This morning I woke up around 7:30 thinking I had lots of time, but the ship’s clocks had moved forward an hour overnight. I knew this change was happening but missed it because the time on my phone didn’t change till we got closer to the Dominican Republic and my phone connected to their cell network. So, note to self: adjust alarm accordingly before bed on day 2.
I did get ready and breakfasted in time for my second cohort meeting at 10:15, where we learned some basic history of the Dominican Republic, some cultural tips, and some general information about the area where we’d be traveling. The closest city is called Puerto Plata; the port is called Amber Cove and it belongs to the Carnival corporation on a long-term lease. The DR has a long history of conquest, revolution, and dictatorships and has only been holding free and fair elections for about 40 years if I remember correctly. As we were taking in these facts we were well in sight of land and sailing toward the port. It’s easy to see why so many people fought over this land for so long: the landscape is incredibly beautiful and lush. This is my first time in a tropical destination and I was completely blown away by the sight of it. By the time the cohort meeting was over, we were in port and allowed to disembark, so I ate lunch quickly and got right off the ship to take a walk around Amber Cove before my afternoon impact activity. Amber Cove is purely commercial and touristy, of course, since it was built to cater to cruise customers, but the shops are varied (local crafts, souvenirs, fine jewelry, a pharmacy, etc.) and the pool area is really pleasant with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. It’s also possible to rent private cabanas of various sizes as well as pool floats, zipline rides, paddleboards, and other good stuff. I spoke to a few of the shop employees and had a café worker explain to me in Spanish how to operate a particular coffee-making contraption that works like an upside-down Moka pot. I am proud to say I followed most of the explanation! I also learned to play a sort of 3-dimensional tic-tac-toe game—might go back and get one of those for my dad.
Soon it was time to board buses for our impact activities. My activity today was Community English: tutoring English learners one-on-one in their homes. About 20 of us went with our facilitator Danna to a neighborhood called Monte Rico and then split into smaller groups to go to particular houses depending on how many people would be there. Five of us went to one house and taught a group of about 7 kids ranging in age from 9 to 15. I wasn’t expecting kids in Community English since there is also an activity called “Student English” but learning a language is easier the earlier you start, so the youngest ones will have the greatest advantage. My student, Zoith, was a very smart girl of 9 who already knew the lesson material almost perfectly. We worked mostly on pronunciation and a few difficult words; she took notes and had me write down some words she didn’t know. I learned that she likes chicken, cake, and pizza, she drinks chocolate for breakfast, and her favorite color is the same as mine: red. At first I was not sure she liked me but after the lesson, when we were getting ready to leave, she went out of her way to come back to me and point out her father after he stopped to talk to her on his way home (in a big Toyota Tundra!). I think maybe we got along okay after all.
To be honest, this experience will take me some time to process. The environment in Monte Rico is like nothing I’ve ever seen: narrow, rocky dirt roads, stray animals roaming, motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) and lottery ticket counters and tiny barbershops and vegetable stands everywhere. It’s tempting to see nothing but poverty and disorder and be patronizing about it, but these people obviously care about each other, stick together, and are willing to welcome strangers into their homes week after week in hopes of improving their future. With some English they have a better chance of being able to work in the tourism industry, which is the DR’s largest. I’ve heard that there are particularly few jobs in Puerto Plata for women, and I noticed that everyone who came to our lesson today was female. So hopefully we helped create a little better future for girls in particular.
Along the way I discovered that my A2 Spanish level is a pretty good match for the A2 level of the Community English course and for prompting a 9-year-old. I’m definitely going to encourage our students to brush up their Spanish, because a little goes a really long way. Zoith had a hard time differentiating the pronunciations of soup and soap (probably in part because “soup” in Spanish is sopa) so I was really glad I could remember the Spanish word for “soap” and tell her soap is jabon and we don’t want to eat jabon.
We returned early since Monte Rico is not as far away as some of the Community English sites, so I had a little time to sit by the pool, relax, and think about all I saw today. It seems like the time we spent in Monte Rico went by in a blink; I wish I could go back and meet some other people. I did not take any pictures around the neighborhood because it seemed a little disrespectful—there were a lot of people around and I am very obviously a tourist. I’ll try my best to remember it all, summed up in this moment: A rooster walked in front of the house and I exclaimed “I saw a chicken!” Zoith, of course, looked completely unimpressed. Perspective is everything.