Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dear family and friends,

I hope that you are all doing well.  I think of you all often; wondering what things are keeping you busy. Someone told me that it is getting chilly in Wisconsin. Here, when it is seventy degrees I start to hear that it is cold. Of course, I just laugh. 

Today was a terrific day for me in the Nutrition Center.  Unfortunately, because of the colds going around and the rain, only slightly more than half of my class was present.  But nonetheless, the day went very well.

Breakfast was fairly easy, as most of the kids who need to be persuaded to eat were absent.  Today they ate sandwiches, which are popular with the kids.  After the the sandwiches, the kids had hot chocolate.  I rarely have problems with the  children not drinking that.

Afterwards we learned the alphabet using the names of the children.  It was fun, and they remember more easily when they can connect a letter to a person.  We did the homework for the day: coloring numbers, and started to practice the Christmas play.

I love watching them try to practice this play.  It is the Nativity Story, but it begins with the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, includes Elizabeth, Herod, shepherds and the three Magi.  It is a very ambitious production for a rambunctious class of four year olds.

It is precious to see our Mary make a comical face somewhere between horror and wonder when she ¨sees¨ the Angel at first.  And he flaps his arms as his wings when he declares that she shouldn´t be afraid.  It is pretty much word for word from the Bible.  Kids forget their lines, or have thumbs in their mouths, which pretty much has the same overall effect.

When the teachers read the script aloud, the kids all get to know the story, so even when it isn´t their turn to speak, quite frequently the majority of the class with say the lines of St. Joseph, even when he has forgotten them!  We are only about a week into learning it, but at this point they all know who the main characters are and can prompt each other.  I can´t wait to see what it looks like in early December.

We had our daily decade of the Rosary.  I started out sitting on the floor next to one teacher, between two rows of children.  Pretty soon I had two of the boys on top of me, but they were chosen to help lead, so they left.  However, then the class in front of me, the three year olds, slowly inched their way towards me so as not to attract too much attention.  They turned around and looked at me with big dark eyes and shy grins. By the third prayer or so,  I had two children on each leg, and one hugging me from the side.  It was to the point of not being able to move, but I enjoyed it.  Lest you doubt, while these things occur  I do actually pray the Rosary, it is just that I am a human sofa at the same time.

After the Rosary, the kids played with gear toys, kind of like k´nex, while I read to some. I´m not sure how well I read aloud in Spanish, but they were picture books, so I think the girls got the general idea at least.  Oh yes, and of course there were the usual shenanigans in the boys bathroom.  Thirteen little boys, two sinks, one shower, and one toilet.  Half of the time is spent trying to get the boys to sit still and wait their turn to shower or brush their teeth.

Usually I feed the girls during meals at one table while at another table all the boys eat.  But because we had so many children absent, we all squeezed around one table, more or less.  It was tight, but it worked.  So for the first time in a long time I fed the boys instead of the girls. In my opinion, it was ten times easier.  Either they are hungrier, or something, because it isn´t that they listen to me more.  I had to keep pulling the shirt of one boy back onto his body.  Somehow it kept getting wrapped around his head and mouth, but only when a spoon was in the vicinity of his mouth.  But still, the task was much easier than it is with the girls.

After the kids have mostly left, we have about half an hour when the teachers prep for the next day, or do other things.  For the past week, they have been trying to learn some English.  There were some children´s english picture dictionaries donated, and so we go through them very slowly.  I say the word in English while the ladies write the pronunciation as it sounds in Spanish in the book, and then the Spanish word beside it so that I can learn too.  It´s enjoyable for all of us, although sometimes difficult when they can´t pronounce the word, or I can´t pronounce the Spanish one. At any rate, we get our daily allowance of laughter!

But my favorite, favorite part of today was unexpected.  I was cleaning up the bowls from lunch when I heard crying.  That is not an unusual sound because of the number of babies that are in the Center.  What caught my attention was that it sounded like a very young baby.  Newborns have a distinctive wail, and I hadn´t seen any in the Center before.  So as soon as I could, I looked around a bit, and sure enough, there was a little boy clad in only a diaper.  The teacher had just changed it, and so he was upset.

I asked to hold him, and she gave him to me right away.   His hair was dark, baby wispy and slightly curly, matched with his dark chocolate brown skin.  He was not a newborn, but he looked very small. His wrist couldn´t have been bigger than a quarter in diameter.  As always, I asked how old he was.  I couldn´t believe my ears.  He was one year old.  This child looked about two months old!  Besides being small, he had some strange growth by one eye, and was cold to the touch.  We put socks on him, and they reached past his knees.  He didn´t have any teeth yet, and there is absolutely no way that this child could take steps, sit up, or even crawl. Even his little hands were weak.

But he was such a cute sweet little baby!  After I started automatically shifting back and forth, and humming, he stopped crying.  In a few minutes, he was asleep in my arms.  I held him until he had to leave, walking around and singing lullabies in English.  I don´t know the Spanish ones. He didn´t seem to care, as he stayed peacefully slumbering.  The ladies told me that tomorrow I could have him again.  By the grins on their faces, they knew that I was in a baby induced trance.  Irresistable.   I remembered holding my brothers when they were that small.  

He was brand new to the Center, no one that I asked knew his name, only a very common nickname.  I am sure that in a year he will be much better, but it is scary that he is so behind in growth and development.  At least he is now on the road to getting better.

The question has been asked: If I want to make a monetary donation to the Schoenstatt Sisters´ Nutritional Center how do I do so?  You can write a check to the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and then on the memo part note that it is for the Nutrition Center or Penny Power, which is a group that collects donations for the Nutrition Center.
Then please mail the check to:
Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
W284 N404 Cherry Lane
Waukesha, WI 53188

If you feel called to do so, I can tell you that the money will be put to good use.  

Tomorrow should be another interesting day.  I plan to watch a Spanish movie with the children, (hopefully not Pinocchio again), write homework, hold the baby, and work on my Spanish.  And I have to do laundry because it was raining for the entirety of my laundry day this week.  Again.  I am beginning to wonder if I should permanently switch my laundry day.

 Please continue to keep me, the children, the teachers, and the Schoenstatt Sisters in your prayers.  God bless you!


Saturday, October 19, 2013


I wasn´t exactly sure what to tell you about this time, but after last night…I decided to talk about my limited wildlife experiences.

So, I have been getting acclimated to the small animals here.  The bugs are a little different than what I am used to, but so far not too bad.  I actually haven´t had to use any of the bug spray that I brought with me.  A few mosquito bits, yeah, but nothing major.  There are these little ants that are everywhere.  Counters, cabinets, floor, sinks, you name it, they are around, especially if even a bit of food is left out.  Hence, the kitchen is always cleaned.  Here it is normal, but it took me a bit to get used to it.  They are pretty small, not the huge carpenter ant kind, but still, when they swarm a cup that used to have juice in it, it looks akin to  a horror scene from an animal documentary.  

Also, because there isn´t glass in the windows, sometimes I find little critters around.  A couple days ago I found a huge cricket-like thing in my mosquito netting. And I was all ready to sleep, too.  That changed my immediate plans, as I rid myself of my little guest.  I´m still unsure as to how it got there.  Once, after a rainfall, I had a frog in the kitchen.  Luckily, I was able to catch it in a plastic cup and dispose of it outside the house.  It was a fun morning, I assure you.  I am just glad that Sr. Miguelina, who also lives in Casa Maria, did not see me attempting to capture it.  She probably would have sent me to the nurse.

Many of the buildings here are built with a courtyard in the middle,  or with planters in the hallways, so there are a lot of rocks, flowers, and leaves.  Little leaping lizards love to live in them. They are kind of cute, in a reptilian sort of way, and range from teeny tiny to five inches long. So far I have seen bright yellow, bright green, red, rusty brown, and dark brown.  Most of the time, I don´t mind them, but when I found one in my bathroom unexpectedly, it was a little different.  However, since it skittered away quickly and I haven't seen it since, I suppose he was harmless.

I have already described the watchdogs, but I had a personal experience a few days ago.  Eliud and I were peacefully walking to morning Mass, minding our own business, when four of the dogs came out of nowhere.  They were snarling and barking as they ran at us.  We were both very surprised, as the dogs are supposed to be put away before 6:15.  Actually, one of us screamed.  I will leave it to you to judge who was guilty of that offense.  ¨POR QUE?!!!¨ One of the Sisters came to our aid just in time, as the circle of territorial canines had us surrounded.  As soon as she clapped her hands, they ignored us completely! We could have been rocks for all the interest they showed.  It was like an instant demon to angel transformation.  

For my final wildlife anecdote, I observed while walking to the Nutrition Center a bunch of cows grazing, and it made me slightly homesick. Who would have thought that the sight of a bovine would be so powerful?  Although, it was unusual and slightly comical to see a Holstein munching next to banana trees.  But the people here like to use cheese and and other dairy products, so it makes sense that there would be cows in the area.

I am not worried about my safety, but I was up late one night, alone in my room when I heard the noise of someone walking outside my window, and it made me uncomfortable.  My first thought was of the night watchman, but he doesn´t make that much noise, so then I thought perhaps the dogs were digging around in the lawn.  There are coconuts as a decorative border around the flowerbeds, and the dogs like to dig them up sometimes.  But whatever was making this noise was right outside my window, and it was too big to be a dog.  So I turned the handle of my shutters a small bit, just so I could peek out, and what did I see but two cows eating my favorite flower bush.  I don´t know what I expected to see, but it certainly wasn´t two huge cows.  

Then my dilemma began.  I knew that cows don´t belong on the lawn, destroying a beautiful flower bush, but at the same time, I don´t know where they do belong.  Besides that, I had no way to get them there, and these Bessies have some serious looking horns.  It was too late to wake anyone up, and even though the dogs did not mind the cows, I wasn´t interested in another encounter by myself.  What really helped my decision was seeing the stereotypical black bull trampling through the flowers.  I have no desire to get on the bad side of a bull.  So, I banged on the metal window with a book.  They moved away a bit, but I still went to sleep with the sounds of cows around me.  

But enough about animals, because I want to tell you about the children.

Because this is October, it is the month of the rosary, and so every day, at the Center, the children gather to pray a decade of the rosary.  I really look forward to this part of the day, because everyone except the babies comes together.  All the children and adults sit on the tile floor together with their classes.  There is my class, four year olds who have a hard time sitting still, the better behaved three year olds, and the little two year old toddlers.  Sometimes, the ladies who care for the babies bring the ones who aren´t napping.  The ladies who work in the kitchen and the ladies who clean, as well as the men take a break from work and pray together.

But we don´t just pray.

I am beginning to seriously doubt the possibility of any activity here that doesn´t include some form of music.  Music is a part of the culture, which is very interesting for me to see.  So we begin with a few songs.  The teachers take their instruments, several tambourines, and a couple toy drums, and we begin.  There is another instrument, but I forgot the name.  It resembles a kitchen grater, and the stick that is rubbed across it to produce sound reminds me of a peeler.  Why they look like kitchen tools, I cannot say, but they do.  The combined sounds of all the simple instruments is amazing.  The drum that is used is exactly like the one my brothers play with, but the way Miranda uses it, I would never guess that it is a kids toy.   Those of us without instruments clap our hands, and so we all participate.  

Many kids have heard the songs often, so they join in with great gusto. When they don´t know the all the words, they make up for it in volume with those they do know.  After a song or two, we begin to pray.

Each lady has a day to lead, but then about four children are selected to help lead.  They stand in front of the group, and say the beginning part of the prayers, while everyone else responds.  Once again, the ability of four year olds amazes me. There are almost 90 children when everyone is present, so leading prayer is impressive.  

It is hard for four year olds to sit still for ten minutes, so some of the kids are usually moving around during prayer time.  Recently, I have begun to have a child or two pray with me.  They sit either right next to me, or on my lap and we clap our hands together when we sing, and fold them when it is time to pray.  So far, it has worked for some of the antsy kids who need something to do.  The only drawback to this approach is that I can only have so many children on top of me at one time.  Once or twice I had to stop them from fighting over praying with me, so that was a little counterproductive.

I have not stopped my wonder at the joy of the children.  Of course, now that I have been here for a longer period of time, I have seen the tears, the small tantrums, the teasing, but still, overall, they are really happy kids.  In the mornings, I walk past two three tables of the two and three year olds before I reach my class, and every time, at least some of them jump out of their benches and run to hug me.  There is no reason why, they just feel like it, and I am perfectly happy to oblige.

I have to go now, because this is the Jubilee Weekend.  we are celebrating 99 years of Schoenstatt, so there are going to be several thousand pilgrims here tomorrow, which is keeping me busy.  You are all in my prayers.



Monday, October 7, 2013

Hi everyone!  Thank you for all your kind birthday wishes!

Speaking of birthday, I want to share my birthday experience here in the D.R.  I kind of expected it to be either sad or surprising, and it was both.

I went to morning Mass, and afterwards everyone sang and congratulated me.  Even the people I don´t really know wished me birthday blessings, so it was very touching.

I was going to go to the Nutritional Center to work, but first I needed to go home to get my water bottle and bag.  Eliud jumped out at me from behind a door, tambourine in hand, shouting ¨FELICIDADES!” Totally, completely surprised.  I think I lost a few years in the process.  Supposedly, she had left early for school.  She had made a flower arrangement and a card, both waiting outside my bedroom door, and even the hallway was decorated in balloons and potted plants.  I wonder just how much time she had spent on that.

On the kitchen table, spelled out  with little glass pebbles was my name, along with a heart and a real balloon.  She told me to pop it, and out flew a green bracelet!  The whole time, as she showed me the different things, Eliud was playing on her tambourine and occasionally yelling “Happy birthday!” or “Feliz Cumpleanos!”

Later on, at the Center, I was again surprised.  usually, we eat breakfast, a few at a time, in a small room.  The door is open, the ladies come and go, but this time I was led around the back, and we had to knock first.  They were all inside, singing and playing instruments.  Over the table was a little Feliz Cumpleanos sign and balloons.  Lot of birthday hugs all around, because I think about 20 people work in the Nutritional Center.

In class, after the usual daily lesson, the teacher, Sugey, explained that it was my birthday, so I had one birthday hug from all of the kids.  I couldn´t move!  It was like a dog pile.  Luckily, Sugey took pictures, which was a lot of fun.  The children are fascinated by the camera, so that kept us busy for awhile.  There was the normal prayer and song time, where they again sang a song for me.  I was trying to keep track, because there is more than one birthday song, and I heard many!

All in all, it was a great day, but I was really looking forward to the night time when I could talk with my family.  After a celebratory yucca, plantain, and juice dinner, and the clean up, I finally got on the phone.  But a few minutes later, Eliud knocked on the window.  She told me that the Sisters said we needed to go to Casa Maria because they had let the dogs out unusually early that night.

I am still unsure of the exact number of dogs, but I think that there are around seven, of varying sizes and tolerance levels.  Three are always around during the day, and the others are let out usually later in the night when everyone is inside because they are less tolerant.  They aren´t cute pets, they are for security to assist the night watchmen.  Most of the time they obey the Sisters, but no one else, so if we don´t want to be bitten, we stay inside after 9pm.

After I said goodbye to my family, I had a sneaking suspicion.  “Eliud, you better have been telling me the truth.”  “Yes, that´s what Sister told me.”  Hmmmm.  Well, there were three girls waiting back at Casa Maria!  More songs, games, cake, and a strange green apple soda.  I hadn´t known that they had planned a little party!  Sr. Ana Maria had even gone to the city to buy some treats for us.  It was fun, but at the end of the night, I had to find out.  “You weren´t telling the truth about the dogs, were you, Eliud?”  ¨Maybe.”  She had a huge grin.  For a candidate for the Schoenstatt Sisters, she is uncannily good at fibbing.

So, yes, it was a great birthday.

What more do I have to report?  Oh, yes, I am still studying.  After I return from the Nutritional Center, I usually try to spend time learning Spanish, or reading in Spanish.  I prefer to do so outside, because it is hotter inside, and I like all the green plants and strange flowers.

Well, this particular day, I had just walked to a little corner, sat down, when I heard “Excuse me.”  There aren´t many people who speak English, so I turned around to see who it was.  He introduced himself as Kevin.  Apparently, I look American, and he wanted to practice his English.  

Last year he had spent a summer helping at Schoenstatt here with the Semillas de Esperanza, the Seeds of Hope group from Miami, but grew frustrated at not understanding English.  That summer he began to study, and over the past year, he has kept in touch with the group and continued to study English on his own and with a class.  Learning English is a very useful skill here in the Dominican Republic, one that apparently guarantees a job, so besides being a pastime for him, it is a useful tool.  He is only fourteen years old, but will graduate high school in two years, so he hopes to learn enough English so that he can move to the U.S. and become a pilot.  

He has come many more times to practice.  It is interesting, because he wants to know all about many American things, but insists that I try to tell him in Spanish, while he talks in English.  Then, one of the girls I work with, Yanela, is also studying English, and she asked if she could come and practice too.  

That has kept me very busy, because they are both motivated and want to practice often.  I wish I had brought different books with pictures for them, but for now, talking and sharing different words keeps us all busy.  After we are done for the day, everyone has several pages of new material in his or her notebook.

Because I have the time now, I have been sketching occasionally, and the Sisters found out.  And because sharing talents is a good thing, I now have been commissioned to combine three different designs for vestments.  If all goes well, it should have wheat, grapes, a cross and another symbol for Christ.  Wish me luck, I usually don´t design patterns.

You may have noticed that I haven´t posted for two weeks, and now I am posting double.  Well, that is because electricity and Internet, as well as water, aren´t dependable.  Most of the time we have water, but the other two are pretty spotty.  The Sisters say that the electricity never goes out- it just sometimes comes on. All well and good, but it impedes my attempts at communication.  Sorry.  At any rate, the suspense makes it more interesting.

Those are my recent happenings.  I have one more thing to say.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Mom tomorrow!!!!  I´m glad I am all the way over here, so I can´t hear her semi-scolding me for telling you. :)  

God bless! - Claire
Happy Saturday!  As always, best wishes and prayers to everybody!  I remember you all, and I pray for you and your intentions every day.

Well, I have had some experiences lately.  Where to start?

This weekend is the Leaders Convention.  Every year, the Schoenstatt Leaders from every branch gather together to pick a new motto for the year.  In the US, the Convention was in Waukesha recently, but right now representatives from all over the Dominican Republic are gathered here in La Victoria. This presents interesting encounters for me because I have even more people asking me questions that I don´t know the answers to.  Then they realize that I am American and they understand.

So because there are 125 or so extra people here, besides the everyday people, I was asked to help prepare for this gathering.  In other words, Thursday and Friday I didn´t go to the Nutrition Center, which kind of made me depressed.  Instead, I started to help in the office at 11am.  

For one of the talks, the participants needed to write down responses.  So I helped design the little piece of paper, and then we printed them out in sheets of about 12 each.  Then I sat in the office and cut out the pieces, one by one.  I guess my craft skills needed a workout.  By the time that was completed, it was 2pm.  No joke, this took awhile.  Afterwards, each piece had to be put in a teeny manilla envelope, tied with a yellow ribbon (which I twirled the ends like Mary taught me), and put on a sticker.

I will spare you the details, but it gets pretty hot inside here without air conditioning and no fan. I took a dinner break at 7 or so, and a couple minutes in the afternoon.  You know when you have that premonition that something isn´t quite right?  I knew from earlier that I needed 125 envelopes, but they didn´t look like enough.  Sure enough, after dinner, my fears were confirmed.  I had made all the envelopes that I had, and there were only 108, and we couldn´t find more anywhere.  I really wanted to finish these at that point.  When you work with something for several hours, it can become a goal. I think I was obsessing a bit at that moment.

So, I learned how to make big manilla envelopes into mini manillas.  Yes.  Cut, examine, cut again, and glue. I finished!  It was a moment of satisfaction when I had 127 little envelopes neatly in a basket for the next day´s talk.

At some point in this mundane day, I realized with some sadness that I had spent the majority of my day working on small props that would have a very short lifespan.  The little ribbons would be torn off, the paper ripped and thrown away.  My whole day´s efforts in the space of a moment. It was funny in a sad, wry sort of way.  

After thinking it over, I had to admit that it didn´t matter that my little projects would be destroyed.  So what if I had spent my whole day working on something so teeny?  If that was what my task was, I completed it well, and that was what counted.  If God wanted little things of me, then little things should be good enough.  

Then Sr. Mareylis came in and talked to me.  I have known her for years, so she understood what was going on.  She reminded me that I had been disappointed at not working with the children, but that the small things that are ¨in secret” as she says, have their own worth.  Apparently I need to learn more than craft skills.

My other thingy is more funny.  I did laundry.  Well, sort of. This is a long story.

Here I feel like a child. Things that I can easily do at home are take much more concentration and time here.  Cooking, for example, is relatively easy at home.  I take a pot or pan, and turn on the stove.  All the ingredients are close by, and can be used without a lot of preparation.  Here, I have to go outside to turn on the gas valve before lighting the stovetop with a electric lighter.  Then every dish or utensil that I use has to be washed and dried before I can use it, although it was washed before it was put away.  You have to use the purified water, the kind that is used in office coolers.  Big blue plastic jug things.  Anyway, you get the idea.  There are more steps involved.

Back to the original story: my laundry.  I started it Wednesday morning, thinking that it would be simple.  The night before, Eliud had explained how to use the washing machine.  It´s pretty small, about the size of a computer desk, with one side a washer and the other side a dryer.

The first task was to fill the washing machine with water.  I filled it up with large tubs of water from a nearby sink, almost spilling it in the process.  Then you put in several different kinds of soap and your laundry.  Theoretically, after you plug it in, the laundry takes about 10 minutes.  Afterwards, the clothes have to be hand rinsed in the sink and wrung out before being placed in the dryer.  Well, nothing happened!  I was kind of confused.  It was plugged in.  Check.  The water level was fine.  Check.  The correct dial was turned.  What was wrong?  No electricity!  I tried a few hours later in the day, but I still didn´t have power, so I left it to soak.

The next day it smelled horrible.  Apparently soaking laundry was a bad idea.  Luckily for me, Eliud was back from her day with her family and could help me.  We drained the washing machine with a little hose out the back door.  Then instead of using the tubs, we used the garden hose to fill it up, which made me happy. All was good.  The laundry then still didn´t wash.  

And again, I was without electricity.  Hours passed by, and it worked!  We had to wash it all again though, because it still had a weird smell from the washing machine.

Because the machine is so small, laundry has to be done in batches.  This was my first batch, so I still had a bunch left to do.  But we were cleaning the house for the upcoming retreat, which mean washing a ton of sheets and curtains, so Eliud explained the whole thing again while we did those.

Day Three: I washed some t shirts, and then it failed me again.  The dryer part refused to work.  It doesn´t exactly dry, but it spins.  It could be compared to those little salad spinner thingys that “dry” lettuce.  After the clothes are finished spinning, they are hung on clotheslines to dry.  That time I kind of skipped the dryer part and went straight to the clothesline.  

At the fourth try, the next day, everything worked perfectly.  The clothes washed, I rinsed them in the sink, put them in the spinner, and hung them on the clothesline.  Of course, I was wondering if clean clothes were really worth all this trouble.  This whole fiasco took about four days or so because I didn´t have either time or electricity.  The day was really hot, about 95 degrees, so I expected the clothes to dry quickly.  I left them in the courtyard and went to  study Spanish, went to Mass, cleaned the kitchen, helped at lunch, and spent my afternoon teaching some girls crafts.  Fun, but very challenging to explain!  However, most of the time they could guess what I was trying to say, and vice versa. I looked out the window after awhile.  It was raining!  I love rain, especially when the weather has been warm.

But….as I was walking home merrily in the rain, I remembered that my laundry was still hanging outside!

The problem is that the laundry is hung in this courtyard of my house.  It is only accessible from one end of the house, because it is surrounded by a wall and locked metal doors., and i was in the Retreat House down the road.  Yes, I ran. Unlocked the front door, dropped my bag by my room, and keys skittered across the floor, but I was halfway down the hallway.  I had some trouble unlocking the courtyard door, but luckily, by the time that I got there, they were slightly wet, but still mostly dry.

I don´t believe I have ever spent so much time dedicated to so little laundry.  

And just wait until you hear about my cleaning!

Many prayers and much love to all!