Halfway there?!

Once again I seem to have managed to leave months between writing my blog posts, and I’m sorry for the radio silence, but we’ve just been having the most amazing time it’s hard to find a free moment. Since the end of November life has been pretty busy but I’ll just try and give a bit of an overview.

I always thought Christmas started early enough in Scotland, but apparently not. The first decorations were up in October here, with the general excitement beginning to build from November. We fairly capitalised on this in art, starting Christmas crafts and games early on in November and carrying on through until the last week of term when school sort of descended into chaos. The Christmas crazy began early on Monday morning when I was teaching primero. I could hear a huge amount of noise coming from the next door classroom which, of course got my kids all excited. Being in the charitable mood I was, I made them sit down and do their work and ignore what was going on, until the next thing I knew, a full on procession burst into my classroom. Half the teachers in the school accompanied by three classes worth of children danced through the classroom singing Christmas songs full pelt and battering a selection of percussion instruments, they then danced out taking my whole class with them and continued to process around the school. Everyone was then given hot chocolate (because, you know, it was a chilly 29°C), and sent home at lunchtime. The rest of the week continued in a similar manner with a half day every day and much singing and dancing. We then had Thursday off, and Friday was “Día de los niños”. This involved everyone coming to school in their nicest clothes, a huge assembly where circa 500 kids were crushed into a hall to watch each class do an act – dancing, singing, mock fighting (I don’t understand that one either), and more. A lovely lunch of chicken and salad and all things Dominican was then served, followed by the boxes. The boxes are shoe boxes filled with gifts, much like the shoebox appeal we do in Linlithgow, which are sent out from America for each child. These arrived mid-November, and from that point caused great excitement. Throughout the while Christmas season you could hear the words “the boxes” utter with great reverence; “shhh, if you don’t listen you won’t get a box”, “if you don’t finish your work, there might not be a box for you”, “teacher, is it true that there are boxes for everyone?”. From a teachers point of view it was an excellent bargaining point! Anyway, the long awaited boxes were finally given out, and I honestly had so much fun seeing all their little faces as they opened their presents and looked at all their funky new toys in awe.

The following day was the holidays (hallelujah!), and we spent the time packing and getting super excited. We hopped on the early morning guagua up to Bayahibe where we planned to spend the first few days of the holidays. Bayahibe was the cutest little seaside town, and was stuffed full of Italians – you could go around shouting “MAMA MIAAA”, and you wouldn’t be out of place. A definite highlight was a day trip on a catamaran to the STUNNING island of Saona, where the free flowing food and cuba libres paired with the best views ever made for a day to remember. After a few days of eating pizza and relaxing on the beach we headed up to Santo Domingo to get our flight to Puerto Rico!!

Puerto Rico was so long awaited and fortunately it did not disappoint. The time was spent basking on the beach and thoroughly making the most of all the western food. Christmas day away from home was a bit odd, but our wee Dom Rep family spent a lovely day getting magical American breakfasts, topping up our tans, and swimming in the sea to our heart’s content. Hogmanay was similarly spent eating good cheese and bread on the beach, followed by a night out in San Juan. The next morning, feeling slightly worse for the wear, we sadly caught our flights back to Santo Domingo, where after a series of delays and mix ups Alisha, Rebecca, and I ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport until 3.30am waiting for Chynah like the true volunteers we are.

Coming back to our life of early morning cockerels and no money was a bit of a come down, but it was so lovely to get back to the villages and it properly felt like home. In true Dominican style the holidays were extended a week and we just relaxed at with friends and made the most of the time off. For some strange reason school started back on a Thursday and being the self-respecting students they are, barely anyone came in, so we didn’t start back for real until the second week of January. On the school front, unfortunately my students haven’t magically turned into respectful dedicated workers in the New Year, but I have been having a really good time. I have decided that all the artistic exertion has been too much for my poor brain and it has started to shrivel up with all the painting and drawing it’s been doing, so I’ve started to teach some music instead. The lesson I’ve done so far have been a good laugh and I’m actually really looking forwards to the rest of the term.

Aside from holidays, we’ve recently had a few opportunities to work with other charities and teams from the US. Before Christmas we got together with the very worthwhile Batey Rehab Project. Every year a team of young students come down and build houses in the neediest areas of Barahona and teach local woman jewellery making. We spent a fab few days with them both making the jewellery and helping out on the building sites. In this last week we have been working with a group of medics and have had an amazing time. A couple of days were spent doing translation work in the pop up clinics out in the Bateyes (underprivileged Haitian villages), and others were spent observing surgeries and helping out in the hospital. It was an absolutely fascinating week, and we met some lovely people which really made it fun, not to mention the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day.

Time is flying INCREDIBLY quickly, and scarily we are already around the 6 month mark with our flights home being sorted. I have totally fallen in love with the Dominican Republic, and feel like living here is allowing me to see every side to the place. We regularly experience the wonderful generosity of the people here, but are also coming to discover some of the terrible things that happen in these underprivileged areas and I feel like I am constantly learning and becoming more grateful for what I have and used to take for granted. I’m having such a fantastic time and I feel happy every day to be in this beautiful country.

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Día de los niños excitement

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Paradise on Isla Saona

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Holidaying smiles

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Christmas family picture in Puerto Rico

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Cooking frito with friends

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Helping out in surgery

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Halfway there?!

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