Thursday, April 14, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 15

We got up at 4:30 in the morning and Pina was already up preparing breakfast for us. We had a delicious last meal of bread that we dipped in hot chocolate, had a time of prayer for our safe traveling, said goodbye to Pina with a hug, and headed off to the airport. Mr. Pantaleón drove us. We checked our bags and then had to say our final goodbyes to Pastor José. He had blessed us tremendously, and given us an unforgettable trip! It made us want to do the same thing for them if/when they come back to the United States. Tour them around, take them to the landmarks, take them out to eat, you know, things like that. Things like they did for us.

Our flight was easy and I took a camera full of shots from the air, since it was clear most of the way. We arrived in O’Hare airport and found mom, and we were bursting with things to tell her! She was bursting with news for us, too, about selling our house and Dad sending out his resume and getting our chimney fixed and all the other things that had happened while we were gone.

We got home, showed the slide show, and gave everyone their presents. That was fun. It’s always cool to get gifts from people who travel, but it’s fun to give them, too!

The last thing I’ll mention as part of this journal is the Dominican dinner we gave the family the next day. Our menu consisted of Arroz con Gandules (rice with beans called gandules), Bíberes (boiled root vegetables: potato, yucca root, batata – a purplish-white sweet potato, and plantains), Tostones (fried plantain slices), Salami (fried in slices), Chayote squash, carrots, and potatoes (cooked in water), Cucumber and tomato slices with oil, vinegar & salt dressing, and Batida de Lechosa (papaya smoothie). Everyone loved it!

This is the last post. 
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 14

Our last day in the Dominican Republic. It was amazing how fast the time flew. We did so much, met so many awesome people, had so much fun, and learned so much!

In the morning, Pastor José took us to El Mercado Modelo to shop for the remaining souvenirs we needed to buy for people at home. We got a lot of Larimar jewelry for really good prices, as well as some T-shirts.

We also went to the old city. We went inside the magnificent first cathedral in the Americas, a gorgeous building with a vaulted ceiling made out of huge blocks of stone, lots of gold decorating everything, and little side chapels all along both sides with interesting things in them.

We walked from there to a tourist street with shops along both sides and no cars allowed. At the end of this was a monument built to Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella, holding their remains and having a larger-than-life statue of each one inside. They are like our George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—they’re SO famous and revered and well-known. They’re on the money, the street names, everything.

Then we drove down to the house of Diego Colon, Christopher Columbus’ son, and founder of the city of Santo Domingo. His house was the first palace built in the Americas, and he was like the island’s first president. We didn’t go inside, though, because we didn’t want to pay.

We had such a good tour guide in Pastor José! He knew so much about everything, and could tell us the history and the important facts about the places we visited. He was wonderful!

Before we went home, we went back to the “La Sirena” store to buy some food. I wandered around and encountered a seafood counter that had large whole fish, octopus, and other exotic sea creatures lined up on display. I went to get Rosie, and when we got back, the guy behind the counter was having an argument with a customer about where the octopus’ eyes were. They guy behind the counter was saying that there was only one eye, and it was underneath in the middle of all the tentacles. He turned over an octopus and pointed to what was really the mouth and said, “See? The eye.” The customer responded, “No. There are two eyes. On the head.” The octopus was flipped back over and the customer pointed to the two bulgy eyes. The employee said, “No. Those are just bumps. An octopus is different. His eye is down here,” going back to the mouth. I was feeling pleased with myself for understanding this whole dialogue in Spanish and couldn’t help interjecting my opinion. “I agree with him,” I said, referring to the customer. “These are they eyes and this is the mouth.” Mr. Misinformed Seafood Guy contradicted me. The conversation lasted a little longer, with neither party convincing the other, and then the two men parted, while Rosie and I walked away, laughing. Poor guy. We shouldn’t have laughed at him. He couldn’t help it if he had never been educated properly about octopus anatomy. Rosie and I brought Pastor Jose over to see the octopus, and when the guy saw us again, we could tell he didn’t like us. We certainly did get highly entertained at his expense.

We get the BEST fresh squeezed orange juice down here. Just about every day, somebody makes some. It’s so sweet and smooth and made with AWESOME oranges. Today though, we got a new kind of juice. It was called “Tamarindo juice,” and had a very unique flavor. They said you couldn’t find this in the United States, but they told us how to make it. I loved it! It was a fruit juice, but it was so deliciously spicy, like it had a little kick to it. And it smelled delicious, too.

We then went back to the house for our rest time. I planned not to take a rest, because I wanted to copy my song over for Pastor José, and this was going to be my last chance to do it.

While I was scribbling away, a girl about my age named Ela was there with her little daughter. I had met her the first day and liked her, and we had talked several times on various days. She had expressed interest in my tatting, and it just seemed like we both enjoyed each other’s company a lot. We seemed to have a lot in common, too. She told me about her interest in music and her family and her life. I didn’t understand everything she said, because our conversations were all in Spanish, but it didn’t matter. We just liked each other.

We talked a while while her daughter, Mariela, fell asleep in her arms. Such a beautiful little girl. She’s about three years old and walks around as quiet as a mouse, looking at you with her big, soulful eyes, studying your face as if she’s memorizing every detail. I attempted to talk to her, but she was too shy to answer.

I wanted to teach Ela how to tat, but we didn’t get a chance, because while I was writing the music, she was doing dishes, mopping the floors, and cleaning the bathroom. I think she is helping Pina out while she has cancer. She said Pina is like a mother to her.

At about 4:00, a man named Pantaleon Viola came to take us to his house for dinner. He was one of the founders and pastors of the “Luz y Vida” church, and was also a singer who had 2 CDs. He was a very nice man, tall and thin, with graying hair and a kind face with eyes that seemed to reveal a depth of humility and love that few people know. You feel solemn and quietly happy when you’re around him.

He took Rosie and me in his car to his house. (Pastor José returned the other car we had been using to Juan Gabriel and then rejoined us.) He told us that he had three children: Calina, Annette, and Caleb. He also had one of his CD’s playing, so it was fun to listen to his music.

When we got to his house, we went in, sat down on the couch, and began to talk to his children—in English! They were 16, 15, and 13, and they had just about perfect English. Their vocabulary was huge and they understood us perfectly without us having to speak slowly and distinctly. Where did they learn English? From watching cable TV.

One of the things in the front room of the house was a glass counter displaying a lot of eyeglass frames. Apparently selling glasses is at least one thing he does. He picked out a frame, brought it over to me, and asked me to try it on. It was the “square edge” shape that’s much more in style right now than my 5-year-old frame, and he said he could take my lenses and cut them to fit the new frame. He offered to do this for free, as a gift, frames and all. I didn’t know what to do! It isn’t every day you get an offer like that. Part of me was tempted to take him up on it. I thought, “Cool! I’ll go back home and see if anybody notices anything different about me!” But I was sort of scared about what might happen to my glasses, too, and those frames didn’t seem quite as sturdy as mine, and I’m so hard on my glasses I need strong ones, and the coating on my lenses is chipped, so I really need new lenses, not just new frames. I thanked him as nicely as I could in Spanish for the offer, but declined, explaining about the lenses and telling him he was very generous.

Then Calina, Annette, and Caleb showed us around the house. There was an upper story that was under construction (a project that began 10 years ago and progressed as money came in), and we enjoyed being up on the roof. Then we went out to the backyard, where we took some group pictures of each other and saw their mango tree.

The rest of the evening was a continual pleasure. We played music & sang, had dinner, did a puzzle, looked at pictures, traded coins, and chattered away merrily. They had a keyboard, so I got to play the piano for the first time in 2 weeks! It was one of those keyboards with the digital display and built-in piano lessons, and it was amazing how much they could play without ever having lessons. They sure were self-learners!

After that, Pastor José, Mr. Pantaleón, Rosie and I went to a Bible Study at Luz y Vida. We didn’t get there until it was almost over. At the end Pastor José called me up to the front to say anything I wanted to say to the people. I never know what to say when I’m put on the spot like that! I told them my name and where I was from and how much I liked visiting the Dominican Republic. I said, “We have a very good tour guide here,” motioning to Pastor José. That made everyone laugh. I was like, “Wow, cool! I made everyone laugh! I wonder how I did that?” Then I wondered if it was not so great to call a pastor a tour guide at a church service. All these thoughts racing through my mind drove out all further ideas of anything else that I could say, especially since my choices were narrowed down to what I could say in Spanish, so I said, “No sé,” grinned, and went back to my seat.

Afterward, Pastor José told me that I had spoken “perfect” Spanish up there, “like me,” he said. (He does have flawless Spanish.) :-D Score!

From there we went back to Pina’s house, took some pictures of everyone, and ate our last mangoes. Ela came to say goodbye and we let her try the violin. We talked so long with her in our room that Pastor José had to come in and remind us to go to bed so that we could get up in the morning. Our flight left at 7:00, which meant we would have to leave at around 5:00 in the morning. 

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 13

The first thing we did this day was go to visit the Antonios. We met them in the parking lot outside the botanical garden and talked for about an hour. We took pictures together, heard how their ministry is going, and told them a little bit about our lives.

Then Pastor José took us to a large store (La Sirena) where we bought gifts to take home—vanilla, t-shirts, sweets, hair stuff, things like that. This took rather a long time and then we went home.

We also drove through a lot of nice places in the city, seeing Sammy Sosa’s house, some incredibly fancy apartments, a nice park where a lot of people walk or bike, and the old city enclosed in an ancient wall, much of which was still standing. 

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 12

This was our last day in San Juan. In the morning we said goodbye to Eunice and Jonathan, and they left for school. We were going to take the bus back to Santo Domingo at 2:00, so we wouldn’t be seeing them again.

Rosie and I were writing in our journals (that constant task that never seemed to get caught up) when Tati came to our room and said, “We have a problem.” She took me into the kitchen, showed me the stove, and said, ‘The gas is all out so I won’t be able to cook a meal for you before you go.” She looked so disappointed, and I knew she had a special meal planned, so I told her how sorry I was. “But it’s okay,” I added. “We can eat sandwiches.” That didn’t seem to satisfy her much, but she said, “Okay,” and I went to write in my journal again. Later, Rosie and I were out on the front porch, and Pastor José came out to apologize for the same thing. He was SO embarrased about it, and there didn’t seem to be any way to comfort him about it, though we tried to assure him we didn’t mind. Just then, a truck pulled up to deliver two tanks of gas! The problem was solved and we wouldn’t be eating sandwiches.

Rosie and I watched and took notes as Tati prepared the meal, and I filled up a whole page at the back of my notebook on recipes and typical foods. We planned to make some of this stuff when we got home for the rest of the family to try.

After lunch the inevitable hour came—that of saying goodbye to Tati and leaving on the bus. I wanted to cry, because these people had become so special in my life, and I didn’t know when I would see them again. We embraced and said farewell and then had to rush off in the taxi to the bus station.

On the bus, I took a whole camera-full of pictures out the window, and before long we were back in the hustle and bustle of Santo Domingo. I felt like I was noticing more things and reading more signs this time, and the city didn’t seem so huge and confusing and crowded as it did before.

A pastor picked us up from the bus station and took us back to Pina’s house. Poor Pina! She was going through chemotherapy and all her hair had fallen out. Notwithstanding, she had made a delicious dinner for us, and after eating, Rosie and I went to bed relatively early, since we had missed our nap.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 11

In the morning we went to the Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Príncipe de Paz. Mennonite churches in the Dominican Republic are completely different from those in the United States. They have drum sets, a worship team, women in teaching positions for adult Sunday School & Bible Studies, no head coverings, and fashionable, contemporary dress. The sermons have exceptional depth and meat, and the congregations are  alive. I sang here, too, and did better than I had done the last time.

After church we changed clothes so we could eat mangoes, and then changed back so we could go out to a restaurant for dinner. The food was great and then we walked home.

I was taking a lot of pictures on the way home, when suddenly I saw Tati up ahead of me gesturing me to hurry up. As I did, I happened to glance over to my left. There, in his yard, was a tall man walking the other direction—without a stitch of clothes on. “Oooh, let’s not look that way again,” I thought, correctly assuming that this was Tati’s reason for motioning me to get past that place as fast as possible. We were sort of laughing about the situation when somebody said they were afraid I would take a picture of him, and then “WHAT would your parents think? They would think we were crazy!” They needn’t have worried, but it was a pretty funny situation.

At about 5:00, there was a church service at Eulalia’s church, and right before lunch, she had asked me if I could sing FOUR things! Um…okay. So we picked three hymns in addition to my Jeremiah 29 song and Rosie and I practiced them like once before we left.

This church was a small church with a lot of older people, and they were meeting outside under a shelter because their sanctuary was under construction. They enjoyed our music, though by the last song it was so dark I had a hard time reading the words.

The sermon was about sowing, and the main point was that we often get confused between what is seed (to be sown) and what is bread (to be eaten). All of our time, money, possessions, talents, etc. are not for us to consume on ourselves. We need to consider part of it seed, to invest. It was a very good point that I wanted to think about further and apply to my life. He was full of pithy, proverb-like quotations, like “Hay dos cosas: lo que tenemos, y lo que somos.” (There are two things: What we have, and who we are.)

From there, we went straight to another church, getting there late. Pastor José asked me if I would sing two things. Um… okay. Sure, whatever! So I sang my Jeremiah song and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” one we prepared for Eulalia’s church.

I am so grateful for Rosie’s violin! It added so much to the music, as a violin played at Rosie’s level is rarely heard there. The songs I sang wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting to people if Rosie hadn’t been playing.

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Saturday, April 9, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 10

Yay! Saturday! We got up early, ate breakfast, and went on a road trip in an Isuzu SUV borrowed from the school principal.

We took a highway out of San Juan towards Barahona, and then turned northward, passing through little towns like Vicente Noble, Tamayo, and Galván. In Galván, we stopped and bought 2 kinds of mangoes, a big kind and a little kind. We ate them on the side of the road, and they were SO yummy!

Eating Mangoes (but on a later date, not the particular ones I was referring to on the side of the road)

Have I described eating mangoes? I had never eaten a whole mango before coming down here. We just happened to come right at the beginning of mango season, so they were very cheap, about 5 pesos each (18 cents). To eat a mango, you take a big bite at the bottom, suck the flesh off the peel that’s in your mouth, and spit out the peel. (You can eat the peel, but only if it’s well washed. I ate the peel on one bite. It’s not too bad—easily chewable and not bitter or anything—but not as good as the inside.) Then you peel the rest of the mango and eat bites off the seed. This is very fibrous and you get tons of little strings stuck in your teeth to pick out afterward, but the good taste makes it worth it. You can’t get the seed cleaned off, because the fibers are firmly rooted into it, but you can comb most of the yummy stuff out and then throw the seed away. All this time, your hands and face are getting bathed in sticky, gooey yellow liquid that takes a lot of licking and wiping and washing afterward, but this, too, is worth it for the pleasure of eating the fruit.

After eating our mangoes, we went a little farther and came to this beautiful clear blue pool of water that came from a spring. It was called, “Las Marías” (I think), and a few people were swimming in it. We took a few pictures and Jonatán got in to swim. I dangled my feet in the water and little minnows nibbled my toes. Later we heard that a lot of people drowned in this water because they couldn’t swim and didn’t realize that it was very deep in the middle. It was hard to tell. The rocks were so easy to see in that clear water, and they seemed so close by, it was hard to believe it was deep.

After this pleasantly refreshing stop, we continued our journey. Down the road a little way, we came up to a car, a bicycle, and a motorcycle all clumped up close together. At first it looked like the bikes were hitching a ride from the car to save their energy, but when we got close we saw that it was the other way around: the bikes were pulling the car! The bicyclist had his arm hooked into the front window of the car and was straining at the pedals as hard as he could, and the motorcyclist had his foot braced against the back bumper, pushing from behind. They were going slowly, but they were moving.

We passed through more towns—El Salado, Nebya, Jaragua, La Descubierto, Los Rios. El Salado means “salted,” and the land there is so salty it cannot be cultivated. Neyba is in the valley of Neyba, one of the three major valleys in the Dominican Republic.

Somewhere along the way here we came upon El Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the country and saltier than the ocean. It was named after a man who gathered a big army on a mountain and fought against the Spaniards when they invaded. Initially he had been friendly with them, but when he saw that they were killing his people, he turned against them.

We were heading north with the lake on our left when we pulled off the road to see a rock formation on our right. It was called “Las Caritas,” which means "The little faces," and it had Indian carvings of round happy faces in the rock. They were very cute! Rosie, Jonathan and I climbed up to see it close-up, took some pictures, and scrambled around up there. We had a good view of El Lago Enriquillo from there, and we could also see the Haitian border.

After seeing that, we continued on up around the north side of the lake. Here, there was another spring like Las Marías, only this one was called Las Barías. It was larger and had colder water, and there were tons of people there. We ate our lunch under the delightful cool shade of the trees, among people who either wanted to sell us something (mangoes, grapes, straw hats) or who wanted some of our food. We gave them some.

After lunch, we drove on around and down the other side of Enriquillo Lake, though we couldn’t see it. As we went south we went through a town called Jimaní that had been flooded last year. Everything was a picture of total devastation and ruin. The river had swept through, ripped houses apart, and deposited a layer of stones that covered the ground. Nobody lived there anymore. Most of them died, and the rest had to find somewhere else to live. Nobody was rebuilding—there wasn’t money or manpower left to do it. It was a sobering sight. I will have the image of that field of stones in my mind whenever I think of Jimaní.

Then we went down to Barahona on the Caribbean Sea. On this whole trip we had been stopped every so often at military checkpoints, but on the road to here they seemed especially watchful. Mr. Encarnación said that there was a lot of smuggling of drugs and other contraband material from Haiti. A lot of people have STD’s there, too, and they’re not allowed to enter the Dominican Republic. However, every time we stopped, they treated Mr. Encarnación with great respect. He told us it was because they saw the ring on his hand from his university. He always greeted them in a friendly manner with a smile, “¿Cómo estamos, hermanos?,” and after looking in the windows at us, they would let us pass.

Barahona meant the beach! It felt so good to get out of the cramped back seat and see the beautiful ocean with its waves just in front of us. We swam for about an hour and had such a beautiful time! The air was so warm, and the water felt so good, and there were beautiful tropical fish swimming all around.

From the beach, we went back to Eulalia’s house. It took a long time and I wrote in my journal all the way. I finally stopped after it had been too dark to see for a while, and my writing there was so messy! It had been a busy, long, fun day.

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