Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Life in Small Pieces

The night after the big spider spotting (we haven't seen it since, but we know it is out there!) we decided we needed to do laundry. Two of the guys at the school came over and helped us move the machine from the living room to the concrete outside so we could hook it up. We figured it out, got it working and started on our first load of laundry. When Regan was hooking up the washing machine he teasingly hooked the drain line over the bars behind the washing machine asking whether we wanted it to drain into the porch. I, having nothing else what-so-ever on my mind, forgot that it was still there (hooked over the bars) and drained most of our first load of laundry onto the patio. Way to go, Christy! Rachel and I made a mad rush to move the hose and mop the water off the porch. Fun times.

The problem with that it is outside. This means that every time it rains, as it did last night, it fills up with water so we have to run the spin cycle to drain it. That is not such a big deal. Then opening the washing machine is always a bit of an adventure, as you never know what has crawled inside of it during the times between loads. This morning I was lucky and found no creatures waiting for me (though apparently frogs really like to climb inside.) Additionally, the cut off valve to the machine doesn't always work so when you put it in spin you have to turn the water off to the machine. This too is only a minor inconvenience. The biggest problem, as I have mentioned, is that it is outside. Do you know what else is outside? That's right, kids, SPIDERS! I have a load in right now, and when it is done, I will have to hang it on the line in the backyard where the grass is about 6 inches tall...I have to walk into the grass...ok, I know I am silly, but I KNOW there are spiders in that grass. We are not talking about normal household dime size spiders either. After the initial spider spotting I went online to try to find what was indigenous in the DR.
So I just went out to check my laundry, and the machine is not working at all today...water goes in and drains right out without filling up the tub (which miraculously hold rain water but not washing water apparently.) So, since my laundry is already partially wet, I will be doing it by hand! Oh joy unbounded! (Unfortunately, I will still have to enter the yard to hang it to dry. *grimace*)

On a more positive note, I want to share with you some of the objects I have really learned to love in my time here:
Ode to the Water Bottle
Oh waterbottle, container of energy,
you fill up my dehydrated body while
reminding me that someone I love, loves me too!

Leah gave me this beautiful candle and candel holder (I wrote about it previously) which has proved tremendously useful.

Things just take longer here to do than they do at home. Most of the time we re-rinse our dishes in bleach water before using them (because who knows what has been in the cabinet in our absence). You don't put the coffee in the coffee maker the night before and walk away, leaving the automatic timer to drip it to perfection. Counters have to be wiped down constantly because of ants, the floors get filthy quickly. There is no water pressure, so showers take longer (and you girls know what I am talking about - washing long hair with no water pressure takes forever.) But, all in all its not so bad, once you get used to the process. We are getting more efficient each day. This morning my Rachel went to school at 9 (and I think Kimberly is still in her room) so I got up about 9.30, washed some dishes, cut up a mango, and had a lovely bowl of cereal.

OK, so enough about me and my life. Let me tell you about some of the fantastic people I work with:

Trevor (?) was the youth group leader of the team that came down to help up paint, clean, rearrange for the school year. The group was GREAT. And we are so thankful for them. (Yes, ladies, as far as I know he is single and as wonderful as can be, but he is also 22ish and lives stateside.) He graduated from CIU. Actually there are 5 CIU alumni at this table. *Starts singing, "Columbia alma mater, thy name we do adorn...."*
Karyn Staats is between Trevor & I. She also graduated from CIU and is the English teacher for the Jr. High and Highschool and the girl who was waiting for me at the Airport in Miami. She has been so much help, and has a true servant's heart. Her home room is beside mine, and she has been very helpful with thoughts of how I can prepare and otherwise accomplish things. I look forward to knowing her better over the year, and to sharing with her the struggles of teaching jr. high and highschool.
At the head of the table is Leah Law. She was my connection with Jarabacoa (we went to CIU together) and kindly offered me a job here. It would be hard to know where to start to explain to you all of the things that Leah does for the school and for us as her friends. Officially she is the director for Pre-K through 2nd Grade, but she does so much more than that. It was Leah who picked me up at the airport, who shuttles us all around, and honestly, she is the one who looks after us and our well-being. Tonight is her birthday (saturday) so please say prayers for blessings for her on this special day.
Next to Leah is Karen Speciale. She is the French teacher for 5th - 11th grade. Karen and her husband, Dan, and two boys, Danny and AJ, moved here from Delaware. She is Dominican though she was raised in the states and is 100% american (imho.) She speaks English, Spanish and French and often helps translate in meetings and such. She is also a spitfire and a ball of energy. We usually eat lunch together, and it is nice to share experiences of adjusting to the culture. Karen makes me laugh, and some days that is worth more than money!
Beside Karen is Rachel, one of my wonderful roommates. She is teaching 2nd grade and has been a teacher in the States for the past 5 years. She also speaks Spanish, so whenever we leave the house, I become quite dependent upon her. We have already fallen into small routines. We share coffee in the morning before school, we grocery shop together and often prepare meals together. She is passionate about God and is a great encouragement to me day to day.
Christy Elmer, another CIU graduate, is the other 2nd grade teacher. Christy and I crossed paths at CIU but never knew each other extremely well. Getting to know her here is a delight. She is kind and gentle and whenever I see her my spirit is glad.

There are many more teachers, hopefully I will have a chance to tell you about each one. It is unusual for me to be in a place of such obvious dependency, but the more I learn about the school and life here, the more obvious it becomes how very much I need each and everyone of these teachers. We all have special roles here, and special talents. It is hard being as independent as I am to understand that we are truly connected and mutually dependent on each and everyone of the staff. It is hard...and beautiful.

I have many more thoughts that I want to share, and will try to post again before the end of the weekend. Maybe tomorrow will bring me time to rest and reflect. Grace and Peace to you all. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

P.S. We got one toilet seat! Yay! One down, one to go!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lesson plans, Car Chases, Fantastic Pineapple & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Life proceeds as is its custom. Yesterday was our first teacher training day. I hunted down about half of my textbooks (the other half has not yet surfaced.) I spent last night working on the syllabus for my 11th grade class. I am super optimistic I am sure, but it is a start anyway. I am going to do it quarter by quarter, so one class down, 5 to go. I am more concerned about the challenges of the younger classes than of the older, though our French teacher, Karen, was very encouraging today when she told me that she taught Jr. high in the public schools in the States and she loved it. Sadly, I am enough of a nerd to really be loving lesson plans, and the thought it takes to create them. They are time consuming, but they also scratch a part of my brain that has been itching since I graduated from UNCC.

The school will have just over 250 students. I will have about 50 between all my classes. A church group is in painting and cleaning the school and we are SO thankful, because there is no way we could plan for school, adjust to living and setting up house here and manage to paint and clean. When I saw them working today I wanted to hug them. Please thank God for this group of willing teenagers/college kids that are ministering to us through their service.

I was sitting in the Director's office today and looking out the window behind me and was overwhelmed with how beautiful the landscape is around me. The sun was shining down and there was a breeze blowing through the palm trees and the mountains in the background were gorgeous. I forget when I am in suburbia how much the outdoors ministers to me, and how much I love the mountains (especially tropical mountains.)

Today we went into Jarabacoa to open bank accounts (our salary is direct deposited.) We rode in Leah's mitsubishi SUV type vehicle (7 of us) and on our way back to the school while negotiating traffic a hatian in a blue baseball cap on a passola (carrying a pick-ax) ran into the side of the car. He kinda ricocheted off the vehicle and his bike stalled right in front of us. Traffic was backing up behind us and Leah was waiting for him to pull out of the way and wait for us to assess the damage. Instead, once his passola started, he took off. Leah took off after him trying to catch up to him to at least get him to apologize (since the chances of him having insurance or any way of reparation was slim.) A chase ensued. Here we are, 7 of us, bouncing through the 'streets' (and I use that word loosely) of Jarabacoa trying to catch the run away motorcycle. I don't think Leah knew exactly what she would do if she caught up to him at this point. Jokes were made about 6 women and one man facing down a man with a pick ax. At one point we lost him, and turned around to head back to the school (our chase had taken us in the opposite direction) and just like a movie, about a minute later he pulled out of a side street right in front of us, looked back over his shoulder and took off as fast as he could. It is really amazing he didn't kill himself given that he was looking over his shoulder as often as he was looking ahead to negotiate traffic. Finally he broke away by squeezing between vehicles, people and buildings that Leah's car wouldn't fit through. The whole adventure took about 10 minutes, but seemed completely surreal at the time as a car full of missionaries partook in a spontaneous car chase. I am sure that was only the first of many unexpected adventures here.

Sunday night I made scones in our little plastic propane oven. I was very proud of myself, and enjoyed going through the process of something home-like and familiar. Yesterday afternoon my roommates (Rachel & Kimberly) and I walked into town and bought fruit from the fruit market (A Pineapple, two Mangoes, Grapes and Plum and a Peach) and veggies from the veggie market (Lettuce, Tomoatoes, Peppers, Onion, Avocado, etc.) and regular groceries from the grocery store (Soap, Cheese, Yogurt, etc.) Here, they suggest that you bleach your fruits and veggies, so we went through that process. Rachel made omelets. It was a successful day. This evening we cut up the pineapple (oh, tropical fruit is soooo good in the tropics) and we made chocolate chip cookies. So, we are learning to operate in our new environment. The refrigerator has only been working sporatically, (probably due to the brown-outs and power outages) but was fixed today and so far is still working. Please pray that this continues to be the case. Apparently, the method for fixing appliances here is trial and error. They don't take amps and readings, etc. to try to ascertain problems; they just start replacing parts until they get it right. We still don't have toilet seats *shrug* all in due time, I guess.

There is so much to tell and it is hard to decide what to share, so I will end by relating an encouraging discussion I had with the director this afternoon:
We were discussing scripture and Malachai chapter 3 where God is reminding Israel not to be discouraged by the apparent prosperity of the wicked, and encouraging them that His promises will be fulfilled. It is so easy to look at the world around us and all of the ugliness and corruption that is a result of man's sinful nature, and we feel discouraged. It is hard to watch the wicked prosper while the righteous face persecution. It is hard to remain faithful when the pay off only seems to come to those who take short cuts and follow their own desires. Reading Malachai there is a bittersweetness. God made these promises to israel but it was 400 years after Malachai spoke to the Israelites before God's promises were fulfilled - they were fulfilled however. It is hard to look at my own life, to look at all I desire and to see the evilness in the world around me and to see the flaws in my own self. It is easy to get discouraged and to think, "God, I cannot wait 400 years!" Allowing God to work in his time is so difficult. Every ounce of my flesh cries out in rebellion. But in the midst of my despair, I have hope. Hope that there is more to this life than my desires. Hope that there is a bigger picture and purpose for my existence. This next year feels in many ways like I am putting my life 'on hold' but I know that what is happening is exactly the opposite. For the first time in several years I am actually accomplishing something. I am responding to a calling and experiencing (in the midst of all the chaos and stress) more peace than I have in ages. That doesn't mean that I won't be discouraged, or that I won't call home ranting about the perils of another culture, or crying because of the effort that I have to put forward everyday just to survive...but I know that for this day that has just passed, that I am exactly where I was made to be, and I can only offer praise that God blesses me in the midst of my discontent and provides such richness in the moments of duress.

Please continue to pray for me. Finances for everyone here are tight. It is hard to know that you have to count every peso when you purchase food or buy cleaning supplies. There is a Dengue epidemic here at the moment and we cannot afford screens. Not having power from time to time makes creating lesson plans at night more difficult, and our internet sometimes works great but often is slow as molasses. We also are all very dependent upon each other, which is wonderful, but also means that we have to be gracious and forgiving and focused on not taking out stress out on each other. I really love the other teachers at the school and I am encouraged that exhorting each other is a priority.
(And my roommate just found a tarantula type spider on the back porch and completely freaked out - God help us. Three women who are terrified of spiders living in one house!)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Trials of Travel and the Blessings of Friends

Upon embarking on a trip, especially one of extended duration to a country of uncertain commodities, we all know to expect certain setbacks. This trip has provided its share.
Thursday (the day before I left) brought two inconveniences. First, my ipod kept popping up the 'sad ipod icon', so I took it into the Apple store genius bar to see if they could tell me what the issues were. They promptly said that the hard drive was dying, and that they would send me a new ipod of that exact version but it would be 5-7 business days. So, I am sans ipod. The good news is that my ipod had only 5 days until it was out from under warranty, and so I am thankful it decided to self-destruct when it did. Secondly, my father kindly purchased a small mp3 player for me to take so I am not entirely music deprived. (Thank you, daddy!)
Thursday afternoon we found out that there is a baggage embargo (at least to the DR) until August 12th, which means that no extra bags can be checked. This meant repacking everything into two suitcases...which boils down to me having the bare essentials and not much besides. (Though, praise the Lord for laptops & internet...they eliminate the need for many other bulky items.) So, I find myself down here with far less 'comforts' than I anticipated. In the repacking, I managed NOT to pack several things which I wish I had, including any shorts. (We don't generally wear them out and about around town, but sitting in the 80+ degree apartment, it sure would be nice to have a pair of shorts.) Tessa suggested that God must really want my attention since I have limited things to distract me: not much music, few books, etc. I am embracing this perspective as it provides meaning for these momentary and light afflictions.

(As I type this to you, we have no power. I am sitting in the pitch blackness except for the cheerful glow of my laptop. Welcome the the DR.)

I thought I might not get here on Friday. My flight was half an hour late leaving from Charlotte, and then we sat on the tarmac at Miami for half an hour. I ran from miami terminal D to terminal E and saw Karyn ( a fellow teacher) waiting for me. Praise the Lord! We boarded the plane and I arrived safely. The flights themselves were not bad, but not having a lay over in Miami means I didn't get the mail sent (all the lovely letters I had written) so I will have to figure out how to get things to the US from here.

My apartment is actually the bottom floor of a house, and quite large. My roommate, Rachel, came in this morning and we have been busy shopping and trying to settle in.
Settling in is a little surreal. We keep coming across things we need (as is to be expected) and I think, "I have that in the States, I will just bring it back." or "I can live without such-and-such, can't I...but for an entire year?" It has not sunk in yet that this is home. I know that there are trials ahead in this area. But we will face them as they come, I suppose.

Things here, so far, are just as expensive as back home, which is shocking and kind of frustrating. Actually many things are MORE expensive. Anything made of plastic costs about 5x's as much here as home. This might not seem like a big deal until you consider all the plastic things we use in our utensils, trashcans, hangers, etc. And so far there have not been many metal or wooden alternatives. We ploughed through $100.00 today, and came home with far less than we would have stateside. This makes no sense (ok, from a broad economic perspective, it makes sense...) to me. In my opinion, if I am not making any money because the country is poorer and has less money to give a working person, then why are goods so expensive?

On a brighter note, my colleagues here threw me an improptu birthday party tonight. We had porkchops, salad, potatoe chips, devilled eggs and watermelon followed by a fantastically luscious carrot cake. Leah gifted me with a candle, which has appropriately been put to good use as Rachel has lit it to sit here and read by. She thanked me for being born on today so we would have light - I told her to thank my mom. :-)

Well, that is something to start with. I hope by the time you see this that I have some pictures imbedded. (At the moment I cannot write the HTML as I cannot access the flickr site they are hosted on for their address. No power means no internet). *laugh* There is so much God wants to teach me. I pray I will be emboldened as I pursue Him. I still feel utterly unprepared for this, but I cling tight to the words of Proverbs 31 about "laughing at the future". Ultimately, there is only one thing that matters, and neither death, nor lack of electricity, nor no toilet seats, lack of refrigeration, misquitoes, flight delays and all other hinderances can keep me from Him. I think knowledge of that is what this trip is really about.