This morning, my roommate and I woke up, sweaty as usual, and had ourselves a breakfast of penne pasta, bread and some sort of instant fruit juice mix. An interesting selection, but I wasn’t really hungry till lunchtime so I guess it did its job. We got ready, even with though there were little squirts begging us to play with them constantly. They were intrigued with our stuff, always popping into our bedroom, fishing through the stuff on the bedside table and acting as nice walking hazards. They were adorable but we definitely had to add an extra 10 minutes every morning to ensure we would make the meeting times.
This particular morning, the group met at the learning center in the batey to do more resource creation, in addition to some class observation. Since I was one of the people who didn’t go yesterday, I went into the learning center in the morning to observe the class that was being taught by Cory, one of the Yspaniola workers. The class was for younger kids (maybe around ages 6-8?) and it was focused on learning the alphabet. They had a set of exercise that went through sets of letters and the kids learned the name, the pronunciation and a word that starts with the letter. There was also a volunteer from the batey who was probably about 12 years old that was running an activity for the other half of the students on the other side of the room. A die was thrown and the kids had to provide the same information on whatever letter showed up. After half the time, the two groups of students switched and in total, class lasted about an hour.
Being in this classroom confirmed my feelings that I could never be a teacher. Though I can’t say I’ve been in an American kindergarten classroom lately, I can imagine a lot of the same situations are encountered and those teachers also need very high patience levels. They were so energetic – talking constantly, yelling, clapping, causing mischief, not participating, pouting, hiding under the table – and Cory was a pro at handling it. There were some very well-behaved students, as you may expect to find in any classroom, but I could only focus on the prominent ones that required special attention. For whatever reason, the kids were more well-behaved at the 12 year old’s station, which I found to be very interesting. However, in the end, most of the students had grasped the material and understood the concepts that Cory was trying to get across.
After my group finished observing in the classroom, we headed back outside to work on some more flash cards and bananas while the final group went in to observe for the last hour. Nothing too interesting to report other than that we are getting really good at using contact paper by this point. We are also pros at keeping the scissors from the kids to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Unfortunately, we are less successful with the markers and there are currently some arms that could rival Miami ink.
Once everyone was out of the classroom and our supplies were cleaned up, we headed to the building where we had Deportes Para la Vida for the town-wide rice eating competition. We all gathered into this tiny building and plates and utensils were passed out. There were approximately 20 participants including all of the guys from our trip and even Kisha and Alex! Then the food was brought out. I have never seen a larger portion of rice in my entire life. A platter about two feet wide was piled a foot high with white rice. Everybody then dished themselves a very generous helping of rice and a pot of chicken was passed around as well to add some flavor to the rice. Then it began. Everyone was stuffing their faces. Some dropped out early, others just kept eating and even went back for more. The Americans held their own pretty well, and Kisha definitely impressed people with her stomach capacity. There was no judging criteria so it was difficult to tell who won, but it was just a lot of fun to get the town together and eat some really good food.
Once the competitors’ digestive systems had some time to recuperate after the gargantuan lunch, a large group of both Americans and bateyeros piled into a van for a 15 minute drive to the trailhead for el chorro, the waterfall. The hike was along the river; constantly crossing it led to many wet feet. People in flip-flops had no issue, but those in sneakers were a bit less fortunate. The hike was mostly among the trees; so it was fairly shady and, therefore, not too hot– though you can’t escape the humidity.
After a 30 minute walk or so, we reached the waterfall. At the base of the waterfall, it got to about 6 feet deep so you could do some swimming in there. Some people climbed a few feet up the rock and jumped in, others played chicken, and some just sat and watched the shenanigans. It was very refreshing to get in the water and being under the waterfall was a great back massage. Many a Facebook profile picture came from this hike, and rightfully so – it was beautiful and everyone there was having a great time, celebrating being in the batey.
When we got back, we had some free time, so I went back to the play to join in on the soccer game for day number 3. By this point, my legs were starting to be sore, but they were starting to trust me with the ball and weren’t afraid to pass it to me. I even got two assists which was awesome! These kids are so incredibly good that I was thrilled that I contributed. Just like at home, mom called us for supper during the game so Tim W. and I headed back to our house for a delicious spaghetti dinner.
Once dinner was over, the group assembled at the center for tutoring hours. This is where kids from the batey would bring their homework that they have trouble with and the volunteers help them work through their issues. I set up camp with two girls who were having math homework woes and together, we figured out how to solve adding problems with 3 numbers. It was a very rewarding experience watching the kids do the problems on their own and I almost felt like a proud big brother. Other people helped out with reading, writing and I thought I saw a history book out but I could be wrong. Overall, it was a fun way to spend the evening and as I said, it was quite rewarding.
When we had finished tutoring hours, we made our nightly pilgrimage to the play for some activities. Usually this just meant standing around talking with some of the older volunteers while the young kids ran in between our legs. But occasionally, there would be some sort of physical game that was initiated. Tonight though, it began to rain shortly after we arrived so that put the kibosh on the play for the evening. We gathered under a little hut in the center of the town but I left shortly after at the request of my host sister. We sat in the house and played card games by candlelight until, for whatever reason, the lights came on. The electricity schedule in my house confused me but I wasn’t about to complain about it. My host brothers and I found the USA vs. Mexico soccer match on TV so we watched that till it was time for bed.
All in all, it was a very eventful day for us travelers. I know for me personally, this was the first time I got to work directly with the kids on their schoolwork and it was a great experience. In addition, I think everyone’s Spanish has grown throughout the trip. Again, I know I don’t speak for everyone, but it’s amazing how much of the language I can remember when English just isn’t an option. The trip so far has been enlightening and so much fun and I can’t wait to see what the last few days have in store for us!
~Eric Wiscount. 2016