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!