Tuesday August 21, 2012
These past few days have been packed with a lot of activities and learning-I’m not purposely trying to ignore this blog, so no need to worry. I’m trying a lot to take Padre Bill’s advice and be in the moment. I’m trying to center myself in the now so I can fully take in this experience without the worries of the past and the future. It’s a struggle but definitely a goal for my four months down here. My apologies for this long post..I’m cramming 3 days into one here.
Sunday: consisted of an orientation of the week of orientation, a tour of the ILAC center—classrooms, track, offices, comedor (dining hall), casitas (little bungalo type housing), medical clinic, and the church, just to name a few. Then we took a walk down the street to see the two little stores where we can buy snacks and soda as well as other little supplies we may need. On the corner is also the pharmacy and the money exchange, both of which are helpful and will come in handy during my time here. After lunch (the food is so good—fresh fruit at every meal), we headed into the city of Santiago, about 20 minutes away. Our method of transportation was the guagua—basically a 15 passenger van in which local Dominicans attempt and succeed at cramming at least 30 people in there. Let me tell you, we all got friendly real quick. The cost for a ride from ILAC into Santiago on a guagua is 25 pesos, or about 60 cents. For the most part the guagua wasn’t a bad ride. The local Dominicans were very nice and friendly in letting the twelve of us fit into the already crowded van. But that’s typical for them—especially the man collecting money who sits on the passenger window or other people who stand—mind you, the sliding door on this van never closes. I’ll try to get a picture to better illustrate the guagua system for you all. In Santiago we were pointed out the local landmarks for when we travel in the city with our group and so we can become familiar with our surroundings. We walked to one of the most popular places in the city: the Monument. The Monument a los Heroes de la Restauracion which was built for the centennial of the Dominican War of Independence from Haiti (1844). The Monument is also dedicated to the heroes of the Dominican Restoration War (1863-1865) to gain independence from Dominican colonists and Spanish forces. It was very interesting to see the statues of the heroes for both wars of independence. The view of the city was also amazing (again, I’ll add a picture a little later). The rest of our Sunday was relaxing as we had the afternoon off followed by dinner and mass at 8pm.
Monday: Another day of orientation. We started the day with breakfast, reflection, and introduction to our EDP class—a 6 hour class dedicated to learning about the culture, history, and social justice in the DR. It will be a lot of work reading all the materials and finishing a 20 page research paper on the DR, but what good would it do for me to live in a country I know nothing or little about? In the afternoon we started our first Spanish class with Profe Edwin. Yes, I was afraid. Only taking Spanish 4 years in high school, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to succeed in the 6 credits of Spanish I’m taking down here—3 in the classroom and 3 in the campo (living with a family who speaks no English). But Profe Edwin made this class a lot of fun and not intimidating at all. He spoke to us one on one to get a sense of where we are with our Spanish. Then he spoke about us improving our Spanish in four main ways: Hablar, Escuchar, Leer, Escribir (speaking, listening, reading, writing). I laughed a little to myself thinking about my junior year of high school when Señora Bowes never failed to test us on these four main parts. But along with these key parts to learning Spanish (watching movies, reading papers, listening to the news, listening to music, speaking with one another-via email as well) we are learning key cultural components to the Dominicans. Our focus today: Dominoes. No, not the pizza, although they do have it here. We learned to play the intense Dominican dominoes-a way we can communicate with the families in the campos and the people here at ILAC even with our struggling Spanish language. It was a lot of fun and something that our group is has taken on as our bonding time.
Tuesday: Orientation yet again AKA fun time. Today we heard Radalme talk to us about the ILAC/CESI center and his own personal experience in the DR. The ILAC center is a place for education, healthcare, and agricultural growth in the DR. The program has a medical center here in which they bring in medical teams to administer medical care to the people in the community as well as out in the campos (countryside). They also implement schooling for the children because education is very important, especially to break the cycle of poverty. The last major component to ILAC is the agricultural part in which they teach as well as install aqueducts into the campos so the families don’t have to travel miles for clean water. It was a very inspirational talk as Ranalme tied our fourth month stay to the main components of ILAC, since we will be participating in some of these programs through our service in the community as well as our service in the campos. After lunch we visited Centro Leon, a cultural center and museum in which we learned about the history and culture of the DR. It was very interesting to hear that Dominicans are not fond of their African heritage and that they take more pride in their Spanish heritage. A lot of information, cultural facts, and interesting exhibits were thrown our way today, but it was helpful in understanding the DR a little bit more.
And now I sit here after dinner and our final meeting. The night is beautiful and very peaceful here. I have found a great spot to reflect on my day and get my thoughts in order so I can share this experience with you all. I am still a little nervous about this program, but that’s to be expected since I’m out of my comfort zone and in a culture very different than mine. But what is keeping me going right now is the thought that I am a part of something greater than myself. I am here to learn, to experience, to serve, and to find myself and my passions in life-is medical mission something I want to pursue? A lot of questions fill my mind as I reflect on what I will be experiencing but with trust, especially in the Lord, I know that I will have a great semester and be pushed far beyond my comfort zone and limits, all of which will help me grow into the person I can only hope to be.