Today was my first full day being nineteen (yesterday was my birthday) and my second full day in the Dominican Republic! Our day began early (at least by college student standards), with everyone meeting for breakfast at 7:40 am. The breakfast, omelets prepared by the hotel café, was delicious as always.
After breakfast, we headed over to Barrio Blanco to continue the work we had started yesterday. We split into two groups: the classroom group and the painting group. I was in the classroom group. We went to the school to assist with the Estrellas Jóvenes (Young Stars) program, in which older children were learning about the planets. We split into six groups, each of which read a book together about one of the planets in the solar system. After reading the book, we asked the children some comprehension questions and then made a papier maché planet using a balloon. The kids (and us) got quite messy during the activity, so after putting our planets on the roof to dry, we washed our hands. Then we each took a sheet of paper, on which we drew a picture of our planet and wrote a fact that we had learned about it. The kids got pretty creative with their drawings; one of mine included aliens with guns on his picture of Mars.
The kids then left, and we worked on organizing the school’s supply closet. There was a big jumble of Play-Doh, paint, chalk, and more, so organizing the closet took quite a long time. By the time we were finished, a woman from the community had arrived to with food for us. The painting team came into the school from outside and we all ate together.
After lunch, we and the woman from the community cleaned the school together, with us sweeping the floors and her mopping. When we were finished, the children had already started to arrive for the Montessori pre-school program. They were absolutely adorable. We all sat in a circle while the teacher sang dozens of songs about the months, days of the week, parts of the body, and other things. The children all knew the songs by heart, and actually requested certain ones. We then split into groups, and we helped the children make flowers using plastic straws and paper cut-outs of their hands. When we had finished the activity, we returned to the circle.
At that moment, I felt a little girl somersault into my lap. She insisted on remaining there, taking off my glasses and trying to put them on herself even though they were much too big. When the teacher told her to go find an activity to do, she didn’t move. I asked if she wanted to do an activity, and she said she wanted to go with me. I got up with her and she picked out a little shoe-shine kit. There was no shoe polish, but I helped her put on the little green apron from the kit. She then happily brushed away at the shoe for probably ten minutes using the two brushes in the kit.
When she was satisfied that her imaginary shining of the shoe was complete, the girl took the brush and moved it up to my head. I sat in shock as she ran the shoe shine brush through my hair over and over, repeating, “I’m brushing her hair. She looks pretty,” as if it were some sort of chant. Whenever anyone walked by, she would point proudly at me and exclaim “Look how pretty she is!” even if the passerby didn’t happen to speak Spanish.
I suppose that I should have been a little upset that she was brushing my hair with a brush that had just been touching the bottom of a shoe (and let’s be honest, who knows what else), but it honestly didn’t bother me in the slightest. As the little girl rain the brush in the same stroke over and over with the questionable brush, I felt a feeling that I had never experienced before. I think it was that “warm and fuzzy feeling” that people are always talking about; I just felt incredibly happy. Sometimes I have trouble connecting with children, but this girl had taken charge and claimed me as her own. In those twenty or so minutes that she was brushing my hair, I felt unexpectedly, intensely happy. It was pure bliss; I had never experienced anything like it before.
The moment was eventually interrupted and the girl began to fight with a classmate over toys. I tried to stop them and tell them to share, but it was difficult because I wasn’t sure what to say. Soon after that, I was told that I had to leave to draw on trash cans, and the girl tried to stop me from leaving. She clung to me and begged, “Don’t go!” I felt horrible, but I left.
My group went to the tanks that would be used as trash cans for the community, and we began to draw designs on them to be painted later. Soon the day was over, and we met by the mural. The painting group had made great progress on the walls; a much larger portion of the difficult wall was white, and people were already painting murals on the easy wall. It looked amazing, and I felt so proud of my companions that had worked in the hot sun all day to make it beautiful.
Then we returned to our hotel. We had a couple free hours, which my roommate Young-Ju and I used to shower and relax in our room, and then we met for a “jungle tour” and dinner.
The jungle tour was much too touristy for my taste. It was essentially a zoo, where we were given the opportunity to hold a tarantula and an iguana and touch a snake, and watch the zookeepers provoke a cayman so we could see how it reacted. Personally, I was a little concerned about how the animals were treated, and it seemed like something rich tourists do to prove that they went to the jungle. I think some people in our group enjoyed it, though, and I can definitely see why they would be excited to see animals they hadn’t seen before.
We then went on a boat ride to a little outdoor restaurant, where we enjoyed Dominican food and some dancing. We then took the boat back to our bus and returned to our hotel. When we got to the hotel, we had our daily reflection. As always, it was incredibly thought-provoking thanks to our wonderful trip leaders Atin and Karen. Because we all had so many ideas, though, we ended up discussing our ideas and views on issues together until midnight. We were all tired and had to wake up early the next morning, which is why I ended up writing this blog post the next day. As soon as reflection was over, I went to my room and immediately fell asleep.