Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Mission Trip

True friendship is an amazing phenomenon that can span across decades! I am so fortunate that one of my fellow classmates from high school has been reading this blog and following my adventure. She was one of my classmates who contributed school supplies to the “Kurtz Kidz” collection at my high school reunion last summer. She and her husband decided to travel to Dominica during early April to spend her spring break from the school where she works. Their daughter came along, too.

On their first day, I gave them a quick tour of our village, including the beach, the bat cave, the views from the surrounding hills. We proceeded to drive around the north of the island, seeing various sights such as the location of the cliff-jumping scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. Then we went climbing up a long mountain before crossing the rim into the crater of an old volcano. We stopped in the middle to explore the sulfurous springs known as the Cold Soufriere—a remnant from when it was an active volcano. It was a good way to welcome them to the island.

On Monday, they came to visit my school and meet the students. The photo above shows my classmate with a couple of my students under the “Welcome” sign that I had painted on the bus stop. Their daughter, who had just graduated from college in three and a half years, had played soccer throughout her life. She had a good time playing “football” with our students on the playing field. I also took her across the road to climb the cliff and venture out on L'islette. The picture below shows me in my school clothes climbing up the rock wall, with her waiting on me at the top.
The fantastic thing about this vacation was that they made it a “mission trip” of sorts. They brought a lot of school supplies to help my students. Plus, they also brought me some great things, such as a Kentucky Derby souvenir t-shirt from their home state, as well as her fabulous home-made no bake cookies (in a nice plastic container that has already proven useful in my kitchen). The picture below shows my classmate and her daughter passing out some “goodies” to the students at our morning assembly.
Even more valuable than the school supplies was the soccer equipment they were able to donate. Because their children had long been involved with soccer, they had some connections that allowed them to get a good deal on new shoes, shorts, balls, and other items for our school's team. The boys were especially amazed at the fantastic (and colorful) shoes! These were absolutely amazing gifts for these children.
But that was not the end of their generosity. In fact, it was only the beginning. The next day, they paid to take our sixth graders, the sixth grade teacher, and a parent (along with me) on a chartered sailing trip. We used the same boat on which I took a cruise previously, and arranged to get all the necessary permissions. Sixth grade trips (or whatever your last year is in primary school) is a common practice in America, so it was nice to be able to do it here. It was quite a memorable day for our four sixth grade students. All their lives they have gazed at visiting yachts sitting in the bay or cruising at sea. On this day, they were able to see what the opposite view was like, sailing on the beautiful blue Caribbean and gazing back at the mountains of their verdant island home.
Just to give you an example of how new this experience was to my students (shown above), they had never swam off a boat or in deep water before. The only times they had ever been swimming was when they walked into the surf of the ocean (on our beach and on others). There had always been a gradual deepening as they walked into the water. However, when the sailboat dropped anchor in Toucarie Bay, the only was to swim was to jump off (or step off) the back of the boat, with absolutely no ability to “touch” the bottom. It required some adjustment for them to realize that swimming would mean never touching the bottom. Eventually, all of them entered the water and went swimming—just one of the many new experiences they enjoyed that day (they also got to taste the no bake cookies that had been brought down for me, as I shared mine that day so they could taste an American delicacy).
They also learned about sailing that day, and the boys especially enjoyed seeing how the sailboat worked, and actually got to “drive” it. The three girls spent a lot of “girl time” together (as shown above), which was very good for each of them. The adults all had a good time mingling around as well. It was a great chance to learn about each other, and to realize how much in common we all have, regardless of country. The picture below shows our teacher sitting with our benefactor as he holds the Dominican flag.
On Wednesday, I took the day off to accompany them on a whale watching tour from the capital. Only recently had I seen my first whales off the coastline of my village, but this adventure would be taking a large catamaran a good ways off the coast to see whales up close.
Before boarding the ship, there is a large display area explaining all about whales. It includes a complete skeleton of a sperm whale, the largest toothed whale and the most commonly found whale species here. While admiring the hanging skeleton, I discovered that it had come from my village! I had heard tales about the dead whale that had washed ashore in 2001, but didn't know that it had been the source for the skeleton that thousands of tourists view each year. They even had an original newspaper article about the dead whale, including quotes about the discovery from one of my friends in the village. Upon my return, I was able to tell him he is a celebrity with all the tourists who read that sign.
Once on board the ship, we motored a long way from shore before finally seeing some water spouts from surfacing whales. We focused on two of them who eventually came together, side by side, before the first one flipped up its tail to dive deep for food. The second one soon did the same. It was a rare sight that I will long treasure.
As we headed back to shore, dolphins would intermittently join with our ship, racing and jumping beside and ahead of us. It was quite fun to watch, and was a nice ending to our whale encounter.
Except, this wasn't the end. They took me out to lobster dinner on our back home. I had expected their generosity for my students, but I was overwhelmed by their generosity towards me. I am truly blessed, and it demonstrates that the more you give, the more you get. Thank you so much!

On Friday, they came back to our school for one more afternoon with the students. This time, the students got a little bit of an education about aerial drones. It was amazing to watch it fly above us. Below is a picture that it took, showing the school in the lower left corner.

The drone wasn't the only surprise that took pictures. Their daughter also brought along her Polaroid instant camera. The children were mesmerized to see it slowly printing and ejecting a completed picture shortly after it was snapped. It seemed almost magical to them!

All in all, their visit was an incredibly positive experience for my school. Many amazing memories (and indeed, friendships) were made that my children will long remember! Plus, it was one of my most memorable weeks on the island, as I enjoyed playing tour guide (and being the beneficiary of some great food and experiences). I hope it was as good a visit for them as it was for us. I'm glad they made it their “mission” to come see “the Nature Island” for themselves. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

1 comment:

  1. David we enjoyed the generosity of your time while visiting the Village and the rest of Dominica. Your true character shined all week and it is certainly understandable why you were drawn to the Peace Corp. Your truly blessed to experience such a great Island full of wonderful people.