Category Archives: The Dominican Republic

Teaching English in The DR

Teaching English in the DR
Passing by the Baguilla outdoor eatery at two in the morning, I was summoned in English by some locals.  Although it’s usually a mistake to respond to such calls, I had a good feeling about these friendly folk, that they weren’t just after my money.  I joined Delsi, the head of a local foreign language institute, Oriol, an ex-body guard for the president, and three students who wanted to practice their English with me at their table.  Several rounds of chicken fingers, salsa dancing, and improper verb tenses later, I agreed to teach tomorrow’s English class for Delsi.  This was a first.  Instead of asking for money, they recruited me to do their work for them.
Not sure what I was getting myself into, but also unwilling to break a promise, I showed up the following evening to an elementary school where they teach English.  A guard wouldn’t let me in so I summoned Delsi from the window of her classroom.  She escorted me in and introduced me to the class.  I looked across the small room to a shocking but rather pleasant surprise…almost all of the class were women, aged 20 to 26, and quite beautiful, I might add.  Their smiles were flirtatious and despite speaking in my native tongue, I was nervous and tonguetied.  Delsi announced that I was going to teach today for the first hour.  There was silence.  A blank stare in her direction and Delsi realized that  she had forgotten to brief me on what I would be teaching.  I love improvised lessons, and have done a fair bit in my days in Colorado, but I didn’t even know what level class I was in.
Delsi intervened, “Let’s start off by having you all ask Jeff questions about his life.” Phew, this would be easy, and I took back the control of the chalkboard.
“Ok first question.  You in the back.”
“Are you married?”  Interesting first question.  Next question…do you have kids?  Third question…what are you doing tonight?  Wait a second…who was teaching the class here…Tom Cruise?  In low-income countries, this sort of attention is actually quite normal for foreign men; I just was not expecting it at my first English class.  I’m not saying that I was upset by the situation though.
The questions continued, I interviewed them, we danced, played Simon Says, and the hour flew by.  I realized how much I missed teaching and how enjoyable it is to teach English as a second language.  They asked me to come back, but I was not sure if I was allowed to.  I instead offered to do free private tutoring and put my phone number on the board (was there an ulterior motive here?  Nahhh…)
The following evening, while chatting with a friend outside the local gym, I saw Delsi, Oriol, and a group of students piled on a few bicycles, pedaling down the road.  “Where are you heading?” I asked?  To my surprise, they were pedaling to my house!  They were using class time to take a field trip to casa gringo.  I joined the group, and we invested in several gallons of chocolate ice cream for a party in the central plaza.
I returned to teach and tutor English almost every day for the rest of my month.  Oriol, Delsi, and their students turned out to be my best friends of Baguilla and their families literally adopted me for my stay.  They were so kind that in my last week we had a 12-hour pig roast at the local river as a way to say goodbye.  Parting ways at the bus station was THE most emotional part of my entire trip so far, but Baguilla is one of the few places in the world that I have to come back to.  With the upcoming wedding of Delsi and Oriol, it will likely happen soon!
No textbooks, no dictionaries, no technology...just a chalkboard and student notebooks.

No textbooks, no dictionaries, no technology...just a chalkboard and student notebooks.

Passing by the Baguilla outdoor eatery at two in the morning, I was summoned in English by some locals.  Although it’s usually a mistake to respond to such calls, I had a good feeling about these friendly folk, that they weren’t just after my money.  I joined Delsi, the head of a local foreign language institute, Oriol, an ex-body guard for the president, and three students who wanted to practice their English with me at their table.  Several rounds of chicken fingers, salsa dancing, and improper verb tenses later, I agreed to teach tomorrow’s English class for Delsi.  This was a first.  Instead of asking for money, they recruited me to do their work for them.

Not sure what I was getting myself into, but also unwilling to break a promise, I showed up the following evening to an elementary school where they teach English.  A guard wouldn’t let me in so I summoned Delsi from the window of her classroom.  She escorted me in and introduced me to the class.  I looked across the small room to a shocking but rather pleasant surprise…almost all of the class were women, aged 20 to 26, and quite beautiful, I might add.  Their smiles were flirtatious and despite speaking in my native tongue, I was nervous and tonguetied.  Delsi announced that I was going to teach today for the first hour.  There was silence.  A blank stare in her direction and Delsi realized that  she had forgotten to brief me on what I would be teaching.  I love improvised lessons, and have done a fair bit in my days in Colorado, but I didn’t even know what level class I was in.

Delsi intervened, “Let’s start off by having you all ask Jeff questions about his life.” Phew, this would be easy, and I took back the control of the chalkboard.

“Ok first question.  You in the back.”

“Are you married?”  Interesting first question.  Next question…do you have kids?  Third question…what are you doing tonight?  Wait a second…who was teaching the class here…Tom Cruise?  In low-income countries, this sort of attention is actually quite normal for foreign men; I just was not expecting it at my first English class.  I’m not saying that I was upset by the situation though.

The questions continued, I interviewed them, we danced, played Simon Says, and the hour flew by.  I realized how much I missed teaching and how enjoyable it is to teach English as a second language.  They asked me to come back, but I was not sure if I was allowed to.  I instead offered to do free private tutoring and put my phone number on the board (was there an ulterior motive here?  Nahhh…)

The following evening, while chatting with a friend outside the local gym, I saw Delsi, Oriol, and a group of students piled on a few bicycles, pedaling down the road.  “Where are you heading?” I asked?  To my surprise, they were pedaling to my house!  They were using class time to take a field trip to casa gringo.  I joined the group, and we invested in several gallons of chocolate ice cream for a party in the central plaza.

Goofing off with Oriol in the local Emergency Room

Goofing off with Oriol in the local Emergency Room

I returned to teach and tutor English almost every day for the rest of my month.  Oriol, Delsi, and their students turned out to be my best friends of Baguilla and their families literally adopted me for my stay.  They were so kind that in my last week we had a 12-hour pig roast at the local river as a way to say goodbye.  Parting ways at the bus station was THE most emotional part of my entire trip so far, but Baguilla is one of the few places in the world that I have to come back to.  With the upcoming wedding of Delsi and Oriol, it will likely happen soon!

Connecting in the Caribbean

Connecting in the Caribbean
I can’t even begin to write about my travels here.  The people, the landscapes, the experience, it was all too overwhelming to describe on paper.  It’s a story that I’d love to share with you all, and maybe one day I will muster the energy to write it up.  Here are just a few narratives from my two month journey in the Caribbean.
Ready to explore the beautiful outskirts of Baguilla, Mischa and I donned our running shoes, and jogged along the beach to Rio Azucar (Sugar River).  Avoiding the two dollar gringo toll, we swam across the river, shoes and all, and ran toward the beautiful town of Boca de Azucar.  We found a farmer’s footpath that traversed through a series of beautiful limestone cliffs and palm trees.  The rock climber in me was drooling at the potential for scaling these limestone beauties.  Up to 20 meters in height, the cliffs were overhung, and had bucket-sized handholds.  In the upper bands, there were deep caves and to climb there you would have to ascend ten-meter high stalagtite columns that connected all the way to the ground or floated just a meter above.  Akin to what we call a free standing pillar in the ice climbing world, I have never seen such a feature in the realm of rock.
We discovered a ladder in place that provided access to a weakness in the cliff, and a cave system above.  Surely we were trespassing, but the setting was just too spectacular to pass up.  While exploring the limestone pockets some 20 meters above terra firma, I heard the calls from a local herder.  We descended the ladder to hear his lecture making claims that this was a military zone and dangerous for foreigners.  Although I knew he was bullshitting us, we did not want any trouble and jogged on.  We later found out that to access the cliff normally requires a guide and a $15 fee (ignorance is bliss isn’t it!), that the caves were once a refuge for Taino Indians escaping colonialism and recently a set for the French movie Robinson Crusoe.
We found the coast, and launched for an ambitious swim home.  I was delighted in the fact that my super-lightweight and flexible running sneakers, the Nike Frees, turned out to be the perfect shoes for open water swims.  About fifteen minutes into our swim, a local fisherman, Ignacio, called us back to the beach.  I anticipated what he was going to say.  There were serious currents in this area and it was unsafe for swimming, the standard warning from locals who didn‘t know how to swim.  His urgent call was not about the dangerous waters, but about a freshly caught barracuda, that we just had to come and try.  Based on bad experiences, I had to ask how much this would all cost.  “Oh no, he said, don’t worry about it!”  Ignacio was quickly warming up to me.
We joined three other Dominican friends in Ignacio’s home for a tasty barracuda, guava fruit, coconuts, and a bottle of rum.  Before things got too out of hand, Mischa and I swam and ran back to our home by moonlight.  We committed to continuing this party the following day, but this time we would be bringing the food and ingredients for mojitos.
We returned at five the next day, and armed with mucho rum, we invited other Boca de Azucar residents to the festivities.  I was shocked to find out that here in the Mojito capital of the world, many of our local friends didn’t know what was in a mojito, let alone tried one!  So I taught a basic mojito class so that they could start a business.  Ahhh, I like to imagine Ignacio and Egres resting in hammocks on playa blanca, selling mojitos to passing tourists at three bucks a pop.  This could mean some serious money for them and possibly a new career!

The people of Boca de Azucar are some of the friendliest, loveliest people on the planet.    What was intended to be an informal cocktail party turned out to be an all-out fiesta through town, dancing, singing, and laughing until the wee hours of the morning.  All it took was a few bottles of rum and I felt like these folk would be my best friends forever.  Ignacio, demonstrated some marvelous sing (I mean this guy was incredible!); he walked us the forty minutes home, serenading the whole way.  Yes, Boca de Azucar turned out to be another place I consider a home away from home, and I passed by town almost each day for the rest of my trip to visit with lifelong friends.

I spent the morning fishing with my friend and his father from Boca de Azucar (in picture).  Obsessed with the sea, this man had spent thirty straight hours in this nook, fishing through the night.

I spent the morning fishing with my friend and his father from Boca de Azucar (in picture). Obsessed with the sea, this man had spent thirty straight hours in this nook, fishing through the night.

I can’t even begin to write about my travels here.  The people, the landscapes, the experience, it was all too overwhelming to describe on paper.  It’s a story that I’d love to share with you all, and maybe one day I will muster the energy to write it up.  Here are just a few narratives from my two month journey in the Caribbean.

Ready to explore the beautiful outskirts of Baguilla, Mischa and I donned our running shoes, and jogged along the beach to Rio Azucar (Sugar River).  Avoiding the two dollar gringo toll, we swam across the river, shoes and all, and ran toward the beautiful town of Boca de Azucar.  We found a farmer’s footpath that traversed through a series of beautiful limestone cliffs and palm trees.  The rock climber in me was drooling at the potential for scaling these limestone beauties.  Up to 20 meters in height, the cliffs were overhung, and had bucket-sized handholds.  In the upper bands, there were deep caves and to climb there you would have to ascend ten-meter high stalagtite columns that connected all the way to the ground or floated just a meter above.  Akin to what we call a free standing pillar in the ice climbing world, I have never seen such a feature in the realm of rock.

Climbing on these limestone cliffs were outstanding

Climbing on these limestone cliffs was outstanding

We discovered a ladder in place that provided access to a weakness in the cliff, and a cave system above.  Surely we were trespassing, but the setting was just too spectacular to pass up.  While exploring the limestone pockets some 20 meters above terra firma, I heard the calls from a local herder.  We descended the ladder to hear his lecture making claims that this was a military zone and dangerous for foreigners.  Although I knew he was bullshitting us, we did not want any trouble and jogged on.  We later found out that to access the cliff normally requires a guide and a $15 fee (ignorance is bliss isn’t it!), that the caves were once a refuge for Taino Indians escaping colonialism and recently a set for the French movie Robinson Crusoe.

The Bridge to Boca de Azucar

The Bridge to Boca de Azucar

We found the coast, and launched for an ambitious swim home.  I was delighted in the fact that my lightweight and flexible running sneakers, the Nike Frees, turned out to be the perfect shoes for open water swims.  About fifteen minutes into our swim, a local fisherman, Ignacio, called us back to the beach.  I anticipated what he was going to say.  There were serious currents in this area and it was unsafe for swimming, the standard warning from locals who didn‘t know how to swim.  His urgent call was not about the dangerous waters, but about a freshly caught barracuda, that we just had to come and try.  Based on bad experiences, I had to ask how much this would all cost.  “Oh no, he said, don’t worry about it!”  Ignacio was quickly warming up to me.

Typical rural house

Typical rural house

We joined three other Dominican friends in Ignacio’s home for a tasty barracuda, guava fruit, coconuts, and a bottle of rum.  Before things got too out of hand, Mischa and I swam and ran back to our home by moonlight.  We committed to continuing this party the following day, but this time we would be bringing the food and ingredients for mojitos.

Mojitos 101

Mojitos 101

We returned at five the next day, and armed with mucho rum, we invited other Boca de Azucar residents to the festivities.  I was shocked to find out that here in the Mojito capital of the world, many of our local friends didn’t know what was in a mojito, let alone tried one!  So I taught a basic mojito class so that they could start a business.  Ahhh, I like to imagine Ignacio and Egres resting in hammocks on Playa Blanca, selling mojitos to passing tourists at three bucks a pop.  This could mean some serious money for them and possibly a new career!

El Cantante Ignacio!

El Cantante Ignacio!

The people of Boca de Azucar are some of the friendliest, loveliest people on the planet.    What was intended to be an informal cocktail party turned out to be an all-out fiesta through town, dancing, singing, and laughing until the wee hours of the morning.  All it took was a few bottles of rum and I felt like these folk would be my best friends forever.  Ignacio, demonstrated some marvelous sing (I mean this guy was incredible!); he walked us the forty minutes home, serenading the whole way.  Yes, Boca de Azucar turned out to be another place I consider a home away from home, and I passed by town almost each day for the rest of my trip to visit with lifelong friends.