Day 3 December 7, Monday
I sat with Warren, the team leader, Vann, and Susan at breakfast. They talked about the Cook Island project. Susan has served there seven times! I go enthused about doing archival work and perhaps donating books to their library. Susan said to take it slowly as people there are very laid back and unambitious. If I lived on an island that naturally grew what I needed, I might be unambitious too. I thought the cost of airline tickets would be very high but Susan said she finds them for under a thousand dollars from L.A.
Today is our first day of tutoring at the Community Center. Twelve of us were in the morning tutoring project. Tutoring is open to all residents of the city on a drop-in basis. We walked the mile to the center, past a swimming facility and a bowling alley, and down the road with mostly single story concrete homes. Some of the homes had patios from which the residents sold coffee and sandwiches. An old woman came running across the street to meet us. She is Jewish and happy to make our acquaintance.
I volunteered to work with the beginners. Two beginners, Carolos and Mayla showed up. We decided to split the teachers and I worked with Mayla. She is a middle-aged woman who is quiet and a bit shy. We went over hello, how are you, what’s your name, where are you from, what do you want to eat and drink. We practiced these and I made Mayla index cards with the phrases in English and Spanish. I know some Spanish. Most of the volunteers do not know any Spanish. Halfway through our two-hour session Rita, woman in her fifties and a college teacher, joined us. I was exhausted after the session and had a headache from all the noise in the Community Center.
After tutoring the other teams came to the Community Center and we had our Team Meeting. The maintenance group didn’t get to work because there wasn’t any paint and the shelves hadn’t been delivered to the Community Center, so they had joined the tutoring group. The gardening group had walked the two miles to the community garden. They pulled weeks and learning about some of the spices being cultivated. Members of the tutoring team waxed eloquent about learning the stories of the adults they tutored. I was jealous because in the beginners group the people didn’t have enough facility in English to communicate that much about their lives. I asked to work with the intermediate or advanced students in the evening session, 7 to 9 p.m.
Local people, maybe Baptist Church members or people paid to cook for us, made of sandwiches. We had a choice of cheese, ham and cheese, tuna or chicken salad.
After lunch four of us (Ginny, Caroline, and Amy) went in search of ice cream. Although we walked in the shade, I was a sweat ball in no time. When we reached the ice cream parlor, Heladeria, it was closed on Mondays. We looked around the shops on The Boulevard for a short time before we ran into Ramon, one of our local guides. He was looking for us to tell us that a private gallery tour was being conducted for our Global Volunteer team in a while and he would show us where it was.
First he took us to a shop I called the Everything Store because it sold a little bit of everything including clothes appliances (very small and quite expensive,) watches, snacks, beer and ice cream. It was HOT in the store, no air conditioning. I bought a pint of chocolate chip ice cream and took it outside to eat. It tasted okay not great so I didn’t finish it.
We caught up with the rest of our group at the silversmith studio. They constructed jewelry and metal sculptures out of used vintage silverware. I was amazed at the sculptures. I bought two silver rings, one fashioned from silverware and the other from a 1949 coin.
The next stop was Galeria Pilar that had leatherworks, handmade clothing, beaded items and original art and art prints from local artists.
After the tour I asked Ramon to take us to the cigar store. When we got into the blissful air conditioning, I had a list of cigars I’d cut from the travel section of The New York Times. The journalist had been on a cigar tour of Cuba and listed the best cigars. The woman who sold the cigars was impressed with my list. She explained the differences in the cigars and I bought some cigars for people at home.
By this time, I was feeling “off,” perhaps approaching heat stroke. Even though I come from the Arizona desert where it gets to 120 degrees, this humid heat (I think it was about ninety degrees) was doing me in. Ginny and I took a pedicab for one CUC each, about one dollar US, back to the hotel. That was well worth the cost. We stumbled back to our air conditioned room and cooled down with the help of the tea I’d made the night before and put in the room’s refrigerator. It had partially frozen so the tea was quite refreshing.
Somehow we got on the subject of “end of life” stories about parents and siblings. She and I see eye-to-eye on many subjects. It’s a delight to room with her. Before I left, someone had questioned my decision not to opt for a single room, which cost a little bit more. I replied that the roommates I’d had on Global Volunteer projects were all good experiences. Heck, anyone who pays to volunteer is already a good person in my eyes.
We went by horse and carriage to the Garnish restaurant for dinner.
Our large team of twenty sat at two tables. We ate shrimp, tostone rellenos, grilled fish and chicken, sautéed vegetables, cucumber and cabbage salad, and rice and black beans, all served family-style. Besides Cristal, they also had Buccaneer beer, which some team members preferred.
After dinner we went to the Community Center and tutored from seven to nine. Our students were anyone who walked in. I worked with a shy young woman of eighteen. She had just started English studies in college and was feeling pressured to speak “perfect” English, which I inferred meant standard English. Se had taught herself English from American television and movies. I thought she spoke very well and in full sentences. I gave her lots of praise to boost her confidence.
We took horse-drawn carriages back to the hotel. I think we will be doing that from her onward as two people fell as we walked to and from the restaurant last night.