Today I met some really amazing teachers during a workshop I gave on the Power of Storytelling. The questions they asked were so poignant and their passion for their work was inspirational to me. I carried their enthusiasm for their students and the obvious love of their country with me as I set out to explore the city of Santo Domingo.
I started out strolling through the neighborhood nearest my hotel. It was recommended that I only take taxis when venturing out into the city, but anyone who knows me would understand that would never work for me. One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is the time spent with the people. I love the sights and sounds of bustling cities and villages. This city provided me with plenty of both. As I walked, I saw Haitian women walking with baskets of fruit on their heads. Their grace and elegance made me smile as I reminisced about my time in Africa. I listened to the sounds of horns honking and men yelling to each other down the street about the news of the day. I saw children peeking around corners to catch a glimpse of a foreigner walking through their neighborhood.
As I was immersing myself in this sensory experience I arrived at my destination. I looked out across an expansive courtyard, devoid of the sights and sounds of the previous blocks. There were very few Dominicans, but the amount of tourists had definitely increased. The place I had arrived at, was the actual house of Christopher Columbus’ son, Diego. He and his wife (niece of King Ferdinand) were given this palace in the 16th century. As I entered, it struck me that the people I had read about in history books as a child, Ponce De León and Hernando Cortéz, walked the hallways of this building. I found a quiet corner and sat for a moment reflecting on what I imagine was a time of opulence for some and turmoil for others.
Something that gave me mixed feelings was that I was really enjoying the tour of this historical building. Living in California does not afford me with many opportunities to visit five hundred year old buildings. However, what I couldn’t escape was the fact that an entire population of Taino people was destroyed when Columbus set foot on this island in the late 1400’s. This house was representative of a powerful turning point in European history; One of new beginnings and opportunity for the Spanish.
As I exited the uninhabited building that has become simply another tourist destination, I started back the way that I had come. Only this time, rather than simply enjoying the sights and sounds, I was haunted by the feeling that the struggle to survive in this crowded city, where poverty is rampant did little to quell the uneasiness I had as I walked back to my beautiful and luxurious hotel.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that despite the passage of five hundred years, is it possible that the mark left by the colonization of this island has made time stand still?