Monday, July 26, 2010

El Campo

We’ve been back from our week away for about a week now, but because of how busy our last week here in Jarabacoa has been, I’m just now getting a chance to write about our experience in the campo.

We left almost two weeks ago and went to a rural village, or “campo”, lived with a host family there, and just experienced a different kind of Dominican life. And I must say, it may be my favorite kind of Dominican life.

The campo was a tiny village that consisted of about 20 houses, mostly of people who were all related, and a couple tiny “colmado’s”, or corner stores. It was only a few minutes from the coast, so it was really hot and humid. I don’t think there was a moment where we actually felt clean, even right after the shower.

The living conditions were rough, so it was definitely an adventure for me. There was only power for about an hour a day, but fortunately our house was one of the few that had an “inversor”, which is basically a generator. Water was almost just as scarce, even for us, so we took bucket showers, which actually weren’t bad because the water wasn’t as cold.

There also is very little to no privacy in the campo. The first day we were there, I was going to the bathroom in our house, and my sister came in, despite my attempts to try to tell her I was in there, so she could show me how to flush the toilet. I learned quickly that privacy doesn’t exist. Along with that, none of the walls in the house went all the way to the ceiling, they were only about a foot higher than Justin’s head.

But the people. Oh the people. I have never met people so loving, friendly, and hospitable in my life. They will legitimately give you the shirt off their backs without a second thought. That’s why there is no privacy and no sense of personal possessions, because it just doesn’t make sense to them. If they are blessed with something, it only makes sense for them to share. To cite an example: We thought we were being really thoughtful by bringing our host family a pound of coffee as a gift and the next day this poverty stricken family brings out a dress that they had purchased for me a week ago. They knew Justin was coming back to stay with him and was bringing his new wife, and they wanted to welcome me into the family and show me how happy they were to have me. I was almost in tears because of how loved I felt by these people who barely knew me.

We lived with the host family that Justin stayed with last summer, and they were beyond excited to see him again and to see his new wife he brought. They loved on us so much, called us their “hijos hermosos” (beautiful kids), and made us truly feel like their house and their family was ours too. They told us multiple times that everything they have is ours too, even our host dad’s horse that he let us ride a few times. We spent most of our time with them, just sitting on their porch talking, drinking coffee with way too much sugar, and visiting with all the neighbors who seemed to drop by every five minutes to say hi, drink coffee, or get fed by our mom.

To paint a picture of our family, our host mom’s name was "Mama Dulce" (dulce means sweet), and she was this really large black lady who had this super loud and intense voice, spoke extremely fast, and definitely ran the house. Yet she was the most loving and generous person I’ve ever met. Papa Felo, her husband, was this skinny older man who wore the same clothes everyday (his shirt was a Burger King shirt...ha), worked on a farm down the street, and carried a huge machete around with him all the time. The oldest of their three kids, Yomari, lives with them. She is 33 years old and incredibly sweet; although she is a little off mentally. Also living there is a 9-year-old granddaughter, Maritrini. She is the middle child of Dulce and Felo’s youngest daughter. We had a lot of fun with this loving, respectful, and feisty little girl.

Almost as beautiful as the people we were around were the incredible beaches that we were near. The one guy in town who owned a truck carried all 15 of us a little ways down the hill to the most incredible beach that I have ever seen in my life. We got some good pictures but they just don’t do it justice. It’s called “La Boca” (the mouth) because of the freshwater stream that dumps out into the ocean there. We played in the giant waves, cleaned off in the river, read on the beach, and ate tostoni’s fresh off the skillet. It was a day to remember.

You can probably tell by how much I’ve written that this Campo trip is one of our most cherished experiences yet. We will literally remember these people and the way that they treated us for the rest of our lives. We were shown that we could fall in love with all of our nice things without ever knowing it because they had never been taken away from us. We were shown that a family whose yearly income is literally one-tenth of ours (which isn’t much itself) for some reason is more generous and less protective of their possessions than we are. They gave us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven that we had not yet seen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Here We Come!

It's official...we have a place to live when we get back to the States!

We signed our lease agreement a few days ago at Settler's Ridge apartments in Austin, and we feel like we got a pretty good deal! And then a few days later...Becca and Otha signed their lease on an apartment two buildings away from us!

Settler's Ridge is about to not know what hit them...with the Sandefur's, Graham's, and Williamson's all living there. It's going to be awesome. We are so excited that it has worked out for all 3 couples to live in the same's going to be a sweet year. We know that with being able to walk to each other's apartments, so much more life will take place between the 6 of us, than if we would've had to drive, and therefore plan, every time we wanted to see each other. How the Lord has truly worked this out, despite all the many times this last semester it seemed impossible to find one place in the huge city of Austin that worked for three different families.

Oh and by the way, the Graham and Sandefur families will be moving in Saturday, August 7th, and we welcome those who would like to show off their brute strength, or at the very least, who would like to keep us company :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

La Salta Jimenoa

This past Sunday we hiked to a waterfall with some of the students, and it was one of the most beautiful places I've seen in my life. The hike was a little rough, but the view once we got to the bottom was incredible. Moments like these make us beyond thankful we are here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

DR Drama

Our host mom’s 32 year old daughter, Tarsis, and 10 year old granddaughter,Demi have been in town staying with us since we got here, and they just left this past Sunday. They came in to help our host mom because she got sick right afterwe got here. Demi was great and such a fun little girl to play with. She always had patience with our language barrier, and loved to play cards with us. We taught her “Spoons”, or “Cucharas”, and she absolutely loved it, which meant we played more spoons these past two weeks than we have in our whole life.

Tarsis was great too. She cooked every meal for us, had multiple conversations with us, and took us around town a little. Then over a period of a day or two, her attitude drastically changed. She stopped cooking for us, stopped talking to us, and most of all, completely ignored us. She would avoid making eyecontact with us at all costs, and would never respond to anything we asked her. It was weird. We knew something was going on and that it had to be somethingto do with us, but we had no idea what it was. We racked our brains of all the possibilities and still had no idea. So we walked around our house on eggshells for a week, feeling uncomfortable in our home, with each day only getting worse.

Finally, on Saturday, Justin had a conversation with her. The conversation went a little like this:
J: “Hiciste algo anoche?” (did you do anything last night?)
T: “No entiendo."
J: “Okay…fuiste a un lugar con amigas, que hiciste?” (basically just rephrased the question)
T: “Si, hice algo.” (Yes, I did something)
J: “Okay, que hiciste?”
T: Silence.
J: “Tarsis, estas enojada con nosotros?” (Are you mad at us?)
T: “Mas o menos.” (More or less)

I don’t want to relay the rest of the conversation to you word by word, but so far,you get a feel of her attitude towards Justin. So when he asked her why she was mad, her response was nowhere near what we expected.

Apparently, Tarsis thought that Justin had thrown out some spaghetti that she had cooked for him a week before. She said that was not okay and that if you don’t like something, then you tell them or you don’t eat it, but you never throwi t away. Justin was so confused. He loved that spaghetti and ate every bit of it. He actually went back to the kitchen to look for more but there wasn’t any.

When he asked why she thought that he threw it away, she answered “becauseyour fork was clean”. “Did you eat the spaghetti with your fingers?” Justin tried fervently to convince her how much he loved her spaghetti, but she wasn’t having any of it. She just kept saying “it’s fine, forget about it, don’t worry about it”, andwalking away, refusing to have any kind of conversation about it.

We have no idea where she got that idea from, and how it made her become a whole other person to us for the next week, but we were just glad that we knew why she was mad, and knew that it was absolutely not our fault. We're sad that we never really got the chance to work it out, but we've got to admit, the house is more peaceful now :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

6 Months and Counting

Yesterday was Justin and I’s 6 month anniversary! Okay, we know 6 months isn’t that important/exciting, but we figured you get to celebrate 6 months during your first year of marriage =)

We went to an incredible restaurant at the top of a mountain and had the best few hours. The restaurant is called “La Jamaca de Dios”, which means “The Hammock of God”. We took a motoconcho, or motorcycle taxi to get up there, and it was worth the scare of riding up a windy road on the side of a mountain three deep on a motorcycle.

The restaurant overlooks Jarabacoa, and it was the first time we have truly been up in the mountains, even though we live in between two mountain ranges. The best part about it was the peace and quiet. There was no noise, and that is the first time we have had that in two and a half weeks. That alone made it worth every penny.

We had an amazing dinner with steak and potatoes and eggplant. We were just so thankful to not eat another meal of rice and beans and fried plantains. We had uninterrupted conversation and uninterrupted time to simply enjoy each other. The way our life is here, living with a host family and with Justin’s job, those are very precious things to us in our relationship right now. I’m so thankful for last night, it was such a sweet time with my husband.

Now, I just have to brag a little. I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made six months ago to marry Justin Sandefur. He is the best husband and loves me so incredibly well. He protects, cares for, understands, and loves me way better than he naturally should, which can only be related to how much He seeks the Lord and pushes me towards the same.

I can’t wait to spend every day for the rest of my life with this amazing man, and I promise to try my best to love him well.

I love you babe. This is only the beginning!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back in the Swing of Things

I am better!! I actually started feeling better Monday, but still spent the whole day resting, and I have been slowly recovering since then, and almost feel back to full health again! I have no idea how I got sick or why it was such a rough 24 hours, but I’m just glad it passed quickly and we didn’t have to go to the clinic.

We arrived Tuesday (June 15, over two weeks ago now!) to Santo Domingo and stayed there for 2 days in a nice hotel and had orientation sessions during the day with the students. Then we came to Jarabacoa, which is where we will be for the summer. It's about 3 hours from the coast, in a valley in the mountains, about 4000 ft elevation, so the weather is great! Except that it has rained every single day since we've been here, but I guess we are on a Caribbean island :)

(a true Dominican with my grocery sack to protect my hair :))

We are living with a host family who is super sweet and takes great care of us. The main lady is a woman about 55 and her 30 year old son lives with her, along with his 2 year old son for most of the week. Since we’ve arrived, her other daughter and granddaughter have been visiting, and we think they are leaving this weekend. So needless to say, it’s a packed house. The house is a tiny 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 1 story house, and is cozy, but it is definitely taking some getting used to for Justin and I, since we have very little privacy. Our room is literally a foot from the kitchen, and about 4 feet from the two other rooms. We definitely miss our own space. So while we love being fed three meals a day and having a great place to rest our heads, it has been challenging as a married couple to really feel at home here.

Justin and I are really excited to be here, he's doing great at his job so far. There's about 20 students, and we've spent most of our days so far with them learning about the country, getting them started on their research projects, and helping them learn the town. We have also gone on multiple field trips to visit different health facilities as most of the student’s research projects will regard health in the DR. It has been really interesting to see the differences in health systems. Once again, I see how blessed we are to live in America.

It is a bit harder for me being here, as I don’t feel as purposeful as Justin, and so it has been harder for me to adjust. I was actually very surprised at this since I’ve already lived in a foreign country, but each experience is new and not like the last. But it’s been getting better, and I feel so lucky just to have a relaxing summer in a beautiful country speaking Spanish and just loving on my husband as he strives to do his job well.

On a final note, the DR is a developing nation, so many of the comforts from back home are gone. It is definitely hard, but I believe it’s good to be reminded that all we need is the Lord and we truly don’t deserve anything. One of the hardest things for me has been cold showers…it sucks every time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. But hey, at least our house has a shower and I don’t have to use a bucket J

Another thing, the power and water goes out at least once every 24 hours. There are so many reasons for this, most just being that conservation isn’t common knowledge here. This is an adventure, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night sweating because your fan has gone off. No fun.

Trash. There is really little to no system of trash pickup here, so where anyone’s trash goes, who really knows. A lot goes in the street, in the river, and just piled up in people’s backyards. I’m pretty sure somebody picks up my host family’s trash once every couple of weeks, but there is no dump (much less landfill) in town, so who knows. Once again, makes us appreciate home.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We're Here!

Well we’ve been in the Dominican for right at two weeks now and this is the first of the promised blog posts. So for anyone who was still wondering, we are alive and well. We met all of our study abroad students and the other Program Assistant in the Miami Airport last Tuesday and flew into Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. We stayed in a hotel in Downtown for the first couple of days while we did the student orientation, and then we drove to Jarabacoa on Thursday to meet our new host families.

For those of you who aren’t exactly sure what we’re doing here in the Dominican Republic let me give a brief explanation of my job here. I am one of two Program Assistant’s for a Health and Environmental Research Based Study Abroad Program. There are 20 students in the program who are living with Dominican families while studying Spanish and conducting a research project on Health, Nutrition, or Environmental Issues in this developing nation. My job up to this point has included everything from walking home lost students after their first night in Jarabacoa to giving an hour-long lecture on health disparities. Some of you may be laughing because you know that I can’t stay awake through an hour-long lecture, let alone give one. It has been a bit challenging but a lot of fun. I really can’t believe that we are being paid to be here.

Lindsey got hit with our first real sickness today (Sunday). I say first because experiencing some sort of illness is kind of a given when visiting the Dominican Republic for an extended period of time. That’s actually why I (Justin) am writing the first post. Right now she is where she has spent half of the day, passed out in the bed going back and forth between shivering and sweating. It started Saturday night around 3am with a stomachache and body ache. She has had a lot of ups and downs today but right now she is on a down. Please pray that she would get better soon. My life is a lot better when she’s healthy.

That’s all for now. Sorry for the delay. I’m sure my lovely wife will write more as soon as she starts feeling better.