Saturday, October 30, 2010

i need your sun to dry up the rain.

It’s been so great to be moved back in with my Dominican family. I was a little bit anxious about moving back in with my family, because I knew that it would be an adjustment again to go from living at the base all the time with running water and always having electricity, to moving back to the “campo”, or country where such basic things cannot always be counted on. My readjustment was significantly easier than I thought it would be. It felt in a way like I was just coming home, or back to a place that I was already comfortable being myself in. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to change homes in the middle of the semester, because it would have been so stressful to have to adjust to a new family at that time, but I love my Dominican family and I can see that I have been placed perfectly with them. I love that my siblings are my age and that we don’t have any crazy kids running around all the time, only on the weekends. J My house is a very peaceful place and I’m learning to love that so much. I am so looking forward to reading more this part of my semester, and I can’t wait to learn to relax even more.

Yesterday marked the last day of my first week at my ministry site. I work in a very poor community called El Callejon, which literally means an alley. There are about 400 – 500 people (which is about 120 families) that live there without permits. They are squatters who have constructed their houses out of boards, tin and whatever other materials that they could come up with. The level of poverty is pretty high there, similar to what I was picturing in my head when I decided to go to a third world country. The level of cleanliness and respect for one’s property is pretty low, though the level of relationship and connectedness within the community is so incredibly strong. I am working each day at a women’s social work site, where we meet with women and girls and have Bible studies, and then spend some time making crafts and things that they can display with pride in their homes as something that they did. It is a beautiful place to make relationships and learn about a different way of life.

 This week has been incredible! It’s been a kind of stressful an emotional week for a number of reasons, but I am blown away at the beauty of the women that I have the privilege of working with each week. There are six groups of women that come to the social work site each week: a group of adult women (25 – 60), a group of young married women (16 – 25), two groups of teenaged girls (13 – 20), and two groups of young girls (5 – 12). Our days are split up by the mornings and the afternoons, and we often have one group in the morning and another in the afternoon. The group of women is the only group that comes twice a week, once for a Bible study and the other time for crafts. All of the other groups are split half and half with their hour and half that they spend at the site. This week we started all of the women on their Christmas projects, because they only have three more weeks until we have our Christmas parties and then are finished for the year.

After all of the women stop coming to “class” at their regular times each week, we will be working to prepare for the six weddings that Students International is conducting this December. In El Callejon, many people live together as couples but are never married. Individuals could live together for 30 years and call one another husband and wife, but one of the goals of the site that I work with is to promote healthy relationships. A marriage relationship cannot be fully functional until there is a level of trust, respect and commitment to one another. Many of the relationships fall apart because of cheating, fighting or the man just leaving. All of these problems are less easily committed if there is more of a commitment present in a relationship. Six couples have signed up so far to become legally married, and the group of people that I am working with is going to make a special day for them. In the two weeks before the wedding celebrations, we will be making decorations with the brides and giving them facials and manicures/pedicures to prepare them for their special day. I am so excited to be a part of this journey for them, because for many of the women it’s a giant step in realizing their self-worth and recognizing their need for security in their relationships.

On Wednesday we had a photo scavenger hunt in El Callejon. Our team consisted of Rachel and I from our social work site, along with my roommate Kara who works at the preschool in El Callejon. The other team was the three students from our group, Nate, Neil and Amy, who are working at the microfinance site. The two Students International staff that we all work under at each of our sites are Caroline and Ryan, who are married to one another, so needless to say there was a little bit of healthy competition. It rained for the first hour or so of our competition, but it was still so fun. It was so interesting to see the ways that people wanted to help us. We had to take pictures we certain people, touching a pig or standing in certain locations. Because we are very new to the community, we had to ask for help from people in the community. An 8 year old girl named Rosa and a 15 year old boy named Francis went with us almost the whole time and helped us find people, things and specific places. It was so interesting that people were so quick to invite us into their homes and to take pictures with them or with a special item of theirs. It was also interesting to see how Rosa and Francis knew each person or special thing that we needed to find. I think this just illustrates further the closeness that they experience in their community. It is so beautiful! At the end of our two hours, our team ended up demolishing the other team, earning almost twice as many points, thank you very much. We won a lunch or dinner at Pizza Pepperoni in town within the next few weeks. More than winning that though we made some great memories and continued down our path of building relationships with people in the community.

Although I have only been going to El Callejon for a week now, I’m realizing that the more time I spend there, the more that I am accepted. It’s been beautiful to be able to start saying hello to women by name because I have spent time with them at our social work site. There are probably about 100 women who come to class with us, and in a community of 500 that’s a lot of people that I have met and spoken to. It’s so exciting to walk to work and be able to see familiar faces and be recognized by young girls and old women. I feel like I am less of a spectacle as an American if people know who I am and see me regularly. I am so excited that I feel like I am becoming part of a community and less like a visitor. I am starting to build those relationships that drew me to this country, and I am so excited to continue getting to know these beautiful people!

As I’m sure you all know, I celebrated my 21st birthday here on Thursday. It was a cold rainy day; apparently the Dominican weather wanted me to feel like I was at home for my birthday. J I woke up in the morning to a huge hug from Denise, my Dominican mom. I opened up some gifts and letters that were sent with me from home, which both encouraged me and saddened me at the same time. It was totally bittersweet to celebrate such a special day away from home. At the morning at my site, Caroline and Daisy gave me a plate of brownies that they made for me, which is a super special thing here because none of the chocolate here tastes like normal chocolate. I eat lunch every day at Rachel and Amy’s house, two girls from Bethel who live with a family who is really close to El Callejon. When I got to Paula’s house for lunch on Thursday, the microfinance students were there, along with Rachel and Amy’s whole Dominican family. They all sang happy birthday to me as soon as I walked in, and we all had a really nice lunch together.

When I got home from work in the afternoon I was kind of bummed that I didn’t have plans to go out for dinner or doing anything special at night for my birthday. Kara and I decided that we would get a taxi and take our family out to dinner in the city. We asked Denise about it and she was really vague in her answers. When my sister Katherine finally got home and we were ready to go, I went to the bathroom real fast and when I came out they had turned all the lights out. They started singing happy birthday and they showed me the cake that they had made for me, which said “Felicidades, Margie” or congratulations. They had planned a little surprise party with our family. Our older brother, Aneudys was here, along with Katherine’s fiancé Julio. They had the most ridiculous collection of “American” foods for dinner. They had doritos, plain potato chips, plain white bread sandwiches with pineapple jelly, cheese and salami cubes and orange Fanta soda. Denise also made this “salsa”, which I’m pretty sure was just ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together, but they all loved it. It was such a fun time! We put some music on and talked and laughed and ate. It was pretty late when we got done so we watched part of a movie and then Kara and I went to bed. Reading all of my letters from friends at home made me a little bit sad that I wasn’t home today, but the lovely party that my family here threw me wiped all of that sadness away. I feel so loved and accepted by them.

I think it’s interesting that all day on Thursday; no one actually gave me any gifts. I love that birthday celebrations here are centered on spending time with friends and family. Also, it is centered on food! I love that people celebrate one another by being with them, and taking time out of their day to make someone else’s birthday special. They show one another how they care by being physically present during special times in each other’s lives, not by giving gifts or sending cards. I love that this is yet another example of how relationships are so important in the culture here, it’s so beautiful!

I have been thinking a lot about poverty since I’ve started working in El Callejon. I’ve been thinking about not just what poverty is, but whether or not it is God’s will, what starts poverty, what other types of poverty there are besides material poverty, and how living in a state of poverty affects people. Daisy and Caroline asked Rachel and I the question on our first day about whether we think that it is God’s will that people live in conditions such as those in El Callejon. Biblically, God promises that our basic needs will be taken care of: something to eat, clothes to cover our bodies and a roof over our heads. Beyond that though, we are not guaranteed a life of comfort or luxury. The people of El Callejon have those necessities, even if just barely. God desires progress in the lives of these people, but he does not promise that money will fall from the sky and they will all have rich futures. It is hard for me to think these thoughts and write these words knowing the circumstances that I come from, but I think that my opinions of what I actually need are being radically transformed by this experience.

More than material poverty, the thing that seems more pressing to me in the lives of the women that I’m working with is a poverty of spirit or relationships. Many women do not recognize their self-worth. They stay at home cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and are given little or no thanks for all of this hard work. It is a cultural expectation for them to do these things and to do them without thanks or praise. I think it would be hard to have self-worth if no one ever told you thank you, or told you that you were beautiful. Another type of poverty that I see in the lives of these women is a lack of positive and healthy relationships. Friendships where encouragement and accountability are present. Relationships that are not conditional on completing certain tasks. Friends that can laugh until they cry and trust one another with complete honesty. We as human beings have been created to be in relationship with other people, and when these positive relationships are not present in our lives, I think there is a serious deficit. The work that Students International is doing in this community is in the business of redemption, in redeeming these different types of poverty and restoring right relationships. I am so excited to be a part of something so beautiful and full of hope.

One beautiful story of redemption in El Callejon is the wall. There is this wall in El Callejon that was constructed years ago to basically stop the community from growing in one certain direction because some view it as an eyesore. Maybe it was too hard for people to view that kind of poverty and sleep well at night, but for whatever reason it was built to keep the people of El Callejon within certain limits. It used to be this long, grey, ugly concrete wall about 8 feet high and many hundreds of feet long. The beautiful thing is that in the past few years, a group of people working with Students International, along with people who have come here with short term trips have started painting murals on it in small sections. Now, instead of being a shameful wall, it has been turned into something beautiful, something to be celebrated. I love the testimony of redemption and change that can be taken from that story. Something that was once shameful and ugly has been turned into something beautiful, something to be proud of. What a beautiful model of my hope for my time in El Callejon. I don’t expect to revolutionize the entire community, but I hope to help just one woman or young girl realize her own self-beauty and self-worth, changing her thoughts about herself into something beautiful, something of great worth which is meant to be treasured.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

save up your hopes, friends.

This morning I went white water rafting with five other girls from our group. I was absolutely terrified but it was so much fun! Dad, I'm glad that I took your advice on going :) Our guides, Luis and Carlos were telling us that the river we went on, El Yaque, had some of the best rapids in the Dominican Republic. We went down a ton of drops and each of us jumped off a 7 meter high rock, which is about 23 feet into the river. I was the only one who fell out of the boat, but our guide was super fast with helping me get back in because the boat would have gone over me. Carlos took a bunch of pictures for us so I should be able to post pictures from it soon!

There has been great community within our group in the past two weeks. Being at travel week with everyone and a week here at the base, we have really gotten to know one another. Before, we saw one another every day at Spanish class, but spending time with one another all the time really helped us to bond as a group. I love the community that we have with one another and the relationships that I am building with each person that is going through this experience with me. There were a lot of really great times of conversation and honesty in the past two weeks which really allowed for our group to grow closer. I’m so glad that I am here with such an incredible group of people, I think my experience would look a lot different if the people around me weren’t so caring and fun.

There were three days at the beginning of this past week where a professor from Bethel was here to teach us for the ministry credit that we will receive this semester. Kent is such a fun professor and was able to make 6 hours of class each day interesting. At the end of the class we had a question and answer time with Kent (who was a missionary to Russia for 13 years), Lowell (the director of the base here), Josh, Vicki and Jim Ralstin (a Bethel graduate who works here with shoeshine boys). It was really interesting to understand more about long-term trips and to learn more about the difficulties and realities that come with them. Overall ministry class was good, though it was at times difficult to sit in a hot room all day.

For three more days we had culture class with a Dominican man named Samuel Luna. He is the founder of a ministry here called NET (nations in transformation), which helps “to end the cycle of poverty” through various services that they provide. Samuel grew up in Santiago, but has lived stayed for extended periods in more than 40 countries. He was a really interesting teacher because he has experienced so many different cultures and his worldview is very broad. He took us to see the Mirabál sister’s museum. I recommend that if anyone is looking for a book to read or a movie to watch “In the Time of Butterflies”. It’s an incredible retelling of the impact that those four women had on the history of the Dominican Republic.

Samuel also took us to a local coffee factory just outside of town. The brand of coffee they make is called “Monte Alta” (High Mountain) because they grow all of their coffee beans high up on the mountains here to prevent any contamination of the beans. It was a really interesting experience to see what a small, locally owned factory operated in a third world country. There were 23 women who worked there 8 hours a day and made about 300 pesos for an entire day’s work, which is about 8 dollars. They sorted the beans which were then put into the best roasts or the less expensive roasts. None of the coffee made there is sold here unless you go to the factory; most of it is exported to seven different countries, including the US.

This whole week we were staying at the base with three other groups that are just here for a week. It’s mostly adults from different churches who went out to the ministry sites here for five days and don’t know that much Spanish or very much about Dominican culture. On Tuesday night we took the group into downtown Jarabacoa for an hour of shopping and then dinner in town at a restaurant. We went with them because they didn’t know their way around town and most of them speak virtually no Spanish. I had a really difficult time with this experience. It wasn’t that the people that we were helping didn’t know Spanish or didn’t know their way around town. It was hard to realize that they were completely ignorant to the culture here and were often really rude in the way that they interacted with shop owners or servers. I saw in action the way that Americans can impose their culture on other people, even when they are in the middle of another country. This was an experience that has been really hard to find peace in, because I know that is the culture that I come from. I know that I haven’t acted in ways like that, but I pray that I do not grow bitter towards people like this.

I am realizing more and more that one of the biggest sacrifices that I’ve made in coming here is that I have put all of my relationships on hold. It’s kind of a bummer to get on Facebook and read about all of the good memories that people are making and the other relationships that they are building, though I know that I am absolutely doing the same thing and having the time of my life too. The hard thing is that while I’m away, I am changing, and everyone else is changing too. I know that I am looking forward to going back home and digging into my friendships and relationships again, but I’m beginning to expect that there will be a period of adjustment for a while after I return.

I hope this satisfies all of my readers. Next time I post I will be 21!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Will Use Love to Overcome this Dark World.

How do I even describe all of the things that happened this week? We spent a week travelling the island a little bit. We spent three nights in Santo Domingo, the capital, in a hostel in the colonial district. We visited a lot of museums and important historical sights while we were there. It was incredible to see and visit buildings that were 500 years old. Santo Domingo was an important place in the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and is home to the first Catholic cathedral in the “New World”. Although I wouldn’t call myself a history buff, it was really interesting to visit all of these places that were so full of history. Unlike a lot of American museums and historical sites, we were allowed to enter into most of the homes, forts and the cathedral. The history of the city was very accessible to the public, whereas in America I feel that museums are much more guarded.

We also visited a number of caves. We are studying a people group called “Los Tainos”, which were the indigenous people of Hispaniola before Columbus landed and colonies were established. Within about 25 years, the population of Tainos went from 400,000 to roughly 2,500. The caves that we visited were important because all of them had cave paintings from the Tainos. Most of the paintings were about 2,500 years old, and were very basic and crude. We questioned the authenticity of some of the paintings, because some of the lines were very dark or bold where others around them weren’t. It was interesting to think of us entering into another era and place where people had lived so long ago.

After we spent three days in Santo Domingo, we went to the northeast side of the island to a resort near Los Haitises, a national park. The resort that we stayed in was so gorgeous, probably the nicest and most interesting place I have ever stayed. They redirected a nearby river so that it feel through a series of pools on either side of the resort. The cool thing was that the pools were specifically shaped to be used as swimming pools with steps in and out of them and places to sit. The bottoms of the pools were kept clean and the crystal clear chilly water felt wonderful after the unbearably hot days. The first day we were there we took a 4km hike through the park and were able to climb through a cave. We had a guide who told us a lot about the history of the park and the wildlife that live there. We were able to taste coffee beans off the tree and the fruit that cocoa is made from. It was a really fun hike, and we were able to learn a lot as well. When we reached the end of our hike, a boat from the resort was waiting for us and drove us through the Bay of Samaná to a place in walking distance from our hotel. The water was gorgeous! The next day when we were in the bay we saw a pod of dolphins swimming and we were able to kayak into the bay further.

We returned for the last night of our trip to Santo Domingo again where we went to a few more museums before leaving to come back to the base on Friday. It has been so good to be able to spend time and build relationships with more people that I am here with. We stayed awake a lot of nights learning ridiculous group games and doing life together. I learned to play the greatest game called silent football, and it can be counted on that I will bring it back to the states with me. So if you want to play and learn, just let me know. Building this fellowship and community never really happened until this past week because we spent all of our time together in class over the past 5 weeks. It has been incredible to build relationships with different people that I haven’t been able to in the past. There are so many good memories and funny jokes to remember for a long time.

Something that I thought was really fun about being in Santo Domingo was bartering. If I didn’t like the price of something I could just name a different price, and eventually we would land on some kind of agreement. I bought a hammock this week, though I don’t exactly know where I’m going to put it, and I was able to reduce the price of it by 200 pesos, which is about six dollars. It’s kind of fun to see that the girls in our group often got better deals on the same items, as well as the prices that different types of personalities were able to negotiate. Because Dominicans can tell from looking at me that I am an American, they would double or triple the price of something before selling it to me. Each time before I would buy something, I would “research” it at different vendors before buying it for a good price.

Dominicans assume that I am an American tourist with a lot of money to blow on cheap souvenirs. It was interesting to watch their reactions when they saw that I knew what it was talking about. Many people were also surprised that we spoke Spanish at all. All of this just makes me think that there are a large number of tourists who come to the Dominican Republic with no or little knowledge of its culture or customs. I feel good knowing that I am not one of those people who enter into life here ignorantly.

During this next week, we will stay at the base. A professor named Kent Eby is here for this week to teach us our ministry class. For the next couple of days we will have class for five or six hours each day to get some class time in for the semester. Later in the week we will go to Santiago to visit a museum about the Maribal sisters, and we will also visit a coffee factory. Something that I find interesting about Dominican history is that it is all very recent. From 1930 – 1961 there was a terrible dictator here named Trujillo. Although he brought economic stability to the country, he was also the cause of the deaths of many people who disagreed with him. This was a very turbulent time in Dominican history. It is interesting to me because this history is very recent for them. There are many people who are alive now that experienced the pain of Trujillo’s rule. We are going to a museum about the Maribal sisters (“In the Time of Butterflies” is a movie about their lives if anyone wants to watch it) next week. Our trip leaders told us that the fourth Maribal sister is still living and she spends a lot of her time at the museum, and there is a chance that we will be able to meet her. It is so different from the US because a lot of our very important history is far in the past for many of us, but here it is very recent.

One of the things that was very different while we were in Santo Domingo and Los Haitises is the way that we were identified and treated as Americans. While we are in Jarabacoa, we stick out as a minority, but we are treated as a novelty. People want to talk to us and get to know us. While we were in the capital, people saw us and assumed that we were Americans, but they simply viewed us as a huge dollar sign. People wanted to sell us stuff, and they wanted to make a lot of money. It was a very different experience to be treated as a tourist rather than a new person to get to know, it was kind of awful actually.

Something that I have been learning about a lot is strength. I think that because of certain things in my life growing up, there are certain parts of my life where I have become ultra-independent. An example of this is the way that I hate asking for help, I hate it more than anything. However, I have been reading in my Bible in II Samuel. The end of chapter 2 verse 9 says, “it is not by strength that one prevails.” This is just an interesting encouragement to me to stop trying to go it alone, or to be too independent, or prideful at times, to ask for help. There is such beauty in building community and relationships, I cause myself to miss out on this beauty when I tell myself that I can do it alone. It is a humbling and vulnerable thing to ask for help at times, and I think that is good for me. Vulnerability is difficult because I have been hurt a lot of times. I think a lot of people can relate to that, but my response to it has been to stop being vulnerable with anyone.

I am also learning about the way that my family growing up has shaped me into the person that I am. I have struggled a lot through my life with different emotions with my parent’s divorce and growing up in blended families. I can see now that I could have ended up very bitter and angry, but I think that my story has turned into something beautiful. I am so thankful that I have had my faith and a wonderful group of people to surround me as I grew up.

These are only two of the things that I am learning about myself while I’m here, and trust me, there’s a lot more. There is a song that has been really speaking to me through all of these changes. It’s called Hallow Eyes and it’s by a band called Take It Back!:

And now I realize
That all of this means nothing without action
I will not just sing
I refuse to just sing songs about how hard life can be
While others lead lives that are more difficult than I can imagine
I will be a source of light in this dark world
A catalyst in this stagnant generation
I will use love to overcome this world

Reading and listening to lyrics like this validate for me the reason why I am here. i will be honest in saying that one of the reasons that I am here is for self-transformation, but more importantly I am here to reach out. I want to impact or make a difference in someone’s life. Like the lyrics of this song, I don’t just want to talk about the injustices or tragedies that I see in this world, I want to go and do something to make a difference in the lives of those people. I don’t expect to end poverty or war, but I do plan to bring joy and light to people’s lives. Oh that I would make a difference..

Friday, October 8, 2010

there's a train that's bound for glory!

I’m sitting at the base right now getting ready for travel week. In the next few days we will be in Santo Domingo, the capital, going to museums and experiencing a different side of the culture here. We will also spend two days in a place called Los Haitises, which sounds like a time when we will spend outdoors more and some time at the beach. We will be experiencing a different kind of Dominican culture, the tourist side. My experience this far has been as close to regular, ordinary Dominican life as possible. I have lived with a normal family in a city that is exciting, but where a lot of wealth isn’t present. Although I always stand out here as an American, we will stand out in a different way in the capitol, being seen as tourists with a lot of money. I am excited to spend time with the whole group and the opportunity that we have to build different relationships.

Another thing that is exciting right now is that we had our graduation party for Spanish classes. Not to sound too dramatic, I don’t think it had really hit me that we’re done. Spanish class has been such an intense stretching experience. We crammed so much information into 5 weeks’ time and it’s such a relief that it’s over. For the most part, I don’t have a lot of homework left for this semester. Only one more paper is due when I’m here and I’m just excited to be able to spend my evenings from now on enjoying my family instead of working on papers or homework assignments. We’re done!!!! During our end of class party tonight, our Spanish program director Arelis said a few words about our program. It was so nice. She told us that working with students with us is why she is a professor of Spanish. She told us that it brings her joy to be able to help students learn a way to make connections and build relationships with more people. It’s always nice to hear that a teacher or professor cares deeply about the work that they are doing with their students. It’s hard to make that connection with a professor right when I class is over, but she did invite us to spend a day at her cabana!

I have been thinking that there are certain things about my time here that I want to make sure that I remember, like the sound of the frogs all croaking together at night after it rains. It’s kind of a beautiful sound out in the country where nothing else is breaking the dead silence of mountain life. Although I love the way they sound, we had another frog in our house last night, which threw all of the other girls in my house into a panic. Another thing that I love about being here is the way that all Dominicans play their music super loud. If a Dominican has some music on, all of their neighbors can hear it. Maybe they just want everyone to be able to enjoy their music with them J Dominicans also love sitting on their front porches. It’s one of the ways that they pass time with each other. If a family has a few minutes to spend together, they’ll sit outside and watch cars pass. Maybe it’s because they’re a breeze outside, but it’s another example of the way that Dominicans just enjoy spending time together.

I have been noticing some of the differences between my American worldview and the Dominican worldview lately in small ways. One of those is the way that Dominicans are extremely superstitious and have local myths about ridiculous things. For example, last Sunday my sister had a friend over and they were blow drying one another’s hair for the week. Sunday was ridiculously hot so both of them were working outside just sweating. After they were ready to switch, Katherine came inside to get a drink, but she asked me to get the water out of the fridge. I didn’t really think about it while I was doing it, but when I handed her the pitcher, I asked her why she wanted me to get it. She told me that she didn’t want her face to freeze. I won’t deny that I laughed, but I didn’t understand that she honestly believes this. Some Dominicans believe that if your body is really hot from working or exerting yourself, that if you open the fridge and the cold air hits your face, that your face will freeze in whatever position it was in when you opened the fridge. They also believe that if you shower when your body is really hot that you will get really sick. I have a hard time understanding that they actually believe things like this. I want to just think that they just trying to trick me, but the look in their eyes says that they honestly believe what they are saying to me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

i will go plant little flowers..

I’m posting this on the last Monday of classes for this semester. It feels so good to say that! I can’t believe that we’ve been here for over a month already. There is this weird feeling of relativity of time here, because it’s going so fast but at the same time it feels like forever ago when I said goodbye to my family or when we were on the plane coming here. I’m so thankful for my life here and I’m trying to take in every minute, every sight, every smell, every smile and every new vocabulary word.

Last Friday our grammar teacher and the language school director Arelis asked us what new things we learned through our program. Everyone else said some vocabulary and a few different tenses of verb forms that they had already learned. I had to honestly say that everything but two of the grammar topics that we covered were completely new for me. Needless to say that this Spanish class experience has been something that I have had to work for and study hard for. For any of you who know anything about Spanish, subjunctive almost killed me. I am excited to finally use what I have learned though. Knowing all of the different past tenses has been really useful in telling my family how my day was, but I’m excited to start at the social work site in three weeks and really be able to put all of this knowledge to practice. That hope is what really got me through these past four incredibly intense weeks of Spanish class. It is kind of cool to say that I took 11 college credits of Spanish in 5 weeks though. Hopefully I will come back to all fluent and rolling my double r’s like a pro.. probably not but it’s good to dream, right?

This past week I have spent a ton of time with friends from the group. I realized that after our Spanish classes are over there will be less opportunity for us in our group from Bethel to see each other. Once I start working at the social work site in the middle of October, I will walk about a mile to and from “work” every day. We will work at our sites from 9 to 4 every day with a little less than a two hour break for lunch. Kara and I will walk our mile or so to and from work every day. Because of this, we will only see the entire group on Tuesday nights for Bible study and then on Saturday when we take our weekly excursions. Because of this, I have been trying to spend extra time with other people from our group now before we are all split up more. On Monday, I ate lunch at my friends Corrie and Brittany’s house. They live in town and their dad is an artist. Their house is full of beautiful paintings that he has done. They have three younger siblings, the oldest of which speaks English. The atmosphere of their house is so different just because there are younger kids around, I’m sure it is hard to get homework done in their house. On Tuesday Kara and I ate lunch at our friends Jenna and Rachel’s house. Their home life is so different also. They have a younger brother who is 2 ½ and he is such a handful. Their mom cooks lunch for a local school every day and their dad works, so Jenna and Rachel are left home a lot. They live close enough to the base that they can walk to the base during the mornings and do homework there. On Wednesday night I spent the night with my friends Johanna and Mandy, who are Bethel graduates who are now teachers at a Christian school here in Jarabacoa. They both went on this trip with Bethel three years ago so it was fun to talk to them about their experience here and the kinds of things they learned from being here. Johanna was my RA at school my freshman year and it was so refreshing to spend time with them. They live in an apartment with another roommate and there are other American teachers who live in the downstairs apartment. Their living situation is very different from ours because they speak English at home all the time and are kind of isolated from the Dominican community. On Thursday I spend the morning with the only two boys from our group, Nate and Neil. We spent some time in downtown Jarabacoa, which was nice because I only get to go there when I get a ride there. I ate lunch at their house with them, which again was very different from my home life here. They live with a family with all boys. Because of this, their mom seems a little distant, and not as ‘motherly’ as other Dominican moms are that I have met. On Friday night Kara and I spent the night at our friends Rachel and Courtney’s house, which again was totally different. Their family is pretty wealthy. Their house has all tile floors and their kitchen and bathroom looked just like normal ones that we have in the states. Their family was really nice, but I noticed that they weren’t very patient with our broken Spanish and didn’t try to explain things to us if we didn’t understand.

Although my week has been incredibly busy, I have been learning so much. Spending so much time in these different houses has really allowed me to appreciate the family that I have been placed with. I can see that my placement here is a perfect fit. I don’t always have the patience or energy to live with young kids, and I appreciate that my family helps me with my Spanish. My Dominican mom is very connected with Kara and I, and I feel like se genuinely cares about us and wants us to be living in her house. This week has been a lesson for me in being content and satisfied with the family that I live with. I sometimes struggle with the physical location of where I live, Kara and I are the ones that are furthest from the base. We live up a mountain, and though it is so beautiful, we are pretty isolated from the rest of the students we are here with. Our family doesn’t own a car and we aren’t allowed to ride the moto that our family does have. So although there are still things that aren’t my favorite, because I think I’m a city girl at heart, I’m learning to be satisfied and totally blessed by the family that I live with. Sometimes when I walk outside in the morning I wonder how I could ever be dissatisfied with the place that I live, the mountains are so beautiful. But I think that sometimes I just crave that community and the excitement of meeting lots of new people in the city.

This weekend we went on an excursion that was way more relaxing than they have been in the past so far. In the morning we went to a place that Josh and Vicki called “Jacuzzi”. It was just a place in a river that had a lot of calmer pools of water so that it was more relaxing than the river experiences than we’ve been having recently. We didn’t have to walk through waist deep water with an intense current or risk our lives going down rapids in intertubes. We got to sit on rocks with our feet in the water and play “never have I ever” like we were in middle school again. Even though that game is normally played by middle school girls, it’s actually a funny way to get to know people because facts about them normally come out through embarrassing stories. After we got back from the river, we went out to lunch at this great ribs place. Brent told us that there was some extra money in his budget, so he treated us to this gigantic meal. It was so nice to sit with everyone and eat family style as a community.

I’ve been thinking a lot about coming home lately, not that I’m homesick but I think that it’s going to be really rough actually. After talking to Johanna and Mandy (my Bethel graduate friends who both did this semester program three years ago) about what it was like to transition back into American society, I’m realizing that that transition will probably be more difficult than getting used to living here. I don’t just mean the fact that I only have sandals here and will have no warm clothes to wear home from the airport in Decembe. J I mean that I don’t want to be bitter towards American society when I get back. There is so much consumerism and materialism. Dominicans here are happy with so much less than we are in America. It’s almost overwhelming to think about it. Since my family moved into our house in Woodstock, I’ve always thought that my bedroom is too small. But living here has shown me that not only is my room big enough, but it’s cool that I have my own room and my own things. Thinking about all of these changes is especially rough because I’ll be walking back into America at Christmastime, when this materialistic mindset gets almost manic and out of control. I am praying for preparation for these obstacles. Maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself because we’ve only been here for a month, but I think it’s also good to start, even now, to prepare myself for the obstacles that are ahead of me in going home.

Also, just as a last side note, I wanted to let you guys know that there is one more opportunity this semester to send me a letter. One of our teachers at Bethel will be coming down here the week of October 17th, and he has offered to bring down any letters that are in the semester abroad office by the end of the week of the 10th (so by Wednesday October 13th or so to be safe) for the students here. The only thing that he asks is that they’re only flat letters, so that his luggage load doesn’t get out of control So, if you wanted to send me a letter of encouragement or something (which would all be so much appreciated) you can send it to this address:

Semester Abroad Office at Bethel College
Attn: Margie Ewald, Dominican Republic
1001 Bethel Circle
Mishawaka, IN 46545