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


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Preparing for Re-Entry

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Our trip leaders, Tina and Megan, dividing up some extra pesos

As is customary, Friday is the day we load up the bus and trailer to head back to Santo Domingo.  The day we spend in the capital city is vital to the process of re-acclimating ourselves to the modern world.  And… if we’re being honest, I’m pretty sure we were all ready for some air conditioning, a quiet night’s sleep (without roosters and dogs) and even some less-sketchy internet service.

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Our entire group, including a surgical team from Wilmington, NC

Before we started the 3+ hour drive to Santo Domingo, though, we drove just 2 miles from the guesthouse to have a tour of the new Solid Rock International medical clinic.  The clinic is being constructed entirely with donations, and is meant to serve people of the area no matter their ability to pay.  Many people walk across mountains and rivers to get to this area from Haiti, because they know they have a chance at decent health care.  This clinic will have an emergency department, labor and delivery, radiology, pharmacy, surgery, consultation rooms and other services not found anywhere in the area.

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A Dominican-made ladder in the new clinic. 

This large opening is the window looking into the nursery.

We hope that the clinic will be finished by the time we visit next year.  Maybe we can help with getting the equipment in place and in use!

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Showing off our trip t-shirts at the new clinic site.

 

In the Colonial Zone, we explored a little bit and tried to avoid the “tour guides” who tried to lead us toward certain shops by telling us that they were friends with Monchy (our bus driver) and HE said for us to go to the Chocolate Museum, or to this particular jewelry store!

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A beautiful view up a steep street in the Colonial Zone.

I really wanted to see the mansion that Christopher Columbus and his family lived in for many years… so I took a few other people and started walking in what I thought was the right direction.  Well after many hot and endless blocks, it became obvious that the house was not to be found.  Instead, we found a pretty church, took a couple pictures and headed for the nearest ice cream store.  Maybe next time!

Iglesias de las Mercedes, built in 1527. 

                          A painting of the Christopher Columbus house… we never did find it!

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Outside the Cathedral de Santo Domingo. 

First cathedral constructed in the Western Hemisphere.

After a 30 minute drive back through the city, we were back at the same hotel where we stayed just one week ago… but we all felt like we had become different people in the short time since then.  We had seen and done so much!  Our eyes and hearts had been opened, we cried tears of joy and pain and we came together as friends and as a team to love on, take care of and bond with the people of the Dominican Republic.

Many of us immediately went to the hotel spa to see about appointments for manicures.  Luckily, we were able to get the layers of dirt and calluses sloughed off our feet and we felt much more human right away.  A combo mani/pedi was only $20 US including a tip and they brought us ice water and coffee, too!  Ahhhhh…. Heaven!

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We’re already starting to talk about plans for next year’s trip.  We would like to expand on our good work by doing some kind of project with feminine hygiene products and education, we want to continue the Hola, Hermanita project I did this year by providing group instruction in Breast Self-Examination techniques and we would like to include a surgical component with our team or combine with a surgical team from another area so we can work together to do the most good in the short time we spend in the country.

IMG_5095Hola Hermanita BSE teaching kit

We all picked up quite a few (rough) Spanish phrases this week.  Some of the most frequently used:

Estamos aqui? (Are we here yet?

Casi casi. (We are almost here)

Lo siento, mi Espanol es no Bueno (I’m sorry my Spanish is not good)

No mas _____ ( No more fill in the blank… stickers, bracelets, bubbles, toys, suitcases)

To wrap up this year’s trip blog posts, I’d like to share some thoughts from Taylor (one of our guesthouse hosts).  She told us that her Mom used to send her off to school every morning with these three thoughts:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Who do you belong to?
  3. What are you going to do with the gifts that you have been given?

Without getting too deep or spiritual, I think it’s safe to say that we have all learned some new and important answers to those questions this week.

Who am I?  Obviously – a wife, a step-mother, a grandma, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a nurse, a co-worker, a neighbor, a church member and a friend.  But also … a Child of God.  A caring and sacrificing person.  An adventurer.  A student sponsor.   An animal lover.  A good person.

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The Camper Family – Siesta Key, FL  2016

 

Who do I belong to?  My original family ( I represent the hard work my parents put into raising us wherever I go and whenever I interact with people).  My family by marriage (my husband tells me how proud he is of the work that I do on these trips, and he proudly tells people about our little Yasiri , too).  And who knows, maybe some day one of the next generation of Campers might want to come on a trip with me?  I also belong to my communities… the ONU community, the Lima/Shawnee/RiverWalk community, my church community and the Dominican community.  I have made such good friends in the Dominican Republic.  I love working alongside Laura, Nicole, Dr. Sandy, Kari, Glennys, Elvis, Oto, Nef, Amaury and so many others.  I feel like I am with my second family when I spend a week with them.  Nicole asked me if I could please stay and work in the surgical clinic with her every week!  Wouldn’t that be interesting!  She has a tough job and she is AMAZING at it!  Dr. Sandy always makes me feel like such a rock-star by telling me how much he appreciates me making this trip to help his people.  He tells me God will bless me for this, but I already feel that God has blessed me with the ability to do this work and the honor of knowing people like him.

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In the operating room with Nicole Eby Rodriguez

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With Dr. Sandy Valdez – my very favorite Dominican doctor…                                                                                                                             actually my very favorite Dominican adult… period.

What am I going to do with the gifts that I have been given?  I feel fortunate that I have found the perfect way to share the gifts that I have been given.  I am going to continue working as a nurse, I am going to continue giving my parents whatever help and support they need, and helping my husband do the same with his Dad.  I am going to share my experiences with others so they can have a little glimpse into the world of the short-term mission worker and of the living conditions and needs of the poorest of the poor.  I am going to keep doing mission work in the Dominican Republic, with Solid Rock International, for as long as I can manage to do it.

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One final note:  When you appreciate something about someone… you MUST tell them.  Your thoughts mean nothing unless you share them, and they will be so touched and happy to know that you’re thinking something good.  Unspoken appreciation is worthless.  Spoken appreciation is invaluable.

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Juan Cano village, Elias Pina Region, DR…  we made a huge difference today!

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My annual “On Top of the World” photo!

It was already our last barrio day… the week has just flown by!   Today, we drove more than an hour West to a small village in one of the poorest regions of this area.  Being so close to the border, the barrios are filled with Haitian refugees who have very limited means of supporting themselves.

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The 2nd and 3rd grade classes sang welcome songs for us.  

I wanted to insert a video here, but it won’t upload!

Our first stop was in a very small school, which is supported by Solid Rock International… the charitable organization we are here working with.  400 children attend grades pre-k through 8, and the school is so small that the younger children attend in the morning and the older ones in the afternoon.

After another 20 minutes or so of gravel roads, we arrived at a small school still under construction where we set up in a room with a beautiful view and cross-breeze!  From about 10:30 until 3:30, we saw 152 people.  The most common ailments today were conjunctivitis (a local epidemic), female infections, malnutrition (sadly, very rampant here) and a combination of symptoms that farmers experience due to their long days of work in the fields, inadequate hydration and poor nutrition.

 Imagine getting this many kids to kneel on the floor and color a page with crayons!

This little sweetie had a hat that was stitched together from a previously worn garment, probably a knit shirt.  Very clever.  Nothing is wasted here.

We make a big effort to provide love and acknowledgement to the children at each barrio visit, while at the same time keeping them entertained and out of their parent’s hair while they wait to be seen by the doctors and nurses.  Our fearless children’s  leader, Rachel, had a suitcase full of games and activities for each day and did a great job with all the kids.

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We took a beautiful and very hot walk outside the medical area today, and were able to interact with some of the local people and see some beautiful scenery.  We were just a short distance from a stunning mountain range, and about an hour from Haiti for today’s clinic.

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The kids had a great day at school today.  It’s the end of their school year, so some of the classes had little graduation ceremonies.  Very adorable. 

I was very exicted to do a “charla” (small teaching/instruction session) after lunch today, with the school teachers.  This was the final day of my Hola, Hermanita Breast Self-Exam teaching project.  With the help of Bienva (the regional health coordinator) and a female translator I was able to provide a 20 minute program on how to instruct others in Breast Self-Examination.  The mayor of the village came in at the end of the program and thanked us for providing this life-saving education.

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Our group worked very hard this week, and we have bonded as a team in a short time.  This is the group that was in Elias Pina… a few people stayed in San Juan de la Maguana to do construction and surgery.

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Before supper, we took one last quick walk through the barrio just behind the guesthouse.  The children swarmed us, as usual and wanted to know if we could come out tomorrow night and play ball with them.  No worries… there will be other mission groups here most of the coming weeks… those kiddos get lots of attention and love.

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Here was a little sweety-pie that hung around with me for a bit this afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, we will strip the beds, take out the trash and load our packed bags onto the trailer for the return trip to the capital. We’ll stop for a while in The Colonial Zone, which is the original stomping grounds (in this part of the world) of Christopher Columbus and his family.  Then we’ll check into the hotel for a decent shower and a restful night’s sleep before making the long journey back to Ohio.

As with previous years, I will try to do at least one more blog entry to wrap up the trip and share some final thoughts… It’s been amazing.


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Surgery in a developing country… it’s another world!

Believe it or not, today was the first time in all 5 of my visits here that I’ve worked even one minute in an organized medical setting, clinic or surgery.  The clinic next door to our guesthouse has 2 operating rooms and several other consultation offices, laboratory, xray and other services.  It is run entirely by Dominican medical professionals, with the help of many of the Solid Rock staff and volunteers of all sorts.

left : OR #2, all “set around and ready for a minor GYN procedure

I joined the North Carolina surgical team, headed by Dr. Skip Johnstone, today.  He’s a Gynecological surgeon who brought a team of nurses, a resident, some recent nursing school grads, a scrub tech and a circulating nurse.  I’m glad to have been able to help in a complicated hysterectomy, as well as in the recovery room where we had to improvise an elbow immobilizer by taping a pants hanger to a cardboard IV board.  Good times!

Our Recovery Room (PACU)… Dominican family members are expected to stay with the patients, take care of their potty needs, hold their hands and basically do much of the personal care while the patient is in the hospital.

Actually, the day started with the usual loading of the supply trailer.  It’s quite a process, and requires lots of muscle to pack the huge pharmacy station, the water and food coolers, the hygiene and children’s supplies and the emergency bags.

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As is tradition, our group attended the flag raising ceremony this morning at one of the local schools.  This particular school was built by Solid Rock International, and serves 1400 students from Pre-K through high school.  Each morning, the kids have to be inside the gate by 7:55 on the dot.  If they’re late, they cannot attend school that day.  At 8:00, they have morning prayers, and raise the flags while singing the national anthem and the school song.  It’s a beautiful sight to see.

It seems like this week has been busier than usual, with very little time for deep thoughts or reflection.  It’s always interesting to see how the different (sometimes strong) personalities of the group members mesh in close quarters like this.   There are also always lessons to learn and “notes to self” of things to remember for next year.  It’s been quite a trip, for sure, but it’s also been a JOURNEY.

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Just a little scene from the barrio (neighborhood) close to our headquarters.

Tonight, we will enjoy a nice buffet meal at a local restaurant called Bienvenidos.  Tomorrow is already our last barrio day, the week has flown by!  More later.

 

 


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Yasiri, 132 patients and BSE teaching – it was a very big day!

Whew… as expected it was an exciting day.  We started out with a quick tour of the local open air market which has a special set of smells that just can’t be described.  Think horse poop, freshly slaughtered farm animals, spices and humanity.

After about a 45 minute bus ride, we pulled up to the school that Yasiri attends.  As we walked onto the grounds, I was looking around at all the kids, trying to find her.  Something made me look over to my right, and there she stood on the front porch of the clinic building next to the school.  Our little sweetie had already picked me out of the crowd of Americans and had her eyes locked on me.  She was patiently waiting for me to see her.  You should have seen her smile when she knew I found her!

Josefina, Yasiri’s Mom told me that our girl was so excited that she had been awake since about 4 or 5 a.m!  I got big hugs from Mama, and sat down to give Yasi the gifts I brought for her.  She especially seemed to love the yellow stethoscope and the Caribbean doll with the magic reversible dress.

Then… to make the visit even more special, a moped pulled up with Yasiri’s 17 year old sister on board.  She had gotten permission to leave school for a few minutes to come over to the elementary school just to meet me!  Isn’t that sweet?

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My sweet neighbors (Marta and Taylan) recently started sponsoring a student at Yasiri’s school.  Fortunately, I was able to spend a few minutes visiting with little Felito this morning also!  He’s pretty young, so he was surprised and a little confused about the whole process… but he liked the gifts they sent.

Too soon,  we had to climb back in the bus and get to our work village for the day.  We went to Canada del Café (Coffee Creek) where we took care of 132 people with a variety of ailments including skin infections (staph), cold and flu, hypertension and many issues related to poor food and water sanitation.

Crowd waiting to be seen by the medical team and the house next to our clinic site.

Throughout the day, one of the female translators (Alexandra) and I were able to provide Breast Self-Examination teaching kits to about 20 women.  We did some verbal teaching and gave them a pink string bag containing a sponge breast model, powder, a “Thing A Ma Boob” key chain with pink puffs representing breast lump sizes, a washcloth and educational pamphlets.

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Two women had specific breast concerns, so I actually performed clinical breast exams on both people.  One, I felt was more of a superficial skin issue combined with massive consumption of caffeine and the other I felt was pain related to lack of proper support.  To be safe, I encouraged both women to follow up with a physician as soon as they are able.

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I had some time to hang out with the kiddos today… which is always one of my favorite parts of the barrio medical clinics.  Some of the college students set up a really cool play room, with games and toys for the kids.  It was a mad house!  They really go nuts over stickers and the friendship bracelets have been a big hit.

 

Interestingly… some of the patients that were seen diagnosed and treated in the morning, tried to come back in the afternoon and get more attention.  They swore that they hadn’t been there before, and asked for any items, gifts or suitcases that we had.  Many people were very adamant about wanting a suitcase, but we don’t make the decision about who gets those.  We leave them with a local representative to determine who needs them the most.

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This pretty little baby was using my finger as a teething ring!

For the first time in the 5 years I’ve been coming here, tomorrow I will be working in the actual medical clinic that is on the same grounds as the guesthouse where we stay.  There is a surgical team here from North Carolina, and our team is helping to fill in some staffing vacancies in their group.  It’s GYN surgery, which we do with the Davinci Robot or laparoscopically in the U.S.  Here it is done with a large abdominal incision, or vaginally, depending on what the issues that patient has.

There is a chance that I will be working in the pre-op or post-op area… but I really hope I can help out in the actual operating room.  I’d love to be able to use some of my real-world nursing skills in the highest acuity medical clinic between here and the city of Santo Domingo (3 hours away).

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     Canada del Cafe (Coffee Creek) …. Western Dominican Republic, near Haiti

 

 


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I saw Haiti today!

Today, our barrio group drove an hour over paved roads and then another hour over dirt and gravel roads to get to a tiny barrio called La Palma.  From the gravel road on the mountain, we could see the river that divides the Dominican Republic from Haiti (Rio Artibonito) and just across the river, the stark brown mountains that form the Eastern border of Haiti.

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We set up in a small clinic and were fortunate to have use of a triage room, 2 consultation rooms and a kitchen for the pharmacy team.  Some people (myself included) walked up the road to do a home visit, and everyone else started seeing patients.  I was a general supervisor today, and delegated duties to the ONU students and younger nurses.  Pastor Enol referred to me as “Jefa”, which basically means “Lady Chief”.

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This family walked and rode many miles to get to the clinic today.

We are soooo fortunate that we have Dr. Sandy Valdez working with us this week.  I met Dr. Valdez on my first trip here, and we have maintained a beautiful friendship ever since then.  Last year, he challenged me to improve my Spanish language skills, and I’m proud to say that he complimented my Spanish today.  He noticed an improvement!  Proud moment for me!

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We took care of 100 people today in 3 hours… then it was back in the bus.  We stopped in a small town called Pedro Santana, where the Dominican staff had made arrangements for a friend to prepare lunch  for them.  They shared their beans and rice with anyone who wanted to join them… delicious.

My feet felt like they were marinating inside my shoes, so when we returned to the guesthouse… I got the flip flops on and we took a walk to the barrio closest to the guesthouse.  The children there are very aware of the Americanos that visit their neighborhood just about every week… and so they swarm us looking for horsey back rides, someone to play catch with, hands to hold and people to hug them.  No problem… we took care of that… plus, they loved the lollipops and friendship bracelets that we had in our pockets for them!

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So tonight is “vendor night” when local artisans bring their items for us to see.  We have a tailor, 2 jewelry salesmen, and an artist.  I’m not buying this year, but the choices are lovely.  The larimar stone jewelry is especially beautiful.  Larimar is a turquoise-looking stone that is only found in a very small area of the southern region of the Dominican Republic.

Tomorrow… we travel to El Cercado… the home of our little luvvy, Yasiri.  Very excited to see her soon!

 


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Lord help me, there’s a hungry kitten…

I’m sure I’ll have a photo or 2 with the little fella, but not right now.  Suffice it to say that my roommates/grown up travel partners/friends have been instructed to NOT let me get emotionally attached to the kitten who found his way to the door of the dining room.  Ps… he likes shredded cheese!

But I digress…

Yesterday was all about driving about 3 hours from the city of Santo Domingo to San Juan de la Maguana.  There was a huge protest against government corruption in one of the regions along the way, so our usual rest stop was packed and traffic was blocked on some streets.  No worries, though.  Our 2 busses and the pickup truck made it here just fine.

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Here’s a street vendor selling eggplant.  Lots of these people along the road.

I was so happy to get warm welcoming hugs from the Solid Rock Staff I’ve worked with here before.  Bienva, Laura, Nicole, Hector, Nef and of course mi Dominicano medico favorito (favorite Dominican doctor) Dr. Sandy Valdez are all like family to me here.

We had a detailed orientation session at lunch time including review of the rules, schedule, and our roles in the barrio (villages) and clinic.  Then, the hot and sweaty work began… we took all the donated items from the 30 + suitcases and organized them by contents, day and destination.  Many times people ask why we just don’t do this step before we leave… well, I’ll tell you.  We can’t risk losing the contents of one whole suitcase.  In other words, if we packed all the blood pressure meds together, or all the hygiene supplies for one day together, and that suitcase got lost or destroyed, we’d have a problem.  So instead, we spread all the items among the 30 suitcases at home.  That way if one is lost, we haven’t lost a huge amount of any one particular item.

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Sorting the donations into suitcases for the upcoming week!

Thanks to our friends and kind donors, we have a fully stocked pharmacy box as well as 2 huge suitcases of hygiene items and one of children’s items (toys, coloring books, crayons, jump ropes, beads, balls, etc) for each village that we visit.  When the suitcases are empty, they will be left with a village official (minister or school principal) who will see that they are given to people who can use them in their homes.  They really don’t have much furniture here, so the suitcases are very valued as dressers or storage boxes.

At 7pm last night, we were driven a few miles into the city to attend church services.  Half of the people went to the beautiful Catholic cathedral and half attended the contemporary music and message service at the Mennonite Church.

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Home sweet home for the next week!

Today, we will have breakfast at 6:45, then load up the vehicles to head out to the local high school to teach physical assessment skills to the nursing students, the construction site of the new medical clinic (I opted out of construction detail) and to a remote village (barrio) to set up a mobile medical clinic.   Each day, the pharmacy at the barrio clinics dispenses medications for about 200 patients.  A licensed professional is required to check each prescription before it is handed to the patient.  Today, my friend Kristen and I will be doing that job.

Not sure what the evening will bring, but I hope to talk a walk through the barrio behind the guesthouse, where it’s always fun to interact with the kiddos.

I will be anxious to find out what kind of chemical reaction occurs with the combination of Anti-Monkey-Butt powder (with calamine lotion) and bug spray.  I might end up with concrete or some kind of crazy paste in some uncomfortable skin folds!  We’ll see!


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Does anyone know the incubation period for the flu virus????

The hubby came home from work yesterday with the news that he had been feeling achy and exhausted all day. I immediately suggested that he keep his sorry self at home, and I would just drive myself down to the hotel in Columbus and on over to the airport in the (very early) morning.

I even remember very clearly threatening him within an inch of his life if he was up all night “barfing his guts out” and giving me his cootie germs… not to mention being unable to help me get all my stuff from the car into the airport. Yeah… I know, not a lot of sympathy for his malaise from old Florence Nightingale here. But he was messing with my best laid plans!

Illustration of Florence Nightingale Holding Lamp

My mistake was believing him when he said he would be just fine. Nope. Shoulda put my foot down and left him home.

Instead, we ate a mediocre “breakfast for dinner” meal at the Big Boy in Marysville… (which, by the way, is not on our list of places to go ever again) got caught with a low fuel level in gridlock traffic on the outerbelt, and got to our (fully booked) hotel where our reservation was “not in their system”. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

The kind folks at the Country Inn & Suites were able to get us into a nice room with an in-room Jacuzzi tub and a refrigerator… so I thought maybe everything was going to be OK… and it was, for about an hour. Commence with the barfing up of the guts.

I made a nest with extra blankets and pillows in the Jacuzzi, to try for a little sleep and to avoid all the germs going on over there in that comfy king sized bed. No good. Then I stretched out on the floor… also no good. I finally left the hubby at the hotel with an 11am wake up call and grabbed a cab to get to the airport by 3am. Now I’m hoping his cooties didn’t latch onto me. I DO NOT want to spend the next few days doing what he did all last night.

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The good news is, the actual travel part of the day went very well. All the security checks and flights were fine. All the luggage arrived without a hitch. It has rained a few times since we’ve been here in the capitol city of Santo Domingo, but it’s almost sure to clear up for tomorrow.

 

After a quick walk to explore the grocery store and get a frozen yogurt, most of us are headed for an early bedtime… excited to get to work tomorrow!

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Shoe vendor near our hotel