Yesterday at lunchtime Faye and I decided that we would splash out and buy some refrescos (7up or pepsi) to go with lunch as we were a little stressed out after our morning’s lessons. This may not sound like a very big deal, especially as half a litre only costs us seven pesos, which is about 30p, but hereit is quite an exciting event. I left our house and headed into the village, it had been raining that morning so the dirt track was a slippery experience in my flip flops. As I walked down the main street towards our favourite colmado the wooden and palm-leaf houses on either side were crammed with villagers I have got to know over the past 2 months. A colmado is a small shop usually attached to someone’s house. It is impossible to walk through the village without chatting to four or five friends, saying hello to numerous people that I can never remember the names of and collecting a small crowd of naked children clinging to your arms and legsand all chatting away at the same time. I was walking with one of my friends called Anna Rosa and we had got to about five metres from Emilio’s colmado when a wall of water cascaded from the sky. By the time we had run inside we were dripping wet and covered in mud. October is one of the two rainymonths out here plus we have been getting the tail end of some hurricanes passing nearby so when it rains it really rains! I ran over to take shelter outside one ofmy friends’ house, Chepe, where five or six of my friends were stood around, and who all thought that I was an extremely funny sight. The rain calmed down within a few minutes and I was able to slide my way back home with my cram trousers now decorated with mud half way up to the knee. This was not quite a typical experience and has only happened the once so far but it makes me laugh that everyon eis so relaxed about this kind of thing and just kind of waits to see what happens rather than worrying about what might happen or the consequences.
I have found the culture here very easy to adapt to. All the stress from A-levels, fundraising and just everyday things in England seem to have slipped away. Time here means very little here, especially as it is October and the sun is still beaming down on us. The people that I am living amongst are not typically Dominican as many are of Haitain descent. This makes the culture even more fascinating as it is a haphazard fusion of Spanish, Haitain and at times African lifestyles. I am also pleased to say that many of the people are proud of their heritage, enjoy speaking in creole and are only looking to improve relations between them and the people who would have them isolated as foreigners.
It makes me smile when I think how normal it all seems to us now. We think nothing of riding in open-back trucks or flagging down a gua gua at the roadside by listening out for the very loud music blaring from them, with motoconchos whizzing past us from every direction, usually carrying at least 3 people plus baggage and sometimes live pigs strapped to boards. We quite happily buy bicuite bread from the village just after it has been cooked on an open-fire and it seems far more strange to us when there is no loud merengue music all around us. It is all this little things that I know I am going to miss dearly when my time here is up and I am coming back to the UK.
My job here is to team-teach with my partner Faye. We are the only english and sport teachers in the school and teach grades 4 through to 8. The age range of our students varies hugely as many of the children are years behind where they could be with their education. In one of our sixth grade classes the age range is 12 to 17 and in 7th and 8th grademany of the students are the same age or older than us. Both of these things make teaching a real challenge but if it was all easy then we would not get the same feeling of satisfaction when we leave a class knowing that they have learnt something and enjoyed their time with us. COPA is working really hard to help the children to receive a decent education and it is thanks to all their hard work and the dedication of the teachers, volunteers and students that the two schools in La Hoya and Bombita are now some of the best in the country.
We work from 7.45am until 5.30pm with an hour and a half lunchbreak. It is an exhausting day as the children are always keen to be doing something with you. When we get home we have more work to do keeping the house running and preparing and cooking food. We are slowly learning how to cook Dominican style and are becoming quite attached to rice and beans as a staple part of our diet. Having said that we are cooking chocolate chip cookies tonight as a special treat, that is providing we have electricity to see by. Our supply is the same as the villagers’ and we usually have it for 12 hours a day and we keep our fingers crossed that we get it at night so that the fans do not stop moving.
Not all of our time is spent working though, we have made a really good group of friends, who are a lot of fun and we spend our weekends swimming in the local river or just relaxing and listening to our favorite bachata band called Aventura. We have spent several nights in the village playing dominoes, where you have to put pegs on your face if you lose. We have been lucky enough to go on trips to the beach with the youth group and have just come back from visiting friends in the capital and experiencing merengue dancing in a nightclub in a cave.
The village itself is very poor and many of the houses are made solely of compacted mud or wooden slat with palm leaf roofs and dare ground for floors people cook, eat, wash and spend most of their time outside. They are a close knit and amazingly friendly community where everyone seems to be related somehow and live in each others’ houses because no-one ever seems to close their doors.
I came out here expecting to be able to show these kids amazing new things. What I realise now is that at the moment they may cannot operate a minidisc player, use a map or make a cup of tea any more than I can fix a 20 year-old motoconcho, climb a coconut tree or speak in two native languages but given a year, who knows.