8 personal observations, Civic and Self Reliance lessons learned in the Dominican Republic
Imagine this. Two no-name newlyweds enjoying one week in the island resort town of Punta Cana, surrounded by sunshine, servants and accompanied by Mr. Obama. In his presence, we enjoyed humor, laughter, warmth and received an education in civics and self-reliance.
Our time together allowed us to see an island paradise, where the weather was warm, the Dominican hospitality staff exceeded my expectations, and sumptuous meals and adult beverages were available virtually any time of day.
Entertainers were encouraging the resort guests to play tug-a-war at 10AM, teaching us the latest aquatic exercises at a pool with an attached water-level bar by 2PM, and Salsa dancing and singing went on from 730 to midnight. But being in Obama’s presence, and enjoying the entourage of exotic guests and Dominican fare was not enough. We had heard about cheap cigars, cheap medications, and a beautiful cathedral in nearby Higuey.
Higuey to see real Dominican life
After 4 days of indulgence and decadence, my new bride and I hired a cab to take us into Higuey to see real Dominican life. Taking unpaved back roads, our non-English speaking cabbie drove us past cattle ranches where the cows looked deprived, their ribs apparent from the road. We saw houses made of tin roofs and cinderblock walls, and roadside stands where 5 gallon water jugs were sold for pennies to those who had no running water. In our mind, it was a destitute environment.
Dominican Republic town of Higuey
We were told that a normal month’s wages was $700-$800. In Higuey, the roads were paved, and clogged with men on motor-scooters doing deliveries, or doing nothing at all. Our initial reaction was to turn back, since this was not the world we lived in. It was, to say the least, a discomforting view.
8 lessons in Civics and Self Reliance
With this in mind, let me help you see the reality of the people of Punta Cana and Higuey, and to share with you at least eight lessons in Civics and Self-Reliance.
Lesson number 1
First, the locals of Higuey and Punta Cana did not respect visitors who failed to dress appropriately for dinner. This meant that jeans, cut-offs, bathing suits and excessively revealing attire were not respected, or accepted at most restaurants.This was lesson one in expected Dominican norms. It made me remember how my poor parents insisted that we children look dignified and respectable at all times.
Lesson number 2
After making it past the “tourist traps” selling artwork, jewelry , carvings and other assorted goodies, we asked to drive by the basilica. The Shrine of Our Lady of Altagracia rose above the city like a protective matriarch. I could only wonder how a city populated by the poor could generate enough funds to build or care for this breath-taking structure. Clearly, it is a testament to the devout nature of the locals. Call this lesson number two.
Lesson number 3
The local “pharmacia” offered medications, excluding painkillers, without a prescription. The pricing was discounted, in some cases to a tenth of what my local pharmacy charged, but the medicine was wrapped, dated, and dispensed in a manner similar to our U.S. standards. I learned that people are allowed to take responsibility for their own health and to self-prescribe with the advice of a college-educated, licensed pharmacy technician with a 5 year degree. I wondered if this lesson in self-governance and self-reliance is a partial answer to the American health care crisis, where Americans pay more per person than any other industrialized nation? Lesson number three.
A Dominican cigar maker
Lesson number 4
It was time to head back to the resort, but I remembered a small cigar manufacturer on the way . Not only did we get a lesson in the cigar manufacturing process from beginning to end, but we also observed a female employee who handled the sales. Her four year old daughter played nearby, and was trained not to go too close to the street. The mother seemed unafraid of drivers nearby since she had taught her daughter well. She handled the register and watched her daughter with one eye.
It was an interesting alternative to the US day care system, where children are raised by strangers in a regulatory environment. Lesson number four.
Yes, there was poverty, and some degree of lawlessness, but the people were allowed to protect themselves. I remembered the pharmacy had a security guard who was well-armed and meant business if you acted improperly in the store. I even saw a few stores where locals had riot guns under their arms and carried them like a person carrying their lunch to work. Yet I saw no violence, and very few law offices. Maybe this is lesson number four and a half.