Monday, September 23, 2013

Disclaimer: -I wrote this before I went to sleep, so it may be a little disjointed.

Saludo!  I hope you are all doing well!  Thank you to everyone for your prayers!  I remember all of you and your intentions daily here in the Shrine.

A strange thing is happening to me- when I am speaking Spanish, I first think of English and translate, but now when I write in English, I think in Spanish.  My mind doesn´t know what language to use anymore!  

I am not sure which details here would interest you most, but it´s likely that with three months to give you updates, I will cover most topics anyway.

Well, the weather here is hot, as was expected.  If I do my middle school calculations correctly,(it has been awhile) 40 degrees Celsius is about 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  Could be wrong, but I do know that is pretty warm here!  Besides being warm, it is super humid.  Having damp clothing is not out of the ordinary.

Today (Saturday) was a relatively easy day because I didn´t know what to do!  The children only come to the Nutrition Center Monday through Friday, and Sr. Frances has not met with me to talk about my schedule yet.  So for the most part, I followed Eliud around, speaking Spanish, and learning more about living here.  I met several kids who gave me impromptu learning and speaking experiences.  End result was laughter, confusion, and lots of drawing in my notebook.   It was a great day for me, but not of much interest for you in the United States. Friday  is more interesting to talk about.

My day began at 6.  Well, it was supposed to begin at 6am, but I slept an extra 5 minutes. Here I have mosquito netting over my bed, and a fan because there is no air conditioning.  It is very nice to have both those things, but sometimes it is hard to remember how to escape my tent-like bed early in the morning, which at first induced panic.    

Holy Mass was at 6:30 in the Shrine, which is here on the Sisters´property.  The Schoenstatt Shrine in Waukesha is different from the Shrine here.  This one is definitely a bit bigger, which is a good thing, because there are always people in there.  I haven´t found it empty yet.  Also, the roof is not brown, but white, and the floor is tile.  The door is always wide open, except late at night.  Because so many people frequent the Shrine, there are about 7 permanent rows of pews outside the Shrine looking in.

Yesterday was hotter than the other days have been.  Let me explain.  Everyday is hot, at least since I have been here, but even the adults and children that live here and are used to the climate (they call it crazy) were acting differently.  There was more sleeping!

My mornings at the Center have started with eating breakfast with the staff, sandwiches for them and cereal for me, and then feeding the children who arrive afterwards.  They have a porridge with cinnamon that looks delicious.  One would think that feeding children would be pretty easy, but that is not the case.  The boys seem to do alright, aside from normal boy things like punching each other and pounding fists into the table.  The girls take a bit more effort.  There are at least three who just don´t want to eat, and it is part of my job to make them eat anyway.  I spoon feed them, and even the ones who are perfectly fine on their own make me help them too.

In fact, my first day they insisted that I not only help them eat, but that I make the food on the spoon  an “avion”, an airplane!  I guess some things are the same.

After breakfast, we go into our little classroom and begin the day with prayer.  These kids pray very enthusiastically.  They shout.

Then, the teachers begin the learning portion.  This week the kids learned about the five senses and what parts of the body one uses for each, as well as counting, letters, and days of the week.  Also, apparently today is the International Day of Peace, so the teacher explained to the class what peace was, using me as an example.  

This all sounds very tame on paper, but the actual experience is waaay different than an American classroom, even one of preschoolers.  There are times of silence, it is true, but not many.  Mostly the 26 children are talking, and the teachers constantly have to correct or talk over them, but it is more accepted.   The ladies are extremely patient, even when frustrated.  It is not uncommon to have to yell to be heard, or for the teachers to literally yell at a partichular child.  The reprimand is loud, but not severe, and the kids and teachers alike are smiling the moment afterwards.  Maybe this is coming out confused, but suffice it to say that things are very loud, and to me somewhat chaotic, but it is part of a normal happy day here.

After learning, the children go to brush their teeth, which I will describe in more detail at a later time.

Then we have more relaxed classroom time and the teachers take turns eating so that during the kids´meal, they are all present to help.  Despite the heat, we had soup with rice.  It had all kinds of vegetables and some kind of meat in it.  No one wanted to eat soup unfortunately, so I had my work cut out for me.  Several spills and many messes later, the meal was finished.  After they eat, the kids get some kind of sweet, usually a juice, but yesterday they had cake.  It´s not like U.S. where they would get a large piece.  This was a slice about an inch thick , and palm length.  It was such a treat for them!

After they went home, I napped for an hour.  I know, I know, lucky me.  But really, it was so hot that I had a headache, so it was necessary.  Then I studied Spanish for about two hours and my second job began.

There is a retreat of ladies here, some sixty, and they make A LOT of dishes.  I, along with five other ladies in the kitchen, was washing dishes and cleaning up until 9:30 at night.   All the dishes had to be washed and dried by hand, and then the tables set for the next morning.  The pots are understandably huge, and some spoons are two and a half feet long.  Also, I have not seen a can opener used, rather, a large knife.

If I thought my day was long, it was nothing compared to theirs, because those same ladies also work in the nutrition Center.  After I leave, they work at the Retreat House, so they had been working for longer than I had, plus they all had to walk home through the town!  We were all so tired, but I made a lot of new friends.  All the ladies know me now as the American girl who washes the dishes because they told me that I could leave early.  I didn´t.  At the end of the night they said that I was a Dominicana!   Eliud and I had both originally intended to study, but we gave up.  Instead, we had her homemade juice and called it a night.  

I have so much to write about, but I can´t stay on this computer all night, so I will leave off with a few interesting things.  In my Spanish class, we sang Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.  I thought it was just a learning thing, but it turns out that they do it here too!  Oh, and Thursday, we watched, you will never guess, Dennis the Menace in Spanish!  The teachers interrupted it to explain that the kids were NOT supposed to act that way!  Lastly, I almost laughed when I heard the teachers calm the niƱos with “Simon dice”.  It is fun to see the same games here!  It makes me laugh, and be a little homesick too.

God bless you all!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hi everyone!
Greetings and prayers from the Dominican Republic!  So much has happened since I left.  Originally, I didn't think that I could email or post anything until Sunday, but I found an opportunity, so here it is!  
I don{t really know where to start.  I was so excited in New York because I had never seen the ocean before.  It was scary and humbling at the same time.  Then of course, I saw a lot of ocean flying overseas to the Dominican Republic.  

The flight and airport details might bore you, but I will add them anyway because it was very interesting to me at the time.  Firstly, I was the only American on the flight from New York excepting the flight attendants. Otherwise, they were all hispanic and one asian family.  
Understandably, the instructions were all in Spanish.  Generally, not a problem because they were pretty generic and easy to understand.  The catch was when we were arriving in Santo Domingo and I needed to understand the luggage directions and customs.  To greatly condense the story, I had to search for my luggage, and then go through customs in Spanish.  Naturally, I didn{t understand all the steps, so I had to retrace my steps once or twice.

This airport was very different from O{Hare and JFK.  It was practically empty.  We seemed to be the only flight that was coming in at that time, so we had the place to ourselves.  It was also without all the commercial hubbub; no restaurants or little gift shops.  Actually, there was one place for souvenirs, but that was all.  I was very relieved after surviving Customs, but then I realized that my tracfone was useless and I had no way of contacting the Schoenstatt Sisters who were supposed to be meeting me. Oh, well.  I would have to find them eventually.  But it was no problem, as Sr. Ana Maria was waiting for me as soon as I walked out..  

She introduced me to Don Jesus, as she explained that only a very few sisters drove in the Dominican Republic, Sr. Frances Pizarro being one of the brave few.  After that car ride, I understand why.  As far as I can tell, there are no traffic rules.  There were sort of three lanes, but about five cars shared those lanes.  Although shared isn{t the right word for it.  Everyone went as fast as the person in front of them, and if that was too slow, you just passed them up.  Motorcycles wove in and out of the traffic, apparently indifferent to their safety.  If the cars were stopped at a traffic light, people walked around them, often selling things to the passengers.  Somehow, it sort of worked.  Horns were used frequently as a warning to other drivers.  The roads were also different.  They were broken at some points, and at one place had metal ridges.

As we drove, Sr. Ana Maria talked to me in English, and her superior asked questions in Spanish. They explained to me that the area by the airport was better off because of the tourists, but that the further one drove from there, the poorer it became.  But everything was poor.  No buildings looked new or well kept up. Roofs were rusted and the like.  But because everything was that way, it didn{t look all that strange.  For here, it is normal.

I am going to interrupt myself to share a message that was on a wall.  It read, POR QUE SOMOS POBRES? Why are we poor?  The question keeps haunting me.

After calling my family, I had a dinner of ham and plantains.  Plantains, for those who have not eaten them, are banana like in shape, but potato like in texture.  It{s a very filling starch.  That night I also met my housemate, Eliud.  She is a Candidate for the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary,and we will be helping each other learn our respective languages while I am here.  She is a really nice girl, and I look forward to spending time with her.  

Going to skip ahead a bit, because I only have so much computer time, and I want to get to the interesting part.

Today was my first full day at the Nutrition Center.  Yesterday I was there for half the day because the Sisters told me to sleep in.

I will begin with yesterday, because it was the beginning.  No, I will begin with background.  

The nutrition center is a mission work organized by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary to care for poor malnourished children in La Victoria.  Their parents do not have the means or the knowledge to care for them.  To help fix the problem, the Sisters care for the children while the parents work, and then hold classes to educate the parents.  until a few years ago, the Sisters used a building in the village of La Victoria.  It was not the best situation, but it was what they had.  They had to walk through La Victoria to reach the Nutrition Center each day.  Then, the first lady heard about the Center and helped them build a new center here on the property of the Sisters.  It is larger, and clean, with electricity and running water.

Sr. Ana Maria came to show me the Center yesterday.  She gave me a short tour of the doctor{s room, the bathing rooms for the children, the kitchen, and the individual classrooms.  First I saw the babies. They were stretched out on the floor, sleeping, with two ladies watching over them.  Next was a pivotal moment.  i understood the magnetic effect.  One two year old ran to Sr. Ana Maria and hugged her.  The next thing I knew another little boy ran to me.  The instant the other children realized that we were receptive to their hugs, they came in droves.  I had five more come to me.  Then I picked up two of them, while the rest still were clinging to my legs.  With some reluctance, we allowed the teachers to peel the children off of us.

We continued on to the room in which I was to help.  The oldest children were in there.  They were all four year olds.  The classroom was noisy.  I later found out that there are 26 children in this class, with two teachers. The teachers were reading them a book when I arrived, but it was obvious that I was much more interesting than the book.  Again, the instant that they saw that they could come to me, they did.  I had two or three on my lap in an instant, with others crowded around.  After a bit, I heard “Americana!”.  yes, that is me.  These children have and give such joy.  It is hard to even explain the effect.  They were so happy to see me, a person that they knew nothing about.  They offer me their shoes to tie, or dresses to lace up.  l even saw one of my favorite boys, Weslin, untying his shoe so that I would help him with it.  They just love the attention, and give it right back! For example, shortly after I arrived, I picked up a LEGO block from the floor and pieced it together and handed it to one of the children.  I think five more came to me with LEGO pieces!

One of the things that they find so incredibly interesting about me is my hair. They have short hair too, but the girls all have it divided and either braided, or more commonly twisted and fastened with colorful bands. Their hair is of course darker and of a different texture than mine. The boys hair is all shaved very short brown curls. Anyway, I keep my hair in a ponytail, but pieces are bound to slip out, and when they do, the kids find them. It will start with one child. He or she will feel the piece of hair, rub it and pull on it a bit, and then start twisting it together, like theirs. after is is finished, they start over. by that time, three more children have seen what is happening, and they all start trying to grab pieces too, so that at some points I have had five pairs of hands in my hair. Eventually the teachers save me, but I really don{t mind. It doesn{t hurt me, and it makes them happy, so for the most part I let them touch it.

I will keep talking about the children forever, so I will wrap it up for now, but I am beginning to see why we must become like little children.  The trust and joy that these children have is incredible.  I found myself wanting to give them something, you know, like stickers or balls, but then I realized that no things were going to make them happier.  Stuff couldn{t possibly enhance the enthusiasm and the huge smiles that greet me.

Many prayers and thoughts are coming your way.  God bless!