Update from the Dominican Republic

October 1st, 2011

Food, Food, Wonderful Food

One of the difficult things about this trip has been not eating foods I’m used to.  For the first couple weeks in Haiti I ate lots of rice and beans.  Then when I got to Dominican Republic, a Latin American country, I expected burritos and enchiladas.  But turns out those are Mexican dishes and this isn’t Mexico, it’s the Caribbean.

So since arriving here I’ve primarily had the standard food of the tropics which consists largely of rice and fruit and vegetables.  Bananas, boiled plantains, guyabano, potatoes, etc. 

Lunch today was somewhat typical: a dish of rice and pinto beans mixed with fried cabbage and a type of fish meat.  The side was a banana.  Not quite the same as Church’s Chicken, but probably healthier.

Papaya is another fruit we have often, it comes from a tropical tree and is colored orange like cantaloupe but has the texture of watermelon and tastes uniquely sweet.  I like it ok, but everything new takes time to adapt.

But what I’ve really been wanting is pizza.  Yesterday morning I even wrote it down in my prayer journal during my quiet time with God.  I told him I really wanted a pizza.  Please?

Yesterday was Jessie’s birthday, another one of the volunteers working here.  The married couple running the ranch invited both him and I out to a restaurant with them last night to celebrate Jessie’s birthday.  Of course I accepted!  And immediately began wondering what type of restaurant we’d be visiting…? 

So evening came and we piled into their SUV and headed to town.  We drove to a waterfront area and walked into a fancy place and then out the back to the beach.  Turns out the table we dined at was actually on the beach!  The sand was smoothed out so you could walk on it easier, but we were literally right by the ocean.  It was the coolest thing, I’d never eaten somewhere like that before. 

But I was still thinking, “Ok, so probably a fancy place like this only serves crab legs and sushi or something.”  However, when I opened my menu, lo and behold, the first page was all PIZZA!  Almost an entire page of their menu. 

And at the same time I remember Jon opening his menu and saying, “Oh, the pizza here is great!” 

And it was.  Call it coincidence if you want, but I gave a special thanks to God for answering my specific prayer, even though it was a selfish luxury.

Working in Tropical Heat = Never-ending Sweat!

My time here in the DR has not been all picnics and sipping lemonade in the shade.  In fact, I’ve worked harder in the last week than I have in many moons!

In the mornings I help with construction for a new boys home they’re building (been doing electrical work) and also mechanical odds and ends that need done around camp (like fixing flat tires, working on their gas trimmer, etc). 

Of course there is no air conditioning here so we sweat tons.  Luckily there are ceiling fans in the bedrooms which help for sleeping at night (when the electricity is working).

The afternoons are largely spent with helping math at the school.  Not speaking the language is frustrating, but much of math is in numbers which transcend language.  I’ve been working on learning numbers in Spanish but have had some difficulty mastering counting from zero to a million in one week!

I’ve noticed it can be easy to forget our beautiful surroundings.  Like the classroom I work in is on a second story with open walls that look out over the ocean.  The roof is thatch and the floor is wooden plank.  It’s the neatest classroom I’ve ever seen, but when it comes down to it, when helping someone with their math it doesn’t really matter where you’re at, you still have to engage your mind (and theirs) on the problem at hand.  After awhile you end up forgetting where you are.  At least I do.

Healthio, Healthio, Where Art Thou? 

The heat here drains energy quickly.  The bugs don’t help.  I get bit by mosquitoes every day…  this morning I was washing clothes with the boys (by hand) and got bit by even more mosquitoes for my trouble.

(Side note: people that wash clothes by hand their whole life get it down to a science.  On this trip I’ve been advised by both Haitians and now Dominicans on the “correct” way to go about it.  This morning I felt proud when one of the boys told me I was starting to get it.)

But back to bugs, yesterday I got bit by a fire-ant which stung like crazy and left a welt.  Note to self, “Beware of fire-ants.”

And while I’m listing ailments, I should mention my right foot is not a happy camper.  I stepped on something sharp at he beach last weekend which left a nasty blister that has became painful to walk on.  Then on Monday I banged my foot on the corner of a block of concrete which caused the top of my foot to swell up the entire week.  Fortunately I’m walking on it pretty well today.

It’s easy to take health for granted…  but when you don’t have it you quickly remember how nice a gift it really is.

Language and the Lack Thereof

There is plenty of language flying around here.  Problem is, I don’t speak it. 

For instance, I eat with the boys three meals a day and during each meal the table is full of banter that I don’t understand a word of (sometimes I understand a word here and there but not enough to tell what’s going on).  Everyone will randomly erupt into laughter and I totally missed it.  This can really makes me feel left out and I end up frequently zoning off in my own world.

Someone told me you’re fluent in a language when you dream in that language.  Well, last night I had a dream where I was alone with people who only spoke different languages.  I kept getting my few Creole and Spanish words mixed up and no one understood me.  It was really more of a nightmare.  Then I woke up and realized our ceiling fan was off because electricity had gone out again and decided such a nasty dream was likely precipitated by the gnawing heat!

I find when I’m in places I don’t speak the language it begins taking a toll on me because it takes energy trying to figure out what’s going on all the time.  It’s hard to really relax.

Fortunately, here at this Boys home there is enough activity going on I’m not forced to speak ad try understanding all the time.  Versus in Haiti at the orphanage I was the center of attention and was constantly being stretched.

On the flip side, in Haiti I had a translator which helped a lot.  Here there are people around who can translate but that is not their job so you always feel a little like you’re imposing to ask.  With my translator in Haiti I didn’t feel bad to ask, that’s what I was paying him to do! 

Thankfully I hit it off super-well with the America couple who run this Boys home and can talk with them freely.  In fact, we were up until 2am last night talking!  So I get my talking out on them… poor folks! 

Yeah, they are such a neat couple who have amazing story after amazing story of God working in their midst.  There lives are – to me – truly inspiring.  It’s so fun hearing their experiences and discussing the Christian life with them.

Definitely a highlight of this trip is the people I’m getting the privilege to get to know and rub shoulders with.  Of course the downside is I’m missing getting to spend time with the people I love at home!  Ahh, life is never perfect. 

A final thought on language: I’m learning first hand how vital a prerequisite learning a language is before any type of deep cross-cultural relationship can be built.

A Fun Haircut

Jessie and I gave each other hair cuts recently.  Jessie had long flowing hair because he hadn’t cut it in two years.  But he wanted me to give him a buzz cut.  So I did!  It was a lot of fun!  Kinda felt like I was cutting Samson’s hair or something.  Just the type of thing you always want to do but never have the opportunity to.

Pain and Misery

I often think of the seventy kids I left behind in Haiti. 

In relation to food, they get two meals a day, usually pretty much always the same thing: rice & beans. 

I can catch myself complaining about all the healthy and tasty food I’m getting here (what? more plantains?) and wish for pizza (which I got!).  But honestly I felt a little guilty eating the pizza thinking of the kids back at the orphanage who have perhaps never had pizza or rarely even anything special. 

I consoled myself with the fact they probably wouldn’t like pizza.  Though I’m sure anyone would have liked eating at a nice restaurant on the beach.

Jon and I were talking about recently the difficulty in knowing how to balance enjoying the good things in life God has given us and how much to sacrifice in our attempt to help others. 

Jon talked about coming back to the States from the Philippines when he was younger and going through reverse culture shock where he wouldn’t spend any money on extraneous stuff (like buying a Coke) in light of the agonizing need he had just seen and knowing how big an impact even a little money could make in their lives.

There are no easy answers, but I think these are good issues to think through and this trip is giving me an opportunity to do just that.

Pictures

I haven’t taken any pictures recently, but here are a couple others took:

the group

These are the friendly folks I’m staying with here in DR for a month. Group shot taken from “Family Night” last Tuesday. 

beach_day

This picture was taken at the beach last Sunday.

2 Responses to “Update from the Dominican Republic”

  1. Mary Says:

    Thank you for the update, Nick! I just wanted to say that fire ants are, indeed, no fun. I stepped on a mound when we first got here and was bitten by a dozen or so on my feet. Ouch. It hurt for a couple days and I think the spots are finally going away (after 2 months).

    The girls (and Seth and I) have been praying for your almost nightly. We miss you!

  2. Amanda Says:

    Sounds like this week was quite the adventure. :) lol

    It’s exciting to hear about all the random ways God is using you, the learning opportunities He’s giving you, and the (little) ways He shows His love for you. Praise Him!!!

    So, with spending all this time in the tropics… should we be looking for a “darker” man, when you return?? :) lol
    Do you swim in the ocean? I’m sure you do/have. **shutter** That thought nearly terrifies me (my heart-rate just shot through the roof); I’m not a huge fan of water in which I can’t see the bottom. I’m ok with the water, itself, it’s the fact that I can’t see/anticipate/fend-off whatever is going-on below the surface (ocean, lake, pond, pool… doesn’t matter) that bothers me. I’m not comfortable with the abyss. It’s not a huge fear (contradictory, I know, to my use of terrified above), controlling me to the point that I can’t do it at all (I can), but I really have to focus on NOT thinking about it.
    Anyway, that was a rabbit trail I’m sure you could have done without. :) lol

    Praying always!!

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