Leaving my family and mission team at the airport was a difficult, yet exciting experience. I hugged each member of the team, saying especially difficult "see-you-laters" to my grandmother, my sister, and Kayla. I was heartbroken to walk outside and leave them there, but I was also extremely excited to start my new life. This was the moment I had been waiting for for the past three months. This was the moment when my old normal ended, and my new normal began.
We left the airport, dropped by the resort where some of the other team members would be staying for a few days, grabbed some Burger King (yes, really), and went to my new home. I soon found out that I would not even be staying in my new home that night, because all of the cousins were getting together for a sleep over that night and then having a photo shoot the next day! I was totally shocked and honored to be invited to such an intimate family event. One of the cousins and her husband live in Spain, and they were visiting for a couple of weeks. They had never gotten formal wedding photos taken, so they wanted to do that now with the family.
We spent the night talking and laughing and having a great time. With my extremely limited knowledge of the Spanish language, understanding one person talking very slowly is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for me. But with seven or more women in the same room going at it at the same time, I was completely lost. I spent the whole evening just trying to pick single words out of the conversations to know what was going on. It was exhausting, overwhelming, and a little discouraging. But I also just enjoyed watching them interact and laugh and have a great time together. We put seven women in one bedroom (it had A/C) and slept for a few hours.
I also brushed my teeth with the tap water for the first time! None of the tap water in the Dominican Republic is safe to drink, even for the richest of the rich. Each year when we came to camp, we were instructed not to even use it to brush our teeth. But now that I am living here, I figure I should do as the Dominicans do! I have been waiting and waiting for the stomach upset that I had been conditioned to believe was inevitable, but I have yet to be affected by it. My dental hygiene and other functions are great!
Anyway, we all woke up early the next morning and the cousins started getting ready to have their pictures taken. The eldest cousin, Paola, did everyone's make-up like a professional. They did their hair, put on their dresses, shoes, flower crowns, and jewelry, and in just five short hours everyone was ready to go! I stood near the photographer and took pictures on my phone so that they would have some pictures to look at that day. It was a great time, everyone looked great, and the pictures were perfect.
Saturday was finally a day of rest. I think that is the day Natali and I put post-it notes on, like, everything in the house to help me learn the Spanish words. Natali is Paulina's daughter who lives with her, and who I am lucky enough to be able to call my new sister. She has become such a great friend to me. I haven't been lonely at all during this transition because she and I have spent so much time talking and laughing. She speaks wonderful English and is really the only reason I have been able to communicate with anyone. She is always willing to help me communicate and answer any crazy question I might have.
The next day, Dr. Jeanne Prickett, the president of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and Sra. Carmen Castro, president of a school for the deaf in Colombia, came to visit Paulina and see the school here. Over the few days they were here, the three women established a friendship and partnership that will surely benefit the deaf in all three countries. God is so good! We all went to a beach called Las Terrenas in the northern part of the country with my new cousins and more of the family. It was absolutely beautiful. We spent the day eating and swimming and then went to a city called Nagua, where more family members live.
On Monday, it was time to go to work at the school. The teachers needed to finish their grades, and I was just kind of there. But that morning, I made the mistake of telling Jhonson, Paola's husband, that I know how to drive stick. He then told me to get in the driver's seat of the guagua. Always up for a new adventure and figuring I would just drive to the entrance of the neighborhood, I agreed. When we got to the actual road, he told me to continue. I was hesitant, and quite frankly very nervous, but I safely drove us all the way to the school! There wasn't much traffic and it is a pretty easy drive, but it was still definitely different than driving in the States!
Later that afternoon, Paulina took us to see the progress on the construction of the new school. I was in total awe. It will have 10 buildings, with two to three classrooms or offices in each building. The classrooms are gigantic and have windows on both sides, allowing for a much nicer breeze in the classrooms. There will be a playground, a basketball court, a garden courtyard area, and an actual cafeteria. This school was supposed to be ready when classes resumed last August, but it is still no where near ready. The potential of this school is incredible. It will be able to hold so many more student who are right now on a waiting list, unable to access an education. As it is government funded, it will be well recognized and the education and employment opportunities for these children will increase tenfold! This is such an exciting time in the growth and development of the Deaf Community here in the Dominican Republic. Any prayers for speedy construction would be much appreciated.
The next day, the students got to go to the school to pick up their report cards. When the students saw me, they were completely shocked. None of them actually believed me when I told them I was staying! Seeing them after camp was like a dream come true. It really hit me for the first time that I will get to work with these children every day once school starts back in August.
Once all of the kids had left, Natali and I took my first public car home. At one point, it was me and her in the front passenger seat and four grown adults in the backseat. This is apparently the norm for this kind of transportation. It is very cheap, but it is also hot, sticky, and can be dangerous. Another check on my become-a-Dominican card! (This picture was taken in the first public car, before we squeezed into the front seat in the next one.)
Wednesday was a pretty relaxing day. I put up my own decorations that I had brought from home in my new room (hammering nails into concrete walls is no small task!) and finally moved all of my stuff into the bathroom, instead of living out of my travel bag. But that night, I had another new experience. We ran out of clean water. I'm like 95% sure it was my fault that we ran out before more got delivered because I drink so much water, but it was still alarming. For me, at least. No one else in the house seemed the slightest bit concerned! For the next day and a half we didn't get have clean drinking water in the house! But we had juice and soda and we spent most of the next day at Paulina's sister's house visiting wish the cousins, and they had water. So, I survived!
Friday we headed to Nagua again for Paulina's mother's 80th birthday party that was going to occur the next day. It was Natali's birthday, so we started the day off with a bunch of birthday songs on YouTube and we spent the evening with a lot of the family members. Or, rather, what I THOUGHT was a lot of their family members. Come to find out on Saturday, I had barely met any of the family. Probably more than 50 family members came to the birthday party on Saturday. And this was just the close family! We had a wonderful day celebrating the matriarch's birthday and came home that night.
The next morning, I woke up very early with a very upset stomach. I was so embarrassed because I was sure that it was my weak American stomach not handling the food well from the previous day, or thought that brushing my teeth with the water was finally hitting me. But it turns out that almost every single person at the party had gotten sick. I know I'm a terrible person, and I didn't WISH sickness on anyone else, but I was a little relieved that it wasn't just me…But I learned that fresh squeezed lime with a little salt and water puts a stop to the runs real quick! The in-town family came over and we visited and said goodbye to Diokely and Fernando, who were leaving to return to Spain that evening.
Yesterday, I did laundry here for the first time! The hose shot out of the dryer and got water all over the place twice while I was rinsing the clothes, but other than that it was a total success! After I hung up all of my clothes on the lines outside to dry, it started to rain, so Natali and I rushed to hang them up inside. Then it didn't rain…of course. I started my new grad school course, finally got this blog set up, and had a relaxing day.
Today, we picked up some more guests who will be staying with us for a bit and have had another nice day. Now you're all completely caught up! I promise I won't wait so long to post next time so the posts won't be as long! God has been so unbelievably good to me in the way of people He has placed in my life, luxuries I still get to enjoy, and health. My Spanish is improving a little bit every day, and I am so excited to wake up every morning and see what new experiences God has in store for me.