Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

of blindness and dishwater (a reflection on lent and privilege)

Do you ever have something that you notice, sort of make a mental note of, and then move on with life, not exactly forgetting, but not really understanding either?

down a dirt road in the DR...

For example: I distinctly remember being in the Dominican Republic where I had been working for the summer with a mission organization called Students International. One of my friends, also working with SI, was from a village a few hours from where we were there in Jarabacoa and so one weekend we went for a visit, to stay with her family.

Their house was spotless, despite the dirt floors and lack of what, growing up in suburbia, I would have considered essential modern conveniences. Like hot water, or even a shower that worked by turning on the knob, rather than filling a bucket overhead. The family’s hospitality was warm and inviting, and it was a fantastic weekend all the way around. But randomly, one thing stuck in my head—the washing of the dishes. The family’s house was really more like part of a compound of extended family, each house surrounding a sort of outdoor common area, where the ‘kitchen’ was. That was where the washing up of the dishes happened as well.

What I noticed was, rather than fill up a large tub with soapy water and proceed to clean, the women in the family, for they were the ones washing the dishes, cleaned each dish individually, using a small amount of water and then rinsing it, using that water to wash the next dish. I noticed it because it was so different from the only way I had ever experienced hand-washing dishes—either at my paternal grandmother’s house in Mexico, or at my maternal grandparents’ summer cottage (does that sound pretentious? If you saw the ‘cottage’ which is beautiful, but built in 1900, it is a bit less so than you might imagine) in Upstate New York—which began with the filling up of, typically two big tubs, one with soapy water and one with rinse water. My cousins and I always tried to get to be the ‘rinser’ because that was clearly the easiest job, when compared with washing or drying.

Malawian women cooking 'nseema'

A few years after that trip to the Dominican Republic I had the opportunity to be in Malawi, in Africa, as a photographer with another group of short term missionaries who were visiting various sites working with AIDS orphans as well as micro-finance and development projects.

On one of those days in Malawi we were at an ‘after school center’ which was more like a concrete slab with a roof over it—a definite improvement over the alternative of open air and dirt floor. As we were singing and playing with the kids, I watched the women (yes, again women) who were cooking the lunch—nseema, a corn porridge type meal that is common in Malawi. I also noticed that, again, as they were cleaning up, there was no large tub, but each dish was washed individually, using the water to wash the next dish.

I’m embarrassed to say that there was part of me that thought that they clearly did not know how to wash dishes. Everyone knows that you have to fill up a big soapy tub, to really get them clean…right? Thus thought the girl who grew up with a dishwasher, the machine kind, in the house…

It was not that I was pondering this issue of the dishes in my day to day life, but somehow both experiences stuck with me and sort of just sat there, somewhere lodged in my memory. Like a seed, dormant, waiting for the right set of conditions in which to germinate.

It was not until a few years later, as I was spending more and more time in my grandmother’s house in Baja, and as that summer had been a particularly dry one, with frequent water outages, that it occurred to me what was going on.

On that particular day we had been without water for a few days, and so the little that I did have, I was trying to conserve. I couldn’t wait any longer though to wash the dirty dishes in the sink, so I began with just a bit of water, in each dish, using it to then wash the next dish. Perhaps it was something in the act of that ritual that triggered it, but all of a sudden I had an epiphany, of sorts, as though finding the last piece of a puzzle that you’ve been working on for a long time. So that is why they washed the dishes the way they do…

The thing is, growing up, my limited hand-washing dish washing experiences had been in places of plenty, of abundance. No one had to carry the water we used—we just turned on the tap. No one had to light a fire to heat it—we just turned on the tap. There was no wondering if there would be enough water to last until we could get more—we just turned on the tap.

That ability to turn on the tap, of course, makes it so easy to use as much water as we please—something I’ve come to call the ‘ease of waste.’

But, even more than that, the ability to turn on the tap is what kept me blind to the reality of my friends there in the Dominican Republic, and of those women in that village in Malawi.

It’s not that running water is bad. Or that washing dishes in the two tub manner is inherently evil. What I find troubling is the way that my own privilege could have kept me from seeing—and not only that, it actually determined what I was able to see. The lens through which I viewed the world led me to assume that this other way was not simply different, but was, in fact, inferior. Ouch.

That, it seems to me, is the danger of such privilege. The underlying assumption that someone else is not just different, but is wrong, without a deeper understanding of why that difference exists. Were it not for my own experience of ‘drought’ it’s likely that I would have continued on in my blindness.

We are, as it happens, approaching the season of Lent. Lent, the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (often spoken of as 40 days in duration), is a season of preparation—a preparation that is typically seen as involving some form of self-denial. This can take the form of giving up chocolate, or sugar, or alcohol or some other chosen ‘vice’ or ‘indulgence’ as a way of dedicating oneself to God. Many are critical of the practice—seen as an excuse to go on a diet, or a denial of that which is pleasurable simply for denial’s sake.

But I wonder, and I’m pondering, as I consider Lent this year, if there might not be another way to approach this season. Might Lent, instead of simply being a time to ‘give up’ something, be a time to enter into something more deeply? Might there be a way to allow Lent to help open our eyes, to shed light on the blindness that a life of privilege can bring?

Might Lent offer an opportunity to pause, to reflect, and to stop filling those tubs of water all the way full…?

(She ponders, as she types it out on her MacBook Pro…)

dr musings: june 21, 2003

What a week it has been! Some highlights…

Last Thursday Vanesa, Chami (Vanesa’s sister) and I drove Lowell’s red pickup truck down the mountain to Santiago for the evening. As I was the only one with a driver’s license, I was doing the driving. Jarabacoa, where we are living, is in the mountains, so we had to take the rather windy, narrow road down to Santiago, amidst all the crazy Dominican drivers.

A little ways into our drive Chami said, quidado (be careful) there are policia coming up. I wondered how she knew that there would be police coming up, but slowed down—I have no desire to see a Dominican jail! I never saw the police, so sped up again. She said, be careful, there is another one up ahead. At this point I was confused, so I asked her, really, I don’t see any police. She said, see, there they are, in the road, pointing to a speed bump. Apparently the word for speed bump means “police laying down!”

Another fun moment driving was when we got to Santiago, which is the second largest city in the DR, next to the capital, Santo Domingo. I had no idea how to get to the mall where we were going to dinner in the food court (Pizza Hut, a favorite here, and which I have had more in the past three weeks than the previous three years I think!) and a movie (Daddy Daycare, which was in English with Spanish subtitles), so they were giving me directions, in Spanish. One thing I learned…the words for “to the right” and “go straight” are very similar in Spanish! After a few wrong turns, we did make it to the mall.

Over the weekend I went with Anyely to La Romana, which is where she is from. We took a bus to Santo Domingo (a two hour ride) and then another one from there to La Romana (another two hour ride). The second bus driver was talking to us before the bus left, asking us if we were sisters. The funny thing about that is that Anyely is black. She said to him, yes, we are sisters, just with different fathers.

On Sunday night we went to her church, which is Assemblies of God. The service started at 5PM and we did not get out until 8:30PM! To top it off, it was of course very hot, with no air conditioning, and the church was packed out—about five hundred people. We had three of Anyely’s young nieces and cousins sitting on our laps the entire time.

The sermon was preached by a visiting evangelist. After she was done preaching she had an altar call for people to come forward to become Christians. She looked at Anyely, motioned toward me, wondering if I wanted to come forward. Anyeyly said, no, she is a Christian. I hadn’t noticed that none of the other women were wearing earrings and apparently this was a sign that I was not a Christian—oops. I have had a number of opportunities to observe different churches, and the expectations—it is fascinating to me.

The craziest part of the whole weekend had to have been on the trip from La Romana back to the capital, where we were staying the night so that we could go to Pizza Hut and a movie (do you see a common theme? Really, I am doing some work here!) We had to take a ‘moto concho’ from Anyely’s house to the bus station. This is a motorcycle taxi. The catch was that Anyely was bringing back with her a printer (in a plastic grocery bag that I was carrying), a mixer (in her backpack), a bag of puppy chow (also in her backpack, and much cheaper than in Jarabacoa), and I had a full backpack with all my stuff for the weekend. A guy drove up on a motorcycle and said he would give us a ride, to which Anyely answered, no we need two. He said, no, you can both fit. So, he took the printer, set it in front of him on the motorcycle, took my backpack, set it on top of the printer, I got on behind him, smashed up against him, and Anyely behind me, with her backpack on, and me holding another purse full of her clothes—it was crazy!

One other slightly crazy part, was that night after the movies (by the way, the printer, mixing bowl, puppy chow and backpacks full of clothes went with us to the movies!) we took a concho, which is a typically beat up compact car which acts as a cross between a bus and a taxi. The conchos are only 6 pesos (right now about 25 cents) and pick up people along the road as they go. So, here we were, with the printer, puppy chow, mixer and backpacks, getting into a concho that already had three people in the back and one shotgun—Anyely got in the front, and the printer and I got in the back, with the three other people. After a few blocks one of the people in the back had to get out, and you only get out on the curbside, so the printer, the backpack and I had to get out, let them out, then get back in. I was praying that we would not see anyone else to pick up before it was our place to get dropped off. But there, ahead, was someone standing by a bus stop. Now, it was 11:30 at night. As we got closer I couldn’t see the person’s face, but saw that she appeared to be quite scantily clad and probably not looking to get picked up by someone like us.

To continue my week of fun adventures across the DR, on Thursday I went with Daniel and his church group to Samana for the day. Samana is on the north eastern edge of the island—a five hour bus ride each way! We met at the park at 4AM, and typical church group and Dominican style, did not leave until 5AM. We arrived at the beach around 10AM and were there until 3PM, at which time we left for our 5 hour bus ride home. I do have to say that I would never do that in the states, but somehow here everything is a new adventure, so it was fun—once! The beach was beautiful, and there were even some waves (olas—which makes a fun pun to say hi to the waves… “hola, ola!”) so I taught Daniel and his friends how to body surf and we had a blast. Being with a group of Dominicans on an excursion was also a fun new experience, seeing how much was the same about a “church trip”—arguing about what music to play (merengue or salsa), singing on the bus ride, everyone having a different opinion about where we should go, stopping to go to the bathroom, although this was a rather sketchy baño behind a colmado (a DR version of a mini mart), and stopping for dinner on the way home—although this was ‘pica pollo’ which is a type of roadside rotisserie chicken with boiled plantains. It was a long day, but very fun!

Finally, today we took the group to the beach in Sousua (yes, I have been to the beach three times this week—in La Romana, on the south east side, the Caribbean ocean, in Samana, the Atlantic, and today in Sousua, the north central side of the island, also the Atlantic) which was also a blast. A group of us bargained to get pulled behind a boat on a banana—only 50 pesos!


dr musings: june 9, 2003

Monday Evening, June 09, 2003

Last night Anyely and I went out to dinner after church. (The church is quite contemporary worship including hands raised in the air, an hour of praise and worship singing before the sermon, making it a two hour long service. One good thing about it is that we sing the praise songs (in Spanish) over and over so many times that by the end I can actually sing along!)

Anyway, after church we went and picked up her roommate, Gladys, and the three of us road on the pasola (a pasola is a moped that is hand controlled, vs. a motor is a moped that is foot controlled and the women tend to drive the pasolas and the men the motors, although that is not always the case.) which was a bit of a challenge, as it is typically a one person pasola.

So, the three of us road into town on the pasola, to go to the new pizza place in town that just opened up last week. Until now there has been no good pizza in town, but this place is excelente! It is so excelente that it is totally packed out, and a bit crazy.

Anyway, we got our pizza (we had ordered a “Carnes” pizza (meat lovers) but instead got an “Especial” because that was done first!)it was good, even including the corn on top! After lingering for quite a while over our dinner, we got on the pasola (harder to fit now that we had added some extra weight!) and drove to the parque for some helado (ice cream).

My Media Site continues to go well. We are almost done with our project of getting photo and video documentation of all the sites, as well as putting together support newsletters for two of the staff members whose English is not good enough for them to write them themselves, and putting together a video for one of the missionary families here (NateâEUR(tm)s family) to send to their supporters.

I got to visit Los Corrales today, the village where I worked three years ago when I was here. I got to see more of the children that I worked with. It was really fun because they remembered me and were excited to see me. I think a big part of that was that I had sent them pictures that I had taken, so they had those pictures to remember me by. It made me realize how much of an impact something simple like sending pictures had on them. That is one thing that I am continually amazed by here–what we might take for granted, or think of as almost insignificant, can make such a huge impact.

My Spanish also continues to go well. It is amazing how much you can pick up, when immersed in it again. I am also remembering more of the Dominican slang such as:

Cachi bachi–sort of means junk “clear all that cachi bachi off the table so we can eat dinner!”

Un chin–a little bit, “por favor, pour me un chin de cafe”

Guagua–a van or pickup truck, “get in the guagua so we can leave.”

Bola–a ride, “can you give me a bola to town?”

Concon(cone-cone)–the rice that is burned on the bottom of the pan, which is considered a delicacy, “can I have some more concon, por favor?”

Chichis(chee-chees)–love handles, “if you keep eating you will get chichis grandes!”

Gripe(gree-pay)–sickness, like a cold, “Are you sick? Yes, it is gripe.”

Well, I am writing this while sitting outside on the patio and I am getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes, so I think that might be my sign to call it an evening!

dr musings: june 6, 2003


Friday evening, June 6, 2003


So, today I was out running, in what I have decided to call my “running ministry”…I run through the communities, on a dirt road that is “under construction” (the President is building a house in the community where I worked three years ago, Los Corrales. His term is over in a year, and it is customary for the current president to accumulate everything he needs to be comfortable for the rest of his life, prior to leaving office. Anyway, magically, the roads full of ollos (oy-yos, holes) are being repaired.) which means that there are piles of dirt and gravel on an already narrow dirt road, making sharing it with trucks, motors, and the nice SUVs going to the “rich” people’s homes a bit of a challenge. As I run, I wave to the people who are sitting out on their porches or walking or riding motors (mopeds) past me on the road. It is amazing when you smile and say “hola” how they smile back and wave. (It is sort of like being in New Jersey—people seem so sour when you are in line at the market or Target or wherever, until you stop and smile and say hello and look at them, and then they light up—at least most of the time!) Anyway, I am sure that as I am passing by these people and waving they are thinking, “Crazy American, out running!” I do have to say that the summer I lived in New Jersey, if it were 85+ degrees out and 90+ percent humidity (as it is here most days), I would have thought someone running outside waving and smiling was crazy too!

Anyway, today as I was running, a bunch of kids were coming home from school. They all have to wear uniforms, so they were in their blue shirts and khaki pants and skirts, walking down the dirt road. When they saw me, they started running along with me, about 15 of them. They asked where I was going and I told them that I was running to Santo Domingo (that is the capital, and is about two and a half hours drive to the south east from where we are in Jarabacoa. By the way, if you want to look on a map of the DR, we are about in the center of the island, and the nearest “big” city is Santiago.) and then on to Puerto Rico. I asked them where we should go next, and they said Miami and then New York. (For Dominicans, pretty much the whole US is New York. I am not sure if it is still true, but when I was here three years ago one of the statistics that I learned was that there were actually more Dominicans living in New York than in the DR!) Anyway, we were running along and I was thinking to myself how cute the whole picture was, and too bad there was no one around with a video camera to catch this touching moment on tape—it would be great footage for a Sally Struthers commercial to help the poor children in other countries… the picturesque green hills, the brilliant blue skies, cows grazing in the fields, and these children running beside me, the missionary, on the dirt road, for a moment free from all cares of the world… As I was basking in this romantic vision, I looked over at one of the young boys and saw that he had apparently picked up an American hand gesture and was testing it out on me…apparently he thought I was number one!

I had another ride on a motor yesterday, with Daniel, into town. It is so fun to sit on the back of the motor, wind blowing through your hair…holding on for dear life as large trucks past much too close! Motors are really the backbone of transportation here, from carrying entire families (children sitting on the handle bars or on the laps of their parents), to carrying propane tanks, refrigerators (yes, it is true!)…last week I even saw one with someone dragging a long piece of pvc pipe behind on the ground, and another pulling a little trailer full of cases of “Presidente,” the local brew.

Another thing I have been thinking about this week is how the work that Students International does here in the DR does not necessarily fit the “mission trip” stereotype. Perhaps you don’t have a stereotype of what a mission trip would be, but I think the typical stereotype is that you sleep on the floor, don’t eat much or eat gross food, work manual labor all day long until you are exhausted, hold vacation Bible Schools for the children, don’t shower regularly, and perhaps even get sick. Those are definitely all aspects of mission trips that I have been on, but I think what has struck me this past week as I have been thinking about it is that that is not the only example of what it means to do mission work.

It is definitely not “posh” living here, but although simple, I think it is pretty nice. For example, I think I am going to come back from my month here having gained ten pounds because the food here is so good! Plus, we even have a microwave here. (Erica and I went through this past year without a microwave, which people could not believe…but between the toaster oven and the stove we could heat up anything we needed to and we decided it would be good for us to “simplify”…granted, the VCR, DVD player, cell phones, etc. were not all that “simple” but…) Also, although I go through most of the day grimy because we don’t have time to shower in the mornings and because it is so hot and humid here, typically by the end of the day, after my afternoon run, I do get a fairly warm shower—unless, of course, the electric is out (the water is heated through electricity) but even then we have a “planta” (generator) which we can use until the electric comes back on.


I guess I should explain a bit about what SI does in the DR… The staff here are here year-round, working in various communities. Throughout the year they bring groups from the US (high school and college students, as well as groups of just adults or families) down for two week trips, called outreaches. SI currently is working in nine different sites. The Americans who come down choose one of the sites and work there for the two weeks in the DR.

The site that I am leading (which is just for this first two weeks I am here) is the Media Site. It is our job to “tell the story” of the work that everyone else is doing—a dream job, if you ask me! We are taking digital photos to hopefully update the Students International website (there are pictures on the website that I took three years ago, that are a bit out of date!) and to use for brochures, shooting video for use to recruit new American staff and to show prospective teams who will come on an outreach, and taking film pictures to add to the existing scrapbook that tells of the history of the ministry here. It is fun for me, and it is needed here, because someone needs to tell the story of the work and ministry that is being done here, and pictures are a great way to do that.

The other sites are:

*Sports (Jose works with the local boys, playing baseball and mentoring them. I volunteered to show them some of my football and basketball moves, but for some reason they don’t seem too interested!)

*Dentistry (Vanessa is a dentist, and she is on staff with SI—the students that work with her get to pull teeth, clean them, and even drill cavities!)

*Special Education (Elisa, one of my roommates from the last trip, is the principal of the new special education school that SI has started)

*Social Work (Janette works in El Callajon with the women there to help build their self-esteem and teach them various skills—Erica, it reminds me of the sewing circus in “I Wish I Had a Red Dress!”)

*Agriculture and Church Planting (Kim works up in a mountain community, helping the people with various agricultural projects and also holding Bible studies in the community.)

*Education (Yocasta and Anyely (Ann-gel-ee) both work in Education in two different communities. The schools rarely can take the time to give students the individual attention that they need.)

*Appropriate Technology (Alberto works in various projects in various communities—right now they are

*Art (Francisco, who used to be a local pastor in the community, is working to develop an art studio where there would be pottery and painting, among other things. He hopes that he will be able to involve people in the community, and that they will be able to then sell what they make.)

*Healthcare (This is a new site that SI hopes to develop if they could get a nurse or someone with healthcare experience to come on staff. For this outreach Daniel is leading it and they are working in the public hospital in the mornings and a public school in the afternoons. We were supposed to be able to see a c-section on Friday, but we got there too late and it had already been done. We did get to see the baby a few hours after it was born, and the mother, who was only 15.)

I realize that this has already gotten quite long, so I should probably stop for now—plus, dinner is ready! But I did want to describe a bit of the work that SI is doing here, and what I am doing here, so you can get an idea of it. I am taking lots of pictures, and hope to have them up on my website when I get back to the States at the end of June.

Hasta Luego!


P.S. Just because an email from me would not be complete without a weather report…we had a really great storm the other night—loud thunder, lightning, pouring rain—it woke me up. As I was lying in my bed, in a casita with a tin roof, I started thinking, I wonder what one does in a hurricane…in an earthquake I know to get in a doorway and stay away from the windows, but a hurricane? I started calculating the closest building with a cement roof, and whether or not it would be safe to run outside in order to secure a spot in the cement roofed building. The storm kept growing in intensity as I sat there pondering. Somewhere along the way I did seem to remember that hurricane season doesn’t start, typically, until later in the summer and so I was able to get back to sleep…

As for a daily weather report, pretty much every day starts off “cool” (about 75, and I wear a sweatshirt!!) and then gets quite hot and humid. I have a nifty (yes, I did just use the word nifty!) little travel thermometer on my backpack which I looked at in my room today…it felt very cool and pleasant, so I wondered what the temperature was, there inside, in the shade…it was 85 degrees!! Growing up in Southern California I always loved being outside and in the sun and doing active things…living in this heat all the time would definitely change that! Too bad I can’t store some of it up and take it with me to Scotland, where I am sure I will be wanting it in a few months!