Comienzo la escuela de espanol hoy

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End May 09, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Monday, February 11, 2008

On Monday I headed to Sosua for my first day at Spanish school, at the Instituto Intercultural del Caribe (IIC), also known as Casa Goethe.  It is about 20km or so away so I couldn't walk to school.   I needed to take some type of public transport, as I wasn't about to pay $10-$15 for a taxi each way!   The school told me that I could catch the local transportation, the carro publico, or guagua, as the locals call it, from Cabaretete to Sosua for about 20 pesos.  We also verified this info with the hotel, so I felt fairly comfortable in getting to school.  The guidebook said when getting on the guaguas, don't ask how much the fare is, just hand the money over, and if they try to ask for more, get out of the car and wait for the next one. So I was ready to do this just in case...

I walked over to the main road in the morning and saw one of the guagua vans coming up the street, so I flagged them down.  The side door was open, and there was a guy, hanging half out waving me to come in.  I just handed him the 20 peso note and climbed in, no problem.  The van was pretty crowded, and they kept stopping to pick up additional people on the road.  The side door guy knocked on the roof of the van to signal the driver when to stop to pick up/drop off people. 

They guaguas cram as many people as they can inside, and there really is no concept of "a seat."  They pack people so tightly inside that sometimes people are half-sitting on top of each other.     And since everyone can be crammed in so tight with no aisle in the van, if someone way in the back needs to get off, usually a few people near the door need to physically get out of the van to let that person out, and that person is still usually stepping between and over people to get   out when it's especially crowded.  However, everyone is usually very courteous and cooperative on the guagua.  If someone comes in, everybody makes room for that person.  People in the back also pass their money to the side door guy via other people, and get their change back the same way.  

I saw my stop coming up and I told the side door guy "El Texaco por favor!" (the Texaco station please!) and got off at the right place.  The ride was only 20 minutes from Cabarete, not too long.  I then wandered the streets of Sosua for a bit, and had to ask 3 people along the way where my Spanish school was before I found it.  Whew! 
It turns out that before 1940, Sosua had only a hundred or so residents.  But in 1940, the US pressured the DR dictator Trujillo to allow German and other European Jewish immigrants to settle in the DR, and they migrated to Sosua.  Many of them moved back to Europe after WWII, but some stayed, and through the years, more and more Germans, and also expats from other countries, have made Sosua their home.  (More info here)  I read that there is also is a Jewish Museum and a synagogue in Sosua!

Casa Goethe is a fairly small school, much smaller than the last Spanish school I went to in Costa Rica (CRLA).  It turns out that the school is German-run (thus nicknamed Casa Goethe).  A large number of their students are from Germany or neighboring Austria or Switzerland, so at the breakfast table I could hear many of them chattering in German.  Since Frank is also taking his kite-surfing class at a German-run company, we joked that we came to the Dominican Republic to take a "German vacation." 

I was placed   in a class with 3 other girls, one from D.C., a German, and a Hungarian (but lives in Germany for many years now).  Class went OK that day. I didn't understand most of what my teacher said but figured it's just my first day! After class, I was sad to learn that the social activities coordinator was leaving in 2 days to go back to Austria, so there were no excursions planned that week.   The new coordinator was not going to arrive till the following Sunday.  Shucks!  We went out to lunch after class and I found out Sosua has supposedly a pretty interesting night life.  Lots of prostitutes work the bars there and guess things can get a little crazy.  Our guidebook said that the prostitution was so bad in the 1980s that many wealthy retirees living in Sosua at the time pressured the President to do something about the situation, and he shut down every bar in the city for a year!  From what it sounds like from other students, there still is a prostitution issue there at night.

By the end of the week, I decided to take the smaller guaguas (small sub-compact sized sedans) as much as possible instead of the vans.  The sedans still cram in 3 passengers in the front + the driver, and 4 passengers in the back.  It's not so bad when there's only me and 3 other women in the back, but when there's a couple guys in the back it is a little uncomfortable. It is easier to get in/out of the sedan, and it doesn't take as long to go between Caberete-Sosua, only 15 minutes. 

Week 2-3 of Spanish School:
I decided to switch classes and had Gralia as my new teacher. She was terrific - really explained the grammar points well, and we had lots of interesting conversation topics, from what we do in our free time, typical dominican foods, relationships/marriage, acupunture,  and the consequences of telling lies.  We had one conversation class at a cafe on Sosua beach, where he also played a guitar and sang for us!  It was a really fun class. I learned a lot, and now feel I am fairly comfortable talking about things in the present and some past tense.  I still need to improve my listening comprehension, increase vocabulary, and learn imperative and subjunctive forms.  I'm hoping I can do more spanish classes before the trip is over!
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