Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Priceless Pool Party

On Thursday afternoon, a nurse from the local health center came over to the school to tell us to keep the students off the large playing field in front of our school. This field is used for community football (soccer), cricket, and rounders games, as well as a playground for our school. The lush green grass had been turning brown lately, and it was discovered there was some sort of larvae that was eating the grass roots. Officials were going to spray the field with a pesticide to stop the infestation.
As I arrived on Friday morning around 8:00 AM (before any students or other teachers), there were about four men on the field wearing masks and backpack sprayers roaming around the field. Unfortunately, the wind direction was carrying the noxious pesticide fumes towards the school. It was quickly apparent that this was a bigger problem than merely keeping the students off the playing field itself. I decided to have the students go over to the beach area (which has a steady refreshing sea breeze coming off the ocean) as they arrived (see photo above), rather than to congregate at the school and breathe the fumes. You can see a glimpse of the school across the road from the beach area in the photo below.
Holding school in such potentially toxic conditions did not seem prudent, but the principal did not have the authority to unilaterally cancel school without approval from the Ministry of Education. As I understand it, phone calls went back and forth between the principal, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Agriculture to determine what to do. I heard that the pesticide used on the field had been banned in the United States since 2004. I was glad we had taken the students over to the beach, where they played in the coconut grove, building elaborate little cities and other activities as shown below.
We were finally given the official word around 10:30 that school was canceled for Friday. I personally told the students that I would be interested in doing some sort of hike on this unexpected day off. I let them know that I would be going home to change clothes and get my backpack. I would meet anyone who was interested in joining me at the bus stop at 11:00.

At first, there was only about a half-dozen students there, which seemed like a fun and manageable group. However, they kept coming, and eventually I ended up with 21 students. We decided to hike about a mile along the road and over the ridge to the beach where the Blenheim River empties into the Atlantic. The picture below shows the students climbing the long steep hill out of our village, with the Atlantic Ocean behind them.

Once we arrived at my original destination, we determined it was going to be more difficult to cross the river than it had been previously. The river had changed course since I was last over there--below is an older picture showing how the river at that time was just a shallow wash across the beach, but now it had cut a deep channel next to the hillside that we would need to climb down. So we decided to walk further down the road to the next beach down the coast.
That required passing by a roadside bar with a nice overlook of a small island, which I had visited before but some of the students had not. I was glad to let them see this beautiful spot, as shown below. By this time, the students were getting hot and thirsty, and (of course) many of them had not brought anything with them. So I shelled out $20 to buy some bottled water, and the proprietor offered to fill up whatever empty bottles we had with tap water. It was a good way to make sure they were properly hydrated.
From there, we next came upon a fancy hotel (the only hotel in this area) called Atlantique View Resort (check out their website at for more information). A few of the villagers work there, but most of the students had never seen it before, so we decided to walk up the steep hill to let them see the nice landscaping, the beautiful views, and the fancy swimming pool. The picture below is taken from the resort's website, and provides a nice view of the two upper pools and the large bar/patio area.
While there, I thought I'd inquire about a possible day pass that might let us have a pool party rather than going to the beach. This is not something they typically do, but since there were no guests using the pool at that time, I was told we could swim in the upper two pools for two hours for $75, as long as I supervised them. I hadn't planned on such a large expenditure, but just happened to have an emergency $100 bill hidden in my wallet. I quickly decided to go ahead and do it--sometimes you just need to seize the moment! The woman working at the front desk said she didn't have the correct change at the moment, but that I could get it later. I hurried out to tell my students about our new plan. [Below is a picture of the pools that I had snapped in a previous visit, which shows the ocean in the distance.]
They were ecstatic! Most of them had only experienced the small cement pool the village built at the spring—see this previous blog story with a picture of our local “pool”. They had never been in a "real pool" with clear, chlorinated water, much less one with different levels, waterfalls, and “infinity edge” views of the Atlantic. Their joy was readily apparent and they proceeded to have a fantastic time. I was too busy supervising to take pictures, but I did manage to take the one shown below before I put my phone in a dry place for safekeeping.
At the end of the two hour session, I took them over to the patio area and tried to divide with all of them the food I brought. I'm not sure why they expected me feed them all, but I did my best. I had a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a large bagette bun, a couple of cucumbers, a coconut-ginger cake (baked by a woman in our village), and two wheat crackers with cheese. Using only my hands, I roughly divided the sandwich into halves, fourths, eighths, and then sixteenths, further subdividing a few of the larger sixteenth pieces in order to get 21 bites for everybody. The same was done with the cucumbers and the cake. Since it was impossible to split something so small, I ate the two crackers with the piece of cheese in between.

Everybody got a bite of everything, but obviously it wasn't a filling lunch. Jesus did a much better job feeding the multitudes with some fish and bread than I was able to do with my students. However, they were still so excited from our pool party that no one complained. They were still on “cloud nine.”

We then started our mile-and-a-half road hike up and down the hills back to our village. Occasionally, the students would stop to “forage” for mangoes (which are just beginning to ripen), fatpoke (or perhaps fat pork, which is similar to a grape that grows on bushes), and other wild foods. When we arrived back in the village, I was cajoled into spending another $15 to buy “ice pops” for everyone as a reward for completing our big adventure.

It was when digging out that $15 to pay for my purchase that I realized I had forgot something—the $25 change from the hotel front desk. OOOPS! I certainly wasn't going to walk all the way back to ask about it (assuming the same woman would still be on duty). Back in the United States, I would sometimes listen to Dave Ramsey's radio talk show about personal finances. Ramsey refers to money mistakes as a “stupid tax.” Sometimes you have to pay a “stupid tax” in order to make sure you don't make that mistake again. I guess I will just need to write off that $25 as a stupid tax I paid. Hopefully, I will get paid back with some sort of “positive karma” since this was such a good cause.

Overall, I “unexpectedly” spent $135 on this little hike to celebrate our “unexpected” day off. However, one of the many lessons the Peace Corps is teaching me is that the more one gives, the more one gets in return. While I can't afford to do this all the time, I've learned down here that money is not nearly as important as the unabashed happiness I saw on 21 young faces that afternoon. Just like the old MasterCard commercials, their smiles were “priceless.” It was an epic adventure to a luxurious pool that they will long remember!


  1. That's exactly what I was going to say -- that you can't put a price on what those kids felt that day! What a beautiful treat for them, David. I suspect you will get that money back. If not karmically then, actually, fiscally. Unless you want to just let that stupid tax go - and I say that ALLLL the time lol - my guess is the woman who works there will remember you and remember the $25. My experience with individually-owned businesses is they have heart and may have even set it aside in case you come back. You could totally hike back, by yourself - so get to eat the food you bring lol - and ask. If they say they don't have it, no biggie. You've already calculated that it is gone. What a cool story! :-)

  2. Just as a follow-up, the hotel sent my money via a guy who lives in my village, so I did get my $25 back. I appreciate their efforts to return the money, but it just goes along with how well Dominicans have treated me down here. The students are eager to do this again someday!