Friday, April 8, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 9

This day was a little different, though it started out the same with me going to the school and Rosie going to the clinic.

When I got to the school, I noticed that the American group from the clinic was there, with Mr. Rod and his wife, Sandy. Apparently they have a tradition of bringing groups to the school on Fridays. Mr. Rod invited me to go do something with the group, so I asked Tracy and Daniel if that was okay with them. They said they could spare me, so I decided to go.

The Americans were walking from the school to the clinic, a distance of about a mile. It was something I had always wanted to do, but didn’t know if it was a good idea to do it alone. I found out that Tracy does it every day, though, so it must be all right. On my walk, I talked with different people, all of whom were curious about what I was doing there and why I came and where I was staying. I also took pictures, because it was a poorer area and I wanted to show how people lived. Little houses would be divided into maybe 3 rooms with dirt floors, scarcely any furniture, and nothing but curtains in the doorways. Some of them were leaning at a dangerous angle, but they were still standing, so people were still living in them. And the telephone poles were a massive tangle of little wires tied in to give people electricity in their houses.

I got to the clinic and said hi to Rosie, who was of course quite surprised to see me. Then I found out that what Mr. Rod had invited us to do wasn’t until 2:00, which meant that we probably wouldn’t be able to go, since we had to go home with Eunice and Jonatán at 2:30.

Therefore, I decided to walk back to the school. As a precaution, I left most of my stuff with Rosie in the clinic, taking only my dictionary, water bottle, and a small purse containing American coins for any kids I met, a granola bar, and my tatting.

The walk was uneventful except for one point when I met two young boys. The smaller one was pushing his brother in a wheelchair, and they asked me for money. I gave them a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter, telling them how much they were worth in American money and in pesos. They grinned happily and left.

When I got back to the school, it was in the middle of a period, so I decided to wait until it was over and then look for Tracy or Daniel. I sat on a concrete ring built around a tree and got out my tatting. A teacher saw me and asked if she could learn how to do it. I started teaching her, and then recess was the next thing, so we worked together for about an hour. She was the teacher of “manualidades,” or handcrafts, and she took me all around the school showing me the crafts she and her students had made. It was stuff like soap decorated with beads and lace, candles in a jar, a decorated board with hooks on it to hang things like keys, plastic canvas angels, and other bazaar-type crafts. Then she had to teach a class, so she took me with her to help. This class was for little kids, so it was a simple fun thing for them to do. I went around to each child and drew 2 circles on their notebook with a play-doh top. Then they drew a face on each one and glued on yarn hair, short for the boy face and long for the girl face. She reviewed with them things like “You see with your eyes, hear with your ears,” etc. on the faces.

From there, she was going to take me to her next class, but I thought I should probably go help the English teachers, so I thanked her and went to find Tracy. She gave me two girls to tutor, but there skill level was very different, so it was difficult to talk to one without losing the other. I felt bad for Tracy having to have a whole classful of 45 people at different levels, never able to have individual attention.

When that class was over, I realized I had lost my water bottle, so I was going in search of it when the manualidades teacher came up to me with it. She had a break from teaching right then, so we worked on tatting again. She kept making a certain mistake, and I couldn’t get her to understand what the problem was. I exhausted my limited vocabulary, used gestures, demonstrated doing it myself, and drew diagrams on the board, hoping to see the “light bulb” come on, but she never really understood. It was a very delicate distinction to explain, and even in English it would be difficult, but you can not tat unless you get that right. I really wanted her to learn how to do it, because it is a way to make something beautiful, functional, and expensive with the simplest of materials, and she liked it and wanted to teach her students. However, in my earnestness to explain, I didn’t notice that she was getting frustrated, because I kept saying, “No, no es correcto,” and we had to pick out this little tiny knot and try again. Finally, as I turned around from drawing something on the board, I saw her face, and it had a sort of desperate, hopeless look on it, and there were tears in her eyes. A wave of compassion swept over me and I had an inspiration. I took the left hand part in my hand and gave her the right hand part. This solved the problem we were having, and very quickly, a ring was finished. This encouraged her and we had fun making some more rings in this way. At 1:40, she had to teach another class, and I went along again. For this one, we sat outside and there were a lot of pieces of felt to cut out. Not everybody had something to do, so I got my tatting out again and let the girls try it, keeping the left hand part in my own hand again and handing the shuttle around to the girls in turn after they had done 2-4 stitches. Some of them stood behind my chair and felt my hair, whispering things to each other like “suave” and “lindo.” It was really sweet.

That class lasted until 2:30 when school was over, so I was going to look for Eunice and Jonatán when Tracy came up to me and said that Rosie was there! She had walked from the clinic to the school to ride the bus home with us. Poor her—she had to carry all my stuff that I left in the clinic! But Eulalia was not there to call a taxi for her, so that was the only way she knew to get home.

After the main meal and our nap, Tati took Rosie, Eunice and I on a walk. We went down to a park, took a few pictures, and then stopped for some groceries before going home and having dinner.

Grocery shopping is a daily occurrence here, due to the lack of proper refrigeration. A refrigerator is basically just a cooler and storage cabinet here. People buy ice and put it in the freezer section to make it cool, and then they keep things like water, juice, and meat in there. The refrigerator section is more of a protection from heat, bugs, and whatnot. I think the unpredictable on/off cycle of electricity is part of the reason the refrigerators die so fast. All of them were relatively new, and none of them worked.

Anyway, our trip to the grocery store was fun. This was a smaller store than the one we visited on Wednesday, with less selection and slightly higher prices. However, you can really tell what food is important to the people by the amount of shelf space it takes up in the refrigerator. Like when we were in Tennessee, we observed how much more okra and grits they were selling. Here, there are two main items that take up a disproportionately large amount of space. You can’t buy anything else in bulk, but you sure can find large packages of rice and oil. Oil took up half the length of a shelf, top to bottom, in a grocery store that only had 6 or 7 aisles. They eat a LOT of fried food here. Other major items are sugar, soda, and white bread.

In contrast, the produce department is almost non-existent. In this store, it consisted of one small shelf containing maybe 2 dozen apples being sold individually for 68-70 cents each, a few packages of grapes (extremely expensive), a few green peppers, and a few other miscellaneous items (cabbage, iceberg lettuce) sharing most of the shelf space with bottled juices. Part of the reason for this is that there are outdoor markets and street stands that sell bananas, mangoes, plantains, melons, or whatever fruit is in season. But part of the reason, too, is that the people do eat a pretty unhealthy diet. Sadly, this fact is reflected in the health problems people get at relatively young ages. Tati has diabetes, Pina has breast cancer, Pastor José just had gallbladder surgery, flu and colds are common, and a lot of people are overweight. Exercise—and even going outdoors—seems rare, and people’s walking pace is very slow.

And health care! Have you ever heard of doctors going on strike to get a higher salary? While we were there, they did, and many people died in the hospitals. These are the public hospitals for poor people, and are funded by the government. The same doctors also have jobs in many, many private clinics, which are very expensive. The public hospitals are so bad that most of the time you have to bring your own jug of water with you, because there isn’t any in the hospital. Can you imagine getting treated there? But if you didn’t have money, what would you do?

I’m just amazed at how many nice things we take for granted here in America.

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