Walking off the plane from Atlanta into the Santo Domingo airport, hearing collections of Spanish conversations I could not decipher and seeing signs I could only understand from the icons next to the words, there was no doubt I was encountering a newness I had never experienced before.
About an hour prior, I was flying over the northern coast of the of the country. As we flew, the landscape was a blur of lush greenery, open farm-looking land, and more baseball fields than I could count. Yet, I didn't see a single natural body of water. It struck me odd.
Once we landed and left the airport, there were three snapshots that defined my initial impression. The traffic, the trash, and the natural tendency.
The rhythm of cars and motorbikes on the road is ruleless. Cars are driving in either direction in every lane, some straight into headcoming traffic. Motorbikes are weaving between cars, driving on the median, also head-on. There is hardly an accepted lane direction between the drivers. Yet, the rhythm flows. Motorbikes pull in front of cars and the cars pause and let them through. It is a strange form of nonverbal understanding, that though completely unknown to me, works.
Trash is everywhere. There a landfills right on the side of the road, blown into the natural landscapes, burning right next to tin houses. In five days, I only saw one garbage truck (more like a pickup) and it barely carried a fraction of what was nearby. Packaging is left behind right where it was opened.
Before arriving at the staff house, we passed a water tower. Was it safe to drink from? No. We drove by shops with water for sale locked up in metal shelving. Was it safe to drink? No.
We walked into the staff house and were told to not use the sink water. Was it safe to brush our teeth with? No, again. Instead, there is a 5-gallon bottle dispenser right in the living room. Beside it is one extra bottle where we were told to refill and use whenever we went into the bathroom.
However, this tendency equates with normalcy. The people there are used to it. They are used to having water towers that store untreated water, they are used to seeing water for sale that may be contaminated, they are used to the water from their faucets being unsafe.
This was day one for me.
& sometimes first impressions are jarring. Sometimes its the second, third, and fourth impressions that really open our eyes. That's how it was for me.