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DR Chronicles 2019: Sosua Beach

A little over a month ago, I was in heaven on earth. The sand was hot and the crystal, blue water…luxurious. I now have the travel bug. I want to be on another beautiful beach for Christmas. Next summer might be a more realistic goal. My husband and I have been discussing some options. We’ll see. Hopefully, I will learn how to swim by then, although I doubt I’d swim in any ocean even if I could.

The best part of Sosua Beach was being in the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend much time in the water because we wasted some time touring the shops and attempting to get lunch at an overcrowded popular taco restaurant. Listen, I could get tacos in Texas. What I can’t get in Texas is this beach. We eventually ate a late lunch at a different spot where I had a whole fried red snapper. I wrote a blog post about some of the food from the DR here. It was good, although if I had to do it again, I would’ve eaten another darn peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was packed for us just so I could stay close to, or in, the water.

Sosua Beach, Dominican Republic 6-7-19. LPC

My screensaver on my work laptop consists of pictures from this trip. My home screen is a picture of the beach. I’m usually very busy while at work, so I’ve been enjoying the occassional glimpse of a picture that takes me back to the Dominican Republic.

The lovely thing about travel is that the people and places stick to you. I see why it’s advised to spend money towards experiences like travel rather than on material things. The experiences enrich your life and the memories stay with you for a lifetime. I’m so thankful for the memories. I miss it.

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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.

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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.