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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 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.

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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 still thinks it’s 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

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Haiti

It was confirmed last night that my trip to Haiti with my son, in less than 2 weeks, has been canceled due to the recent protests and riots regarding gas price increases. I’m very disappointed, to say the least, and mostly feel bad my 17-year son won’t have this experience for now. Of course, our safety is of most concern. Although I was going to commemorate my mom, if she knew of these developments, she too, would discourage us from going. It would also likely bring up sad memories of what it was like for her to grow up in Haiti. I can hear, in her voice, recounts of her experiences with poverty and the corrupt Haitian government. I remember stories about the terrible reign of President Jean Claude Duvalier (aka Papa Doc) and his son, Baby Doc back in the 70’s and 80’s.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week of what it must be like to live in Haiti as I’ve read several articles and watched a few videos about the protests. In my opinion, there has not been enough media coverage on the events. I suspect the riots have slow downed because I saw through my social media feed, the government was cleaning up some of the damage in Port Au Prince. I suppose what I’m getting at is there was no problem covering the chaos, but will there be as much coverage about the recovery? I can’t deny the Secretary of State Travel Advisory has Haiti on a Level 4 travel ban, the highest, which indicates “no travel” to Haiti. I’ve gleaned from people I know and others how Haiti is viewed. I wonder do people or governments (ours, theirs, others) want Haiti to succeed or do they want to continue to just refer to Haiti as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere”…who can’t get themselves together. Google Haiti and see what you get. I get the country needs to get themselves out of their situation too. Haiti also happens to be comprised of the only people whose ancestors successfully fought themselves out of slavery and were forced to pay a large sum of money to France for that “freedom”. There’s so much complexity to why it’s poor, how to help, and how to help them help themselves.

I know how I view Haiti- a place that has a resilient, prideful people, the place where my family was born, a place with a rich culture, a place that holds the key to who I am, and a place I must visit. For all the positive reasons I want to visit, it’s the negative reasons about Haiti that prevent us from going to serve them. I also believe that pride is a sickness for the people there. Haitians are a prideful people. I see it in my family (and extended family).

Prior to the most recent riots and protests. I asked my oldest sister if we should plan a trip together to Haiti- the siblings. She indicated I was doing it the best way…through my church. My church, LifeAustin, coordinated the trip through Mission of Hope Haiti (MOH). MOH coordinates trips to Haiti with churches all over. I think there are more protections working through agencies such as this one. MOH informed our church contact they were canceling the next few trips. We don’t know for how long yet. I hope to get more answers on Sunday.

It’s definitely a bummer my son and I aren’t going at this time, but things happened as they should have. In this process, I was reminded that my family and friends will support me no matter what as we received a significant amount in financial donations from them to get us to Haiti. I was reminded, if you ask, you will receive, but again, you have to ask. There was no shame or pride in my game. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to release pride and it’s not easy.

What I ask of you is to pray for Haiti. Educate yourself on the country if you haven’t already. I come from a long line of beautiful, resilient, and strong people. One day, I will see Haiti with my own eyes.