Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hold on To Your Humanity

Last Friday, the Comunidad 19 traveled to the Haitian-Dominican border in order to witness market day. The pushing of the crowd quickly pushed each of us through the initial shock of doing something few of us ever pictured ourselves doing. As my eyes soaked in the piles of dirty, donated merchandise presided over by glazed stares, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere that vibrated the very air with sounds of struggling humans– struggling for their daily bread and struggling to believe in their dignity. During that day, I met more faces and still shared smiles, but I could not help but be moved by the fact that this brutal learning exercise for me was their ugly, daily reality.  Did they know that they were made for more? How could they? As is brilliantly noted in one of my favorite travel articles of all time,
“Happiness is important, sure. But it’s also common and can be found in most situations once your mind adjusts to your surroundings. You can find happiness in any slum or in any mansion, on the beach, in the mountains, or in the middle of the desert.
But what is rare in many parts of the world is human dignity. You know, people who aren’t treated like animals — used, ignored, cheated, beaten, mutilated, silenced, or suppressed” (5 Life Lessons from 5 Years of Traveling).
I have explored marketplaces before, most impressionably the Jerusalem bazaar shown below, but what really struck me about this binational convention was the distinct lack of crafts, or anything locally hand-cooked or hand-made for that matter. Everything was packaged in crisp plastic, evidently manufactured in bulk, and soiled from the transport. Clearly there is no fault in making your living by reselling donations, but the initial tragedy that I realized was the lack of resources and training available for the merchants to harness their human creativity and ingenuity in providing unique goods, services, and creating wealth. As humans, we take pride in the works of our hands. We love to create beauty and order when we cannot find it naturally in the world around us. I would have leapt for joy at the sight of one single artist.
”Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
Unfortunately, the picture gets substantially darker. Underlying the ugly market is the uglier disease of rampant corruption, bribery, and mistreatment. Whenever there is a situation where one group’s livelihood is at the mercy of another, there you will find scumbags taking advantage of the powerless
…but on that battlefield you will also encounter those who choose have turned their backs on comfortable, safe lives in order to protect the powerless. They hold on to what makes us human.
During our stay in Dajabón, our group listened to two talks by groups who labor to protect and defend, sometimes in the face of persecution– our first speaker had just been released from over 500 days of unjust imprisonment. Relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are complicated and overshadowed by miscommunication and misinformation, but there are always those who profit off the weak and those who speak up for them.
I know which side I want to be on.
On that theme, I’d just like to share a TED talk that I watched this morning. It’s uncomfortable, unsettling, and not fun, but it’s infinitely better to work at bringing truth, dignity and beauty to the uglier faces of life than to cowardly cast our eyes away. Hold on to your humanity.

English, Spanish, and now Creole?

English, Spanish, now Creole? For service, I am teaching English at a Haitian school. Haitian immigrants generally don’t have their birth certificates and since a birth certificate is required to attend school in the Dominican Republic these children normally don’t receive an education. A pastor and his wife have set up a makeshift school inside of a church where about 115 children ages 3 to 15 come daily for school. I thought one language barrier was difficult until I was faced with two. The children speak only a little bit of Spanish and because my Spanish is no where near fluent the communication is slow and difficult. Even the teachers at the school speak very little Spanish. My partner, Clara, and I have been working on teaching the parts of the body through songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Hokey Pokey”. We have them repeat words over and over again. One example of a fun communication gap happened during the hokey pokey. Clara was having them repeat phrases like “right leg in” and “left arm out”, between two phrases Clara said “so” and a resounding “SO!” echoed. Already I feel my Spanish improving because I have to think of different ways to say what I mean when the first couple ways don’t work. The kids are eager to learn and really seem to enjoy our presence. With my study abroad community we are talking about ministry of presence, which is serving people just by being with them. This is especially applicable to my service site because a lot of the time I have to interact in the absence of words. Because of the island’s history with colonization and slavery the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic value their Caucasian, European blood much more than their African slave blood. People with darker skin are by default lower class. This phenomenon is called “el negro detrás la oreja” or “the black behind the ear” because the people of Hispanola try to hide their African heritage. Because of this discrimination, Haitians, who are much darker than most Dominicans, are considered lower class and treated as such. One of my jobs at the school is just to show the kids respect and love to build up their self worth.
A major accomplishment of this week has been navigating public transportation without help. To get to my service site, we first have to take a guagua, which includes getting the attention of the man hanging off the side of the vehicle to tell him we need to get off. Then, we have to walk down a few streets and catch a T or CJ car, which will take us the rest of the way to the school. It may sound pretty straight forward, but communicating directions in Spanish is quite difficult. On the first day of service, some of the money for the trip back to ILAC fell out of Clara’s pocket. We only had enough to take either the car or the guagua. We tried to walk one leg of the trip, but it was much farther than it seemed, so we had to call our student life director to come meet us at the guagau. First transportation obstacle, overcome!
A few other adventures from the past few days include venturing out on a scavenger hunt around Santiago. As we made our way to the monument we made two pit stops: one at Bon for brownie ice cream and the other at McDonalds. The monument’s marble exterior disguises the immense history lying inside. The monument has changed names and purposes multiple times from honoring the dictator Rafael Trujillo to now honoring those who fought in the war for Dominican independence. Sunday night we decided we needed a little bit of home so we went to La Luna a sports bar to watch the Patriots vs Colts game. After the game, we went to a colmado, a little store, and played dominos with the locals. We also went to a dance club called Dubai for ladies night and to celebrate one of the girl’s birthday. The music was very fun to dance to! One of the girls knocked a 3,600RD (about $80) bottle of alcohol off of a table. Luckily it was filled with water as a decoration so she didn’t have to pay for it. In other news, I am going to have a very inflated ego when I return to the United States because everywhere we go we have guys yelling “Que bonita!” and “Do you need a boyfriend?”. As a group of 11 American girls, most with blond hair and light eyes, we get a lot of attention when we go out. Of course, most of them are only looking for a green card, but hey a little ego boost never hurt anyone!


Study Abroad in the DR

Casualties Abroad

On my plane ride down to the Dominican Republic for my semester abroad, I thought to myself, “I’ve got this Spanish thing down.” I’d taken Spanish since kindergarten, studied a multitude of different tenses and learned hundreds of vocabulary words, yet during my first conversation with a Dominican, I froze. I couldn’t answer the simple question of ‘how are you’?

My brain scrambled to remember the basics from 14 years of Spanish classes, which should have engrained into my mind. I managed to shout back ‘what?’ and when he repeated his question; I succeeded with the simple answer of ‘good’ as my cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.

That’s the hard part about learning a language in a classroom setting; grammar often comes before actual conversation. In high school, the only time we actually listened or spoke Spanish in class was during the respective sections of final exams.

The reality is, conversation is the most important skill to learn in order to understand and respond to someone in their native tongue.

But more than that, it’s about making mistakes. After spending a total of eight weeks in a Spanish-speaking country, my cheeks are permanently red with embarrassment, because my Spanish speaking abilities are poor.

Some moments, like the time I walked around the Mormon Church for two hours telling people welcome (bienvenidos) to their own church instead of good morning (buenosdias), still makes me shake my head in humiliation.

Other moments your friends never let you live it down. I am reminded of walking up to a fruit stand full of confidence to ask the lady if she had any avocados (palta). The look on her face set off every alarm in my head trying to remember what I had said and figure out where it had gone wrong.

Generally speaking, fruit stand owners get a little suspicious and confused when you ask them if they have any money (plata). To deepen my embarrassment, my loyal friend overheard the encounter and laughed loudly behind me.

Making mistakes is the best way to learn. Never again will I welcome people to their own church or forget the word for avocado. The reason children catch onto a new language so quickly is because they repeat what they hear and don’t fret over grammar or stop a conversation to look up a specific word in their dictionary.

There is no easy way to avoid messing up, but when you finally get it right, it’s worth it. The first time I successfully asked a person for directions and got on the right bus home left a smile on my face for hours.

Until the next day. when, after messing up a sentence, I tried to tell the bus driver ‘I’m embarrassed’ but instead informed him I was pregnant (estoy embarasada).
Whether he thought I was blaming a non-existent pregnancy on my inability to answer his question or knew enough English to realize what I was trying to say, I will never know.

I dashed off the bus before the tires stopped rolling not wanting to turn around and acknowledge my extreme language failures.

These stories still make my face burn red but messing up and making a fool of yourself is part of learning a language. If you never speak it, no improvement will be made. Also, now when I look back, I will have amusing stories to share with friends and family.

Oh, There's an Academic Part to this thing too?

For those reading, you have heard me mention before the main class I’ve been taking here: the 6 credit EDP class (social justice in the Dominican Republic). I think I’ve also mentioned that it is a certified writing class, meaning we have a 15-20 page argumentative research paper due this semester. As it turns out, the rough draft is due this weekend, so I don’t have much to write for this week because I’ve been working on this paper so much that I haven’t had too much time to do much else. I don’t even have a single picture from this week. As usual though, here are the more eventful instances of the week:
We finally played dominos again with José Luis. It was nice to catch up, show off our improved Spanish, and just joke around until 1 in the morning…on a Sunday.
On a guagua ride into the city on Friday morning, I immediately noticed that I was sitting next to a boy about 3 or 4 years old that looked pretty sickly sitting on his mom’s lap next to me. Sure enough, about mid-way through the ride, I got thrown up on by the boy sitting next to me. So, I had to spend the morning sitting in wet pants that I had attempted to wash the throw up off of. Who do these things actually happen to?? There’s no way that’s a common occurrence here, hence, another example of my luck. It’s all good though…I mean, how many people get to tell a story like that?
On Saturday morning, we made the trek back to Los Tres Pasos to spend the day with our campo families. It was wonderful to see everyone again. Anissa, Sarah, and I went with our families to a nearby beach called Ensenada. I have never seen a beach with water so blue. The beach was filled with locals, no tourists, and bachata or dembow music was echoing everywhere. The best part may have even been the ride to the beach. We piled in the back of a truck and raced through the winding roads through the green valleys with views of all the little towns we passed through, farm animals, the mountains surrounding us, and even a giant lagoon. It was an incredible day and I did not want to leave whatsoever.
Back to finishing up the draft for this research paper…
Peace, Cassie

Packing List

Clothes and Shoes

Jeans 3 pairs
Shorts ---you can wear shorts at ILAC as long as they are conservative.
Also, you will want them in April when it’s hot. I packed one pair of Bermuda
shorts and wished I had packed 2 or 3 more. Athletic shorts are acceptable in
student areas and for exercise. 3-4 pairs
T-shirts --- you will want to have comfortable clothes for class and weekend trips.
Pack at least one long sleeve shirt. 4-5
Business casual shirts --- light and dressy shirts are ideal for night life and mass
on Sunday---Dominican culture tends to be more formal than American culture. I
packed things that can be mixed and matched to make multiple outfits. 5-6
Wedges --- these would be very useful for going out. They are very popular in the
Dominican Republic. 1 pair
Tennis shoes --- you will want one pair for exercise, volleyball games, and/or
work in the campo 1 pair
Lightweight climbing boots --- some members of my community brought 2 pairs
of tennis shoes instead of climbing boots. However, I found them handy for
climbing Pico Duarte and during the manual labor in campo. 1 pair
Tank tops --- I only brought one of these because of the mosquitos, but having
more to layer would have been nice. Again keep in mind, dress at ILAC and your
service site will be more conservative. 2-3
Sandals --- I recommend packing one active wear type such as Tevas, Keens, or
Chacos and one formal pair of sandals with straps that are comfortable to walk in
for going out or sightseeing. 2 pairs
Flip-Flops --- at least one pair for campo and going to the beach. If you break
them here, it is hard to find a durable pair that lasts longer than one week. 2 pairs
Work pants/jeans --- this depends on your preference. I would recommend
packing more jeans over work pants. Jeans that can be worn for work and going
out are ideal. More than likely your host family will do your laundry half way
through the 1st immersion trip, but still pack enough for 4-5 days. 3-4
Work t-shirts --- bring a couple for manual labor in the campo and for daily
volleyball games with the staff or exercise. 5-6
Work gloves --- to limit blisters bring a pair 1 pair
Safety goggles and glasses --- I brought my pair from gen chem 1 pair
Sweat pants --- I wore mine during the chilly nights on the climb up and down
Pico Duarte. You will want super warm clothing for Pico Duarte (layering is best) 1-2 pairs
Sweatshirt --- Again, I only wore it on the climb up Pico Duarte on the 30 degree
nights. In January, it does cool down at night in Santiago, but a light sweater was
sufficient for me. 1
Long skirts --- they must be conservative at or below the knee to wear at ILAC to 1
church. I recommend light and dressy.
Dress shirts --- You will want a couple for going out or sightseeing downtown
Santiago. I recommend bringing ones that could mix and match with several other
pieces of clothing. 3-4
Long sleeve shirt --- May want in campo or around ILAC. 1
Socks --- bring long and short socks for campo and daily volleyball games 10-12
Underwear --- Most likely, this will be one piece of clothing that your host family
will not wash for you. So bring enough for the 10 day immersion trip. 10-12
Sundress --- I recommend bringing a couple dresses that cover your shoulders
and are not too short for April and May as well as special occasions. These are
nice for going out too (sleeveless is fine for going out) 2-3
Pajamas --- I wore shorts and a tank top underneath my mosquito net each night 1-2 pairs
Athletic shorts/ yogas --- Volleyball games are a great way to get to know the
staff, exercise, and practice Spanish. You will need to bring at least one pair.
Acceptable to wear in student areas. 3-4 pairs
Swimsuit and beach accessories --- there are plenty of spectacular beaches to
explore. 1-2 pairs
Bandana/ hat --- you will appreciate this during your campo immersion trips 1
Over the soldier bag/ beach bag --- this would be useful for going out and going
to the beach 1
Rain coat/ winter jacket --- This is essential for the climb up Pico Duarte which I
would recommend doing. If you don’t want to bring a puffy winter jacket bring
tons of layers and a rain coat. 1

Necessary Packing items

Passport --- make sure to pack a copy too 1
License --- bring one form of identification 1
Flashlight/headlamp --- necessary for campo 1
Reusable water bottle --- this is an essential item at ILAC and in the campo 1-2
Bathroom supplies – if you wear contacts, bring enough solution for the
semester b/c it can be expensive. ILAC provides bath towels and washcloths,
bed sheets, and mosquito net. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc can be bought at
the store. Bring one and if you need more you can buy another bottle. Do not
bring laundry soap – this can easily be bought at the store. 1 of each
Journal – this is a great way to document your trip 1
Feminine Hygiene Products --- these are very expensive in the DR 4 month supply
Alarm Clock --- I used the alarm on my watch, which was handy everyday, but
especially during the early mornings in the campo. If you are a heavy sleeper, 1
perhaps a battery-operated alarm clock will be important.
Backpack --- this is VERY important for weekend trips 1
Prescription and OTC Medications --- there is a medicine kit at ILAC and a
clinic on site, but be sure to bring any prescription medicines you need 4 month supply
Baseball hat --- aside from the bandana, this is a key accessory to staying cool
in the campo 1
Thermometer --- hopefully you will never need this, but it is good to have just
in case 1
Credit Card/Debit Card --- there are a couple ATMs in Santiago, but I would
bring some US dollars to exchange for pesos right when you arrive at ILAC. 1
Instant Hand Sanitizer --- you will use this in the campo 1-2
Repellent (with 30% Deet) --- I brought 3 bottles and used it everyday, but
many in my comunidad did not use it except for in the campo. Similar brands
are available in the DR if you need more 2-3
Guía --- the guidebook for Encuentro is handy for packing and reference for
choosing service sites 1
Optional Packing Items
Sunglasses 1
Watch --- I wore a watch everyday, especially on mornings at my service site in
order to be back at ILAC in time for lunch. 1
Sunblock (SPF 30 or stronger) 1
Mesh Laundry Bag 1
Camera 1
Granola Bars or Cliff bars --- these are nice for climbing Pico Duarte, but there
is a colmado close to ILAC for reasonably priced sweet snacks or La Sirena
downtown for major grocery shopping. La Sirena is similar to Walmart. 1-2 boxes
Beach Towel --- you could use a bath towel from ILAC, but I think they prefer
you using your own. Plus, the bath towels are not as big or comfy as a beach
towel. 1
Notebooks/ Pens/ Pencils --- You will need at least one for EDP, and Profe will
bind textbooks for everyone in your comunidad throughout the semester. Bring
lots of pens and pencils as well. 1-2
Laptop 1

Dominican culture is a lot more formal than American culture, so when you pack clothes try to get a good mixture of dress clothes for church and going out and casual clothes for class and being around ILAC. Bring things that can be mixed and matched into various outfits.

For the men, keep in mind that shorts are not allowed in most night venues but nice jeans are acceptable. Once again, Dominican clothing tends to be more formal. Pack lots of gym shorts for everyday and working out.

Survival Guide to Pico Duarte

Climbing Pico Duarte is an Encuentro tradition. However, a lot of planning, forethought, and speed-walking training should be completed before taking on this endeavor. Here is a list of things we wish we would have known before climbing the highest mountain in the Caribbean.
1. Communicate with your guide:
It’s important that you communicate with your guide before you leave for your trip. Make sure you know how many days you’ve signed up for and that you’re physically ready for your trip as well. Ask if you or your guide will be buying the food. Also, make sure you know your eating schedule so you know if you should pack extra snacks. (The mules carry the majority of your food, so bring some snacks in a day pack). Ask if you will be provided a good tent (with no holes/and a rainfly) as well as sleeping bags.

2. Bring A LOT of water:
The guides won’t carry water for you on the trail. There are water stops along the way, which are sourced from rivers and mountain springs. This water is fine to drink, but your guides will make it seem like there’s more than there actually are. We heard many times that the water stops were only “un poco mas arriba”, but in Dominican time, that’s probably around two hours away. Bring more than one water bottle so you don’t get dehydrated.

3. Bring plenty of warm clothes:
You may be used to the Dominican weather that you’ll encounter during the first leg of the hike, but you will be in shock the first night if you don’t bring a lot of warm clothes.
We would recommend taking warm socks, several layers of shirts and sweatshirts (tank top/dry fit shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirts), a raincoat, a hat, and several layers of pants (running shorts, under amour tights, leggings, jeans, sweatpants).

4. Pack sh*t for your case of the sh*ts:
The food and mountain water does a wonder on your digestive system. Some people don’t handle this too well. You don’t want to be stuck taking your sweet time in a latrine that has a burro tied to the door keeping you company. We’d recommend pack anti-diarrheal medicine such as Imodium as a quick solution for this problem.
5. No sunrise hikes:
No matter how cool it may sound to watch the sunrise on the peak, it will most likely be cloudy. You will have to wake at 3 am, hike up the steepest part of the mountain in the dark while it’s raining, and have a near frostbite occurrence on all of your fingers and toes. Wait to hike up to the peak around lunch because the fog will be gone and you will actually get to see the view.

6. If Mount Everest is a 10 on the difficulty scale, Pico Duarte is an 8:

Okay, not really, but it is a very challenging hike. The path can be very steep and slippery at times. You go up and then immediately back down; you begin to question the point of all your effort because you made no progress in elevation. Make sure you know your physical limits and ask to ride a burro if you need one. You can also schedule the trip so you can ride burros the entire way up. Keep in mind though, by the end of the trip, you will feel and smell like you’ve been shoveling burro sh*t. The need and want to shower will be overwhelming. Additionally, unless you’ve kept up with Encuentro speed-
walking team (founded in Spring 2015, Comunidad 19), you will probably want to only sign up for the three day trip.

7. Take in the sites:
Even though every inch of your body may be in pain and all you want to do is pass out at the campsite, make sure to stop and take in the beautiful scenery. The views from the peak and along the trail are absolutely amazing. Also, bring a camera and take some time to take a lot of pictures. You will want the pictures to remember the beauty without feeling the pain.

8. Talk with fellow hikers:
Don’t hesitate to branch out and strike up a conversation with the other hiking groups and the guides. You could meet people from all over and learn a lot about life. You might be out of breath and in dire need for a rescue inhaler from the trek up, but after you recuperate, don’t be afraid to talk around the campfire.
9. Extra necessities:
Bring plenty of large trash bags to keep clothes and other things from getting soaked. Toilet paper is also a must-have as it will not be provided for you. A lot of snacks (trail mix, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc.). We’re not joking about the snacks, bring a shat-ton of snacks. Shoes to wear around the campsite to give your feet a rest from your hiking boots (P.S. wearing sturdy boots while hiking is the only way to survive Pico Duarte). Sunscreen is important even though it may be cloudy and cold at some points. Bring a flashlight/stylish headlamp in case you are forced on a sunrise hike (see #5). The light on your smartphone won’t quite cut it.

10. Go anyway:
The list above may sound discouraging, but it is only to help you have a more enjoyable trip. Climbing Pico Duarte is truly a once in a lifetime experience and you don’t want to miss the opportunity. Not everyone can say that they’ve successfully climbed the highest