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 fiancé 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?!