Today we added to our understanding of Dominican history and culture.  Dominican culture was created from a mixture of cultural influences.  For example, the native Taino culture brought many words used today such as “Manguana” (small valley) and “guayaba” (guava).  Spanish colonization brought Spanish language and Christianity.  African culture brought musical rhythms, dances, and local religions.  American culture brought military invasions and sports such as baseball and basketball.  In the DR, baseball is very, very popular. The mixture of cultures still drives the social identity of the Dominican Republic today.

Our first excursion of the day was walking to a nearby community center where we were greeted by Dario “Gato” Victoriano. Gato is a locally famous mask maker whose success and skill have enabled him to work as a full-time mask maker each year from August to February.  Gato creates masks for Carnaval which is a community festival of parades and cultural celebration.  During our time with Gato, we learned about the role that masks play during Carnaval and we created masks of our own using clay.  These masks will later be used as a mold for a final paper mache mask which we will bring home and paint.

After our time with Gato, we took a lunch break and headed back to the community center for dance class!  We learned how to dance merengue and bachata.  Merengue music is lively, fast-paced, and based on musical elements from African drum, brass, piano, accordion, and other instruments.  Accordian is a key signature in Merengue music. Bachata is typically more sensual with more hip movement and a closer proximity to your partner.  I’m proud that everybody danced and gave it their all.

Besides mental warmups and reflection groups, our final two activities of the day were going out to eat Dominican style empeñadas and learning/preparing for our English teaching.  The Dominican empeñadas are like a flaky calzone filled with many choices such as cheese, corn, chicken, beef, salsa, beans, etc.  They were tasty and filling!  For English tutoring, we will be teaching English classes to locals three times a week starting next Monday.  I’m looking forward to seeing students grow in their leadership skill and willingness to push themselves outside their comfort zone.

All in all, today was a fun and busy day learning about Dominican culture by experiencing it directly.

Here are some other pictures taken between activities:

Our hotel.

Cacao beans being dried

The cat here is cute but we aren’t allowed to pet it.

Constanza is known for growing crops and flowers

Playing “pato pato ganso” (duck duck goose)