Well, classic me. I’ve been wanting to do a blog post for the past two weeks, but I’m just getting around to it, three weeks after arriving in the Dominican Republic. But there have been many things to reflect on, and I am just really coming to a place where I’ve sorted through some thoughts to hopefully convey in a somewhat coherent way. So, here we go…
Here I am in Latin America once again! I mentioned in my last post forever ago that I was getting geared up for my last semester in college and student teaching. I did not mention the fact that half of my student teaching would be in the Dominican Republic, but here I am in this absolutely gorgeous country. The weather is gorgeous. The landscape is gorgeous. The people are gorgeous. And you better believe that whenever I see a little Dominican kindergarten or first grader at school, I practically melt from their cuteness. Dominicans are just really beautiful people.
I am also living with a family who is Columbian (who are also beautiful people), and it has been working out fantastically to allow me to practice my Spanish, which was so very rusty when I arrived here. I am very grateful that I have had so many Spanish classes and that I can get by just fine in conversations as my Spanish is coming back pretty easily. There are two sweet daughters in this family that I have enjoyed getting to know during my first week here. One is 14 and the other is 8! Anyone who knows me well can guess who I’ve spent the most time with…yes, the eight year old, Aileen! She is absolutely adorable and dramatic and high energy and funny and smart and kind! She is very much like a little Columbian version of my nine year old sister. I have adored getting to spend time picking out nail polish in local tiendas, walking the balmy streets of Jarabacoa, and watching movies in Spanish with these amazing girls. And did I mention that they are bilingual!?!?!?!?
I officially want my children to grow up speaking multiple languages because these girls are brilliant! First off, they can fully communicate with me in two languages…pretty amazing! And they are just overall very smart girls 🙂 And here I am bragging about kids that are not even my own…I love them dearly though!
My host parents are extremely wonderful too. I’ve been blessed with delicious Columbian food…and that there are SO many ways cook plantains to absolute perfection. Nelly (my host mom) was even sweet enough to call me into the kitchen the other day to show me how to make tostones, which are plantains smashed into a small tortilla shape and then fried to perfection! She thought that I may want to know how to make them back home (and I’d also mentioned to her how much I LOVE anything involving plantains), so she showed me the process! I’ll add that to my growing repertoire of plantain recipes! And there I go on about food…granted, that is a huge part of a real cultural experience.
I think the biggest thing that moved me to decide to start a blog post tonight was the Skype session that I just had with the missionaries that I worked with back in Guatemala this past summer. We caught up about things in their ministry and what I’ve been up to teaching here (I’ll get to that shortly), and I was moved to tears when they told me that the students in their ministry still ask about me….like, what!?
I never would have thought that a short five weeks spent in Guatemala would have left me and a group of students with precious memories that would be just as strong now as they were 9 months ago. They ask when I am coming back… and I think about going back ALL the time. And I really do not say this to applaud myself. I say this to applaud the God who can take a girl from little Ole’ Kentucky with not the greatest amount of self-confidence and sent her to another country, push her out of her comfort zone, and be a part of memories that will hopefully last a life time. How cool is our God? I say infinitely.
My heart yearns to go back to see those students, and I am believing that will one day happen. But that really reminds me of something incredibly important that the missionaries (Barb & Gerry) taught me as I prepared to leave Guatemala 9 months ago:
“You know you have the heart for overseas missions when you can fall in love with people wherever you go.” And I want to be able to love people wherever I am…not just love the memory of an incredible experience that I had in a beautiful country almost a year ago. I desire to be able to settle into new places and share God’s love with the people that I live life with. And with that said, I am realizing that I just may have the heart of an overseas missionary…
I am falling so hard for the people of the D.R. Not just the beautiful weather (which is incredible). Not just the incredible scenery (breathtaking). But the actual people. The faces. The culture. The relationships that I am building here are beginning to settle deep into my heart. I am gaining the trust of some incredibly sweet fifth graders, and they are starting to mean the world to me. Their smiles make me smile. I found myself beaming during class the other day as they played a past tense verb game with excitement and smiles. I have had the opportunity to teach from an openly Christian perspective for the first time as a student teacher. I get to talk to them about real life issues and what God thinks about those issues. Issues like low self-esteem and friendships and being disciples.
Today, I shared a short version of my testimony to the students during our morning devotional time. I saw students nod their heads in understanding as I talked about how hard it was for me to move twice during middle school and have to make new friends at three different schools. And then I was allowed to explain how God helped me grow and brought me closer to Him through those experiences. Crazy cool things to get to talk to fifth graders about…right as they are headed into those sometimes scary, insecurity-filled, popularity-seeking years of middle school.
I received my first hug from a very reserved and guarded student a couple days ago, which is a sign that the walls of distrust and uncertainty about me are coming down. Students are becoming more apt to initiate conversations with me instead of me feeling like I am pulling teeth just to get to know them better. It is definitely a good feeling to feel like one has earned respect that is not so easily given.
My heart goes out to the people of this country as I’ve already been exposed to some of their social issues. I can see how people are hurting and looking for love and fulfillment…love and fulfillment that only Christ can provide.
I haven’t seriously come face to face with a lot of these issues, but I know they are present. Teaching in Christian school gives me a taste of a very different portion of the population here.
Oh, but prejudice. That is a huge issue here. Even with students at a Christian school. Let me explain…
There is a huge divide between the Haitian immigrant population and the native Dominicans. There is a lot of racism against those who have darker skin because that makes one look more Haitian. And people here just covet lighter skin, which is so funny since people back in the states feel pretty much the opposite. In my fifth grade class, we’ve been discussing the idea of prejudice and how we can teach people about the fact that it is a problem. The students have made it clear that they see prejudice against Haitians often. It has been really beautiful to see students talk about how they know the prejudice they see around them is really wrong. For the class’ semester service project, they are raising money to help a Haitian community build a church. Glory to God for the sweet hearts of these students. They are so excited about serving these people after learning and discussing the difficulties the Haitians have in this country.
Next week, I will have the opportunity as I am teaching solo to lead the fifth grade students in planning an assembly to teach other elementary students about prejudice. So cool. I am praying that this really has a great impact upon the students about how they can be a light of Christ to the Haitian people around them. And knowing that God created everyone with different appearances, which is a beautiful thing.
Well, that’s all I really have. It’s spring break here. I am about to have my first motorcycle taxi experience with my friend and fellow student teacher, Mariah…hopefully I can speak adequate Spanish to not get us lost.