Dominican Republic – Sept 2012

by Jeremy on October 22, 2012

The spanish speaking island of Dominican Republic (DR) sits adjacent to Haiti, which many of you remember as the site of the devastating 2010 earthquake (and the name of a piece I’ve composed for the Vampires). The DR is known for its merengue music, pearly white beaches and rich colonial past. However I discovered that there are still many social challenges facing this jewel of the caribbean. I visited the DR for a week with my partner to participate in some volunteer work with a group of Chiropractors from New York State and Chicago, an NGO called Chiromission.

Acqua Negra

For the first day of volunteering, we ventured to an area simply known as ‘AcquaNegra” (black water). This village basically lives next to a small bay where fishing boats and power lines litter the shore. Opposite the village lies a large factory billowing black smoke from the chimneys. The volunteers who had come here previously didn’t know what type of factory it was but told me that whatever was coming out of the factory made the surrounding water dirty, sludge-like and ultimately black (hence the area’s nick-name). Apparently when the hurricane season hits the village, the water level rises enough so that the houses get covered in a knee-high layer of sludge water, leaving a mark that was clearly evident as we walked and inspected some of the houses Chiromission had built on previous trips. The scariest thing was that there were people fishing in the water and small children running around half naked on the shore line. Despite this environmental burden on the village, the people were beautiful and kind natured.

Press conference for the opening of the new orphanage

They village had an obvious interest in the van full of white folks, led by local Pastor Joel, rocking up with a suitcase full of donations to give out. For the first half hour, the chiropractors set up chairs and allowed anyone who wanted an adjustment to jump on in. Its amazing watching the people’s injuries, shoulder and neck problems be transformed from a single adjustment. I jumped on in with my saxophone and entertained the kids – the expressions on their faces was incredible! Soon they were all clapping and dancing along to the music. This was soon interrupted when the suitcases came out, and then it was game on for the kids to grab whatever they could. The hardest thing to see was several kids literally fighting over a matchbox toy car – they really had nothing here and so the desperation over so little was hard to bear. We also gave out some clothes, toothpaste and pencils for the kids. Hopefully they can make use of the pencils – next time we go we will have to take some sharpeners and erasures.

The following day we headed to the local schools in Puerto Plata. The kids were estatic to see us arrive, and we had to be apologetic to take over use of the courtyard, where a serious game of baseball was underway. Someone told me over there that the DR make up the second highest national representation of professional baseball players in the States, second only to the USA itself! I was also trying to incite the kids to sing some of their local songs – some of them had amazing voices! This little kid was speechless as he watched me play an Ornette Coleman tune to him. Watch his face as he stood in front of the bell of my saxophone and then started to dance.

On the Friday the local Centre of Medicine hosted a benefit concert at which I was the featured performer at the old library in Puerto Plata. I was joined by the co-founder of Chiro Mission’s son, a 16 year piano player called Tommy Herold, and a local drummer. We played four or five songs each in duo format, performing songs Tommy knew by the pianist Chilly Gonzales, a Greek ballad with the drummer and finally some merengue – “Compadre Pedro Juan” – a famous song in the DR. As soon as I started playing the rubato intro, half the crowd started to stir. By the time the main melody kicked in, half the people were up dancing and clapping along – its a lovely music culture there.

Post concert with the co-founders of ChiroMission – J.C. Doornick and Todd Herold. Local percussionist on right.

The final day we visited some Haitian refugees in a village on the outskirts of Puerto Plata. It seems these people have been through a lot – you can see it on their faces. Giving out pencils seemed so futile – they needed much more than that; health, shelter and education. They were grateful for our visit and it was an amazing experience to bring home a new perspective on life.

Previous post:

Next post: