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Not All Who Wander Are Lost… Everything you ever wanted to know about my Dominican mission work

2015 trip… it’s a wrap!

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My final mission blog update for the actual 2015 trip probably won’t be posted until sometime Sunday.  As I type this, I am at 36,000 feet, somewhere between Santo Domingo and Philadelphia.  We’ll have to rush through customs in Philly, and probably won’t have time to grab some wi-fi access until I’m home.

So, while I have a chance, I’ll wrap up the details of the last few days and choose some photos to attach for your viewing pleasure.

The school kids at Thursday's clinic site were so excited when I asked them to

The school kids at Thursday’s clinic site were so excited when I asked them to “escribe tu nombre” (write your name) in my notebook.

Friday morning, we packed up the bus and left San Juan de la Maguana for the 3+ hour ride to the capital city, where we stopped in the Colonial Zone (historic district, home of Christopher Columbus) for a little exploring.  On the way, the trailer (full of luggage) blew a tire, but it was fixed quickly and we were back on the road.

“Mission Bells” at the cathedral in historic Santo Domingo

It’s customary, on these trips, to drive to the capital on one day, but not fly out until the next.  There are many reasons, one of which is the unpredictability of the roads and vehicles.  We would only have a limited possibility of making an afternoon flight on time if we tried to fly out the same day we arrived in the capital from the rural area.  So we stayed Friday night at a hotel about 10 km (6 miles) away from the airport, where we enjoyed a de-briefing meeting/wrap-up,  a little swimming, relaxing, air conditioning and a few nice meals.

Last group photo before leaving the guesthouse

Last group photo before leaving the guesthouse

Some random thoughts from our last days in the DR :

Insect spray with really strong DEET will destroy anything that it comes in contact with.

If you think 2 bras will be plenty to get you through a week in a hot, humid country, you’re wrong.

If you think your feet and toenails are going to stay pretty and callous-free after a week in the mission field, you are also wrong.  It was so hot that my socks actually stuck to my toenail polish every day, and my feet looked like something that crawled out of Jurassic Park by the end of the week.

The windbreaker that I threw in my backpack for the trip home came in really handy when my seat mate on the plane from Philly to Columbus quickly earned the name Snorty McCough.  I actually put the hood over my head backwards and stayed fully covered for the whole trip, trying to avoid his projectile germs.  It did NOT, however, help when it became clear that he had some kind of especially unpleasant lower GI issues during the flight.  Hmmmm…

Pretty much anything in the D.R.  made from Chinola (passion fruit) is excellent, including juice, ice cream, smoothies and cake.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that I know how to ask, “Do we have a spare tire for the bus?” in Spanish?

Having a shower with water pressure is over-rated.  Mission experiences aren’t supposed to be comfortable.  If they were, they’d be called “vacations”.

The view from our hotel in Boca Chica.  If you look closely, you can see the off-shore oil rigs in the distance.

The view from our hotel in Boca Chica. If you look closely, you can see the off-shore oil rigs in the distance.

I already know I’m going to experience at least a solid week of Extreme Culture Shock when I get home.  ECS (according to my own definition) happens when you have immersed your whole body and soul in a culture so different from your own that you feel a sense of disorientation and melancholy when you return to your normal routine.

A person experiencing ECS also can be expected to feel a sense of impatience with people who complain about what are known as First World Problems… for example:  The water fountain outside the exercise room at work might have lukewarm water.  Hmmmm…. The ECS sufferer would find your complaints about this inconvenience annoying because (a) they recently worked with people who don’t even have clean water (b) they recently were in a country where people would be thrilled to even have a job and (c) are you kidding?  Who has an exercise room at work?  In third world countries, plowing the field so you have something to eat is exercise AND work.

So, for the next little while, I’ll be working my way through my annual case of ECS.  No need to worry, I just may have a hard time putting words to all the experiences I had on this year’s trip (which is one of the reasons I take so many pictures), and I might be slightly less than understanding when I hear people’s First World Problem complaints.

Relax and live more like a Dominican.  No hurries, no agenda, lots of hugs and smiles.  Tell people that you admire them and be specific… what is it about them that makes them wonderful?  People need encouragement and need to be reminded what their gifts are.

I received many amazing “gifts” this week…my very favorite Dominican doctor, Sandy Valdez, made of point of telling me that he loves working with me in the village clinics.  He told me that he can see a light in my eyes and how much I care for his people on my face, and he said the people can see it, too.  He thanked me several times for coming to his country and helping his people.  I feel like they’re MY people, too.  This is what I mean when I say that I GET much more on these trips than I ever GIVE.

Dr. Sandy Valdez... just as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside.  Such an inspiration!

Dr. Sandy Valdez… just as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside. Such an inspiration!

Another gift was when the social worker, Laura told me that Yasiri’s mother decided to keep her enrolled in the private school, rather than transferring her to the public school.  The public school would have been more convenient, but she values our sponsor relationship with her daughter so much that she chose to keep her in her current school.

Finally, during our Breast Self-Exam teaching session, the women were sooooo enthusiastic and engaged in the program.  They kept saying over and over again how much they appreciated the information and that they were sure it was going to help them save lives in their communities.  One of the more experienced health promoters came up to us afterward and said, very emphatically, that she was just so grateful that we cared so much to bring this information to them and that we were helping to save the lives of her people.  Tears of joy!

Waiting to board the bus to the airport

Waiting to board the bus to the airport

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… The past two years, I’ve gotten home from my mission trips and tried to tell people about the Dominican people living in extreme poverty.  I tell how they live in tin shacks with dirt floors, how they get by on rice and beans with some chicken or mangos on the side, how they have to make one pair of shoes last a whole year because there is no other option… and yet they are so happy, peaceful and grateful for every little thing you do for them.  Someone will almost invariably say, “Well, they don’t know any better.”  I must disagree.  That statement implies that what WE have, our lives of excess and abundant things, over scheduling, to-do lists, and places-to-be are BETTER.

I challenged the ONU students on this trip, and I challenge everyone who reads this blog to turn their thinking around.  I suggest that they don’t know any DIFFERENT.  They don’t know about getting up every morning and rushing to get a McCafe at the drive-thru on the way to a 7 a.m. shift.  They don’t know about tearing out a Formica counter top and replacing it with granite just for the sake of updating your kitchen.  They don’t know about riding, by yourself, to the store in a really nice car with heated and air conditioned seats.  There are a lot of things that they don’t know about, but none of those things are necessary to live a peaceful life.  It’s not that they don’t know any BETTER, it’s that they don’t know any DIFFERENT.

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