Tuesday, September 28, 2010

They Told me that the Classics Never go out of Style.

It’s been a while since I posted last... A lot happens here in a week! I thought that I would start this week with just sharing some observations that I have been making about the culture here. One of these is the way that people just are. In the states, I realized that I am constantly going and getting ready to go to another place and do another thing. Here, it’s not that way at all. People spend time together because there is nothing better for them than investing in their relationships. Friends and family just show up because they value spending time with the people they care about it, and there is no inconvenience on the receiving end of those visits. I wish we were more like that in the US. At first, I struggled with this a lot, I wanted to know when we were going to go somewhere or do something, but it has taken me a few weeks to realize that “being” is a very active part of life here. Talking about daily things or eating food together is such an integral part of family life that I think I look over it sometimes. It’s beautiful the way that people here can just be, and be content with that. It’s been a big lesson for me in slowing down.

Another thing that I have been learning to love are siestas. There was no difficulty for me adjusting to this; in fact, I think we should implement them in the statesJ. Each day, from 12 to 2, everything shuts down and people go home to eat lunch and rest. Most of the stores close and the streets are almost empty. I love the idea of taking time to take care of oneself by eating a healthy (usually homemade) meal, and I also love that people here recognize the value of eating lunch with one’s family. Lunch here is the large meal of the day, dinner being late at night, around nine or so. So lunch and siesta are really when people reenergize themselves for the rest of the day. Lots of days, I enjoy a nap during this time of rest, or just spend time with my family here. It is a beautiful thing!

Otherwise though stuff has been pretty crazy here. Spanish class for us is over by next Friday, meaning that all of us are cramming to get extra assignments done and to stick with the brutal pace of our Spanish classes. My family, along with my roommate, has told me that my Spanish is really improving, but there are times when I just feel frustrated. Sometimes I feel like the more I learn about Spanish grammar, the more I forget about the more practical uses of Spanish. Before coming here, I didn’t realize how intensive our Spanish program would be, but I find comfort in knowing that after next week, we won’t have to worry about subjuntivo and mandatos J.

Last weekend, the group took a tubing trip down a river. I didn’t go because I have heard horror stories about this trip. Instead of lazy river style tubing, it’s really white water rafting in a tiny intertube. Everyone who went came back limping and bruised, quite literally. So instead of going on a death trip (everyone had to sign a release which actually had the phrase “in case of death…”) I stayed back at the base and spent some time with a few other people there. We ended up walking into town, which is a treat for me because I live up the mountain and only go to town when I get a ride especially for that. We went to a few stores and the panaderia (bakery) where they sell the most heavenly treats. One of the things that are different about being here is food. I know that probably sounds so obvious, but even things that are supposed to be like American food are different. Chocolate here doesn’t taste like chocolate from home, so when we find a place that sells sweets that taste good to us; I think all of jump at the chance to eat there.
On Sunday I went to visit El Callejon for the first time. This is the community that I will be working in at a women’s social work center. The neighborhood that it is located in is called El Callejon and it is a pretty impoverished place. I think that this type of neighborhood is what I was picturing more when I think of third-world countries. Dirt roads with dirty house water running into them, naked kids (kind of funny actually), and tiny, broken down houses made of whatever material a family could find. The thing that surprised me though while just walking through this community is that people where actually happy. There was a group of young boys that were playing a game of baseball in the midst of cinder block piles and mangy looking dogs. Lots of the adults sit outside and watch other people walk by or wait to see someone they know to talk to them. In the midst of all of the trash and strange smells, it really was a beautiful place. The people there have found a way to have joy in what we would call disgusting circumstances. It is so convicting to me to see people living like that and know that there are times that I still want more: more money, more things, different food. More than anything though, I am so excited to be a part of this community and build relationships with people that live there. I will be in touch with those people every day for seven weeks, and I couldn’t be more excited to become a familiar face. I felt like a tourist when I walked through the other day, but I know that in the future I will be familiar, and I am so looking forward to that.

I was realizing the other day that I’m a little homesick, but not in the way that we normally think of that word. I miss fall. I mean, I miss my family and friends too, but what I really miss is the smell of leaves burning and the way that it’s so wonderfully cold in the mornings. I keep seeing pictures of people in jackets and of the changing leaves, and I feel little pangs of jealousy. When I think about this, I know it’s completely ridiculously because I have the joy of living in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen with my own eyes, but fall is my favorite and I’m just a little bit bummed that I won’t be around for it this year. We were talking to my teacher yesterday and I guess winter here is pretty rainy all the time and a little cooler.

There were a few questions after my last blog about my Dominican sister Katherine’s wedding this winter. She is getting married to her fiancĂ© Julio on December 11th, the weekend before we leave to go back to the states. She actually moved her wedding up a week so that my roommate Kara and I can be at her wedding. Weddings here aren’t like they are in the states though, couples don’t book a venue months before they get married. It is usually done in their local church and is much smaller scale. Family and friends help to make food and the cake for the wedding, and the reception is normally at the house of one of the family members. They will be married in the church that we all go to every week, which is about a mile from our house. They have been renovating the church since we got here so it should be absolutely beautiful for their wedding in December. Katherine has been telling me some of her thoughts about it. She said that she and Julio want to find a house to rent that is nearby where their families live now. Family is incredibly important to Dominicans, even after they have married. Katherine asked me and my friend Rachel to take pictures of her wedding for her because she doesn’t have a camera and can’t afford to pay for a photographer. I feel so honored to be included in something so important in her life, even though I’ve only known her and lived with her for three weeks.

I hope this blog kind of gave some more insight to what it is like to live in this culture, not just what I have been doing. I already can tell that I am being changed by this experience. I have been surprised at how easy it is to adjust to some things. Like today, I showered with three gallons of cold water. Hot showers are an easy sacrifice, and I can already tell that it will be difficult to readjust to American life after spending so much time here. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be taking a few extra-long, extra-hot showers when I get home, but I’m realizing that some things that we think are necessary really aren’t. The simple life that people here live is becoming increasingly more beautiful to me each day I experience it.

This is my Dominican mom, Denise, myself and my 18 year old sister Katherine, aren't they beautiful?!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wake Up in the Mornin Feelin Like..

…feeling like I still can’t believe I’m here and this is my life! Now that I feel physically healthy, I am so excited to be here and I can’t wait to start each day anew. We have the most incredible views from my house because we live up the mountain, and every morning I go outside before I do anything else and I just look around at this beautiful place that I have the privilege of calling home for a time. I brought my computer home this weekend so I have a little more time to write.. don’t expect future blogs to be this long J
Last Saturday, for our excursion we went to Santiago, which is a larger city about an hour northeast of where we live. We went to a museum there, which was a mix of history of the country and an art museum. It was a really interesting place and even though the tour guide spoke to us in Spanish for over an hour, I felt like I learned a lot about their culture and heritage from that experience. After the museum, we went to “El Monumento”, which is a large monument in the middle of the city. It looked almost like a lighthouse, so went we went to the top of it we were able to see the entire city because we were so high up. It was gorgeous! Santiago is closer to sea level, and I think that it was about 10 degrees hotter there than it was in Jarabacoa, so we were all thankful for the wonderful breeze that we felt up so high.
The past week has been so good, there have been so many funny stories and beautiful moments. Like last Friday night, Kara and I were both absolutely exhausted from a hard week of classes, so we decided that we weren’t going to do any homework that night we were just going to play Uno and Dominoes with our family. We were playing and having a good time until I went to the bathroom and realized that there was a frog in the shower. It didn’t really bother me, I mean, I wouldn’t actually be nervous about a frog unless it was on my body, but it’s a totally different thing here. Dominicans are really superstitious people, and there are a host of superstitions surrounding frogs. So I told my sister Katherine to come into the bathroom and look. She freaked out and ran back into the living room, and utter chaos erupted in our tiny house. It turns out that my mom, Denise, who is one of the strongest, hardest working women that I have spent time with, is absolutely terrified of frogs. Cockroaches and spiders don’t even phase her, but frogs are another story. So we closed the bathroom door and we were going to wait for my brother Chanel to get home to get the frog out of the bathroom. When Chanel got home he took a grocery bag into the bathroom to catch the frog. He thought he had it but I guess the frog got out of the bag somehow and went into the kitchen. When we realized the frog was out of the bag, my mom, my sister and Kara were standing on top of their chairs, freaking out. Until we caught the frog the next day, Denise looked behind and under and around each thing she picked up in the kitchen before she ever touched it. It was such a funny experience because Kara and I have had our run ins with being afraid of bugs and lizards and other creatures, but it was the our family’s turn to be afraid this time J
Another great experience that has happened is that yesterday I was able to go on a walk with Katherine alone. She has such a beautiful heart and some really great dreams for her life. She is in English school right now and she wants to become good at English so that she can go to nursing school and be a nurse in one of the clinics here that lots of the Americans go to. She understands the worth of being bilingual and she is working hard to become so. She told me that Sundays are good days to walk places because we don’t have classes or homework, and there is more time to just be. I think in the future we will have more Sunday walks, and we plan on going to see our brother Aneudys and his wife, Carina at their house. They have a son who is about a year and a half old, and Carina is pregnant and due at the end of this month with their second son. We also have plans to go to her grandmother’s house, her friend’s house and a colmado (a small convenience store) which is about a mile away. But this week we walked about a mile or so up the mountain into a really secluded poor neighborhood, and we talked the whole time. She is really great about being patient with my Spanish and because she knows a little bit of English we work it out so that in the end, both of us understand what the other is saying. She is getting married to her fiancĂ©e, Julio right before we leave in December. She has told me a lot about what he does for a living and where they are going to live once they are married. I loved just getting to know more about her dreams and hear about her excitement for her wedding and that new phase of her life.
The past few days have been so encouraging in light of the fact that I still have three months here. Some days, I struggle a little bit with that idea, three months is a long time. But it is beautiful moments with Katherine and funny frog stories that are making all of this worth it for me. I can’t wait to make more memories and relationships in the coming months.
I know that everyone wants to see pictures, but the 40 or so that I uploaded last week took almost an hour to load, so in the future when I have even less time to be on the internet, I think it will be fair to say that won’t upload a lot of pictures. Also, I want to have some new stuff to show all of you when I get back and it won’t be as exciting if you’ve already seen it all. I know that as always, my thoughts are all over the place, so ask me specific questions if you have them!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Come on and Dance in the Rain..

sick. that is the single word that best describes the last few days of my life. i spent the night last night on the SI base with Lowell and Cheryl, who are the directors of the base here and they took care of me and fed me "homey" food. it was a lot like being in a home away from home, very americanized and comfortable. i've been sick for about a week now, i contracted a parasite and getting better has just been super drawn out. the doctor on base, Fernando, finally figured out that the medicine that i was on for the parasite was making me sick, so i stopped taking it yesterday and i can already see changes this morning. thank goodness! it's such a bummer to look back on my first week here and know that i was sick for almost all of it. but i'm getting so much better and i can't wait to feel like myself again! thanks so much for all of your prayers!

all of this aside, the past few days have actually been really good! on saturday we had our first excursion with the whole group. we have little adventures every saturday all over the island so that we can have fun and build community within our group. this saturday we went to the river, at the place where two smaller rivers join together and form a bigger one (sorry i don't know the names). the excursion itself was called "creeking" so i was picturing something like turkey run state park where there really isn't much current and the water is only up to your ankles or so. boy was i wrong! at the most difficult crossing point, the river was up to our waists and the current was incredible.. it was such a work out!  when we finally got to the point where we stopped for lunch, a woman named Mary was waiting for us with incredible food! she had cooked rice and beans, chicken and potato salad over an open fire for like 20 people. it was so good! we were able to just spend some time at the river floating back and forth a little bit before we went back upstream.. which was significantly more difficult than going down. i was so exhasuted by the end of the day.

the rest of my weekend was spent resting and doing homework. my dominican mom Denise has been really worried about my health, so i think that she will be very relieved that i will be coming back to her better than i was before. being a part of this new family has been such an exciting experience. they're incredibly welcoming and they've just pretty much adapted Kara and i as part of their family. i was able to spend some time alone with Denise on sunday when everyone else went to church and it ws so nice to be able to be with her, and talk with her. i can already see improvement in my spanish, though i think a lot of it is that i'm just willing to make a fool of myself to try to get my point across. i'm at the point where i'm willing to mess up and botch the conjugations, but i think everyone appreciates that i'm trying and they try to help me speak correct spanish.

 we had our first grammar test in our spanish classes yesterday, and our teacher said that everyone did so bad that she's not going to count the first test. i don't know if that's encouraging or not, becuase the first grade she has for us won't be terrible, but i'm sure that she's not going to make the next test any easier. for class, we have a different teacher for grammer than is our normal class teacher, and Arelys is a teacher that is constantly pushing her students. i appreciate that, but for right now, it's just not very easy. i have about two to four hours of spanish homework each night, along with managing my time with some other assignments that are due around the time that spanish classes end. a lot of times i feel like i just do my homework, go to bed, get up and do more homework and go back to class. i find encouragement in knowing that this part of the trip is only 5 weeks long, and academics will lessen significantly for our final seven weeks when we are at our ministry sites.

as always, all of my thoughts are just kind of jumbled together, so ask me questions if you have any! i love you all and miss you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Through mostly vacant streets..

Hello world! Sorry it's been so long since I've written, the internet here is sketchy at best. The past few days have been such a rollercoaster! I moved in with my new family last Saturday. My mom, Denise, insists that I call her Mami at all times, and nothing else. She makes me feel like I belong in her home and like she wants me to be there. I have two brothers and one sister, but the oldest brother, Aneudys doesn't live with us. It is actually his 22nd birthday today and he told me that he is going to hit two home runs for his birthday at his baseball game tonight. My other brother, Chanel, is 20 and he loves to run and play jokes on my roommate Kara and I. My younger sister, Katherine is 18 and she is currently in English school so she always asks Kara and I about english in the best accent.

Our house is in a community called Piedra Blanca, which is about a ten minute drive from downtown Jarabacoa. We live up in the mountains where there is always a breeze, the view from our window is incredible, and there are significantly less bugs than lower down on the mountain. So much has happened in the last few days that I don't even know what to write about. It has been a fairly easy transition into living with a new family. Our house only has water every other day, so I have only taken cold bucket showers so far. We have to flush the toilet with a bucket of water. Our mom did our laundry yesterday, and it smells so good because it was hung out to dry in the fresh mountain air.

I'd like to think that my spanish is improving. Sometime I really botch my words, but there are times that I put together these really awesome sentences and I think that I must be improving. Spanish classes started on Monday, and they are pretty difficult. But we are cramming a semester's worth of work into five weeks, so I expect nothing less. I have been having some trouble eating, I haven't really had an appetite since before I got here, but I'm praying for a change in that area of my life. For the first time ever, I have to give a stool sample today.. so sick. But I guess it will be better to have it taken care of now before it gets worse or I have to life with being sick longer.

I tried to upload some pictures but with so many people trying to use the internet at the base, I think it would take a few hours.. sorry! I don't know what else to write, so ask me some questions if you have them and I'll make sure that I respond to them next time I write. I love and miss you all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Life Left Half Behind.

As I write this, I am sitting on a patio, at the Students International base, in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic :) As I'm sitting here listening to the new sounds, cars and motorcycles on the street, dogs, young children, crickets, a weird sounding bird, I can't believe I'm acutally here.. it's really surreal.

The past few days have been insane!!!! We went through two chaotic days of orientation at Bethel to start this week off. Meeting the students from other schools and getting to know the other students from Bethel has been such a fun experience. I went on a zip-line for the first time.. so fun. There has been so much information thrown at us that I'm having a hard time processing it all. I can't wait to put all of it to action though as I start my life in Jarabacoa. The thing I'm most looking forward to right now is meeting my host family and building relationships with them.

Today, we spent about 12 or so hours travelling from Prairie Camp to Bethel to O'Hare to Miami to Santiago and finally Jarabacoa. Long day. It was a weird experience to call some of my family members and know that it might be the last time that I heard their voices for a few months. I have only felt excitement, however.. no sadness :) I wish we could have flown in here during the daytime becuase I'm sure that the drive from Santiago to Jarabacoa was beautiful. We met our team leaders Vicky and Josh tonight and they already laid down a couple of ground rules for us until tomorrow morning including:
no drinking water from the tap
no flushing toilet paper (yikes!)

Tomorrow we start orientation here on base, and will have that until Saturday I think. On Saturday we get to meet our host families and hopefully move in with them. That's when the real adventure begins. Hopefully this satisfies some of the need to know what's going on with me.. I don't know how often I'll be able to update, but I'm here and I'm loving life!