Dear friends and family,
This time, I am trying to be more timely with this blog, but we will see if that will ultimately pan out, because I only have a bit of writing time now.
Well, these past few days have been hectic, and the next few will be too, hence my problems with time. This weekend there are two groups that are on retreat here, and together they have over forty people. They are always needing something, and they have the unfortunate habit of eating meals late. Besides that, there are many people who volunteer and work here on the weekends, and they all eat here too. The eating thing is only pertinent because that means Eliud, Annelie and I have many dishes, sometimes until very late at night. Oh, and this Sunday is Covenant Sunday, so the Mass is large, and at 4pm. Did I mention that there is also a wedding today (Saturday)?
Yesterday was a special day. Eliud graduated with her English class. She was so excited, because it was not only her class of fifteen students, but many English classes from different technical schools that graduated together. The ceremony was in Santo Domingo, and the president attended. It was an all day affair.
Annelie and I had been secretly plotting to do something to celebrate Eliud´s graduation. Eliud is the kind of person that is always helpìng someone. It is not uncommon for me to find a note or flowers at my bedroom door. And she has an unending patience for teaching Annelie and I Spanish. Eliud has been attending this English class daily since February, and I am amazed with all that she has learned in that time. Besides that, she insists that I correct her English, and is always trying to speak well. All in all, if anyone is deserving of a graduation celebration, it is Eliud.
My experience this week was not solely my own. I have a new friend/housemate! Annelie arrived from Germany almost two weeks ago. She is still getting accustomed here, but we are all getting along very well. One day rainy day we were stuck inside so we had a musical afternoon of sorts. Sr. Mayrelis left her guitar in our house, and Annelie brought her flute with her. With the guitar was a collection of Spanish songs, but they were written differently than I knew how to play. However, a few were English that I knew, so we tried those, and a couple German songs from Annelie as well. The best song was a Christmas one. I think that if we keep at it, we might have something, provided that Eliud is willing to be the singer.
While Eliud was out of the house, we realized that our gift options were extremely limited. However, I have been scouting out the retreat house kitchen little by little, and I thought that we could try to make a dessert for her. This idea was well received by Annelie, who had planned for cake baking here. She brought chocolate and ingredients from Germany, as well as some recipes. Eliud left Wednesday, so we began to translate and choose recipes that night.
There were two cakes that she had in mind. The first one was chocolate, but it needed wine, and some ingredients that I hadn´t seen here. The second was a marble cake. I picked the tried and true chocolate chip cookies. Who doesn´t like those?
On Thursday, as soon as we finished work at the Nutrition Center, we hurried to the Retreat House. Because of the groups, the ladies would start cooking dinner early, so we had to have our things done or as close to finished as possible before the space was needed.
This turned out to be a very interesting and long afternoon. It all began with our ingredient search. Of course, there was no wine to be found. The cake didn´t need much, only about a cup or so, but it was a necessity in the recipe. So we thought about making muffins. However, we were without anything to put in them. No kind of baking fruit or ground cinnamon. The marble cake was the last resort. It called for vanilla sugar, rum, and baking powder, none of which we had.
After some discussion, we used vanilla extract and baking soda mixed with corn starch and hoped for the best. It looked pretty good in batter form, but Annelie said that it didn´t taste the same. The next step was to bake it, of course, but the oven here is…..well….strong? I had never used it before, but Sr. Reiza Maria had explained how to use it. Because of our time concerns, we had chosen to bake the cake first, and the cookies afterwards.
We turned on the oven, and I started to mix the cookie dough. Butter was lacking. I couldn´t find any! So I walked back to Casa Maria and took the last of what was in our refrigerator. It was for a good cause, after all. Meanwhile, Annelie washed up her cake dishes. When I returned in ten minutes with the butter, something was definitely wrong. The whole kitchen smelled of gas! I turned off the knob, opened the oven, and started the fan. It was pretty bad. Annelie was in another part washing dishes, so she hadn´t noticed the odor.
The oven is supposed to always be lit, but for some reason, it wasn´t, so the gas was on, but was not combusting. I had to find one of the sisters to help us light it, but she said we had to wait until all the gas dissipated before we could use the stove. Instead, she took the cake to the Sisters´ kitchen, and baked it there. We finished cleaning, and I prepared my cookie dough. About twenty minutes had passed. Sr. Reiza Maria came back, cake in hand. It was charred all over the outside! Annelie had told her to bake it for fifty minutes, but in twenty it was overcooked.
Understandably, Annelie was pretty disappointed, but resolved to cut off the burned part and coat the rest with her chocolate. The next day, when Eliud returned, we tried to melt the chocolate, but burned that too! That was my fault, though. It was in a hot water bath, and I was trying to get the bowl out, but instead I spilled the water in it, and it burned. This poor cake had many mishaps! Finally, we experimented with making caramel, and found some sprinkles to put on top. It did look good in the end, but after all that, I don´t know how long it will be until we attempt another cake!
Eliud was very surprised, so all´s well that ends well. No cake for me, but if I could have tried it, I would have. I don´t think that Annelie was too pleased with it, but since we don´t know what it should look or tast like, we were satisfied. At any rate, much time and love went into that pastry.
Upon further reflection, it is just another one of those experiences that shows how little control you have over things sometimes, but eventually, it works out. Maybe the cake lacks rum and is burned, but it still has caramel and sprinkles.
I think that it is a very interesting paradox that I came here partly because I wanted to learn more Spanish, but many people have asked me to help them with their English. A few weeks ago, some young girls had asked me to teach them some words, so we agreed to meet the following Monday.
When I looked for the girls, however, there were more than I had originally agreed to teach. Instead of two, there were seven! Earlier, I had decided to teach them words for parts of the body. We began with just learning facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, lips, and ears. I first would say it in Spanish, then in English, and then they would repeat it after me. Some boys were playing nearby, and it wasn´t long before they wanted to join in. At first, the girls were not in favor of a mixed class, but I allowed them to join anyway. They were told that if they were disruptive they had to leave.
When they had the general idea of the head area, we moved on. I had them learn the body parts for Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. They sing it in Spanish too, so they caught on very quickly. We must have been quite a sight, ten Dominican children, one American teacher, and one German assistant playing games in English. A car full of people slowed down to watch us! They found it amusing, I think.
Afterwards, they begged to play more games, so we did Simon says using actions like running, walking, and jumping. It was a good time, and we were all thoroughly exhausted afterwards. Tomorrow they return for another round, so I have to think of some more games that can incorporate a few English words. It is so cute to see them learn. The words they do know, they are quite proud of. I believe that they could all count up to ten, and few until twelve.
I was thinking of my family as this little class was playing with me. Could it really be a coincidence that there were ten kids? Although the genders were flipped: there were seven girls and three boys. Age-wise, I believe the youngest was six and the oldest maybe was twelve years old. But at the same time, what group of kids befriends a stranger and wants to learn another language? Most kids would rather do something else, especially immediately after school on a Monday. I hope that they continue to want to learn, but even if it is just a passing phase, it will be a good experience for all of us, provided that I can help them learn something.
This next week is filled with more teaching, studying, cooking (hopefully), and working with the children. It will be a good one.
Many prayers and good wishes to you all! As it gets closer to the holiday season, I think of you very much. God bless you! Love,