The island of Hispaniola has a special place in my mind. Dan and I had been sailing for seven days since we last stepped on land. We weaved through coral. We beat against the wind, only to have to turn around and do it again. We rose and fell with the 8-13foot swell. Then one morning, after the longest, most intimidating night of sailing I’ve ever experienced-the wind died, the sun rose and on the horizon were the mountains of Hispaniola. One of the happiest moments of my life.
We were soaked to the core. My passport to this day tells the story. Despite its resting in a plastic bag, on a shelf, in the hull of the boat, it was so wet the Dominican immigration asked me to come back a week later once my passport was dry enough to stamp. We dropped anchor in the sailing hub of Luperon, less than 50 miles from the Haitian border. Although we came close, I never actually crossed the border into Haiti. I did however catch glimpses of the impoverished neighbor of the Dominican Republic.
I met Haitian immigrants, who though disrespected and underpaid, still found a better life on the Dominican side of their island. I played with Haitian children at the school and orphanage that tried to provide at least a minimal education to the shockingly underprivileged children. And I heard stories of how mistreated these shared inhabitants were.
Just across the border, on the western third of the same island, sits one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries with 80% of its population living in poverty… and this was before January 12, 2010. At 4:53 pm, the devastating earthquake of 7.0 magnitude left up to 230,000 dead (according to the Haitian government), an estimated 300,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless or displaced (almost 20% of the countries population).
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