked with, Kirobe, was simply a bundle of love. He was what the Dominicans call “special.” That is, he didn’t relate to others like a normal child or necessarily understand what was going on in the same way that other children did, but he constantly looked for an affirming smile and a warm hug, even when he misbehaved. That little boy showed me so much about gentleness and patience this summer; he was the kind of boy who picked the little fruit growing on the tree by the gate and offered it to me with a huge smile, just because he wanted to give me something.

The girls in my dance class

In the afternoon we offered different workshops to the older kids depending on their interests: sports, cooking, sewing, etc. I volunteered to help with the dance class, not knowing that I would actually be the one teaching the class! Teaching ballet in another language was a challenge, and we faced some attitude issues along the way, but by the end I had become very close with my girls. What struck me was that one of the more difficult girls, Yennery, wanted me to take a video of her thanking me for teaching her…It was such an encouragement to know that all those days of pouring love into each beautiful girl payed off. Of course, I couldn’t have gotten through the summer without Keila, my faithful Dominican friend and assistant. Her patience, gentleness and humility kept our class together. At the end of the summer, my class had a “recital” and presented the dance to “Océanos” (“Oceans”) we had choreographed throughout the five weeks, and it was beautiful to see everything come together.

Outside of teaching, we developed countless rich relationship in the community with other young people, with adults, and with kids. Our nights were filled with ice cream outings, worship nights, youth group, and just sharing life. For me one of the big differences between going to Constanza for a week and going for an entire summer was the ability to integrate fully in the community. Rather than being tourists, we were living in the community and taking part in community life: buying fruits and vegetables at the colmados (little stands on the side of the road), going to the salon with Dominican friends to get my nails done, rushing out to buy soda before having people over our house… Whenever I walked along the streets, there was always someone (or several people) I knew who I could greet. Constanza was my home, and the people of Constanza became my family. I even attended a wedding during my time there! I also celebrated my 18th birthday in Constanza, so I invited several of my Dominican friends over and we all gathered in a circle to play guitar (or listen) and eat fried plantains. What a special birthday!

My 18th birthday party

One of the biggest things God taught me this summer was the value of community – of simply being, rather than doing. If I entered the school each day with a mindset of productivity, I was quickly disappointed by the kids’ lack of attention and by their behavioral issues, and quickly discouraged by how little we got done. But when I entered the school with relationships as my top priority, I had the freedom to focus on the needs of each individual child rather than worrying about how little we accomplished.

But as much as it’s important to build into the lives of other people, you also need to let others build into you and help you when you’re ready to give up. We can’t do this alone, and as much as we Americans like to be strong and independent – to utilize our talents and resources for a good cause – sometimes we just need to learn how to receive.

Hopefully this post gives you a glimpse of what my experience was like this summer, but of course there were so many things I wasn’t able to say here, and so many things I’m still trying to process. I would absolutely love to go back to Constanza (on the next plane!), but we’ll have to see what God has in store…

End of the summer resort trip


Mapping Out the Future

The train is rumbling along the curves of the mountain outside the screened-in porch where I’m sitting; the birds are singing (it’s been so long since I’ve heard sustained birdsong that it almost feels unreal); and a gentle spring breeze stirs the loose thread on my seat cushion every few moments.

With spring comes lots of decisions. I visited one college today, and I’m off to another one tomorrow. That would be, if I have counted correctly, the sixth college so far. I don’t exactly know why, but college visits leave me utterly exhausted, physically and emotionally. Physically speaking, I only listened to a lecture on Macbeth, chatted with the Education and English professors, got a salad and a dish of rice and stir fry for lunch, and walked around campus. But a college visit involves so much more than observing a class or getting to know possible future professors. It’s a journey of the soul; it takes you deep into yourself, making you question your future and all the plans you have set out for yourself.

What if I make a mistake and choose the wrong path?

My appointment with the Education professor was the last event on my schedule. At a little before 3:00, I walked into a little office with potted plants sitting drowsily on a windowsill and sat down at a round, black table. A whiteboard with a marker drawing of a girl in speakers and a blue and green earth hung on the wall, directly below a poster with the smiling faces of several Grove City graduates, now teachers, and their students.

“You’ve probably already heard a lot about Grove City,” Dr. Nichols began. She had a friendly face with brilliant blue eyes and an endearing smile. “I want this session to be as helpful as possible. Let’s start with any questions you might have.”

That question always intimidates me, since I feel pressured to ask some extremely discerning question and impress my potential future professor with my intelligence. I glanced sideways for inspiration. No intellectual, discerning question popped into my head. Instead, my heart was bursting to know, how on earth do I know if I’m called to be a teacher? The words that actually came out of my mouth were more diplomatic, but still confused and maybe a little desperate.

She smiled reassuringly and assured me that God will inevitably bring to fruition His calling on my life, and that I don’t need to have it all figured out. “You probably have friends you say that have it all planned out,” she explained, “but that’s so unrealistic.”

But it’s so much more comfortable to have it all figured out, to have some kind of a plan. People are capable of making huge mistakes. Would I really have the same future if I went to Grove City as if I opted for, say, a secular community college? Or if I decided not to go to college at all?

My Spanish teacher sent me an email the other day that shed perspective on the process of discerning God’s will. Paraphrasing the message of Kevin DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something, he explained that “God has not planned out a specific course for us that He expects us to follow, but then hidden that course so that we need to be wracking our brains and scrutinizing every sign to make sure we don’t miss it. Yes, He knows each of our days and is sovereign over them. But ‘determining His will’ is not about trying to unscramble the clues he has given us so that we can follow the path he marked out…If we have multiple good options to choose from, we can freely consult our own desires with a view to loving and serving God in every situation.”

I don’t need to look for omens, or signs, or some miraculous proof that I’m choosing the right path. How freeing. God gave us a mind and a heart for a reason, and He expects us to use them. And regardless of the mistakes we make, He will ultimately bring us into the calling He has designed specifically for us.

I still have questions (lot’s of them), and I’m still dreading that May 1st decision deadline, when I’ll have to commit to one college and say no to all the others, which means slamming all those doors on my own fingers. I’m still terrified of making the wrong decision, of choosing the wrong college and thereby missing my dream calling and flunking my future. But at the same time, I also have a kind of stillness inside – a sense of being guided, and protected, and deeply loved by Someone greater than colleges and career paths and even the future. It doesn’t depend on me at all, not really. And that’s comforting.


The Dominican Republic

The land

Cibao Valley

The Dominican Republic is located on the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Its capital is Santo Domingo, the first city established in the New World by the Europeans. Because of its great beauty, it shouldn’t surprise us that Christopher Columbus loved this island more than any of the other places he discovered.


The Cordillera Central (mountain range) separates the country into two parts: the eastern part is very developed while the western part is virtually unexplored. Although the people living in this underdeveloped are live in extreme poverty, this part of the island is extremely beautiful.

Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the region (3,174 meters) is a popular place for tourists. In addition to mountains, there are various lakes, many beaches, and 108 rivers in the Dominican Republic. It is believed that Lago Enriquillo, a lake located below sea level, has as much salt as the Dead Sea. Because of its fertility, Cibao Valley is the center of a lot of agricultural work, such as livestock farming and the cultivation of tobacco. Sugar, fruit, coffee, meat, tobacco, and cacao are the most exported products in the country.

Indigenous people

When the Spaniards arrived at the island of Hispaniola, they encountered the Taínos, an

The Tainios
The Taínos

indigenous group whose culture was fairly developed. In fact, their culture was in the process of becoming an advanced civilization. The Taínos were very skilled at pottery, the making of gold jewelry, and manipulating stone. The majority earned a living by hunting, fishing, and farming, and each village was directed by a leader that was called the cacique. These villages were grouped in districts directed by a single, powerful cacique. If the cacique directed a large village, he received advice by a witch doctor (the behique).


The Taínos valued the capacity of contributing something to the community. For example, even children had to work at taking care of the conuco, a section of land in which yucca was grown. Elderly people were thrown out of the community if they couldn’t work. Nevertheless, the Taínos were a peaceful people and they didn’t have slaves.

According to Christopher Columbus, the Taínos were a generous and beautiful people. Thus, it was easy to take advantage of them. After the arrival of the Spaniards, many Taínos died because of abuse, war, and sickness. It is calculated that about 85% of the population had been exterminated by the beginning of the 16th century. Nevertheless, the influence of the Taínos survives in the language, art, agriculture, and religion of the modern Dominican Republic.

Food and music

La bandera
La bandera

The Dominican Republic has a large variety of foods. Some basic ingredients in the Dominican gastronomy, of course, are beans and meet. Beef and chicken are quite common, but goat and pig meat are also eaten. La bandera, for example, is a typical dish composed of rice, beans, and meat, and is eaten with a salad and fried plantains. If you like coffee, you would love the Dominican Republic, where people take a cafecito (cup of coffee) during any part of the day. Dominican coffee is extremely rich and thick.

Music is a central part of Dominican culture – you can hear music everywhere. In fact, many musicians play in the streets! In regards to folkloric music, this genre has roots in the music of the Taínos, Africans, and Europeans. Some common instruments are pallitos (little sticks), maracas, the guayo, and the  güiro. La bachata is a type of Spanish music/dance in which the guitar is the principle instrument. It’s a bit sentimental and melancholic because it often focuses on themes of love and rural life. The national dance is el merengue.

Traditions and celebrations

Pilgrims of the Virgin of Altagracia

Like other Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic has many holidays and
celebrations. The national festivals are Independence Day (February 27) and Restoration Day (August 16). Although Christmas and Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) are the most popular holidays, there are several unique celebrations as well. For example, the Day of the Virgin of Altagracia (the country’s patron saint) is celebrated on August 10th. On this day, many pilgrims  travel to the Basilica at Higüey and venerate the saint. This tradition, which comes from the Spaniards, is extremely important. In fact, about 8% of Dominicans are named in honor of the Virgin of Altagracia. During the journey, the pilgrims spend time together, dance, and taker care of the bulls that they bring as an offering to the Virgin. The pilgrims hope that the Virgin will help them amidst the pains and difficulties of life.

Carnival, which is celebrated before Ash Wednesday, is another important festival. This week is characterized by parades, masks, floats, and excitement because for a moment the barriers between societal classes are forgotten. Carnival was a pagan tradition until the Spaniards converted it into a Catholic celebration.

The government

President Sánchez

The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy with three branches like those of the United States: executive, legislative, and judicial. Its capital is, of course, Santo Doming. The current president is Danilo Medina Sánchez, who was elected in 2012. Since the country so small, many of the politicians are related and personal connects are very important.

Although the Dominican government has tried to establish good relationships with other countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Western Europe, there is a great deal of political (and social) tension between the Dominican Republic and its neighbor, Haiti. Still, the country has a close relationship with the United States. The two countries work together to combat drug trafficking, prevent illegal immigration, etc.

In 2014, the Dominican Republic was classified as a 32 in a range from 0 (very corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Evidently, corruption continues being a problem in spite of the democratic advances of the country, especially in the security forces, private businesses, and civil government. Notwithstanding, many governmental groups are striving to combat corruption, such as the National Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee (created in 2005).

Major problems

Like many other countries, poverty is a huge problem in the Dominican Republic. In fact,

Poverty in the DR

more than 1/3 of the population survives on less that %1.25 every day. Of course, rural areas suffer more from poverty than do urban areas. Farmers don’t have the technology and the resources they need to make a profit, and the government doesn’t invest much in the rural areas because it is focused on tourism.

Because of its economic problems, the country also suffers from social and economic inequality. Only 30% of children finish their primary education. Without an education, these children aren’t capable of improving their situation and they will never be able to reach a higher status in society.

Another problem is the lack of drinking water and clean toilets. According to one person, “At times, some women have come to me and told me, ‘I turned the faucet on in my house to drink water and I saw some birds and water insects'” (Inzaurralde). The influx of Haitian immigrants has only made the problem worse. In fact, the cholera epidemic that has caused so much devastation in Haiti is spreading to the Dominican Republic.

In addition, it is difficult to receive proper medical attention, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, President Sánchez doesn’t seem to be worrying himself over rural communities. He is more focused on increasing tourism.

Daily life

Street in Constanza

A young boy draws near to a car parked at the traffic light and washes the windshield to receive a few coins. His family had left the fields to move to the city in search of a better life. Upon arriving, they discovered that the city did not offer many job opportunities because of overpopulation and the class system, in which people with darker skin face more obstacles in improving their economic situation. Although the boy’s father has a small food vending business and his sister works as a servant, the family has a hard time making a living.

Note: the above story is fictional, but it is based on the experiences of many people living in the Dominican Republic.

It is common in the Dominican Republic to see various people sitting outside, evidently not doing anything. In reality, these people do not have jobs and cannot do much because of the heat. Because of that, they sit outside and spend time together. The sense of community they create is essential for the well-being of the people.

Photo Credits

El Valle del Cibao –

Los Taínos –

La bandera dominicana –

Peregrinos de la Virgen de Altagracia –

El Presidente Medina –

Una casa – Imagen del autor

Un calle en Constanza – Imagen del autor


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The Leaf Pile

High among these branches,

autumn breezes dally

with the leaves, which crinkle

in the wind (like pages

waxed with scarlet-orange).


Overhead a sparrow

grooms her feathers, sheltered

by a leaf (discretely).


Gently I extend my finger

toward her creamy under-

side, but she – offended –

flutters off the branchlet.


My foot slips


and I let go




into leaves that smell like

mildewed, musty pamphlets,

drying sunlight, cedar

chests embalmed in balsam,

pots of potpourri…


The sparrow (disappearing

into the bronze horizon)

baffles gravity –


and in this soggy dirt where

earthworms wriggle, I wonder

why leaves (and people) are always

falling, never flying.

The Wind-Road

A stream of blackbirds strokes the sky:

Jade, emerald, sigh-silver smoothed into

Ripples of rolling black. Cloud-drips

Dribble from worked wings, watering the highway.

The birds pass people who pant for freedom.

Grim in their grandeur – free, fierce, fearless –

They follow the wind-road rolling to the South.

Take me there, blackbird burnished

By sun. Teach me the mastery of wind…

Sky…sea. Free me from soul-

Anesthetizing love of land. Bear

Me on you glint-glazed, sunset-swimming

Wings that skim along the wind-road.