Sunday, May 18, 2014


We have made it to Atlanta, and we depart in about an hour and a half! We're excited to be back to the states enjoying American food and can't wait to share everything we've learned and experienced with all of you.

See you soon!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hello goodbye

Yesterday we said bye to the community of Jalonga and this afternoon we say bye to all of the wonderful people who have made our stay at the Kellogg retreat center something special. However, tonight we say hello to new adventures, new experiences, and new perspectives. Today, we say hello to Santo Domingo.

This weekend was very relaxing. We had plenty of time to walk around the community and nearby neighborhoods of San Pedro de Macoris to learn more about the Dominican Republic's culture. Saturday night, we had the opportunity to  attend a Roman Catholic mass at the cathedral we drive by every day, and Sunday morning we got the chance to go to a Protestant church right down the road. It was great to see that a lot of us could follow along throughout both services. Different place. Different language. Same faith. 

Yesterday was probably the most eye opening thing we've been through this far. It came to that point in the afternoon when we had to say goodbye to the people who we had worked alongside in Jalonga. It was hard to tell whether or not the kiddos understood that we weren't coming back today, but it was very apparent that they had no troubles grasping that concept when they started chasing the vans as we drove away. 

Even though that moment was very bittersweet, in the grand scheme of things, it was very eye opening. How awesome is it that we all became that attached to the people of Jalonga after only a week of meeting them. How awesome is it that we hardly know these people and we want nothing but the best for their individual futures. How awesome is it that we just visited this community a week ago and we want nothing more than to see the most promising changes in their own perspectives, their leadership, and all of their spiritual and economical growth. Personally, I think we all finally figured out in our hearts that we came here to build relationships, not walls.

We are leaving the Kellogg center in about a half hour. We hope to arrive to the seminary around 5 where tonight will be spent getting acquainted with the new people and new atmosphere. 

We hope all of our moms had a great Mother's Day on Sunday! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Teamwork makes the dream work

These past couple of days have been long and frustrating but equally as worthwhile and rewarding. 

Attendance at the workshops in the afternoon had been pretty low earlier this the week...ranging from about 6-8 people the first two days. The groups varied, but it was an easy observation that with each day, the group demographic became younger and younger. To improve attendance and collaboration, we decided to reach out to the community by visiting homes in the Batey yesterday morning and early afternoon. 

We walked around visiting individual homes in the community in three different groups. Each group was led by a leader who lives in this community, and every group had someone who could translate. Our purpose was to ask people what they think the needs of the community are. Initially, a lot of people referred to the bakery project that has been at a stand still for 5 years now. When we asked what else they want to see happen in the community, we got a range of several answers. 

Some want people want to get the roads and neighborhoods cleaned up and think that everybody needs to take better care of their community. Others believe that the more well off people need to help their neighbors who are struggling to keep a roof from leaking every time it rains or who barely have enough to eat. Some more people suggested that a need of the community is to help the elderly, and others want to see a playground built for the kids. Another thing we heard others suggest is more security throughout all areas of the community. The people of Jalonga know what their needs are and want to see change, but they aren't finding effective ways to communicate well among each other. 

When the three groups met up after our visits around the community, we all shared that a lot of people had expressed interest in attending the meeting. We waited in the church in anticipation of how many people were going to show up and were thrilled when over 10 people arrived. The group was young, enthusiastic, and willing to let their voices be heard. Toward the end of the workshop, we shared what we've learned from each other and how we're going to apply that to our own communities. For example, Emily talked about listening not only with her ears but with her eyes and looking past the superficial things and looking beyond the face value. *applause* 

Last night, we had a class discussion about one of our textbooks. The discussion was centered around Mary's role in the birth narrative and the Magnificat. We also shared our opinions on the difference between prayer and politics and also the separation of church and state. Our discussions can get lengthy and heated at times because of our different backgrounds and denominations, but it has only helped us to open our eyes even more to new faith based perspectives.

This morning, we were a little rushed to get ready. At the beginning of the week, when Dr. Jones said to be ready by 9, it really meant 9:45-10 because that's when Father Potter was actually likely to show up. However, these past couple mornings, our taxis have been prompt right at 9:05. 

The construction project we have been working on is office space for the school next door. Today we spent time moving and breaking apart rocks that will be used to level the trenches before they pour concrete. After lunch, a majority of the group went back into the community to invite people to another community meeting that would be led by the young leaders of Jalonga and one in which we would not be present. 

While they were having their meeting, our group got together to share our thoughts on how we think things are going. A lot of us expressed that we're really frustrated because we're not seeing immediate results with the things we have been working on. To explain this further, Gracie used this analogy: "For those of us who don't go to the gym very often, when we do, we get frustrated when we don't see immediate results. It's like we do 5 crunches and we expect to see a 6 pack the next day. Also, everyone has different ways to work out. Some people prefer to swim while others run or use the elliptical, and yet others value lifting weights." This scenario rings true for both the community of Jalonga and our own group.  The people of the Batey want to see immediate results with the changes they say are needed in their community, but they just continue to be discouraged and frustrated when the projects aren't finished before another one starts. The members of the community also have varying ideas of how to reach their goals which results in discord among everyone. Similarly, a majority of us came here expecting to see immediate results in the community and the work site, and we've had neither which has resulted in quite a bit of frustration. However, our perspectives are beginning to change, and we are all beginning to realize that what we're doing is participating in real life. This is a real community with real needs and real opportunity, but the reality of the situation is that change is going to take time. We have to remember that a big part of us being here is for us to build relationships, not walls. 

All is well!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Let's eat!

Let's eat!

Girls on fire

The past few days have been some for the record books. We've laughed, we've cried, we've been exceptionally frustrated, and we've been so unbelievably humbled. 

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to attend a nearby church service that is just down the street. Within 30 seconds, a Domincan woman had already turned around in her pew to hand us her hymnal and point at where they were at so that we were able to follow along. Although it was clearly in a different language, a lot of us talked about how it was so cool that we were able to follow the basic structure of what was going on. It was also great to see the community welcoming us with them to engross ourselves in faith. Later that day we took some time to visit the beautiful beach and catch some waves. Yes, we stuck out like sore thumbs, but we were also so overly welcomed by the people. One Dominican even recognized one of our Iowa State tshirts we were wearing and began telling us how his friend played for the Chicago Cubs. 

Yesterday morning was spent taking time listening to Father Potter and Edmundo talk about how they would like to structure the workshops that we will be working in throughout our time in the Batey. They also shared with us several of the struggles that are happening right here under our noses in San Pedro de Macoris. Our group had a rough afternoon, but everything started looking up when we got to spend time with the kids of the Priest who runs the retreat center we are staying at. We played everything from Simon Says to soccer to baseball to cards. It was time that took our minds off of our frustrations and anxieties toward things that we have encountered, and it was time well spent.

Today was the first day of actually getting our hands dirty, however, it started off a little shaky. Every day we learn more and more about the culture here, and it is starting to become very evident that Dominicans live a much slower paced life. A lot of things are kind of "go with the flow" and "come what may and the rest will follow" oriented, so it has been essential that we regroup and realize that patience and flexibility will be a great friend throughout this whole trip. 

We reached the Batey around noon today, and our first task was to break out the gloves and pull up some weeds. We are clearing an area that will eventually serve as a recreational area for the students at the school right across the street.

Now here is where the title to this post comes in..

Micah & Sara's perspective: we were about a couple hours in and were just completely enthralled in our conversation talking about TV shows and our work when the unimaginable happened. Micah had been pulling up the weeds and tucking them under her arm until she had a burning sensation that began around her elbow. She asked me if there was a rash, and then we discovered that it wasn't dirt on her arm but FIRE ANTS. Then we both came to the sudden realization that they were all over bothe of us. It was burning and we both never ran so fast while trying to take off shoes and socks that had ants all over them at the same time. It was burning, and then the burning turned to itching, and then everything was just spreading. We finally reached some random trash can filled with water and just soaked our arms in it until we found Benedryl which we then bathed in. Everything seemed to calm down but the heebee-jeebees feeling afterward was the absolute worst. Also, we both suddenly developed an irrational fear of all ants for the rest of the day. 

Sabrina's perspective: I was taking a water break when all of a sudden I saw Micah and Sara running toward me. Honestly, I thought it was cute that they were racing to see who could get to their water bottle first. That perspective completely changed when I saw a look of pure terror on both of their faces, and I knew something else was up. Sara was frantically taking off her watch and before I knew it, Micah had both of her shoes off. I ran to the trash can where they were at and started throwing water at their now bare feet that were covered in bites. I was covering them both with Benedryl when Dr. Jones came over and suggested that overdosing on Benedryl is a real thing. Sara and Micah insisted that I keep putting it on them, but now I was worried I was going to kill 'em. Don't worry, they're still kickin'.

Erik's perspective: been there done that. Just a couple of bugs, they'll survive.

The rest of the day was spent at the workshop at the church with the people of the Batey. Throughout the group discussions, we learned that the people who live there are struggling to keep and create job opportunities in their own community. Future workshops will be spent listening to more of their needs and facilitating discussion that will hopefully lead us to helping provide support in the development of their action plan for the community of Jalonga. 

Tonight, we had one of our best meals yet and spent a majority of our time in deep, unsettling, and yet inspiring group discussion. 

Hope all is well at home!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I scream, you scream.

Today was a great day filled with doses of helado (ice cream) and multi cultural laughter.

Breakfast was at 8 o'clock this morning, and it was the first time we have been introduced to fruit since we've been here. Needless to say, it went over pretty well with the whole group. After breakfast, Father Potter met us at the retreat center, and we walked around San Pedro de Macoris. It wasn't but a few minutes of walking until we were over taken by the beauty of the Caribbean. Much of our morning was spent walking along the beach, taking it all in. Right before we walked back for lunch, we stopped by a shop along the road and had our fair share of delicious ice cream. When is having dessert first ever a bad idea? 

Dominicans love siestas (naps), and so do college students. After lunch, Father Potter allotted plenty of time for us to take a siesta before we headed off for our event filled afternoon. First, we went to a school and spoke with a Deacon about the structure of the school and the political side of their education. Before we hopped back into the vehicles, we walked to a very well-known baseball field. It was the field that Sammy Sosa grew up playing on! There was a little league game going on so we sat down and watched it. I can assure you that the little boy on the red team was happy to have the Americans cheering for him as he hit his homerun! 

Finally, it was time to see the Batey. The batey is a community built around the sugar cane plantations where most of the workers live. It is also a place where people are astonished by the Americans. After about 30 seconds, our two vehicles had a handful of young kiddos following us as if we were part of some parade. A majority of our time will be spent at this particular batey helping them with some construction work. We start that project on Monday, and I think the kiddos might be even more excited than we are.

Today was the day where we were served ice cream for both lunch and dinner. Happy stomachs equal happy days. More importantly, today was really our first interaction with the Dominican people. It's no surprise to us or them that we look different, but the language of hellos, smiles, and laughter are always the same.

All is well,

Los Americanos