Music, religion dance and connection to place. These were the themes that we explored on the third day of our journey in the Dominican Republic. In all we did today, we were all so impressed with the pride and passion of everyone we met when describing the history, culture and traditions of the this beautiful part of the country, San Juan de Maguana. Everyone is so happy we are here!
In the morning, we ventured up into the mountains close to San Juan to visit “Aguita de Olivorio Mateo” a center of healing where people come for spiritual cleansing and good fortune. We learned how the shaman Olivorio Mateo became a local legend by being one of the first to oppose the American occupation in 1917 and how people still come to cleanse themselves in area’s clear spring waters. Students felt the passion of Olivorio’s followers through the pounding syncopation of the paleros who joyfully played for us upon our arrival. It didn’t take long for us to be moved by the sounds of the drums and start dancing. For many of us it was the favorite part of the day. We were also captivated by the obvious devotion that our host Carmen displayed for the traditions and rituals she helped us participate in. And even though these rituals were foreign to us, it reminded some of us of rituals of our own faiths.
After lunch on the way down the mountain, we stopped at a small theater where a local dancer Maireni was excited to teach us about three important dances of the Dominican Republic; el merengue, la bachata y la mangulina. We did our best at mastering the steps as we learned about the history of each as well as how differently each is expressed depending on the region. It felt good to express ourselves through movement and the experience, like so many others, strengthened the bonds we have made with each other and to this place. Again, we were moved by Maireni’s passion for these cultural traditions and the pride in which she shared them with us.
For most of the day, several global glimpse “ambassadors”, joined us. Interacting with these local students has also been a highlight for most of us. They have been so friendly and give us an opportunity to practice our Spanish at the same time as they practice their English. Of course, we learn so much more about the Dominican Republic with them here with us. We will be lucky enough to spend time with them most of the days we will be here.
We also prepared lessons for the English classes we will teach tomorrow. At first, the students were nervous about the idea of teaching, but after a seminar lead by one of the ambassadors, their confidence grew and each group came up with great plans for their first lessons. They are now really excited for their first of teaching and I know they will do a terrific job.
We ended the evening with a deep discussion about the forces that shape culture and religion. We also compared the deep emotional connection to place some people feel with our own experiences in the United States. Everyone had a chance to express their ideas and it was a joy to hear such insightful comments drawing from their own experiences.
Upon completing our third day, we are starting to settle into a routine and our accommodations are starting to feel like home (or at least, a home base). Everyone is healthy, happy and ready for more.