Saturday, May 11, 2013

Flashback Friday: Greetings From The D.R.-" All Roads Lead To Cabrera (and to Dorcas Garcia)"

Originally Composed 12/31/07

Well, how's everybody? Thank you all so much for your greetings and words of encouragement-they've been much needed and appreciated. I'm still trying to respond to everybody-that's how much email I get (and watch, I'm gonna get back to California and never hear from anyone again!). Though the last 2 ½ months have hands-down been the best experience of my life, they haven't been without challenges, and being me in general can be its own obstacle to happiness at times. But Jehovah is so good, so very, very good in every way; but particularly in that that he loves us. The great thing about being loved by Jehovah is that he can show us that love in so many ways, no matter where we may be in the world, through his Word and his organization, and just the peace of mind that he gives us is incomparable to anything else. You know how sometimes you have a rough moment, and all you need is to know that somebody gets it-that somebody gets you, followed by reassurance that everything is going to be ok? And then you feel like it really will be because whoever's consoling you is not just saying and doing things just to be nice, not even just because they care, but because they know you and understand why things affect you the way you do? Well as we all know, that's the way Jehovah is-he gets all of us, in whatever language we speak (which is great because I can no longer get through my personal prayers in just one language-I start them in English, then they fade into Spanish, and then they just turn into gibberish.)

The thing about being far away from your home, your comfort zone, is that there is always the possibility of things being strange and unfamiliar to us, which means adjustments in how we do things. Everything isn't super-convenient, and it means learning to work a little harder (which I say never hurt anybody-having to walk everywhere no matter the weather or how much stuff I might be carrying has resulted in me being physically stronger and a little slimmer, I'm happy to report). Periods of heavy rain make field service tough sometimes-it can be dangerous to drive out to the rurals when it's like that, so that's out. Dominicans do not like to get wet, and so if you don't have studies in town that are like, literally, right by your house, it can be hard to find service partners. So, that might mean changes in how you do your service in order to meet your goal. And any time you are away from family and friends who already know you well, especially if you are immersed in a culture different from your own, there is the challenge of understanding each other, of recognizing differences in customs and attitudes, of personalities and feelings being lost in translation. Hey, we feel alone and misunderstood at times in our own language and within our own cultures, don't we? It's all been an eye-opener, and I can see that I'm really not the woman I thought I was. To be fair, I guess in some ways I'm stronger than I'd once thought, but I see more weak areas. So, I mean, I know what my goals are, but some days I wake up and say, can I do this? Am I biting off more than I can chew by working toward making this my life? But Jehovah comforts us, and his spirit overcomes all. It becomes so clear that the rewards of expanding one's service make all the adjusting and struggling and making a fool of oneself so worth it. And it's amazing how, even when there are differences in language and culture, the fruitages of that spirit can help us to see others and ourselves the way that Jehovah does. It's a challenge at times, and its an even bigger challenge to be faced with our own frailties-and experiences like this have a way of showing you who you are, for better or for worse. That "worse" side can get a person down, and it's happened to me more than a few times since I've been here. But I tell you; there is no better feeling than being uplifted be Jehovah once you've been down. And I've had more of that than I even know what to do with.

OK, got that off my chest. My psychiatrist would be proud.

Minor road-bumps aside, it's been the best of times over here on the island. Literally, my timing was perfect for coming here. You see, what I didn't know before I came is that, though Cabrera's not what you'd call a tourist-magnet, a lot of brothers and sisters from the U.S. and Canada have been choosing this place to vacation for years. A few of those vacationers loved it so much that they decided to stay, and those who can't live here all year go back and forth, spending part of the year in North America working and saving, and spending the winter and early spring here. There are still others that just pass through for a week or two. Even among the Dominicans, all through town everybody's got family here for the holidays, and the local brothers all have friends and family visiting. Cabrera's such a gorgeous place, and people here are so nice; everybody loves it here. Dorcas and Ramon Garcia, our landlords, are in the congregation with us, and Dorcas is already related to everybody in town (that's not an exaggeration-her maiden name is Pereyra, which is the name on every other business in town, the name of every other household in town, and also the last name of half the congregation. I guess anybody with 14 brothers and sisters and whose mom had 14 brothers and sisters can't really help that). Anyway, between Dorcas' kids and grandkids who visited from the capital, her nephew who lives in Canada with his wife and kids, a family from Nantucket, a group of 12 from Southern California, plus the needgreaters whose half of the year this is, and assorted others, a congregation of about 45 publishers more than tripled last Sunday to a standing-room only attendance of 141.

They say this happens every year. One elder lamented that the congregation has a very different spirit when it isn't winter…and another young sister went on to "warn" me back in November of what was to come. "There'll be parties, lots of parties, thrown by people you barely see come out of their houses," she said. "Girls who don't usually talk will be social, and they'll all start wearing makeup." She spoke these words as if she was reading from Matthew chapter 24, and I had no idea what she meant by any of it, until it happened . But why all fuss?? I wondered. Another young sister explained the hysteria this way: "Everybody here is our cousin. So if somebody doesn't come from somewhere else, there is nobody to marry. And we ALL want to get married." I appreciated her honesty, and I definitely see what she means. For example: an elder from Missouri met a sister from Canada here a few years back and they got married. Her sister married one of Dorcas' nephews, and this nephew's sister went on to marry a brother who is one of 24 siblings in Cabrera. Meanwhile, the brother from Missouri's cousin is here too, a 21-year old pioneer and ministerial servant, and if the girls here had their way, one of them would snag him and turn this crazy family circle into a trapezoid. My book study conductor, who is from Canada, is here with his Dominican-born wife and daughter…but then somehow his ex-stepmother, also from Canada, is in this same congregation. His wife's cousin is married to a Canadian brother who's somebody else's cousin, but at that point they lost me so I couldn't tell you whose cousin he was if you paid me. Got all that? If you do, I'll send you a prize because I'm still confused.

I think what's great about all the visitors from North America coming is that it gives these kids a chance to see both sides of the story. While they want to get out of the country, we're all flocking in, some working long hours for part of the year to be able to live here the other part. All of us that have in a material sense (and trust me, I don't have very much, but compared to what some people here have, I'm Oprah) are trying to get rid of the complications that come with living in an affluent country. That family from Nantucket I mentioned consists of a brother, his wife, and their two little boys ages 9 and 5. They've been serving in a Spanish group since their oldest son was about 2, are selling their house and are moving here next year. The sister was telling me that there are a lot of Dominicans that come to Nantucket to work, and how quickly they become Americanized by their 60-hours-per-week jobs. Many a good bible study gets lost to the rat race. They send money to their families here-thus the Escalades and Hummers and Range Rovers you see in the middle of the barrio-but no amount of money can undo the damage done to a family when the father (or mother) is gone for most of the year. Sadly, that has even happened within some congregations. It is interesting to see how, whether the country is rich or poor, materialism can be a snare wherever you go.

My attitude towards my stuff has definitely changed since I've been here. Within the first week I was here, my phone broke, and I was so upset, but when after seeing how little some brothers live with and are still happy, your attitude changes. You start feeling real dumb about whining over a cell phone. So when my beloved iPod was mortally damaged in last month's tropical storm (you remember, that whole debacle with me coming back from Cabarete on a motorcycle in the rain), I groaned, but was over it pretty quickly. Too busy being happy I got back alive that night. I never want to find myself that attached to any material possession of mine again. I've given away quite a few things since I've been here without even blinking. I hope the brothers don't take that as lack of appreciation for what I have-it isn't that at all. It's just that when you weigh it all out it doesn't matter. Its just stuff. And whatever you have in the way of such "stuff" can be gone in an instant. I don't feel like I've given anything to these brothers and sisters in comparison to what they've given me since I've been here, and I hope I can let them know that.

I say I'm glad I got here when I did because I got here a good month before most of the other visitors, so I feel like I got a chance to get to know more of the locals personally. And if I hope to come back here I'll need friends. But all life-lessons aside, every day has been like one big party over the last few weeks, and it has been so nice to meet so many from so many different places. I have a new "must-visit" list that includes Missouri, Nantucket, Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland…and a bunch of cities in So-Cal that I've never even heard of but where I know I'll have friends. Some of the visitors we've had don't even know Spanish, but their efforts to participate at meetings when they visit are really impressive simply in the love it shows for the brothers. And the locals reciprocate, because we have had some great pasaratos (gatherings) lately. But the most fun continues to be in the ministry…riding in the backs of trucks to do campo territory, stopping in a pretty meadow for lunch, enjoying the awe of the brothers and sisters of the natural beauty here, and how excited they are about service, because they've never preached like this; where you get invited into every home, and can talk to anybody you meet. Just like I felt when I first got here. I may be used to it now, even a little spoiled, but it never gets old.

Crazy experience: One morning before service, I was debating over whether to wear a cute pair of sandals or some comfortable and practical (read: not-so-cute) closed-toe shoes that day. Boy, by the end of the day I was audibly thanking Jehovah for those ugly shoes. After walking up one big dusty hill (actually, they wouldn't let me walk, I rode on the back of a brother's motoconcho), we got to another hill, Alta Loma; they call it, which just looked like jungle to me. Where I come from, that would have been landscape, a photo-op, if you will; but nooooo, somewhere in there was a path leading to the other half of the territory. The only other way to it was to get in the car and go around a couple of towns to get to that back-road. It would have taken too long and used too much gas. So the elder leading the group, Juan Carlos (who, on a side-note, is Dorcas' son-in-law), gave me the option of going back to town with another brother and sister, but this little old man overheard and said, "It's not that bad, she can handle it, there's only a little bit of that walk that's rough." Juan Carlos himself hadn't worked that territory in a while, so he couldn't corroborate or refute what the old man said, and I knew I'd be bored back in town if everyone else was here, so I said, "Aw, I'll make it, if it gets rough, I can use my umbrella as a walking stick." So we started up the ravine, which twisted and turned on a steep incline for a good 25 minutes. We went through rock, mud, bushes and brambles, roots growing above ground and vines-I felt like Indiana Jones. And to tell you the truth, I didn't do too badly. I was glad I brought that umbrella for support because my leg did start to act up, but it was such a beautiful view from up there that it was worth it. I have to give some credit to Juan Carlos and Junior for carrying some of my stuff and offering me their arms every now and then, too. Once we got to the top, we had to head down a ways through a muddy bit of forest, go up over some rock and brush, and then we were there at the road. It was such a relief, because on the way up, every five minutes, Juan Carlos would say, "We're almost there," "Just a little bit more," "Don't pass out yet," and then we'd have to walk more and be nowhere near the end. Where we came out to the road was right next to somebody's house where a bunch of people were sitting on the porch, they couldn't hide their surprise at seeing all these random gringos and Dominicans, in dresses and skirts or slacks and ties, popping out of the bushes one by one. They offered us water and let us rest for a while, and of course, we placed some magazines there. I don't think I've ever sweated so much-yet I've never felt more gorgeous in all my life.

I'll probably get to send y'all one more transmission from here after this one…and then I come home. 'Till then…

Love you all,


P.S.: Remember Pedro, from the last email, who didn't want to talk to us at first? We had our first study with him last week. I wonder if he's related to Dorcas? J

Flashback Friday: Greetings From The D.R.Part 5-"Getting My Way"

Originally Composed 12/19/07

So I'm staying on a little longer…I realized shortly after my last email that although my return flight from Santo Domingo to New York on the 28 th was guaranteed because I bought a roundtrip ticket, I'm flying standby from New York to San Francisco. Standby. On December 28th. Right smack in between Christmas and New Years' Days. Raise your hands if you've ever had to spend the night, or even spend more than 12 hours, in an airport. Not very much fun is it? Especially when you are already tired and grief-stricken, and I would have been both, because I'd have been leaving a place and people I love, and I would have commenced that journey at 4am. I just couldn't do it. Thankfully, I suppose because of wanting to keep their customers' business, airlines are becoming more flexible about flight changes…and Delta Airlines allowed me to change the date of my return to New York to January 10 th, buying me more possibility of making it onto a flight back to California as well as an additional two weeks to stay here. I won't even pretend to feel inconvenienced. The special English assembly for all the needgreaters and missionaries was this past Sunday, and upon my return from the capital for that, I would have only been left with 11 more days with all my friends here in Cabrera. Knowing I'll be around a little longer makes me at least a little more at peace with coming back to California for a while. I'm doing my best to follow the advice of a good friend and not let the remainder of my time here turn into a countdown, being so upset about the end that I stop enjoying myself. From today I have 21 more days here. But from today, I stop counting. Especially since I just found out that if I were to come back again in 2008 and stay for an extended period of time (which I' m seriously working on doing), I could still keep receiving my Social Security payments. Most brothers and sisters that are here as self-supporting pioneers have to work in their home countries and save for a while and come back and stay here in the DR, back and forth, back and forth. I wouldn't have to even do that. I could just come back here and stay…Hmmm….oh, sorry, I'm doing it again. Thinking so far ahead that I'm forgetting to enjoy this moment. Trust me. I'm learning to think very differently about that type of thing.

Now, if you think I'm going to go from here into some long, drawn-out, dramatic narrative about Tropical Storm Olga that hit here last week, you're wrong. Not gonna do it. I won't complain about the fact that by the time I got here, the season for this stuff was supposed to have been over, that's why I chose the time period I did. Not going to talk about the fact that we found ourselves in the eye of it, because during the worst of it we were at the beach up northwest of us in Cabarete, or the fact that the wind had trees swinging so wildly and rain coming at such a sharp diagonal that I felt like I was part of a CNN special report. Or how for the first time in two months I'd wished I had a TV here because that way I could start finding out about this stuff ahead of time. Nope, not saying anything. Not even about how we almost didn't get home from Cabarete that day because there were hardly any gua-gua's running, so that the only one we were able to catch only got us about half the way home, leaving us to go the next quarter of the way on motoconchos, in the wind and rain, in the dark (Yeah, that's right, on the back of a motorcycle in the middle of a tropical storm. Don't bother scolding me-I'm not proud of it, I was just desperate to get home and not be stuck on the side of a dark road all night). How finally, at one point, our drivers got too scared to go any further because they were afraid we'd die (I'm so glad we saw eye-to-eye on that), and how I don't know how we'd have made it the rest of the way home and not end up stuck on the side of the road had one of the concho guys not seen a friend of his heading in the direction we needed to go, in a pickup truck. It dropped us off back in Cabrera where there was no light to be found anywhere and the water was coming down so hard and with such force from the simultaneous winds that it hurt. Like I mentioned in a past email, Cabrera's altitude, coastal location, and drainage capacity makes it not so easy to flood, but on that night, even here I walking back to the house and the water was at least covering my feet, because it just came down so fast. But I don't even want to go there-too traumatic. I've never experienced a storm so loud and frightening that it was impossible to sleep through, and I guess it doesn't help that our roof is made of tin. But once again, in the spirit of not complaining, I'd like to focus on the positive and say that I'm glad to be alive. I think a lot of people learned their lesson from the last storm and listened to the evacuation warnings in all the areas that received them. The elders here received a call from the branch telling them to go and check on brothers and sisters and others living in rural areas and/or other places that may have been more adversely affected as soon as the weather allowed them to do so. By the following day, which was last Wednesday, the rains had subsided to only scattered showers, so an elder took me around with him and his wife to go check on some people, and thankfully everyone was ok. This was a blessing considering how many felled trees I saw on the way out into the country that day, and how much of the country I saw underwater on my bus ride to the capital for the assembly some days later. And they called this storm a light one! I guess they gauge that based on the fact that there were fewer casualties and less damage to property. One bible student did sustain some roof damage to her outdoor kitchen, but she, her husband, her three kids, and the fourth one she's got on the way are all present, accounted for, and well. I really enjoyed just being able to be with the elder and his wife and helping in showing all those ones we visited how loved and cared about they are at all times. It was encouraging even for me.

All of us who had planned to go to the English Special Assembly Day on the 16th had been told that because of the storm, there were so many detours en route to the capital that the trip was going to take an extra two or three hours; meaning a bus ride of around six or seven hours instead of the usual four. I was NOT looking forward to being in a bus that long AT ALL and I almost didn't go. I figured I didn't need to-I'd get the Special Assembly Day with my own circuit this spring and I understand Theocratic information equally well in both languages. But Natalie guilt-tripped me into going, so I was like fine, whatever, packed some sleep-inducing drugs in my overnight bag to endure the bus ride and went. I am SO glad I let her wear me down. I mean, sure, it was the same program as all Special Assembly Days worldwide (or at least in the Americas as far as I know), but all the information was tailored for those serving in the country from other lands, whether as missionaries, special pioneers, International Construction Volunteers, Bethelites, or "needgreaters" helping out on a short- or long-term basis. There were experiences and interviews of brothers and sisters, young and old, from all over the world, serving here in the DR in all such capacities. With the theme being, "We Are The Clay, Jehovah Is Our Potter," the focus mainly was on how these avenues of service can help to shape us, and how we have to keep ourselves focused and in the center of the "wheel" so he can keep shaping us to do even more. We received commendation, encouragement, as well as counsel and reminders; emphasis was placed on the need to apply oneself to learning the language of the country (Spanish) well, no matter if we serve in Spanish, Creole or Sign Language. We were warned to be careful about letting ourselves go in a spiritual sense, thinking we don't need to be as careful because we have expanded our service and therefore fooling ourselves into a false sense of security with our spirituality. Since nobody gets baptized at these assemblies, that talk is replaced by another special talk, and this one's theme was "You Make Me Remember Someone." Some may have already heard that talk, I think it might have been part of the program during a past Circuit Overseer's visit. The talk is based on the biblical references to Aquila and Pricilla, who, apparently, also served as needgreaters in their time, how special they were to Paul, and how we can imitate them even more. After the program, the friends basically took over this restaurant in downtown Santo Domingo called El Canuco, where we ate and danced until a reasonable hour ;)

I think its worth mentioning what a small world this is, when it comes to being part of Jehovah's organization. At the assembly, I was approached by a sister who recognized me from a wedding that I may or may not have been invited to (yeah, that stuff does come back to haunt you, so I'd re-think it), another from a party I went to in Hollister, CA back in September (man, I'm starting to see a pattern here), then I ran into two that I'd met in Visalia over a year ago (and we were at a wedding too, but to qualify that, there's no question as to whether I was invited that time 'cause I WAS, and besides, I'd met them before that at a friend's home-see, I'm NOT a partymonger!). Then, as I'm talking to one sister, her friend comes up and says, "Hey, are you April?" I almost denied it, I was scared to know where she knew me from. But I 'fessed up, and come to find out, she'd read a few of my "Greetings From DR" episodes through a mutual friend (and you know who you are!) and put the pieces together. Moral of the story: Besides knowing that Jehovah can always see you, most likely, no matter where you are in the world, somebody else who either knows you, or knows somebody who knows somebody who knows you, will be there too. So you might as well just be good, because you can't run and you definitely can't hide. And why would you want to? I've met so many wonderful people on this whole journey, starting from New York all the way down here to the Caribbean. We wouldn't get this anywhere else.

Awesome experiences of this installment:

It is sad how spoiled a person can get so easily, in a country where it is so easy to talk about the Bible and about God's kingdom. Every day we meet nice people, who will listen, who appreciate the good news and the hope it brings. Does it mean that everyone will let their life be changed by it? No. Does it mean everybody will become a progressive bible study? Far from it. But just the joy that one gets from having so many opportunities to even open the bible and talk about the hope we have is tremendous, and most of us, at least those who live in North America, are given fewer opportunities to do that in the door-to-door ministry. Everything that comes out of my mouth when preaching and teaching feels more and more real to me. (You know how they say you have to picture yourself in the paradise scene? Well, the other day I actually caught myself daydreaming about hanging out with a family of gorillas, of all things. It's all the preaching, I tell you.) I feel like I can "handle the word of the truth" with much more ability than I ever could before because I use it more frequently than I ever get to back in Cali. Which tells me one thing-I'm probably not looking hard enough for the opportunities. I had a great conversation with the taxi driver over the weekend, and with a Haitian man who gave me his chair to sit in while I waited for the taxi I was able to place some literature…like, seriously, I'm losing count. Today I had an experience that really proved to me that "God's word is alive," and how no amount of fancy explanation we can give compares to its power. We were working in La Entrada, a little town up the road from us, when another sister and I saw a man working on his motorcycle in a lot across from his house. When we asked if he had a few minutes to talk, he said no, which doesn't happen very often, because out here most people say the same thing as if they were reading it from a script: "I always have time for the matters of the Lord, " as if that phrase itself is the password to heaven. But not Pedro. He just kept working on his bike, even when the sister with him tried to lead him in the Dominican way by asking, " You don't have time for the matters of God?" He said that if we talked to him he wouldn't be able to pay attention because he had to hurry up and finish fixing his bike, as he had somewhere to be. Normally, I'd have given him a tract and left the situation alone, but Jehovah's spirit intervened, obviously, because I kept right on talking. At that moment, I remembered an "I'm busy" response that I learned from a pioneer from Florida some months back. I said, "Would you mind if I read you just one scripture and then we'll leave?" So he gives me the go-ahead and I said, "Let me know what you think about this," before reading him John 17:3. "Think about it," I said. "We are always in a hurry, like you are right now. In a way we have to be if we want to make a living, care for our families, etc. But imagine a life with no hurry, no rush. Vida eterna (everlasting life), to do all the things we'd like to and have the time to do them" I said. "But life's not like that right now, is it? We're constantly running, and when we're not, when we do have a free moment finally, we're still anxious or suffering, aren't we?" For the first time since we arrived, he actually looked us in our faces. " Siempre (always)," he answered. "Siempre," I said back to him. "But the life I'm reading to you about is a life without any of that, forever. What do you think?" "Should I pull out a few chairs so you two can sit down for a bit?" was his reply. "That got to you didn't it?" was what came out of the sister that was with me, which kind of threw me for a loop and I didn't know how he was going to take it. "It did," he said meekly. Got him. We told him we'd go finish the street and give him a chance to finish with his bike. We came back to where he was and he pulled out the chairs, and right then the one of the brothers with us pulled up in his truck. The territory was just about done and he was coming to take us back. "Oh no," Pedro said. "You can't leave yet. You said we were going to talk some more." We talked about him, about how his wife left him when he lost his high paying job at a hotel, because she wanted a man that had something, and she took their daughter with her. He talked about how lost he felt, how he'd been looking for some answers. We read him some scriptures and showed him how the only way he was going to find the answers he seeks was by studying the Bible, which he said he didn't even have a copy of. "To be honest," he said later, "when you first showed up I didn't want to hear anything." No, really? I thought. But I'm so glad you came back, he said. I told him that for us to hold back from sharing what we knew was the real solution to mankind's problems would be the same as having the cure for a deadly disease and telling no one. "Well, I want to be cured, then!" he said. Straight out of a Watchtower, isn't it? I left him a Require brochure and we made plans to come back with a brother on Friday. "See you Friday," he said as we waved goodbye. "And don't forget to bring me a Bible!" I was so pumped after that, I walked away and left my purse in his yard, which I didn't realize till we were almost back in Cabrera, and we had to go back. When we got there, he had it in a chair, waiting, with all its contents (which was great, because it contained my camera, ID, passport, money, cards, everything!!!!!)

Next installment-we'll talk about the pandemonium that has resulted among the local teenagers/young adults in the congregation due to the annual mass-arrival of all the single North Americans this time of year. Thankfully, I don't count. Partially, because I'm black, like most of them, and partially because at 26 years old, as far as they're concerned, I got one foot in the grave already. Thank goodness.

Till next time…by the way, if y'all ever loved me, you'd keep me, and my goal of returning here, in your prayers. But no pressure. J


Flashback Friday:Greetings From The D.R.Part 4-"A Time And A Season"

Originally Composed 12/3/07

Life in this part of the world is a mix of strange contradictions. I've sat on my balcony to get relief from the sweltering heat indoors, only to find my neighbors in shorts and sandals, stringing Christmas lights in coconut and palm trees. I've met ranch-hands and registered nurses, lechosa (passion-fruit)-pickers and lawyers, all living in this little coastal town. I've ridden in SUV's and in the beds of pick-up trucks, to teach in dusty rural towns and lush resort areas, to people in airy, three-story vacation palaces, and one-room cement blocks. Strangest to me the fact that as laid-back and slowly as things tend to be taken here, time has flown by so very fast-almost too fast. It makes me sad to think that in less than four weeks; 27 days from now to be exact, I will be on a plane to come home. I have made so many dear new friends in the congregation here in Cabrera-I'm attached especially to the kids here; they all have these smiles that could light the sky and their spirits are equally as bright. They are all learning English in school. You should hear them all practicing their English on us with their sweet little accents. I even sound like them when I speak Spanish now, dropping my S's at the end of words and turning my R's into I's in some other ones-not on purpose, but it just kinda happens like that, you know? My dream would be to stay, right here in this apartment where the cockroaches have come to respect my presence enough not to surface except if they are dying, to carry my groceries home from the market and cook everything on that gas stove, to sit out at nights with my downstairs neighbors, Ramon and Dorcas and talk about the weather, to call this place home and continue to preach about God's kingdom with the Atlantic Ocean as my background, to wake up in the mornings and from afternoon naps to the abstract orchestra of aged roosters reluctantly heralding the new day, meringue and bachata music played in houses and cars, produce trucks in which the driver advertises his goods through a loudspeaker, and motoconchos ripping through the streets…but I cannot say if even by my best efforts that could ever be-my realities unfortunately are not those of others my age. But I have come to love this place beyond my expectations, and it will be very hard to go. So I'm going to try to pretend I'm not leaving in 27 days; but rather, simply wake up and spend each one as richly as possible.

There were some that got left out of the last email AGAIN, and I am so sorry… but I promise you that the stories I'll tell when I come back will make up for it. (However, if anybody wants to read the emails I've sent out before, just drop me a line and I will gladly resend you the stories from the end of October and November, because I did save them.) Also, I apologize for not responding to any snail-mail I've been sent-to tell you the truth, I just got all letters sent to me in the last two days (Thursday and Friday, November 29 th and 30 th). The postal system is really slow here. I will do my best to sent letters back, but they may not even get to you until after I'm back in the States. But I appreciate everybody's love, support and encouragement, in all forms. It has been much needed and well utilized.

Let's see…I know it has been a couple of weeks since I've written, so I'm trying to make sure I get you filled in from where I left off as completely as possible. Although the flooding that affected other parts of the country didn't affect us, the rain was getting to everyone, making it nearly impossible to do the long day of preaching in the campo that we planned on doing because of the excess of slippery mud (we sure did try anyway!). The rains are getting farther and fewer between, and I personally am relieved. The kids threw another unannounced party at our house, which I find very flattering still, because it means that the apartment of a couple of foreign pioneers is one of the cool places to be in Cabrera. The following day, November 18th, we went to our first real party here, the (sort-of) wedding reception of Wilkins and Jamie Almonte. Wilkins is Dominican, and he married Jamie, a pioneer from Alaska who came down here to help a few years back, and that's how they met. Wilkins moved to Alaska about halfway through their courtship. They have been married about a year and a half now, but they got married in Alaska and haven't been back here since, until now. So Wilkins' mom, Rina, and RN and bible student attending the congregation here, threw them a surprise reception at her home and invited the whole congregation along with the host of North American visitors who have begun to trickle in over the last few weeks. We had a feast and ate a ton, and I have to say, these folks know how to party; even though the lights went out midway through the night, they lit candles and we kept right) on dancing. I have to admit to being quite proud of myself, as the boys who asked me to dance were kind of hesitant to do so-they all had that "oh-no-I'm-gonna-have-to-teach-the-gringa-what-to-do-out-here-but-let-me-just-pay-her-a-courtesy" look on their faces when doing so. But they all admitted to being impressed with my dancing skills, a fact for which I'd like to take this time to thank Shannon, Jay, Marisol, and everybody I used to roll with back in my days of being a Spanish congregation-groupie, before I became a legitimate Latina. The next week, Natalie gave her first talk in Spanish and did a fabulous job (I think I might have been more nervous for her than she was for herself). It isn't an easy undertaking; as many of us know quite well, getting in front of an audience as it is, but it can be especially traumatic to do so in a language that isn't yours, believe me.

The day after that, we took two gua-guas and a bus the size of a school bus to Alta Mira, an inland town where Natalie's friend Maria, and Maria's friend Tineke (pronounced Tina-kah), both Canadian girls, are helping out in the local congregation. Once again, one of the main things I've come to love about being in this country is how easy it is to start bible-based conversations pretty much wherever you are. On the gua-gua between Rio San Juan and Puerto Plata, which was so packed that a person's ideas of spatial parameters are destroyed within minutes on-board (on a gua-gua, most likely you will end up with a your arm around a complete stranger or you might go to sleep on their shoulder-that's just how it is and either you deal with it or you walk), I had one arm free with the Spanish Watchtower (La Atalaya) I was studying in hand; the other arm was on the back of the seat around some dude, probably. The girl on the other side of me kept trying to pretend she wasn't reading my Watchtower. She asked me something about switching buses and we started chatting a bit, then I said something to Natalie in English, which puzzled the girl. "You're not Dominican?" she asked in Spanish. I told her I was American and the purpose of my stay in the country, and she commended us for our efforts, then she went on to tell me that her aunt is a Witness in Nagua, not too far from us. We talked more about the importance of studying the Bible, which she said she used to do years ago but for whatever reason, she just kind of drifted away from doing it. We talked until she almost missed her stop right before Puerto Plata. Once we boarded the school bus in Puerto Plata, Natalie struck up a nearly identical conversation with an elderly man who she had asked for directions. He was really nice and equally appreciative. " Cuídense, mis hijas lindas", ("Take care, my lovely daughters"), he says as we off-boarded the bus.

When we got to Alta Mira, I found myself feeling very thankful to be staying in Cabrera. Not that Alta Mira isn't a lovely town, because it is. It's very hilly and green, kind of like what you'd expect the Andes to look like (actually, I've seen the Andes in real life and the hills in Alta Mira really do look like miniature versions of them). The air is much thinner and crisper there than it is in Cabrera. My issue with it is that it is so hilly, and and the air so much thinner, that for the first time on this whole trip, I found myself physically overwhelmed, which is not a good feeling, especially when everybody else around you is running up and down the hills and talking at normal pace, whereas I'm dragging behind, with my bad leg even stiffer and gasping for air (I can control the asthma better at lower altitudes). I literally wanted to go home. Not back to Cabrera- I mean HOME. But I'm glad I got to see it. It's poorer than Cabrera, so much so that our friends don't even have running running water, though their apartment is actually really cute. A shower consists of boiling a pot of water, pouring it into a bucket with about double that same amount of cool water, and using a pitcher to mete it out on oneself in the actual shower space. Though it was a nice change to bathe in warm water, I'll take my running cold water here any day. And it gets so hot here in Cabrera, warm water would be punishment alot of the time. And nothing beats being able to flush the toilet whenever you feel like it as opposed to doing so once a day to conserve water, as the girls only get two barrels of bathing/flushing/cleaning water a week.

Of course, in areas like that that are a bit farther from civilization, the ministry is even more productive than it is in a more established town like Cabrera (if you can believe that) where there are more Kingdom proclaimers. The congregation in Alta Mira has somewhere between 11 and 18 publishers, and the girls are operating the sound system and equipment, including microphones. There's plenty of room for growth and they could use a lot of help. When I leave, Natalie will be without a roommate, so she might move out there with the other girls to help. The congregation has two elders, one of whom, along with his wife, is a special pioneer. Here, two or three congregations at at time are assigned every weekend to clean the assembly hall in Via Gonzalez. While we were there, Alta Mira's turn came up, along with the Atlantica congregation from Puerto Plata. It was a lot of fun working there, and the assembly hall is so nice. Because of the climate, the assembly halls in this country are open-air, with just a roof supported by several pillars and beams, and an outdoor baptism pool. The grounds have a smaller buildings with walls and doors with bathrooms, offices, classrooms, dorms (for the Ministerial Training School), and apartments for the travelling overseers. I could see how a person could have trouble concentrating on an assembly program, with all the exquisite landscape around and birds and geckos paying visits. Maybe you just get used to it after a while.

The other day I was having a bible study with Cindy, single mom. I actually just found out she's going to school in Nagua for her degree in accounting, and even though she's had finals and her son Justin's two years old (enough said!) she's been faithful our studies. Her dad always kind just of sat outside on the porch whenever I showed up, without saying a word. Yesterday when I came he was in the house feeding Justin, and when we started going over the paragraphs, he left the room. Next thing I knew he came back with reading glasses and a bible. He said he wanted to look up the scriptures we were reading because he thought our bible said something different from his. So every time we got to a scripture I had him read it aloud. Sure enough, his version, which I think was the Catholic Valera (I think that's it?) said the same think with sightly different wording, even using the name Jehovah. Next thing I know, he was participating in the study-his grandkids were even helping him find scriptures! Another day I was out and I stopped to talk to a girl named Damari who worked at a colmado (small general store) but was outside on her break. Turns out she'd been studying the bible years ago but moved to the capital to find work, and she said during that time she'd really missed her study, and that she'd like to start up again but she has this crazy work schedule where the only time she could do it would be Sunday evenings after 5 pm. Sunday afternoons are the unofficial congregation Beach Day, but after we come back, Jamie (the aforementioned Alaskan-Dominican) are going to visit her. It never fails-every day that we go out, at least one person in a group gains a new student (that day Jamie and I each got one, and even crazier than that, they both had the same name).

I'm sorry this letter doesn't have the same jovial tone as my last reality is setting in that I'll have to go soon, it is getting harder to reflect on how wonderful this all as. I've been preaching up and down the street that I'm moving back, but who am I kidding? I'm tied to the United States by a team of doctors and a box full of prescription medicine and its tearing me apart. It's hard to be face to face with your own frailty, you know? I don't say this to be discouraging or negative-after all, I don't expect this to be my song forever- but I am saying it for those who do have the circumstances to do something that means something-I'm saying it so you'll DO IT. Don't wait until you get to a point in your life where you can't do as much and all you can do is wish that you could. There are tons of things we could all be doing with our time and our money, but experiences like this keep on giving to you long after they are over. So might find it hard to see where the joy is in being in a place where you may or may not have electricity or where you sit in somebody's house drinking coffee and a baby turkey may possibly pop out from under the sofa...but don't knock it 'til you try it. I'm gonna have a time getting back here, but I'm not giving up that easily-y'all know me better than that. I know now that my ultimate goal to serve long-term in a place where there is a greater need for Kingdom proclaimers and a greater appreciation for the fact that humanity needs something better, because what's out there is just not cutting it. This is my prayer, but in the end the answer might be no and I'll have to accept that. But in that instance, if my experience can get somebody else's blood pumping and encourages them to do something bigger than themselves, something that instills more love in their heart for Jehovah and for their neighbor, then I've done something right.

I love you all. I really do...


Flashback Friday: Greetings From The D.R. Part 3-"Stuffed Like A Gua-Gua On A Holiday."

Originally Composed 11/15/2007

From now on, every time I overeat, or if somebody offers me more food, and I'm just not interested, that's going to be my new idiomatic comeback. I'll explain its significance later, after I've brought you all up to speed with regards to the goings-on in the province of Maria Trinidad Sanchez.

But first off, I'd like to apologize to those of you for whom this is the first email you've received from me since I've been gone. There are some email addresses that I have either just recently obtained, or that I have just added to my address book. So that you can be caught up, I've included a statistical recap of my DR experience so far, at
the end of this letter.

Last week was the visit of our circuit overseer (would y'all take a
listen at me? "Our" circuit, I say; and I don't even live here, not
yet, anyway), which was kind of like a "spirit week" for the brothers
here in Cabrera. Salvador De Luna, and his wife, Marilyn, were born in
this country and were special pioneers here before they entered the
traveling work twelve years ago. Brother de Luna is a friendly,
youthful man (literally, I mean, like he has braces and everything!)
with a gift for storytelling. And Marilyn is the perfect compliment-he
goes off on his tangents and she just kind of makes a face like, oh
no, here he goes again. Effortlessly hilarious, he immediately puts
people at ease when talks with them, no matter who they are. My mind
didn't wander once during any of the four talks he gave during his
visit. His illustrations are wonderfully simple and effective. In
Thursday night's service talk, on the subject of "running the race"
that we do in our life course, he mentioned the fact that in our
particular race, we run as team, so if we see somebody fall, we don't
just look down at them like, oh wow, that's a shame, and just keep on
running. Rather, we reach down to help them back up again, so that we
may keep on running, together. During the portion of the pioneer
meeting that included the auxiliary pioneers, he really encouraged the
young people to make full time service their goal, and how that would
really be their road to success. Now, we hear that all the time in the
United States, but the reason that makes such a difference here is
because there tends to be a lot of pressure on young people to be the
ones to get a secondary education and make money to get themselves and
their families out of the poor conditions that many of them are in.
And I see that…there are some beautiful, wonderful kids and preteens
in this congregation; all very friendly and eager to participate in
meetings and in the ministry. But when they get to be around 16, 17,
18…that light in them just, well, dies, I guess. I guess they become
more conscious of their world, the older they become, and they want
more, and with opportunities being few, especially in little country
towns like this one, there seems to be no way out other than (a)
moving to a big city for a university education (if you can afford it)
and/or more abundant job opportunities, or (b) marrying an American or
Canadian and getting out of the country. So he encouraged the young
people who were at that meeting, and at the meetings throughout the
week, to work with the pioneers, and vice versa, so that they could
see the rewards of such a course. At the Thursday talk, he told
parents, He also gave some sobering reminders to the regular pioneers
about their conduct, saying that in this country alone, in the last
year 500 have stopped pioneering, the majority having been removed
from the pioneer list because of unscriptural conduct. That number, he
said, has even come to include some special pioneers. Nobody is exempt
from falling-if we want to be successful at pleasing Jehovah, we all
have to be on our guard, all the time.

So yeah, I'm sure you want to know if I've fallen again since the last
installment. Basically…yeah. This time I was leaving the Kingdom Hall
after the pioneer meeting, and I'm talking to this sister as we walk
to one of her Bible students' houses, and y'all know I can't
multitask. Plus, there are no laws regulating maintenance of city
streets apparently, so a six-inch-wide crack in the sidewalk is as
common as morning coffee. As I go on and on about how much I love
being in the DR and how all the hardships and adjustments have been
worth it, my sandal gets wedged into one of said six-inch cracks, and
down I go. "I'm ok," I say to the sister, who at it this point was 10
seconds away from having a coronary. She's Canadian but has been here
for many years, and is known worrier who has already been on me since
I got here because I let it slip out that I have MS. In her presence
I'm not allowed to climb stairs, sit in certain chairs, ride in
certain vehicles, use public restrooms, breathe, etc. But I know she's
just being a mother and I love her for it. I just wish I hadn't
decided to have my confrontation with the sidewalk while she was
there. The second I hit the ground, here come the Secret Service, or
at least that's when it looked like when the mass of brothers ran to
help me up. I really tried to just act nonchalant and walk it off.
That's kind of hard when your clothes have tread marks on them (I fell
into the street), and you're bleeding from your knees, elbow, and
hand. But I did attempt it. Matter of fact, I went straight to the
bible study, even though the sister I was with insisted I go home. I
looked like World War III, but I was there, and I was proud of every
scrape. But I will have to watch it from here on out. With the weather
as pretty as it's been, I can't be all scratched up going to the
beach. Band-Aids are not hot.

I'm going to have to get you some pictures soon, because you really do
need to see how we roll in service. Sometimes the territory in which
we work is in walking distance from the Kingdom Hall, so like a little
parade, you see us with our umbrellas and bags walking through the
town streets…whereas at other times, like last Saturday, when
everybody and their mom showed up because of the special week of
activity we had with the circuit overseer, we go out to work the rural
territory, which may be as far away as a half hour. Most of us don't
have vehicles, so we often find ourselves in situations like the
following: Last week, there were at least 40 people in service and we
had three jeeps that each seat five, that belong to the North American
elders that serve in the congregation, and two small flatbed trucks
that each have two-seater cabs. Technically, we had 19 seats for 40
people. Now, the same traffic and passenger regulations that apply in
the U.S. don't apply here, so with that in mind, I'll tell you, we all
got to the territory at the same time, with 19 seats for 40 people.
You do the math. But that's the norm-which also relates back to my
subject line. Hold on, hold on…I'll get to that.

It had been super hot this last week, but I love it, because it's so
ridiculously humid that you break a sweat just by blinking, so when
there is a bit of a breeze, it feels absolutely delicious. So by the
weekend, all Natalie and I were up to doing was sitting on our porch.
Plus, our power went out on Friday afternoon and still hadn't come
back on again by Saturday night, and who feels like doing anything
when there's no light? So we just hung out. Dominicans love to just
drop in on each other, so three young guys from the congregation,
Angelito, Alberty and Junior, and Junior's sister Pamela, came by and
sat around with us. The boys asked us if we could cook (Brothers: Why
is that all y'all care about? Do YOU know how to cook? Come make ME
something!). Anyway, I told them that my new specialty was plantains.
They told me to prove it, so I said they could come over for dinner
the following night, which was Sunday. So Sunday rolls around and we
still have no power, so by the light of the sun and some candles
Natalie and I cooked dinner for 5. They were supposed to come at 7pm
(or 7 "Dominican time", which is more like 7:30 or 8) By 7:30 nobody
had showed, and I was just going to call it a night until we get a
knock at the door at 7:45, and it's everybody except the boys. There
were four sisters, Vanessa, Ismeira, Diana, and Dulce, who came with a
package of uncooked spaghetti. Apparently, somebody heard from
somebody who heard from somebody else who heard from Alberty that we
were having a pasarato (party). Then at like, 8 pm, the power came
back on. The streets went bananas. People we hollering, banging on
pots, singing…it was crazy. Just then the boys, plus Diana's brother
Vitico, moseyed on in with their appetites and some CDs. The girls
left and went to the store to get more food, then when they returned
Diana kicked me out of my kitchen and made some delicious Dominican
spaghetti. We ate and danced and hung out on the porch until we got
sleepy. It was the best party that I was not even trying to have.

So yeah…the gua-gua thing. For those of you who don't know, a gua-gua
is a minibus, kind of like the little Volkswagen vans that were big in
the 70's and 80's. Technically, they seat nine. But as we discussed
previously, that means absolutely nothing to a Dominican with places
to go and people to see (or in the case of our brothers, disciples to
make). Last Monday, which was a Dominican work holiday, Natalie and I
went to Playa Grande, an absolutely stunning beach about 20 minutes
from us, with transparent blue water and miles of lush greenery on its
shores. After swimming and relaxing for a bit (I fell asleep on the
beach and had sand on me for a week afterward), we waited for a
gua-gua to bring us back to town. When it stopped for us, I kid you
not: there were 17 people already on board. I told the driver to keep
going because I wasn't going to fit, and everybody on the gua-gua
laughed "Cabes aquí, mami," said some man who was looking me at me
like I was a smoked turkey, pointing to a space like, two inches wide
next to him ("Cabes aquí means "you fit here," and unfortunately, I
think we get what "mami" means in this context.) I hesitated and
looked over to my left to see what Natalie'd say, but she wasn't
there; she'd already squeezed herself in. Then the driver says,
"¡Apúrese, señora! ¡Súbese!" ("Hurry up, lady, get in!") Natalie
nodded to a tiny-fold out seat across from Casanova, so I sighed and
squeezed myself in. I rode the whole way with my head out the window,
partially because I didn't want to watch that weird guy ogle me, but
mostly because there wasn't room to do much else. The worst part? The
driver stopped once more before dropping us off to pick up three more
people, so we were 22. We couldn't even close the door completely
Getting out was basically like playing Twister. But they get you where
you need to go-we took a gua-gua to go find the young man from the
Peace Corps that I wrote about last time (sadly, he had gone back to
the States the day before we went, we later learned. But maybe he'll
remember that he talked to some Witnesses, and that we were making a
dent here). So that's the gua-gua, and that's why I can appropriately
say "I'm stuffed like a gua-gua on a holiday," or "stuffed like a
flatbed during the CO visit."

I have a few people I'm calling on here who definitely appear to be
turning into bible students, and two actual bible students who are
doing really well. Their names are Cindy and Rosalva, and they are
both young, single moms. You find quite a few here. The student of
one sister is 19 with three kids ranging from ages 4 to 10 months.
Some of these girls are as young as 13…and it crushes you to see it.
What hurts worse is seeing so many young girls headed that
way-overdeveloped and provocatively dressed, and the way older guys
look at them…once they find themselves in that situation, they need
help. Rosalva accepted a study on the first visit, and Cindy agreed to
study after I brought her a Learning from the Great Teacher book for
her son. I read her Deuteronomy 6:6,7 and explained that before she
could teach her 2-year-old, Justin, anything, it all had to be on her
heart first. So I had her pick one of the questions in the opening of
the Bible Teach book, and she wanted to know why God permits
suffering. She apparently reads the bible on her own, because when we
went over the corresponding chapter, she flipped to the scriptures
with no problem. Rosalva is more of a challenge, not because she is
less interested, but because she lives about a 30-minute gua-gua ride
away. But to make it easier to get to our rural students, Natalie is
going to rent a motoconcho and knows how to drive it, and I, I'm proud
to say, have ridden on the back of one twice at this point! I've even
got the burn-mark on my ankle to prove it, which is very Dominican.
This trip is making a real woman out of me.


1) Times I've ridden a motoconcho (small motorcycle commonly ridden here): 2
2) Spiders of at least 2 inches in diameter that I've seen in the apartment: 3
3) Parties that other people have thrown in our apartment without
telling us first: 1
4) Haitian Creoles I've been able to witness to: 2
5) Times I have slipped or fallen flat on my face: 3
6) Times I've been bitten by mosquitoes: countless (I'm buying a net
because I'm not trying to get dengue fever
7) Times I've cooked a whole meal with the light of just one candle: 2
8) Times I've played (and won) dominoes, the Dominicans' second
favorite pastime next to baseball: 3
9) Times I've witnessed (and partaken at) the outdoor roasting of an
entire pig: 1
10) Times I've wished I were home: 0

Not that I don't love all y'all, but this is beginning to feel like it is home…



Flashback Friday: Greetings From The D.R. Part 2-"Keeping Our Heads Above Water."

Originally Composed 10/31/07

Foreword: I wrote this email as a draft a few days ago, before we got any real word on the weather situation. Apparently, in the areas of lower elevation, like Santo Domingo, and some other cities, there has been flooding, and three of our brothers have died...the last I heard, the others that were reported missing have been located. But I know that the branch will come out with information that is much more accurate and up to date than what I can report. These things feel so different when they happen physically near to you, than when you just read about them. Believe me. I know you will keep their families-and us, because they say the water might come back harder later this week-in your prayers. I hope the weather report is wrong... we did have a bit of sun today. We'll see what happens. Just know that your Dominican brothers are as fiery and spirited as ever-I love these people.

My dear friend Jonathan informed me this past Monday that the island of Hispaniola, on which the Dominican Republic is located, is currently experiencing a tropical storm. Apparently, some people have been reported dead or missing. And here
I am, having been on the DR's northern coast for a little over a week now, and I had no idea. I just know it's wet, wet, wet-when the rain comes down, it sounds as if a huge bucket's being poured on the roof of where we are. It had been raining on and off since last week, but since it's been pretty much nonstop for the last couple of days. It's slippery in places as a result, and I fell twice in one day last week, once in the morning in the middle of the town square, when Natalie and I were hustling to catch a bus, and again on the balcony when I got home that same afternoon. Both are paved with smooth stone, and I guess the flip-flops I wore were too flat. Slippery ground +flat flip-flops=me, face down on the ground, with a pink and black floral print backpack still strapped to my back, muttering a muffled, "I'm ok!" The mental picture still cracks me up, so go ahead, have fun with it. I didn't get hurt too badly, I sustained a sore arm and hurt pride, but that's about it. Before Natalie could even help me up the first time I fell, a guy screeched his bike to a halt, jumped off, and helped me off the ground. (I guess Dominican guys aren't discriminatory about klutzy girls, because the same guy tried to hit on me later that day. That's the last time I let anybody help me up here.) The winds are strong, and our little town has flooded in places, but I'm telling you, I really wouldn't have thought anything of it had I not been told that there was a tropical storm. I guess it really is true that ignorance is bliss…but at the same time I'm glad to know, because things might worsen, so I can use this as a heads-up so we can prepare ourselves if things do get serious, and so that I can remember to pray for our brothers in other parts of the island that were more adversely affected, like in the Capital, where they have poor drainage and lower elevation. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed about the change in the weather (thought it is far from cold here-I still have no need for a jacket). It makes service tough some days, and its also a challenge to go, well, anywhere, because everywhere we go we walk, unless somebody has a motoconcho, and that still does little to help me, because I don't care if I have seen whole families riding on one bikes around town, I'm not in denial about being an Amazon girl. If Natalie has already hopped on back of the bike, I'm not getting on, because I refuse to be the reason that we're moving too slow. But I am still enjoying myself, as the weather is not what I came for, and I am reminded of that every time I get to speak to an appreciative person in the ministry, attend a meeting, or spend time getting to know the brothers and sisters here.

I am so impressed by how these brothers and sisters persevere in the midst of the poverty here-it completely shames and humbles me. Everybody is willing to share what little he or she has. Even the locals are like that. In service last Saturday, in the gorgeous, grassy, coastal pueblo of Baoba, where cows roam freely and wild turkeys run around looking at you as if you're the one that looks funny (or maybe that only happened to me), I met a 90-year-old woman who lives in a one-room shack, but she still didn't hesitate to invite me in. Dominicans are very proud of their island. They know what they have in the sense that this is one of the last paradisaic places on earth, and won't hesitate to tell you how sorry they are for you for not being from here. Then you get the people living in shanty homes with dirt floors, but have flat-screen TV's and iPods. Appearance is important-I've seen some people who wear the same outfit every time you see them, but that outfit is clean and pressed-and EVERY GIRL HAS HER HAIR DONE! That is not an exaggeration, and I have even begun to feel a bit self-conscious about my wild curls. But back to the brothers and sisters, who are a bit more balanced in priorities. We were at the Kingdom Hall on Thursday for the School and Service Meeting, and the power went out. We were without light and sound for about 45 seconds before everything was up and running again, because the brothers set up a generator system using-of all things-a car battery. I love Jehovah's Witnesses! We always have a plan. Last night the Martinez family had us over for a pig roast. They set up a makeshift rotisserie in an open field in the concrete frame of what looked like was formerly a house, and had the swine turning on a big stick over a fire (pictures below). When it was done, we went back to the house where they sliced it up and served it with rice, plantains, and yucca. Their humble home felt like a mansion, so rich with people and happy sounds. I tend to relish in my privacy these days, but being here makes me see that we really do need to create more opportunities to be with the brothers while it is relatively easy to do so. It'll be harder to do that as the system winds down. Easy access to TV, Internet, or the ability to just hop in the car or on public transportation to do things, even just the convenience of having a bedside lamp that you know will turn on when you flip the switch, making staying in bed with a good book on a rainy day all the more easy to do, are all great things that I look forward to utilizing upon my return, but they can also cause us to withdraw from one another and remain in our own respective worlds if we don't make the effort not to. Life is so much richer when good friends are included in it.

At this time, I would really like to highlight the importance of camping. What does this have to do with the chronicles of my island adventure? Well, I had previously completely underestimated my survival skills, but necessity has proven me to be more savage than I thought I was, and I think that years of camping trips have helped in that. For one thing, I have become quite skilled at doing things by candlelight or with no light at all. I am now the Grand Master of cooking on the gas stove and oven (I think lighting it is my favorite part-and no, I am not a pyromaniac). That may not be a big deal to some, but these are not the gas stoves that many of us are used to-think gas stove, the year I was born. Yeah. We have this primitive little washing machine that we have to carry to the bathtub, full with water, add soap to, then start, at which point it agitates the clothes to wash them, switch to the drain valve to get rid of the dirty water, then refill the washer again with plain clean water to rinse everything. There is no spin cycle, so everything is taken out by hand, and wrung out. I just keep telling myself how toned my arms will be when I come home. It is such a low-power washer that a lot of things are just better off washed by hand, which I do. The nice part is hanging everything out on the clothesline to dry. It hangs over our balcony, so going out there and hanging things, while looking at the goings-on of the barrio and greeting the neighbors has something of a novel, romantic appeal. (I'm a nerd. You knew that already.)

Its two weeks until my payday, so I am definitely eating like a local right now. I have mastered the art of beans, rice and plantains (which I have to say I make pretty well, for being a Bay Area girl). Unless somebody has us over to eat, that's been dinner-for breakfast we have eggs, yogurt, salami, and fruit. Last Wednesday we splurged (spending about $12 between the two of us) by going out for pizza and beer at a restaurant in town called Chorri Pan. I think it's the best pepperoni pizza I've had, plus they make this garlic paste to dip it in that is "crazy delicious," as Nat would say. But mostly, we eat really simply. You can get pretty good fruit and vegetables around here, and cheaply at that. But they have to be washed with soap and bleached first, which we've been doing as we buy things. A lot of things are hard to get here in town, so we went to San Francisco de Marcorís, where they have a Super Wal-Mart-like store called La Sirena, and they have EVERYTHING. Next time I come out here I won't pack so much stuff, especially not toiletries or beauty products, because they even have an Esteé Lauder counter there. It's about an hour's trip on the bus, but it's worth it, because you can find a wider variety of packaged food items (my cherished find: Aunt Jemima pancake mix) or fresh vegetables and meats that you don't have to be as concerned about eating as what is sold locally, lots of cleaning products and housewares like we have at home, and they have clothes and electronics, too. I'll probably go back before the assembly in December and grab some cheap shoes or something.

A couple of interesting experiences:

1) Natalie and I have been trying to get the early-morning street work ball rolling out here (so far its just me and her, but maybe some of the teenagers will jump on the bandwagon while they're off on holiday or something. Anyway, we go sit on the park benches and talk to people passing by. It is amazing how people are about all things Bible-related here. The first time we did it, a sister visiting from Santiago showed us how they do it in the city, and it's so easy. All we do is, as people pass by, we holler, "Mi amigo, ¿te gusta leer la Biblia?" (Rough translation: "My friend, do you like to read the bible?") and EVERYBODY says yes. So we tell them we have something for them, and they actually walk over and come get the tract or whatever we offer, and are very appreciative. Many even stop to read the literature. We offered a tract to one man, and he said he didn't read English. Turns out he is Haitian, and there are quite a few in this town especially. The sister from Santiago happened to have a tract in Haitian Creole, and he was so happy when I gave it to him that he sat down and read the whole thing with his friends. Then he came back over to where we were sitting, and asked us if we had more for him to read. I felt so bad telling him no. I let him read the message in the Good News for All Nations book, but he still wanted more. So I'm going to try to see if I can get him some literature at the meeting (none of you just happen to have Haitian Creole literature that you could send me do you?) There is a Bible student who regularly attends the meetings named James, and he's from Haiti but speaks Spanish, too, so I'm going to see if he can teach me a greeting in that language, if I'm going to be meeting more Creole speakers. From the looks of things, I'll need it.

2) The other night, at the Internet café in town (which is where we have to go to use the Internet and sometimes either we don't have time to go, or it's closed, or the signal is out, that's why my emails are so sporadic-sorry about that!) a guy came in who, to me, looked and spoke just like a regular Dominican, started talking to Natalie in perfect, non-accented English. He asked if we were American, if we lived there in town, etc. Turns out he's from Oklahoma but has been living in the DR as part of the Peace Corps for a few years, save the times he's gone home for weddings and funerals. Nat told him about the work we are doing here as Witnesses, how we help people understand the Bible, and show them how its principles can help them to help themselves. He began to tell us how, basically he has started to become disillusioned with the work he's doing with the Peace Corps, because, as he put it, there are like 3,000 different charitable organizations here, and as much money and clothes they give, and as many houses are built, it doesn't seem to make a dent in the conditions here, because people's mentality doesn't change. According to him (and a few others with who we have spoken), a lot of people just want a handout, the root of which comes from ineffective government. He said he's come to realize that whatever is done by organizations isn't enough to change the infrastructure of and entire country. As Natalie told him, "You can't legislate people's hearts." At that point the power went out at the Internet spot and we had to leave, but fortunately, he told us what part of town he's living in, and, being that it really isn't hard to locate people, we're going over there to invite him to this Sunday's public talk and Watchtower, which I think will be great sine for one thing, the CO will be there, and also, the Watchtower is talking about ways we can show mercy. This one's a work in progress; no dramatic, climactic, assembly-worthy finish yet, but I'll keep you posted. It just shows though, how fertile the ground is here, how many opportunities can arise in places like this, and really, wherever we are, if we look for them.

I guess that wraps up my Dominican Chronicles for this week. I hope every one of you is well, wherever you may be, and if this tropical storm doesn't turn into a hurricane and wash me away, you'll be hearing another set of stories from me next week.

Love you all,


P.S.: I tried to send pictures, but for some reason I can't attach them. I'll send you all a link where you can see them all next time. Sorry about that :(

Flashback Friday: Greetings From the DR

In anticipation for my upcoming trip to Nicaragua, I dug up some of the reports I sent to my friends and family from my last needgreating experience in the Dominican Republic in 2007-2008. It'll be interesting to see if the tone of my chronicles will reflect a change now that I'm older and wiser. No, I didn't type that last line with a straight face.

Originally composed on 10/24/07

Ok, so I got here alive. We established that. Cool.

On Monday, October 22, after 5 interesting (yet fun) days in New York (getting lost, being harassed on the subway, spending time with old friends and bonding with new ones, etc.) I boarded the plane that would bring me to DR's capital, Santo Domingo. I mention this because my DR experience really did begin on that plane. There were alot of Dominicans from NY on that plane...making it the loudest, rowdiest, most unorthodox plane ride I have ever experienced-and I loved every minute of it. As soon as the "Fasten Seatbelt" light went off, people were up and about, socializing, helping each other with babies, guys getting girls' phone numbers, etc. Living in California you just don't see a whole lot of Black people who are native Spanish speakers (although we know they exist), so I have to say I was a bit in awe to see all these people who looked like me speaking the fastest Spanish you'll ever hear.

Across the aisle from me on the plane I saw a pretty woman in her 60's, talking to the woman in the seat next to her. She was holding what looked like a bible, and she appeared to be showing the other lady something in the bible. I kept looking, and when she put the bible down in the seat next to her, I could see it more closely. Sure enough, it was a New World Translation. I knew it. When the other lady that was having the bible explained to her got up to go to the lavatory, I asked the one with the Bible if she was a witness, and of course, she was. Her name is Josefina, she lives in the Bronx, but was born and raised in Santo Domingo. She was on her way to visit her cousin, who is a pioneer there. Josefina comes from about three generations of faithful servants of Jehovah. When I told her why I was going to DR, she was so happy, and kept saying what a wonderful thing I was doing. I commended her for Witnessing to the lady, and I gave Josefina a Bible Teach book in Spanish to give to the other lady (I happened to have some in my carry-on bag-that NEVER happens!), and she placed it as soon as the lady got back to her seat. Josefina gave me some money to donate for the book...then another $20 because she thought I'd need it for my expenses. I fought her on it, but she insisted, and just thinking about everything that I had just witnessed made me cry. I think sometimes we need reminder that Jehovah's people are working hard and loving each other everywhere you go, not just in your own area. She even helped me with the immigration stuff I needed to take care of after I got off the plane.

Natalie, my roommate here in DR, was at the airport when I got there. But we didn't see the Bethelite who was supposed to pick us up. So we split up and walked around looking for him, and whern I met back up with Natalie, we had found him, standing there holding up a sign that said: "Watchtower Transportacion: April Gantt" (he let me keep the sign). We went to Bethel, where we got to attend the family Watchtower study (and I commented!!!), and then got a good night's sleep in our really nice room (they even had a food basket and sodas in the fridge for us). We went to morning worship, took a tour of the branch (on which they are currently doing construction to add additional buildings). It's already a gorgeous place, with lots of greenery, and embellishment of coral (which this island is mostly composed of.). Have you ever seen a Bethel branch with a swimming pool? Yeah, its that hot here, even in the fall. Nonetheless, this country is so beautiful.

We rode the bus to Cabrera (which is my residence right now) on Tuesday afternoon, and after freshening up, we went to bookstudy. Our conductor is a Canadian brother named Ryan Koyvisto. He's been here 13 years, and in the last few, he managed to marry a gorgeous Dominican sister named Kenya, and they have a beautiful baby girl named Kiara. (That will NOT happen to me, by the way, but they are a beautiful family, and obviously a great asset to the congregation here). The family who's house we use for the bookstudy has a little boy named Davison, who was born blind. But that kid is sharp. He reads Braille, comments just based on what he hears in is always on target. He has to feel around to see who people are, but after a few times, he knows everybody. I was ready to kidnap him and bring him back to the states immediately-he's just too cute! I experienced my first DR blackout at bookstudy. It appears that they're prepared, because this happens every day. I think that within maybe three minutes, we had two candles and a flashlight, and the show went on.

So far I love this place-except the visitors we get at the apartment at night. There is a ginormous spider living in the bathroom, and the biggest roaches you'll ever see (we had one show up last night the size of, well, I can't think of anything of comparable size, but its like an two inches wide and two and a half inches long). And they fly. I was horrified. Natalie is a soldier at this point because she didn't even flinch. I don't know WHAT I'm going to do. I guess I have to try to get things done early and be in bed by nightfall because that's when they come out. I guess I've already learned on thing about myself- I'm more of a girl than I thought, because I do NOT like seeing large bugs share my space! But other than that, everybody's really nice, the living is simple, the pace is laid-back, and its just really cool to have to go to open-air markets to buy food, and bleach vegetables, and live like a missionary, even for a little while. I feel bad for poor Natalie though. She's so all-American in her appearance that the guys won't leave her alone. I blend in fine, so I'm not having problems yet. But I can't wait to go to service tomorrow. Its too early to miss home, but I do wish I could share this experience with more of the people that I love. Next email should include pictures. In the meantime, you can write me, either via email or at our address:
Calle Maximo Acosta 12, Cabrera, Province Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Dominican Republic
Natalie just got a package from her parents today, so apparently, the mail system works. But if anybody DOES decide to send me a package of anything (not that I'm soliciting, but just in case...), the best way to send it is registered mail, that way I have to sign for it. "But I'm loving everything about this so far, and I'm thankful to Jehovah, and to everybody that helped me do this, either materially or just by encouraging me to reach out and achieve my goals even if they do seem crazy. I'm gonna get home now, so we can cook before the power goes out :)

Love you all,


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Only Jehovah Knows

(Disclaimer: I'm going to try to keep this short. I think I say so much normally that I wear myself out and exhaust my word reserves to the point that I can't write any more for the next eleven months. More often than not, it really is true that less is more.)

Nearly every variable of my life is about to change, all at once. Ask me how I feel about that. Everyone else does, every single day. I actually wish someone would do me a favor and tell me how I feel about it for a change. Because I really have NO IDEA.

A few entries back I sobbed to the world about my dreams of moving to a country where there is a greater need for Kingdom publishers, and how it seemed to me to be a dream simply too far beyond the bounds of my personal circumstances. Well, I allowed myself to be inspired and encouraged by many incredible individuals-as well as by the loving program of spiritual feeding we have at our disposal-to keep fighting for a blessing. By means of a series of maneuvers that could only have been divinely orchestrated, on May 22 of this year I will be on a plane to Nicaragua for six months. I'm leaving my job, my family, my friends, my congregation-and my heart-here in the U.S. and heading off to a place I only know from books and anecdotes. Government restrictions only allow a foreigner to stay in the country six consecutive months without residency. A lot can happen in six months. I can vouch for that just by revisiting the last six months leading up to this moment.

Six months ago I had no definite plans to go anywhere or do anything outside of my standard routine. Six months ago my family was unitedly serving Jehovah. Six months ago I was debating with myself over whether to return to school in order to change jobs or to earn more in my current position. Now here I am, running far, far away; leaving behind a family bruised by the grievous effects of a disfellowshipping, walking away from the place where I've been employed for the last five years with no game plan for how I will support myself upon returning permanently. And a month ago I was fine with that. In fact, I had pretty much made up my mind that if I didn't have to, I wasn't returning long term. I'd just leave Nicaragua after six months as required by its federal law, come home to visit my parents, pick up some medicine, see a few doctors, hit a few Bay Area parties, and head on back. The unknown was sounding so, SO good to me. Sure, I'd miss everyone, but I was off to start a new and exciting life in Jehovah's service, completely breaking free of all monotony and even having the opportunity to reinvent myself among people who didn't know me and for whom my reputation had not preceded me. It was my turn. I didn't know EXACTLY how things would go but I knew it would be new. And that was exactly what I wanted. I was more than ready to let go.

Reality has a strange way of hiding in the bushes and popping out to scare you just when you are feeling blissfully secure. As my plans become finalized I can see that there are still many unknowns; the outcome of which I won't even know until I actually get to where I am going. In just over two months, my friend and future roommate, Danielle, and I will be there but we still have yet to find suitable long-term accommodations. I had a minor flareup of MS about a month ago which has left me wary about how my health will fare in the Nicaraguan climate. Other needgreaters have alerted us to many additional challenges which, though outweighed by the spiritual blessings, are still likelihoods that call into question whether or not I am truly as prepared (or as brave) as I thought that I was for third-world living (i.e. security concerns and illnesses such as malaria and dysentery). I even find myself doubting my own spiritual qualifications in the face of the needs of the congregation I will be assisting. To paraphrase the prophet Jeremiah, I am suddenly feeling like I'm "but a girl."

On top of all that-at the height of my excitement, I've begun having some issues with my heart that no cardiologist in the world could address. As I alluded to before, at the moment I leave my family in a somewhat injured state. While remaining here would do very little to change things, I still walk away uneasy. I can't help it. It's tough to to know that everyone is having a hard time and you can't even BE there to hold a hand. And here's a biggie: although I had come to the point in my life where the last thing on my mind was going from being a "me" to being an "us," THAT happened as well (see last year's post "Exiting the Friend Zone." Yeah, I didn't get to leave, I was kidnapped!). I wasn't looking for it, but it happened. It is happening, present-tense, and just as I walk out the door. It's been a lovely surprise thus far, but my best efforts to keep us as simply "friends with possibilities" are failing miserably, which leaves me with worries that were not previously an issue-like how many tears I'll cry during that last exchange, if the distance will help or hurt our budding courtship; what I'll be coming home to in six months, if I'll have anything to come home to at all, or if it was wise to let anything start in the first place. And the hardest reality of all to take? The cold truth that the only way to resolve ANY of my doubts is to let this show run its course from the first act to the last; letting time reveal what Jehovah's will is. That is perfectly logical. I just don't know if I can take the suspense. Jehovah, please help me out where I need faith!

Receiving this blessing and privilege is clearly the answer to many, many prayers. And apparently it will take even more of them to see it through. I have to do this. Not going is not an option I'm willing to entertain even briefly-my appreciation for Jehovah's kindness in my behalf simply won't allow it. I've wanted this for so long, and I don't think I could get past the regret if I let an opportunity like this pass me by. But it's strange-I have a whole binder full of articles about "stepping over into Macedonia" that all make reference to how much trust in Jehovah is needed to do something like this. I have read them all over and over again for many months. However it is only now that I am seeing that my own trust in Jehovah is about to be put to the test in ways I hadn't imagined. I've always been sort of an anxious person but I never knew just how bad my anxiety was, and how much I need to improve in leaving things in Jehovah's hands until right now. Whatever area of my life that I still believe I'm controlling, will soon be under the direct hand of Jehovah. Which really is the best place for my affairs to possibly be. Today, though, I'm feeling panicked like the sorry mortal that I am. Nevertheless, here we go. I'm about to be reset-and the only way I'll ever meet the person that I have the potential to be is to sit back, try to relax...and obey.

Oh, and I failed at keeping this short. Again.