This week has been incredible as life here always seems to be. I feel so blessed and excited that I am still in the process of making memories, and being intentional about continuing in my relationships has truly paid off. I haven’t checked out yet from being in this place, though it is so exciting to think about going home and being with friends and family for the holidays. I’m kind of afraid that I’m going to look back on this entire experience and it’s going to feel like a dream. I am so far removed from anything normal or familiar; that I feel like when I am back home and comfortable again, that looking back on this experience will seem surreal. Granted, there are absolutely still moments where I have a difficult time believing that this is my life and I really do live in this beautiful place.
This week in El Callejon, we had all of our Christmas parties. They were all so much fun, and it was great to see everyone dressed up with makeup on, looking their best. It’s interesting too to observe the women at the parties. There were some women who were there to genuinely invest their time in celebrating Christmas and their relationships. It was sad to see however that there were a number of women who were clearly there just to receive the gifts that Students International collected for them. Daisy and Caroline tried to compensate for those women who don’t attend class and just come for the parties for special days by making their gifts different or smaller than the other women’s.
All of the parties this week were really bittersweet. Although I’ll be working in El Callejon for two more weeks, we won’t be having any classes with the girls or the women. I’m sure that I’ll see them around town, but it won’t be the same because I won’t have time to spend with them as much. It was so sad to say goodbye to the teenage girls. I saw all of them twice a week for English class so I felt that I was able to build stronger relationships with them than I was with any of the other classes. At the end of our party, two of the girls specifically said thank you to me for spending time with them every week and being a good teacher. They then told me that they want me to come back in January to teach them and two of the girls said that I could stay at their houses if I wanted to. It was so sweet, and incredible to know that even though the girls probably didn’t learn a lot of English, they had a good time and we were able to get to know each other and laugh together.
Starting on Monday, we’ll begin working with the couples in El Callejon that want to get married. We will hold the weddings at the social work center during the week before I leave. Some of our preparations will be giving facials and manicures/pedicures to the women, as well as making decorations for the social work site to make their days more special. As of right now, there are 4 couples that are planning on getting married. If you think of it, if you could pray specifically for two of the couples, that would be great. The girls are under 18 and Daisy was unaware that it would cost significantly more to get a marriage license, as well as a trip to Santo Domingo to get special permission to be married. I hope that this will not discourage the two girls from getting married, because they are so young and it would be so beneficial to them to be in a more committed relationship. I am so looking forward to being a part of this journey with these women. Most of them have so little security and trust in their relationships that the fact that their boyfriends are willing to get married means that they are ready to truly commit to them.
This pattern of moving in with a boyfriend and never getting legally married is a thing that has been going on in El Callejon for a long time, and most of the people don’t see the value in being legally married. Daisy and Caroline’s purpose in starting to host weddings every year is to break this cycle and to help the women especially see the worth in being legally married. It will be more difficult for their men to simply walk out on them and their families, and hopefully the men will think more carefully before cheating, which is also a huge problem that couples face in El Callejon. Their ideas about marriage and relationships are so different from ours in America, it’s interesting to talk to the women and try to understand their perspective. The way I see it, legal marriage insures a sense of security and shows that both people are committed to the relationship. They don’t see it that way here. To many Dominicans, legal marriage is unnecessary and expensive, they don’t understand the deeper implications of being bound legally to another person.
Spending Thanksgiving here was actually not as weird as I thought it would be. During the morning I went to my site leader Caroline’s house and spent the morning with her husband Ryan, and his interns from our group at the microfinance site. We watched the Thanksgiving Day parade, the office, played Settlers of Catan and ate a ton of pizza for lunch. It was a very American morning, so don’t think I missed out because I was here. We went to El Callejon for a party in the afternoon with the teenage girls, but then we went back to Ryan and Caroline’s to hang out some more before dinner. We had the ultimate American dinner here at the base, complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, salad, rolls and pumpkin pie. It was incredible! All of the Students International staff was invited to dinner with us as well, so it was fun to talk with them and share the Thanksgiving tradition with the Dominican staff. We had a few minutes to talk with our tables about the things that we are thankful for, and I am amazed at how blessed I am. Being in this situation, it would be ignorant and obnoxious to not realize that, but I am blessed beyond measure in so many more ways than just having this opportunity and experience. We had some coffee to counteract the tryptophan sleepiness, and were able to spend the rest of the night hanging out.
For my day on Black Friday, we drove up to a beach on the north side of the island called Cabarete, which was so nice. It was a little bit touristy, but not nearly as bad as Boca Chica, which we went to during travel week. It was a perfect day to be at the beach, sunny but not too hot with a little bit of wind. I found peace in knowing that while many people were out in the cold shopping like maniacs to get the best deals for Christmas, I was sitting on a beach chair relaxing and enjoying the incredible people that I am here with. I definitely had one of those surreal moments where I couldn’t believe that I was there.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Bible verse in Romans 12:18, which says “So far as it depends on me, live at peace with everyone”. Thinking about what this means in my life is really convicting, because it means that I need to do my part to resolve conflicts. I need learn to do the best thing in all of my relationships, laying aside my pride or my hurt feelings, which can be really hard. It’s so convicting in light of certain conflicts during this trip. It’s encouraging though because I know that I can only be held accountable for my part of a relationship. It takes two people to make a conflict, and I know that I can only be in control of my actions and beyond that is not my fault because I cannot change it. I don’t think that this is asking me to allow people to walk all over me or to not voice my opinion when I’m upset, I think it’s just saying that I need to be mindful of doing the right thing in all of my relationships, even when it’s really hard sometimes, just a thought.
As always, I’m so looking forward to seeing everyone when I get home in less than three weeks!