I’m Only Preparing my Return

In the last few weeks of our time studying abroad, we made the most out of every moment, filling our last days full of adventure. Some of our adventures included touring a coffee farm, hiking to a secluded waterfall, discovering Taino caves, a final weekend in Santo Domingo full of exploration and laughter, and beach day at a tiny sand island called Cayo Arena located in the middle of the ocean.

IMG_4258 IMG_4264 IMG_4302 IMG_4383

The hardest parts of the last few weeks were all of the goodbyes: to the friends we had made all across the country, to our own Comunidad 19, and, hardest of all, to our campo families. As part of reorientation week, we visited the campo for a final overnight stay to say goodbye. One of the most astonishing moments of the semester was when my little buddy, Christopher, gathered a group of us around and reenacted the entire lesson about hygiene and trash disposal that we had presented to his school three weeks earlier. Christopher remembered the exact events of the skits, for example he gave us each a piece of trash telling us to throw it on the ground then asking us if we wanted to play soccer to which all of us responded, “We can’t there’s too much trash!” He crushed leaves in his hands and shook all of our hands showing how germs spread between people (we had done this exact activity using glitter) then got a bottle of water and washed all of our hands making us sing a song to know how long we should wash our hands. It was so moving and also humbling to realize that the kids in the campo really remembered what we said and did, not only in the lessons we taught them, but also in how we interacted with them and each other. It was a very good reminder that we need to speak and act consciously because someone is always learning from our behaviors whether they are good or negative. I could not have predicted how hard leaving the campo would be. I find it so unbelievable and extraordinary that we were able to create such meaningful relationships with people who we spent a short time with and didn’t speak our native language. It was the hardest for me to say goodbye to the kids in the campo because I don’t have any way to stay in contact with them. All I can do is secure them in my prayers and hope to visit them again one day. I also pray that I had a positive impact on their life and that my leaving them doesn’t do more harm then all of the memories we created together. As per usual, Kevin quietly disappeared right before I had to say goodbye to him. At first I was upset, but then I realized that if I had to say goodbye to my little brother, I probably wouldn’t have been able to leave. I would rather remember the countless other joyful hugs than one final tearful hug. A day after returning from the campo, we had to say goodbye to our service sites. It struck me walking into the converted church for the final time, how much had changed since our first visit. The students who once regarded us with suspicion and wariness, now jumped from their seats to greet us. At the beginning it felt like we were teaching to an empty room, but by the end the students proudly raised their hands, excited to show us what they knew. Even our little toddler friend, who I was convinced for the first half of the semester didn’t know how to talk, grew so close to us that he wouldn’t stop talking even when we were trying to teach the other kids. Leaving Centro Educativo Cristiano de Pontezuela, I was hopeful for the continued achievement and growth of the talented and determined students we taught.

DSCN2544 DSCN2411 IMG_441011059490_923796830976752_1748201284390224263_n10982604_923796110976824_4551679043407403510_n

After saying enough goodbyes to last a lifetime, it was time to board the plane to New York. No one ever expects culture shock to hit when returning to your home country, but living in a different country changes you. Immediately, culture shock hit me when we landed in the New York airport. I found myself talking to obvious English speakers in bits of Spanish, like greeting people with “Buenos dias” or thanking the waitress for bringing me water with “Gracias” or asking people to move over with “Permiso”. I got some very confused looks. Another very strange phenomenon was how uncomfortable it felt to be in a sea of Caucasian people. It felt like I didn’t belong with them after having been surrounded by the beautiful bronze skin of Dominicans. The third strangest culture shock moment was so small and insignificant and yet made the reality of being back in the United States very concrete. I received change for a purchase and when the cashier put the American coins into my hand their foreignness sent a weird feeling through my body. The coins felt so small, light and thin compared to the Dominican coins I had used every day to buy a soda from the colmado or to pay for a guagua fare. Just like the coins felt so unfamiliar, the United States culture likewise is just as strange. I miss the community and the connectedness of the Dominican people. I miss walking down the street and seeing families and friends playing dominoes or listening to music on their front porch. I miss the friendliness and the immediate willingness to help a complete stranger. I miss the simplicity of life of the mañana culture. I miss how everone uses only what they need because they take personal responsibility for the wellbeing of their neighbors. I miss the lack of a personal bubble when strangers greet you with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek or when you are crammed into a guagua with thirty other people. I miss the liveliness and ever present music playing from some colmado or house. Most of all I miss the people who opened their homes and their hearts to a random bunch of gringos and changed my life forever. As Dominicans say, “I’m not leaving, I’m only preparing my return”.

IMG_5087

Advertisements

A Mosaic of Experiences

My apologies for not writing in so long, I have been incredibly busy the past three weeks because in addition to my normal classes I had a condensed 3-week philosophy course. Fortunately, the professor was the sweetest little Chinese lady or the three-hour classes every night would have been unbearable. By some very poor planning, I also had to write a 20-page paper for my social justice in the Dominican Republic class, make a 20-minute newscast for Spanish class and had a ton of little assignments for all three classes. Needless to say it was a very stressful three weeks and, surprisingly, after writing the 20-page paper and philosophizing for three hours I never seemed to feel like writing a blog post!

The best part of the past month or so since I’ve last written was the incredibly visit from Mom and Aunt Lisa! It was one of my happiest moments watching the taxi pull up and the two of them jump out, running to give me a hug. I won’t go into a ton of detail about their trip considering most of you have probably heard about it from Mom and Lisa. It was so rewarding to share the Dominican Republic with the two of them, so that they can have a first hand experience about the things I talk about. I can describe things like a guagua ride with a million words, but it still doesn’t compare with the experience. I am so grateful that Mom and Aunt Lisa were such good sports and adventurers throughout the sometimes frustrating and difficult escapades that come from traveling in another country. On the first full day we traveled to Jarabacoa to ride horses to a waterfall. Everyone seemed to have a ton of fun and Mom certainly didn’t care about getting yelled at, she took off past the guide at every opportunity! The funniest moment of the experience was when the guide ran past me in the mud, completely splattering me with mud. Mom scolded him in English, none of which he understood, but the look of shame on his face was priceless. Back in Santiago, we climbed the monument and looked out over the gorgeous view of the city. We had a delicious Dominican dinner at a restaurant at the base of the monument. The next day we headed to the capitol, Santo Domingo. A couple of my friends I met the last time I was in the city work at a chocolate museum, so we did a workshop to make chocolate literally from bean to bar! First, we roasted the cacao beans, then peeled the shells off and mashed them with a mortar into a paste. It was hard work so a machine mashed most of the beans. Our chocoteacher, Wascar, made us all kinds of different teas and drinks from the beans and the shells of the beans. Lisa was the only one who liked the spicey, Atzec tea. After the beans turned into paste we added sugar then poured them into molds adding fun things to the bars like M&Ms, cherries, and even vanilla liquor. I don’t mean to be prideful, but I do have to say, we are expert chocolate makers. The bars were delicious! The next day we explored the city’s fortresses, old buildings and cathedral before heading to Samana. The travel did not go as smoothly as planned. We were supposed to get off in Sanchez on the way to Samana because our hotel was actually in Las Terrenas which is North West of Samana, however the driver did not say “Sanchez” when he stopped he said some other strange name. To make matters short, we ended up in Samana and because it is a very touristy area it cost us a $45 taxi ride to get to our hotel. Thankfully, Mom and Lisa were very gracious and did not get mad at me for my poor traveling skills. We got to the hotel pretty late, but when we did it was heaven. The buildings looked like they were transplanted from the coasts of Greece and the beach well lived up to its name “Playa Bonita”. The next few days were spent relaxing in the sun by the gorgeous teal ocean. On one of the days, Mom and I set out for whale watching in Samana. After figuring out how outrageous the taxis are, we decided to rent a car. I don’t know if I have mentioned how insane the driving here is, but Dominicans are crazy! They barely have any stoplights or signs or generally any driving rules at all. I was nervous about driving ourselves around, but luckily someone else wasn’t. Mom was a natural Dominican! She weaved in and out of cars and jumped the gun at every intersection. At one point she even yelled, “Get out of my way you Gringo!” at a slow car. It was one of the funniest moments of my life. Whale watching was a blast! We followed a baby whale with its mom and an escort for quite a while. The baby was very active jumping, waving its fin, slapping its tail, and spinning! We had prime viewing seats on the top of the boat. It was an unforgettable experience. It was unimaginably difficult to say goodbye to Mom and Lisa after such a perfect week. I am so thankful they came out to visit me! The trip with them also showed me how far I’ve come in the past 2-3 months. I was very proud of myself for navigating to a part of the country I had never been without really having a plan about how to get there, but instead asking around to figure out the way. I’m used to having several other people in my group so that we can work together or help each other understand, but since out of the three of us I’m the only one who speaks Spanish all the navigating and communicating was on me. It was extremely stressful at times, but very rewarding looking back on the experience.

IMG_5306

After Spring Break we went as an educational trip for our social justice class to the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti to learn about the migration and immigration process. On the way we visited a campo to talk with the leader of a group that works to make sure the rights of migrant workers are respected. The man, Johnny, reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. He stands up to the companies and managers that treat their workers poorly and advocates in court for the workers, which often results in the companies having to pay a lot of money. Because of this, Johnny has many people trying to force him into silence. In the campo a woman was murdered and Johnny was convicted of the crime. Shortly after his imprisonment, the true murderer confessed, however Johnny remained in jail for almost two more years. One company owner told him that he would spend every last peso to keep Johnny in jail for the rest of his life. Johnny only got released from jail last month and since then he has received many death threats and even murder attempts. He refuses to move or to hire a bodyguard because he believes God will protect him. I can’t imagine having that kind of faith. The next day we traveled to the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We were able to bypass every line and stand on the bridge between the countries without ever being stopped or asked to see our passports. On the other hand the Haitians and Dominicans waited in long lines and were constantly pestered by military men. As we stood on the bridge we watched a steady stream of people crossing the border through the river, then paying the border patrolman. People cross the border illegally for countless reasons, but I can’t imagine how rough legally crossing the border must be if so many are willing to cross a dangerous river with their valuables held above their head and pay large sums of money to the guard. We also saw the bi-national market place where Dominicans and Haitians come together to sell their wares. Every square inch of the sweltering hot building was packed with people. Looking around I saw Colorado Rockies hats, American brand medicine, packaged food, t-shirts from various random events like “Back to School BBQ 2011”. It was clear that the majority of the wares being sold were originally donations from places like the United States that the Haitian government sold to the poorest people who in turn sold them to the Dominicans. The experience at the border was very eye opening and made me think a lot about the immigration in the United States.

My friend, Aly, and I traveled to the capital, Santo Domingo. Our philosophy teacher, Dr. Yuan, wanted to tag along because she doesn’t know any Spanish so it’s hard for her to travel alone. Unfortunately, someone told her to go to the wrong bus station and she didn’t have a phone so we couldn’t get into contact with her. We ended up taking our bus so we wouldn’t lose our money. Once in Santo Domingo we went to the hostel she was supposed to be staying at. We asked for the “chino” and immediately they knew whom we were talking about. She had been moved to a different hostel, but the manager was able to lead us directly to her room. When she opened the door she was so excited to see us and surprised that we were able to find her. The three of us went to Los Tres Ojos a national park in Santo Domingo that has four lagoons in underground caves. It was absolutely gorgeous! For the final, and most beautiful lagoon, we had to take a tugboat and then walk through a cave that opened up to the sky and revealed a secret paradise. There was a “Save the Planet” type concert in the square. One of the musicians was really talented. We all held up candles and danced under the starry night. It was very picturesque. Later we had a great time hanging out with some friends we had met previously dancing and discovering new bars.

IMG_4083

For Easter, my wonderful boyfriend came to visit me! We had a very relaxing few days. We took a few day trips to the beach and discovered a little hidden beach called Playa Alicia. The waves were crazy; we had a lot of fun body surfing and getting thrown around by the crashing ocean. One day we road the cable car in Puerto Plata to the top of Pico Isabel. The view was absolutely incredible. We could see miles of beach, ocean and coastal land. There was a smaller version of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the top of the mountain. One of the guides at the top took creative pictures of us high fiving or holding up Jesus. There was also a beautiful garden and a taino cave. Even though it was a short trip we had a ton of fun!

11150607_10204171205585743_3917917415412532187_n

Right after Rhett left, we headed to Los Tres Pasos for our second campo immersion. This immersion was more laid back than the previous one because we didn’t do hard labor. Instead in small groups we created a lesson for the kids in the school in the campo and the one in the neighboring town that a lot of kids from the campo go to. My group made a lesson about how to dispose of trash instead of throwing it on the ground, which is a huge issue in the country. We had a little skit where we took turns throwing different trash items on the ground and saying that it wasn’t important because everyone did it, but then at the end we wanted to play soccer and couldn’t because there was too much trash on the ground. Then we held up different trash items like plastic bags or soda bottles and had the kids guess how long it takes for them to decompose. We had a discussion about the dangers of trash and better ways to throw it away. Finally, we had some fun games and races about cleaning up trash. In one of the groups we were about to start our final game and we told them it would be a race to see which team could pick up the trash the fastest. Instead of picking up the trash that we had laid out on the ground, the kids ran like crazy and cleaned up the entire schoolyard. They filled three buckets full of trash. It was a very rewarding moment. I enjoyed this campo experience even more than the previous one because we had a lot more time with our families, which meant that my relationships deepened dramatically. We also ate dinner at different people’s houses every night, which was so fun because we got to experience the different areas of the campo and meet each other’s families. My favorite moments were eating a second dinner with my family, talking to Beatriz and Kennedy, helping Kevyn with homework, and playing with all the kids. One of my favorite moments was sitting with Kevyn on his bed racing cars and watching the Discovery channel. He was so cuddly and fell asleep wrapped in a blanket in my lap. I spent countless hours as the kids’ “caballo” racing between trees and over hills with a little kid on my back yelling “Corre!” All of the children were extra affectionate this time, constantly asking us to play, giving us hugs and kisses, and sitting on our laps. One day we had “Take your Gringo to Work Day”, Beatriz took me to the hospital with her. It was a very interesting experience. The hospital was small and dirty. There was some construction being done on the hospital, but there wasn’t a barrier between the dust and debris of the construction and the rest of the hallway. Sick people lined the hallways waiting to go into just a couple doctor’s offices. The doctors barely looked at the patients for a few minutes before prescribing medicine or sending them away. None of the sheets on the cots were changed between patients. A couple of patients got oxygen and the same mask was used without being cleaned. Instead of thumb tacs to hang papers on a bulletin board, they used syringe tips. The nurses and even my host mom did not do very much besides talk to each other and fold some gauze. I helped one of the nurses fold and package some gauze and roll some cotton balls and Beatriz kept telling me to rest because I was working too hard. It made me very happy for the healthcare system in the United States. Later that day, we had a ceremony to induct the aquaduct. The community came dressed in their nicest clothes. Several community members gave really nice speeches, then the leader of the community turned on the aquaduct for the first time. The energy and excitement was exhilarating. Aly and I got even closer to Rosarie. We called each other the “Tres Panas” and pinky swore to always stay best friends. Rosarie rarely left our sides; she was always connected to one of us with a hug or hand. She continually impresses me with her humility, responsibility, and kindness. I have never met such a mature young girl in my entire life. Rosarie treats all of the kids with such compassion, even the Haitian kids who a lot of the community ignores. Watching her interact with her friends at the school in Mamey touched my heart. Most often 15-year-old girls are not nice to each other, but Rosarie and her friends lifted each other up and kept telling us all the good things about their friends like, “She is really good at English you should talk to her in English”. At one point we asked her to take a picture with us and she absolutely refused. We asked her why and she wasn’t giving us a straight answer. We finally convinced her to take the picture and when we looked at the picture she pointed to herself and said, “So ugly”. Aly and I almost cried. We told her how incredibly beautiful she is on the inside AND the outside. After a few hours of us telling her what an amazing young woman she is and her rolling her eyes and laughing, she finally was asking us to take pictures with her! The rest of the night she beamed in every picture. The entire time we spent with Rosarie my heart had an unshakeable ache. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave Rosarie in May. At one point Aly disappeared for a moment and when she got back Rosarie was extremely upset saying “Te fuiste pero yo me quedé aqui” (You left but I stayed here). She thought Aly left without saying goodbye, just disappeared. This absolutely broke my heart. I don’t know what to do to make her feel like we aren’t abandoning her. Rosarie’s family is very poor and they don’t have a phone or computer or anything and the mail service doesn’t deliver to the campo. I know that we will come back to the DR at some point hopefully relatively soon because we want to find a way to pay for Rosarie’s education through medical school. We will have to get very creative and let her know in every way how much she means to us and that we will see her again.

IMG_4181    11115714_10204041424297495_2278256220774526060_n    IMG_4185

Lastly, on Sunday I jumped of 27 waterfalls! It was quite possibly the most fun thing I have ever done in my life. We hiked up a beautiful, rain forest trail then came back down through the river. The tallest waterfall was probably about 30 feet or more! We slid down some of the waterfalls like waterslides into a pool of chilled water. The river cut through the beautiful forest. We floated on our backs gazing up at the canopy of trees and the banded canyon walls overhead. Some of the waterfalls were inside caves that we had to climb into. Our guides were very funny and kept taking my hand and pretending that he was going to run away with me. I cannot even put into words the breath-taking scenery and the exhilaration of leaping off and sliding down 27 waterfalls!

17290_848796325167806_6742436173213305864_n 11133725_848796645167774_1069802887139171955_n 11138611_848791998501572_58716361611109716_n

I hope this compilation of events from the past month and a half gave sufficient explanation of the experiences I’ve been having in the Dominican Republic! I gave a relatively brief overview of everything because otherwise this blog post would become a short novel, however I would love to talk more about any of these experiences, just email or text me!

To Hear His Call

Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” One of the greatest lessons that the 10 day immersion in the campo has taught me is the difference between material poverty and poverty of the soul. Although the people in the campos of the Dominican Republic may not have many luxuries or even what we may consider necessities, they posses something much more important. The love and community in Los Tres Pasos exceeded anything I have ever experienced. The community welcomed us with open arms and open houses, showing us immense hospitality. I will try to put into words everything that I have felt and experienced this past week and a half, but I know my words will never do the community of Los Tres Pasos justice.

The Campo

Los Tres Pasos is located along a hilly dirt road outside the small city of Mamey. Two hundred houses are divided into three smaller neighborhoods separated by sections where the river weaves through the road. There’s a wide range of quality of the houses. The least nice houses are made entirely of wood planks and the nicest houses are made of concrete with tile floors. The reason for the discrepancy is because some people have children or even grandchildren who live in the United States and send remittances back to their family in the campo. The measly earnings by these migrant workers go a lot further in the campo where the average monthly income is very low. The community offered up their nicest houses for us to stay in. For perspective, my house was a medium to high quality house. The walls and floor of the house I stayed in were made of concrete and the roof was made of zinc. There was gap between the roof and the walls, which meant we shared the house with a multitude of bugs. The house was divided by one wall down the middle separating the kitchen (which only had a sink and refrigerator) and the bedrooms. There were three bedrooms separated from each other by a half-wall. The bathroom, in the corner of my parents’ room, was hidden from sight by a curtain and a wall that only came up to my shoulder. Needless to say, my host family and I became very comfortable with each other very quickly, especially on the nights when the food upset my stomach. My family was one of the lucky families in the campo that had electricity. That being said, between the two dim bulbs and frequent power outages, we weren’t able to use the electricity very much. My house was also one of the few in the campo that had running water. Again, our idea of running water is much different than the reality of the people in the campo. Our house had an indoor toilet instead of a latrine, but the water very rarely worked well enough to flush, so it was used like an indoor latrine. In order to bathe, I had to turn on a faucet to fill up a five-gallon bucket and then use a cup to clean myself. Surprisingly, I felt very clean even though the water came from the river without much filtering. This goes to show how we don’t realize that our “necessities” are actually excess. Five-gallons of cold river water did the same job as a 15 minute shower that wastes a ton of water.

The People

Hands down my favorite part of the campo was the people I met. The language barrier did not slow the formation of friendships. Smiles, laughter and presence take over when words aren’t enough. That being said, in a completely Spanish environment my speaking and understanding of the language improved greatly. The first night was very difficult because I think my family had assumed I was fluent in Spanish, so they laughed when I didn’t understand instead of slowing down or restating their sentence. But by the end of the immersion I was able to understand almost everything that was said to me and could respond with more than just “Si” or “Gracias”. Below are just a few of the incredible people I met from Los Tres Pasos.

DSCN2333
My host family- My host family consisted of the mom Beatriz, the dad Kennedy, and the seven-year-old son Kevin. Most people in my group stayed with people who were more like grandparents so my relationship with my family was different, more like friends instead of like being their child. Beatriz graduated from high school and almost finished her college degree. She works at a hospital in the next town over as the secretary. Kennedy is an incredible husband and example of a man in Los Tres Pasos. Most of the men are pressured to be players and not do “women’s work”, but Kennedy cooks for the family and takes on some household work in addition to selling and delivering food items like crackers and cookies. The relationship that Beatriz and Kennedy have is really incredible. They are very loving and genuinely care about one another. One night when Kennedy was sick, Beatriz stayed up all night with him and in the morning when I asked her how he was, her face told me how much she cared and was worried about him. I can’t tell you how many times my family made me extra food to eat, bought me a soda, cleaned my muddy shoes and just showed me incredible hospitality.

.DSCN2282

Kevin- My younger brother with a bowl cut and deep voice was the sweetest little thing. The first night he was extremely shy and didn’t say more than two words to me. Once he warmed up to me, he became attached to my hip. Kevin gave me hugs constantly, always wanted to sit in my lap, asked me to play with him, and followed me everywhere. One time I was walking to the colmado when a guy on a moto stopped to tell me I had a little kid following me. I looked back and off in the distance was Kevin trudging down the hill! After work everyday, as soon as Kevin spotted me walking down the road he would race as fast as he could run and leap into my arms. One night I had gone to bed, but my parents were still awake and talking, from his bed Kevin told them that they needed to be quiet so I could sleep. My funniest memory of Kevin was when we had an impromptu dance party in someone’s living room. I danced with Kevin most of the time, but any time someone else tried to cut in Kevin would either refuse to let me dance with them or would pout in the corner until it was his turn to dance with me again. I’m so glad I met my affectionate little buddy.

DSCN2323

Rosarie- This girl was the most loving and mature fifteen year old I have ever met. She truly has a heart of gold. She cares for the younger kids in the campo and treats each one with love and respect, even the Haitian kids who are often treated poorly. One time we went to a different section of the campo and at one point she said that we had to go back soon because she didn’t tell all the parents where the children were going. Unlike most kids, Rosarie still goes to school. She has to walk everyday to the next town over because the school in Los Tres Pasos doesn’t go past 6th grade. Rosarie has a very clear life goal: to go to school to be a pediatrician and then have kids and a family after. I pray that she can achieve her dream.

DSCN2306

Christopher- This nine-year-old ball of smiles and energy filled my time in the campo with joy and laughter. Immediately we clicked as fast friends. Christopher refered to me only as “mejor amiga” and even forgot my real name! Christopher was so patient and helped me to learn Spanish, never failing to correct me! His favorite job was filling up everyone’s water bottles; no one’s water bottle was ever less than three quarters full. He loved to wear my sunglasses and baseball cap on sideways while he danced around pretending to be a gangster. Christopher always had creative ideas like making crowns out of plastic cups or playing makeshift baseball. His smile and kind heart are simply infectious.

Favorite Memories

After eight days of digging, gluing, carrying, and building we finally finished the 3-mile long aqueduct. The aqueduct started in the mountain area at a waterfall. We built a small dam that fed the water into a tube. The tubes ran down the mountain into the first area of houses where we built a tank so that the community could have a reserve of water in case of drought. From the tank the tubes ran through trenches to the other side of Los Tres Pasos. The work was very difficult, but it was an incredible experience to work alongside the community towards a common goal. The Dominicans all thought we were either working too hard or weren’t doing it right because everyone including old grandmas in nice clothes constantly offered to take our shovels and picks and work for us. As we walked down the street after we finished the project, people were celebrating their new water. The kids and adults alike were yelling, having water fights and playing.

During our free time we would play cards and dominoes with the children and with the people our age. We taught them games like Spoons, Hearts, and BS. They taught us games like Casino and 3-2. We would play for hours talking and laughing together. One thing I learned about Dominicans: they cheat like none other. It added an extra element to every game for them: who could cheat and not get caught. It was hilarious when they would stand up from the table accusing each other of cheating. Spending time interacting with others without the distraction of technology was so refreshing.

Never have I ever crossed a river to go to church. On Sunday, the community walked together to the church that was in the town adjacent to Los Tres Pasos. On the way we had to cross the river and since it had rained the water level was above the rock stepping stones we usually used to walk across. Everyone stripped off their shoes and waded across the river in their nice clothes. It was a hilarious sight, especially when one of the girls from our group fell in!

During the immersion, one of the girls in our group had her 21st birthday. The community insisted on throwing her a massive celebration. They decorated her house, gathered together gifts for her, and baked a beautiful cake. We spent the night dancing bachata and merengue together. It was incredible to see the community put together a huge celebration for a girl they had just met.

The best meal I had in the campo was made by one of the sweet older ladies who had us all over for dinner one night. She made a chicken soup dish that tasted very similar to the gumbo my dad makes. I sat in the backyard kitchen with her, my host mom and some other family members while she spent hours making the dinner. We had a great time chatting and watching the cooking.

On the last night, two of the girls from my group and I sat on my front porch with our families. We talked about our lives and gossiped. It felt just like talking to family and friends back home. It was such a cool experience to share a common human moment with people who have lived such different lives from me.

Reflection

The campo immersion provided me with a new perspective and a lot more questions. In our retreat following the campo, we reflected on the struggles of the community and what we can do to make a difference. The campo affected each one of us differently and spoke to us in different ways. The number one thing breaking my heart about the campo is the way the children are robbed of their innocence. Most kids in the campo go to school one or two days a week, if at all, and drop out after elementary school. They work most days instead of going to school. Young girls are pressured to marry and start having children. Young boys are pressured to grow up, get jobs, get women, and get drunk. One night we saw an eleven-year-old boy, whom we had befriended, completely drunk with older boys and men egging him on. I was shocked to think that the same boy who we gave piggyback rides to was pressured into inappropriate situations for his age. We talked about how even kids like Rosarie and Dioscar who had the motivation and the determination to finish school may not be able to because of their circumstance. In my life I have every key of possibility imaginable. My parents supported me in ways I didn’t even realize like reading me books and making me do school work during summer to keep up my skills. I have the world at my fingertips and a net behind me to catch me if I fall. The only thing that’s stopping me from achieving my most outlandish dream is the amount of effort I’m willing to put in. In contrast, Rosarie and Dioscar could try harder than I ever have and succeed more than I ever will and still not be able to reach their goal. Even if they could graduate from high school and get accepted into college, there would be no way for them to pay for their education. To see kids half my age fighting to go to school and with a purpose for their life when at that age all I could think about was friends and the upcoming summer vacation, makes me want to fight with them. The question now is how do I turn this guilt for my privilege and the ache in my soul into a positive change. How can I, one person, make any difference? Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that one missing drop.” God brought me to this point in my life. He presented me with these experiences. He moved my heart in a very specific way. Now I need to listen to hear what He is calling me to do.

Strap on your adventure shoes!

With breath-taking views, adventure shoes, and no time to lose we spent the past week exploring this incredibly diverse country. Four of us set out to Jarabacoa for a day of horse back riding. To get from Santiago to Jarabacoa we had to take a guagua from ILAC to Santiago, from Santiago to La Vega, from La Vega to Jarabacoa, and then a taxi from Jarabacoa to the ranch. I can’t even describe the immense feeling of accomplishment after navigating that many stops, having to ask strangers where to go, and ending up at our destination without a problem. The ranch we went to was located in a tropical jungle with colorful flowers and lush greenery covering every square inch of ground. The horses that we rode were pretty small, which was perfect for me because I could get onto it without a step stool! Riding through the country side felt like a dream. The picturesque scenery looked fake. I loved when my horse galloped, it was so freeing and majestic. Our guide let us ride the horses through a couple of rivers, although I had to forse my horse to get into the water! We rode to a hiking trail and then hiked through the jungle to a gorgeous waterfall. We swam in chilly pool gathering at the base of the waterfall. On our way back to our horses our guide let us rock climb up the side of the waterfall!

Carnaval is a country-wide celebration lasting for the entire month of February. Each city has a different theme with different costumes and traditions. Santiago’s Carnaval consists of a parade of people dressed up as colorful devils carrying very scary whips! Luckily, unlike in other cities, they don’t whip you they just crack the whip against the pavement. The entire city gathers in the streets to watch an endless parade of people dressed up in costumes dancing and putting on skits. Vendors sell delicious street food, including my new favorite snack, empanadas! Walking down the streets to a chorus of “Hola Americanos!”  and “Que bonita!” we attracted a ton of attention. Men line the street corners throwing confetti at all the women. After one confetti ambush, I turned to see my friend spitting confetti out of her mouth. I bent over laughing so hard and immediately a guy threw a handful of confetti into my mouth! Karma! The guy felt bad so he poured some confetti to throw at him! Carnaval is a gorgeous celebration everyone should experience!

In a mere 30 minutes we will be heading to the campos for our 10 day immersion. We are going to Los Tres Pasos to build an aqueduct for the community. This will be a challenging growing experience that will take me far outside my comfort zone. We will be living fairly simply because the community does not have running water or electricity. I am most excited for getting a first hand experience with living in poverty. I think it will be a life-changing and very  centering experience. I am sure I will have a ton to write about in my next blog post when I return. Until then adios everyone!

10959812_1019672168047003_4412619737459800395_n 10995342_1019672828046937_625216545327960674_n

Ruined for Life

The motto for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is that being with the poor and marginalized will leave you “Ruined for Life” because once you’ve stared poverty in the face it is impossible to return to a life of comfort without eyes that only see excess and a heart that breaks for those who live without. One of my goals for my time here in the Dominican Republic is to pose questions to myself about how the way I live my life contributes to the travesties in this world and how I can change from being the problem to being part of the solution. I challenge those of you following my journey to do the same. Ask yourself the difficult questions. Don’t be afraid of uncovering the dark parts of yourself because there is no hope of eradicating those parts without first acknowledging them. Challenge yourself to question the ideals you’ve held for your whole life. And most importantly, don’t be scared to be “ruined for life”. The goal of this blog post is to reflect on the ways we live in the United States versus the way the people of the Dominican Republic live and also to tie in moments from my own life when I have felt God’s presence. Hopefully, you will be able to use this post and ones like it in the future as a challenge to begin your personal transformation.

In my class, Social Justice in the DR, we are currently reading two books Doing the Truth in Love by Michael Himes and The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times by Dean Brackley. Both books offer Earth-shaking insights into how we perceive and interact with the world and a revolutionized vision of what it means to be Christian. Doing the Truth in Love discusses God as a verb instead of a noun found in the relationships between people, “What happens when you serve your brother or your sister is that you are enacting the meaning of the word ‘God’”. The importance of this lesson has become incredibly clear to me during my time here. If I could use one word to describe life in the Dominican Republic, it would be community. Every household owns a roof-high stack of plastic chairs, which are set out in front of the house several times a day in order to enjoy the company of friends and neighbors. The Dominican Republic is a front porch community. Walking down the street, every house you pass has a cluster of people outside playing dominoes, dancing, or talking. People blast music from their cars, businesses, and houses not to be annoying or rude, but to share their music with the rest of the community. Can you imagine if someone constantly blared music from their stereos? A noise complaint would be filed in a matter of minutes. Whereas in the United States, most people look down or at their phones instead of saying hello to passersby, Dominicans shout from across the street to greet friends and strangers alike. On the guaguas, people strike up conversations with us and even persist when they learn our Spanish is limited. This sense of community warmly reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in, where every evening a group of neighbors would set out chairs on someone’s driveway and spend hours chatting and sipping wine. I learned incredible life lessons from listening to the stories of the adults. I consider my neighbors a part of my extended family and I am very grateful for the blessings they have been in my life. My neighbors across the street, Jim and Helga, were my fill-in grandparents, coming to Grandparents lunches and band concerts since my grandparents lived in different states. Other neighbors supported the random businesses and lemonade stands my brother and I started, always offering generous tips that exceeded the actual cost of the item they bought. I am so grateful for the loving community I grew up in; unfortunately I realize my community was a novelty that most people in the United States didn’t experience. Community is God, love, in action. However, most of the time in our busy lives, we pass up an opportunity for community in order to get to a meeting on time or get to the store before dinner. My parents have both been great examples of how to live life in community with others. My dad’s business is a community unlike one I have ever witnessed in a company. Whenever I visit his office, we make the rounds to countless offices throughout the building saying hi to his co-workers and friends. From the way they know all about my life, I know my dad talks with them, forms community, on a daily basis. My mom is the perfect example of taking time out of your busy day to love others. Our trips to the grocery store often take two hours because we stop to talk to the workers that she has befriended over the years. She will regularly stop to talk to strangers especially if they look like they’re in need of support. One time she was walking out of Walgreens when she spotted a girl nervously staring at the trashcan. She went over to ask the girl if she was ok, and the girl said was looking for a monster that had supposedly crawled in the trashcan. Mom spent the next half hour talking and praying with the teenage girl who was tripping on acid and afraid to go home. There is nothing in life more important than loving your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Brackley says that modern life is a “desert of materialism”. How many times have we each heard, “You better finish your food, there are starving kids in Africa!”? The constant reminders of poverty have numbed us into being unable to truly see the poverty. We think of the poor as problems instead of people. We think we are doing our part by giving a couple dollars to the homeless man on the street corner. You may be giving him enough to treat his physical hunger, but what about the gnawing hunger of worthlessness and inhumanity. In many cases, rolling down your window, looking the man in the eye and asking his name may do a lot more good than a couple of bills. People who live in poverty may be materialistically poor, but often times they are spiritually abundant. In contrast, most people in the United States are materialistically abundant, but impoverished spiritually. In reality which is the worst form of poverty? Heartland Hope Mission in Omaha exemplifies healing the whole person. The mission of the food bank is to fill up the person’s stomach and their soul. Every person that walks through the door hears a message of hope, love and worth before receiving their food. Volunteers individually walk with each person asking them what food they would like and then serving the person by putting the item in the cart for them. The goal of Heartland Hope Mission is to let the person know that they are valued and worthy in addition to filling their pantries. Brackley states that, “The crucified people of today lead us to the center of things”. Ask yourself what that quote means to you. To me, it means that no person asked to be born into poverty, to be born with a certain color of skin, to be born into an abusive household, to be born gay, to be born male or female. Every person has a cross to bear. Some crosses are heavier than others. Those that accept the burden of their cross and act as a representation to spread awareness for those with similar struggles lead us to the center, the meaning of life. My favorite bible verse has always been Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” This verse has always spoken to me, but I never really knew why. I questioned myself, thinking this verse would be more suited for someone who had experienced a lot of suffering in their life when I have experienced very little. Slowly the meaning is becoming clearer. My cross isn’t one of suffering, but one of wealth and luxury. The life that I was born into is one of extreme comfort; I have never had to go without. My fortunate circumstances are both a gift and a curse. They are a curse because it is hard for me to give up my wealth and comfort in order to help another. My cross is heavy under the weight of my opportunities and my luxuries. I don’t need to feel guilty for the life I was born with, but I need to be able to give up aspects of luxury as well as my inhibitions in order to be in solidarity with the suffering, to love those deemed unlovable, and fight for those without a voice. One week from today, I will start my first immersion, living with the poorest of the country. I am both nervous and very excited to experience this poverty and allow it to change me.

After observing or hearing about the injustices and travesties in our world, it can be almost impossible to move beyond the overwhelming devastation. To me it sometimes feels like all of my breath has escaped and my body turns into a vacuum overcome with guilt and frustration. Many people experience this state of shock, especially after disasters like hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, however this paralyzed state doesn’t result in change, it hinders it. So how do we become part of the solution? First, we must accept our role in the evil that occurs; “Getting free to love requires facing up to our part in the sin of the world” (Brackley). We must open our eyes and accurately see how what we do affects those both near and far from us. It is not the job of a select few Saints to save those in need, we are each responsible to act, ““Responding to massive injustice according to each one’s calling is the price of being human, and Christian, today. Those looking for a privatized spirituality to shelter them from a violent world have come to the wrong place”. We need to hold each other to a high standard and challenge each other to live a life of peace and love. I’m not saying that in order to fix the world everyone needs to sell all of their possessions and move to a third world country. Each one of us can contribute to the solution of the injustices in our world by building community, by slowing down, by loving everyone including the person that drives you crazy, and by viewing every person you come across with dignity and purpose. One beneficial tool for reflecting on the direction of your life is the Ignatian Daily Examen. This prayer/meditation is a powerful technique that you may find useful for guiding your actions. Ultimately, the crucial change is to turn form selfishness to love. I want to end this very long (my apologies) reflection with an influential poem by Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

FALLING IN LOVE

Nothing is more practical than finding God,

That is, than falling in love in a quite absolute way.

What you are in love with,

What seizes your imagination,

Will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

What you will do with your evenings,

How you will spend your weekends,

What you read,

Who you know,

What breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love,

stay in love and it will decide everything.

Weekend in Santo Domingo

About two hours to the South East of Santiago lies a small community called Villa Altagracia. Like so many in third world countries the people of Villa Altagracia have know the agonies of sweatshops, however unlike many they have escaped the cruel grip of unfair pay, harsh hours and unbearable working conditions. The main sweatshop in the community, BJ&B, employed 3,000 people making hats for universities in the United States. The workers joined forces with United Students Against Sweatshops to fight for fair working conditions. They won and life improved for the workers until BJ&B was forced to close because the new demands of the workers made it impossible to compete in the market. 3,000 people were now unemployed and had to travel farther from Villa Altagracia to find work which meant they barely ever saw their family. The workers and United Students Against Sweatshops worked with Knight Sports Company to open a new factory, Altagracia. Altagracia was founded on free and fair trade principals. They pay their workers fair wages, have good, safe working conditions including fans and music, they have breaks throughout the day, and the company gives them opportunities to grow. If you ask the workers what the best change from BJ&B to Altagracia was they would say the amount of time they have to spend with their families. The company also helps the employees with obtaining loans that are necessary to buy a decent house. We visited the house of one of the employees. It was made of cinderblock, which is a big step up from the wood and tin houses most people have. To us the house looked very simple, but it was clear by the pride on the man’s face that his house was one of his most prized possessions. Altagracia produces t-shirts sold in many universities across the United States including Creighton. The issue is that of the hundreds of racks of clothes in university bookstores often only one of those is from Altagracia. The other hundred are likely still made by people working in sweatshops. The way to fight this problem is not by boycotting merchandise made in sweatshops, but educating the public about these travesties and educating the company owners and employees about the benefits of a free and fair trade company. Education ignites change.

DSCN2196

After visiting Altagracia, we continued on to the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo. Christopher Columbus and his family founded Santo Domingo. The city has a rough history of chaos, dictators, wars, and pirates. Because it is a port city, it has a lot of European influence in the architecture and the culture. We visited several museums and went on a walking tour of the city to learn about the history, which connects to what we are learning about in our classes. We all tried the local drink, Mama Juana, which is made by letting rum, red wine, and honey soak in different herbs and barks. It was surprisingly delicious! Only a few of us tried an alternative version of Mama Juana that supposedly has hallucinogenic effects and is made with some questionable ingredients like turtle. It tasted like dirt and nature; I wish someone had taken a picture of our faces. Later that night we went out to the local dancing bars and spent the night dancing away. We signed our names along with “Comunidad 19” on the wall of one of the bars. The European style hostel we stayed in felt like a huge slumber party! We stayed up laughing and talking until the early morning. The next day was free to explore the city. The girls couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shop, so we headed to the tourist areas. I bartered for a beautiful silver ring with a blue “love” stone native to the Dominican Republic asking for the Dominican price instead of the posted tourist price. We had lunch at an Italian café overlooking the bustling town square. It was so relaxing to watch the little kids chase the pigeons and listen to the rag tag band play under a twisted old tree. After visiting Christopher Columbus’s remains at the mausoleum (that ironically resembles the buildings of the Aztec people he persecuted) we headed back to Santiago.

DSCN2246 DSCN2245 IMG_3842 IMG_3811 IMG_3800 IMG_3798 IMG_3797

A few important things I’ve learned in my three weeks here:

  • Look down while you walk. If there are sidewalks in Santiago they are broken and uneven, riddled with short metal posts, and no joke have 3 feet deep holes that people use as makeshift trashcans. If you fail to examine the upcoming path, you will surely end up with skinned knees, a lesson I have learned the hard way.
  • The American influence is inescapable. A few of us went to go see the movie American Sniper. For American movies played in the Dominican Republic are either in English with Spanish subtitles or the actors lips are moving in English, but there’s a Spanish voice over. Our movie was in English with Spanish subtitles. It would be so annoying to have to read the dialogue every time you went to watch a movie. The United States truly dominates almost every industry. It was interesting to watch the reactions of the Dominicans in the theater when they showed scenes from 9/11; they seemed to have similar reactions to our disheartened shock at the cruelty. I want to ask a Dominican that has seen the movie what they think of the war scenes, seeing as the DR was occupied twice by the United States.
  • Smoking cigars takes skill and technique. We toured Santiago’s first cigar factory. Each cigar is hand made starting with deveining the tobacco leaves and ending with rolling each layer of the cigar. All of the workers chain-smoke cigars all day long while they work. The tour guide taught us all the proper technique for smoking a cigar. I enjoyed it (and felt pretty manly and cool!) however afterwards my stomach hurt a bit.
  • Teaching English is both frustrating and rewarding. Last week was the first time since starting service at the Haitian school that I have not felt completely incompetent. Most days the communication is painfully slow and difficult, but this week I felt relatively efficient and the kids seemed to understand what I was talking about. I made a lesson plan about the alphabet for the 2nd and 3rd graders consisting of worksheets where they traced the letters, songs, and games. The kids were so eager to learn and were so proud when they successfully traced a letter correctly. One boy even stayed in his seat during recess to finish his worksheet. The students are definitely warming up to us and love to play and sing with us; it is very rewarding!
  • Although we still look like tourists, we are slowly assimilating into the Dominican culture in subtle ways. For example, the guaguas are no longer uncomfortable, but a normal part of our day. We no longer frantically gaze out of the window trying to spot a familiar landmark or worry about getting the attention of the driver, but easily navigate through the city. While riding the guagua, instead of staring, the Dominicans strike up conversation. One cute boy on the guagua decided our Spanish wasn’t quite up to his standard, so he started speaking very slowly and very loudly, it was hilarious! I am also losing some of my American norms. This weekend I bartered in Spanish for the first time. Previously, I always felt awkward and cheap so I didn’t even try to barter. However, I have learned that the sticker price is only for the “extranjeros” and the merchants will knock a few hundred pesos off if you demand the Dominican price.

The more I learn about the Dominican culture, the more I love it and the more questions I start to have. It is truly an incredible and complex place.

Aventura a la Playa de Cabarete

Planning an outing never goes quite according to the plan, especially in a foreign country. As a strict planner, this past weekend was a true test of my flexibility, spontaneity, and sense of adventure. We didn’t realize exactly how long public transportation takes to get to the beach. Note to self: leave before 8am to get to the beach at a decent time. We had to take a guagua to the bus station then took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Sosua then from Sosua we took a taxi to Cabarete Beach. We finally got to the beach at around 3. Cabarete is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The soft, fine sand squishes between your toes, the waves race onto the land crashing with a magnificent sound, and the palm trees bend and shake with the wind. One section of Cabarete is called Kite Beach and is home to the best kite surfing in the Carribean. Hundreds of colorful kites fill the sky overhead as their owners skim over the wavy water below. We spent hours relaxing and swimming. We befriended a three-year-old girl who loved the attention of us older kids. The little girl recruited another group of girls about our age who are teaching English in Santiago for a year. The girls were super friendly and gave us the inside scoop about the fun places around Cabarete. After the sunset, we sat down for happy hour and dinner on the beach. It was an incredible moment to eat dinner and watch the sun sink below the ocean surface while burying my feet in the soft sand. The nightlife in Cabarete is just as vibrant as life when the sun’s up. We met up with our teacher friends and bar hopped up and down the beach until we arrived at our final stop for the night: a two level dance club called Los Ojos. The top floor played American club music and the bottom floor played Bachata and Merengue. With our new found love of Dominican music we stayed on the bottom floor. We had the best time dancing with the Dominicans who were so eager to teach “Los Americanos” the native dances. I love that from an early age Dominicans learn to dance the Bachata and Merengue so that by the time they are young adults everyone is a master of the dance floor. I wish dancing was a larger part of our American culture and not our type of dancing which doesn’t take any skill, but traditional and complex dancing.

Because we had gotten there so late and wouldn’t be able to stay very long before the last bus left to go back to Santiago, we decided to stay the night in the cheapest hotel we could find. The hotel website said it was located right on the beach. This turned out to be a very loose use of the word “on”. We ended up walking through the gated yards of other hotels, through alleyways, and several miles down the main road before we finally came across the sign “Kite Dreem Hotel” (still convinced they meant to spell “dream” wrong). The hotel’s bubbly Jamaican owner led us to our rooms. Staying at the Kite Dreem Hotel was definitely an experience, but not quite a dream. The floor was covered with a thin layer of dirt, the rooms could have used a few hours worth of fix ups, only one of the rooms had toilet paper, and in the corners resided my worst nightmare…cockroaches. We defintely got what we paid for. The condition of the rooms made me so grateful for the quality of the rooms at ILAC. After eating breakfast overlooking the ocean, we began our trek home after our exhilarating trip to Cabarete.

1524570_355623934622711_128977010395377284_n1743747_355623457956092_3161228406469523112_n10931274_355623531289418_4956120828408418818_n

English, Spanish, now Creole?

English, Spanish, now Creole? For service, I am teaching English at a Haitian school. Haitian immigrants generally don’t have their birth certificates and since a birth certificate is required to attend school in the Dominican Republic these children normally don’t receive an education. A pastor and his wife have set up a makeshift school inside of a church where about 115 children ages 3 to 15 come daily for school. I thought one language barrier was difficult until I was faced with two. The children speak only a little bit of Spanish and because my Spanish is no where near fluent the communication is slow and difficult. Even the teachers at the school speak very little Spanish. My partner, Clara, and I have been working on teaching the parts of the body through songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Hokey Pokey”. We have them repeat words over and over again. One example of a fun communication gap happened during the hokey pokey. Clara was having them repeat phrases like “right leg in” and “left arm out”, between two phrases Clara said “so” and a resounding “SO!” echoed. Already I feel my Spanish improving because I have to think of different ways to say what I mean when the first couple ways don’t work. The kids are eager to learn and really seem to enjoy our presence. With my study abroad community we are talking about ministry of presence, which is serving people just by being with them. This is especially applicable to my service site because a lot of the time I have to interact in the absence of words. Because of the island’s history with colonization and slavery the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic value their Caucasian, European blood much more than their African slave blood. People with darker skin are by default lower class. This phenomenon is called “el negro detrás la oreja” or “the black behind the ear” because the people of Hispanola try to hide their African heritage. Because of this discrimination, Haitians, who are much darker than most Dominicans, are considered lower class and treated as such. One of my jobs at the school is just to show the kids respect and love to build up their self worth.

A major accomplishment of this week has been navigating public transportation without help. To get to my service site, we first have to take a guagua, which includes getting the attention of the man hanging off the side of the vehicle to tell him we need to get off. Then, we have to walk down a few streets and catch a T or CJ car, which will take us the rest of the way to the school. It may sound pretty straight forward, but communicating directions in Spanish is quite difficult. On the first day of service, some of the money for the trip back to ILAC fell out of Clara’s pocket. We only had enough to take either the car or the guagua. We tried to walk one leg of the trip, but it was much farther than it seemed, so we had to call our student life director to come meet us at the guagau. First transportation obstacle, overcome!

A few other adventures from the past few days include venturing out on a scavenger hunt around Santiago. As we made our way to the monument we made two pit stops: one at Bon for brownie ice cream and the other at McDonalds. The monument’s marble exterior disguises the immense history lying inside. The monument has changed names and purposes multiple times from honoring the dictator Rafael Trujillo to now honoring those who fought in the war for Dominican independence. Sunday night we decided we needed a little bit of home so we went to La Luna a sports bar to watch the Patriots vs Colts game. After the game, we went to a colmado, a little store, and played dominos with the locals. We also went to a dance club called Dubai for ladies night and to celebrate one of the girl’s birthday. The music was very fun to dance to! One of the girls knocked a 3,600RD (about $80) bottle of alcohol off of a table. Luckily it was filled with water as a decoration so she didn’t have to pay for it. In other news, I am going to have a very inflated ego when I return to the United States because everywhere we go we have guys yelling “Que bonita!” and “Do you need a boyfriend?”. As a group of 11 American girls, most with blond hair and light eyes, we get a lot of attention when we go out. Of course, most of them are only looking for a green card, but hey a little ego boost never hurt anyone!

Dancing and the Beach

As orientation week wrapped up adventures in the city began! Friday night we went out to our first dinner in the city. I ordered my first legal drink, a strawberry margarita! It was delicious! After dinner, we walked to a dancing bar. Our leaders sent us to an old person bar! There wasn’t anyone under 30 in whole bar. Because the bartender stuck “los gringos” in the back corner we didn’t get many offers to dance for most of the night, we did however get lots of stares. Eventually, we saw our friend Jota Jota (our nickname for JJ) who works at the ILAC center. He recruited some of his friends to ask us to dance. They taught us the merengue, it’s a fairly easy dance because the beat of the music makes it easy to find a rhythm. My partners were so fun they helped me learn and did neat spins and moves. In the DR, the men ask the women to dance, lead them to the dance floor, then after the song is over lead them back to their seat. It is very gentlemanly and formal. Apparently if you dance with a guy more than a couple of dances it means you are interested in him and if you are interested he will not leave you alone. Our DR “mom” said last semester she called to schedule a tour and the man she talked with still calls and texts her. DR men are very forward, catcalls and “Que bonita!” resound everywhere we go.

Today we had a much anticipated beach day! We traveled two hours North to Sosua Beach. It is mainly a locals’ beach located in between resorts. The beach was pure paradise with turquoise blue water, soft sand, and palm trees hanging over the sand. The second we secured a spot on the sand, I dove into the ocean. The water was refreshing, but still warm enough. After playing in the waves and walking on the beach, we took a pina colada break. The pina colada came in a full pineapple with pineapple chunks in the drink, mmmmm! A local guy pulled us on a banana boat which was a long tube that sat six. We went tubing around the cove and the resorts. The guy ended up trying to take advantage of us Americans by taking way too much money when 11 of us tried to pay him at once. Our program director, Margarita, started yelling at him in the fastest spanish I have ever heard! After ten minutes of chewing him out, he gave us back our money. A couple of us walked along the shops on the beach. Clara and I got free anklets from one vendor, which Margarita said was very unusual. Every vendor attempts to almost push you into their store saying things like “Look for just one minute!” or “99% off!”. I learned a valuable lesson, never tell them that you will come back later and definitely don’t promise them you will! They will follow you down the beach until you bluntly say “Go away!”. The bus ride back was filled with sand and snores after our beautiful beach adventure. DSCN2173 DSCN2178 DSCN2183 DSCN2193