As administrators and teachers know, don’t hold a staff meeting or PD day without food. It’s not only a nice gesture to provide, it’s a far more subversive act than simply showing gratitude. Sharing food around a table encourages conversation, democratizes the space, and elevates the spirit. Whatever other ways you’ve chosen to nurture school culture, adding food amplifies the effect, regardless of location. Even in the Dominican Republic last week, I was reminded yet again of the sacred nature of breaking bread in community.
Across the four day conference that was held in Santiago, 200 participants and our team were served lunch everyday. Each class would be summoned to join a line outside where lunch was served.
These are the staples of DR lunch plates: mangú (a mashed plantain), queso frito (fried cheese), yuca (cassava), fresh fruit and the ubiquitous salami. LOVED it all. It was a long time from breakfast and we started teaching at 8am, so lunch was welcomed. And while I enjoyed trying new foods, more importantly, we ate with our participants.
With the unwavering support of our translator, Jesus, we had a chance to learn about folks beyond the classroom. Teachers lead many lives. It’s so rewarding to ask and listen to their stories. Our participants were so open, so forgiving of our attempts at Spanish, so grateful for the opportunity to come and learn despite sometimes travelling two to three hours. Every day. It was moving to imagine their classrooms and challenges.
At the end of the first day, there was a wheelbarrow filled to the brim with mangoes. Each person took one on the way out. We were told it was a symbol of gratitude for coming to the community.
Food connects us, it feeds us, it feeds our souls.
“In her book Eating Together, Alice Julier argues that dining together can radically shift people’s perspectives: It reduces people’s perceptions of inequality, and diners tend to view those of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds as more equal than they would in other social scenarios.” (The Importance of Eating Together, The Atlantic)
We had many opportunities to eat and share with others as our team of 12 were mercifully fed by our hosts, including Juan Pablo and his wife Betty Ann.
Even at our accommodations at Centro Bellarmino, a Catholic retreat, we strengthened our team bonds by doing the dishes together. As the nuns who shared the dining hall were on a silent retreat, we could only communicate in smiles and nods.
Our final night in DR was a true Dominican send off where we shared traditional Sancocho in the intimacy of one of our mentors’ homes. Sancocho, the ultimate Dominican comfort food, is a 7 meat stew that feeds thousands I’m sure. Look at the size of this pot!
Our team, our mentors, translators, children, spouses, and others (I’m not even sure of the connection), all came together to celebrate that manifestation of culture and community: eating a meal together. Conversation, and speeches, were punctuated by music and dancing lessons, both salsa and bachatta. Tight space, tight bonds.
I know I am richer for having experienced the hospitality and community building spirit of the Dominicans. The power of sharing food and conversation around a table there is a reminder of its impact here at home and at school.