Last night I arrived in the Dominican Republic after two flights – one from Philadelphia, and one from Miami (where I both met my colleague, Jill, and got Will Smith’s song “Welcome to Miami” stuck in my head). The flight from Philadelphia was turbulent, but I didn’t get much sleep the night before, so I was able to sleep through most of it. Once I arrived in Miami, being with another person was helpful, and the flight from there to Santo Domingo was standard, and surprisingly short.
We arrived in Santo Domingo and spent a very long time in customs. Between turning in the appropriate paperwork, buying a tourist card for ten american dollars (that serves as a tax to the city from tourists), and just getting through the lines, it too a while. When we finally cleared customs, we were greeted by Frances (the pastor of Casa Joven), his lovely wife, Loly, and three women from their congregation. I quickly discovered that the spanish dialect here is very, very different from what I learned. One of the women, Bianca, who speaks English, explained to me that in the Dominican, many of the people both use a lot of slang and they blend words together and drop syllables. It has made it difficult to communicate, but most people have been good about speaking slowly and remembering that I am not fluent.
The language barrier has been a very strange experience for me. I did not expect to be so under confident about my language, and I have never really been in a situation where English was not a regular option or I did not have a decent understanding of the language being spoken. Not only is this a challenge for me, but it has made me hyper-sensitive to the feelings that come along with it. It is very easy to feel isolated from other people when there is a communication barrier, and it leaves you very dependent on the people around you. I have been thinking a lot about how this translates into urban work in general – even when the same technical language is being spoken, I imagine that there are similar feelings between those with gaps in culture and generation. I have been diligently practicing my vocabulary, and listening to everyone as they speak. I already feel slighty more comfortable than I did even last night. I have no doubt that I will learn quickly.
After being picked up from the airport, Frances, his wife, and co. took Jill and I to dinner. Pizza Hut, to be exact, although it was a little different from what you may think. The food was very good – though, my favorite thing about Pizza Hut is the bread sticks, and here they are thin, flat, and triangular and served with diced tomatoes instead of sauce. (Not that the Pizza Hut is the most important part of my night, but I thought it would be interesting). I spent the rest of the evening driving around with Bianca to the grocery store, Jill’s home, and, finally, the home I would be staying at.
I am staying with Pastor Mario, his wife, Yolanda, and their two daughters – Susy (9), and Magda (5). I have my own room and bathroom, along with a door that walks out onto the roof. They have a beautiful garden in the back that is filled with plants, fruit trees, and a veranda with hammocks. As today was termed a “relax” day by Pastor Mario, I spent most of it outside with Susy and Magda. They played, I talked some with Yolanda, and drew pictures of their backyard. I had planned on getting some work done – since I am blessed to be living in a house with an internet connection, but the electricity went out in late morning and stayed off for most of the day. In retrospect, it was probably better that I spend some of the day doing nothing, so to speak. I needed the time to gather myself, and am already enjoying the much slower pace of Latin America.
This evening I was able to meet up with Jill and Pastor Mario for some Chinese food (that is also very different from the Chinese food we have in the states) and some good conversation about the city, it’s major social issues, the government, etc. From there, we picked up his family and drove to Guaricanos, a much poorer neighborhood in the city. Here, the streets were small and packed with people, cars, motorbikes, and more dogs than I have ever seen in one place. The people were friendly, and we attended Pastor Mario’s bible study in “Dios Es Mi Paz” – a one room church building with open doors. We sat in plastic lawn chairs, the woman next to me tied her baby to the seat with a towel, and listened as Mario presented the Word in Spanish. Since I have decided to keep a visual journal of sorts, I drew some of the people in the small congregation. The children in the service were delighted by it, and after it was over, they stood around and named the people I had drawn. It was altogether a lovely experience, and one I hope to repeat during my stay here. Once I figure out the best way, I will try and post some of my drawings here – they are a very important part of my understanding of the place I am in.
We have many things planned for tomorrow, and now it is getting quite late. I am excited for the work we are doing, and looking forward to adjusting to this new place and culture!
Buenas noches! (Good night!)