The Dominican Republic is full of beautiful beaches. Due to the small size of the island, it's not really possible to travel anywhere in which you are more than a few hours travel from that glorious Caribbean blue. I only lived about three miles away from the coast, and if you stood up on my roof you would be able to see the ocean. This fortunate geographic set up means that just about everyone in the DR with the means to travel a short distance can enjoy the beach. There are two beaches within half an hour of my community, and they fill up with locals enjoying themselves every Saturday and Sunday. Kim and I would go frequently as well (often when there was no water in the pipes at her house, we would go bathe at a local beach. Life is rough.).
This being said, not everyone is able to enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean. Poor people, especially women and kids, often never have enough spare money to travel the short distance to the coast. This concept came home for me when I found out that my two best friends, Ales (8) and his sister Maroli (5) had never even seen the ocean despite having lived their whole lives within three miles of it. I told Kim about this, and she said "well, we should take them to the beach!" So we did.
When I first told the kids I would be taking them on a field trip out of the community, they didn't believe me. They thought it was some kind of joke. But then as the day got closer and I didn't change my story, they started to get excited. They picked out their best clothes, and even cajoled their dad into buying them new flip flops. This little day trip was becoming a very big deal to them.
We left early in the morning and caught a motorcycle. These two kids are normally very energetic and not at all shy, but the idea of taking a motorcycle farther than they had ever gone before made them a little nervous. Maroli cried, and Ales became very quiet. She calmed down when I gave her a cookie, and he cheered up at the idea of riding in front of the driver on the motorcycle.
We got to Kim's house, ate lunch, and went to the beach. We had a great time. The kids loved splashing in the water in the inner tubes we rented for them. We drank pop, ate empanadas, and had an amazing time. Ales tried his hand at sweet talking all the girls about his age, and Maroli couldn't stop staring at the ocean and asking how big it was. When we got back home, the kids couldn't stop talking about everything they had seen and done. Their joy was so pure and honest.
This may not strike you as a very remarkable story, but it felt to me like one of the best days of my Peace Corps service. These kids have given me so much over these two years. They've been my Spanish teachers, domino opponents, errand runners, gossip sources, hiking buddies, and constant companions in times of loneliness. They were the only people who were ALWAYS there and who NEVER got frustrated with me. I've tried to do a lot of projects that are supposed to help give these kids a better life, and I don't know if any of them will work out. What I do know is that for one day I was able to give them something they had never had. It felt really good.