Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What we did in China -- YASC Trip to China 2011

From July 9 - 16, 184 Yale alumni and family and friends of alumni traveled to the city of Xiuning in Anhui Province in China  with the Yale Alumni Service Corps. During one week we accomplished a lot! Here is a list of the trip highlights:

* 1300 students ranging in age from 8 to 16 taught for 5 days. Subjects included:
-          English through songs
-          Book club
-          Art of all kinds
-          Spanish
-          Chorus
-          tin whistle and harmonica
-          business development
-          bridge building
-          and much more…
*3 quilts made as gifts for the three schools
* 3 murals painted at the schools
* soccer, Frisbee, basketball and baseball coaching
* Produced America Coast-to-Coast for the final celebration
* High School English language library renovated and re-stocked
*5 days of medical consultation with local doctors
* visited and advised local businesses
And then the group headed to Beijing to see the iconic sights of China such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Join us on a trip in 2012. For trip updates, visit

Yale plus ONE: Alumni join forces to promote global service and advocacy

Check this out . . .:
The Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) and ONE, a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease particularly in Africa, are launching a strategic partnership to promote global service and advocacy by linking the Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC) with ONE’s education and advocacy programs. The Yale-ONE partnership will begin in 2012, with the YASC Africa Project in Cape Coast and Yamoransa, Ghana, July 27–Aug. 7, 2012.
YaleNews | Yale plus ONE: Alumni join forces to promote global service and advocacy

YASC Trip to Ghana

The Yale Alumni Service Corp has two great trips scheduled for 2012 – one is to Nicaragua and the other is to Ghana.

Here is the scoop on Ghana.

From July 28 through August 6 (then back to Accra) you, our volunteers, will be stationed in the town of Cape Coast where the University of Cape Coast has been working to help the local communities including Yamoransa to address the critical issues of poverty, health and education.

Yamoransa is a community of approximately 4,700 people situated on the main road that runs between Accra and Cape Coast. There are three schools and many children in the community. The main business of the community is the production of fante kenke, a typically Ghanaian food made of corn, primarily prepared by the women. For a variety of reasons and particularly because the women are the producers of fante kenke, there is a high drop-out rate of girls from the schools. In the early grades school there are slightly more girls than boys yet the drop-out rate for girls is so high that by 10th grade, 70% of the students are boys. There are no medical facilities in the community.

The Chief of Yamoransa in cooperation with the University has identified a number of projects that would provide meaningful assistance to the community. We are prepared to help them in many ways from medical services to education to micro-business consulting to needs assessment.

Click below for all of the details

Ghana 2012 - Main Page

YASC Trip to Nicaragua

Come join us this March 10th-17th, 2012 as we fly into the capital city of Managua then travel inland to the vibrant town of Matagalpa in the coffee growing district. From this base we will travel up gravel roads past fields of corn, beans and coffee into the rain forest to impoverished communities on the mountain side. El Castillo is the second village up the mountain road and while it is the site of this year's March program by YASC, we will also invite the people of the adjacent communities to join us. These small remote villages lack clean water, medical care and educational opportunities - we need to help change this! 
Act quickly, because space is running out.  For more information, click on the link below.
Nicaragua 2012 - Main Page

YASC Trip to Nicaragua

Come join us this March 10th-17th, 2012 as we fly into the capital city of Managua then travel inland to the vibrant town of Matagalpa in the coffee growing district. From this base we will travel up gravel roads past fields of corn, beans and coffee into the rain forest to impoverished communities on the mountain side. El Castillo is the second village up the mountain road and while it is the site of this year's March program by YASC, we will also invite the people of the adjacent communities to join us. These small remote villages lack clean water, medical care and educational opportunities - we need to help change this! 
Act quickly, because space is running out.  For more information, click on the link below.
Nicaragua 2012 - Main Page

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alternative Spring Break

Lot's of college students associate Spring Break with fun, vacations and perhaps a bit of hedonism.  That has been changing at colleges across the country, where Alternative Spring Break programs have encouraged service.  One of the great aspects of Yale Service Corps trips has been been the participation of current Yale students.  By tapping into the spirit of current Yalies, alumni get a great sense of what current students care about . . .  and we get a chance to share Yale's history of service with younger generations.

Click below to read about what some other colleges are doing for Alternative Spring Break, by clicking on the college links below:

University of Virginia  

University of Illinois

The University of Michigan


The University of Texas



Deloitte also sponsors an alternative spring break option through the United Way.

Have you heard about a program we should know about?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

See what we did in Mexico in 2010

Here is a glimpse of what we did in Mexico in 2010:

See what we did in Mexico in 2009

Here is a video that let's you know what the Yale Alumni Service Corps is all about. Check out our video about Mexico in 2009

2011 Newsletter

We have a terrific newsletter that let's you know all about our most recent trip to the Dominican Republic. Click here to read it.

What we did in the Dominican Republic in 2011

From March 12 - 19, 90 Yale alumni and family and friends of alumni traveled to the village of Las Charcas in the Dominican Republic with the Yale Alumni Service Corps. During one week we accomplished a lot! Here is a list of the trip highlights:

* 500 medical patients seen
* a concrete block & stucco house built in 3 days
* the walls of a second house built to 3 block courses
* English taught in the elementary school
* art lessons and 10 murals painted at the school
* music lessons and keyboard taught to the students
* dance lessons and performances for the community by the students
* computer lessons given to dozens of students
* spa facial lessons given with demonstrations using local products
* small business consulting for farmers and local businessmen
* presentations to San Juan university students on business principals
* soccer, basketball and baseball coaching
* over 500 homes visited to distribute information on cholera and dengue...

Join us on a trip in 2012. For trip updates, visit


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Yale Day of Service -- May 14, 2011

A reason to participate in this year's Yale Day of Service:

And, here's a little bit about what the Yale Day of Service accomplished last year:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Epilogue

Saturday, March 18

Early in the morning, Tyler and I got up to go to the airport.  We were to fly out at 8 to meet Lisa and the other kids in Puerto Rico for a quick beach vacation with the whole family.

As we went through customs in San Juan that morning, we were picked for screening by customs.  We were pulled aside and the customs officer started going through out bags. The clothes he saw did not look to him like resort clothes, so he asked us where we had been and what we had done in the Dominican Republic. We started by telling him that we had taught music at a school.

"In Santo Domingo?" he asked.   No, we said, Las Charcas, near San Juan de la Maguana.

Were you there alone? No, we were with a group. We explained the clinic, the house and the other educational projects

Was this a church group?  No, we said, a college group ... Students and alumni.

Which school?  Yale.

I didn't know schools like Yale would do such things. How many people went?  About 90, we said.

Did other people bring their kids, because your son is pretty young?  Yes, we said, other kids were there.

And, you said Yale did this?  That's right. 

He then grew quiet. He looked at me and Tyler.  His eyes began to water.  "I know San Juan de la Maguana," he said.  "Thank you for coming to the Caribbean to do this work.  Please keep doing it."

With that he zipped up our bags and told us we could go.


So, if  you've read the posts about the DR, you now have a glimpse from my point of view of what it was like.  What do you think?  Interested in participating in a trip like this?

-- Tim

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 7 and Day 8

Thursday, March 17

Today was going to be pretty different than all of the others.  We were going to split into groups to pass out information about cholera.  Cholera is a real problem in nearby Haiti and we had heard it had spread to part of the DR.  In fact, another Yale group -- called Yspaniola -- was working near us and one of their people came down with cholera and had to be sent to a hospital. 

It took a little while for the cholera campaign to get going.  When it did, we went in small groups to hand out literature about cholera, chlorinating water and the importance of washing hands.  Our package for every house included a bar of soap.

As we went door-to-door, most people were a little wary.  One woman, Austria, knew who we were (she worked in the clinic) and insisted that we come in.  She showed us her home, which was immaculate, and pictures of her kids.  My daughters have done well, she beamed.  One is married and lives in Spain.  The other is at the university. 

Then, she introduced us to her friend, who was there to get a facial.  You see, one of the women in our group taught to local women about skin care.  The idea was that they might be able to take these ideas and start a business.  Well, Austria was very excited about it, and started working on her friend right there.  You never know what might work.  This project sure did.

Juando and his burro were our guide during the cholera campaign
With the cholera campaign over, we took a bus ride through the countryside to see the other communities like Las Charcas.  The scene was familiar by then, but no less moving or sad. 

When our drive was complete, we spent some time at the pool and then had down time at our hotels.  Tyler and I decided to go to see the Cathedral in San Juan de la Maguana.  It is a beautiful building with a walk that let's you see the whole city from the top of its dome.

San Juan from atop the Cathedral

More views of San Juan de la Maguana

As we went through the Cathedral, Tyler spotted an apt sign that was posted on the alter.  "Pretty much sums up the week, doesn't it, Dad?" Tyler asked.  Yes, Tyler, it pretty much does:

"I have not come to be served, but to serve"

Our final night in San Juan was actually a night back in the school.  The main courtyard had been set up to be a party.  And, it was a great party.  WeiYin and Remy's dancers put on a great show.  A band played and everyone danced. (Las Novias were there, too.  That's a whole different story, though, and I have been sworn to secrecy.)

Yale's Bhangra team, who had been teaching dance, put on a display that is hard to explain.  I had never seen Bhangra before and had no idea what it was.  It is Indian-infused hip-hop dance, done in a group.  Think Bollywood on steroids.  The four Yalies performing it were great -- and how they kept smiles on their faces during their energetic dance, I do not know.  (I am still tired just thinking about it. )  I do know that the Las Charcas kids were gobsmacked.  They stood there with their mouths open wide as their conception of dance and what it could be was expanded on the spot.  

Once the party was over, we headed back to the hotel to pack.  As we did, we started to think about all that we had seen and all the people we had met.  Although we were excited to see our family again, we knew we would miss all of the people we had met.

Friday, March 18  

The next morning, at breakfast, Mark asked me what I had been thinking the night before.  I was torn, I said, because I did not know, as I said goodbye to our piano students with hugs and fist bumps, whether we were witnessing a beginning or an end.  Both, I hope.  An end to our trip, but a beginning of new possibility for the kids.  That's my hope, at least. 

Soon, we boarded buses and headed back to Santo Domingo.  On the way, we stopped at a beach near Azua that was spectacular.  Really amazing.  Remote, serene and totally peaceful.  It was relaxing and it felt to me as if we were divers decompressing. 

We then made it back to Santo Domingo, where we shared one last night together over dinner. This dinner was much fancier than any other before it.  We hugged, and said our goodbyes.  I was very sad to go.  I really liked these people.  We had done good work together and gotten to know each other pretty well in a short time.  It was a very special group, one I hope to see again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 6 ("Hay luz cuando hay luz")

Wednesday, March 16

Getting up in the morning was getting harder.  Our long days have been followed by full evenings.  Rousting the lad out of bed was becoming one of the hardest jobs of my day.  I finally succeeded in getting him going, so off to breakfast and then off to Las Charcas we went.

This morning was going to be good, we thought, because we were going to have the big piano.  And, we were going to have Darlene help us as a bit of a traffic cop.  There had been a few times the day before when things got a bit crazy . . . we had too many kids for two people to handle, particularly when the adult in the room lacked the Spanish skills to really keep everyone in line.  After some time, Darlene commented that she thought we sort of enjoyed the chaos that came about when we had more kids.  She was probably right, although we did get more done when she helped us keep order. 

We set the room up a little different, with the big keyboard off to one side.  We were going to get the kids all playing with two hands today.  We worked with them on the little keyboards and, when they were ready, took to them to the big keyboard.  It worked really well and the kids enjoyed showing their mastery on the big piano.  The big piano also let us teach them more about touch and tone -- because the keys were more sensitive, the strength with which you strike them dictates the loudness of the sound produced.  That was new for the kids, and they started experimenting with the sound.

There were a few piano highlights of the day.

First, toward the end of the morning, Tyler got on the big piano and started playing some merengue.  His novias were there, and they loved it.  They started teaching me to dance.  Then, they got one of their cell phones out and started playing a bachata tune they had downloaded.  Tyler became the subject of the dance lessons.  It was an impromptu party, with the kids dancing and laughing, teaching us how to dance.

Second, a couple of times during the day, Tyler played some classical music for the kids.  (The little keyboards weren't really suited for this.)  For one group, Tyler played Chopin's Revolutionary Etude.  About 10 kids walked out; they had absolutely no interest.  About 15 kids stayed to listen.  I couldn't tell if they were interested, or were just being polite.  About six kids stood awestruck, as Tyler's fingers flew around the keyboard.  Three little boys slowly crept up to Tyler as he played, transfixed by the music.  When they got right up next to him, they stopped and watched and listened.  This was not remotely like anything else they had ever heard.

Third, our friend, Lucy Pratt, joined us as a teacher.  Lucy is a nine year old from Denver.  She joined her parents and her brother on our trip.  On Monday, Lucy peeked into our room, to see what we were doing.  She picked a noisy time to check things out, and decided not to really venture into the room.  She was back on Tuesday, when she played some songs for some of the kids.  She didn't stay long, then, but she seemed to enjoy it.  On Wednesday, it was a whole new Lucy.  She came in and started teaching.  A nine year old stepping up to teach as she did was wonderful to see.  She seemed to enjoy it and the students really liked her.

Finally, we seemed to really connect with our boys in the afternoon.  They were our toughest group, partly because they goofed around, partly because some of them found it hard.  (I suspect the two were related.)  However, they kept coming back.  That afternoon, things seemed to fall into place for many of these guys.  The practice and persistence paid off, and they were able to proudly play for their gym teacher (who then got in a quick piano lesson when the boys weren't looking).

The one disappointment with the day is that we couldn't get electricity for the keyboard in the afternoon.  We had power in the morning, but couldn't find an outlet that worked after lunch.  I went to some of the teachers to see where I could plug the keyboard in.  "No hay luz," was their reply.  There was no light.  When will it come back?, I asked.  They tried to explain what I was already figuring out -- although some of the homes in the area and the school are wired for electricity, they don't usually have power and they don't really know when they will get it.  As their explanation went on, I was getting the picture.  One of the teachers asked me if I understood.  "Si," I replied, "hay luz cuando hay luz."  There is light when there is light.  Exactly, she responded, you are learning about the Dominican Republic.

In some ways, this simple phrase captured for me what the trip was about.  Hay luz cuando hay luz -- there are terrible infrastructure problems that hold this community back. Imagine what they could do with consistent, predictable power.  Hay luz cuando hay luz -- there are many moments of joy and happiness in this place which are not scheduled, so are savored all the more when they happen.  Hay luz cuando hay luz -- illumination in the form of help and mutual support come when it comes, and when it comes, it is welcomed and celebrated.

As our school day wound down, we packed up our keyboards a few minutes early and visited the other classrooms.  We saw one group teaching English.  We saw the remarkable murals that the Gould family had helped the children paint on the walls of the school.  We watched the dance instructors and art instructors do their stuff.  And, we watched the public health team give their briefing about cholera -- complete with a song they wrote about washing hands -- to the school children.  And we saw the map the kids had made of Las Charcas, with each child making a picture of their home and putting it proudly on the map.  The energy we had felt in our classroom could be felt in the whole school.  The education team had really put something neat together.

I was sad to leave the school that day.  We would be coming back for a celebration, but not to teach.  Tomorrow, we would be going door to door to pass out information about cholera prevention.  We had come so far in just a few days.  I wondered if the momentum would continue, whether we had made a lasting difference.  The pianos and books would stay.  So, I left hoping we had planted a seed.  And, I left knowing I would miss our students -- Willie, Yunior, Roseanna, Alesandra, Las Novias, Juando and all the others.  They are terrific kids.

As our days were never really slow, we left the school to go play baseball.  This turned out, oddly enough, to be another important moment for Tyler.

Our softball outing was on a dirt field with a stunning backdrop of mountains behind it.  We were going to have two teams, each with Yalies and local Dominicans.  (We could tell immediately that a Yale vs. DR game would not turn out well.)  Our team was coached by Coach Griggs, who had been the Yale soccer coach for years.

When it was our team's turn to bat, Coach Griggs had Tyler bat lead off.  This would be tough for Tyler, I knew.  Tyler has a long list of things at which he excels.  Baseball is not on the list.  His swing was tense and awkward.  He struck out and was obviously and understandably embarrassed.  This is when I really saw the spirit of our group.  First, Coach Griggs came over to Tyler -- who was in no mood to hear encouragement from his Dad -- and said a few words that seemed to help.  Then, a coach from the DR came over and patiently gave Tyler an informal batting lesson.  When it was our team's turn to go back in the field, Tyler and I sat out (we alternated in the field).  Patrick (our photojournalist) and ET (an itinerant biologist and adventurer) came over to speak to Tyler.  Each, in their own way, helped Tyler relax and even got a smile out of him.

Our softball field
The combination of Coach Griggs, the DR coach, Patrick and ET got Tyler going again.  When it was his turn to bat again, he had a much better swing.  He connected with the ball, and hit it well.  He didn't make it safely to first, but that was because he had hit it directly to a fielder.  The team's encouragement made a big difference.  Tyler's willingness to get back up in front of the group to bat again also showed me something.

Softball done, we headed back to what we expected to be a relaxed evening with little planned and a buffet dinner at the Hotel Libano.  At dinner, we were entertained by one of students on the trip, Daryl Rothman, a voice and psychology student who had performed with the New York City Opera.  She sang a solo she had performed for the Opera.  Her angelic (and huge) voice filled the room.  (I was pretty surprised to hear such a big, beautiful voice come out of such a petite young woman.)  Daryl had been in the school, so I had seen her working.  I had no idea she could sing like that.  Wow.

After dinner, I was speaking with Daryl's parents and we discussed music.  Andy, Daryl's father, mentioned that one of his favorite classical music pieces was Chopin's Revolutionary Etude and he told a story about when he first heard it as a freshman at Yale.  Funny you should say that, I said, Tyler played that very piece for the kids this morning.  Would he play it for us?  Andy asked.  I don't know, I said, let's ask him.  Tyler was kind enough to play for everyone -- with a Beethoven encore to boot.  The conditions weren't perfect -- the keyboard sat on a rickety plastic table, so I had to try to hold it still.  Tyler played well and, as Daryl had before him, filled our space with music.  Then, one of the other trip members got a guitar out and started playing, too.  An impromptu music night unfolded, completely unscheduled, which helped people really enjoy each other's company in a very warm environment.  The music and singing gave light to our evening and was a nice, classical coda to the week's piano lessons  Hay luz cuando hay luz, indeed.

As the night drew to a close, we headed back to our hotel with Coach Griggs. "Tyler," he said, "you really showed me something today. Your piano playing was great, but that's not what I am talking about. You got back up to the plate at softball after that first at bat didn't go so well. You hung in there. A big part of life is just giving things a try and sticking with them. You did that today. That was terrific." Coach Griggs went on to explain this a little bit more, and Tyler listened carefully to what he said.  I thought Coach Griggs was absolutely right, and I was glad he had said it.

As I think back on the trip, that softball game - and the support Tyler got from everyone from our group and from the Las Charcas players during it - exemplified the spirit of this trip. Mutual support, fun, trying new and difficult things, not knowing if they would work. The softball game, and the walk back to the hotel with Coach Griggs, was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.  That night, I realized that Tyler and I were getting much more out of this trip than we had asked or hoped for.

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 5 ("Las Novias")

Tuesday, March 15

Today, we were set to build on our success from the day before.  We started, as always, with breakfast at the Hotel Libano.  Part of the morning routine was for Mark Dollhopf to give a quick talk and then to get reports from various projects.  Mark called on Tyler and me to speak to the group about our piano project.  I think Tyler was a little surprised to be asked to speak.

After we gave a few minute description of our day, it was on to announcements from Connie, the group leader.  A word about Connie and the Yale Alumni Service Corp folks who put this together: Connie and her team are volunteer team leaders.  I have no idea how many hours they put in planning, but it was certainly a lot.  They had 90 people to coordinate, house and feed, supplies to requisition, and projects to oversee.  My guess, knowing that this was a crowd of Yalies, is that they received lots of advice, only some of it solicited, along the way.  They lead us with organization, good cheer and a resolve to get the job done.  They all deserve our thanks.

With the morning over, we were back to Las Charcas to teach some music.  The morning went as it had the day before . . . except with many, many more children.  We even had one of the teachers come in for lessons.  (By the end of the week, a few of the teachers came by to learn a song on the piano, which amused the kids.) 

Daryl in action
We made more and more progress with our students, teaching some basic musical notations.  This morning, we got some help from one of the other volunteers, Daryl, which helped us make a big leap.  (Daryl, you see, had actually taught piano before and speaks Spanish much better than I do.  She was a huge help.) 

We numbered their fingers (the thumb was 1, the index finger was 2 and so on) and gave them handwritten strips of paper with sequences of numbers to signify which notes to play.  (Hot Cross Buns was 432, 432, 22, 33, 432 with the right hand when played on a collection of three black keys.)  This worked well and became the basis for the progress we made over the next few days.  Some kids really took to it.  Others struggled at first.  But, it allowed us to introduce the idea of musical notes because the piano books that we had -- they finally got out of customs -- used the same basic system.

Teddy and Tyler working together
We also got some help from Kathy Edersheim's son, Teddy.  Teddy didn't know how to play piano and he didn't speak much Spanish.  He was game for trying, though.  Tyler gave him a few minutes of lessons and he dove right in.  I was really impressed with Teddy's willingness to give something so new to him a try.  In keeping with the "can do" spirit that started with Connie, the education team leader, Darlene, and the Cambiando Vidas team, though, Teddy became a piano teacher right on the spot.

One of the highlights of the day is that the big piano and our books finally made it out of customs.  (Ironically, we did not have to pay a dime in additional customs.  All that was required was a personal explanation that the piano was used and would not be resold in the DR.)  Late in the afternoon, Jose showed up with our box.  We unpacked the box and made sure the piano was working (it was) and got the Spanish language piano books out.  We learned later that evening that some of the words we had been using to describe musical concepts weren't quite right . . . we would have to fix that in the morning. 

The piano teachers in their classroom
The other highlight of the day was that we started to see that Tyler had gained a bit of a following among the local girls. I called this group Tyler's Novias. Patrick started calling Tyler the Dominican Justin Beiber. I will leave things there.  You will have to ask Tyler directly about the rest of the story.  I will say, though, that this part of our experience proved that some things are truly universal.

Las Novias
When the school day was done, we headed off with the group for a swim at a local pool, which was dubbed the San Juan de la Maguana Country Club.  Nice and clean, it was a welcome respite from the very hot days of work. 
In some ways, this was very much like any local swim club.  There was a pool, a snack bar and a place to relax.  In some respects, though, it was very different.  For one thing, one of the central features of the place was a dance floor.  Dancing, you see, is a big part of DR culture. We don't see that so much in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Second, there were some very interesting rules.  You could not run (just like the US), and you could not bring glass near the pool (sensible).  My favorite rule, though, was that members and their guests could not dance in their bathing suits.  There was a sign that prohibited such behavior.  I am not sure why dancing in one's bathing suit would be offensive, but it was a clear rule.  Have you ever seen such a rule in an American country club?  Probably not.  The rule spoke volumes about the difference in culture -- the Dominicans seem to have a lot more fun!

Plaza Caonabo
Later that evening, we were treated to an outdoor dinner at Plaza Caonabo, a public square and sculpture garden that welcome visitors to San Juan de la Maguana.  Our dinner was hosted by Mayor Sanchez, who was the architect who designed the square prior to her election to office.  The first part of the square, where we ate dinner, had a huge obelisk, which had the points of the compass emanating from its peak.  Across the street was an elaborate fountain, decorated with over 5 million hand-laid tiles, depicting the entire island of Hispaniola and featuring a huge statue of a Native Dominican who had been shackled by the Spanish but whose chains had been broken.  Mayor Sanchez told us more about the history of San Juan de la Maguana and then introduced dancers and Carnaval performers who gave us another taste of local culture.

With dinner over, we headed back to our hotel for a relatively early night of rest.  It had been another really good day.

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 4 ("Let's Go With Plan E")

Monday, March 14

Thankful that we had called it an early night, Tyler and I woke up ready to finally meet our students.  Still a little unclear about precisely how many students we would see at a time, we thought we had a good plan in place.  We headed over to the Hotel Libano, ready to have some breakfast, pick up the keyboards and to head to Las Charcas to teach.

When we arrived at the school, we went to set up the keyboards in La Biblioteca, which had rows of neatly arranged desks.  We would sit on one side, facing the students, and we would lay out the keyboards so that the students would have some space to themselves.  The plan was that we would show them some of the basics of the keyboard -- you hit the keys, you get sounds.  You play the keys on the right, they make one tone. You hit the keys on the left, you get a lower tone.  Then, we thought we would ask the kids to sing a song they knew -- a simple song they all would know -- and then we could teach that to them.  With that as a basis, we could then start working with the piano books.  We were thinking that we would teach 5 or 6 kids at a time, with each group getting 30 to 45 minutes.  After the kids were done with the keyboard, they would then head over to computers, or dancing, or art, and switch with the kids there. 

We arrived at the school at around 8:30 or so.  It took us a few minutes to get set up.  We reviewed the lesson again.  Then, nothing happened.  No one came in. So, we found a teacher.  She asked us how many kids we would want -- 5 or 6, we said.  A few minutes later, she brought a group of girls in.  They were bright and inquisitive, and some of them had pads of paper out to take notes.  They sat down and Tyler started to teach.

The first few minutes went fine, although I wasn't so sure that Tyler's explanations were making much sense to the students.  (His Spanish was very good, but the students had little frame of reference for what he was talking about.  They had never been able to touch a keyboard before.)  Then, we asked them to sing.  No, thanks, they replied.  You teach us a song.  They then sat politely, and silently, staring at us.  (Unfortunately, our Spanish language piano books were in customs, so we only had American kid's songs to offer.)  You could almost hear Plan A and Plan B fly out the window.  Plan C and Plan D didn't even make it off the ground, so they had to scurry out the door.  Not good.

Tyler turned to me and said, in English, "I am not sure what to do next."  I paused -- this was a big moment and I had to come up with something.  Unfortunately, I don't play a lick of piano.  Tyler is the musician, not me.  "Well," I said, in English trying to sound confident, so as not to confirm to the students that I didn't have much of a clue, "Why don't you teach them some notes?"  Tyler gave me a look that they must teach in teenager school.  Although he was polite enough not to say it, both he and our students knew what he meant:  "Dad, really?  You don't have anything better than that?" 

With that, Tyler turned to the students and took over, inventing Plan E right there on the spot.  He went to the start of the book and decided to teach them a song, starting with the immortal classic, Hot Crossed Buns.  It turns out that the girls knew a Dominican children's song with the same tune ("Mariposa, donde esta?").  Tyler went from student to student, teaching the beginning three notes.  He then did then next three and then had them string six together.  Then three more notes, and a string of the nine notes together.  We then started going up and down the line teaching the song.  Within 30 minutes or so, most had the basics of the song down.  Those who didn't were getting more help from me.  Tyler was moving faster with the kids who were picking things up faster.  We then moved on to Mary Had a Little Lamb.  When we hit the 60 minute mark, I told the girls that they didn't need to stay, if they wanted to try something else.  They wanted to stay, they explained.  And, by the way, some of us want to learn what those notes are on that page. 

I could share story after story about what happened the rest of that morning.  It was magical.  Tyler was teaching kids, I was struggling to keep up (and struggling with my Spanish, although Tyler helped me there, too), and the students were enjoying themselves.  A few times, when I hit my limit of what I could do next, I would ask Tyler for guidance.  He patiently gave it.  As the morning went on, the group grew.  Some kids left, more came in.  The structure we had assumed we would have (and an American might expect in a school) never materialized.  Thank goodness.  The informal approach worked for the kids, and it was working for us.  One girl stayed in our classroom for three hours, mastering five songs and beginning to understand basic musical notation . . . and this was before lunch.  We didn't think we could get that far in the few days we had, let along right away.  (It turns out that this particular student had an advantage over some of the others . . . she had touched a piano before -- once.)

As more and more kids came in, you could feel the energy building in the room.  And, the noise.  During our second hour, some of the kids figured out that the keyboards were also synthesizers that played songs, made sound effects and had percussion keys.  By the end of our stay, the kids had mastered these features and sometimes the room sounded more like a Star Wars set than a music classroom.  This turned out to be part of the fun, though, and it gave some of the kids who were determined to learn despite struggling, cover to try things in front of their friends without being embarrassed. 

By the time we hit lunch, Tyler and I were pretty excited.  Patrick, part of our group's coterie of Canadians kind enough to befriend Yalies and our resident photojournalist, stored his camera equipment in our room.  So, he was around during that first crazy morning.  Patrick, it turns out, is a musician, too.  Towards the end of the morning, he gave Tyler some words of encouragement that had us really pumped up to see what else we could get done during the week. 

That first morning was, I have to say, pretty fun to watch.  As we left for lunch, I tapped out a quick blackberry message to Lisa:  "Just finished the morning. Tyler did really well. Really well. I will give you details later. We struggled at first and then Tyler really clicked. I am very proud of him."

Progress on the house . . .
With that, we were off to lunch, where we got to see how much progress the building team had made.  Where an outline of a building had stood the first day, now there were walls!  It was great to see.

After lunch, we returned to school, with a whole different crew of kids.  The afternoon, it turned out, saw a much bigger group of boys.  It was louder and bit less organized.  (Nine-year-old Lucy Pratt, one of the kids on our trip, stuck her head into our room at one point to see what all the commotion was.  It was so boisterous, she decided not to join us.)  The students in the afternoon also seemed to have a bit more trouble mastering the patterns we were teaching.  They were getting it, though, slowly but surely.  And, the word had spread about the keyboards . . . we were getting kids who were not in the afternoon session of the school coming by to join our lessons. 

As the day wound down, and I could see that we were making little progress, we called it quits.  At the end of the day, I was not sure how many kids had come by.  Some had dropped by for 10 minutes and some for a few hours.  If I had to guess, I would say 40 or 50 kids stopped by our classroom that first day. 

Because our gua gua (what they called the buses we used, because of the sound they make -- say "gua gua gua gua gua gua" really quickly and you will get one of our sounds of the DR) wasn't there, Tyler went to the neighboring class room, where he taught a game that I don't even begin to understand.  Somehow, he taught the game to the kids in Spanish.  There was laughter punctuated by really loud laughter, as the kids ran around the room and out into the adjacent courtyard as part of the game.  I was sad to see the fun stop, as we had to get onto our gua gua.  It had been a great day, and it was only 3:00.

A Cambiando Vidas Home
Our hosts for coffee and cake
Even though our teaching was done, our day was not. This particular afternoon, groups of 20 or so visited with families that were living in homes built with the help of Cambiando Vidas. We visited a family whose house was built with Deerfield Academy volunteers last year. They offered us coffee and cake (which was really good). During our visit, some of the girls who lived their and their cousins (including some of our piano students) took us to the tamarind tree in their back yard. I had never had tamarind, and really enjoyed it.

Later, Tyler and I hung out with Andres, the painter helping paint the mural at the school with the Gould family and the students. Andres told us about the mountains and the local area and he discussed music with Tyler. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

With coffee and cake done, we headed off to our hotels to clean up. Our next stop was an audience with the mayor ... I was not sure what to expect.

We arrived at town hall at the appointed time, only to find out that we were an hour early. As Tyler and I lingered, wondering what to do, the mayor walked up to us, and introduced us to her daughter. It turns out that time is somewhat flexible in the DR, so we rolled with it.

Ultimately, Mayor Sanchez welcomed us into town hall, where she explained the significance of the murals on the wall and gave us a brief history of the San Juan de la Maguana area. After our town hall tour was done, the mayor welcomed us into a grand meeting room, where we were treated to a stage show.

City Hall of San Juan de la Maguana

The first part of the show included a slide show, set to music with a live singer who sang a song extolling the virtues of San Juan de la Maguana. The pictures were beautiful and captured well the pageantry of the local mountains. The next part of the show was a play, punctuated by dancing and music.  The storyline lost me a bit, and I had not had an explanation of the historical allusions.  The dancing and the music was great, though.

With the night's entertainment done, we headed to the Hotel Libano for dinner and dancing. (These are long days.). Instructors taught us merengue and bachata, the two most popular kinds of dance in the DR. Despite the fact that some in our group were rhythm challenged, we had a lot fun trying to learn the local dances. (The younger folks in our group, I am told, spent many/most of the later parts of the evenings during the week practicing their dance moves. Tyler and I, unfortunately, never made it to any of the late night dance clubs, although Tyler did make it to the dance floor a few times.).  Here is a video of our group dance lesson:

Once the music ended, Tyler and I made our way back to the Hotel Maguana to do our nightly wrestling with our keys and to get some sleep. It had been a very good day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Yale Service Trip to the DR -- Day 3 ("La Carnaval de la Barriga Verde")

Sunday, March 13, 2011

After a long wind up, we were finally ready for the pitch. Breakfast, a pep talk, and off to Las Charcas. We were about to start our work.

Getting up was a little tough at first because the carnaval music had gone late into the night. We quickly shook off our fatigue during our walk over to the Libano for breakfast. The morning scene at the Libano became a familiar one: tables set up in the rooftop room with a buffet of food. The breakfasts were eggs, fruit and other assorted additions. And, there was coffee. Not enough the first morning, but plenty every day after that. The strong, sweet DR coffee was a culinary highlight for me.

That first morning Mark Dollhopf gave us a pep talk and Jose asked us how we were doing. Jose's question "How are you doing?" became a bit of a running joke, actually, as he demanded ever-increasing amounts of enthusiasm in response. Through the week, there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

That morning, Tyler and I were going to ride with everyone to the school. We would get the lay of the land, sort some books our group had brought with us and then return to the Libano to put together the battery-powered keyboards. Although I was eager to get going, I was happy to ease in a bit.

Before we got to the school, the entire group visited the home work site for a group picture in the shell of the house the construction team would be building.  The building didn't look like much when we got there, but we could make out its rough outline.  I came to learn later how much prep work it took to get the house to its starting position, and how much work it took to get the house built from her to the finish in just a few days.  It is really very impressive to see the work get done -- through a coordinated effort between our volunteer group and volunteers from the community.

The "Before" Group Picture with the whole YASC Team!  (Tyler and I are in the back bedroom on the right.)
 With our picture taken, we were off to the school  When we arrived at the school, there were a bunch of kids waiting for us. They were enthusiastic and very curious.  We were enthusiastic and a little nervous.  

The education team meets the Las Charcas kids for the first time!

Our first task was to sort the books people had brought. Tyler and I brought five books, but others brought dozens. I don't know how many books we brought, but it had to be hundreds. All sorts of books were there, most in Spanish but some were bilingual. We saw Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss books, Donde Viven Los Monstruos
(Where the Wild Things Are), and scores of others . . . . pretty much the modern American children's cannon made it to Las Charcas. The teachers were speechless, as they started going through them.

Once the sorting was done, Tyler and I headed back to get the keyboards set up. We were joined by the computer group, who were setting up the laptops they would use all week.

As we rode back to San Juan, I got my first clear view of the moutains that bracket the valley we were working in. Capped by Pico Duarte,the Caribbean's highest peak, the range to the East of us, along with its foothills, is a verdant and beautiful range. Rising more precipitously from the valley floor than Vermont's Green Mountains, with a green/brown hue similar to Southern California's rolling hills, these mountains provided an incongruously pretty back drop to the poverty we found in Las Charcas.


As we drove back, I could not help but think of my brother, Luke, who split his time between the Tetons in Wyoming and the mountains of Vermont. Life was too short, he reasoned, to live anywhere but in a beautiful place. The last time we spoke, I was struggling with some issue at work that was taking my time away from Tyler and his little sister (we only had two kids, then).  I asked him what he thought I should do. "I can' tell you what to do," he said, "but I can tell you this: this ain't no dress rehearsal."  With that we said what turned out to be our final goodbye.

I thought about Luke and his advice riding back to get the keyboards ready. No, life is no dress rehearsal, and that was really why I was in the DR. I had brought Tyler here to help shape his life, to show him possibilities, to show him how much he has and how much he can give others.  As much as I wanted to help the children we would meet, I was here to show Tyler, and myself, something, and to have a week of uninterrupted time with Tyler. 

As we put together the pianos, we further refined our plans for class and then we were off to return to the group for lunch and our final planning session in the school.

Lunch that day was pretty much as it was every day thereafter -- a buffet of rice of one sort or another, chicken and a side of beans.  One day, we also had a delicious eggplant dish.

After lunch, we went back to the school to set up.  I brought one of the keyboards with me, in the hope that Tyler might be able to work with a few of the kids I figured we would find there.  Tyler was apprehensive, though, as the kids' enthusiasm took a bit of getting used to.  The other thing that was new was the concept of personal space . . . there wasn't much of one.  The DR is no place for someone who is not comfortable with overt displays of affection and with people reaching out (quite literally) to make a personal connection.  Within a day, we were used to the close proximity of everyone, and the displays of affection, the boisterous conversations and high energy became a very welcome norm.

Getting to know the school in Las Charcas!

During our afternoon, as Tyler and I were getting used to our new surroundings, we stopped to watch two of the dance instructors -- Remy Shaber and Wei Yin -- jump right in and start working with some of the kids they had just met.  Their calm, confidence and warmth was impressive.  They are both veterans of previous YASC trips and I ended up looking to them throughout the week as role models of how to connect and teach.  It was a pleasure to watch as they started with the macarena, which quickly took on a distinctly Dominican feel as they worked with the students.  That extemporaneous interaction on the first day morphed later into a show on the last night, with the school girls taking the macarena as a base for their own dance that they performed for our group and the whole town.

With our afternoon done, we had to head back to get ready to attend the Sunday Carnaval de la Berriga Verde parade.  (A Berriga Verde is a green belly.  I still don't quite get why San Juaneros are called green bellies.)  As we got ready, Tyler remarked about how much he liked meeting all of the YASC volunteers who were with us.  "They are all really interesting," he said.  "I think I am going to learn a lot just by working near them."  He turned out to be dead on with this observation.

With a few minutes of rest, we were off to the Carnaval, seated in a VIP section right on the parade route.  There we were, 90 some odd Yalies with our YASC shirts on sitting together in a review stand.  Soon, it became clear that we were on national TV and that our presence was being touted as part of the "pre-game" show for the Carnaval Parade.  It was there that we got our first taste of what the San Juan de la Maguana Mayor, Hanoi Sanchez, was like.  A charismatic and high-energy woman, Mayor Sanchez is the first woman to be elected mayor of San Juan and the first San Juan mayor to be re-elected.  Throughout our stay, she and those working with her made every effort to teach us about San Juan de la Maguana and their desire to partner with Yale in the future. 

Once the parade started, we got to see a side of the local heritage that was quite unique.  Deeply steeped in an iconography that I still don't quite understand, the parade was replete with devils, farmers, and lots and lots of dancing.  There were repeated references, we later learned, to local history in these images.  My pictures do not do justice to the pageantry of La Carnaval de la Barriga Verde, so I have borrowed some below from our group's photojournalist extraordinaire, Paedric O'Sullivan . My personal favorite group were the Abogados del Diablo (The Devil's Lawyers). 

Once the parade wrapped up, the group headed out to dinner.  Tyler and I were wiped out by then, as were most of the other families with kids.  We ended up calling it an early evening and heading back to the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, we got our key at the front desk and headed to our room.  Our key was actually a key chain with three keys, each of them different.  (The only similarity they had was that they were all emblazoned with the word "Yale" on them.)  This was odd because there was only one lock.  Each night we ended up going through our ritual of figuring out which key would work  We figure out which one it was pretty quickly, but it turned out that for some reason we also had to try the other ones first to get the final key to work.  Through trial and error, we finally figured out how to use our mismatched keys to get through our  door.  This turned out to be an apt metaphor for the entire week. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 2 ("La Duana")

Saturday, March 12

Tyler is a typical teenager and he likes to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  A lot.  Our plan was for him to sleep in late on our first day in the DR because the rest of our week was going to consist of early mornings and long days.  Unfortunately for Tyler, though, our little piano snafu at customs made sleeping in a luxury he would not be afforded.

Early that morning, I called Jose from Cambiando Vidas, and we agreed to meet at 10.  Jose would take me out to the airport and help Tyler and me with getting our piano (and most of the piano books) out of the customs office.  When we met up with Jose, we also met one of colleagues, Rebecca, who joined us on our trip to customs.

During our trip to the airport, we got to know each other, and Rebecca and Jose coordinated on logistics.  Their biggest task of the day was getting our group of almost 100 people from Santo Domingo to San Juan de la Maguana, all the while factoring in flight delays, personal requests, and the like.  I am sure that they needed our little customs excursion like a hole in the head.  Despite the obvious inconvenience of the task, they did not seem phased.  Instead, they brought a flexibility of thought to the task that I found refreshing.  They seemed to know that the week would be filled with unexpected road blocks and that part of our team's missions was to find ways around them.

Our foray into Dominican customs is probably worth a whole post all to itself, so I will spare you the details.  Our hour or so there included negotiations with FedEx and finally a meeting with a senior customs official.  It seemed that the problem with the piano was that its declared value did not match the customs officer's view of the piano's value.  Even though it was six years old, it had been well maintained and appeared new.  That was the problem.  During our meeting, Jose and Rebecca politely advocated on our behalf, with Rebecca helping translate everything for us.  My Spanish was good enough for me to realize that we were not going to get the piano until Monday.  As Jose explained when we left, in the Dominican Republic many things are done through personal interaction.  If the customs officials get a respectful and reasonable explanation, he went on, everything would be fine and we would get the piano and the books on Monday night or sometime Tuesday.

Although we were disappointed, neither Jose nor Rebecca let that disappointment turn into negativity.  We would simply have to alter our plan to get the job done.  Everything would still turn out well; we would just need to take a different path to our goal.

With that lesson learned, we headed over the nearby airport to await the other trip participants.  For the next couple of hours, we hung out at a pizza place inside the airport, as our group grew from a few of us to about 80 of us.  By 2:00, we were ready to board buses to head off to San Juan.

On the bus, we sat near Chris, a Yalie who now works with Cambiando Vidas.  He had the same type of relaxed, good-natured demeanor as Jose, Rebecca and the other CV people we met, Judy and Charlie.  Chris regaled us with tales of past trips, explanations of how he got involved with CV and what we could expect when we got to San Juan.

By the time we were an hour into our drive to San Juan, my conversation with Chris and my earlier interaction with Jose and Rebecca, made me realize something important about CV.  Although these people were very nice, and were flexible and relaxed in their approach to our group, they were not casual about our project.  Quite the opposite.  They shared a focus and a determination that exhibited itself throughout the trip.  They have an approach to development that they have thought a lot about -- and they stressed over and over that they are not a charity passing things out; they are helping the community build through collaboration and community participation.  They also have a very firm idea, obviously informed by years of experience and deep cultural understanding, of what will work and what will not.  Within that framework, they allowed us to  bring our own experiences and ideas to our work.  But, it was clear to me on the first day that they would not allow the group to veer off track or to do things, however well intentioned, that would detract from CV's mission or the mission of the Yale Alumni Service Corps.  They have a fierce love of and loyalty to the people we were there to serve that became more and more apparent during our stay.

CV has a great video that will give you an idea of what our initial trip to San Juan was like and what CV is all about:

During our drive to San Juan, we stopped by a beautiful, black sand beach for a late lunch.  This was a chance for everyone to meet other program participants and to relax a little after what was for some many hours of travel.  This was one of our first glimpses of the stunning physical beauty of the DR.

With lunch done, we got on the bus and made our way to San Juan de la Maguana.  We rallied at the Hotel Libano, where we had a dinner, an orientation and we got to meet the family for whom our group was going to build a home.

The family, a father and mother, their daughter and her husband and daughter, were really friendly.  When Tyler and I went to their table to introduce ourselves, the grandfather thanked us for coming down to help the community.  He then told us, with a mischievous smile, that we better get to bed soon, as we had to get up early the next morning to start work with him on the family's new house.  They were all very excited at the prospect of building with us their new home.

As the night wound down, everyone got their room assignments.  There would be two hotels, we had been told, as our group was simply too big to all stay in one.  As names were called, people learned which hotel would be their home for the week.  We were in the group who stayed at the Hotel Maguana, which was a few blocks from the Hotel Libano, located right off of the main square in town.

The Hotel Maguana, we learned, was indeed centrally located.  For the first two nights, the square was packed with Carnaval revelers (more on that later), so it was very festive (and loud) those first two nights.  Our room was big and clean . . . and it had its own hot water tank, which was very nice.  It was not the Ritz, but bother Tyler and I had big comfortable beds, which made us happy.

Once we settled into our room, we spent a little more time going over our piano teaching game plan.  We would have six, battery-powered keyboards but not the bigger, electronic keyboard we had planned to use (at least for the first few days).  And, our Spanish-language piano books were also still in customs.  So, we threw out Plan A, and went to Plan B.  We honed it and would map out the specifics of Plan B the next morning when we visited the school.

Still a little nervous that Plan B might not work, we went to sleep.  I drifted off to the vibrant music of Carnaval thumping in the nearby square.  The music gave me confidence that whatever we might do, the piano project would probably work.  After all, music is a huge part of life in the DR and on our way to the hotel, we saw two boys, probably around 6 or so, dancing down the street.  With that much music in the air, we would probably be able to get our project off the ground.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 1 ("The Journey to the DR")

Friday, March 11

The big day is finally here.  Tyler finished his exams a few days ago, and found out his grades just before I picked him up from school.  I finished my last conference call in the morning, so off we went to the airport.

Our JetBlue flight left JFK airport pretty much on time.  Every seat was filled and Tyler and I almost immediately noticed that this was not like any other flight we had ever been on.  It was like a huge party, with the passengers excited about their trips.  Although there were clearly some Americans heading for the beach, most of the passengers were speaking Spanish and seemed like they were heading home.  The crowd was speaking rapid-fire Spanish and the rat-a-tat-tat of their conversations infused the flight with an energy we felt the whole week.

When we finally landed in Santo Domingo, we met up with some of our fellow Yalies, and shared a ride with them downtown.  Although some of our group was flying in on Friday, most were coming in Saturday.

When we arrived downtown in Santo Domingo, we learned that the big, electric keyboard we had sent down was held up in customs.  Even though it was used, the customs officers were valuing it as if it were new.  We would have to go to the FedEx office the next morning to get it out of customs.  We were disappointed, but felt we had a plan to rescue it in time to get on the 2:00 bus to San Juan de la Maguana with the rest of the group.

Jose from Cambiando Vidas heard about our problem and offered to help.  "Call me tomorrow," he said, "and I will take you to the airport to get the keyboard."  Jose had an air of calm and confidence, so I didn't think we had anything to worry about.

With the customs plan set, Tyler and I went to our hotel and got a quiet dinner.  We went over the plan for teaching the piano again and called it an early night, very excited and a bit nervous for the week that laid ahead of us.

The Yale Alumni Service Trip

What made us decide to go to the DR in the first place?

It all started at the AYA Assembly last fall, where the work of some of the leaders among Yale alumni was highlighted.  During these presentations, Mark Dollhopf showed a video of the Yale Alumni Service Corp's work in Monterrey, Mexico last year. 

As Lisa and I watched the video, we both remarked that a trip like that would be great for our oldest son, Tyler, who has taken a few years of Spanish and has a desire to see the world.A little while later, we received an e-mail announcing the trip.  We went to the trip website, checked it out, and started to figure out if we could make it work. 

I was, I admit, a little apprehensive at first.  Would this be too much for me and Tyler to handle?  What could a 14 year old do on such a trip?  Armed with these questions, I called Joao Aleixo, who works in Yale's Office of International Affairs and who was kind enough to support the trip to the DR.  Joao was very knowledgeable and very helpful, explaining to me what to expect, what the accommodations would be like, and what kinds of projects we might work on.  Joao didn't sugar coat things, which I later appreciated, and made clear what the challenges would be.  He also explained the physical beauty of the area we would be visiting and the warm, welcoming nature of the people we would be meeting.  Armed with the information on the website and Joao's background, Tyler and I decided to sign up.

When we signed up, we offered to teach English or, if we could figure it out, piano.  (Tyler was willing to donate one of his electric keyboards to the cause.)  Over the course of January and February, we had a few conference calls with the education team to figure things out.  Our team leader, Darlene Cimino-DeRose, helped us figure out how we would pull off a piano program and suggested (thank goodness) to bring down small, portable, and battery-operated practice key boards, so we could teach more than one child at a time.  Over the next couple of weeks, we looked for Spanish-language piano books, and order some through Amazon.  So, piano teaching it would be!

Once we had the books and hardware in place, we started to think about how we would teach a group of kids.  We settled on a plan to teach four to six kids at a time.  Tyler worked with his piano teacher to sketch out what these sorts of lessons would look like.  Tyler then spent time figuring out the vocabulary he would need to use to teach the lessons he had planned and then he spent some time teaching me the basic piano skills I would need to teach.  By the time of our departure, we had our plan in place (or so we thought). 

Importantly, during our conference calls, Darlene, and Chris Goodrich, a Cambiando Vidas person who also happens to be a Yale alum, stressed flexibility.  "Go with Plan A, be prepared to try a Plan B, and you should even have a Plan C in mind," they told us.  "It could very well be that, within a day or two, you hit on a Plan E or F that actually works."  Being a confident sort of guy, who believed in the plan we had developed, I was confident that we might need a Plan B, but certainly a Plan C, D or E would not be necessary.  Boy, was I wrong!

Another thing we did to prepare for the trip was to check the CDC website and visit our doctors.  Would there be a risk of malaria?  (Yes)  Was there a risk of cholera?  (Probably not, but cholera could come over the boarder from Haiti.)  Should we bring anything special to wear?  (Yes, as it turns out that there is bug-resistant clothing.  And, the cultural norm in the DR is for men to wear only pants.   Despite the heat, shorts simply aren't what a man wears.) 

The other preparation I did for the trip was to read the novel that was suggested to us -- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Some might think it odd that they would suggest fiction to prepare us for a trip like this.  As a literature major, I thought it was perfect.  After reading the book, I thought the suggestion was inspired, because it offered an insight in the psyche of the Dominican people, into the reason why the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo still echoes through that nation's consciousness decades after his death, and into the kinship the Dominican people feel toward each other.  If you haven't read it, do.  The writing is gripping.  The story is compelling, if sad.  There is a reason that this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

So with that preparation, we were off to the Dominican Republic.

Tune in later for the post about our trip to the DR!