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DR Chronicles 2019: Lost in translation

Where did the time go? My trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) occurred over 3 months ago. Upon our return to Texas, it didn’t take my son, Caleb, and I long to get back to our busy lives. However, the experience is implanted in my heart forever. This may be my most compelling blog post yet in my DR Chronicles series. You can read 4 other posts here, here, here , and here.

This DR trip was very personal for me. After my mom, mummy, passed away two years ago, I felt even more compelled to visit the country where she was born. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents, extended family, and siblings were all born in Haiti. As the youngest of four, I’m the only one in my immediate family who was born in the United States. I’ve always wanted to visit Haiti. I’ve asked mummy many times if we could go together, but she would say every time that she never wanted to return. She said there was nothing left. Mummy took her final trip when I was about 12 years old.

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Chicago, June 2, 2017- Patrick, Mylene, Me, Mummy, & Gina

You may be wondering how we ended up in the DR when Haiti has been (and still is) the destination. Well, as it was approaching a year of mummy’s passing, I learned that my church, LifeAustin, was leading a mission trip to Haiti. I HAD to go. Caleb said he wanted to go. We had just a couple of months to gather the funds. Then, BOOM! Riots ensued in Haiti after a hike in gas prices. The U.S. Secretary of State eventually put Haiti on a Level 4 travel ban. My son and I had just gotten our malaria vaccinations. Shortly after, the trip was canceled. No trip to Haiti in 2018 although the travel ban was lifted later in the year.

Another Level 4 travel ban occurred in the beginning of 2019. At this point, the nonprofit organization, Mission of Hope, had expanded their reach to Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic, as Haitian populations in these areas continue to grow. LifeAustin decided on the DR. I was excited to go although with all of the rioting, I was beginning to see why mummy never wanted to return.

“Lost in Translation” is a fitting title for this post because most people don’t know I have 3 half-learned languages swirling around in my head. I grew up with Kreyol (I’ve also seen it spelled Creole…maybe that’s the Louisiana version-I’ll research later) and French, took 3 years of high school Spanish (I preferred French, but couldn’t take it…long story), and took 2 years of college French. Mummy told me I only spoke Kreyol until I was about 3 years old. Here lies the complication of attending a mission trip in a Spanish speaking country with Kreyol, French, and Spanish speaking Haitians.

I attempted to use some of the language I knew while in the DR, and at times, I was so tongue tied. For example, at one of the women’s meetings, most of the women spoke Spanish and a few spoke Kreyol. As more women joined, I found myself not responding in the appropriate language or not knowing what to say altogether. The language barrier was definitely frustrating. I think it’s even more frustrating to comprehend what is being said, but not be able to respond. This is me.

Despite the language barrier, what I do think was translated was respect and love.

The experience of being in the DR and not knowing the language reminded me of the judgement I’d felt growing up in Chicago, which has a relatively large Haitian population. I didn’t feel judgement from anyone in the DR (except from probably my own self-judgment), but the memories resurfaced. Was it my fault I couldn’t speak Kreyol or French? Was it mummy’s fault? How do I hold onto the Haitian customs and language, and not be too American, although I’m American. These are not pleasant memories. Growing up, I had a constant feeling of inadequacy.

I lived in multiple worlds: the American world, the Haitian world, the African-American world, the white world, the Catholic world, and the Jehovah’s Witness world. Each world had its own rules and norms. I never felt like I was fully accepted into any of them. Yet, I was expected to navigate in and out of each world seamlessly. I know now it was an impossible feat.

It wasn’t until I met a Haitian nurse in my early twenties at my doctor’s office that I started feeling less inadequate about not speaking Kreyol or French. She knew I was Haitian by my name and encouraged me not to feel bad about myself because I didn’t speak the language. She said there are many Haitians like me. When I looked in her eyes, I saw acceptance.

My absolute favorite part of the DR trip was getting to know the Haitian translators hired by Mission of Hope. They were the closest I got to speak, for an extended period of time, to Haitians. I wanted to hear their thoughts on Haiti – the people, country, politics, and poverty. I was so impressed that they each moved to the DR, learned Spanish and a new culture while maintaining their native languages. In a way, I was envious.

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LPC with MOH Haitian translator, Robert. LPC

I’m proud of each of them and admire their resilience. I come from a resilient people. I’ve witnessed this resilience in my family. I’m resilient. I particularly bonded with Pierreson (cover photo). If I had a little brother, it would be Pierreson. Both Pierreson and Robert have a protective presence. They’re strong and confident. They have families of their own to support. They’re admirable men.

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LPC and beautiful MOH Haitian translator, Dan’a. LPC

The whole experience of the DR had me vowing to make steps to learn Kreyol and French more fluently. I don’t know where to begin. When do I find the time? I welcome suggestions from my readers. I haven’t given myself a timeline, but this is definitely a goal. I’ve done a little bit of exploring, but haven’t committed yet. Writing this blog post has served as a reminder.

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Last day in Santiago with these two MOH Haitian translators. They did a wonderful job! LPC

I’m eternally grateful mummy made a way for her children to experience a better life in the United States…not without a lot of help. I knew of her experiences of hunger and trauma in Haiti. Yet, she made a way for us. How do you translate that feeling? Even though I’m here in the United States and have never been to Haiti, my heart is with my people in Haiti. I may not speak the language, but Haiti is in my blood. I will always be a proud Haitian.

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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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Solange taught me how to cook

This isn’t the first time I’ve boasted about my good cooking. I attribute my cooking skills to my mom. She started teaching me as early as 11 or 12 years old. She taught me when I didn’t want to learn. She made me do it. She would call me into the kitchen when she was making a dish like one of our Haitian staples: rice and beans. You can make rice and beans two ways: separately (pot of rice, pot of beans-sauce pois) or together (rice and beans cooked in the same pot with herbs and spices). These two methods could produce probably hundreds of meals depending on the combination of beans and rice you choose. She’d have all the ingredients out and would walk me through every step from washing the ingredients, to chopping, to putting them in the pan, to tasting, and to admiring the completed dish.

As it’s been two years since my mom passed away, she’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I decided to use my pilon (Haitian Creole) that I purchased from a garage sale a while ago. My mom always used a wooden pilon, but what you usually find nowadays in stores are marble ones. I didn’t know it was called a mortar and pestle until sometime after I moved to Texas. I’m very big on meal prep and I had a taste for rice and beans made in the same pot. The types of beans and rice are endless, but I particularly selected peas because I learned a month ago that I’m iron deficient and peas are a good source of iron. I’ve been diligent about increasing my iron intake.

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I haven’t actually used a pilon in years. One time a friend was over for dinner and she saw me using the pilon. She asked me why I just didn’t use a mini food chopper/processor. I thought to myself at the time, “Good idea!” because it was easier, so I stopped using the pilon. Looking back, what I should have told her is that by smashing the herbs in the pilon, it releases the juices allowing for more flavor. For years, I used the food processor, but today I tested my theory. I was right…the herbs were more fragrant. I might be a little biased. This reminded me there is wisdom in tradition. My grandmother likely showed my mother how to cook the same way. I also remembered using a pilon is a workout in itself as a result of pounding the herbs.

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Herbs sauteing in olive oil before I add the peas. I ommitted the salt pork. LPC

The rice and peas were delicious. I ate a bowl with nothing else. So did my daughter. For my work lunches, I will have them with chicken breasts. I blogged about Haitian food when I was in the Dominican Republic last month which you can read about here. I’m not putting any pressure on my daughter to learn the techniques my mom taught me. I want her to come to me when she’s ready. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bless my family with these creations.

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The largest “Pilon” or mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen-Dominican Republic 6-7-19. LPC

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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 I write about my thoughts on my blog site, 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.

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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.

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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.

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Beef stew with rice/beans and cake

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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.

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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.

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Brave in Sunny San Diego

San Diego…what a beautiful place! I’m here for a few days to attend a behavioral health business conference. It’s been a positive experience. I generally love conferences because I walk away inspired and energized. I needed this considering I’ve been drained.

I admit the first day, preconference, was rough: a 3 hour flight and then I couldn’t figure out where to enter the hotel due to construction. I drove around several times. There was a slight problem with my hotel reservation, but it was resolved. My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day. I was tired and irritable. My nose was congested.

I felt better when I woke up Thursday morning at 3:14 a.m. My body was thinking it was 2 hours ahead in Texas, so I woke up on time. On Friday, I woke up at 3:48 a.m. I’ve still been getting a little less than 6 hours sleep. My attitude improved after I wrote Thursday’s blog post.

I decided to make the best of this trip because how often do I get to come to San Diego? It’s a privilege I’m able to travel to interesting places for work. This is my first time in California. I’ve never particularly cared about visiting…go figure. I enjoy networking when it’s the right group and I had an inkling this would be that group. On Thursday, I made some connections, gave some compliments, passed out my business cards, learned some valuable information, and overall embraced the day. I also received a few site seeing recommendations from a conference participant I met from Minnesota. I had something to look forward to at the end of the day.

I spent some time in Seaport Village and I loved it. Although I can’t swim and am afraid of large bodies of water, the water had a calming affect on me. I took lots of pictures and soaked in the breeze.

I took my time strolling. I walked on a pier. I enjoyed watching other people taking in the view. In some ways, Seaport Village, particularly by the pier, reminded me of Chicago (my home town), on the Lakefront. Instead of the Pacific Ocean, Chicago sits right on Lake Michigan. In other ways, the location reminded me of Austin because of the open beautiful, blue sky.

Eventually, I was hungry, but indecisive about which restaurant, so I perused through menus until one felt right.

I landed on a place where my food was mediocre at best, but the window view on the water made up for it.

Thank God for smartphones and GPS because I rely on them so much when traveling. I got nervous when I missed a turn in this very unfamiliar city. For a moment, I thought, “just go back to the hotel”. However, I was determined and when I found my destination along with a parking space, I was relieved.

It was a relaxing and wonderful ending to a great day. I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to do a little exploration of San Diego. It wasn’t much and I won’t be here long, but I wanted to get back to Austin with some good memories of San Diego. The fact that I’m attending this trip solo confirms my commitment to growth. I’m so used to operating outside of my comfort zone, I seem to gravitate towards activities that do just that, without much thought. At the end of the day, I grow in confidence, knowledge, and experience.

Light lessons:

  • Be brave
  • Take responsibility for your growth
  • Live outside your comfort zone sometimes