Saturday, October 31, 2009

Social Work - El Callejon

El Callejon literally means "dead-end street". This community is two parallel streets with house packed together between. On one side of the community is a "Berlin-esque" wall that was built because rich people on the other side did not want to have to look at the houses of El Callejon. On the other side is a field that the people are not allowed to build on because the adjacent golf course does not want their patrons to have to look at the houses of El Callejon. And so you enter a little community with houses and colmados (little convenience stores) and naked children running through the street. Many of the women in the community either have no husband or are abused. There are so many children it's hard to figure out who belongs with which family.
However negative this description of El Callejon may sound, it is a place with much hope and much work being done. I have the privilege of working in the women's social work site where throughout the week I work with a variety of different age groups. My involvement so far has included helping out with the older women's group, leading a game with the middle school girls, helping a three-year-old color a picture, and teaching the teen girls Bible study in Spanish - that was a stretching experience.
This week our team has been at the base taking one more ministry class that will be finished in two days. After that I will be back at my ministry site for 5 straight weeks where I look forward to continuing to build relationships with the girls who come to the site and also with the kids in the community.

Travel Week

From October 14th - 23rd our group traveled the island of the Dominican Republic popping into various cities between Jarabacoa, Santo Domingo, and the northern coast. We spend time visiting museums, monuments and resorts. A few highlights were the Museum of Modern Art, the house of Diego Colon (Christopher Columbus' son), and the resort in Samana. It was a week and a half full of learning about the culture and the history of the island as well as being able to experience some incredible beauty. It was also a good time for our team to grow closer together as we came to the end of the time when we could see each other every day and began preparing to move to our ministry sites.
Upon our return, some members of our teams actually moved to new host families with new roommates the be in the right proximity to their ministry site. Fortunately, I was able to stay with my roommate with the same family and work in the community right next to me. It's been a transition as we were used to seeing the whole team at Spanish classes and now some members of the team will be able to visit only on Saturdays. Regardless of the changes I am experiencing, the experience just continues to get better and better as I see more culture and become more a part of my community.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peoples and Places and Things!

Our family's shop with our brother's house in construction up top

My house!

Cooking abichuelas con dulce with Alberto

Family time on the porch

Gran Salto de Jimenoa I

Climbin' up for some cliff jumping!

Bridges on the way to Salto de Jimenoa II

View of Santiago from the top of The Monument

Coco con dulce

Goofin' off with Paola and Noelia

A friend in the shower

A view from the road in Buenos Aires

A friend at dinner!

I'm convinced that no city is complete without Chinatown

What's in a word?

I've gone through some interesting stages in my Spanish while being here. At first, every time I tried to speak, I knew it wasn't supposed to be English, but the only words that would come to my head were German due to 2 years of learning that language in high school. That soon gave way to spitting out Spanish words, but mixing up meanings as I tried to translate in my head. Several times I told people I was "married" instead of telling them I was "tired", just the other night while talking to my brother I told him my class "owned" something instead of saying it was "new", and my favorite: as my family was heading out to eat one night I kept telling my dad, "Do I need money for pizza? I need money, right?" I couldn't understand why he was giving me strange looks until he pulled some money out of his pocket and offered it to me...I had mixed up words and been telling him, "Do I want money for pizza? I want money!"
As time has passed, I've learned more grammar and more vocabulary, and it's becoming much more natural for the right Spanish words to come out of my mouth when I talk to my family. I still realize that I go to bed every night with an exhausted brain - one day I decided to really explore why I got so tired every day, even while simply listening to a sermon in church...every word that I hear throughout the day, has to go through a process:
1) Recognize that I have heard a word
2) Is this word included in the vocabulary I've memorized?
3) either - No, in which case I move on to the next word I heard...OR
Yes, well, what does it mean?
4) Is it a verb? noun? adjective? something else?
5) What meaning does the ending add to this word?
6) Got it! Next!
Unfortunately, I've realized that while going through this process, I miss the next 5 words that come after the one I now understand, thus making it difficult to understand a complete sentence and grasp the full picture of what someone is saying.
Thankfully, as with anything, when you are immersed long enough somewhere, things that seemed so new now become automatic. After 5 weeks of living in the Dominican Republic and taking Spanish classes every day, many words no longer have English translations in my head, they simply mean what they mean in Spanish. Instead of listening to an advertiser drive by in a car and hearing rolled 'r's and strange lilts in the voice, I now hear that they are selling platanos, or that there is a concert at 7 o'clock on Saturday night.
I always knew that I struggled to learn thing in a classroom setting. I think almost everyone else on my team here would agree - this is the way to learn a language!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mi Cumpleanos!

Last Monday was my birthday and I informed my family here that all I wanted for my birthday was family and friends :-). They still asked me what my favorite color was and spent the day planning a surprise behind my back! When I arrived home from class I opened the door to the house, and thought I was interrupting a prayer meeting because all the lights were off. But it was a surprise for me!! They had a big cake and lots of friends from church were over. It truly was a blessed birthday with my Dominican family. Making it even better, I received many messages and much love from people back home. I would've loved to be with everyone - thanks for making my day special! :-) Enjoy the pics from my fiesta!

A few of my siblings and part of my church family.

My roommate, Barbara; sister Chila; and brother Alberto.

My three brothers (left to right): Alan, Marcos, y Alberto


Last Sunday we had the opportunity to attend the final day of a 9-day celebration in El Callejon. This 9-day "fiesta" began with a parade that went by our house, made up of people in the community and a princess who had been chosen in the school. It reminded me of an outdoor homecoming ceremony. Sunday, as I said, was the final day and something like a carnival was set up in a big field.
The main event at this carnival was groups of men climbing a big telephone pole covered in grease to reach prizes at the top. These prizes included salami, coupons, and some envelopes containing various amounts of money. I must say, I wish there was more of this in the States - it was highly amusing. This giant pole was brought in on a truck, raised with ropes and dropped into a hole, and then prepped with the prizes. It was easy for men to climb to the top and it was fun to watch them scramble up, but right before the contest started the pole was drenched with motor oil and grease. Enjoy the pics - wish you coulda been there!

They literally stacked themselves on top of each other and then climbed over one another to continue the pile.

My favorite was when the knees of the men at the bottom of the pole would buckle and the entire stack of men would come sliding down the pole, sometimes leaving one stranded at the top.

We watched for 2 hours and unfortunately NO ONE made it to the top. After we left they had to chop down the pole in order to get the things on top. I was told that in years past the pole had been half as tall, making it an easy feat for the men - I think they overcompensated...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Mami fell and broke her foot a few weeks ago...and last Sunday she woke up feeling very sick. I went with a few people to take her to hospital because I wanted to be with her, but also because I was curious as to what it would look like here.
I observed things around me as we walked down the one hallway to the reception room where a man was lying on a bed with an IV in his arm. Everything was very dimly lit, an would never meet the stereotypical "clean, white" standards that are taken for granted in the US. As we waited for the doctor to enter information in her memo notebook that held the center's records, I looked around the room. Maybe 9 x 15 feet, it held a desk and two waiting chairs, as well as two hospital beds. Around the walls were various cupboards and small china cabinets that held boxes of needles and drugs. A plain-clothed nurse walked into the room and thew a used needle in to the open garbage can. A moment later my sister dug through the same garbage can to pull out a piece of paper with which to fan Mami. Various objects of equipment were scattered on the counter. I couldn't tell what all the arrangements were, but Mami was eventually wheeled down to a room where she was given an IV. A bedpan was given to me to take care of her if she needed it.
Some of these conditions seem strange and even shocking when contrasted with what I knew before, but they are just as normal here as clean hands and sterile conditions are in the States. I don't know if the Dominican Republic is considered a third world country by medical standards, but I know there are countless places around the world with even less in their than is here, and this hospital may be a luxury for them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I Have A Growing Appreciation For...

1) Bathing with water from above
I have always taken for granted the ability to turn a knob, pull another knob and watch water immediately come out of a showerhead. I took it so far as to complain about the water pressure if it wasn't what I preferred. Before we left for the DR we were informed that some of us would be living in houses where bucket baths are necessary because they don't have running water or it is necessary to conserve what little they do have. A bucket bath involves using a bucket or trash can to scoop water out of and dump over yourself, or splash over your body to get wet. It's very tricky to conserve water this way AND get your entire body wet. Feeling an ability to be flexible, I looked forward to this possibility as part of my experience in this country. I did end up in a house where bucket baths are the norm. As of today I have taken three non-bucket "baths" or "showers". I use this word lightly because the times that there is water running through the pipes, it's the smallest trickle that isn't enough to get my hair wet, and thus my roommate and I help each other wash our hair every day, running water or not. For the first few weeks I took pride in the fact that we were experiencing the "roughest" bathing situation of our group, but I soon realized that I would be okay if this part of the experience suddenly changed. Where I would usually scoff at the thought of trying to bathe in the trickle lacking any sort of "pressure", I now am ecstatic on the days when I realize the water has been turned on and I can let the water fall on me rather than awkwardly splashing myself. My whole day looks brighter because of this small luxury.
2) Vegetables
It's not common to eat a lot of vegetables here. Even though our families are encouraged to serve us some kind of vegetable or salad, it's rare to see it on the table. Lunch was a dream come true today as we sat down and saw a plate with lettuce, tomatoes, and broccoli ready for consumption! We had been talking this morning about cravings for broccoli and spinach and the like and we felt the hand of God in something as small as a plate with broccoli for lunch. I specifically thanked Him for it as we prayed before eating. :-)
3) Communication
If I had been at the Tower of Babel when the languages were confused I would've booked it outta there too! I hit a point last night almost to tears as I realized how hard it was for my brother to understand the sentences that I work so hard to form when we're talking. Communication does more than allow relationships to flourish and teams to be effective. It allows us to simply be social - have fellowship. I'm now very aware of the fact that I can get together with other members of our team and hang out without having to think about every word we say before it comes out. Even so, I'm amazed to see the way relationships can still be built (with my family) even with a lack of communication. We are still able to get to know each others personalities and little by little become aware of likes and dislikes.
4) Electricity
At least once a day the TV will go black, the fans will turn off, and our room will become pitch black. More than once we have eaten dinner by candlelight - very romantic - or been informed that laundry will have to wait because the washer won't work without electricity. The minute the electricity is turned back on it is met with a chorus of voices shouting "Luz!!!" and smiles all around. Living here creates an infinite appreciation for simply the option of seeing what's happening around you 24 hours a day.
6) Screens
You've seen a picture of the mosquito nets we have to sleep with. Even forgetting to tuck in a small portion of the net will result in many bites when you awaken in the morning. Windows are opened and closed by folding a set of wooden slats up or down in order to have privacy or keep out some rain, but as you may expect, bugs are tricky guys and they find their way in through the windows or the doors that are open all day.
7) Flushing every time I go to the bathroom
As I mentioned before, water conservation is something to constantly think about in our home and one way to do this is to only flush the toilet if you go #2...enough said.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A New Experience

I decided that church here deserves a blogpost. I must admit, I had been wary of writing this post because for a while I didn't know what to make of church.
I grew up in a non-denominational Bible church, and for the past three years, attended a Missionary church near Bethel. Both are very straight-lined, easy to understand and easy to engage in. A few times I have attended other churches for class projects or reports, but never have I ventured into a Pentacostal church. Since moving in with my host family I have been thrown into this experience in such a way that my mind used to be spinning for days after services.
Allow me to describe a typical service: We arrive at the church (which is an extension of our house) and find a place to sit. We turn our chairs to face us and kneel in front of them for usually 20-30 minutes of silent prayer while music plays or someone prays from the microphone up front. At times the person praying can get extremely loud and the speakers do not get turned down. After prayer, someone (usually our sister Chila) will get up and lead some songs accompanied only by drums or a guitar. These songs are like nothing I've ever heard before and sometimes are so incredibly fast that I can't even pick out individual words. Many people dance or pace back and forth between the chairs during singing and for prayer. It's a very small building that is easily filled with the noise of voices, instruments and shuffling feet. Singing is followed by someone giving a message. Sometimes the person seems to be shouting at us - sometimes it's a message open for discussion in the middle if someone wants to contribute. There have been a few times when service is closed with a time "dedicated to the Spirit", if I may call it that. Music will be playing and everyone in the church will be praying, led by whoever has the microphone. Things seem to rise to a frenzy and people will start dancing faster and faster or begin spinning in circles with their eyes closed. It is up to the rest of us to protect the kids and elderly (and ourselves) from getting hit in the face or run over at this time. If they come towards us we simply guide them with our hands back towards the middle of the room. Everyone has their own style when they are in this state. Some people spin, as I said. Some people seem to be fighting things or swinging swords. Some stand in one place and shove the space around them as if pushing something away. Many people start yelling. It is a time full of emotion and prayer. Things usually wind down to softer music and a time of fellowship as the service comes to a close.
At first my roommate and I would leave services feeling overwhelmed and speechless. We couldn't even tell our family what we were feeling when they asked us if we liked it. We could only tell them that our churches back home were very different and very quiet. I fought with a lot of thoughts toward the beginning. I wondered if there was something demonic involved. I would be so overcome with a spirit of chaos and confusion that I didn't understand how it could be of God. Eventually I was able to overcome my initial judgments and begin to see the presence of God in these people even if it was in ways I was not accustomed to. Many times we were able to interact with people outside of church as well and get to know them under different circumstances. I took some time to focus on some of the things that I appreciated about this church and this congregation:
There is no hierarchy in this church. Our Mami has her title of pastor, and she truly is a shepherd, but no one calls her that even though she is recognized for it. There are sometimes different people who lead the singing and even the younger girls are allowed to play the drums for the music. I have yet to hear an in tune instrument, musician, or lead singer, but they love to sing to God so much - that's what makes it worship, not my American idea of what a worship team looks or sounds like. They understand that worship is more than singing songs together. If someone has something to share they are given the floor, they love to read the Word of the Lord and corporate prayer is huge. I remember, in my trip to Israel a few years ago, loving hearing all the different languages during prayer at our conference. I try to focus on that now, rather than the fact that I can't understand anything.
Barabara and I have continued to build relationships with people, young and old in our church family, and even have been asked to sing a few times up front (we've busted out a few songs in Spanish!) I'm praying for a lot of wisdom as I experience and explore this kind of worship and church family, seeking solid Biblical truth to apply to what I'm seeing. I've never seen or learned a lot about Pentacostal churches before, but I know there are also a lot of different kinds and they can't be judged as one entity. God's teaching me a lot of flexibility as I learn to see Him in new ways.
Please pray for this church, there is a lot of love in it, but also a lot of hurt. Many of the women are from nearby El Callejon (where I will be working) and their husband abuse them or they are unable to care properly for their families. One woman has been sleeping in the church with her children for the last week because she has no home.
We've learned that we will be living in our same home for the remainder of our semester in the DR which is an incredible blessing. Not only will we be able to "come home" after our travel week, but we will be able to pick up where we left off in learning Spanish from them and already have comfortable relationships with them.

Here are a few pictures so you can see what our church looks like! :-)