English, Spanish, now Creole? For service, I am teaching English at a Haitian school. Haitian immigrants generally don’t have their birth certificates and since a birth certificate is required to attend school in the Dominican Republic these children normally don’t receive an education. A pastor and his wife have set up a makeshift school inside of a church where about 115 children ages 3 to 15 come daily for school. I thought one language barrier was difficult until I was faced with two. The children speak only a little bit of Spanish and because my Spanish is no where near fluent the communication is slow and difficult. Even the teachers at the school speak very little Spanish. My partner, Clara, and I have been working on teaching the parts of the body through songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Hokey Pokey”. We have them repeat words over and over again. One example of a fun communication gap happened during the hokey pokey. Clara was having them repeat phrases like “right leg in” and “left arm out”, between two phrases Clara said “so” and a resounding “SO!” echoed. Already I feel my Spanish improving because I have to think of different ways to say what I mean when the first couple ways don’t work. The kids are eager to learn and really seem to enjoy our presence. With my study abroad community we are talking about ministry of presence, which is serving people just by being with them. This is especially applicable to my service site because a lot of the time I have to interact in the absence of words. Because of the island’s history with colonization and slavery the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic value their Caucasian, European blood much more than their African slave blood. People with darker skin are by default lower class. This phenomenon is called “el negro detrás la oreja” or “the black behind the ear” because the people of Hispanola try to hide their African heritage. Because of this discrimination, Haitians, who are much darker than most Dominicans, are considered lower class and treated as such. One of my jobs at the school is just to show the kids respect and love to build up their self worth.
A major accomplishment of this week has been navigating public transportation without help. To get to my service site, we first have to take a guagua, which includes getting the attention of the man hanging off the side of the vehicle to tell him we need to get off. Then, we have to walk down a few streets and catch a T or CJ car, which will take us the rest of the way to the school. It may sound pretty straight forward, but communicating directions in Spanish is quite difficult. On the first day of service, some of the money for the trip back to ILAC fell out of Clara’s pocket. We only had enough to take either the car or the guagua. We tried to walk one leg of the trip, but it was much farther than it seemed, so we had to call our student life director to come meet us at the guagau. First transportation obstacle, overcome!
A few other adventures from the past few days include venturing out on a scavenger hunt around Santiago. As we made our way to the monument we made two pit stops: one at Bon for brownie ice cream and the other at McDonalds. The monument’s marble exterior disguises the immense history lying inside. The monument has changed names and purposes multiple times from honoring the dictator Rafael Trujillo to now honoring those who fought in the war for Dominican independence. Sunday night we decided we needed a little bit of home so we went to La Luna a sports bar to watch the Patriots vs Colts game. After the game, we went to a colmado, a little store, and played dominos with the locals. We also went to a dance club called Dubai for ladies night and to celebrate one of the girl’s birthday. The music was very fun to dance to! One of the girls knocked a 3,600RD (about $80) bottle of alcohol off of a table. Luckily it was filled with water as a decoration so she didn’t have to pay for it. In other news, I am going to have a very inflated ego when I return to the United States because everywhere we go we have guys yelling “Que bonita!” and “Do you need a boyfriend?”. As a group of 11 American girls, most with blond hair and light eyes, we get a lot of attention when we go out. Of course, most of them are only looking for a green card, but hey a little ego boost never hurt anyone!