December 31, 2011. Standing no more than a mile from the first hospital in the new world and “America’s first cathedral” (at least as seen from the historical perspective of Europeans and their descendants), and looking across the river to the reputed site of the Cristobal Colon’s remains, a small group of SOMOS and DASV travelers welcomed the new year: a very small bottle of Dominican rum; Coca Cola made with sugar cane, 180-degree view of fireworks. It’s a balmy 76 degrees and we’ve completed the counting and sorting of medications for the week’s medical clinic. SOMOS students have headed for the waterfront and a New Year’s celebration with a little more spark. Dominican families, international travelers, and street beggars of every description fill the plaza with lights, flashes, sparklers, music, laughter, joy—and need. Santo Domingo is a noisy culture: joyous, boisterous, and musical; the night is exemplary. Musical and vocal streams are punctuated with car alarms, barking dogs, the exhaust noise of passing motorcycles.
January 1, 2012. We visited the community today to introduce new team members, including our four newest SOMOSeros. We greeted old friends in Esfuerzo and began making arrangements for the first of a series of planned “block” meetings. We connected with representatives of the first “block” to discuss the schedule, and then move back and forth through the community to “construct” meeting times with all of the block groups. It’s a process of discovery and promotion. People are responsive to our invitations—perhaps they are even a little enthusiastic. Our experiences tell us that we nonetheless will need to invite, encourage – perhaps wheedle a bit – to get people to the meeting. There are good reasons: to date, we have been in their homes many times, asking questions, expressing our concerns and goals—but, to date, our community-based efforts have been focused on learning rather than doing. We are determined to know before we do, and it would be surprising if residents are not becoming frustrated. From their point of view, it must seem that we’ve asked the same or similar questions many times over. For us, the questions and answers have been refined over time, and we are approaching nuanced understanding that appreciates the complexities of the community and the lived experiences of residents.
The sun is searing, the trade winds provide at least periodic relief, and the smiling and welcoming faces urge us forward in our efforts.