We invited the oldest students from Las Palmas to join us for our historical tour day. Nine Dominicans who had not been able to leave for the weekend, plus the American student missionary who is here teaching English, went with us. I had my students sit with Dominicans and helped them get their conversations started. It was a bit awkward at first, but eventually they got talking. Some students told me it got hard again, after they exhausted the obvious small talk. I am thinking of how to make this easier for them. In Spanish class, my students use wordless pictures to help prompt them when they retell stories. Perhaps having some visuals could help them with real conversations, as well. Ryan, Anita and Carmela played a translation game with their seatmates, which gave me the idea of creating games to get them talking. Lots of ideas for next time!
We stepped back in time as we walked through Santo Domingo´s colonial zone, visiting the Alcázar de Colón—the palace of Diego Columbus, Christopher´s son—the National Pantheon and the Royal Houses Museum. It is amazing to think that people from the 1500´s walked these same streets and lived in these houses. In fact, the Royal House´s mahogany floors are original from that era and still look pretty good. The palaces were furnished with many original pieces dating from the 1500-1600´s. A few interesting facts: beds were shorter because people slept almost sitting up with many pillows to support them; viceroy Diego and his wife had separate bedrooms, which was common at the time; the guide said that what looked like a half-height closet was actually the children´s bathroom. The child would go inside the little cupboard and shut the door, then the maid would take the chamber pot away was the child was done. I don´t know if the social elite had outhouses at the time, but at least the kids had it easy. Actually, the story seems unlikely to me—the kid would be totally in the dark in the cupboard, which was too small to safely contain a candle. I wonder if the guide made it up so he would have something novel to say.
We had a picnic lunch near the Obelisk of the Butterflies, which commemorates the three sisters who were part of the Resistance fighting Trujillo´s dictatorship in the 1960´s and were code-named “las mariposas,” or the butterflies. After we ate, I asked all of the young people to do five minutes of community service picking up trash in the plaza. Although there was much more trash in the area, our little area of the plaza looked good when they were done and I started humming the old song, “… make this world a better place if you can…”
Next stop: Tres Ojos, a cave of stalactites and stalagmites with three underground pools of an enchanted turquoise. Trees above stretch their roots through the ground and dangle from the roof of the cave like jungle vines, searching for water, and a few pale fish live in the pools. A little wooden raft took us across a larger pool to a place where the cave opened into sunlight and a still larger pool, which was rimmed by what looked like gigantic sword ferns, as tall as me. Many of the Dominican teens had not been to this place before and it was fun to take them someplace new.
There was one major disappointment in our day. I´d had difficulty finding out anything specific about the Eastern Sunday procession before this trip—I had repeatedly asked our tour company, but they couldn´t tell me anything. I found something on the internet that said there would be a procession at 5:00 p.m. Our bus driver was told it was at 6:00 p.m. We returned from Tres Ojos before 5:00, just in case the earlier time was true, only to find we had already missed it! I was much more disappointed than my students, since (except for Onica) they didn´t know what an amazing spectacle they had missed.
We consoled ourselves at an ice cream shop and a few students found a few souvenirs to buy. When we got on the bus, it started as a quiet ride home with tired kids. But before long, our Dominican friends got the energy up again with call-and-response songs, chants and cheers. They lead cheers for real and imagined delights of our day (“Hooray for the trip!” “Hooray for the bus driver!” “Hooray for fried chicken and plantains!”) The last bit inspired us to pick up pizza, since we were getting home past supper time. The cheers really got intense when Alberto called ahead to order and offered to drive us a little extra to pick it up. We brought it back to the house and invited the young people in to eat and have a brief worship together before heading back home.
I think it was a fun end to their spring break. Monday the Dominican students go back to class and it is back to work for us! Three more days!