Rustic Pathways group in Dominican Republic
Rustic Pathways group in Dominican Republic (Rustic Pathways photo)

Editor’s note: Enesi Domi, 16, has lived in the Bronx with his family since they emigrated from Albania in his childhood. He was given the opportunity to participate in a youth service experience in the Dominican Republic this summer by Rustic Pathways, which provides superior quality international community service, education and adventure programs for students around the world. Its trips are focused on areas of interest from public health/medicine and education to the environment and community service. Rustic Pathways operates in more than 20 countries with more than 100 programs. Founded in 1983, Rustic Pathways offers one- to three-week spring and summer break experiences as well as Gap year programs and custom experiences for educators and small groups. Eight thousand students will travel with Rustic Pathways in 2015.

Enesi kept a daily diary throughout the trip and share them with Taking the Kids. This is the second of two installments.

By Enesi Domi, Taking the Kids kid correspondent

Day 6

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC — Today was very fun. I woke up at the hotel feeling a little hot since we were told to turn off the AC at night. We ate breakfast there and got on the road to head back to the ranch. We got to the ranch and we had some time to go get ready and come down for lunch since we were going to leave at around 3 to go white-water rafting. We ate lunch and played pool and ping pong while we waited. After a while they told us to get back in the trucks as we were about to leave. The drive there wasn’t long and when we got there the locals were blasting music and we spoke to them. Some wanted to take pictures with us which we did. Then the instructors came in and gave us really short and simple instructions and we were in the water in around 5 minutes. I was terrified since I’m not a big fan of activities with water but everyone in my boat was having a great time. The rapids went up to level 4 and I was terrified when I heard this. We got on the water and straight away we paddled and hit a pretty big rapid and we spun and everyone was laughing and screaming. It was great because our instructor spoke perfect English and was hilarious. We went through a couple of more rapids and our instructor was telling us the rapids name like Mike Yyson Jr, and then the senior. One rapid was named the graveyard because the river used to go in a different way but when it changed paths it washed over a graveyard. It was all going well. It was difficult maneuvering but our instructor was very experienced it was his third time just today. Disaster struck at almost the end when my foot slipped out of the holster and thankfully I fell toward the end of the rapid and I got trapped under the plastic boat for like 2 seconds. I got out with just a couple of bruises on my thigh but all in all it was a good experience. Throughout the whole thing which was around an hour we met many locals that were swimming in the water we even saw a guy with dead snake that he had skinned. When we finished the group got together and we went back to the ranch and I saw that everyone had had a great time since no one had a bad experience to share well except me. We got back and everyone was tired we had dinner relaxed and went to sleep because tomorrow was the day that I had been dreading the whole trip.

Day 7

I would have rather dug up miles of trenches for tubes than do another kid’s camp. I knew this day wasn’t going to be fun since I’ve never really liked little kids and knowing that I was responsible for someone kids this day terrified me. The groups were split like the days we did service and my group was chosen to stay at the ranch and host the kids the other group were to go back to Manabao and host the kids there. We prepared the night before since there had to be prepared for 4 activities on this day. It was sports, music, arts and craft, and education. We had to do those 4 activities twice since the kids were going to be with us from 8:30 to 4. We had breakfast and waited for the kids, and when they came on the buses. I was terrified. There were kids just running around and yelling which made establishing orders and rules almost impossible. The night before our group was split again into teams of 3 or 4. Thank goodness for the counselors because the kids were scared of them and listened to them. They split the big group of kids into our groups and my group which had 3 people got around 5 kids. Immediately I didn’t want to do this, because of the language barrier. Trying to tell them what to do became a problem. We already knew this was going to be a problem the night before but I knew a little bit of Spanish so I could communicate a little with the kids. The day had started and the first period had almost finished just by trying to sort the kids out. We went to the second activity and on the way there I learned that these kids really loved piggy back rides, and then something went wrong. One of the bigger kids was giving a ride to a smaller kid and he tripped and they both fell and the bigger kid cut his lip. Since my group was closest to the kid I took the kid, lifted him to his knees and there was blood coming out of his mouth and/or nose. I couldn’t really tell cause it was covered with blood. I don’t really know why but I was the only one that took the responsibility in making sure he was alright the other two people in my group just stared at the blood which kind of made me angry. To kind of distract the kid and not to scare the other kids I kind of began to order the other people in my group and told one of them to get water and tissues while the other one sort of took the other kids away. I took the kid to the bathroom to clean his face to try to find where the blood was coming from while I sent another kid to go find the counselor since they were experienced and trained. By this time I had a lot of his blood on my hands and I cleaned out his mouth and found that it was a cut on the inside of lower lip. I tried to see if he had a broken tooth that might have been lodged in the hole but it seemed he was all okay and just had a little cut. The other kid was totally fine so I didn’t really worry about him. The day had just begun and already one of my biggest fears had happened. We played soccer and had some fun but throughout the day the schedule just kind of fell apart. We had around 42 kids split between our groups and by the end of the day we were just trying to survive. A lot of things happened and a lot of kids almost got hurt but things started to calm down a little bit. When they left I was immensely happy. Apparently though some people actually had fun with them. A good friend of mine that I met on this trip is Ellie Boock, who was from California. When I asked her what she liked about this day she said that “I saw in the kids faces in the piggy back rides that we kind of had a big impact in their lives, and that even though it was challenging I would do it again in a heartbeat.” I didn’t agree with that statement because if asked to take care of those kids again I’d run the other way. At the end of the night the other group joined us in the nightly discussion and their experience was completely different. They had like 10 kids, the kids showed up at almost 12. Their kids were all relaxed and calm which made it easier, and their kids left earlier than ours. I do wish I was in their group but I also did learn stuff from these kids and how to handle kids. The night was over and I was super happy to go to bed and get the day done.

Dancing in Santo Domingo (Enesi Domi photo)
Dancing in Santo Domingo (Enesi Domi photo)

Day 8 and 9

Today was the day we were leaving the ranch and I knew it was going to be a long day. We woke and had breakfast at 8:30 and then got on the bus and began our way to the same hotel that we stayed at on the first night. We had one stop to get snacks and use the bathroom as always. When we got to Santo Domingo we stopped at a pizza shop to have lunch. The pizza was great, better than the previous one at beach day. We had lunch and on the bus to the hotel the counselors told us that were going to tour Santo Domingo and go to shops to buy gifts. We got to the hotel I roomed with 2 of my good friends. We went down to meet up with everyone at around 3:30 and we got on the bus to head to this market to buy gifts. When we got to the market we were told that the prices weren’t fixed and that we can argue price which I found very exciting and I was bound to buy everything half the price they said or lower. The second I stepped in I was ambushed by many salesmen telling me to come to their store and see their products. I found it weird but with time I loved the way that the locals tried to sell things. They were very aggressive but very fun and some spoke very good English so I had a conversation with some salesman. The products were all pretty much the same with a lot of bracelets, bags, statues, knifes and machetes (which we weren’t allowed to buy). I bought three bracelets and a boat that was made from a horn and they wrote my name on it. We left the store around an hour and fifteen minutes later. We got on the bus and we began our tour as we saw the colonial zone in the Dominican Republic. When we got to the colonial zone we got out and walked around. We also stopped at a chocolate shop which I wish lived in. Then we walked around and saw amazing things like the oldest cathedral in the Americas and Christopher columbus’ house  where we saw a couple in their wedding. We also saw a fort called Fortaleza Ozama. We got tired after a while and we stopped to get some water and continued our walk for a little bit and then we got on the bus to head out for dinner. Dinner was the best dinner experience on this trip. We stopped at place called El Conuco which served great Dominican cuisine. To be honest I was eating one thing that I had no idea what it was and if I had seen what was inside of it I would have never dared to eat it. I put it on my plate not knowing what it really was and I was really enjoying it and then I saw seeds and other stuff that I would never eat but I really liked this food. It had chicken and rice and everything that I loved to eat. Out of nowhere the waiters made the music louder which was already quite loud and they started dancing. The woman was wearing a Dominican colored dress which flowed freely when she danced. I have seen many street performers here in New York but they were nothing compared to them. They were so rhythmic and they looked genuinely happy. Then another waiter took out a drum and told quickly a friend how to play it. Then he gave me a Dominican instrument that I had never seen and later I learned is called a güira. It was like a big cheese grater but in the shape of a tube and was very large around around 12 inches. Then he gave me a little pick which I scratched the güira with and now I was playing an instrument that I had never played before. After they were done they let everyone dance and we were all dancing and it was a lot of fun. We went back to the hotel after dinner but since we had to be downstairs by 3 am no one bothered to go to sleep so we just stayed up and hung out. We went down at 3 and got on the bus and headed to the airport and I was very tired. Our flight was at 7 so we had just a couple of hours to hang out but everyone was tired so we all just pretty much fell asleep. At 6 we started boarding and the second I got in I fell asleep and so did everyone else.  When we landed at JFK, my friends and I regrouped and made our way through customs and to baggage claim. For me this was the moment of goodbye the 3 great friends I made that were from California. It was a hard goodbye because even though we had only been friends for 9 days we had become closer than some of my friends at home.

This trip has been one of the best experiences of my life and I would to do another one of these trips in a split second with the friends I made there.