la primera semana

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After showing me around my new home, my mom asked me if I was hungry. I said no because I ate at the airport, but I noticed she was already cooking something on the stove. I didn’t want to be rude, so I said I would have a little bit. She served me a heaping plate of mangu con cebolla, which I believe was some sort of mashed vegetable with onions on top. She also gave me a plate of pavo y salami, turkey sandwich meat and salami. Even though it didn’t want any of it, I tried to clear about half of my plate. First impressions are important…verdad? After dinner I unpacked my bags and went to bed. I did not sleep very well the first night. I woke up about every two hours, thinking it was already time to get up. I decided to finally get out of bed around 6. I was going to Sosua, a beautiful beach, with the group today. I try fumbling with the shower knobs, but couldn’t seem to get any of them to work. So I knock on my host mom’s door, and she walks into the kitchen and turns a knob that turns on the water. I go back into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and it has warm water! At this point, I’m really excited. The water pressure is very low, so it takes a while to wash the shampoo out of my hair, and as soon as I’m all soapy, BAM the warm water disappears and its freezing. I know what you’re thinking… “I thought it was ridiculously hot there, what’s the problem?” The problem is its 6am and NO ONE likes a cold shower at 6am. 

Once I’m ready, we all pile in the truck. Every time my dad opens the door, the alarm goes off. My mom sits in the back, holding the baby, and Linette is standing in the middle, keeping her eye on me, but refuses to smile. Car seats? Nope. [I actually was thinking about buying them one, but when I went into the girl’s room I saw one in the closet. They have one, but don’t use it. Why? Probably because it takes up too much room. This will make more sense later.] The streets of Santiago are nothing less than chaos. There are lanes painted on streets that are wide enough for two cars, but no one obeys them. On the streets that are paved, pot wholes are everywhere. Cars dive in and out of lanes like they are invincible. Helmets are rarely worn by motorcyclists, and its common to see up to three people on a motorcycle, even really little kids. The only person that ever wears a seat belt, and that’s not even all the time, is the driver. And there are always people standing in the middle of the street and put their face in your window holding up goods they are trying to sell. Next to the signal, there is a countdown until the light turns red and green, so everyone knows when the light is going to turn. Pretty clever, I think. When I arrived at the school, almost everyone from my group was there.
About and hour and a half later, we were en la playa Sosua! It was so beautiful. The coast was shaped like a crescent moon and there were little tiendas lining the coast. At the opposite end, there were hotels over looking bright blue ocean, where a few boats were anchored. It wasn’t long before everyone was in the water. It was perfect. After walking along the coast, Cecelia, Natalie, Brenda and I went on the “glass bottom boat” to go snorkeling. The glass bottom was about a foot wide and four feet long, and was so opaque it was difficult to see much of anything. Our driver, Miguel, had bread that he threw in the water, so fish came right up to the surface. Once he anchored the boat, we jumped in with our fancy snorkeling equipment that has probably never been properly cleaned. Miguel went with us, and took some bread under water so the fish came really close. It was so neat, and I was regretting not purchasing an underwater camera. After about 45 minutes, we returned to the coast. For about $5, I’d say it was worth it. 

Later that afternoon, we returned to the university, and from there we took separate cars to la plaza to buy cell phones. We were there for probably two and a half hours. When I got home around 9:30, I ate dinner, and my parents were leaving for church. They expected me to go, but I was too tired, looked horrible, and still had beach clothes on; so I told them I wanted to go to bed. I think my mom was offended, but they did go without me.

In the morning, I got ready for church, and off we went. My mom was already gone, so it was just my dad and I. We picked up a family of four on the way, and they all sat in back. When we pulled onto the dirt road where my new church is located, it was flooded so my dad had to drop of us right at the doorstep. The church could probably fit about seventy people, and everything inside is cement—the walls, floors, and ceiling. We got there pretty early, and there was a group of prayer warriors at the front, praising God and asking for provision. It was comforting to see and hear them, because even though I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, I could feel the Holy Spirit in the room. A feeling I get when I go to my church en Los Estados Unidos. I could have listened to them for hours, because the power/passion/spirit was there. When church started, I was surprised how similar it was. It began with worship, and proceeded with the message. During worship there were four girls on stage, varying in age from 13-23, singing to up beat music. Then dancers came out and I really enjoyed watching their expressions as they sang along. There was so much joy in the room. The message was hard to sit through because I only understood about 20%. After church we went to mi amiga Bri’s house, whose host dad is the pastor of my church and my mom’s uncle.
 After we ate lunch, we went to the high school where the church’s basketball team was playing. Bri’s sister Aibid [pronounced Ivy], and her family/friends were here, so it was nice to make some Dominican friends. We were here for about an hour or two, then went across the street with Bri’s dad and mom to witness las elecciones. It was a little disheartening seeing three men at the entrance, dressed in camouflage holding big guns—but I just smiled when I walked by.  Bri’s dad showed us his ballot, which had pictures and the candidates and all he had to do was put an X on the picture of the person he wanted. That’s it! Esta mas facil aqui. Despues, we went back to the high school, where friends and family just hung out, some not even watching the game, for hours. Bri and I were noticing how people just are not in a hurry here. Life is very slow pace. Almost too slow. Bri and I wanted to leave, but we ended up being there all day. I think I got about 10 bug bites that day. After a long day with the family, I broke down. Its not that I didn’t like them, but I just felt so incredibly lost. I didn’t understand much of anything anyone was saying. The food was for the most part okay, but very different. I missed having a hot shower. I wasn’t able to connect with anyone from home because I didn’t have internet, I couldn’t figure out how to use the calling cards, I still had not been able to get a hold of either of my parents because neither of them answered their phones, and I was questioning why I even came in the first place. I was expecting to experience culture shock at one point, but not this early on. I was really overwhelmed and realizing that its only been two days and I’m going to be here for three months. 

Monday I was able to sleep in, which was nice. My parents didn’t have to work and I didn’t have school because it was a holiday—elections taking place the day before = holiday! I went to Bri’s house to pick up her family, then to another house to pick up another family, and we all went grocery shopping! Remember when I mentioned that my parents probably don’t use the car seat because they don’t have room? We had 12 people in a truck with 5 seats. The driver, Bri and I in the front seat, 6 in the back seat, and 3 in the bed of the truck [one being my 2 year old sister]. First we went to Price Mart—an exact replica of Costco. It even has chicken bakes! After that, we went to El Sireno, which was a mix between Wal-Mart, target, and a mall. I bought some ritz crackers and a notebook for school. One of the girls from the group called me and said a bunch of people were going to see a movie, Bri asked her parents if she could go, and they said yes. I asked my dad, and he said I could, but I wanted to ask my mom as well. When I asked, she paused for a second, and asked if I talked to my dad. I said yes, and she paused again, but ultimately agreeing. They knew what time the move was starting and I told them I would call them when it was over.
Going to the movies was great. It was nice to get away the family for a bit, and the movie we saw was in English with Spanish subtitles! Me gusta mucho! We saw Recuérdame, and it was pretty good, but the ending was so dumb! It was really sad and everyone was crying…well at least all of the American girls haha. When we walked out of the movie theater, I called my mom to let her know that I was out. We were still inside the mall and everyone in the group was getting frozen yogurt, having a good time. I turn around while I’m still on the phone and my dad is right there waiting for me. At this moment, I felt like I was in junior high again.

Tuesday was the first day of school. 

I had never been so excited to start classes before. The day began with an orientation, where the staff introduced themselves to us, and we went over the rules of the university. Before we came to the DR, we were told that we would have a weeklong break at the end of June. BUT when we got our schedule for the summer, it didn’t have a break on it. This is problematic because there are people that planned to visit during this time and we were planning to travel the country as a team. The director of the program didn’t really give us a straight answer about whether this will be fixed or not, but hopefully they will figure this out soon. After that, we went to el supermercado nacional, where there is a food court, grocery store, and library all in one! Then we went to the day care that my mom works for to eat lunch and then went to Bri’s house where I finally got to skype Matthew! It was wonderful!  That night, I actually played with Linette for a couple hours. Up until this point, she had been very timid. Sometimes she would come stand in my doorway and watch me get ready, and I would tell her to come in, but she always walked away. So tonight when she was playing with her ball, I sat on the ground and rolled the ball to her. She smiled and rolled it back. We did this for about 20 minutes, and then she grabbed her other toys and wanted me to play with them as well. After dinner I went in my room, and she stood in my doorway again. I told her to come in, and she hesitated, but came. I turned on cartoon network and we both laid in my bed for a couple hours watching tv. She kept saying, “mira” / “look” while pointing to the tv. She finally was warming up to me, and it felt pretty good. 

Wednesday I actually had classes to attend and was excited to begin. My first class, Latin-American civilization, was very overwhelming because my profesora spoke so fast and didn’t use the board at all. I didn’t understand anything she said. I was having feelings of doubt as to why I put myself in this situation in the first place and was questioning whether I would be able to succeed at all. The next class, advanced composition, was better because my profesora spoke more slowly, used the board, and I sat next to a Spanish speaker. :] My third class, advanced writing abroad, went pretty well. Bri’s dad, the pastor, is my professor, and he knows to speak slowly. After school I felt better about classes than I did that morning. Bri and I went to my mom’s day care, ate lunch, and then hitched a ride on a concho [public service car] to la plaza internacional where we were meeting the rest of our group!
It was our first time taking a concho by ourselves, and it was an adventure. We stood on the side of the street, waiting for a concho with an A on the windshield. Each one that passed by was packed full of people. When we finally got one, there were five people in the back seat, and two in the front. A little discomfort and 15 pesos later, we were at the plaza! The plaza has air conditioning and internet, so it is a very comfortable place to be. After spending most of the afternoon there, I came back to my house and had dinner. So you know when you buy fried chicken and it has the skin but its pretty fatty and doesn’t have any meat on it? Well that’s what I had for dinner tonight. Fired chicken fatty skin, without the chicken. It had a good taste, but was disgusting at the same time.

Thursday was a pretty good day. Classes, for the most part, went well. My history class is still a struggle. I got excited when my teacher turned on the projector for PowerPoint, but most of the slides were paragraphs of information, and she sped through them so fast we weren’t even able to take notes. She said she would email it to us, so I will have to teach myself the information with a dictionary in hand. I guess I understand that she has to get through a lot of information in a short amount of time, but I’m hoping she realizes how overwhelming it is for most of the class. After school, Bri and I went to that day care to have lunch, and Bri’s dad asked me to pray in Spanish…and I think it went pretty well! But if he asks me again its going to be the same exact prayer because those are the only words I know! Haha. After lunch Bri and I walked to mi casa because she was spending the night. The walk was quite a distance, about a mile and a half. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but when its scorching hot, extremely humid, and every car, motorcycle, truck, van, and concho that passes you honks their horn and turns their heads because apparently white people are quite the attraction in the DR, the walk seems a lot further than it actually is. When we arrived at my apartment, we painted our nails and talked—you know, girl stuff—and later that night, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner that reminded me of home—tacos! It was my mom’s first time ever making tacos. And throughout the whole dinner, my dad kept basically saying that it was chick food and it wasn’t a man’s dinner…rude. I thought she did a great job :] although, here, they put corn and ketchup in their tacos. No salsa, no guacamole, no sour cream. Don’t ask me why there was mayonnaise on the table as well. Yo no sé.

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