If I could give anyone any piece of advice, it is to travel as often and talk to new people as much as you can. In a time where the disconnected are the ones most tapped in, it is imperative we retain the magic of human connection transcendent of borders and state lines. I recently came back from a trip to the Dominican Republic for a week and in this blog post, we are going to discuss the similarities, differences, and some incredibly insightful new information I picked up along the way.
To start off, I should give you a little background information about this trip. I attended an Arabic music festival known as Blumar for my first 4 days on the island. The event itself presented 12 of some of the biggest names in Arab music from all over the Middle East. Being a George Wassouf stan myself, all I needed to see was his name on the lineup and bought my ticket with the quickness. The event was hosted at the all inclusive Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana technically Friday-Sunday but majority of the attendees landed in on Thursday to prep for their weekend jam-packed with dancing, drinking, and Anghami playlist overloads.
Right off the rip, the event was incredibly structured and organized. It was easy to check in and get our wristbands, the itinerary was clear and concise, and everything flowed beautifully. Not gonna lie, it was also insanely cool to be walking around the resort and see Joseph Attieh pumping weights at the gym. It was also so neat to see so many Arabs from all over the world come together in a shared love for culture and music. We met Arabs from Chile, Brazil, Austrailia, amongst other countries. Made the world I live in a lot bigger, let me tell ya. If you're concerned about not knowing anyone, do not worry your little head, everyone was incredibly friendly. Everyone's ears perked up when we heard the Arabic language being spoken on a Spanish-speaking island so the gravitational pull towards sha3ebna was very strong.
Arabs have no limitations for how much they can party. I suppose the crippling wars and destruction that has plagued the Middle East since the beginning of time has done something to the collective unconscious of the Arab people. Blessings and curses I posit. Najwa Karam was an absolute class act (no surprise) when she addressed the crowd in the beginning of her performance. Reminding us of the fragility of human life and our experiences in light of the pandemic and how important it is to have fun with your loved ones as much as you can. I cosign that sentiment, queen. That's exactly what this trip was for me. She also looked absolutely flawless in her floor-length Sadek Majed masterpiece.
Nassif Zeytoun was an absolute maestro on that stage- he controlled the energy in the hall that day. One of the best performers (in my humble opinion) of the whole weekend. Wafeek Habib lit the crowd up with his homage to our home country, Syria. I was actually quite shocked at how many Syrians were at this event. More representation there from Syria than from any other Middle Eastern country. Lama Shreif rocked the pool parties with her eclectic music and dance styles and even joined her fans in the water (sneakers and all). Carlos and Naji al Osta kept the energy pumping until 4 am with their afterparties. If all that isn't enough, Arabs flooded the casino floor with debke lines and tubles well into the early morning. Overall, incredible experience and would recommend this music festival to anyone and everyone. Great value for all the incredible singers we watched perform as well as the ammenties we were blessed to experience. I will absolutely be back.
Now, onto cultural observations and what I learned.
Dominican Republic Recap
After the event, a friend and I booked an Airbnb to unwind and have the opportunity to experience the island outside of the resort. (I'd also recommend this idea to anyone traveling for the event next year). We stayed in a private complex about a half hour from downtown Punta Cana where the beaches were clean, the people were sweet, and the sand was fluffy white between your toes.
On our way to the excursion, we couldn't help but notice the similarities between the Domincan countryside and our own villages back home. Literally every 300 feet or so we'd comment on the undeniable parallels of simplistic living. I suppose every country has this level of twilight-zoneness. Although, I will throw in a social justice plug here and say that regardless of how normalized this is (in comparison with all other 3rd world countrysides) there are so many minor changes that can be made that would significantly impact the lives of those living in these conditions. Most foreign travelers fail to realize that the locals still live like that after we leave their islands. A little clean up crew and ecological awareness could go a very long way in these parts of the world, but I digress.
Ok so onto the new things I learned about the country. A friend of mine sent me an educational video about the island while I was there. Embarrassingly enough, I had no idea Haiti and the Domincan Republic shared a border. This was news to me. Furthermore, I also had no idea the extent to which racism ran rampant in this country. I think I witnessed it firsthand but I will go into that storytime on a later date. In the United States, the common narrative is that racism ended with the dissemination of the Jim Crow laws and that many claims of systemic oppression are outdated- at least on the right. I won't get too political here (yet) but I need everyone to know that this narrative is an absolute farse. Nothing about it substantiated and racism is very much alive and well. It's so clearly evident in context of the larger global atmosphere. This, I learned, was the reality of the world I lived in- vacation or no vacation. You can't ever escape the truth.
You may be wondering, of all the things you've done on this trip, of all the things you've seen and all the people you've met, this is your takeaway? Guys, I promise, I can't turn this part of my mind off. It's like the reticular activating system in my brain seeks out things that reaffirm these truths and make themselves glaringly obvious to me. But to go back to the opening paragraph of this post, I will restate how important it is to travel. Genuinely. It is life changing in more ways than you can even begin to comprehend. Foreign travel opens doors you didn't even know existed. It expands the understanding of yourself and the reality in which you reside. There is this incredible quote by Bill Bryson that I will refer back to time and time again. I will end with this:
“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses."