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.