Monday, March 28, 2011

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.

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