I recently spent two weeks in Bonao, Dominican Republic working with Cucuyo, an intercultural arts program founded by my lovely friend Laura Vaughn. Last year I taught a creative writing workshop (in Spanish!), and this year I returned as a Youth Coordinator (chaperone) for our 3 American participants. This year was particularly exciting because it was the first time we had students from the U.S., we had an AMAZING group of teachers and support staff, and it was just damn wonderful to see my Dominican family and friends again.
Where is Bonao, you ask? About two hours north of Santo Domingo, the capital:
From left to right: Hope Hilton, instructor in topophilia (love of place); Caroline Reck, instructor in puppets; Orlando Munoz, instructor in dance; Laura Vaughn, director; Bianaca Bidiuc, interpreter and photographer; yo; Christina, Joy, y Cecily, students.
Some highlights from the trip:
One night La Rubia (Laura’s host mom) killed a chicken and showed us how: by grabbing it by the neck and swinging it around in a circle (no blood loss). Here she is graciously inviting us to try it; surprisingly, there were no takers.
Another evening: impromptu dance party!
Cecily turned 16 while we were there, so we threw her a surprise birthday party. The kids played games all night while the adults laid down some blankets and did absolutamente nada, as should be expected of any professional staff:
Midway into the program we went on a surprise weekend excursion– we visited a cacao (chocolate)farm and went to the playa (beach). The farm was part of a co-op called La Red Conejo, which produces four types of organic and nonorganic chocolate powder for export. It was interesting to learn and see how profoundly the co-op had transformed the participating cacao farmers’ lives– it turned the collective into an economic force with the power to bargain with companies, and they help each other by organizing professional workshops about best practices for a number of issues such as bookkeeping.
This little chica, Marializ, was definitely a highlight of the trip– she was full of personality (and attitude), telling the girls they were ugly unless they put their hair down and bounding around the room with endless energy. At three years old, she is the best reggaeton dancer I’ve ever seen. I fear for her mother’s future sanity.
I taught two English classes while I was there, one in the morning to teenagers and one in the evening with mostly adults. The teens did a project where they created Facebook profiles in English on poster board.
We also visited the house of Cristian Tiburcio, an artist in Bonao whose house is completely tiled with beautiful, colorful mosaic designs. The house took 14 years to complete, and every surface is covered in tile, right down to the blender in the kitchen:
One of my favorite parts of the trip was also one of the final moments. The evening before our departure we held an exhibition in both communities to showcase the students’ work. In La Ceiba we were having some trouble getting the show started– we were waiting on a generator to come and then actually function. So while we were waiting I walked out to the basketball court where a few of my students were sitting, all guys. They were sitting on the benches drinking beer, watching the heat lightning move through the clouds from a passed thunderstorm. It was such a simple, pure moment: a group of male kids ages 13-18 sitting close to one another, taking in their surroundings in silence. After a while everyone of course started ripping on each other, but throughout the jokes the guys were not afraid to touch each other or share physical intimacy. I think I was touched by the experience because they let me sit with them like I was one of the guys– an honor and a treat for someone like me– but also because they let me be a part of what was just another night in them growing up together. In general, Dominicans are very physically affectionate, and I loved seeing a group of young men joking around, reaching out to touch a friend or sling an arm over their shoulders to show affection and friendship. That’s a rarity among young men in the U.S., and I’m so grateful I got to hang out with those guys for a little while in the hot evening, shooting the shit and cracking jokes I barely understood.