We kicked off our fifth day in a zen state of mind, energizing ourselves with some beach yoga led by Scatico trip leader Brian Helfman (an ‘o4 Upper Senior, and certified yoga instructor). We stretched out and meditated with the warm sun rising over our heads, and had a mental/physical reset for the second camp day ahead.
Whatever sleepiness we still felt on the “blue submarine” bus ride over to school, instantly dissipated as the clumps of smiling children (now all decked out in their orange DREAM shirts) came into view. Gathered around the entrance gate of the school they instantly started to jump and usher over their friends as the bus came into view, rushing to greet us with hugs and high fives as soon as we got off.
Though Dominican names can be hard to learn (J’s often are Y’s, so Jonathan is Yonathan, and many have combined parts of their parents’ names so you end up with long, complicated pronunciations like Lismaily) we’re quickly becoming familiar with our campers identities and personalities. There’s Melanie, one of our youngest campers who is always reluctant to try something new unless it’s modeled for her first; Junior, a quiet, stoic boy, with a true artistic flair; Belkis, a sassy older camper who is always quick with a one-liner response to any instructions. And then there are some 80 more, many of them second and third year campers Nicki has been able to see mature over time.
The camp day started with a fifteen-minute recess during which we broke into a giant game of quackadilioso, several games of 4-square, circles of taps and games of catch. The kids are always eager to play and quick to catch on to new activities, observing the CITs with a mix of fascination and wonder as they demonstrate a new hand game or style of scooping a ground ball. Then, once the whistle blew it was time for our dinamica, this one led by Frye (another DREAM staffer) and involving moving “aching” body parts. As quickly as the Dominican campers catch on, the CITs pick up new dinamica chants even faster– one beauty of the DREAM camp being that despite a language barrier we are able to learn from one another and engage in a cultural exchange of sorts, speaking in the universal language of fun and play.
Following the dinamica it was time to split into our four colored groups (each of which has quickly developed their own cheers and inside jokes) and head out for the camp day’s rotations. A quick rundown of the different activities and some major highlights:
Sports: Kickball with Moe! Always an easy and popular game to play, kickball once again took place on the b-ball court and involved coaxing kids into the sun, and getting comfortable running, cheering and sweating. The blue group was in a tight neck-in-neck competition, with the underdogs ultimately pulling ahead to win; the green group featured home run hits (a big excitement for campers) from Sherman, Karlin and Pisetzner; plus Jamie Silverman gets a shout out for kicking the sole pink team homer. The orange group (our youngest) is always the biggest challenge at sports (the group features several 7 year-old girls and boys with pleeeenty of excess energy) but numbers are in our favor, and CITs are able to work with campers in a 2 to 1 ratio, really modeling and guiding activity behavior.
Art: Photo day with Nicki! Always an exciting activity for the campers (we’ve done this one three years running) we used a Polaroid camera we brought down from Scatico to snap a pic of each kid posing under a courtyard palm. The campers soak up every second of their paparazzi moment, and most opted to take their photo with one of the CITs, jumping up for a piggy back ride or wrapping their arms around one another. Each camper then got to decorate a foam frame, many featuring CIT signatures, the Scatico logo (copied from our backpacks), and DREAM shout-outs.
English: Learning the colors with Jill! After practicing how to say the colors in English (most of them have mastered blue and red, yellow and orange not so much), we headed out into the courtyard to find items of different colors (more leaves, sticks, and fruit, plus we got creative with balls, backpacks, and yarn), which we then presented to the rest of the class. Jill always ensures that the campers have plenty of one-on-one time practicing with the CITs, who continue to quiz the kids on numbers, introductions and colors, throughout the camp day.
Reading/ library: While our kids did reading and games with Yessica (a DREAM staffer, and perfect J for Y name example), we finished up two (and a quarter) more bookshelves! Since we have become absolute power tool pros who will undoubtedly be recruited by IKEA any day now, we picked up the pace with our construction project and should finish the final bookshelf tomorrow. And then it’s on to painting our decorations!
After each group completed all four rotations, the end of the camp day was filled with many more hugs and long waves goodbye, one camper telling us he wouldn’t leave until he literally saw our bus disappear down the road.
Today marked the first day of our Camp AM, Excursion PM daily rhythm, which will continue through Thursday. So following camp we headed to the DREAM Center for a mini pizza party, spreading out on the floor to inhale pizza that decidedly ranked below the JFK Hot Spot slices of Thursday (and certainly below Sals) but exceeded expectations nonetheless.
Next it was time to head out for our cave adventure with Chi Che! A DREAM legend who is related to truly every person in the Callejon (a neighborhood in Cabarete), Chi Che knows the Cabarete national park that lies just past the DREAM Center like the back of his hand, and gave us a tour of his home turf. Winding through the dirt paths of the national park, we had a close call with a stampeding family of goats, spotted plenty of roosters and chickens (some raised for cockfights, unfortunately), and walked passed small family homes with porches filled with babies and barking dogs.
After some fifteen minutes we had reached our destination: the caves of Cabarete. Entering a small hole in the side of a “tree/mountain abyss” (in Rebecca Kane’s words), we shimmied down a ladder into a 30 foot cave filled with incredibly refreshing cold water. With the darkness of the cave illuminated by only three candles Chi Che had lit and magically managed to stick into the crags of the cave’s surface, we lined up to jump from the rocks into the water. Attempting 360 twists (that wound up looking more like 270s) and marveling at Chi Che’s 16- year old son who literally scaled the sides of the cave and managed impressive backflips into the water (we asked to try and were swiftly and unequivocally denied).
Following our cave time we headed back to the hotel for a quick pool sesh (the boys having a new post pool routine that involves sitting out on their porch, watching the waves, and listening to nature spa music inexplicably downloaded on Kassin’s phone). Rested and relaxed we walked down the beach to dinner, which was conveniently located next door at the Kite Club. Sitting down to a meal of BBQ ribs, pork, potato salad, and cole slaw, we finished up just as the sun came down, soaking in the last rays of light with our toes in the water.
It is hard to believe that our week is officially halfway through, but with two more camp days, more excursions, and Color War still ahead, we know we’ll make the most of every moment.