27 May 2017: Knights Impact sailing for home

I can’t believe it’s almost over! Today has been a mellow day—luckily, because tomorrow morning will be a bit of a rush. We had Fathom cohort meetings in the morning where we learned about the total impact of our activities this past week and the overall total since Fathom started sailing last April. That was exciting. It’s easy to feel like one person can only do so much, but seeing the totals tells you that the effect of all those small individual efforts is cumulative in a powerful way. The only big question mark is the future of Fathom.

My students had lots of comments and opinions about Fathom’s marketing and decision-making when we got together for our final MGA cohort meeting just a couple of hours ago. I had prepared some traditional reflection questions—“what did you learn,” etc.—and got good answers to those, as expected, but also a more freewheeling discussion. Students know other students; they understand how to reach their peers and what’s needed to create student buy-in. They gave me detailed feedback about where they felt Fathom had fallen short and about what I and my colleagues could do to keep Knights Impact successful and growing. I have my marching orders for the fall semester for sure!

As for the impact travel experience, they were most impressed by the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dominican people. That topic came up over and over again in our discussion. Yesterday I told someone I met (a faculty member at another university) that I like to have a grand unifying theory of everything. My grand unifying theory about my students’ experience in the DR is that it’s all too easy to fear and mistrust the wider world. Because so many of them are working hard and spreading themselves thin to meet daily needs and advance their goals, having resources (of any kind) left over to extend to others can be difficult. And because Americans do tend to be very private (at least by Dominican standards), it’s unsurprising that they’d assume everyone is similar. As a private person, I was hesitant to enter strangers’ homes, not because I was afraid but because doing so felt disrespectful. I tried not to gawk around, take tons of pictures, or wander from room to room uninvited. Some of my fellow travelers did not share that approach; some also (I learned from the students today) were frank to the point of insult about the neighborhoods where we were working in Puerto Plata—that is, the word “ghetto” was used. One student said she’d never have gone into those neighborhoods if she’d had to decide to do so based on the feedback from some of the people we talked to. But the residents were willing to invite us in, let us use their bathrooms, share the fruit they’d grown, and work next to us (Fathom value: alongsidedness!) to improve their lives. And luckily my student is methodical about trying everything for herself and making up her own mind. I am glad they are learning about the diversity of the world and, just as importantly, about its openness. Learning to be careful is good but it can turn into a kind of paranoia if you are constantly told to be careful but never exposed to anything new to be careful about. Finding out firsthand that it is possible to be too careful, then, is a great lesson.

At the end of the meeting, the students were sweet enough to thank me for organizing the program and giving them the opportunity, but I told them to give themselves the credit. I’m an experienced traveler now; I grew up believing that travel was possible and desirable for me; I flew on a plane for the first time at 9 months, spent 3 weeks away from home when I was 13 and loved it, and went overseas for the first time at 22. I didn’t go through what some of them are going through now, getting their first taste of travel after (in some cases) nearly 3 decades of life and a background that never encouraged them to go far from home. Just boarding the ship is a breakthrough for them in a way that no travel has ever quite been for me.

The end of our meeting signaled the end of our official activities. The students probably went off for an afternoon beverage and I am having a “mango fizz” (mango juice, ginger ale, lime, and mint: delicious, try one) in my favorite spot, the Crow’s Nest. I need to pack my bag but I’m waiting till after dinner when my cabin will be cooler.

By this time tomorrow we will be almost back to Macon. Is it possible?

 

26 May 2017: Knights Impact goes to RePapel; departure from Amber Cove

Today was not an easy day. My group did the recycled paper activity at RePapel this morning: we were the last Fathom group to do so, because Fathom is disbanding (as is widely known) and RePapel is closing. When I was here in January, one of the NGO liaisons expressed worry about RePapel as being the project that would be most difficult to continue in Fathom’s absence. But I kept hoping something would come through to save it. It’s genuinely hard to think about: we will go home and go on with our regular middle-class lives but for the women who had come to rely on RePapel for employment and income, the future is bound to be uncertain. I have to admit that I always took the full-throated cheer and warm welcome of the RePapel ladies with a grain of salt. Was it genuine or were they putting on a show for us tourists? I still wonder a little but today it dawned on me that they got to come to work every day and feel special and valuable as well as useful and productive. There aren’t many jobs for women in Puerto Plata other than in the tourism industry, which requires more education than these women probably have, as well as access to transportation and child care. So RePapel was filling a gap on several levels. They really tried to put on a brave face for us, and it almost worked. At the end of our morning there—we made paper, smoothed dried sheets, rolled beads out of recycled magazines, and made jewelry out of our beads—Juanita, the most loud and cheerful of the group, led everyone in singing and dancing to “La Bamba” as they always do, and then the ladies sang another song that I recognized but couldn’t identify. All of a sudden I noticed that Altagracia, the quiet but smiling woman I remembered from last time, was crying, and then I was crying too. Most of us cried before we left. I hugged Altagracia and even though I know she didn’t understand me, I said “Don’t cry! You’re making me cry!” And now we are on the ship and the ladies are…who knows?

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Jasmine put a smile on for paper-making even though she does not like mornings.

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Jamia lifting out a fresh sheet of paper

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Stevanie and Garrett smoothing the sheets

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Juanita (white outfit & headband) leads the singing and dancing

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Garrett is getting into the groove

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One last song

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Me & Altagracia!

We did have an experience this afternoon that put a little balm on the pain of departure. Early in the week, the Fathom executives on board had mentioned that they wanted to meet with the university groups on board (Tuskeegee U. has 14 students here in addition to our 24). The idea disappeared after that initial mention and I assumed it wouldn’t happen after all. But in today’s Soundings appeared an invitation to an open meeting for all university students and educators. The meeting was led by Katie Dow—I think her title is “Fathom experience manager”—and a recent college grad turned impact guide, Paige. Middle Georgia State University showed up in force and I have rarely been prouder. The students got emotional as they talked about their experiences and how valuable this program has been to them. It was so validating of our work in offering the program but equally, it spoke well of their sincerity and open-heartedness in approaching the activities. I am excited for my last meeting with them tomorrow when I will ask them to talk about what they learned; I’m expecting some excellent reflections. I also met my counterpart from Tuskeegee and it is a little funny how similar we are professionally: both Associate Professors of English who have been Directors of International Programs for 2 years as one-person offices. She is eager to collaborate with MGA, which is awesome. So it’s not clear right now what will happen to the “Fathom experience” but it’s clear that Carnival Plc is not planning to abandon it. I’m still hopeful that it will evolve into something that can continue to be as transformative to future groups of students as this week has been to our current group.

So now we are sailing; everyone made it back on the ship on time and did not have their names called in the Roll Call of Shame before departure. The program is winding down. Tomorrow we have Fathom cohort meetings in the morning and meetings with our MGA cohorts in the afternoon. By voice vote my cohort decided they’d rather have a midafternoon meeting and then be at liberty till we disembark Sunday morning. A few people’s thoughts are turning toward home but I think most of us are determined to live in this moment a while longer.

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I was there!

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Still my favorite ship

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Casting off the lines

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Adios, Amber Cove

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Sailing away

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

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We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.

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Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia

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San Felipe Cathedral

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Fresh coconut water

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Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.

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Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?

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Cigar-rolling demonstration

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Fort San Felipe

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Students at the fort

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Outside the fort (inside the bus)

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DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.

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Sunset at the beach

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Students on the beach

 

Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

24 May 2017: Knights Impact does Reforestation

Busy first half of the day today. My group did a reforestation activity that departed from Amber Cove at 8:00 a.m., so I bounced out of bed at 6:00 to get ready, eat breakfast, and check up on a couple of things before getting on the bus. Impressively, everyone made it on the bus with time to spare even though several of us went to something called the “Bravissimo experience” last night and had quite a late evening. Those who did not have the Bravissimo experience attended the welcome party in Amber Cove instead. Well worth the price of admission ($0) to see an incredibly cute and talented kids’ drumline trained by a professional percussionist whose goal is to give kids in under-resourced neighborhoods access to music education and even the prospect of making money from music. The show also featured Dominican dancers and costumed carnival performers. I took some videos during the show but my camera’s memory card malfunctioned and I had to reformat it. Fortunately I got a couple of still images off before that happened; here they are!

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These kids were great!

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I’m a little scared of this guy, tbh.

So we all arrived in top form (or similar) for reforestation this morning. We drove about 30-45 minutes to reach the site, including a restroom stop in someone’s home. Where I come from it is not usual to have strangers parading through your house to use the loo, but in Puerto Plata, especially in the more remote neighborhood we were passing through, it’s easy to see why it’s necessary. No McDonald’s in sight; very few gas stations; and porta potties on site would be logistically if not financially prohibitive. To be honest, although I felt awkward being there, I was pleased to get a look into what seems to have been a working-class rural home. The house had a corrugated roof, concrete floors, and curtains instead of doors dividing the rooms. In the large back yard were ducks and chickens and two outdoor wood-burning stoves for cooking (although there was also a small range inside the house, as well as a television and a wi-fi router). The bathrooms were tiled and obviously there was running water–but you can’t put toilet paper down the toilets here and a couple of people had done so. I hope we did not back up this nice lady’s toilet. Her in-laws lived in another house at the back of the property. The houses are a little dark and bare, but airy. We had to pass through the owner’s (one of the facilitators told us that people own their homes/properties) bedroom to get to the bathroom and I noticed that there was almost no furniture and no closets. These neighborhoods are hard to characterize; they seem permanent, but unfinished. Nothing is rickety but also nothing is shiny or new. And it seems normal to, for instance, sell snacks and sodas off your front porch, or operate a café from a tiny building with a counter out the front and nothing else. I can’t quite imagine living there. I think I’d make a lot of silly mistakes because things are different from what I’m used to. On the other hand, there are no obnoxious neighborhood associations telling you you can’t have a clothesline—we saw clothes drying outside every house.

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The reforestation was challenging physical work, but fun: we were up in the hills with a nice breeze to break up the heat, and everyone chatted and had a good time as we worked. It was toughest for the workers who were using pickaxes to dig the holes for us to put the seedlings into. We could plant faster than they could dig because the soil was clay (very much like Georgia soil, but black instead of red) with lots of grass and thus hard to break up. Nevertheless, we persisted, taking a break halfway through for juice and granola bars. An official from the environment ministry was there to thank us for our work and explain why it was important, which was gratifying. The area we were in had lots of eucalyptus trees, which use a lot of resources without being good for much (no koalas here to eat them), so the idea is to plant mahogany and thus make better use of the land, decrease erosion (the area has lots of streams that feed a river), and improve the air quality. Though I have to say I thought the air was wonderful already!

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We got back to Amber Cove tired and hungry but happy and I repaired to my cabin for a nap after eating some lunch. Dinner with my lovely cohort tonight and then a big day tomorrow: concrete floors in the morning, Caribbean Culture tour in the afternoon. Time is flying but the longer we are here the more the students seem to understand what we’re up to and get into the enjoyment as well as the personal growth of the experience.

22¬-23 May 2017: Knights Impact At Sea & Arrival in the Dominican Republic

Yesterday on the ship flew by—or maybe sailed by? I started the day both yesterday and today meeting with my group of 9 students, who heroically got up on time for our 8:30 meeting both days. We followed that by meeting with our designated Fathom cohorts—a great experience for the students because they got to meet other people on the ship. There are people on board from all over and the students were particularly amazed by the variety of ages, nationalities, and professions. One student reported excitedly that she’d met a couple who were both doctors—a nephrologist and a pulmonologist. One of the highlights for me of leading these programs with students is that I never know what they’re going to find interesting or noteworthy. They started learning before we ever left home that the world—and even just the ship—is much more diverse than they realized.

In the afternoons we attended a training session on “creating retellable stories” (yesterday) and one on visual storytelling (today). Both had in common an emphasis on emotional impact. We learned a few simple guidelines that will make it easier to tell better stories and take better pictures. I always think it’s worth going to an hour-long session if I walk away with just one or two things I can remember and apply. Both of these sessions fit the bill; plus I got a free copy of the storytelling trainer’s book. Yay, swag!

Last night’s dinner in the Pacific Restaurant was more animated than Sunday’s as everyone is getting to know each other a little better and shaking off the fatigue of the trip to Miami. We had one student who got badly seasick Sunday night but was feeling better by noon yesterday. Everyone was happy to see her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dinner, although she did say she’d decided that cruise travel was not for her. In fact, most agreed they were ready to get off the ship and get into the next phase of the program. Incidentally, that student’s roommate is a hero for looking out for her when she was ill. Another upside to these programs is seeing the relationships that form among the students and how they look out for each other. They are so generous and compassionate and it’s great to see.

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(Fancy food from Pacific!)

Those who were tired of the ship last night only had a few more hours to wait as we arrived at Amber Cove around 11:00 this morning and they started letting people off at noon. Amber Cove is just as I left it; I even recognize a couple of the wait staff in Coco Caña (the poolside restaurant/bar). Only the weather is a little different: today it’s a little overcast and hazy, which I did not expect. But neither am I complaining. A bit of cloud cover keeps the heat down, even if there is still plenty of heat to go around. I have the afternoon “off” (i.e. I am catching up on email and blogging) and might even catch a little pool time while the sun is not absolutely blazing.

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Duke loves the ocean!

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Sunset at sea

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Amber Cove

21 May 2017: Knights Impact departure day

Today is the day! Last fall, my colleague Dr. John Girard first told me and Prof. Chris Tsavatewa about Fathom Impact Travel and the prospect of taking students on an international service-learning experience in the Dominican Republic. In January, I traveled with the Girards, Prof. T., and Drs. Keith and Melinda Moffett aboard the Fathom Adonia to explore the possibility firsthand. Today, 24 Middle Georgia State University students boarded Adonia to become the inaugural Knights Impact participants.

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Enjoying the Sail Away party

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Miami

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My favorite ship!

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Bye bye, USA!

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As I write we’ve been sailing for about 45 minutes, leaving PortMiami behind. I drove to Miami yesterday with Sheron Smith from Marketing & Communications. She will be documenting our activities to share with the university and the community. We arrived at the port at about 11:45 along with 6 students who had stayed at the same hotel we did. Yesterday, 4 of those 6 actually passed us on the highway and we all waved to each other. That was the highlight of our driving day! The highlight of today was seeing the last student through the check-in line and onto the ship. Departure day is challenging because so many things could go wrong: car trouble, flight delays, miscommunication…. The travel gods smiled and there were only a couple of minor hiccups.

We boarded with time to spare, everyone got lunch, and we were allowed into our cabins by about 2:00. I have an amazing cabin on this sailing: it’s a balcony cabin right on the front of the ship. So this is my view right now:IMG_7701

Not for the first time I have to say that as a work assignment, this is just not terrible.

I walked around the ship after lunch checking that everything was where I left it and taking some pictures for our social media. Only a few students have been up on deck this afternoon. I suspect many of them left for Miami in the wee small hours and have been taking a much-deserved nap. I’m eager to see everyone at dinner and find out their impressions so far. Now that everyone is safely on board I am excited too. It’s gratifying to see this project come to fruition. Hopefully this group will be the first of many, although after this time we will have to change to a different ship and itinerary. Fathom is changing its structure and the Adonia will no longer be doing dedicated impact travel cruises. That’s disappointing because this program is so good—and I really dig this ship! But we already have some plans for the next iteration. And because this is the last sailing to the DR, there is some extra excitement on board. The positive definitely outweighs the negative.

Almost time to get ready for dinner. We have to take a group picture this evening in our MGA shirts. I hope I do not look too sunburned and windblown from standing on the deck as we sailed away.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 7: Final hours aboard Adonia, 7 January 2017

It’s 7:45 p.m. EST or 8:45 ship time as our clocks don’t go back till 2:00 a.m. We disembark in about 14 hours; my suitcase is already out in the hall for pickup. Apparently they are strict about not allowing people to carry off their own luggage. I have left out my clothes and minimal toiletries for in the morning. The toiletries and my pajamas may be riding home in my laptop bag. Duly noted for next time. Meanwhile, we are sailing under/next to a thunderstorm. The clouds look very low over the ocean and it seems windy, yet the water is calmer than it was yesterday (at least so far). Lightning over the water is pretty incredible!

This morning I finally got to go to a yoga class (worth the wait) and we all attended our final cohort meetings. Seeing the statistics from our sailing as well as the overall numbers of people this program has helped since its inception in April 2016 was exciting. Each individual’s contribution might seem small but it all adds up. For example, by the end of May 2017 (after our students’ sailing), the people enrolled in Community English will have received a total of 160 hours of tutoring from native English speakers. That’s a huge supplement to the instruction they’re already getting from Entrena (the organization that coordinates Community English) since interaction with native speakers is so important for language development. It’s just gratifying to see the ways in which our small efforts fit into this larger movement to help people improve their lives.

In the afternoon my colleague and I spent about 3 hours working on an application, several supporting documents (program guide, cost breakdown, faculty/staff information), and an initial round of promotional emails for what is now officially going to launch as Knights Impact as soon as we get back to campus (Monday) and get a website put together. It’s going to be a fast and furious 6 weeks of recruiting as our deadline is February 20. That’s not much time but we have a great collaboration going among all the MGA people who came on this trip and will be working together to get students committed.

For now I am going to enjoy listening to the ocean a little longer before I go to bed. We have to be out of our cabins at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow so the morning will be a little hectic. Stay tuned!


Coda: the ocean turned rough around 3 a.m. so we all had an interesting night’s sleep with our clothes hangers rattling around! We were off the ship at 9:30 and en route to Macon by 11:00, taking turns driving and catching naps. Now it’s Monday morning and I’m back at work in 28-degree weather. Going from 28 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit of a shock!

How about some pictures from around the ship to wrap things up?

View from my balcony while at sea

View from my balcony while at sea

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Lido Deck in full swing

Lido Deck in full swing

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow's Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow’s Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

Reception desk

Reception desk

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 6: Departure from Amber Cove—6 January 2017

This is a sad day, friends. The Dominican Republic is behind me (for now). I am looking forward to getting home—and I’m already happy to be back on the open ocean—but it was surprisingly hard to leave Amber Cove this afternoon.

Most of my colleagues either had impact activities this morning or went out on their own. I was feeling too nervous about getting back to the ship on time as we’d been told very sternly that they would take up the gangway at 11:45. So I limited my adventuring to Amber Cove: cappuccino at El Cibao, people-watching by the pool, picking out souvenirs for Daniel, and studying today’s neighbor, the Carnival Pride. At lunchtime I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who was very surprised I’d never cruised before. “I thought everyone had been on a cruise by now,” he said. “Well, now I have,” I told him. He confirmed something I suspected: that the Adonia is enjoyable in part because it actually feels like a ship. As he put it, the larger ships like the Pride feel like New York hotels. I can only imagine! I’ve also learned that it’s unusual for ships to stay in port for more than one night, or two at the most. Our neighbor yesterday arrived around 10 a.m. and was sailing away by 6:30 p.m. The Pride arrived at 7:00 and people were already getting back on board by the time we sailed (although they may just have been going back for lunch).

As it happened, our sailing was delayed about 90 minutes due to a medical emergency. I’m not sure exactly what happened but a passenger was evaluated by the ship’s doctors and they decided to admit him to hospital in Puerto Plata rather than having him sail back with us. An ambulance sat on the dock for quite a while and finally left followed by a security cart with the passenger’s luggage. I hope he is okay.  That’s a daunting prospect but I know the medical care on the ship is pretty comprehensive, so the problem must have been serious if they couldn’t treat it on board.

As soon as the ambulance pulled away, the gangway was removed and the signal given to undo the ropes that tied us to the dock. We moved away backwards—I was not entirely sure ships could back up, but neither did I think a tugboat could budge us—and everyone waved goodbye to the Pride passengers, the employees on the dock, and Amber Cove. I watched our departure from my balcony and probably got more sunburned doing that than I have on any of the impact activities! Once we got beyond the cove we turned (slightly weird feeling) and were off into the Atlantic, still on course for an on-time arrival in Miami on Sunday morning. I’d like to say I immediately headed to an educational and enlightening activity but in fact I took a nap!

Tonight we meet with Katie, Fathom’s programming manager, to discuss the student program in May. I’ve been working on and off all day on the program documentation and I am increasingly excited to start promoting everything to students while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Blog break for now. The computer screen in front of me and the ocean out the window to my right are getting my inner ear a little confused.


. . . Back after dinner with a steadier head now that we’ve been sailing a bit longer. Our meeting with Katie was excellent. She gave us some good suggestions about how to structure our program so that it meshes well with Fathom’s setup and about the best ways to get specific requests fulfilled. I’m sure we’ll be in constant contact with Fathom for the next couple of months as we finalize everything. Meanwhile we already have our disembarkation instructions for Sunday morning. Because we arrive into port so early, we have to put our luggage out for pickup tomorrow evening by 9 p.m. at the latest. Then we disembark in groups. Our group goes at 10:00 a.m., then we get the shuttle van back to our parking lot and on to Macon. Tomorrow we’ll attend a last activity or two and spend the rest of the day completing the program documentation so that we are ready to start promotions with a splash on Monday.

Speaking of a splash, I took pictures in Amber Cove and of our departure this afternoon:

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I'm pretty proud of this photo.

I’m pretty proud of this photo.

 

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Casting off lines...

Casting off lines…

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

How to slack off when you work on a ship--this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

How to slack off when you work on a ship–this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 5: Cultural excursion—5 January 2017

I spent the morning today in Amber Cove working on the program documentation and inflicting my Spanish on innocent Dominicans who deserve better. One drawback of this type of travel is that it isn’t an immersive language experience unless you go out of your way to make it more immersive. But I figured out that if I told the Dominican employees at Amber Cove (and elsewhere) that I was practicing my Spanish, they would help me by speaking Spanish to me, slowing down, and also seeing when I didn’t understand and going back to English. As always, people are grateful when we make even a small effort to speak their language. Today I learned how to say “I am learning” (Estoy aprendida) and I learned what rum that isn’t white is called: dorado (golden). I figured café (brown) couldn’t possibly be right! I also learned the word for “ice cubes” but I have forgotten it. Luckily I rarely use ice cubes, so no great loss. Most of all I am proud of myself for successfully asking “Do you have an espresso machine?” which is an important inquiry to be able to make. Tienes una maquina de espresso? (Note to self: learn how to type the upside-down question mark before a sentence and learn what it is called.)

My afternoon today was the “Caribbean Culture” excursion, a visit to a few important sites in Puerto Plata with a guide who taught us some basic cultural and historical information along the way. We began in the town square, which features some Victorian architecture, a cathedral, and statues of two heroes from Dominican history, Juan Pablo Duarte and General Gregorio Luperon. Facing the square is the bright-yellow Neoclassical-style town hall featuring the arms of the city. On the coat of arms appear an F and a Y for Ferdinand and Isabella, a reference to this island’s history as a Spanish colony.

The gazebo in the town square

The gazebo in the town square

The city hall

The city hall

The square from across the street

The square from across the street

The cathedral, San Felipe, is of course vastly different from the elaborate stone edifices seen in Europe but it fits the architecture of the square and the reality of the climate. Our guide mentioned that the cathedral was restored and improved most recently in 2010, including the addition of air conditioning for Sundays when everyone comes to Mass. Today, a Thursday, the A/C was off and the windows and doors were wide open. I did not get to follow my usual practice of lighting a candle at the Sacred Heart shrine (I am not Catholic but I have cultivated a habit of doing this when I visit cathedrals) because this cathedral did not have candles available in exchange for donations. BYOC: Bring Your Own Candle. I will know for next time and proceed accordingly.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Sacred Heart altar

Sacred Heart altar

Leaving the square we crossed the street to a vendor’s cart; he had fresh coconuts, a machete, and straws and we all got to have fresh coconut water. That was a minor revelation to me: I have had packaged coconut water a few times and don’t care for it because it always tastes, well, packaged. This coconut water had a very mild taste that combined sweetness and a sort of vegetable freshness. I enjoyed it and am convinced that it helped keep me from getting dehydrated during the tour.

Intimidatingly large!

Intimidatingly large!

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Next step: souvenirs! We visited a large souvenir shop that was about 1/3 jewelry made from amber and larimar. The DR produces a lot of amber and they are very proud of their amber production. We learned that real amber will float in saltwater whereas fake amber will sink. Good to know, right? Larimar is a blue stone that is apparently found only in the DR. I had never heard of it but had noticed it even in the gift shops here on the ship. It is pale blue to deep aqua blue veined with white and the story goes that the person who discovered it named it for his daughter’s name plus “mar” for the sea. To me it really does look like some of the colors I saw in the water as the ship was sailing along.

With souvenirs in hand we went on to Fort San Felipe. The fort is on the coast and was built in the 16th century to protect the entrance to the city and its sugar refineries. It was also used in the 19th century as a jail and Juan Pablo Duarte was imprisoned there at one time. I was struck by how broadly similar the construction was to that of William the Conqueror’s castle in Normandy and Cahir Castle in Ireland, though those structures are not really close chronologically. Maybe there are only so many ways to build a fort if you’re a European? One room inside the fort held a series of placards announcing “firsts” in the Americas that belong to the Dominican Republic: first cities to be awarded a coat of arms, first book written in Castilian, first university. One could argue that those firsts are problematic as they all belong to the country’s Spanish colonial background, but it’s clear that the country is proud of them.

Fort San Felipe

Fort San Felipe

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

The final stop was a fascinating place called Mares that houses a restaurant, art gallery, gift shop, and a small botanical garden growing beautiful orchids. After a few days’ exposure to more disadvantaged areas it was interesting to see that there is more economic diversity in Puerto Plata than I realized—the area around Mares is more residential and established, with paved streets and larger houses. And after a warm day and a fair amount of walking and looking, it was nice to spend some time in this unexpected oasis. We had fresh fruit and chips with fresh salsa between photographing the orchids and chatting with the artist whose work was on display. It was a pleasant way to end the day.

Inside the botanical garden

Inside the botanical garden

Our route back to Amber Cove took us along a 7-kilometer stretch of beach and past a statue of Neptune that stands on a small island offshore. It also took us through a gas station and past a tire shop because our bus had a tire that was leaking air. Not to worry, though: we got back with no problem in time to have dinner and talk about our adventures. Tomorrow the ship sails at noon and I can’t believe this adventure is nearly over.

One final note: today I tore one of my contact lenses as I was cleaning them! In thirty years wearing lenses this is only the second time I’ve torn a lens. Because I never tear lenses and I was only going to be gone a week, I did not bring an extra pair. To my chagrin I am stuck wearing my battered 8-year-old glasses for the rest of the trip. Be prepared, dear readers! Bring the extra lenses!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 4: Full day in the DR—4 January 2017

This morning I woke up because it got dark rather than because it was getting light: another, bigger cruise ship—Holland America’s Eurodam—docked next to us around 7:30 a.m. They were only here for the day and were gone en route to their next port of call by the time we returned from impact activities this afternoon. It seems like the Adonia’s function as a floating hotel in one place is comparatively rare. Must admit that I love sailing, but the ship in port just seems like a building. As the saying goes, safe in port is not what ships are for!

My colleagues had activities scheduled in both the morning and afternoon today but I had the morning free to work on the documentation for the Knights Impact program, answer a few emails, and inflict my Spanish on unsuspecting Amber Cove employees. At Café El Cibao I managed two entire, mostly correct exchanges with staff members and ended up with exactly what I wanted: a cappuccino and the wi-fi code. Unfortunately, El Cibao doesn’t allow people to connect laptops to their wi-fi, but Coco Cana (restaurant/bar next to the pool) does. At Coco Cana my Spanish was less successful: I could not learn from the waiter what the Spanish for “sparkling water” is, and I fear the problem is that I could not ask the question correctly. But I did get connected to their wi-fi in turn, so, yes, it was from a poolside bar that I posted the last three blog entries and will probably post this one tomorrow.

Today’s impact activity was an afternoon at a paper-recycling business called RePapel. RePapel is a small business that employs about a dozen women making two main products: handmade paper out of used paper from offices and classrooms, and jewelry made of paper beads rolled from magazine pages. The work not only provides income for the employees but also enables them to work close to home so that they can take care of their kids. Many women here are single mothers; the women at RePapel were previously working at a recycling business in a town over an hour away but now they can get their kids off to school in the morning, take a break at noon to fix them lunch, etc. Plus they are just really cool ladies: welcoming, friendly, enthusiastic to the point of rowdiness.

The activity was well organized so that we got to try out nearly everything RePapel does. I was particularly interested in the recycled paper since I teach about paper-making in History of Print. To begin the recycling process we hand-tore the used paper into small pieces, separating pieces with ink on them from pieces that are solid white. (Someone asked why they don’t use scissors: it’s because tearing the paper follows its existing grain and makes the pulp hold up better.) The pieces are washed in a regular top-loading washing machine for 15 minutes and then processed in a blender to create the pulp—these steps were the only ones we didn’t do. We then cast individual sheets of paper, roughly 8½ by 11, on a mould from tubs of pulp, turned them out on drying sheets, and laid them in a rack to dry.

Adding water to the washing machine to wash the paper scraps

Adding water to the washing machine to wash the paper scraps

Running the blender to make the pulp

Running the blender to make the pulp

Casting a sheet of green paper

Casting a sheet of green paper

The lovely Altagracia smiles while holding a paper mould

The lovely Altagracia smiles while holding a paper mould

I could probably have done just the paper-casting part for the whole visit but we had other tasks. The dried paper is bumpy from the wire mesh of the mould and has to be smoothed. In an industrial paper factory, metal rollers polish the paper smooth, but at RePapel we smoothed paper one sheet at a time by rubbing them with (get this) the bottoms of empty Avon roll-on deodorant bottles. I found out later that 2 of the RePapel employees are also Avon reps and they ask their customers to return the empty bottles when they finish them. Smoothing paper this way takes elbow grease but it works surprisingly well!

The whole time we were working on the steps of the recycling process, the RePapel employees were singing, chanting, laughing, teasing each other, and encouraging us. They were very sweet and patient as we made some pretty terrible-looking sheets of paper. One woman, Yolanda, led us all in a dance break while everybody sang “La Bamba.” There were hand motions involved: “Yo no soy marinero” [make waves with your hands], “Soy capitan” [shade your eyes with your hand as if peering out to sea]. It was fun for us and I hope it was fun for the employees too. Paper-making on this non-industrial scale is pretty hard and repetitious work so you might as well try to enjoy it.

After a break for snacks we traded places with the other half of our group to work on jewelry-making: winding wedge-shaped strips of magazine paper around a dowel to create beads and then, later, stringing the beads to make necklaces and bracelets. I must confess that I was terrible at making beads. In half an hour I might have made three good ones. I did, however, manage to pose an intelligible question in Spanish and understand most of the answer. The beads are very striking when well created (i.e., not by me). Magazine pages are colorful and winding the strips makes interesting patterns. I didn’t fare a lot better at making a necklace. Obviously I can string beads, but can I do it in a way anyone would want to look at, much less purchase? Answers on a postcard. Nevertheless, both activities were a lot of fun and we had good conversations while working on them. I met the Fathom employee who coordinates with the NGOs here in the Dominican Republic; he’s a Peace Corps returnee whose academic background is in economics, so he is well placed to work with organizations like RePapel who can benefit from microfinance, sponsorships, and the support of people like Fathom travelers. I also met one of the Adonia’s nurses—she was rotating off the ship and had never had a chance to try the activities, so she was doing them on her way out.

Once again the activity time seemed to go much too fast—if I have a quibble with this program it is that the whole thing is too short! Before leaving we had an opportunity to buy some of RePapel’s products; I bought a pair of paper-bead earrings that I am wearing even now, as well as a little set of recycled paper note cards stamped with designs of birds and flowers native to the DR. The cards are almost too pretty to use, I’m afraid! I should say here that I felt no pressure to buy anything. Both RePapel and Chocal (the chocolate cooperative that hosts another impact activity) sells the products that they make to the impact travelers but it’s not an awkward hard-sell situation, which frankly is nice. Then back on the bus toward Amber Cove we learned that as a group we made 205 sheets of paper today. Pretty good for a bunch of beginners! Will someone buy the necklace I made? The world may never know.

The narrow street that houses RePapel

The narrow street that houses RePapel

The exterior of RePapel

The exterior of RePapel

Tonight’s dinner was the scene of a lively discussion about the details of making this program available to students, because we’ll start recruiting as soon as we get back to our campuses on January 9 (just 5 days from now!). We are almost ready and really excited. I suspect the return trip to Miami will consist of nonstop meetings and conversations to get everything finalized. Bring it on!