October 17, 2016
It’s strange. Being back in the place I first came almost 5 years ago. The place I marveled at as a typical oblivious teenager who was so caught up in my own first world problems. But the Sugar Cane Island changed me, everyone thought it was a phase, that I wouldn’t seriously learn Spanish, that I wouldn’t seriously come back another time. But it was quite the opposite. Five years ago change my world view forever, it made me begin to question everything I believed and knew to be true. I will be forever grateful for that first time I landed here and how within a week I left a different person. Years went by, University classes started and I still managed to find a place for Dominican and could keep up relationships with locals that I started when we couldn’t understand each other at all.
The Spanish came painfully slowly, beginning with me almost failing SPAN 101 but over time, filled with all nighters and Ethiopian coffee in the library the verbs began to click. My comprehension sky rocketed from nothing to kind-of-not-terrible.
In the beginning of 2015, I said goodbye to the horrid season of winter in Canada to live in the Dominican Republic for 3 months. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever done. Everyday was hard. I was 19 and had never had to live on my own before or understand how to budget money to last a long time. Instead of just learning the basics of living like cleaning, cooking and finance, I also learned important skills like bargaining for Mangos at the market, signaling down street motorcycle taxis and responding to the negative attention from men that viewed me as a walking passport. And with these skills my local friends gave me the title tigerona. A street tiger. I wore that label with pride. Because honestly, living in Puerto Plata, it was really fucking hard.
The memories of Dominican faded quickly and I went to Cuba for a month long problem that was completely opposite of my old life on its neighbouring island. Then live in Canada started. Finding a new job, moving, meeting new people resuming University and everything in my life became wrapped up in Canada yet again. With 8 months left on my lease, as soon as the snow hit in January so did my plans for my next adventure. With a friend in Europe working as a an au pair, I booked tickets for 2 months and hoped for the best.
With my hectic life coming to an end in April, it felt good to let go of being busy and stressed out all the time. Everyday I slept under 5 hours and studied when I wasn’t working. I was trapped in the typical North American life style and was desperate for anything else. And I found myself falling in love with my German background and meeting incredible people from all over the world. Doing things I never dreamed possible, flying to Morocco and adoring North African culture.
But it was never enough for me. My restless soul holds me back from ever really enjoying a moment or appreciating something for what it is before I get bored and need to move on. Before I am desperately searching for something else, something better. Due to this spirit of never being content, I found myself back in Dominican after creating another new life for myself in the months between July and September.
Now I am here, back in Dominican. Spending a lot of my time reflecting on the past 5 years. But what happened in the past doesn’t matter. Being in paradise, living in a castle, I am ready to just be happy. I want to stop overthinking and allow life to choose its course for me. I want to spend time with people that matter to me and not be afraid to do the things I want to do. Now everyday I speak Spanish, badly, and I meet new people, I visit the ocean daily and will start surfing this week.
For anyone that is afraid of leaving their everyday life and their normal comforts, I strongly recommend it. Go somewhere. Challenge yourself. Fulfill a goal, start something new. If you fail you will just learn something new. Let yourself be a free spirit.
This last week was semana santa, which is holy week, I was told that this is a crazy and dangerous week in the year but I did not find that in my experience. All of the children had a week off of school and for the working population Friday and half of Thursday was a holiday for them. I was afraid about what I was going to do for this week because the art school was shutting down for a week. I found that my schedule was busy, my lack of car and my stubbornness of how to spend my remaining dimes as left me with refusing to pay for a motorconcho taxi driver and instead I feel as if I can walk everywhere. I do exactly that; I probably spend 1-2 hours walking everyday because it is free. This makes doing chores, such as grocery shopping exhausts my body and energy levels.
The market is the most exhausting because vegetables are really heavy and to carry them back to your house is so heavy. For the first two days I did food related errands and stopped by my friends work (which is a hardware store) just so I can get an idea of what a Dominican Hardware store sells, if I would ever need that… if I got an apartment.. but that is an idea right now. And because my life is an awkward series of random events piled together in a Spanish society, of course at the grocery store- in front of the cash registers I would wipe out while walking. My right leg is destined to be injured in Dominican Republic. This week alone its been bruised and bleed because I am a clumsy person.
Wednesday was an excellent day because my friend showed me all of the second hand stores in the city. There was even a used booked store were you could buy books in any language in any topic from economics text books to Edgar Allen Poe. I was able to pick up a Spanish book based on the past dictatorship in Dominican Republic. After that a group of us went to the theatre and we watched Cinderella in Spanish. The evening ended with a church service that only began at 8:30 pm.
Thursday was a morning for cleaning but I escaped from my chores to walk down to the beach and hangout with my guy friends in the afternoon. They invited me to come to a church service in the evening. To my surprise this church service in a different city was held in a baseball stadium. It was an outdoor concert for the Dominican police workers. During this it started raining cats and dogs. Most of the people at this concert where out in the baseball field and started freaking out when the rain came I saw people walking around with plastic chairs over their heads. It was very entertaining for me. During the concert I was sitting beside my close friend and I just burst into tears at one point because I remembered that I was leaving Dominican. After letting me cry out all of my emotions he reminded me that time moves fast and before I know it I will be back in Dominican. I have been doing that a lot where I will be perfectly fine then something will trigger me to be incredibly emotional.
Friday was good because I was able to spend time at my friends house in Sosua it was very relaxing and it was so fantastic to be able to talk to two other women that have gone through my situation when first coming to Dominican Republic and they have really unique and perspectives that are filled with wisdom. Before I came to this country I had a wish list of things I prayed for that I knew I wanted if I came to Dominican. On that list was making close friends with other expats and I am very grateful that I am able to have an expat community I can be close too.
The week of semana santa is known for being extremely dangerous because there is more drunk driving and accidents. On Friday evening it got past 5 and I decided to stay over at my friends house over night because I did not feel comfortable going back to Puerto Plata in the evening by myself. On Saturday afternoon I took a public car into town but I asked God for a Christian driver that would have views against drinking because I was afraid of getting into an accident. It happens that the driver on Saturday was the same man that drove me into Sosua on Friday morning. I remembered on Friday that he was listening to the Christian radio and on the Saturday I asked him about this and we had a great conversation during the 40-minute car ride. I was really grateful for getting back safely.
Saturday day evening while baking cookies for my friends birthday, I once again had an incredibly emotional moment and that lasted until Sunday morning in church. I was just so mad about having to leave here as soon as I got comfortable and I have had an issue with a guy that is really weird and makes me feel creped out. It is a very long story but I already really dislike him but then he started taking a video of me during the church service. Which I did not appreciate especially when I could see him re-watching it. That could be a contributing factor to a bad mood. Luckily for me that mood was broken when we went to the beach in the afternoon.
I was so burnt from being poolside all Friday and Saturday that I decided to stay on the beach with my one friend that did not want to go swimming. Here I could relax and not have to deal with a large amount of people. I realized I do not like big groups of people they are exhausting. This was a good two hours of me being able to think and relax. At the end of it I was so much happier, I think the sun, sand a waves are good for your soul. It’s healthy to look at beautiful things and to let them calm you.
Throughout all of the past week I have been doing a lot reflecting on the past three months, on my experiences the moments I’m satisfied and disappointed with. It is really hard for me to give a lot of this up and I know when I do come back things will be different. This truly is a change of a season or the ending of a chapter on my life. In the end I will walk away with my memories and experiences but in this moment my heart hurts to say goodbye to people, routine and comfort.
Yesterday (Monday) I got together with one of my expat friends to show her where an art store was and we got ice cream after and it is so sad that, I won’t be able to see her anymore this year. I am slowly seeing people for the last time, promising to keep up over a messaging app, but I know it won’t be the same as running around Puerto Plata together.
Everything needs to change because that is how we grow as people. When we push ourselves on what we can do we learn so much about ourselves and what we are capable of. This is what Dominican was for me, for the past two years I have wanted to return but actually returning was a difficult experience but I’m glad I did it. If I didn’t have a God or friends in Dominican I don’t think that I could have returned here because they kept me a float.
I have been reading the book Mathew lately because I had a lot of questions for my future or how to describe my experience here and deal with change and this verse stuck out to me. It answered a question of mine.
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests but the son of Man, has no place to lay his head”
It is so much easier to talk about my experiences in the past tense, because I can write in an effective way that has a purpose and direction. Living is the same idea, in the moment we are always so lost but feel like we need to have it figured out. As long as I can remember, my life has been planning and preparing for the next step. In Canadian culture we are very purpose seeking individuals we all need to figure out what we can achieve and then work towards it. But I would like to question this type of thought processes, because it is a lot of pressure over a situation that is so often out of our control. For example you can apply for many different jobs but you can’t know which one you will get. I think it is unhealthy the amount of emphasis people have on finding their life purpose. What happened to enjoying the moment that we are in? Maybe it is okay if you don’t know everything. You don’t need to know everything; you just need to know enough for the season of your life you are living.
I found this when I talked to Canadians versus Dominicans about how I previously felt depressed about my purpose because both parties have extremely different views. Canadians are much more inclined to say that it is okay if Dominican doesn’t work out, I just need to find my next goal or modify my purpose. Dominicans would tell me that I haven’t had enough time in Dominican, usually it takes 2 years to become fully accepted in a new place or culture. They would remind me that it is okay to be confused and I don’t need to know my future, what would it really change?
In this situation I found the Dominican perspective to be a lot more helpful, because Canadian culture has this overwhelming pressure to be successful and do something fabulous with your life. But of course at 19 you should have a pretty good idea exactly what the plans for this successful life are. It is healthy to look at the future and think of different ideas, but honestly the cultural view of Canadian success is so messed up and our society is a lot more judgmental about what classifies as success, and sadly personal happiness usually isn’t high on the priority list.
On the 22nd I visited an English Church which was right beside the beach in Sosua, and I think this was a large part of why I stopped looking at plane tickets back to Canada. I remembered my culture, I remembered how cold and unwelcoming people are. It was a lovely church service and nothing was wrong with the people in particular, it just wasn’t my Dominican church no one asked me how I was and they didn’t really make an effort whatsoever to include me. The people I already knew, I was with and people were very politely friendly, but it is just so different from Dominican church. And I missed it so much. I missed speaking in Spanish, I missed being able to talk to strangers. Recently I discovered a little food stop close to the school that is run by the mother of two of my friends. I now go there a lot to buy coffee or water (mostly water because it is ridiculously hot here) and at that shop there are so many different people that pass by and I have conversations with all of them. Everyone here is so friendly when you first meet them. It is wonderful. In Canada that doesn’t exist. If I was in a café by myself, it would be culturally understood that I would be there alone by choice and that no one should talk to me. There are so many things about North American society that I dislike strongly. And I believe that you can only truly examine the strengths and weaknesses of your own society when you step out of it and watch how other people life.
That morning at church was very eye opening for me and was a good cross cultural examining experience. It also allowed me to talk with the other young expats that I have made friends with about their ideas about cultures. It also sparked a conversation about cultural things, such as art and music, which led me to share with my good friend about an idea I had been thinking about. Through my one week crisis, an old memory of going to an art school popped into my mind. I remembered that the owner told me to come and work for her. As I told my good friend about this memory, she asked me if it was “Escuela de arte misionares ’ I was surprised that she knew the name, and she continued to tell me she had volunteered playing the saxophone there last year and she gave me all of the contact information I needed to visit the school. She reassured me to visit the school and the following Monday I found myself infront of a tall blue building with a never ending staircase to the 3rd floor to look for someone I had briefly met one year ago to offer artistic services.
Little did I know that, my trek up those white stairs led to my ‘purpose’ in Dominican Republic. It was that answer I was looking for. The owner Delsa, recognized me and got me to start helping at her school on Tuesday. From Tuesday to Saturday, so much has changed and I been thrown into this world of art in Dominican Republic. It is like a dream, I have started painting again and it feels so good to be in a creative environment with people that understand the developmental and emotional value of creating art.
Everyday has been a change to learn new things about the world of art here and to meet new artists that have unusual styles of painting. Friday I went on a field trip with two people I had just met to visit an artist that lives in the country side. His house looked like something out of alice in wonderland, all of his furniture was made out of recycled materials, the ceiling had natural beams exposed and there were large whimsical door ways that led to this garden of imagination and cement trees that were overlapped by flowers and fruit trees. There were staircases that led no where and the entire house was a massive gallery for massive paintings. I loved every minute there. I was enchanted the creativity, another massive blessing is I will be able to learn from this crazy artist when I return. There is a community of painters here that thrive on imagination and new ideas and the artists that I have met are more than willing to help me and teach me.
The one morning I was by myself in the spacious art school working on a painting to sell at the school and the natural light was filling the room with a beautiful breeze. It was a moment where I had to stop and look at the beauty that surrounded me and be still, quite and enjoy the moment. My love of art, will become the thing that drives my purpose in Dominican, and will continue to do this in the future as well. If you don’t already paint, draw, dance, write, make music… then I would highly suggest it, people underestimate the power of creative outlets.
The first week of March I discovered the English speaking expat community and that changed my stay here a lot. Without a little bit of familiarity or people that make you feel like home, it’s so hard to be here. I choose to come here by myself, and I do not regret that decision but without people that understand North American references and English you go crazy. Finding them has improved my stay a lot because they all went through my emotions. Being here is so up and down. Because sometimes you feel so happy and that you are doing exactly what God wants you to do and then other times you feel lost and almost angry at God because I came all this way, why isn’t he making his purpose or will for my life more clear?
Every consequence of my emotions can be dealt with, but it is so much more effective to talk to people that know both cultures and help me balance out their differences in my mind. There are so many little and huge things that I have to deal with all the time but I can’t really react to them outwardly, so I just am constantly suppressing all of this contrasting culture blaring in my mind.
There is an English Church and on Sunday I will be visiting it for the first time and I have tentative plans of returning here to Dominican next year and would like to start making connections with members at the English Church.
Also in the first week of March there was the English singing competition at the school for five female students. I was honoured to be a judge for this occasion.. and also did voice training and worked will all of the contests in the month before, but that was a lot of fun.
The second week in March was when my parents came down which was a different way of life for me because the three or so times I visited them at the resort I was reminded how Americanized Resorts are. They are a terrible representation of the culture of the country they are located in. It is also one of the times I have been most embarrassed by my culture. Middle aged people getting plastered and speaking super loudly and tipping over, they looked like a bundle of dizzy lobsters, was not a highlight of my week. The funny part was being able to hear the staff insulting them. For the most part I agreed with their comments.
I have forgotten so much of my north American culture, little things and big things. It doesn’t take me long to remember but I realized that I had forgotten soup existed and most of the brand names of foods hold no relevance in my mind. Being at the resort I remembered so much, but it was a little bit of culture shock because I would rapidly go from being in an area where I am the only white speaking English person to the resort where I am just another white speaking English person. And suddenly everyone is talking about new music and English shows and drinking all the time. Everyone is talking about money and travel and plane tickets and it was very overwhelming to have to be put in that environment. Most things that are important in North America.. I couldn’t care less about.. and that is just more amplified living here.
Having my parents here was really nice and I didn’t realize how nice it is to have them there. My parents are people that will unconditionally love and support me and I have the luxury of having incredible parents that will do that. It meant a lot to me, even though I was hesitant about it, that they wanted to see my world in Dominican. Even though they will probably never understand all of Dominican culture, they now know more than someone that has never been here before.
It was interesting seeing them interact with my Dominican world through my translations.
They saw the house I’m living in and the little church and school that I call home and they brought a piece of home with them in their presence, but in their absence after they left, it brought new emotions that I hadn’t experienced here. One thing that I had forgotten was how much I like to be really busy. I thrive on never having down time and running around like crazy and to boot st patricks day was the day right after my parents left.
That holiday isn’t very significant to me, but the not seeing green everything and not being at my university for that event made me feel extremely homesick. Most of the things I had been helping with had slowed down and I found myself with so much time on my hands thinking that I should just go home and get a job. I was seriously looking at plane tickets and thinking that my time here had ended. It seemed like everything had no meaning and life itself was a chore. The temperature started rising that week and I couldn’t make myself happy. Even my friends that work at the school could tell that I was depressed. Everything about my demeanor changed and when they asked me what was wrong, I didn’t even know what to say or how to begin to explain that I wasn’t homesick I was just depressed for a different lifestyle, confused about my purpose and lonely.
I think I had this idea, that once I came to Dominican that I would just magically figure out the rest of my life. For some reason I believed that my answers would be solved here. Especially my religious questions, if anything I have more questions now, but I also have more answers. I think that is the ironic about knowing more in general, it just generates more of a curiosity for life.
My depressive week was broken by a church service that stirred so many emotions in so many people that almost everyone was crying. It was such a strange and beautiful sight to see. I left the church so confused and especially mad at this God I believe in that never seems to give me clear direction and found a friend of mine that happened to be outside of the church, who agreed to walk with me (because it isn’t safe to walk alone at night) around the block. He said he was too tired, but when he say the tears streaming down my face… he didn’t protest to much. That release of raw emotion and then walking around the block to clear my mind somewhat ‘fixed me’.
Every Friday night, a group of young expats get together to talk and eat food at a house in Sosua which is 40 minutes from Puerto Plata. In the car ride I found it really comforting to talk to the two girls with me that are in their late 20’s because they have experienced all of my same emotions before. And helped me feel normal about my predicament. At the end of everything I felt more peaceful about my future but still had lots of extra time on my hands.
After almost 2 months of Spanish-Spanish-Spanish I was beginning to feel homesick, not for my home, for my language. The immersion is an excellent opportunity but in learning a second language you loose part of your personality. I am a lot less sarcastic, witty or clever in Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much so sarcastic with my body language but my words don’t match my facial expressions.
Anyways, I have been craving English like I crave nutella. I tried but I could not find normal expats here. I met a few expats walking to school in the past, but they are usually super weird and somehow slip buying illegal drugs into the conversation somehow. Can we just take a moment to analyze that. If you meet another English person and have a short conversation, why would you mention where to buy drugs? What part of that seems like a good idea? ESPECIALLY after I saw “I’m here doing mission work, I volunteer at a school and church.” That is pretty much the same as trying to sell a cat to a person that is allergic to them. Those super awkward expats on the street must have been high while I was talking to them to think that I was a good person to try to sell to or talk about drugs.
As a desperate person for communication in my language I sought advice from a friend from Canada on what to do. The solution was strange and not something I normally would do but I decided to post asking if other missionaries/normal expats lived in my area. And the result is nobody weird tried to talk to me, actually I ended up meeting a lot of really interesting like minded people. I need to admit that before I met up with a couple living here and two other girls in their 20’s living here I was a little afraid that I was going to be murdered.
Meeting people online, so not a thing that I would normally advise. To me it just does not seem natural and it’s terrifying. (I think I have watched way too much of the show Catfish.) While I was walking from my house to the spot I was suppose to meet them, a motorconcho driver I see everyday stopped to say hello. I told him I didn’t have much time to chat because I was running late and he offered to drive me to the meeting place for free. That was nice of him.
At the supermarket I see three people that look like the people I am hoping to meet. The one girl recognizes me and then the four of us walk over to their car to go to another spot for coffee. The whole time we are joking about how strange the situation is. That we are meeting a stranger online and meeting up with them, but not to worry the situation turned out fine. The people I met are a couple from Canada and Peru and are doing work in Puerto Plata and another other girl from Florida.
We went to this fantastic coffee place called Kaffe and there you can buy normal coffee and iced coffee! It is an old house that has been renovated; there is a beautiful patio in the back yard that is decorated in a vintage- hipster style. It puts trendy coffee houses in Canada to shame.
It was so great to spend time speaking in English and it was especially interesting for me to hear their individual stories of how we all go to this city. In my opinion, it takes a very independent person that is confident in who they are to live here and they need to be a little crazy as well.
None of us had plans on this particular Wednesday, so we eneded up spending the whole day together doing different errands and then going out for super with another expat from Canada.
Before dinner, the couple needed to pick up a package they had ordered. The mail is weird in Canada and if you want to receive or send something you need to do it through a private company. While we were there, the expat from Florida and I were talking about women’s rights in Dominican. (It is a huge issue here, many women see themselves as only sexual objects and do not have that same sense of empowerment or confidence in themselves that I am used to seeing in North America). In the middle of our very serious conversation about the rights women deserve here a man fell down and started having a violent seizure. He was throwing up in the bushes and people from everywhere crowed around to help or ask what was wrong.
Once he was okay the girl from Florida wanted to talk to the man about God but the other missionary couple tried but the man who had a seizure just asked for money and was not interested in religion. In the car this inspired a discussion about the ethics of helping. Because did the man have a real seizure or is he prone to having seizure and knows how to fake having one? The fact is he was watching me and the other white girl for a few minutes before he fell to the ground. He recovered extremely quickly and tried to get money from all of us after he was feeling better. No one can know for sure if he had a seizure that was real or not. But it was fascinating to be able to analyze the situation after the fact. Sometimes people will pretend to be hurt or sick to milk the situation as much as they can.
After this we started discussion the ethics of mission work, which is a very enlightening conversation to have with other missionaries. In Sosua there is an over population of missionaries, I have no idea why they concentrate in this one town but there are so many of them and it really has created a harmful system of dependency. There are many churches and it is a numbers game for them, trying to get more ‘sheep’ as they say in Spanish. Who has the most is doing the best and it is a constant jealous competition that doesn’t end. The churches don’t think of examining how they are doing things or try to improve instead they try to ‘steal back their flock of sheep’. Being in this area you need to be very careful not to do this. I didn’t even realize that this subculture of jealousy among missionaries existed… but it does.
At supper the 5 of us went to an Italian restaurant that had home made pasta and the owner is from Italy. It was so nice to be in an English environment and the restaurant was almost empty in our part because it was only 6 pm. Dominicans eat dinner much later. It was also a treat to eat meals at normal Canadian times.
I came back to the house feeling very full and happy because of my discovery of an English speaking community of normal people.
The first of every month at the church Centro Familiar, the church service time moves to 10 am instead of 6 pm. Upon, this discovery I was extremely excited because church in the morning is so much better than the evening because then you have your whole day to do whatever you want! In the morning I also can walk wherever I want.
But the rain ruined my parade. Literally. I couldn’t walk to the church because it was raining so hard but my upstairs neighbor called out from the balcony and told me to come to church in her van. I didn’t get my exercise. Church was good, loud and Spanish sermons are very all over the place and lack thesis statements or a common theme, but I am just happy that I am starting to understand them.
After church I was ‘not-allowed’ to walk back to my house because of my super over protective guy friends. Sunday was the carnival, which apparently means a lot of drunk, weird and crazy people running around on the street. The carnival also ruined my plans of going jogging on the beach with a friend. This was kind of sad, but I was expecting people at my house at 7 to have pancakes, so it gave me more time to clean the house.
In the middle of my cleaning at about 3pm I get a phone call from my friend who says, take a motorconcho to my house now we are going to the beach. It felt like that line from the movie ‘Mean Girls’ “get in loser, we’re going shopping” (If you don’t know what Mean Girls is.. well then just never mind)
I got ready so fast and before I knew it I was reunited with my love, the ocean. It was glorious. My friends here as always, thought I was being crazy because of how excited I was to be on the beach. Which made me think of what I was doing last March 1st. It would have been a Saturday, which means I would have been working at that terrible restaurant job I had once upon a time while freezing in the Canadian weather. Thank you God for changing my reality from last year. I am so grateful to be here.
After the beach, as if the day could get any better, we got pica pollo. Which is fried chicken with plaintain chips. Now, I know that fried chicken is good, but North Americans do not understand what good chicken is. You need to come here and taste chicken. It is fresh and delicious with no chemical enchantment or strange hormones added to it. It’s 100000x better in Dominican.
There is no concept of time when it comes to social events. I was expecting people to start coming over at 7 but only arrived back from the beach at 6:50. That gave me a few minutes to change and frantically do the dishes. Luckily for me, 7 means 7:30-8 here.
The one thing that threw me off was how my friend said he would go to the supermarket with me at 7 or before to buy flour because I couldn’t find it. But at 8 he still had not come to my house and I couldn’t start making pancakes without flour. I was inpatient because it was an hour after I was expecting to get flour. I told this to my one friend and we decided to go out on an adventure to find flour.
In theory this was a great idea, but it was a Sunday, which means every super market, but one is closed. The second massive problem is I thought the translation of flour was miel.. that actually means syrup here. There was a lot of confusion about that. Lets also remember that when someone says a store is ‘just around the corner’ or ‘close’ that is a lie. It probably takes at least 20 minutes to walk there.
After getting to the corner store, we discovered that there was not any flour being sold there and had to come back to my house empty handed. I thought the situation was hilarious because people were at my house while I was running around in the night looking for flour. Getting back to the house, my friend that was supposed to get flour with me at 7 finally was there. We ran to his car and drove like crazy to the supermarket because it was closing in 10 minutes. It was a mad dash around the store to try to find flour and we ended up getting those box mixes of flour because it was so much easier than trying to explain was flour is in Spanish.
Pancakes were served close to 9 pm and everyone was so hungry but no one seemed to notice the time. My saving grace was dinnertime is 9 or 10 pm at night. After being 2 hours behind schedule, I was perfectly on time. How is that possible? Dominican culture. This was also when I realized that, I really want to live on my own when I come back here. I love having people over and cooking but when it isn’t your house it is so hard to do that. I need space to myself to do this. After all that work I didn't even want pancakes, but I enjoyed having people over at my house.
My light hearted- extremely awkward life which involves moments like my walking into a glass door.. or trying to leave the super market through the entrance door.. (and it wouldn’t open because its motion censored and I was on the wrong side of the door. ) those moments still happen a lot, but I think my blogs are going to take a more serious turn. Not because my life is worse or I’m unhappy with the situation. It’s just the more I learn here the more I realize that people back home don’t know about Dominican. I would rather not sugar cot life here. Living your life in Canada is not a bad way to live especially if that is all you know. And you shouldn’t ever feel guilty for not being a missionary, I honestly think most people shouldn’t be or shouldn’t try to be. Let’s get into why I say this:
I’ve realized to be a ‘missionary’ (I really don’t like that word) but to be an expat in another country, doing humanitarian work that happens to be at a religious institute- I’ve realized that this takes a special kind of person.
-You need to have a heart that loves strangers unconditionally and care about other people’s problems.
-It is necessary to make meaningful friendships, connections and relationships with many different types of people.
-You must have endless amounts of patience for learning new cultural norms and understanding that people do not know your culture and do not really care to know ‘where you are coming from’.
-You must be incredibly adventurous and be prepared to learn so much about yourself and your emotions.
-It is important that you are out going and not afraid to meet new people and essentially start your life over again.
-Also you can’t be a cultural prick. Stop thinking your culture is superior.
-Humbleness is important, you are living/visiting a new country not saving the world- lets be honest- people in the other country will probably help you more than you will help them. And you are probably not going to do well if you dehumanize people and treat them like they are less than you. (you are probably thinking, how horrible I would never do that.. its pretty easy when you use words like ‘poor’ ‘helpless’ ‘needy’ and ‘unfortunate’ and then groups throw money at the problems)
But I realized that the most important thing is YOUR PERSONALITY AND MINDSET.
The longer I’m here I realize that relationships are essential… but your personality and mindset allow you to fit in or become horribly lonely in your new country. You can have the best intentions in the world but if you can never adapt to your new culture or have a mind that is incompatible with your new culture, you will not do well. This is what I’ve found watching other expats and taking to many different people that struggle here socially with local people. I must say it is not always easy making a friendship with a person from a different culture because you need to explain and learn so much. It will not be effortless. (I am also really trying to write this as neutrally as I possibly can.. which is difficult because it is so difficult for me to think that people don’t have curious personalities and don’t want to learn new languages or live in different cultures. And it is almost difficult for me to comprehend that being an expat here could be a horribly tiresome experience because 95% of the time I love life here.)
This is why I advise 90% of people to not be missionaries. And if you want to do a short-term mission trip (even though I don’t agree with them), follow my above advise of how to be a ‘good missionary’ and you better not give dollar store crap to ‘needy’ children. And then take pictures of them like they are zoo animals and come back and tell everyone that you practically saved the world. This is incredibly cynical.. with so much truth underlying in these acts.
*If you don’t understand why I say this, ask me and I will give you a lengthy explanation of why I believe mindlessly giving is a really the opposite of beneficial.*
Getting back to my above point of changing my writing style to be more educational to readers, I have decided to do this for a selfish and unselfish reason. The selfish reason is when I come back, I don’t think I will have the patience to explain simple things that seem like common knowledge to me, even though it isn’t common knowledge to people in North America. The unselfish reason is, it is important to become aware of another part of the world and think about problems in another part of the world on a more personal level. It is healthy to learn- especially about different cultures. I cannot stress how important I think that is for the mentality of the world. If we were all more understanding of other cultures and types of people.. I think the world would run more smoothly.
So I hope you are prepared to read about feminism, the ethics of missionaries, cultural differences and much more. Also I have started some journalism projects about Dominican for the organization Nexo. When I am done them I will create a new tab just for articles.
Blogging has taken a back seat to me actually living my life here, which is an understandable predicament for someone that would prefer to have a conversation in real live than spend time on her computer. But I felt today that the best thing to do before I sleep is to try to sort emotions and figure out how to appropriately react.
This morning I woke up incredibly early to hit up the market before 8 am so I could get the best deals for my beloved vegetables and fruits. I got a bag of passion fruit, cucumbers, carrots, green onion, mangoes, a red pepper, 5 lbs of potatoes and more for about 5.00$ (USA). The only downside to this was because I bought so much stuff and hardly could carry it from the market to the school (which is on the same street) I was advised that I should not attempt to walk to my house with the produce. This disrupted my original plan.
I went to say good morning to all of the staff at the school before I left to my house with my massive bag from the market. While I was chatting with a friend, I was volen-told that I was needed to make these little packages that would have chocolate kisses and starbursts in side of them. Everything was very pintrest worthy. After completing this task, I was given lots of fiddily little jobs like gluing new covers on notebooks. Everything needed to be done before 2 pm, because this is when the teachers meeting would commence. During these tasks the students participating in the English/French voice competition wanted to practice their songs. That was a good hour of my life explaining innuendos to 12 year olds after telling them why they can’t preform Nicki Minaj for their Christian School. (Well half explaining innuendos because I didn’t want to damage their innocent minds.) Somehow my intention of leaving at 8:30 am was pushed back until almost 3.
When I finally got on a motorcycle and was on my way to the house the motorcycle driver misunderstood were I lived and drove down a wrong road Calle 5- and I live on Calle 6. It took about 30 seconds to make him turn around and go on the right street. The rate for motorcycle rides is 25 or 30 pesos for every ride. But he expected that I was going to give him 50 pesos because he drove down the road. I was infuriated because at this point I am sick of people looking at my skin colour and automatically assuming that I’m so rich and I’m practically swimming in money. They think I’m stupid because I’m a white female and that life is just ‘so easy’ for me because I was born in a different country to white parents. I just about lost it on that motorcycle driver, and we had a very heated argument because I was enraged that he thought I was an idiot tourist that would pay double. The argument ended with me not paying what he was demanding, him calling me very colourful words in Spanish and me walking into my house feeling fed up with false cultural awareness about white Canadians.
Just because most of the white people go to Dominican to ‘have a good time’ which entails them turning red, getting extremely drunk and making fools of themselves does not mean every single white person is like that. These ‘resorters’ are basking in their golden sun, like kings while surrounding them is poverty that they will never fully acknowledge. This is an incredibly jaded view of tourists but I’m not going to lie it has been my experience of what I’m witnessed here. My selfish reason for resenting ‘resort life’ stems from the amount of B.S. I need to put up with everyday when I interact with people outside of my circle of people I know. I’m just so tired of explaining that I’m a university student and I actually don’t have all this money lying around. Contrary to their belief I am struggling to not be in debt to my school and have had a job for a long time and worked really hard to try to get places in life. But just because you are born somewhere else and are acquainted with a rich culture, your words mean nothing when you try to tell someone facts. Sometimes I just want to scream ‘I’m only 19! I’m still a child! Just give me a break.’
The people at the church for the most part are different and know me and understand that I’m not a billionaire. I’m just a human being that is from a different place. I felt exhausted after all of this rush of anger towards cultural ignorance towards North Americans. Then I started analyzing the other view of life and if I were a struggling Dominican that drives motorcycles, wouldn’t I try to charge the ‘ignorant’ white person double for their taxi ride? He had a picture of a little girl on the dashboard of the motorcycle maybe he needs more money to support here. It is just so hard to make money here. This attempt of scamming tourists has probably worked before and it would be easy money. He just tried to scam the wrong person that has been treated like this one to many times.
After calming myself down by talking to one of my Dominican friends that really understands and knows me well I decided to walk to the school. On the walk two Dominicans asked me if I needed to get to Playa Dorada and I told him in a very tense voice ‘that actually I’m living here and want to just walk to church’ and right after that I saw a bright orange SUV full of sun burnt middle aged gringos driving through the poverty- looking incredibly bored and were honking their horn aggressively at the motorcycles. I wanted to silently screamed over the death of accurate perceptions of white people as I saw that SUV fly by like a flame.
Another terrifying thought entered my brain that maybe I’m in the minority of white people that actually care and come to a country to make relationships and understand how to make lasting political change. And when you put it in that extremely dark perspective, everything makes sense and my soul shudders. I’m really sorry if it seems like I hate tourists and think they are evil- I don’t, but if you were in my shoes for the past month, I think you would be drawing a similar conclusion of frustration as me.
At this point my mind is completed stuffed with thoughts running wild but I’m feeling a lot more stable after speaking with my friends at the school. Then before church I decide to full out a folder with stories I need to translate into English. I started reading through slowly, as I thumbed through the realities of children that go to the school I’m at everyday, I could feel the horror of their stories grow as a lump formed in my throat. Page after page, written so matter of factly, these short stories broke my heart.
Church started and I stayed in the office reading heart-wrenching things about these children whose only fault was being born to their family. I put the folder away in the pastors’ office and I just broke down. I wept because I felt helpless to fixing these problem, I wept because life isn’t fair. I cried because they are only kids, why do children need to go through so much pain. And for about thirty minutes the pastor sat with me and talked about the economy, reality of most people in Dominican, about the cultural difference of my country, how it makes me sick the way North American culture is and how no one from North America will ever understand. More that anything we just talked about Esperanza (hope) that we hope that things will get better and slowly they will.
My heart still hurts for so many reasons. I’m so angry with consumerism and so enraged at inequality. And it’s no ones fault, yet its everyone’s fault at the same time. In my self-absorbed mind I think about my self and what my next steps are. So what’s next, I graduate, hope to make lots of money and live in the suburbs, have a minivan to take my kids to soccer practice and live in my plushy house filled with first world problems. Everything about that after the graduating the plan makes me sick to my stomach. I know that most people know the facts of how unequal the world is and how hard life is for them- but they will never understand it because it isn’t something they can fathom. Once you’ve had a change of reality there is no going back to who you were.
“I remain confident of this. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” Psalm 27: 13
Life picked up fast after the 27th and on the 28th I found myself in the position of substituting English class for a teacher because it was raining too much for her to come to work. And the entire thing was sprung on me when I was sitting in the office casually reading a Spanish book when the principal tells me ‘by the way can you cover all of the English classes this afternoon? The first one started 3 minutes ago. Thanks’ and that was the end of that conversation. I scooped up my books in my hand and frantically ran across the open patio to the classroom where a bunch of curious 3rd graders looked at me. Luckily I had been in their class the day before and they at least knew my name. So I looked at them and thought to myself how am I suppose to teach in Spanish? But I did, I stumbled through it. We reviewed colours and sounds and the kids jumped around the room and fought for whose turn it was to hold the big paper with the sound on it. After that I got tossed into another room full of grade 5 students and it was the same confusing last second put together lesson.
Following that I had a free period and in this time I frantically put together a lesson for grade 7 about the verb Hacer and the two different English verbs that come from that and we talked about the differences. It actually went really well. Mind you almost no one was in the class because it was raining- and Dominicans are convinced you will get the flu if you go into the rain. After this the rain continuously poured into the street all night, washing away all of the garbage that covers the sidewalks down to the ocean.
The day after I found myself in a similar role when I was needed to fill in for another sick teacher.. but this time I would be teaching science. If you know me at all, you know 1. How much I suck at science. 2. How little I know about science. Now teaching at a 5th grade level in science is not something that should be challenging but if the language was switched, you will find yourself in this predicament of being the most clueless person in the world. All I had to do was right in Spanish about water, liquids and gasses and put the page numbers of the text book on the board and sit there and watch the class… so I thought… instead all of the kids had questions and thought to ask the random white person sitting in the teachers chair for help. So once again I was sitting there revaluating my life choices that brought me to this point when I found myself reading a textbook about Science in Spanish to help children answer questions.
After these two days I felt that I could pretty much teach anything in Spanish or English because somehow, by the grace of God I didn’t die when I was thrown into these situations.
The rain brought more than just a down pour of water from the heavens it developed confidence that I could communicate what I want to say in a different language, even with a subject I knew nothing about.
The first time I felt like I couldn’t survive in this culture was the day when I was determined to wash my clothes. That was the morning I was ready to give up on almost everything. When culture shock came roaring in my ears in the form of cleaning dirty clothes. I was so optimistic about this simple task, there is a laundry machine in the kitchen so how hard could it be? How naïve I once was about this.
I wanted to do it at night but my host mom shot me this look like “are you on crack right now” which confused me but I agreed that I would do it in the morning. The plan was I would stay home from school in the morning to do my wash. I thought this would be tons of time. At 9 am Ramon returned back to the home to ‘help me’ with my wash I thought this was super weird because why would I need someone to help me do my wash. We he got here he explained that I have to move the washing machine out into the backyard. Which made absolutely no sense to me, to our dismay neither of us had the key to the back door. Ramons solution was moving the laundry machine through the front door and bringing it around the house.. which was something I flat out refused to do.
At this point I was feeling pretty annoyed because the door was locked and I would have to wear gross clothing for another day. Ramon left the house and shortly after I was in my room studying Spanish- when I was interrupted by a loud continuous obnoxious honking sound outside of my window. When I went to the door to see what was going on.. I realized that some random taxi driver was standing beside motorcycle jingling the set of keys I needed. I was in shock that they sent the keys with some random driver. I snatched them from his hands and ran back to my room.
At this point I was feeling determined again, I would succeed at washing my clothes. So I dragged that super heavy laundry machine outside by myself. And then realized the switch for water to flow from the hose was just out of reach because it was behind locked bars.. and I didn’t have the keys to that as well. At was looking pretty ridiculous at this moment. This young girl practically foaming out of the mouth because of frustration over being locked out of everything- this is exactly how one of my neighbours found me. She came over curiously inspecting the scene watching as I fluttered around anxiously. It was probably very entertaining for her. I showed her that I couldn’t reach the hose and the old woman looked at me nodded her head and without another word walked back up the path into her house. Minutes later another man walking down the same path sees me and wordlessly he puts the house in the washing machine and some how makes water fill the machine that I am ready to kill. It was very odd that two people that I had never seen before came walking down a path and decided to take pity on me and my failure.
Two hours later I am still painstakingly sorting my colours and hanging then on the line to dry and I’m thinking to myself- this isn’t so bad, I could do laundry again as I finished up the last of my clothing. I went inside to get ready for school and took my dry clothes into my bedroom leaving the other slightly damp ones to finish drying in the breeze. I took a motorconcho to the school and left my frusterations about doing laundry at the house. That afternoon I started assisting the English teacher with her classes and was kept busy with that. I was watching classes help children pronounce letters and feeling good that I was doing something productive with my time when massive angry clouds crowded the skies. I didn’t really realize how much weather could effect life but in that moment I wanted to curse the skies for bringing their heavenly water to the earth because all of my work had now been ruined by 30 minutes of the skies pouring down.
When I returned home what I found was very damp clothing spread across the furniture inside, where my host parents had salvaged my soaking clothes from the rain. And in that day I made a very conscious decision, I have decided to support the local economy here. That involves me paying someone else to wash my clothing for me because it took hours of work, me being locked out of doors, me having to hear those awful roosters loudly all morning outside, incredibly heavy lifting and having the rain destroy most of my work and knocked some of my clothes in to the ground.. Definitely not my finest day here.