Knights Impact exploratory trip day 3: Dominican Republic arrival and first impact activities—3 January 2017

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.

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

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.

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

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.

My student Zoith

My student Zoith

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 2: Sea Day—A full day of formative activities

I went to sleep with my curtains open and woke up around 6:30; the sky was just getting light and a ship was passing.

Ships passing in the night?

Ships passing in the night?

Got up, closed the curtains, went back to sleep and slept right through my alarm! Lesson 1: turn up the volume on your phone’s alarm because the background noise of the ship will drown it right out. Managed to be up, showered, and dressed for 9:30 a.m. yoga class but I was thwarted because the class was full! Lesson 2: Show up early if you want to do yoga. This is what I mean when I say travel is full of learning experiences. Instead of yoga I went to a basic Spanish class, which was fun. I learned to say “I am a vegetarian” (Soy vegetariana) and “Is there wi-fi?” (Hay wifi?) and “I like to buy shoes” (Me gusta comprar zapatos). I discovered that in 5 minutes I can write down 33 Spanish words that I know, but at least one of them will be wrong (“socks” is “calcetines,” not “calcinetes”). DULY NOTED.

My second stop was the initial meeting of my impact cohort with our impact guide. Fathom divides its travelers into small groups called “cohorts” to learn about impact travel and the history of the destination and then to discuss and reflect at the end of the program. We met our cohort mates and discussed the following questions:

  • What was the last time you were bold?
  • What is the most interesting fact about you?
  • What is the secret to happiness?

I met a great 14-year-old young man named Alex from Los Angeles who said that coming on this cruise, which he didn’t know much about, was his most recent boldness. He is very sporty and social and well spoken. I was impressed at his openness to the experience. His attitude set a tone for me by reminding me that we get out of our experiences what we put into them. The more you offer, the more you receive. The presentation went on with our impact guide Katie discussing Fathom’s values and goals. I learned a new word, eudaimonia, which means “human flourishing,” and which Fathom tries to develop in people by encouraging us to pursue our personal best, learn new skills and insights, and doing what we believe in. I love this idea and I think it’s a great way to talk about the different forms of growth that we achieve through different experiences.

Next stop: “Empowering English” training session to get ready for community English teaching tomorrow, which I am incredibly excited about. We learned about “language empathy”—how challenging and frustrating a language barrier is—and were reminded to be encouraging, outgoing, and (when necessary) silly in order to communicate with the people we’ll be tutoring. The trainer started the session by asking us to think of an animal and then represent that animal without using any words or sounds. So we all had to act like our chosen animals. I convincingly impersonated a cat and filed that information away for later use. We got to see the curriculum we’ll be using and learn about the situations in which we’ll be teaching (probably one-on-one in people’s homes). Still a little nervous about teaching someone English one-on-one but also really eager to try it.

After lunch with our group I went to one more session, called “The Story of You.” This workshop was focused on storytelling and how to tune up a personal story to create a more compelling and concise message. To a retired teacher named Anne I told a story from my study abroad program as a student; then I wrote an outline, noted details, and re-told the improved story to Andrea, an IT consultant. She told me a great story about quitting her job to start her own business; Anne told me a similarly compelling tale of learning that she did not (thank goodness) have pancreatic cancer but changing her life because it was suspected. The exercise required a good bit of work and thought but the results were impressive. More good evidence for the validity of the writing process and for the value of drafting and peer feedback. I could definitely see using this model to teach narrative writing in a composition class.

Finally I had time for a little nap, which was blissful. The motion of the ship makes for good sleeping! We reconvened for dinner in the Pacific Restaurant where I ate a delicious papaya salad with arugula, a cauliflower tikka, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I am trying not to go crazy eating a lot but it’s a challenge—the food is delicious. I have been really impressed by the veggie options so far; looking at my friends’ plates, the meats look great too. Lamb chops and chicken were both available tonight; last night there was steak; overall I can promise that you will not go hungry even if you are particular. I won’t name names but one of our group is a very picky eater and this person has been enjoying the meals too.

As I hustled to and fro today I took almost no pictures! Tomorrow we’ll dock in Amber Cove around noon (I think) and I will set off to Community English as soon as we leave the ship. Will definitely take pics tomorrow; in fact, I must remember to charge my camera tomorrow (just been using my phone so far). On tap tomorrow morning: yoga at 7:30, an introduction to the DR at 10:15, and then we start the next phase of this adventure.

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Knights Impact exploratory trip, day 1: Boarding and Departure from Miami—1 January 2017

This has been a busy and full day! By the time you read this entry it may be a couple of days in the past. I haven’t yet decided about buying wi-fi, which is pricey on the ship. But for me, a big part of the excitement of the trip is being on a cruise for the first time so I wanted to write down my first impressions—especially for students who may also be new to this type of travel.

The four of us who drove down from Orlando arrived and parked in Miami with plenty of time to board the Adonia before its 4:00 scheduled departure. At the port, we met up with the rest of our group (seven total) and dropped off our luggage—luggage is delivered to the cabins, which is handy. After a security screening process similar to that practiced at airports, we checked in. At check-in, an agent takes your picture and places a $100 hold on your credit/debit card against which your on-board purchases (if any) are debited. We received our “ship cards,” which function as the room key, identification, and quasi credit card for charging purchases to the on-board account.

Although we boarded the ship around 12:30, cabins were not yet ready. We were directed to lunch in the Conservatory, a buffet-style restaurant where I had a salad and a vegetable tagine over rice. It was a little hot and crowded, especially with everyone’s carry-on luggage around, but still very exciting and the food was tasty! I rushed through lunch because I was eager to take a look around the ship, take a few pictures, and send a few final text messages before we set off and I went out of cell range. I had time to walk around the various observation decks, get my photos, and then relax on a deck chair and watch the action around the pool for a little while before going to check out my cabin.

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Since this sailing wasn’t full, we were fortunate to get balcony cabins with single occupancy. My cabin looks like a tiny hotel room with a queen bed, desk, small sofa, and quite a bit of storage. I packed light because (a) that’s my style and (b) the laundry, which is free, is down the hall. But there is room for a pretty extensive wardrobe if you want one. However, because of the nature of its programming, Fathom does not have a dress code—there’s no “formal night” and casual dress is accepted everywhere (although the Ocean Grill requests “smart casual” dress). The balcony is tiny, as everyone told me to expect, but it is exciting to always be able to hear and see the ocean, as well as to get a little solo chill-out time when needed. I unpacked and put my suitcase away, browsed the TV channels, and then heard a knock on my door. My cabin steward, Zenda, had come to introduce herself. I’m learning that cruise ship service, even on a ship like this one that doesn’t advertise “luxury,” is very attentive. There are tons of staff and everyone is incredibly courteous. Zenda is from the Phillipines; she says she likes Americans because we are friendly and we say what’s on our minds and not everyone is like that. Hopefully we can live up to Zenda’s impression of us.

My cabin

My cabin

Zenda also told me that a safety exercise was coming up; I was glad for the warning because I knew to expect the exercise but didn’t know how it would work. It was announced over the intercom (which is called a “tannoy” on the ship; is this a nautical word?) with instructions and then an alarm sounding. The exercise requires that everyone bring their life vests to a designated “muster station,” practice putting them on (and then taking them off), and listen to a briefing from the captain. Easy schmeezy and did not take too long. Let the record show that I refrained from blowing the whistle on my life vest, but some others did not.

Within about a half-hour of the safety briefing we got under way, sailing out of PortMiami with a beautiful sunset and view of Miami Beach. The wind on the observation deck was incredibly strong but I stayed for a long time, looking around and taking pictures. Then Fathom’s impact guides announced our first activity: visiting multiple areas around the deck to do certain things and collect stamps on a “passport.” I tied a bowline hitch (I will be very useful in a nautical emergency), placed a Polaroid of myself on a map of the world to show where I’d come from, added my answer to a question written on a window (“Who’s your muse?” Daniel!), and wrote a note for a fellow passenger to receive. These activities were a nice way to start thinking about the purposes of this trip: not just to help others but also to learn about ourselves and our place in the world.

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

Before I knew it, it was dinner time and I met up with our group in the Pacific Restaurant. This restaurant looks elegant (white tablecloths and multiple silverware) and serves elegant food, but somehow is not intimidating. I ate an endive salad, a vegetable omelet, and a chocolate pot de crème. Most interestingly, the waiter asked if I was a vegetarian and later sent the head waiter over to allow me to pre-order tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. A person could get used to this service! Over dinner we had a fantastic, lively and productive discussion about how best to make this program work for students. I am so happy to have such a great group of collaborators—we all listen, reflect, and learn from each other, which is exactly what collaboration should be.

This first afternoon/evening on the ship has been incredible. I’m not used to seeing the ocean around me in all directions, nor to how dark it is at night: our wake and some whitecaps are just visible in the ship’s lights. The rocking of the ship occasionally makes it hard to walk perfectly and I will admit (full disclosure) to one sudden onset of seasickness toward the end of dinner. It surprised me, as I assumed the motion of the ship would bother me right away if it was going to. But my dessert was rich; the restaurant is aft where there’s more movement; and the room had gotten hot and stuffy as it filled up with people. All at once I felt terrible and had to walk out, but as soon as I got fresh air I started to feel better. I walked around the pool deck, came back to my cabin and put my acupressure wristbands on (couldn’t hurt; might help), and eventually met back up with one of our group for a ginger ale (also couldn’t hurt; might help) and some further discussion. I’m sure I will adjust better once I’ve been on board a bit longer.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea with preparatory workshops and educational activities. It’s past 11 p.m. and I am planning to go to yoga at 9:30, so it’s time to turn in and be lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean.