Tag Archives: dominican republic

More work on the La Vereda Mural

15 Feb

I never knew this before but working on a public community mural (with kids no less) can be really tricky!  I’ve only ever facilitated mural-making teaching inside the classroom where you’ve got a certain degree of control over the environment, and can kind of manage the pace of the work and assist kids with thinking about composition and details.

This is a whooooollllle different ball game.

First, we are working on a fairly trafficked and often noisy street.  It’s not like the constant type of background traffic type noise you find in NYC.  It’s like short clips of relative quiet pierced with the REALLY LOUD BUZZ of the frequent motoconchos (motorbikes) and trucks grinding by.  So loud that you really can’t hear what the person next to you is saying.  On top of that, all of the kids in our class plus practically every kid that walks by wants a chance to paint, and it’s really had explaining to a 6 year old whose language you don’t speak very well that there’s “Just no more space at the moment but if you come back Saturday I promise you can have a chance then.”  I am beyond thrilled that the children in the neighborhood are so excited about the project- in fact I hoped exactly that would happen, but managing so many kids painting all at the same time has it’s challenges.  We don’t really have much set-up time because as soon as the children see us pull up in the car they get so excited, they immediately round up all their friends and before you know it we’re practically swarmed with kids eager to look, see, touch, grab, do, etc, etc.  Getting the children involved in the set-up is something we are trying to get better at, but the seasoned teacher (me) is still learning the language, and though the laid-back musician does the best he can things easily get lost in translation, and as all teachers (and plenty of parents) know- timing is everything when organizing large groups of kids.

Did I mention that Renzo is related to almost everyone on the block in some way?  Well, it’s pretty easy to recognize the guy with the funny hair, and despite the fact that we can have a mob of impatient children waiting for paint, or needing a paintbrush, or we finally have them all listening to instructions, every so often someone passes by and decides that it’s the absolute PERFECT time to catch up and have a conversation with him about his studies, the weather, the meaning of life, & what have you.  I kid you not but he’s actually been handed a beer while we were teaching our class!


So when we met up with the children yesterday evening, it was just kind of par for the course that there was a dark gray rain cloud kind of hanging over our heads the whole time.  We assessed the cloud situation (being the rain experts we are now having lived in Santiago for a few months) and just said let’s go for it and hope for the best.  We got lucky and the weather held out enough for us to work for a good 40 minutes or so before we had to do a mad rush to pack everything up before the rain came down.

It was pretty chaotic with about 12-14 kids working at the same time.  It definitely wasn’t the way I would have preferred to structure the activity (laughing at the word structure here) but the kids who showed up had been waiting since Saturday to paint, and with the impending rain there wasn’t time to rotate small groups so we had to wing it.  We focused on painting trees (matas) and flowers (flores) and a sun (sol).  Despite the craziness I’m happy that the kids enjoyed themselves and love the work they did.  I know this is how murals grow..in little layers and spurts.

It’s just a start, but here are some pics:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our next session is this weekend and we are almost definitely going to have an even larger group show up. (When we were painting on Tuesday lots of new kids passed by and expressed interest so we just told them to show up on Saturday).  Don’t laugh- but I have a plan to have kids sign in then give them give them a number.  Numbers 1-6 will paint for the first 30 minutes, 7-13 the next half hour, and so on.  The great thing is that they all live so close by that if they’re scheduled for a later painting group they can easily go home and come back when it’s their turn, and we don’t mind being there all day if need be.  I have no idea if this is going to work…but it’s the only way I can think of to accommodate all the children without having total chaos.  I know for sure the smaller groups will make for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Can’t wait to see what happens at our next class!

xo A


Harvesting Medicinal Herbs in the Wild: Our Magical Trip to Amaceyes

11 Jan


Knowing that Renzo is studying herbal medicine and all about our project, Renzo’s cousin Luz kept suggesting we take a trip to Amaceyes.  Amaceyes is a town in the mountains about 45 minutes northeast of Santiago.  She told us they would have plenty of medicinal herbs and plants there.  Our interest was peaked.  For the record,  I was picturing an agricultural town with lots of nurseries and markets selling plants.

Jajaja…boy was I in for a surprise.

Eight of us packed into two cars- our borrowed SUV (Dominicans call them “jeeps”) and Robert’s pickup truck, and headed up into the mountains.  As we snaked our way there slowly ascending upwards, the climate transitioned from temperate to cool, wet, and rainy.  The black city streets peppered with brightly colored storefronts began to morph into the lush wild greenery of the mountainside.

Upon our arrival, we parked the cars and followed Robert and Luz’s lead.  (I had no idea where we were going.  I honestly thought we were going to walk to some type of garden supply center.)  We followed them down the road and along the way, to our surprise, Renzo’s Tia Rosa started gathering various plants growing here and there, telling us all about their healing properties.  With a little questioning we came to find out she spent her childhood helping her curandera/partera (healer/midwife) grandmother grow and gather medicinal plants.  WHOA.  Wait…whoa!  Why didn’t we know this until now?  Incredible!

Before we knew it Luz and Robert were leading us into a humble dwelling, which we quickly found out belonged to family.  Rosa looked around and said “Es la cuna de la familia”, or “It’s the cradle of the family”, meaning this place is where much of their family originated.  The lovely family we met there greeted us with a warm welcome of coffee, rice, beans, and bread.  The rice and beans were cooked in a traditional outdoor kitchen and tasted like it!  The smoky flavor of the rice was divine.

Traditional outdoor Dominican kitchen.

After spending some time with newly discovered family members, we thanked them for their hospitality and continued following our unofficial tour guides Robert and Luz.  On the way, we all continued the medicinal plant foraging led by Tia Rosa:

Rue is beautiful to look at but has a very pungent (some may say very unpleasant) odor.


The two herbalists: Renzo & Tia Rosa

Gathering cerassie.

We forgot the name of this plant, but Tia Rosa said it's medicinal. We are going to ask her, but in the meantime if you know what it is, please post it in the comments section!

Our foraging crew.

After much foraging on the road, Luz and Robert led us into another home where we met yet more family members.  In the typical Dominican fashion of giving friends and family what you grow, they toured us around their property and starting gathering plants for us to take home.  In the meantime I was enamored of the cutest little gang of goats feeding by a bubbling brooke, while Renzo spied none other than the beautifully dangerous (not to mention illegal) angel’s trumpet plant.  For more on the controversial history of angel’s trumpet, click here.

Angel's Trumpet...beautiful but lethal.


We couldn’t resist getting a closer look:

Angel's trumpet smells heavenly but is highly toxic.

Vista at Amaceyes

Just around the time we were gathering trumpet flowers and oranges, it started raining pretty hard.  We were ushered onto the covered porch of an old wooden house where we took refuge and relaxed in rocking chairs while we chatted and watched the rain come down.  The more it rained, the more I kept wondering how we would be able to get back up the steep dirt road we had carefully walked down to get there.  After some time, Porfidrio, the Don de la casa, (elder man of the house) showed up.  Taty and Rosa almost wept seeing how much he looked like their dad who had passed several years ago.  They were so excited to pose for pictures with him.  When someone asked about rosemary, he dashed off into the rain with the speed of a spry sixteen year old and returned with a huge bunch of the fragrant herb.  He gave Renzo an avocado from his tree which he told us is the type that is indigenous to the island:

prodigrio & renzo con aguacate

Porfidrio & Renzo con aguacate criollo.

Taty found an antique pilon (mortar & pestle)! The mortar is made of wood and the pestle is a stone. Dominican use of the pilon came from the Taino.

waiting out the rain on porfidrio's porch

Waiting out the rain in a rocking chair on Porfidrio's porch.

At some point after what seemed like hours, the rain started to let up and we said goodbye to Porfidrio and his son and geared up to brave a muddy climb back up the hill.  Once up the hill, we were greeted by another friendly family member and led into the town club/pool hall/bar for a little fiesta.

How cool is the color scheme in this place? (this picture was taken before the proprietor cranked up the music and people started dancing merengue & drinkin'...ice cold Presidentes, what else?)

Finally it was time to go so we gathered up their things, said goodbye to our new friends, and promised we’d be back soon.  Then, after a trip back to the first house for a bathroom break, and a couple of trips to the Colmado for refrescos and snacks, we were finally read to head home.

Heading home with our goodies!

All in all we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day with more lovely people.  We left exhausted but blissful from all the beauty and excited to transplant some of the plants we found!

***(Today we did end up transplanting many of the plants we found up in Amaceyes, as well as many of the seedlings we germinated ourselves.  I thought I would get that post up tonight, but honestly I’m sooo tired!  I think gardening in the sun must do that.  In any case, we’ll be away for a week without internet access, but I promise to post pictures of our transplanting on the land as soon as we return!)

Adios para ahora!


You Win Some, You Lose Some

17 Dec


Well I don’t know what the rest of you were up to last weekend, but Renzo and I spent some time babysitting his younger brothers Ray & Rene.  With no TV, and no working dvd player, my impulse purchase from La Sirena (DR’s answer to Walmart) came in quite handy.  Enter: DOMINICANOPOLY.  Dominicanopoly is a kind of low budge, unauthorized version of the classic game Monopoly, but with a Dominican theme.  I thought it would be a fun way to learn more Spanish, as well as more history and trivia about the country.  Plus, I used to be a monopoly champ in my youth.   I remember epic games with my friend Gerard in elementary school and I had a lot of fun kicking his butt with all my hotels on Boardwalk & Park Place.  (Btw, my player piece of choice is always the top hat!)   Anyway, I was kind of wondering if I still had the magic touch.

With nothing better to do, we opened the box.


Rene (aka "sticky fingers" with his stash o' cash and his best friend Samba.

We started the game around 8 or 9 pm.  After playing ensued it became clear that our banker was *ahem* a bit crooked.  After lots of trash talking, and plenty of scheming, we were knee deep into our game.  Ray (the banker) was out.  He didn’t buy property fast enough.  Renzo was holding steady.  Rene had some good properties and a nice stash of dinero (even though I think he stole most of it from the bank, lol), and I was quickly emerging as a Donald Trumpess, amassing lots of property and benefiting from some really lucky rolls of the dice.  Finally at 1 AM we agreed to retire to bed and reconvene in the morning.  It was pretty clear to most however, that I was going to emerge victorious.

Wheeling & dealing the Dominican way.

After we woke up, of course the first thing the kids wanted to do was get back to our game.  Things went downhill fast for Renzo which left Rene (aka “sticky fingers”) and me.  As the game went on and things continued in my favor I was getting a little giddy and started thinking of myself as some kind of unstoppable international ‘opoly queen.  The fact that I was also knitting while playing and only marginally paying attention annoyed my fellow players but delighted me, as I rode my tidal wave of good luck.

You don't have to be Dominican to Dominate this game.

After some necessary gloating about being the only non-Dominican and beating this band of brothers at their own game, we made nice, gave each other a round of high fives like a bunch of good sports, and went off to eat some mangu and aguacate.

And here’s where my good luck for the week ends…which brings us to…

BAD LUCK (Mala Suerte)

It was Wednesday morning and Renzo had gone back to the land to work with Nelson’s friend Cecile to clear more of the weeds & vines from the ground.  I decided to sit this one out since we had just gone the day before and instead opted to stay home and work on writing a blog post and some chores like laundry and making a big pot of soup with the massive amount of root vegetables taking up valuable real estate in the fridge.

About 3 minutes after Renzo left (around 9am), the power went out.  Since that meant no blog post and no laundry I decided to start making the soup.  After gathering and washing all the vegetables, I began to peel the calabaza with a cerrated vegetable peeler (dumb idea) and WHOOPS, vegetable peeler right into the thumb.  (AND I COULDN’T GET IT OUT, YIKES!!!!)

Yeah, so I couldn’t exactly get the peeler to dislodge from my finger right away which was just a little bit scary…after “unhooking” it from my finger it was bleeding quite a lot but a few minutes after some compression and elevation I realized it wasn’t going to need stitches and would heal well, so I could relax.

A little later I remembered  was time to bring Samba outside to “do his thing” so to speak, but he tends to prefer “doing his thing” in private here if he’s not being walked.  Soooo, I went outside and zipped up the greenhouse to avoid him getting into it while he was out there alone, and then I went inside to relax for a bit.  After 20 minutes I went out to get Samba and brought him inside.  A few hours later Renzo arrived home and immediately went out to check on the plants (they’re like his babies).  He came in after about 10 minutes looking pretty bummed.  Turns out I forgot to open the greenhouse back up and our poor little seedlings were smothered by the heat & humidity all day. 😦



Luckily not everything was affected, but we did lose some of our  lavender, milk thistle, ashwaganda, and comfrey (plus a few others).  This unfortunate turn of events led to us putting our energy into a mass planting session the next day.  Here is our newest crop of seedlings:

new seedlings

So, even though it’s a bit depressing to have lost so much of our hard work, I have to take it as a lesson and move on.  I’m not the first person to make a mistake since we started this process, but my mistake did cause us the greatest loss thus far.  Luckily we have kicked things into high gear and hopefully over the next 8 weeks we will see a lot of progress and new growth.

A bit of good luck couldn’t hurt either.  We’ll keep you posted.