“Doctor.” “Engineer.” “Swimmer.” “Nurse.” “Teacher.” “Football Player.” After the children warmed up to me a little bit, they took turns answering my question of what they wanted to be when they grow up. They all spoke softly but confidently, in English. I was visiting an orphanage near Insein, a small suburb of Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. It was only my second day in the country, but I knew it would stand out.
As most of you know by now, my attendance on the final Fathom pilot trip made a huge impact on the trajectory of my life. I’d been thinking a lot about building volunteering into my travels and giving back to those people who so openly share their cities or countries with me as a visitor. Participating in impact activities like planting trees on the beach, working with children on their English, and working with women in a recycling paper co-op, confirmed that this path was one I needed to explore further.
While I appreciate the long-term impact of other Fathom projects, when I first heard about the opportunity to install concrete floors into people’s homes and see the immediate impact, I knew I had to return to the Dominican Republic and experience this activity specifically. On our second day in the Dominican Republic, Katie and I joined other Fathom travelers to complete this impact activity for three homes.
If you know me at all, you know about my intense obsession with dogs. When I walk around NYC, I wave to them and say “hi, buddy!” without acknowledging the humans walking them. I try to pet them when their owners aren’t looking, as long as they look friendly and fluffy. I follow more dog accounts on Instagram than I do of my actual friends. And I was more excited to see my parents’ dog after coming back home than I was to see them. Just kidding, Mom and Dad!
Because of my obsession, being in Myanmar was interesting for me. In every city I was in, there was a huge population of stray dogs. In most of the areas where I was hanging out in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan, the dogs were pretty domesticated and used to humans. It was in Inle Lake where the dogs felt completely wild. There was definitely a canine takeover of the city after 11 PM and I was woken up several times each night by their fights. I felt like I was in a revival of West Side Story.
I learned a new language recently and it wasn’t easy. I took 6 months of French and I think if I went back to Lyon right now, I still might be in trouble. And that’s because I haven’t been practicing – sorry Leemore, I will have time soon!
On my first Fathom experience in the Dominican Republic, I’d worked with a 4th-grade class on their English. I loved the one-on-one interaction – getting to know a student, helping with her English, and practicing my Spanish with her as well. While I loved that day, I wanted to try different impact activities on my next Fathom trip. On our first day on the ground in the DR during my second Fathom experience, my sister and I chose Community English Conversation & Learning, speaking English with a family or a group of adults. Tourism is such a huge industry in the Dominican Republic that knowing English can be the difference between whether someone gets a job or not.
I didn’t go for the cruise.
I’d been on one cruise a decade ago with someone who I never should have traveled with. He was more interested in staying in the room and watching Transformers than in exploring the ports where we docked. It didn’t help that we had gone on the cheapest cruise we could find. It only docked in Key West and Cozumel, each for just a few hours. But it’s a memory I repress, along with the rest of the relationship.
“I work hard for the money…So hard for the money…” – the woman next to me sang out while we sat ripping paper on a warm day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. It was just one of many songs we sang together to pass the time, but it was the one where her voice rang out the strongest. She could have definitely been on Dominican Idol. And she does work hard for the money. Not just for herself, but for other women at RePapel, and for the local economy of Puerto Plata. We spent our last morning volunteering with Fathom Travel at RePapel, a women’s co-op that recycles old office paper into beautiful notecards, postcards, and other paper products.
On our second day in the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel (read an overview of the trip here and a first day recap of planting trees here), we worked with children in a school at the top of the mountains in Puerto Plata. Our little tour bus puttered and puttered up the dirt roads of the mountains, dodging burrows and cattle. I have never gotten carsick in my life (knock on wood) but I had to move closer to the front of the bus because these roads were no joke.
Our first full day in the Dominican Republic was spent on a gorgeous beach, but not in a sit-in-a-bikini and get-300-pages-deep-in-a-novel kind of way that I’m used to (and frankly, really good at). I was in the DR with Fathom, a new cruise line under Carnival which takes travelers to the DR from Miami for a few days of impact activities working with local organizations. To learn more about my experience with Fathom or if you want to plant trees in the Dominican Republic, too – read this post before continuing on.
I spent four days in the Caribbean and didn’t put my bathing suit on once. It wasn’t because I spent my time on nude beaches or because it was raining. It was because I was on a different kind of trip with Fathom Travel and I was there to immerse myself into the community and help out on different impact projects with local organizations. I didn’t get a tan, but I got so much more than I could have ever imagined.