¡Hola! Hoy es martes, y fuimos a Sabana Perdida.
(Translation for Mark: Hello! Today is Tuesday, and we went to Sabana Perdida.)
My day started much earlier than it normally would have. We were not planning to stop for breakfast, so Hayley and I got up early to walk to the bakery at 7. I never walked anywhere without the full group last year, so this was the first time. It took me a while to get an employee’s attention, and since we were trying to get in and out quickly, I didn’t ask what anything was. I just pointed to familiar things that I ate last year and assumed it would be fine. I also ordered a chocolate ball – it felt weird to have sweets with breakfast, but it looked so good!
After the bakery, Hayley and I walked to the grocery store to get more water bottles, but it was closed, so we walked back to another store closer to the bakery, and paid 40 pesos per bottle, which I later learned was a lot more than at the grocery store. Oh well. It was kind of worth it though, because the bottles had Villar Hnos (Villar Brothers) written on them – the Deaf Barber’s family is bottling water now! They have quite a little monopoly going on that corner!
We walked back to the hotel and ate breakfast on the veranda. We were just finishing when 8:10 rolled around and it was time to load up for Sabana Perdida. Mark drove us to Hector’s house and he drove us to the school, as per usual. Also as per usual, the roads were crazy. They weren’t quite as bad as the roads to Hato Mayor (none of the bumps ejected me from my seat, which happened at least 5 times to and from Hato Mayor), but there were definitely stretches of “that’s-not-even-a-road!” along the way. At the last intersection before the school we had to make a left turn. The elevation of the road to the intersection, in the intersection, and after the intersection were drastically different, and as we turned, the van scraped the pavement loudly. Someone, I think Justin, summed it up with “There goes the deposit!”
When we were securely on the road of the school, I thought I saw a dead dog on the sidewalk. It picked its head up though, so it was alive, just horribly skinny. I remembered from last year that there were a lot of dogs (and cats and chickens and goats, but mostly dogs) roaming the streets, but I’d forgotten or not noticed how skinny and sickly they look. This incident was not the first or last time that I thought a dog was dead only to see later that it was still hanging on to life; however, it also would not have been the first time that the poor creature actually was dead. (Thankfully that has only happened once – there’s a dead dog in an open trash bag that we pass every day on the way to Hector’s house.) Spay and neuter, people, spay and neuter! While we were parking it moved a few feet, but I’m pretty sure it hung around the school all day; I saw it poking its head in when we were leaving too.
When we arrived at the school Juana and Paulina were waiting for us in the main office. They greeted us, and I was excited that Paulina remembered me from last year. Juana found out that most of us had not eaten breakfast, and she scolded Mark for letting us go hungry. He defended himself by saying that he never thinks to give us breakfast since he doesn’t eat it himself, and then she scolded him for that too. It was decided that Hector would go looking for fruit while we taught the first session, and have a little snack before the second session. We were already planning to have lunch before the third.
We walked up a staircase to the room where we’d be teaching for the day. At the top, I was startled by the sight of barbed wire in my face! I wasn’t really that close, I wasn’t inches away from tetanus or anything that dramatic, but I hugged the right side of the landing to avoid getting cut. That barbed wire extended from the wall of that building all along the border of the school, including over the main entrance.
The room had three fans running and I was very happy about that. I know that the weather isn’t really different from school to school, but for some reason the heat Sabana Perdida stuck out in my memory as being particularly brutal. So far that has been true this year too, even with the fans, and I was stationed right in front of one! I bet it was worse in other parts of the room.
After only a few minutes we started the first session of teaching. Mark introduced himself and us. I’m not sure if the kids remembered Mark; none of them remembered me. I remembered a few of them though! The first group was the youngest, the little kids Deanna and I worked with last year, and I saw a few familiar (cute!) faces. We went down the line introducing ourselves, but after Casey told them her name sign Mark jumped in to explain it. He told her to show them her tattoo, which she did. One kid jumped back in his seat, appearing to be quite startled by the ink lion!
We had 17 first-grade level kids (of varying ages) that we split into three groups, then each group went to a station: sun, moon/planets, or stars. We had 20-30 minutes to teach our lesson, and then we switched. We repeated that until all three groups had been to each station. When it was time to switch, Mark had the kids get on a spaceship, blast off, and travel to the next station in zero gravity.
Because the kids were so little, it was really hard to keep their attention. It seemed like we had to tap one kid or another every two seconds and tell them to pay attention – with a smile, of course! In my group, and I’m sure in the other groups too, we didn’t want to be sour or stern with the kids. We weren’t there to be disciplinarians, and it wasn’t really their fault anyway. It’s hard for little kids to focus for so long!
In our group, Maria started out asking them questions about the sun, to draw out what they already knew. Then she told them some new facts, and used a poster that seemed to really intrigue them. Then we’d have one kid volunteer to be the sun, and Maria would “orbit” around them as the earth. Then we’d explain how that orbit causes seasons on earth, and that in the Dominican Republic, there are two seasons: wet and dry. We gave a little bit of information on each, including the months included in them, which segued into our next activity. I handed out flashcards to the kids in a random order. On one side of each flashcard was the name of the month in Spanish and a sticker indicating the Dominican season, and on the other side was the name of the month in English and a sticker indicating the American season. Then I asked “Who has the first month?” I waited a second, but not surprisingly, they had no idea whether or not they had the first month. Then I signed “Enero” (January), and waited again. Still nothing, so I wrote it on the board. Then one kid realized he had the card, and I convinced him to hand it to me. I put it on the floor and repeated the process. This time, the kids figured out how the game worked and started to get into it. Finally, we had all twelve months in their proper order. We only had a few minutes left, so we asked the kids to identify their birthday month, which not all of them were able to do.
After the first session of teaching was over, we discovered that Hector had indeed found fruit for us – cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya. I took mostly cantaloupe, with a few pieces of pineapple and one piece of papaya (I tried not to take too much of anything, since I actually had eaten breakfast, but there was no way I was going to totally miss out on Dominican fruit!). Let me tell you, and I am dead serious, it was the best cantaloupe I’ve ever eaten. I took a bite while I was walking from the table to a chair and I had to stop in my tracks. So good. Oh my goodness. The pineapple was good too – sweet and just slightly tart, not sour like what we get in America. I definitely want to eat as much of that as I can while I’m here. I’m not really into papaya so I can’t comment on that. But seriously though, that cantaloupe.
During the break there was a little bit of time to socialize with the kids. Some members of our group seemed to fit in naturally, chatting with the kids easily. I’m not really good at just striking up a conversation out of nowhere, but I did my best to mingle with the kids. I went over to one kid who was crying and asked what was wrong. I didn’t really understand his answer, so Juana came and saved me. Turned out the kid wanted to buy a snack that was ten pesos, but he couldn’t afford it. Ten pesos is about 25 cents American. Another kid came over and gave him all of his pesos, and it still wasn’t enough. Between the two of them, they couldn’t come up with the amount of money lots of Americans can usually find in their couch cushions. Poverty sucks. Humanity though, once in a while, is awesome. The other boy only had about three pesos on him, but he was so willing to give them to his friend to make him feel better. I felt better knowing that the crying boy would be given lunch in 90 minutes.
Still. Sabana Perdida is one of the worst slums of Santo Domingo and it hurts to see these great kids and know that they don’t have enough food, clean water, shelter, clothes, shoes, whatever.
I made a point to introduce myself to one boy, even though I knew we’d already met. Last year, Nathanael was in the little kids’ room with me, even though he was 11 or 12, because he had such bad behavior problems that he couldn’t be in with the big kids. I spent most of the day pulling him off of other children and quieting temper tantrums. I didn’t expect him to remember me, but as soon as I told him my name his face light up. “Last year?” he asked, and I smiled and nodded yes. I told him I remembered him too (but I didn’t tell him why!).
The kids in the second session of teaching were a little older, so their attention spans were better. We still spent some time telling them to pay attention, but less. For our group at least the lesson plan was basically the same. We had high hopes of doing the worksheet we’d brought with this group, but we didn’t have time for it. The time went so fast! Before we knew it, it’d be time to put our little astronauts back on their spaceships.
Nathanael was in the second session, and I was amazed at his progress! First off, just being in the second group is a big deal – last year he was in with toddlers! When he got to our station, the reason for this promotion was clear: Nathanael was a model student. He sat still, paid attention, and was very polite. I don’t know what happened to him in the past year, but the transformation was incredible. I’m so proud of him!!
After the second session of teaching, we had an extended break for lunch. Our group, Hector, Paulina, Juana, and a woman vetting Mark for his upcoming conference all crowded into a little room to eat rice, beans, chicken, vegetables (steamed, maybe?), fried plantains, cocon, which is the slightly-burnt rice scraped from the bottom of the pot. I know people usually throw away burnt food, or at the very least aren’t happy to eat it, but cocon is actually really delicious and crispy, so it’s pretty popular here.
After we ate there was a little bit of recess time where we could socialize with the children again. I still struggled to initiate conversations, but I met some more kids and talked to a few. Tim mimed playing baseball with some of the children – it was very impressive! At one point he went up to the front of the courtyard to pretend to catch a stray ball, and I was worried he would cut himself on the barbed wire when he jumped for it. Thankfully he did not. We took a lot of pictures, and the kids seemed to enjoy the spotlight. They happily posed with us for picture after picture, and loved seeing themselves on the camera screen afterwards. When I showed one little boy his picture on my phone, I was swarmed by a bunch of other youngsters, and dozens of little fingers swiped at the screen. It just told myself over and over that the helicopter glass they make iPhones out of could withstand the curious fingers of some Deaf kids, but I was very glad that I had attached my phone to my hip with a lanyard so it couldn’t fall to the ground.
The third group was the oldest, so we were able to do more with them. They were able to pay attention and engage with the lesson. In addition to Dominican seasons, we explained how American seasons are different, and in two out of the three groups, we did the worksheet where the students selected a month and identified which season it is in both places during that month.
Of course, I can’t honestly say we can take full credit for the success with the third group. We had help from a kid named Darimil.
Through some mix-up, he’d been in the second group and was back for the third, so he stayed at our station and helped us teach. Whenever a student was confused, he jumped in and explained the material to them. He had beautiful signs! My reception isn’t always great, but I could follow his signs easily. Mark later told me that Darimil’s parents are Deaf too, which explains about his language skills, and thereby, his comprehension of the material. He was a really cool kid – we’re Facebook friends now!
Before we left, we gathered all the kids around to do the Harlem Shake! Joe tried to start it, but the kids didn’t really get into it until one of the students started dancing. He danced alone for a while, and then everyone joined in – even Athan, who can be seen in the back of the video resisting at first. After the Harlem Shake, the students pointed out one of their friends who liked to dance, and he showed us his moves.
When the day of teaching was finished, we took more pictures, exchanged more contact information with the kids, and finally had to say goodbye. As we loaded in the van, we discovered that two members of our party had made special friends. Joe had a special “friend,” a sixteen year old girl who told him “this could work.” Joe was more skeptical. Maria also had a new friend, a boy from one of our last groups who followed her around saying “Mari! Mari! Mari!” He followed us out of the school compound and was pressed up right against the van waving to her. It was a little creepy, but cute at the same time. He was an interesting kid too. It seemed to me that he had had some oral education in his past, because every time we introduced a new word in the lesson he said it – mostly correctly! I think he was also trying to teach himself English – to speak! in English! – because whenever he could get his hands on a month card he’d turn it over, try to pronounce the English side, and look to me for verification. Those pronunciations were less correct, but still really impressive! Talk about self-motivated!
In the ride back from the school, we all admitted how crazy hot it was outside. Tim took a bold move by stripping his shirt off, and as a girl I’ll admit I was jealous. I wish I could do that! Justin asked “Is there a dress code in this van?” to which Hector replied “Liberty!” We decided that “what happens in the van stays in the van,” so uh, that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Everyone was exhausted after Sabana Perdida, so after dropping off Hector we went directly back to the hotel. I read a few pages in my book to finish a chapter (Spoiler! The dwarf is dead.) and fell asleep. I’ve heard that other people had adventures. Erin and some others (I think it was Justin, Tim, Casey, Sydney, and Maria, but I’m not totally sure.) saved a turtle that had somehow gotten out of the water. I think most everyone besides me went to the pool at some point, and I commend them for having much more energy that I did!
They finally ran out of steam too though, and no one wanted to go out for dinner. Apparently they have Domino’s in the Dominican, and there was a BOGO deal, so we got six pizzas for the price of three – and the college paid for it! Thanks, guys! We also bought soda, but not from the Domino’s in the Dominican (I like alliteration more than one really should.). There’s a business that delivers just soda. Can we get that in America? And can they branch out to bacon?
We were planning to eat our pizza out on the little veranda outside our rooms, but we were getting bitten by mosquitoes. That’s always annoying, but it’s also kind of scary in the Dominican Republic. There’s no malaria in Santo Domingo (yay!), but there is Dengue Fever (boo!). (On a side note, how do they assess what the mosquitoes in a given area are carrying? They can fly! What if a mosquito from an area with malaria flies to an area supposedly without it? Do they have to go through tiny customs and declare all their plagues?) Not wanting to catch the “9 kinds of terrible,” as Dengue Fever was explained to me last year, we moved into Mark’s room for dinner.
Someone (Maria?) had a deck of cards, so we passed the time waiting for our food by playing BS. We discovered though that that game really isn’t fun with too many people, because each player will only have about 5 cards in their hands and lies on almost every turn. We were just switching to Go Fish (which I had to admit I didn’t remember how to play) when the pizza arrived. We abandoned the cards for food. I was starving and didn’t notice it until later, but Hayley pointed out to me later that the pizza from the Domino’s in the Dominican was different from the Domino’s in the United States. It had less sauce and more cheese, and it didn’t have that buttery, garlicy crust, but it was still really good.
When we were done with dinner everyone went their separate ways. I chatted with Hayley and read my book for a while, but we went to bed relatively early. I don’t know what everyone else did – besides of course looking forward to the beach tomorrow!