Welcome to MCC Haiti.

Our first Escapades into the Dominican Republic

Our trip to the D.R. last week exposed us to a whole new world that is just a few hours away from us, across the border that separates these two different but forever linked countries that share the island of Hispaniola.

We traveled with MCC companions to meet with Mennonite pastors in the eastern town of Padre Las Casas and in the capitol of Santo Domingo, then Ted and I had two and a half full days to explore the finer parts of the city together. Rain and grey skies aside, it was a wonderful and relaxing dip into history, plus a cool cultural experience for us both!

First, we got to experience the Old World meets New World fusion in the architecture of the Catedral Primada de America, the oldest church in the New World that is still in use. The cathedral is parked right in Parque Colon, so named for Christopher Columbus (who is really Cristóbal Colón in Spanish.)

Though Columbus first landed in the north and western parts of the island, he set up shop in several spots in Haiti and the D.R., and Santo Domingo became the seat from which Spain governed all of its holds in the New World.

One major difference between Haiti and the D.R. is in the way they appreciate their histories. In Santo Domingo, Colombus' stamp was seen everywhere. From this park (above), to the ancient residences of his family members, which are now preserved and showcased as historical attractions, Dominican tourism draws heavily on this aspect of the island's history. Whereas in Haiti, colonial era history is scarcely preserved and Colombus is more likely to be despised for the era of exploitation he introduced. 

As much as the historian in me would be fascinated to explore a replica of a colonial era plantation or town in Haiti, none of this was preserved after the Haitian Revolution. Nor can I see that type of preservation taking place for touristic benefits. All plantations were purposefully razed to the ground by newly freed Haitians, who did not want such bold symbols of colonial power and human suffering to remain in their midst.

Next up, we visited this beautiful monastery, Convento de los Dominicos, made famous by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas was the Dominican friar who wrote extensively in defense of the native peoples in the Americas and was even named the first ''Protector of the Indians" by Spain. He wrote many of his famous works from this very church. This name from the history books came alive for me as we strolled along the pews, which were filled with newly initiated nuns and friars by the way! It was great to see such a noble figure from history honored in the city (a little break from all the Columbus fever around town.)

Dominicans are very proud of their history and revere their leaders who fought for independence, first from Spain in 1822 and then from Haiti. This is something the D.R. and Haiti seem to have in common. Their struggles for independence loom large in their current imaginations. The heroes of Haitian independence - Louverture, Dessalines, Petion  - are invoked with passion in electoral campaigns today. I had a Dominican pastor share with me in a I-hope-you-already-knew-this tone, ''you know, Dominicans fought for their independence from Haiti, not Spain." I got the sense this wasn't ancient history for many Dominicans, much like the American civil war is not ancient history in many parts of the U.S. 

At the Pantheon, the remains of some of these prominent figures from Dominican history are interned and guarded. Visitors keep a church-like silence.

Lunchtime showers had us scrambling inside for a quiet meal, as we listened to the increasingly dramatic rainfall splatter across the roof of our quaint but chic stone-walled restaurant. Instead of calling it a day and crawling back to our hotel room for loooong afternoon naps, we continued the sight-seeing once the rain subsided.


The final site of our tourism adventures of the day. The grey clouds rolled in once again (we could have sworn they were gone!) Ted ran across this plaza in the pouring rain, with our admission tickets in hand for the Alcazar de Colon. Diego Colon, Columbus' son, lived here at one time. Destroyed over the years but restored in the 20th century to be used as a museum, this site was fun to walk through, and even more fun to be stranded in for a bit by the rain. 
Waiting out the storm in my colonial-era perch.
Once the rain broke (for about 2 minutes), we ran across the plaza again, to sit at a renowned restaurant. Sure we had hoped to ''spruce up'' for the event, but our Tevas and Chacos had to do! We took our time, enjoying a meal that started at about 5:15pm, a little earlier than anticipated. :)

The Colonial District, Day Two