The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.

I have been stateside for about 5 days now.

I have been trying to wrap my head around everything that I have gained, lost, experienced, and taken.

I’m now the author of a 54 page book (in Spanish) of my research investigation. There are copies in both the US and Dominican Republic.

Three copies of my research investigation.

The best part about this though? I carried around a notebook everyday in Cienfuegos to write down observations and encounters, but in between every note and data point there are drawings and notes from my kiddos in the classroom. This is what makes this real. You can write a fancy book, but in reality, my book will eventually be in a garage sale. Even so, nothing will ever compare with the memories and moments I had with people in my community no matter how big or small.

Beautiful faces

I’ve grown in heart, soul, mind, and strength in more ways than I could ever count. I feel different and I think differently. I knew I was going to change, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this.

I also didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to my study abroad group. It was like we were all on a team. Fact of the matter is we really couldn’t escape each other. We were there through the good, the bad, the ugly. (The tears, the piropos, the keys falling down the grate in the street, the sitting for hours in the printing shop for our research books, the countless hours overpowering the study room, the hurry up and wait…basically the bend and stretch that was this semester.) We will never be together like we were ever again, and that was a really hard realization to come to.

Tom and I had our last panaful date in the Miami airport together before we said our goodbyes and headed back to our little pockets of the world. I got on the plane from Miami to Charlotte and ended up sitting next to Kathy and Ramona. (Ok…this needs a little back story. Tom and Jess had their own alternate personalities this semester named Kathy and Ramona. I can’t even begin to tell you how entertaining this was and how ridiculous our walks home from the university were!) Now here I was, sitting next to a couple that was real life Kathy and Ramona that not only made me laugh and made the flight SO great, but they literally embodied a personality trait from every single person in my study abroad group. (I had plenty of time to analyze this, and it was so entertaining to make tallies in my head.) It was a really cool moment, and one I’ll take with me for a while.

We popped chinola (passion fruit) champagne on the top of the monument the night before we all left looking out over our beautiful city in lights.

After we (FINALLY) finished our research, we all felt like a mixture of this:

Celebrities? Or just crazy enough to do what we did this semester?

Worn. Out.

If you want my biggest takeaway from the semester, I can’t give it to you. If you want the semester in one word: grace. I have never felt more unworthy and important than I did here. I was humbled and empowered, struck down and built up, but more than anything I saw what it meant to have nothing (spiritually, emotionally, or physically drained) and see people fight to the finish with help and grace from everyone around them. It didn’t matter where you were from, what you were doing or what you were going to do later. We are all walking this life together, regardless of your past or future. The fact of the matter is that life is not fair, and some people were given more than others and some people have more opportunities than others. Grace lets us be part of that reality together. And everybody needs it, regardless of where you come from.

The last week I was at my host family’s house, I had to answer the door for a package. They wanted me to sign for it, and I told them that I wasn’t part of the family and I really didn’t think it was a good idea. The post man told me, “No, no, no, everybody is family here.”

My sweet host parents, Rosa Elena and Tito

I’m going to miss my Dominican family, but I also know that there are so many more adventures ahead. I have so many treasures that I will never forget from these last four months, and I look forward to seeing what the next steps will be.

See you later, DR. It has been a pleasure.

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Se fue la luz.

I have always been a firm believer in “A picture speaks 1000 words.” I would rather show you what I did than give you a million words to describe it. Pictures let you be part of the experience where words fail. But alas, where pictures fail, words are extremely necessary.  (Please keep this in mind as I continue further.)

Today was the day of the presentation of my research to my organization. I can’t even begin to tell you what this experience has meant to me, but I have slowly started to recognize the importance of all the information I gathered, even if I didn’t think it was important at the time. I have been undergoing several changes to my presentation through several run-throughs, several stumbles, and several moments waking up in the middle of the night grabbing my computer to change how a graph looked or adding another picture to emphasize that the data was much more than just data, but rather people.

Last night, I spent several hours just going through the powerpoint to emphasize points, clarify words, and make sure the video of our project played properly within the presentation. I was up way past my bedtime, but I just wanted it to be the most persuasive it could have been.

I took my last concho out to NCUE maneuvered by a very drunk driver with bloodshot eyes. I got out and walked past all the friends I’ve made along the way who were especially more friendly today (perhaps because I was wearing a dress…that makes a difference when you only wear jeans and a T-shirt everyday to work!). I have a favorite little boy that I get to walk by who (always completely naked) will run out to the street, stand on the corner, and shout “AMERICANA!!”” extremely loudly and so excited he is bouncing up and down. Today, he and his sister ran up to me with the same little shouts and grabbed my hands. They wanted to know about the paper I had in my hand of the notes of my signal words for my presentation. In fact, they wanted it for keeps. She told me she really liked to read, and I hope she continues to love that. I was glad to have seen them, and maybe because she was interested in what was on my paper, others would be too.

I got to see some moms of some kids from NCUE and I got to see all of the little green polos going to the project very excited to start the day. Frances and I set up our presentations and were ready to go.

As soon as my supervisor introduced me, the power went out. You know that awful frozen moment where you think “This is not happening right now…this is not happening…”. Well….it was. Granted, power outages are a pretty normal thing here, and I have been very used to them. What I wasn’t anticipating was that the generator at NCUE was not going to work either. It would tease us and come on for a few minutes and then as soon as I tried to get to a point, it would go out.

Let me set the scene for you: I’m standing at the podium, sweating buckets because of the heat (and probably the fact that I was severely embarrassed, confused, not at all knowing what to do or how to continue, and forgetting every Spanish word I had ever learned in my life). I’m standing there staring into the faces of the rest of my study abroad group, my friends at NCUE, my youth, and my kids, and blankly (frankly) did not know what to do next. I couldn’t even come up with a joke to tell. I kept looking to my program director to see what on earth I was supposed to do.

After a quick dance with the group, I tried to start talking about the program in general. Who needs a slide for what I already knew so much about? I kept praying the power would come back and come back strong, but it never did. I couldn’t just stop after that…I had to keep going. I talked about everything I could remember, even some data that I had collected because I had looked at that dadgum powerpoint for such a long time. I only had my signal words written on the sheet in front of me. (Let me define signal words. Example: “porque importante – eres un buen lider.” “fondos”) They told me nothing. I couldn’t cheat even if I wanted to.

I started talking about my final project where (thank the LORD!) Tommy raised his hand and provided such a help by asking the youth to tell a little about what they learned through it. All of the youth were so encouraging and I can’t even begin to tell you how perfect their segways were. One of them even said, “Thanks to Kalle, we learned that we always need a plan B.” (Haha, well sweet leaders, I wish I had thought of a plan B for this presentation!)

I was so glad the youth were sitting in the front row. I was talking about them the whole time, but about things I don’t think they had yet realized about themselves as a group. It was really cool to see their facial reactions as I was explaining the data. I wish so much I could just be with them one more semester.

I can tell you all of the great things about it, but I was really upset about the whole thing. I keep going over in my head how I could have been better at the improvisation, I could have made a script (which I was basically dead set against because I didn’t want to be a talking head, I wanted to be personal because this was personal), I could have printed out my presentation which I thought about several times, etc. I literally wanted to cry before, during, and after.

But you know what? It was while I was drowning my sorrows in strawberry cookie wafers that God showed me something else. I was talking to my friends from my study abroad group, and I heard my name called from behind. Standing here was my little group of fourth grade girls that I have been working with all semester. “Are you leaving?” Arrow in my hear number one. “When are you coming back?” Arrow number two. They had been sitting in the presentation, too. They saw my trainwreck, my panic, and my attempt at fixing the situation. I couldn’t answer them because I don’t know if I will ever get the chance to come back, especially in time to see them. I changed it into, “How old are you? You all are the next group of leaders!! Do you want to be part of that?” I was taken aback by how many had a resounding “yes.” You could tell that it wasn’t just because of one train wreck of a presentation, it was watching during the whole semester.

My Fourth Graders

They know that I can speak Spanish because we talk every day. They know how fun LDP is because they see it every day. They have no idea what my presentation was supposed to be, but they still wanted to stick around after.

Some of the youth even came up after the presentation with ideas for what they want to do in the future, how to do it, why it was important, and how they wanted to present it. (Holy cow! Can you say “That is exactly what I wanted you all to learn this semester!!!” WIN.)

My greatest joys and my biggest trophies people may never see. Nobody will ever know the hours I spent teaching English, the number of checkers games I lost because I still cannot figure out all of the Dominican rules, and the number of laughs that happened because of just silly momentary struggles that just happen here. Nobody may ever know the amount that I have grown personally or even how different my Spanish is depending on whom I’m talking to and if I’m given the right topic to go off on. Nobody may ever know how much they changed my perspective from only one comment.

I’m still not okay with how today went, and I may never be, but I do know that there are bigger accomplishments than some dumb presentation no matter how cool your graphs were or how many hours you spent editing a video.

I also know today made me rethink how ready I am to go home.

Can I really say goodbye to NCUE?

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A Birthday.

The morning begins with an early wakeup call while the sun is still sleeping and alas, so is our cat…underneath the bed in the guestroom. All I can hear from my sleepy snooze was a cat’s perturbed meow and my host dad’s very stern, “Michoo, ven!” The rules are pretty strict about the cat sleeping outside of the house, but Michoo slying and stealthily managed to sneak in last night while the door in the living room was open and my host mom was “resting her eyes” on the couch. Not only did she get in, but she managed to bring her two new kittens in with her! I was impressed by the expertise of these moves, strategically maneuvered and planned with a notion that the guest bedroom was much more cozy and comfortable.

Michoo and her two kittens in the garden!

The perpetrator caught, I awoke and was able to read a bit for fun, which I haven’t let myself do in a while because of this all this crazy research! Peter was gracious enough to share Uncle Tom’s Cabin with me and I have really been enjoying it so far! I enjoyed it a bit too much this morning because I quickly realized that I was running out of time to get ready for the day. Benefit of cold showers? You take way less time dawdling and the pace is set for you when you get in. Mission accomplished, I put on some dark jeans, a blue blouse and the bracelet my roommate brought me back from Spain (and I thank my lucky stars for her!). At this point, I needed to leave within five minutes. I quickly grabbed a roll and a couple of bananas and gulped down the hot chocolate before I dashed out the door to grab a concho to make my 8:00 appointment.

I am so lucky to have such an awesome Spanish professor. I legitimately have learned so much from her and could easily say she is the reason why I keep trying harder and harder. You can tell she takes a personal interest in each one of us and her teaching methods are always new and different. She always makes sure a point is understood clearly before she moves on and is constantly providing us ways to better ourselves. If there is one person I wish I could take back to the United States with me, it would be her. I honestly get so excited to go to her class every day. This morning she agreed to meet with me to go over my powerpoint for my Capstone project just to make sure everything was coming across the way it was supposed to. I’m glad I got to start the day off with this! I felt much better about the content and got a fire to keep pressing on to the finish.

Capitan (dog of NCUE) is sad because of all the work he knows I have to do so I can’t play

Afterwards, I printed off a paper, worked on a scholarship application, and got some leg work done fundraising events to raise money for my trip to Nicaragua this summer. (Shameless plug…if you want to donate here is the link:
https://www.adventures.org/give/donate.asp?giveto=partFund&desc=For And you can start thinking about “Dancing in the Moonlight” a swing dance fundraiser as well as “Pedal to the Metal” a mileage challenge…are you excited yet?) Then Tom surprised me with a chocolate bar! (Since week two I have been talking about my chocolate cravings and bless his heart that he should be so kind as to answer that desire!) Then off to class where we gave presentations and I was sung to by my professor who sang the Dominican happy birthday song (btw the Dominican Republic is the only country that has its own birthday song!) complete with a strong abrazo (hug) that made my day! Class went over by about forty minutes, so I was a bit late to my next meeting with staff, where I gave a run through of my presentation for next week and they offered great feedback I’m excited to use and make better for my final on Tuesday!

I’ll toast to that!

By the time the meeting was finished, it was about one o’clock. I took the walk home to get back about 1:30, ate a quick lunch from my host mom and headed straight to NCUE. In all this time, my host parents had no idea it was my birthday! I kind of liked it better that way because Michoo was headline news in the house today! When I got to NCUE, I was met with a smile from Inoel, and greeted with a reminder that I’m leaving soon, but he also was quick to ask about when I am coming back. I can’t believe I just spent my last day at NCUE! I feel like I just started yesterday and I’ve known the youth forever. Anywho, the pastor kindly asked Frances and me to climb upstairs to help him make some invitations to youth in the community. Amidst the arts and crafts, Inoel came upstairs to get Frances. Frances has been waiting a while to receive a delivery on some bags for the recycling center and so I thought the man had finally come! I continued with my scissors, construction paper, and glue getting anxious looks from the pastor when I tried some more unique designs. (Sorry, creative juices were flowing! I bounced back.) Frances came back upstairs after a few minutes and told me the youth needed me. As it was Thursday, I figured they were ready to start our final meeting of LDP. So I went downstairs, where Frances stepped straight up into a giant puddle. After laughing for a solid time on that, she then submerged her foot into yet another puddle. I can’t tell you how much this tickled me and was so caught up in the laughter of the situation I really honestly didn’t know what was coming next.

We go down to the chapel and Frances tells me that I have to close my eyes. What? Never had to do that before for a meeting with the youth! Those sweet kids threw me a surprise birthday celebration!! I was taken aback. They had decorated a table with handmade paper flowers and streamers with a sign that read “Happy Berthday Kally, With Love, LDP and Francis” (they tried in English and that just made it all the better). The colorful decorations surrounded a lovely chocolate cake with a single swirly green candle lit with the happiest flame I could have asked for. They sang a happy birthday tune and clapped for me 21 times. And what is a NCUE birthday without a little Malta Morena on the side? My heart was glowing and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much it meant to me.

The sweet banner my youth made!

Some of the youth with the surprise birthday party set up!

The infamous Malta Morena that is a regular at NCUE.

We handed out the snack for the very last time to all the kiddos, and then checked the computer for our final presentation. I received my last set of data for my project, and I took my last concho away from Cienfuegos as part of my community project. Here Frances and I walked the K and then parted ways to go home for dinner. On  the way home, I ran into Jacky and Jess who gave me some great happy birthday hugs. This was quickly followed by Tom who was heading up to run at the monument. (We need to get in shape for the Santiago Corre!) We ended up talking for about an hour on the street corner and I am really going to miss those runins!

Last time handing out the snack at NCUE!

I had a great little rest at home and a sandwich for dinner, Dominican style (which means a lot of ketchup and a lot of mayonnaise) with a new bottle of Santa Claus Coke! Yes my friends, we just opened a bottle of Christmas Coke in April. I’m crossing it off my bucket list as we speak. I got a great call from Dad in the middle of dinner and we talked for a while! He is helping me so much with leg work for my trip to Nicaragua and support in scholarship applications, I honestly don’t know how he isn’t completely exhausted! I have a great family! During the phone call, my host mom put it all together that it was my birthday and she had completely forgotten. She called me outside where she was very upset with herself, but really I didn’t want her to feel bad at all. Honestly, I forgot all about my birthday. The majority of the week was without thought of it and even this morning I didn’t think about it. If I can forget my own birthday, surely other people can too! She assured me there is pudding in my future. I guess it just makes this birthday longer!

I got off the phone and went over to my program director’s house to work on my research. I am so close to being done, but knowing that I just want to put it off more! Right now I am ahead of the game, but I have a good bit of polishing to do to make the final product as good as it can get. Here I was greeted with the best handmade birthday card from Frances! Have I mentioned how much I love her? I couldn’t introduce you to a more caring, compassionate and generous person than her. She is fully present and puts others before herself. Her actions speak louder than words and she is beautiful inside and out. I have learned so much from her over this semester and I truly have been overly blessed by sharing this experience with her! Heather also brought me some incredible chocolate from the chocolate factory! As a chocolate connoisseur via my interim class last year, I must say it was impeccable taste! She was so sweet to think of me and truly, her heart is just as genuine as a heart can get. I have loved getting to know her this semester!

Frances cleaning out her tanks for the recycling center! We’re not sure what it was, but it does make a better story.

Time escaped us and the work party turned into a “let’s go to bed” fiasco. My mental clock turns off about nine o’clock here and seeing as it was eleven thirty, I was on the struggle bus. (I know…I am turning into an old person! I can’t say I don’t like it.) Jess and I walked home discussing the benefits and such of grants and grant writing. Yes, this was our late night conversation. We are secretly a bunch of nerds thriving in all that we are learning and soaking in.  Yay for grant writing class Friday morning!

I have had the most wonderful day, and it is one that I never thought I would experience in this way. I feel so loved and so humbled that I get to be a part of such a wonderful place with wonderful people. Two more weeks before I fly away and say goodbye to a place where I found a voice, a people in whom I found a love, and a project in Cienfuegos I will leave a heart.

A very happy un-birthday to you!

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Spring Cleaning

I’ve always been advised not to blink…but then I did.

This whole semester, I have been looking forward to my family coming to visit. I wanted to show them where I live, how I get to work, all the kids in Cienfuegos, and introduce them to some really awesome Dominican food.

Even when I felt at some of my worst moments, I used this as my motivation to keep going. I knew that they were coming at the beginning of April so I could keep pushing through until then.

Then I blinked. They flew back to the US early this morning. How did it come and go so fast? I loved having them here, and while I wish my schedule let me hang out with them more than I could, it was nice to have them see where I’ve been living for the last three months.

I think they found the monument to be just as important of a place to them as it is to me.

Dad and my sister, Kaitlin, came to visit me in Santiago and got to enjoy sunset at the monument!

 

The week started off pretty rough with some rain showers, some canceled buses, and some “Dominican time” mishaps (see drowned family in picture below)

After sitting, standing, walking, and haggling in the rain, long lines at the bus station, no buses, overpriced taxis, and a guagua later. Whoops! What’s a trip without some mishaps?

Luckily, it only went up from here! But now that we are on the other side of the trip, there is so much to do to prepare for the last three weeks of my stay here!

I felt a bit guilty about taking this week doing a lot more play time with my family than I was doing work, but you have to have priorities and how cool is it that I have a family who gave up their spring break to come see me (including a Dad who is still recovering from the flu and a twisted ankle)? I also think this blog is such an encouragement when I get bogged down in work that I need to do. Check it out if you are feeling like you need to work all the time! It’s all about balance. (http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/rest-is-not-a-four-letter-word/)

This week was also my final project with the youth at NCUE! I was really nervous going into it because I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to pan out, but it was probably one of the biggest successes of the semester! I loved seeing the youth lead the kids and I hope they continue to do that through their program! The youth even threw me and Dad under the bus to compete in one of the balloon games. Here is the video for your viewing pleasure.

Dad vs. Daughter

Everything is wrapping up for the semester and I really am ready to have a United States breather, but I’m also nervous about saying goodbye to a life I’ve grown accustomed to over the last few months. (Honestly, sleeping without noise outside may be a huge shock.)

I’m throwing away all the things that aren’t important, packing with extra care all the notes from my kids, and rallying up for one crazy week of work ahead.

Three weeks to go from a land flowing with chinola and yucca!

See you soon, USA.

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5 weeks left in the Dominican Republic

Where did the time go?

I know the last few weeks are going to be so fast. We are finishing research and writing up findings, then before you know it we will be presenting in the different communities around Santiago and it will be time to go home. Wow, but I was glad to have spent this weekend in the Southwest as the last group excursion. Here is a short video with some pictures from the trip! Hope you all enjoy it!

 

The Last Excursion to the Southwest

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When the Yucca Hits the Floor

This week marks the first of many lasts because we are on the other side of the mountain. I can’t believe how fast two months has gone, and I wasn’t sure that I liked it last weekend. I was getting really worried about how I’m going to say goodbye to my life here and come back into what seems like a different world. I think I overcompensated by trying so hard to be okay with the fact we are going to have to leave, that I got really upset about being here.

I was mad at this country for about 2 solid hours.

I had a meeting about my final project for the semester that helped solidify what my to-do list was and it was really helpful, but I walked home in a severely bad mood. I was late to lunch and only had 20 minutes to eat before I had to go out to my community for the afternoon and in the process of trying to enjoy the food, I cut a piece of yucca and it fell on the floor. This would have been completely fine on any other occasion, but I was mad at myself for being so clumsy.

I then walked the path for my first concho to get some breathing room, but I was upset with the piropos, the smell of the city, and all of the cars honking for absolutely no reason and being what I considered very impolite at the time. I made it to the intersection to pick up an F concho and, of course, got a driver that wanted to talk. I usually love all of my concho conversations and have them every day, but this was not one of those days. He made me sit in the front seat and kept staring at me instead of looking at the road. We almost got in several accidents and I legitimately was thinking we might die. (I also don’t think I ever went through culture shock in the first half, so now here it is!) He asked me if I had a boyfriend, to which I responded yes. He then asked me if I had a Dominican boyfriend. Apparently it is okay to have two, as long as they are not in the same country. He would not give up the argument. Along the way, he picked up his friend. While there were at least three open seats in the back, he decided to come and share the front seat with me.

I got to NCUE not in the best mood at all. I think people could tell, because I was asked if I was really fine or if I was just saying it. Regardless, I put on a happy face and walked upstairs to help the kids with homework. One little girl asked for my help on multiplication, and then I just got upset with how behind all of these kids are because they are unfairly given education that could be so much better. However, I was really glad I was able to help her and that now she understands what she didn’t understand before. She really is so smart!

I then went downstairs and talked to one of the youth about the calendar I had created for the semester. We hardly have any time to do what we want to do and we need to get on it. I pointed to April and I said, “This is the day I’m leaving for the United States. It is coming so fast.” He then asked me which day I was coming back. That really struck a chord in me. I was feeling like nothing I could do here mattered because I am only here for such a short time. I felt like my project was a waste of time because it was so fast and there is so much more I want to do with them. Just hearing that maybe even just being here for a time is doing something really humbled me. Sometimes you have to stop working incessantly on something and just be present. I needed to be reminded that it isn’t the future that matters (while it is important to get everything done by April), but instead a lot more about taking each day at a time.

I then was approached by one of the teachers who works at NCUE. We have become fairly good friends since I’ve been there, but she came up to me and said, “I want you to come over to my house. Are you free this weekend?” Oh my heart! I just have always felt a little strange about professional relationships and friends at the same time (mostly because I still feel like a little kid instead of a college student), but goodness I was honored to be asked. I couldn’t believe she wanted me to be part of her life outside of seeing me everyday at NCUE.

On the way out, I got to walk a little ways with another one of the youth on her way home. We talked about what needed to get done for a presentation to the directors coming up and I was just happy to be walking and talking feeling like I was part of this community. I said goodbye to her as a concho pulled up and I got in smiling. The concho driver asked me why I was so happy, and I told him it was Wednesday.

We had a great conversation on the way home. He told me about his family, and I was talking about my experience in the DR. We passed a sign for habichuelas con dulce and I asked him if he liked them. (Side note: habichuelas con dulce is SO delicious and probably my favorite dessert I have had here yet. They eat it during Semana Santa and while beans, batatas, milk, sugar, and raisins may sound really gross…it is beyond wonderful!) Of course he did, and we talked for at least a solid seven minutes about how to prepare them and how we like to eat them with animal crackers, etc. Before he dropped me off at my stop, he pulled over on the side of the road. A lady was selling habichuelas con dulce and he asked for a cup. He handed them to me before I could refuse…my concho driver bought me my favorite dessert on a day he had no idea how much I was struggling. He used more than what I paid for my ride in the concho to give me something I will cherish forever, even when he probably needs the money. I tried to pay him but he insisted it was a gift.

God has a way of reminding us to be thankful where we are and that He is still around even when we are feeling like the lowest of the low.

Psalm 84:5-7 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka (weeping), they make it a place of springs;  the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength,   till each appears before God in Zion.

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What Good are “Good Intentions?”

I don’t understand why I have been given so much. We had a reflection during our rural stay last week in the Rio Limpio community about whether or not it is good to give things from developed nations to developing nations. I found myself really supporting what TOMS is doing, especially after reading a book about TOMS given to me by The Space to Impact. I felt like I had to defend TOMS and all of the good that comes from it…until we went to Dajabon on Friday.

TOMS Blog

Dajabon is a border town between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both Dominicans and Haitians come to sell goods in this market that is incredibly full of people. They open the border twice a week for people to come sell their goods and this is huge for both economies. Dominicans are usually selling food items that Haitians want and Haitians are selling clothes that Dominicans want. You have to keep moving here because if you don’t, chances are you are going to be run over by wheelbarrows, motorcycles, etc. There is only a short amount of time for all of the hustle and bustle that needs to be accomplished before the market closes.

Right on the border of the DR and Haiti, this crazy market was not full of handmade goods, but instead full of American donations from the Salvation Army. I saw a red piano music bag I used to have growing up as well as a giant pile of the TOMS donation I helped support. This donation was taken to sell in the market even though labeled “Not for Resale.” I know they need the money, but I am just confused why something so good is taken like this. Priorities are different, but what about all the kids in that community that should have shoes?

I guess I am left puzzled because it was a donation specific to a definite need, yet all they can see is the bigger picture. This is their life, yet they choose to give away what they’re given. They have a priority to feed their families over providing shoes, but it looked like the donation didn’t even make it to a family to choose. It looked like it got taken by the middle man and never reached the people it was intended for. I understand if a family of 5 received 5 pairs of shoes and decided they needed to sell it at the market to provide food for the family, but it looked like they didn’t even get that option.

There are also shoes sold here that could be bought to support the local economy.

What does it really mean to help with good intentions? Are all of our donations hurting more than helping?

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24 Hours and a Jar of Peanut Butter

I have a habit of telling people my guilty pleasures. Even if they don’t ask me, I feel like I am sneaking behind their back if I don’t say it right away. Occasionally I will just blurt out that I secretly read someone’s blog or I fell into a hole in the sidewalk yesterday (ok…not a guilty pleasure, but I guess I feel like I need to tell the world all of my embarrassing moments)!

I sit here in disbelief as I write my sad love affair with my 16.3 glorious ounces of Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter. This is usually not something I have an intense craving for in the United States, but here I have been yearning for just one spoonful of peanut butter. Yesterday was the day. I did the deed. The overly priced jar of peanut butter was perched on the grocery store shelf in all its glory, almost to say it had a shimmering glow and surrounding hallelujah chorus. Purchased and placed carefully into my backpack, I walked with a new skip in my step all the way home…beaming.

Well, alas, in less than 24 hours I regretfully inform you that the jar is very, very empty. There is not a peanut to spare and the spoon is clean. I don’t want to think about how immensely bad that decision was, but my goodness how deliciously fleeting it was.

Think about thick, gooey peanut butter in your mouth; I was faced with a challenge today that was similar to trying to talk with a enormous spoonful of peanut butter on the roof of your mouth and tongue. Tonight my friend/host fam member (I can not for the life of me remember how they are related…but everyone here is related!) came over and…wow.

He is a talker for sure, but little did I know what the conversation was going to turn into. I found myself in a 3 hour long conversation just between him and me where I really had to defend what I believed. This may sound easy to you, but it is really hard when you are passionate about something and you don’t really speak the language with enough efficiency yet. You have to think about what you are trying to say, how to say it, how to convey it in a way that is not offensive to the other person or culture, and at the same time try to understand the thought he is trying to convey very rapidly in both language and content. I also felt like an underdog because every time I would try to say a thought, he would cut in and continue with his thoughts. There is no patience in passion, and he was very passionate about this. I take a little bit longer trying to say what I want to say because of all of what is going through my head.

slow-and-steady-wins-the-race

This was great practice, but my brain shut off about 9pm, and we still had an hour left in the conversation. There is so much to learn and prepare for the next time we see each other. I just didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to have different opinions (and different opinions enough that I actually spoke up about).

In less than 24 hours, I have reached the bottom of the jar and I have opened a jar that may follow the rest of my visits with this guy. I am excited to see where it goes.

“If you can’t control your peanut butter, you can’t expect to control your life.” -Bill Watterson (Hopefully I’ll have better control next time!)

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

It is a wonderful day here in the Dominican Republic! Everyone is walking around with heart-shaped lollipops, chocolates, and wearing pink, red, and white. It is not even 8am yet! I’ll let you know how the rest of the day goes but it is looking to be one of the top 3 Valentine’s Days of my life looking at the plans for today!

I don’t have much time to write, but I’ll give you fourteen pictures from my week in honor of Feb.14! Sending lots of love from sunshine and palm trees!

This was one of the costumes from Carnaval in Santiago. Every Sunday in February is different so I’m looking forward to see what is in store.

 

These little kids found us on the hill and decided we were instant friends. I think it was one of the best moments ever. The little boy was beyond hilarious.

 

Carnaval – Santiago de los Caballeros (almost got a cool shot with the monument in the background!)

Check out his shirt with all the Dominicanisms!

 

New Dominican friend! He was really nice and made sure my backpack was safe at all times. It was also nice to have a little backside protection. They smack you with whips and cow bladders that hurt SO bad!

 

We got the opportunity to make traditional masks in one of the first mask-making places in the Americas. Watch for the differences between these masks from Santiago and the later ones from La Vega.

 

Yep! We got to make our own and it was on the program! (They are SO expensive otherwise!)

 

We made a stop at a historic church and just LOOK at this view!

Frances and I ran quickly to get a picture with this guy! It is so dangerous because the parade was behind us just waiting to smack us in the rear end. There is no mercy!

 

These are some of my kids in the Sala de Tarea at Ninos con una Esperanza. Thank you David Fisk for introducing me to such a great book! The kids LOVE it!

 

Just one of the beautiful faces I am blessed to see every day!

 

Have I told you how much I love these kids?

 

Such a wonderful man and pastor! This is during worship one day with the kids!

I am beyond blessed.

Love is here and now. Look for the love IN your life today. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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A Month In Already?

I can’t believe it has already been a month since I arrived in the Dominican Republic! Honestly, time has flown by since I got here and I really have only had one solid day that I was really missing home. The only reason for that being that someone here made a comment about how her friends at home were not that great compared to here, but that just stemmed me to truly appreciate my friends at home and how much they really mean to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being home, but there is that comfort knowing that I will come back. Somehow leaving is really hard in the first plunge, but I know I will get back and start new memories and people won’t even notice I’m gone this semester. Everyone is having adventures and I’m really glad I will get to share mine and hear theirs when I get back.

We had our one month check-in with the program today to evaluate a lot about ourselves. This has probably been one of my favorite days here so far. I learned a lot about myself and the other people in my program. It was very much a self-reflection and coming to terms with the fact that I really am capable of making a difference, even if I feel like a three-year-old in a foreign country where I can’t figure out how to turn on the stove, I can’t cross the street by myself, and my “parents” make all my meals and do my laundry. I don’t think that someone telling me that would have helped me because I needed to figure it out for myself. A lot of times in my life, I have just felt like I was inadequate to do something even though I wanted to. For example, I wouldn’t speak Spanish because I knew I wasn’t very good, when really the only way to learn is by tripping over your words until you don’t anymore. This feeling of inadequacy was very evident in a good many areas of my life, but letting go of that feels really good.

Going into today’s meeting, I felt like I really hadn’t improved at all from day one. All I could think of was, “Wow, I have been here a month and I’m still struggling with Spanish. I should be a lot better than I am right now.” I honestly felt like this all day, despite many other great realizations. When I got home, I came to find out my house had flooded! Don’t worry, nothing was damaged, but we spent some major time mopping up which was great bonding with my host parents! I then went on a run around the monument before dinner with some of my gringo friends. I think we are all starting to understand how incredibly awesome the food here is but thinking about how quickly we are clogging our arteries. (Though I came back to a dinner of fried cheese, bread, and pasta….healthy, huh?) When I arrived back at my house, one of my host parents’ friends was over! He was the same friend that literally on the first day I arrived.

I was really excited to see him! He was so nice and just a wonderful welcoming face, but day one I was butchering Spanish like I had never seen the word “gato” in my life. I’m seriously not even kidding. I think I was a bit disoriented with all of the Spanish going on right after getting off the plane and couldn’t even remember what my favorite baseball team in the States was…seriously it was embarrassing. What was so encouraging, though, was that tonight was the first time I have talked to him since day one, and I could carry on a conversation no problem. Sure, I’ve carried on conversations, but I didn’t truly realize how much I had actually improved until I saw him again.

Last night I watched an entire movie completely in Spanish without subtitles with my host mom and understood what was going on. Sure, there are always those words you aren’t so sure about, but my mind has switched gears to be able to hear Spanish and not constantly try to translate what is being said. Sometimes it just makes more sense to me to say something in Spanish than in English.

I am really blessed to be where I am, but the more I learn the more I know how much more there is to learn. Working in Cien Fuegos is such an incredible experience and I have already learned so much just chit chatting with the youth in the program. A girl taught me several slang phrases, and probably a few bad words. It is such a bonding experience and I think I have learned a good majority there than anywhere else in Santiago. She asked me why I said, “que pasa?” everytime I saw her and I mean…it is because I like it. You know..what’s up? So she taught me the phrase, “Que pasa calabasa?” Which I’m pretty sure is the equivalent of, “What’s cooking, good looking?” in English. Haha so I tried this phrase out on one of the other youth as I was walking into the recreation area. He looked at me and was in stitches it tickled him so! He said, “No, no, no, just que pasa….y después…NADA.”

For being here one month I think I have finally figured out the rhythm of life here. Some of the things that were the scariest for me or the hardest for me at first now seem second nature. I certainly don’t have it all together, but I feel capable. I feel like even with my lack of Spanish, I am really going to be able to help the youth program at NCUE. I think it may even be an asset to getting it to be a sustainable program without me there. If you had asked me one month ago, or maybe even a week ago, I don’t think I would have been able to say that.

For your learning pleasure (and for those who are coming to visit me in March/April!), here are some phrases I have learned here that may or may not be the best ones to know:

Vaina: literally the equivalent of saying “thing” …but here it is used everywhere! Definitely important to know.

Gajo: it’s a Clementine! A great fruit to check out here! (and very different from grajo…which is a phrase for bad BO)

Moscas: flies. They are everywhere in the verdadero (dump) which is right where NCUE is!

Loma: I didn’t know the word for this before helping some kids with their homework, but it is just a really big mountain, like Pico Duarte.

Bolche: when you talk bad about someone

Babosa: this is a phrase for someone who talks a lot about nothing…someone who says a lot of bull.

Mierda, conchale, and mierquina: NOT the best words to use!

Fulano/a: “whats-his/her-name”

This one is probably one of the most important is knowing how to say you are full and literally cannot eat anymore even if you wanted to: “estoy jarta/llena/satisfecha”

I’ve learned a great deal in just a short month and I had no idea it was happening. I am really excited to see where the rest of this semester takes me and encounter all the many more discoveries that await!

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