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"A refuge for anyone, but when you go there please don't do what Columbus did!"
- Raj Ramaiya

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Dominican Republic

Quesqueya Island, Dominican Republic
by Raj Ramaiya, 59, San Francisco, USA
Apr 7, 2000

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Dominican Republic

Within one year I had an opportunity to visit this tropical Carribean island four times. What an experience! I have traveled to many parts of the world, and also to quite a few other Carribean islands, but Quesqueya is definitely different. Columbus was supposed to have landed there a long time ago. In the 'zona colonial' part of the capital, it still has all the remnances of that plunder. And that's where most tourists wind up if they come by boats. Only if Columbus would come back now, he would be in a deep state of shock. Maybe he would learn something about the future of the brave new world.

In 500 years this Hispaniola island has gone through many changes. The Dominican Republic is two-thirds of the big island. The rest is Haiti. The Spanish ways has its seal in every part of the country. The warm to hot days, the cool sea breeze evenings, and all-night activities feel like one is somewhere in the Mediterrranean. A friend I met there said the locals worked only 10% of their time!

The population is very mixed. A few genes from the native Taino Indians may have somehow survived the Spanish massacres. African slaves were brought in to work on sugar plantations, and the European owners and tradesmen that followed them. Although the country is now very creole looking, the elites are the high class Spanish bloodlines. Yet, the Carribean atmosphere is very visible in culture, foods, music, houses and daily life. Many new immigrants from all parts of the world are coming to settle there, so it is cosmopolitan at least in Santo Domingo, 'la capital' as they call it.

The tourist resorts are all on the coast and look like Club Med's with little similarity to the island itself. Most tourists are from Europe. My assignment was with a rural development project, so I was able to accompany locals to see many cities, towns, villages, farmlands and some backroads with beautiful native flora and fauna. This Banana Republic is slowly diversifying in order to bring in cash for its new crops. They have begun to grow Asian vegetables and use organic methods with export markets in mind, but have yet to realize how to grow foods to sustain themselves with the rich soils they have. Guess it's the "colony of USA" mentality. Well, the USA did invade in the 19th century, and it still has significant influence and power in the Dominican Republic if the abundance of American materialistic goods is any indication.

Although hotels and meals are as expensive as in any western world, the income base for an average worker in the Dominican Republic is very low, at around US$150 a month. The large younger population yearn to learn, but the economy is geared towards export and tourism. Most places have men working, because it is traditional for women to stay home. However, one million men and their families emigrated to the USA, largely settling in New York and Boston. The women are lured to work in European countries, but most wind up being sex girls. Those who stay behind try to work in beauty salons or casinos to earn extra income.

So what is with this Quesqueya Island! When the refugee indians from the American continent came to this big island, they named it Quesqueya Island - the mother of all lands. A refuge for anyone, but when you go there please don't do what Columbus did!

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