Image

DR Chronicles 2019: Would I go back?

I decided to write some of my preliminary thoughts on what is going on in the DR. Everyone knows that my team and I arrived back to the states safely and alive. The number of Americans dying in the DR continue to rise. I’ve read many articles online and have seen comments from people to the effect of “why do people continue to go there…it’s not safe?” I’ve heard from people I know that their people have been canceling scheduled trips to the DR. I saw a post on social media that an airline is working with customers to redirect their travel from DR to wherever else they want to go.

My people know I was recently on a mission trip through my church LifeAustin and Mission of Hope to the DR. Those in my circle were definitely concerned about my safety. For example, upon my return, my sister told me that she wasn’t going to say anything to me about what she had been seeing in the news while I was in the DR. Nobody knows truly what’s going on based on the articles written, but there appears to be commonalities and it does seem unusual for healthy, young couples to be dying at the same time, while on vacation. Not all of the deaths involved couples and now families whose family members died in years past while in the DR are wanting to know if the deaths are related to these current cases.

There is lot of speculation being shared, but key information is missing. I admit I’m on the speculation train too. My disclaimor to this blog post is what I write are my thoughts, so feel free to disagree, but don’t waste your time trying to beat me up on my thoughts. I’m not on the “never stepping foot again in the DR” train although I do have some thoughts.

Haiti occupies the same island as the Dominican Republic. In fact, my main purpose in being in the DR was to serve Haitians and there are many Haitians living in the DR. I’ve met a few. We were not in Haiti because the U.S. Travel Advisory had Haiti on a Level 4-No Travel status. The first reason I’m not willing to say, at this point, I’ll never go back to the DR is because many Haitians live there.

Of the two islands, the DR recieves way more funds through tourism and travel. I’m of the opinion that if these occurrences were happening in Haiti that the U.S. would have issued a Level 4 travel ban to Haiti by now. The U.S. recently downgraded Haiti from a Level 4 to a Level 3. Haiti was at a Level 4 travel ban because there was some rioting and protests a few months back. I checked moments ago and the U.S. still has the DR at a Level 2. It hasn’t changed. You can learn more about the travel advisories here.

Some commonalities of the deaths in the DR is that these were Americans on vacation, staying at resorts in popular tourist destinations, and possibly drinking alcohol. I was there on a mission trip, living in meager conditions on a beautiful property. My team, one of several teams, slept and ate in shared spaces. The women in my room slept in bunk beds and shared two showers and two toilets. We couldn’t flush toilet paper down the toilet due the the plumbing infrastructure. We were given lots of instructions and precautions prior to arriving. We didn’t drink any of the local water. On our daily trips to different communities, mostly impoverished, we assessed needs and prayed with people.

One of our Haitian translators did tell me that the Dominicans are not kind to Haitians and that Haitians are treated badly. He indicated this is the reason why he just goes to work and goes home and doesn’t hang out much. I’ve read social media articles and comments of people indicating they wouldn’t step foot in the DR because of how Haitians are treated. I’ve gleaned from the few Haitians I got to know on this trip (our wonderful translators) that even some of their family in Haiti don’t want to visit the DR because of how they hear Haitians are treated.

Haiti and the DR share a painful past and divisions amongst the people run deep. However, if people decide not to ever visit the DR again because how the DR treats Haitians, what does that do for the Haitians living there in the hopes of living a better life? That is, after all, why they are there…in the hopes of living a better life. I understand on some level people are saying not to continue to fuel the DR economy because they don’t treat certain people right. But what does that do for the people that live there if other countries stop visiting/touring? There are groups that the U.S., as a country, don’t treat right, but that’s not stopping people from touring, let alone moving to the U.S.

I had a beautiful, life enriching experience in the DR. I find the country wildly beautiful. There are definitely impoverished areas. The people we met were warm and friendly. Listen, I may go back to the DR. I was talking to a coworker yesterday and he asked me if I felt scared or unsafe while I was in the DR and the answer is no. We both agreed it’s hard to decipher what’s going on, especially when you factor in the media and their agenda.

Ultimately, I’m sad that people have died and sad for their families. I pray that the truth of what is happening is revealed so it can be avoided in the future.

Image

Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Comfort Zone

I believe that personal growth comes from operating out of your comfort zone on occasion. I preach this often and I hear it being preached often. It’s the truth. In fact, I live most of my life outside of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert naturally which means I draw energy from being ALONE; yet, professionally, I manage a team of educated professionals, present in front of others often, provide input in meetings with other executives, sometimes tell people what they don’t want to hear, advocate for my team, etc. I’m drained by the time I get home. Becoming a Zumba fitness instructor was another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. Interestingly enough, I attribute my professional success to my alter ego as a Zumba fitness instructor. Keep in mind, I’m not teaching anywhere at the moment, but I practice in my garage “studio” as if I do.

Since I’m a person that is constantly challenging myself and love to help people, it’s not surprising that I decided to participate on a mission trip…another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. The original trip was supposed to occur in Haiti in July 2018. I wrote a blog post about the circumstances surrounding the change here: Haiti. Mission of Hope, the nonprofit that our church, LifeAustin, works with for the Haiti mission trips, is establishing their presence in the DR. My team was the first to participate at the Santiago location. I experienced many feelings (good and bad) on this trip including joy, irritation, frustration, silliness, sadness, elation, humility, awkwardness, boredom, and gratefulness. My patience and ability to relinquish control were definitely tested.

What people need to know is that there are risks to operating out of your comfort zone. It’s not all fun and games, however, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Keep an open mind. I certainly experienced some growing pains on this trip. I’m glad I can laugh at myself. Within the first 2 days, I fell 3 times. These were not dainty falls and there was no avoiding the fall in either scenario. The first fall resulted in a bloody knee. For two of the falls, people had to literally lift me off the ground. One night, unbeknownst to my roommates, I fell in the shower and landed on my butt, which hurt for the rest of the week. While we were out gifting water filters in a neighborhood, my arm scraped across some chicken wire and the medics had to mend me (see cover). The bandages look worse than the actual scar. It was a good thing that I got my Tetanus shot. Of course, every nurse I shared the story with asked if I had gotten the shot.

My battle scars (might be a little dramatic) remind me that I gained way more than I lost in comfort by participating on this trip.

More posts to come from my DR experience.

Image

Lessons from Solange: Part Two

I’m behind on my blog posts, but I always return back to what brings balance and peace in my life: one such thing is writing. In May, I wrote the blog post Lessons from Solange: Part I. I had intended to complete my second installment sooner than now, but better late than never. I think about my mom often, but my recent trip to the Dominican Republic has me thinking about her and the lessons she taught me even more. My mom, Solange, passed away on 7/8/2017, so we’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary…another reason I’m thinking of her. I requested that day off work, so I can spend the whole day thinking about her undisturbed. I wrote about my grief and loss in these posts: Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen, Surreal-ality, and Family is everything. I hope these posts will help anyone who has lost someone close to them like a parent.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing the amount of influence mothers have with shaping their children’s lives. I’m more focused on my mother because I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father. He passed away a few years before my mom. My mom was my everything. She shaped my world. You only have one mother. Despite how complicated our relationship was and how much we disappointed each other, the bond was undeniable and cosmic.

A few more lessons Solange taught me that the world (more accurately, the people in my world) get to experience:

  1. Be a good cook – My mom was of the belief that you need to be a good cook to get a husband. My younger, rebellious self was not thinking about a husband. I was about 12 years old when my mom put her foot down and started to teach me how to cook particular dishes. Tears are coming down as I think about how much I respect her now for doing that and how ungrateful I was at the time. It was like participating in my very own cooking class and I didn’t appreciate it. Because I am a good cook thanks to her, I’ve had the satisfaction of pleasing my family with many delicious meals. Did I think my mom’s ideals were sexist…YES! However, I happen to have a family and I know they appreciate my cooking. I can feed them, which I think means something different when poverty was part of your history. I also am able to cook Haitian foods, which connects my family and myself to our heritage. I’ve shared my cooking with others such as extended family, friends, and coworkers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Dress well – If you knew my mom, you know she loved her suits, shoes and purses. For every shoe she had, she had a purse to match. After she passed away, I wrote a post about a pair of shoes I took of hers back to Austin. You can read it here: In her shoes. My mom passed on her love of dressing well to me. It was one of the few indulgences she was able to entertain and she deserved it with all the trauma she experienced in her life. I love clothes and I have many of them. A few months back, I binge watched “Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up” on Netflix and purged my supply. I vowed to only keep clothes that bring me “joy” moving forward. In a “not superficial way”, the lesson I received from my mom was to have pride in my appearance, to take care of myself, and to be aware of how I presented myself to the world.
  3. Be a giver – When I was in graduate school, I participated in counseling the last 6 months before graduation because I needed help with managing the stress of being a working mom in a graduate program and attending to my final internship. As I hashed out my stress to the therapist, she said something that I will never forget. As an explanation to my woes in a particular circumstance, she said, “it’s because you’re a giver”. Quite frankly, the comment floored me because I never thought of myself as a “giver”; yet, I had this insatiable appetite to give all the time. I’d often prayed to God to “use me for his purpose”. The therapist referred me to an article about givers and it made sense. It was at that point, I knew I was a giver. Now where did I get this trait? My biggest role model for giving was my mom because she gave so much of herself to her children. She also gave to others like her family in Haiti, New York and beyond. We didn’t have much growing up, but on occasion she would host dinner parties at our small apartment. I remember being so embarrassed because my brother’s bed was in the living room, but she wasn’t too proud to have people over to experience her cooking. She was my greatest example of a giver. I’ve learned to balance some of that giving to others with giving to myself.

A mother’s love is like no other in the cosmos and you only have one. I’m thankful Solange shared many light lessons with me, even the ones I didn’t want.

Gallery

Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Food

For my blog readers, my son, Caleb and I are finally on our mission trip in Santiago, DR. We arrived in the middle of the night to the Mission of Hope (MOH) Santiago Campus Sunday morning, June 2. I’ll be blogging about this experience while I can on the trip and for the next several weeks. I’ve shared pictures on my Facebook page, but I really want to unpack this experience through blogging. Update: This is the only blog post I’ve managed to type thus far. I intended to post more, but I think several things are at play: I’ve been more tired than usual, been getting settled into my normal routine, and still mentally and spiritually processing this trip.

This particular post is focused on the food. These almond butter packets I brought have saved me to a point.

20190604_211030.jpg

At the time that I posted this, I only had one left. So what have we been eating? Well, we’ve been roughing it, for sure, at least Caleb and I think so. MOH has many interns and most of them appear 19-25ish. They’re pretty thin and may not mind the food. Our mission group has a range of ages. I was worried about what the food would entail because I eat pretty healthy at home. We were allowed to bring our own snacks, so I brought a bunch of healthy items: Kashi cereal & cereal bars, kind bars, pistachios, organic applesauce, dried fruits, green energy packets & electrolytes, organic soups, peanut butter packets. I only ate a fraction of what I brought (electrolytes, pistachios, dried fruits, peanut butter packets) and ended up donating the remainder to the MOH interns and staff.

As a church group, we brought on the flight with us some items from the states since it would be cheaper: Peanut butter, jelly, cereal, powdered milk, condiments, etc. For every meal, there have been ample carbs. For example: white bread for sandwiches & macaroni salad. Dinner usually entailed rice and more bread. Neither Caleb nor I are particularly like sandwiches, but we’ve been making it work. Caleb was really hungry on the second or third day when he realized we would be eating the same foods and he said, “I’m going to have to make this work”. He made a macaroni salad SANDWICH!

Dinners were made by Haitian and Dominican cooks.

Haitian Food.jpg

Beef stew with rice/beans and cake

Haitian Food.jpg

Stewed chicken and peas with not just white rice, but also graten, which is a delicacy! Strawberry cake on the side.

Each night featured a different meal…all tasty. The pictures do not give the food justice. Although he acknowledged it was good, Caleb wasn’t too impressed because I make Haitian food at home along with many other types of food. I think he thought he was going to eat something he never had previously. I’m thankful that my mom taught me how to cook, even though I vividly remember not wanting to learn. I get to share that part of my heritage with my family.

One of the Haitian cooks has been working with MOH Haiti for a while. Her brother was sponsored by the organizer at our church for some years, then he was sponsored to attend college by someone else. He’s since graduated college. I introduced myself to her as she was serving our food, but hope to have a good conversation with her before I leave. Update: I didn’t get a chance to have a conversation with her with all of our activities. I hope we cross paths again one day….perhaps on another mission trip?

I didn’t eat much breakfast. I embraced my almond butter sandwiches for lunch, but I’ve especially looked forward to dinner. I’m surprised we’ve had fresh salads most evenings. I was told in Haiti there is rarely fresh greens so this is a treat. We’ve also had cake the last 2 nights. Our team lead managed to get us some avocados. They were huge. We also had mangos as there were several mango trees on the property where we stayed. It’s not everyday that I eat fruit that falls off a tree. I do remember growing up in Chicago, my aunt and uncle had a pear tree on their property. The pears never seemed to be ripe, even after they had fallen.

DR Avocado.jpg

Avocado

This trip isn’t about me having all the comfortable, familiar foods I want when I want it. It’s about sacrifice and service, so I can deal for a week. Speaking of service, each group was assigned dish duty, which we participated in as a group. Also, Friday was beach day and we got to eat some local food as noted in the cover photo: fried red snapper, rice, beans and plantains (not pictured). It was so good! My impression is that Dominican food is just about the same as Haitian food. Rice and beans, plantains, and protein. More stories to come from this experience.