Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DR part 2: injustice

I just read Sarah's blog, and I have to write again.

In the village we were in last week, all the houses are made of tin, with dirt floors. But at the top of the hill near a house we laid a cement floor in, there's this big, fancy house, where some big, douchey government official lives. We were told he put it there as a big "f you" to the people of Don Bosco. In our nightly reflection time, one of my friends shared that he had come to recognize the smell of poverty - something pervasive and undeniable that he associated with unwashed people, rotting garbage, and neglect. The thing about a smell, he said, is that you can't ignore it. And he, like the rest of us, was unable to understand how that government official could ignore that smell, and go on living in his fancy house.

I spent a week in the DR and accomplished nothing. For every cement floor we laid there are 500 more that need to be built. The kids I cuddled were smiling while we were there, but after we left and the cries of "Americana!" vanished into the distance, they went back to the way they are: ignored by their parents and deprived of the love and physical affection that they so desperately need.

I did NOTHING. Nothing changed. No one was saved. If I was changed, it'll fade before too long, like a dream upon waking.

I've never been so close to dropping out of school.

Love always,

DR part 1: happiness

I've taken the first few days this week to collect my thoughts. It's still hard to think about the DR...and even harder to not think about it. After only 9 days in the Dominican, I'm as unhappy to be back in the States as I was after 4 months in Spain.

So here are my first collected thoughts:

It was amazing. Heartbreaking and devastating and painful and exhausting, yes, but amazing. My pastor put it best, speaking about the hardest day of work we had down there: "This is killing me...but this is giving me life."

The last time I went, we worked with the kids - that was our primary focus, and we designed lessons and activities for them. This time, we focused on construction, and played with the kids when we got done or needed a break. We laid cement floors for 3 or 4 houses, painted the walls of the vocational school, baked bread to be taken to Haiti for earthquake refugees, and the boys played baseball.

I can't imagine not having a cement floor. A floor, for Pete's sake, that can't get muddy when it rains or smell rotten when it's hot. The woman who owned the house where we put the first floor in was so proud to usher us back in that afternoon - look at my new floor, look at my house, isn't it wonderful? All we gave her was a floor - I want to give her rugs and furniture and so much more. But she was so happy.

Dominicans are happy. That's the main reason I'm so depressed up here, I think - Americans are not happy. Don't try to reason with me; everything that I am is screaming to get out of the country right now. I can't help it. The Dominicans never went more than 5 minutes without laughing. Indeed, I think the only time I saw it happen was when Wili, one of the helpers, told me that he got in trouble for everything he said to me and was going to not talk for the rest of the bus ride. (I later told Joselito, a translator, that Wili had shut up for 10 minutes, and he said, "And the SKY didn't fall?!"

They are so ready to laugh. Their faces are just alive with it - not just our translators, not just the people who worked for the mission and had a steady job and a normal house - but all of them. The kids - these kids who get one meal a day and don't know their fathers and run around naked most of the time - they are so happy.

I have so much - so much! - and I'm not as happy as they are. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with all of us, Americans? I'm sitting here on my laptop, in my apartment furnished with a bed and table and chairs and dresser and bookcase, with as much food as I want, with an iPod and an iPhone and books and movies and so much shit that I don't need, and I'm not happy.

But that won't do; the Dominicans would never dwell on such things. I'm not happy because I spend all my time thinking about myself. I'm happiest when I forget my own interests in pursuit of serving others.

So this first installment of the DR debriefing goes to my Dominican friends, who made me feel at home from the very first day. This is for Juanchi, Joselito, Alejandro, Rambo, Wili, Jessi, Juan, Manuela, Iris, Renzo and Juan, who made me laugh every moment of every day.

I miss everything.

Love always,

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Hey-o, I leave for the DR tomorrow night. Dad's driving me back to Seattle, leaving at noon, and then we have to be at the airport at 7 for the 9:30 flight. Wooooo red-eye!

Dudes. I went to jiujitsu (jujutsu? I don't know) tonight for the 3rd time this week, and BOY do I feel badass. Mark's been wanting to take me for a while, and out of a desire for some sibling bonding time before he leaves for boot camp in June (yeah, holy crap) I went along.

He's really good at it. Like, really good. He's like a little monkey, clambering all over these huge guys and choking them out (gross phrase, but that's what they call it). I was very proud of him.

Before I went on Monday, I was planning to mostly just watch from the sidelines. As I watched them start rolling during that lesson, that inclination was reinforced. I'll say the same thing about wrestling, but guys, seriously, almost everything you do in jiujitsu looks like sex. Really. There's a lot of mounting and hip thrusting and straddling and pushing people's heads down between your legs. Yikes.

So that, coupled with the fact that I never ever work out or exercise, made me feel like the safest place for the only girl in the class would be the bench. But then again...I really wanted to fight.

And they let me! Matt, the instructor, pulled me in and showed me some stuff; let me ask my stupid questions, didn't go too rough on me, and I actually learned something! And I remember it...kind of.

They don't talk in hypothetical terms. It's all "When he's sittin' on you, tryin' to choke you out, puttin' all his weight on you..." etc. When, not if, you see. Because clearly, if you don't have someone try to kill you, you haven't really lived.

But despite the scary implications and the awkwardness and the not-knowing-what-I'm-doing, it was awesome. Even getting thrown - Mark flipped me over his back a couple times, and Matt and another guy both threw me onto my side when they were teaching me stuff - was awesome. It's a "See, I can take it!" kind of feeling. And Matt said I was really strong. That was happy.

So now I want to find a jiujitsu school in Seattle. Good exercise, and good life lessons, I'd say. I plan on being in dangerous places in my life - and Seattle's full of muggings already - so I'd like to know how to handle myself. Also, if Mark is ever getting too annoying, I have to be able to beat him up.

Freakin' a, though. Mark's friend Chris threw me in some weird way, and now my left leg is dead from mid-shin down. No bueno. That bruise isn't gonna match my DR tan.

Love always,

Monday, March 15, 2010

There's no place

Quick details: Play went well; finals went well; spur-of-the-moment decision to come back with my family has me in Richland until Friday, when my dad will drive me back to Seattle and then to Sea-Tac, where I'll fly out to the Dominican Republic. We'll get back late Sunday the 28, then I start spring classes at 9:30 Monday morning. Ay, mi madre.

Besides all that, I've been thinking about where I'm going to live for the rest of my life.

Transience seems to be something I might have to get used to. If this Reuters thing works out - really, truly works out, and I confirm that I love it and want to do it for the rest of my life - where is my home going to be? I may be in Santiago for a year, then go to Buenos Aires, maybe Brazil, if I learned Portuguese, and at some point I want to venture over to the Middle East. With all this moving around, never staying put for too long in any one city, where do I call home?

For now, here, in Willowbrook, my eternally tranquil and well-kept neighborhood, I feel at home. But it's slowly changing. Last summer, I complained to my brother about him putting his running shoes up on the kitchen table (I mean, really. Who does that.) and he asked why I cared (in that charming way of his), and I said, Because I live here too! And he said, You don't live here. You just moved home for the summer.

Ouch ka-bibble.

Then, today, I came up to my room to find that my dad has taken over my desk as a safe haven for all things electronic. We've got the baby laptop sitting on top of my old laptop, with the camcorder and plenty of cables to keep them company. It's the only place they can go, and you're hardly ever here, was his explanation.

And while I still proudly proclaim my eastern Washington roots while I'm at school, I catch myself calling Seattle "my" side of the state when I talk to my parents. My apartment still isn't very homelike, but Seattle is. School is there, church is there, most of my friends are there.

But what happens when I leave to work abroad? Right now, my bedroom here still has everything the way I left it - posters on the walls, closet a disaster, stuffed animals in a bin by the window. I can't move everything with me if I'm leaving the country. I won't be able to take much at all this summer, and I suppose it'll be a similar pattern from now on. Do I buy new stuff every time I go to a new place? New pots and pans, new mattress cover, new dish towels and coat rack for the door?

Does my bedroom at home stay my home base? It would be sad to see my parents turn it into some depressing exercise room, but it would also be sad to be in my 30s and have my Princess Bride poster still above my bed. (That's a lie. The Princess Bride will never be sad.)

Home is often where your family is. But in all my imaginings of my life to come, I have not pictured anyone by my side. These are strictly independent adventures. No husband - and certainly no children - will be in tow. Too much hassle, and I could never demand such transience of someone else.

Based on current projections, I will be single and without a permanent residence well into my middle age.

I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Love always,