by Marc d’Entremont
Aristotle coined eudaimonia – human flourishing. It’s the opposite of philanthropy, which is often viewed as simply a handout by the recipients. Eudaimonia is seeking excellence, finding the best within oneself, life-long learning and acting on what one believes – and that’s the mission of Fathom Travel. It’s only through self-accomplishment that a human can help others achieve eudaimonia.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” said Francisco, a Fathom Travel impact facilitator on board the M/V Adonia bound for the Dominican Republic. Gone is the gambling casino, the second rate Las Vegas stage shows and the six hours in multiple ports so one can check off their bucket list. What Fathom Travel offers on its 750 passenger M/V Adonia during its week long cruises to Puerto Plata is fine dining, elegant appointments, friendly crew and excellent musical entertainment. What’s new are workshops that will assist you in achieving eudaimonia from a variety of entrepreneurial community groups in the Dominican Republic already pulling them selves into the 21st century.
Fathom Travel is a subsidiary of the mega company Carnival Cruise Line. It’s easy to dismiss this as a ploy to sell tickets to a niche of do-gooders. Yet Carnival spent two years in research and development to avoid just such a label before setting sail to the Dominican Republic and Cuba this past April.
A passenger on Fathom Travel’s beautiful M/V Adonia enjoys all the luxury of a cruise ship and interactive workshops on the community based projects in which they’ll participate. Working in cooperation with established Dominican non-profits is the key. Fathom Travel does not impose; it cooperates with locally based I.D.D.I. and Entrena whose missions are to empower entrepreneurial local groups that will energize communities.
After a day of cruising from Miami to Amber Cove, Carnival’s port complex just outside the north coast city of Puerto Plata, the ship docks for three days of community experiences. Travelers are encouraged but not required to engage in a minimum of three half-day impact experiences. This is not the advantaged assisting the helpless. It’s the socially economic advantaged learning while helping those already helping themselves.
One village deep in the lush mountains of northern Dominican Republic is laying concrete floors in small family houses. The floors are environmentally healthier than dirt. Among benefits the evenness of the concrete floors help babies to walk at an earlier age than on uneven dirt.
Assisting a community in English language skills may seem on the surface imposing a foreign language on the local culture. Yet that opinion negates the reality that English has become the universal language of business and science. Tourism is an essential component of the Dominican Republic economy, and fluency in English is a common requirement. Besides, assisting eager children and adults utilizing an established curriculum is a rewarding experience of intercultural dialogue.
Agriculture is always an important part of any nation’s viability. Products that return significant economic returns are significant. The Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative is reviving both chocolate production and providing a lucrative business for women in the Dominican Republic. Cruise participants work hand-in-hand through the entire process from planting cocao trees through molding excellent premium chocolate bars.
I found learning from and assisting the RePapel cooperative personally enlightening. RePapel was founded in 1998 in the Dominican Republic to recycle high quality office paper, give women an income and help families stay together rather than be separated from their home villages. Sounds lofty but it works.
The Dominican Republic is stunningly beautiful and poor. It’s difficult for men to find good paying jobs and next to impossible for women. Frequently families and children are separated during the week as one or both parents may have to travel to other cities for work. Anyone can google RePapel and read of its success, but only Fathom Travel cruise passengers can feel and hear the joy expressed by these women as they revel in their new life.
Sitting in a non air-conditioned room in high heat and humidity tearing paper into small pieces by hand is not an easy first impression on an outsider that this is the path to entering the 21st century. Why doesn’t RePapel simply buy an inexpensive shredding machine? Yet when a power outage cuts the single fan that was stirring the languid air the first reality in a long road to understanding the daily challenges of life for the average resident in Puerto Plata begins to dawn. Outages caused by the antiquated city power plant are frequent.
The Dominican Republic’s new progressive government has plans to replace the power plant when that item on the long list of national improvements is reached. In the meantime, tearing paper by hand while enjoying conversation with convivial people suddenly feels as enjoyable to this chef as kneading bread dough.
Most paper recycling projects worldwide simply ship the waste off to large commercial companies. RePapel believes that the spark of creativity is important in building a strong sense of self worth – eudaimonia. The objective is to turn trash into craft paper appropriate for art projects, note books and greeting cards.
Of course the spark requires some electricity. One of only two machines dependent on power is an old washing machine. Torn pieces of paper and water half fill the machine’s tub. Since it only needs to be agitated for 15 minutes per batch this part of the process can work around power outages.
An average kitchen blender emulsifies the waterlogged paper. Since this process takes only two minutes it can deal as well with the vagaries of electrical outages. After being emulsified, the process of making hand crafted paper is dependent on human talent and not the power grid, a lesson for those of us with lives tied to the requirements of technology. At this point it was appropriate to wonder if the women were having the bigger impact on us.
The emulsified paper was poured into a trough half filled with water. Simple two piece wooden frames with one side lined with a fine mesh screen are gently swirled in the paper water bath for half a minute. The frames are raised out of the bath and held for another half minute as the water drains and the frame is slightly tilted for the remaining ten seconds. A thin layer of wet paper covers the fine screen mesh.
The top of the frame is removed. The bottom frame holding the wet paper is placed at a 90° angle at the edge of a rectangular tray of absorbent material before laying it flat. The frame is then lifted carefully back to a 90° angle as the wet paper remains on the absorbent material. The tray with the wet paper is placed on a multi shelf rack to thoroughly dry.
During the paper making process, which takes place in a covered but semi open area attached to the RePapel building in a working class residential Puerto Plata neighborhood, the 20 or so women frequently broke out in acapella singing and clapping. Although at first it seemed to be contrived entertainment for the Fathom Travel volunteers, it was not – nor was it a replacement for a radio. The singing is the spirit of these women – the strong and playful spirit of the Dominican soul.
Using ordinary glass jars filled with sand and stones the dry sheets are pressed as smooth as possible yet maintain a texture associated with hand crafted paper. Of course a machine could be used but electrical outages would make that impractical. The smoothing process takes about a minute or so per side.
Each hand crafted 10” by 13” sheet of paper is unique. The usefulness of the paper is limited only by imagination. The women make attractive gift cards and notebooks. The full sheets would be an excellent medium for watercolors and other art objects. These items can be purchased at their gift shop.
A cynic may scoff at a group of affluent cruise passengers doing good deeds, other than buying another set of flamingo imprinted coasters and escaping to the luxury of their ship. Yet on this week long cruise with three days in Puerto Plata the operative words are cumulative impact.
The cumulative impact of just that single three hour session with 30 or so Fathom traveler volunteers and the women resulted in over 400 sheets of paper. That would have taken the women twelve hours without assistance despite the time they took in instructing neophyte paper makers. The volunteers spent $225.00 purchasing paper products from the gift shop.
Excursions to explore Puerto Plata and the countryside are a part of the Fathom experience like with all cruises. Puerto Plata’s beautiful Amber Museum is well worth a visit for both the historic house and the prehistoric amber – Puerto Plata was one of the locations in the Jurassic Park film series. The Malecon and the historic 17th century Spanish Fortaleza San Felipe are beautiful and relaxing parks.
Of course Fathom Travel provides a luxurious environment for its guests. The M/V Adonia is not a mountain village or the city of Puerto Plata struggling with an antiquated power plant. There is no use covering up socio-economic differences – that would be a lie.
Amber Cove, the new port facility for Carnival Cruises, is a resort complex for passengers. A humongous free-form swimming pool complete with bar provides ample room for water sports. Attractive private casitas both on the hillside and over the water can be rented for the day or overnight. A zip line, shops, restaurants and bars are all available for guests.
The M/V Adonia is a small, elegant 750 passenger liner leased by Fathom from the venerable P & O Line. Its seasoned Indonesian crew is superbly trained providing friendly customer service. Well appointed cabins and public spaces – especially the stunning library – encase travelers in comfort.
The cuisine is outstanding. From tender rack of lamb, duck rillettes, mussels in wine sauce to grilled burgers by the pool, the presentations and comfort of the on-board restaurants are a reason alone to sail on the M/V Adonia. Cocktails in the lounge are suburb.
One socially conscious cruise is not going to change the world. That’s not the point. Mutual sharing of one’s talents and energy rather than the imposition of outside concepts of charity is the impact made on both volunteers and locals. In rewriting the book on cruising Fathom Travel allow guests to explore and internalize a new dimension to their comfort zone – one step in achieving eudaimonia.
When you go: Fathom is a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation. The M/V Adonia sails from Florida’s Port of Miami to both Puerto Plata/Amber Cove and Cuba on alternating weeks.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Fathom Travel (Fathom.org)
Travel with Pen and Palate to Greece and the world with Marc d’Entremont every month in the Hellenic News of America.