Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dear friends and family,

This time, I am trying to be more timely with this blog, but we will see if that will ultimately pan out, because I only have a bit of writing time now.

Well, these past few days have been hectic, and the next few will be too, hence my problems with time.  This weekend there are two groups that are on retreat here, and together they have over forty people.  They are always needing something, and they have the unfortunate habit of eating meals late. Besides that, there are many people who volunteer and work here on the weekends, and they all eat here too.  The eating thing is only pertinent because that means Eliud, Annelie and I have many dishes, sometimes until very late at night.  Oh, and this Sunday is Covenant Sunday, so the Mass is large, and at 4pm.  Did I mention that there is also a wedding today (Saturday)?  

Yesterday was a special day.  Eliud graduated with her English class. She was so excited, because it was not only her class of fifteen students, but many English classes from different technical schools that graduated together.  The ceremony was in Santo Domingo, and the president attended. It was an all day affair.

Annelie and I had been secretly plotting to do something to celebrate Eliud´s graduation.  Eliud is the kind of person that is always helpìng someone.  It is not uncommon for me to find a note or flowers at my bedroom door.  And she has an unending patience for teaching Annelie and I Spanish.  Eliud has been attending this English class daily since February, and I am amazed with all that she has learned in that time.  Besides that, she insists that I correct her English, and is always trying to speak well.  All in all, if anyone is deserving of a graduation celebration, it is Eliud.

My experience this week was not solely my own.  I have a new friend/housemate!  Annelie arrived from Germany almost two weeks ago.  She is still getting accustomed here, but we are all getting along very well.  One day rainy day we were stuck inside so we had a musical afternoon of sorts.  Sr. Mayrelis left her guitar in our house, and Annelie brought her flute with her.  With the guitar was a collection of Spanish songs, but they were written differently than I knew how to play.  However, a few were English that I knew, so we tried those, and a couple German songs from Annelie as well.  The best song was a Christmas one.  I think that if we keep at it, we might have something, provided that Eliud is willing to be the singer.  

While Eliud was out of the house, we realized that our gift options were extremely limited.  However, I have been scouting out the retreat house kitchen little by little, and I thought that we could try to make a dessert for her.  This idea was well received by Annelie, who had planned for cake baking here.  She brought chocolate and ingredients from Germany, as well as some recipes.  Eliud left Wednesday, so we began to translate and choose recipes that night.  

There were two cakes that she had in mind.  The first one was chocolate, but it needed wine, and some ingredients that I hadn´t seen here.  The second was a marble cake.  I picked the tried and true chocolate chip cookies.  Who doesn´t like those?  

On Thursday, as soon as we finished work at the Nutrition Center, we hurried to the Retreat House.  Because of the groups, the ladies would start cooking dinner early, so we had to have our things done or as close to finished as possible before the space was needed.

This turned out to be a very interesting and long afternoon.  It all began with our ingredient search.  Of course, there was no wine to be found.  The cake didn´t need much, only about a cup or so, but it was a necessity in the recipe.  So we thought about making muffins.  However, we were without anything to put in them.  No kind of baking fruit or ground cinnamon.  The marble cake was the last resort.  It called for vanilla sugar, rum, and baking powder, none of which we had.

After some discussion, we used vanilla extract and baking soda mixed with corn starch and hoped for the best.  It looked pretty good in batter form, but Annelie said that it didn´t taste the same.  The next step was to bake it, of course, but the oven here is…..well….strong?  I had never used it before, but Sr. Reiza Maria had explained how to use it.  Because of our time concerns, we had chosen to bake the cake first, and the cookies afterwards.

We turned on the oven, and I started to mix the cookie dough. Butter was lacking.  I couldn´t find any!  So I walked back to Casa Maria and took the last of what was in our refrigerator.  It was for a good cause, after all.  Meanwhile, Annelie washed up her cake dishes.  When I returned in ten minutes with the butter, something was definitely wrong.  The whole kitchen smelled of gas!  I turned off the knob, opened the oven, and started the fan.  It was pretty bad.   Annelie was in another part washing dishes, so she hadn´t noticed the odor.  

The oven is supposed to always be lit, but for some reason, it wasn´t, so the gas was on, but was not combusting.  I had to find one of the sisters to help us light it, but she said we had to wait until all the gas dissipated before we could use the stove.  Instead, she took the cake to the Sisters´ kitchen, and baked it there.  We finished cleaning, and I prepared my cookie dough.  About twenty minutes had passed.  Sr. Reiza Maria came back, cake in hand.  It was charred all over the outside!  Annelie had told her to bake it for fifty minutes, but in twenty it was overcooked.  

Understandably, Annelie was pretty disappointed, but resolved to cut off the burned part and coat the rest with her chocolate.  The next day, when Eliud returned, we tried to melt the chocolate, but burned that too!  That was my fault, though.  It was in a hot water bath, and I was trying to get the bowl out, but instead I spilled the water in it, and it burned.  This poor cake had many mishaps!  Finally, we experimented with making caramel, and found some sprinkles to put on top.  It did look good in the end, but after all that, I don´t know how long it will be until we attempt another cake!

Eliud was very surprised, so all´s well that ends well.  No cake for me, but if I could have tried it, I would have.  I don´t think that Annelie was too pleased with it, but since we don´t know what it should look or tast like, we were satisfied.  At any rate, much time and love went into that pastry.  

Upon further reflection, it is just another one of those experiences that shows how little control you have over things sometimes, but eventually, it works out.  Maybe the cake lacks rum and is burned, but it still has caramel and sprinkles.  

I think that it is a very interesting paradox that I came here partly because I wanted to learn more Spanish, but many people have asked me to help them with their English.  A few weeks ago, some young girls had asked me to teach them some words, so we agreed to meet the following Monday.  

When I looked for the girls, however, there were more than I had originally agreed to teach.  Instead of two, there were seven!  Earlier, I had decided to teach them words for parts of the body.  We began with just learning facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, lips, and ears.  I first would say it in Spanish, then in English, and then they would repeat it after me.  Some boys were playing nearby, and it wasn´t long before they wanted to join in.  At first, the girls were not in favor of a mixed class, but I allowed them to join anyway.  They were told that if they were disruptive they had to leave.  

When they had the general idea of the head area, we moved on.  I had them learn the body parts for Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.  They sing it in Spanish too, so they caught on very quickly.  We must have been quite a sight, ten Dominican children, one American teacher, and one German assistant playing games in English. A car full of people slowed down to watch us! They found it amusing, I think.

Afterwards, they begged to play more games, so we did Simon says using actions like running, walking, and jumping.  It was a good time, and we were all thoroughly exhausted afterwards.  Tomorrow they return for another round, so I have to think of some more games that can incorporate a few English words.  It is so cute to see them learn.  The words they do know, they are quite proud of.  I believe that they could all count up to ten, and few until twelve.  

I was thinking of my family as this little class was playing with me.  Could it really be a coincidence that there were ten kids?  Although the genders were flipped: there were seven girls and three boys.  Age-wise, I believe the youngest was six and the oldest maybe was twelve years old.  But at the same time, what group of kids befriends a stranger and wants to learn another language?  Most kids would rather do something else, especially immediately after school on a Monday.  I hope that they continue to want to learn, but even if it is just a passing phase, it will be a good experience for all of us, provided that I can help them learn something.

This next week is filled with more teaching, studying, cooking (hopefully), and working with the children.  It will be a good one.  

Many prayers and good wishes to you all!  As it gets closer to the holiday season, I think of you very much.  God bless you! Love,


Monday, November 11, 2013


Greetings to all!  Still having a wonderful time here.  Christmas started at the end of October with trees and decorations, which was strange, especially because there isn{t a fall season.  I wonder just how far into the Christmas season things are in WI.  Has it snowed yet.

I always wonder what to write about, so this time I picked a couple stories about my time at the Nutrition Center, and the food.  It became lengthy as I have not written for a long time.  Sorry.  

After lunch, we play with the kids and wait for their parents to arrive in the sala, which is a large room without any furniture.   Many of the kids, about thirty, ride home in a bus because they live too far away to walk.  While we are all waiting in the sala, the different classes of kids sit more or less with their teachers.  It is pretty relaxed.  The teachers talk to each other while the children either sit quietly, run around, or talk to me.  I like this time because it is not structured, and many of the children promptly on the bus, so I can talk to a few at a time and know them better.  

One day last week, we only had two children left from the class, Berlin and Yomairi. Their parents work, and so they have to wait to be picked up.  Berlin is usually a quiet boy, not causing much trouble, so of course I hadn´t talked to him much.  Somehow it is always the naughty ones that you know more about.  Anyway, I wanted to make friends with him, so I asked him what he was doing.  Remember when I said that children here play with anything?  He had a little piece of plastic and was balancing it on his face.  It was one of those pieces that helps secure toys in boxes. They are usually discarded, but somehow Berlin found this one.  I remember trying to undo the twist ties that hold those pieces of plastic in place when I wanted to open a toy.  They are usually a grey or black color with really small with holes.  We tried it on his nose, chin, and on the top of his head.  He thought that it was really funny, and I enjoyed seeing him laugh.  

Then we started to pass it across the floor, which is made of slippery white tile, so it slides smoothly.  Yes, I do like alliteration.  The rain made it a bit more difficult, because although we have screens, there is no glass, so the water does come in when the metal slats are open, which they were.   But that wasn´t very interesting, and so, I thought of something else.  I had two flipflops.  We had a thingy.  I batted it to him with my shoe, and handed him the other one.  

Soon we were going back and forth. However, because the piece of plastic was so small, when either of us made contact with a shoe, it went flying.  I spent half the time finding the piece!
I gave up trying to hit it back to him, and we shifted into a very improv, very makeshift type of baseball.   He would take up a batter´s stance, and I tossed the piece to him while he swung.  It took a bit, but he caught on.  Every time he made contact, his face just lit up. We had some interesting moments when it flew at one of the teachers.  Oops.  But she laughed too, so we continued to play.  At this point, the girl, Yomairi, who had been playing with the other younger children, came forward to see what we were up to.  She is another one who was more quiet, at least until that day. My other flip flop had been sitting all alone on the floor, so I gave that one to her.  

We had some confusion as to whom I should pitch to first, but it was cleared up to everyone´s satisfaction.  Even when they both missed, neither of them were discouraged.  They spun around and fell onto the floor with good grace.  We played for about an hour.  Our game finally ended when the piece ended up in a puddle.  Guess what?  It wasn´t water!

No matter, since that day Berlin and I have been friends, the upside of which is that I discovered that he is good at drawing.  The downside-he is not always shy with me, now he has his sassy days too.  Oh well.  Afterwards, I realized that I probably would not have encouraged this activity with my own siblings, but for this place and this time, it worked well.

On Friday, we only had half of our usual class size.  The bus couldn´t go to pick up the children from the countryside, and some of the town children were sick or were unable to come either.  The other classes were missing children as well.  For some reason, though, we were rushing through our day.  Breakfast, lesson time, songs, and we were heading to the bathroom almost an hour earlier than normal.  Turns out that we were going to take the classes to the Shrine, so we needed enough time before lunch.

The Shrine is a small chapel, and is the heart of the Schoenstatt Movement.  From the Shrine, the grace of God  is given and received through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.  We have Mass in the Shrine everyday, as well as night prayer.  There are over 180 Schoenstatt Shrines throughout the world.  My favorite is the International Shrine in Waukesha, Wisconsin, but this one is a close second.  For me, it is a great place to go and pray, or just sit.  It´s very peaceful. I highly recommend a field trip.

The shrine here is down the long driveway from the Center, and it takes about five minutes or so to walk from one to the other.  The classes lined up with their respective teachers and we began to walk.  Well, we started off lined up neatly, but of course, some lost shoes, others broke away from the group and started to run around the other, and so it became more like a crowd, and less like an organized field trip.  Although we were no longer in lines, the kids for some reason were mostly holding hands.  I had three girls in a line trailing on one side, and a fourth on the other side.  Luckily there is plenty of room to walk!  Ahead of us, one of the boys was walking with a little girl.  It was one of those Kodak perfect moments.

As we walked we sang, but the kids were not that interested because they were distracted by all the things that we were walking past.  When we approached the Shrine, one of the teachers, Eliza, stopped all of us.  She explained to the children that we had to be quiet and respectful in the church.  We walked into the building in almost complete silence.  I would not have believed that it was possible with forty children.

Eliza led us in prayer and a few songs.  Many of the songs have a leader, and everyone responds, which is perfect for the kids.  By then, many had found their voices, so it was beautiful to have the little church full of children singing and clapping together.

But our fun was not over!  The grounds around the Shrine have many large trees, flowers, and some paths, but with ample open grass. Two large blankets were spread out over the grass in the shade as the children clamored for balls and toys.  A game was made of five hoola hoops placed on the grass.  Teachers and children alike hopped, bounced, or flounced from one to the next.  I preferred to pass a flat soccer ball with a little boy from a younger class.  He didn´t understand the concept of throwing to a person.  I had maybe a ten percent chance of catching the ball, because most of the time it went in the exact opposite direction!  

Then, I saw Berlin with a yellow plastic bat in hand.  Guess who was up for pitching?  This was easier than with the little piece of plastic.  Although, he refused to let me pitch at a close distance.  With a wave of his regal hand, I was delegated farther back.  But without outfielders, I got to run for the ball too, minus sandals.  It was too hard to keep them on anyway.  All went well until someone was hit with a ball.  This almost ended our game, however, the boy was not hurt, and since it wasn´t Berlin´s fault, we played until snack time.

I recognize some children but don´t know all their names because they belong to different classes.  One of the younger girls who always hugs me saw that I was playing with Berlin. She has a really bright smile, and twisted braids.  Altogether she is every bit as cute as her name, Flor Maria.     I don´t remember exactly how it happened, but she ended up piggyback while I pitched. Judging from the giggles, she doesn´t get bounced around like that very often.  

What was everyone else doing as I played baseball?  Some were playing with the hoola hoops, others rested on the blankets, but the majority of the children seemed to be running in a circular shape around the group.  Either they had a ball, or they wanted one.  It was a good time.  I wish that we could do it more often, but I see that I would be really difficult when we had a normal sized class.

One interesting conversational topic is the food here. People are always asking if I like the food, and if we eat differently in the United States.  I was told before I came that it would be a lot of beans and rice.  That has proven very true.  For breakfast here, they eat sandwiches with cheese or a fried salami.  once in a while they have sandwiches with hard boiled eggs instead.  Hot milk for breakfast or a type of fruit juice is common.  I enjoy the juices here, because the fruit is different, and they are a different texture.  Usually, the juice is thicker than I am used to.  Sometimes it even contains oatmeal.

Lunch in the Center is usually beans in a soupy form, cooked with many spices, and eaten with rice.  Normally, we have white rice, but some days it is spiced with different things.  One type is red with pieces of meat, while another is yellow with corn and carrot bits.  But either way, rice and beans.  Also, we have some type of raw vegetable salad.  They don{t eat very much vegetables or fruits here, and only certain kinds are consumed raw.  In fact, I have only seen people eat raw cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and occasionally lettuce.  I can{t eat any raw vegetables, so I just avoid salad altogether.  Sometimes we have some kind of meat, often quite salty.

Dinner is usually consists of plantains and yucca in some form or other.  Mashed, fried, boiled, baked, or in a casserole, plantains are a staple in the diet here.  Yucca is generally eaten boiled, but sometimes it is grated and made into little balls that are fried.  Another new food for me was the green bananas, which are also eaten boiled.  It{s a lot of starch here.  Besides there are also root vegetables that are made into a soup.  

The amount of food as well as the types are new to me.  People here eat a large midday meal.  Rice is the main food and gets heaped onto plates, with sides of beans, a little bit of salad, and a small piece of meat or two.  Dinner is a smaller meal, with some form of plantains, cheese, and a type of fruit.  If I put in order the types of food according to the amounts consumed, I think it would be something akin to this; starch, starch, dairy,  meat, fruit, vegetables.  The last two are not eaten very much at all, but cheese, mayo, and milk are all used regularly.  

Apparently many people have a difficult time acclimating to the food, but I haven{t had any problems.  In fact, I like trying the different foods.  One of my favorite new foods is pana de fruta, breadfruit.  I didn{t know that it grew here.  After the kernels are boiled and shelled, the taste and the texture are similar to a chestnut.  My only limitations are no eggs, no raw vegetables, and no fruit that can{t be peeled.  I hope that I find time to hang around the kitchen so that I can learn to cook some of the foods here.  

I{m going to a wedding this weekend, so that should be interesting.  I have been told traditions aren’t the same, so I am looking forward to it.  Also, a new girl arrived from Germany!  So now we have meal prayers in a language rotation of Spanish, English, and German.

Happy November to everyone!  I hope you are all doing well in your jobs, families, schoolwork, and activities.  I keep you in my prayers always.