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

11 Jan

AMAZING AMACEYES

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.

Anise

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.

Chivitos

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!

xoA

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First Art Class in the Campo: Making Pre-Cut Shape Collages

10 Dec

Los ninos encanta sus collages!

Today we had our first art class in the campo!  We had 12 children in attendance, ages 4-10.  The kids were so super excited about the class that they all showed up 45 minutes early!  Renzo and I hadn’t even left the house yet when we got a call from Luz to come quick!  LOL, so cute.

The children were all smiles as we pulled up in the car and started unloading the supplies.  Renzo got the kids into a circle and kept them busy making name tag necklaces to wear (makes it easier for us grown-ups to learn the children’s names more quickly and the  kids love making them), while I hurriedly set up our work table.

I planned a simple, classic, collage-based art lesson, providing the children with a range of pre-cut geometric shapes in different sizes and colors which they could then arrange and glue to their papers.  I love starting with this type of project because it is interesting and very accessible to a wide-range of abilities and ages.  It provided a chance for us to talk about favorite colors and shapes, speaking the words in both English and Spanish.  (The children were REALLY excited when I told them I want their help to learn their language and that I would teach them art & some English in return).   This type of lesson also gives me a sense of where the children are at both manually (in terms of fine motor skills) and conceptually.  I’ve also taught this lesson many times to different age groups from 2-12, so those past experiences help guide me in placing where the children might be at in their artistic development, and how I might want to proceed from here.  I was actually quite surprised to find out from the children that NONE of the children had ever participated in an art class before.  Given that, I was incredibly taken with how easily they engaged with the project and their confidence in using the materials (glue, etc).

Teaching the class itself was interesting given the language barrier between me and the class.  I did my best to speak as much Spanish as I could, but often needed Renzo to translate, especially for giving out more explicit instructions and getting the children’s attention.  Classroom management is much more of a challenge in this scenario.  It’s definitely a little strange for me because I’m usually able to read and react to situations very quickly when they arise in the classroom, but not having a firm grasp of the language means losing precious seconds having to ask Renzo to translate or me struggling to find words which I needed to come out much more quickly!  I think anyone who has been a teacher will know exactly what I mean.

In terms of the children’s work, they mostly placed their shapes in different ways on the page,  playing with having shapes touch and overlap- or not.   A fewer number of children represented things from life (mostly faces, which is not a surprise).  There were a few that began representing other objects like trees, flowers, and houses, generally in their second collage (again, not a surprise).  All of the children made two (sometimes three) collages which was fantastic for me to see, because the first collage in this situation is always going to be like getting your feet wet, getting used to new materials and a new way of working, and then subsequent collages are all about new discoveries and beginning to master the materials and process which is soooo exciting for all of us.

After the children had all had a chance to make multiple collages we hung the work up on the wall and sat around for a discussion.  I asked the kids if anyone wanted to share about their collage and…………crickets.  No one wanted to share and they seemed a little embarrassed….it was probably new for them.  So instead I asked if anyone would like to speak about a collage someone else had made that they liked.  Bingo!  The children opened right up and suddenly everyone was out of their shell, wanting to talk about their friends’ work.

I am thinking about what we will do next week.  For sure I want to get my hands on another table so the children can be less cramped.  I think I also want to sit the younger children at one table and the older children at another to make it easier for us to modify the project for the different age levels.   I’m certain that I’d like us to work with collage again, but would like to encourage the children to see how they can change the paper shapes (by folding, twisting, crumpling, etc).  I’m also interested to see how the older children handle scissors (younger ones a little later on).  I’m also thinking about hanging collages…there are some great beams on the ceiling we could hang strings from, literally turning things upside down (so much fun)!

Lots of good stuff to think about.  So glad to be teaching again!

xo A