Since being home from the Dominican Republic, I’ve had a lot of people ask me my absolute favorite thing about my experience. While I can think of and type a long list of things that I absolutely loved, one specific thing comes to mind that fills my heart a little more than the beautiful sunsets, and living within walking distance from the ocean.
And that is: the people.Since we’ve been home, we’ve been in contact with a few of these wonderful individuals, but that doesn’t make me miss them any less. Derek and I both bonded with them in a way that I didn’t think was possible with a language barrier. They all welcomed us with open arms, showed us love, and taught us that it is possible to have close to nothing besides human connection, and still have genuine happiness. Only a couple of these people speak English, but I love each and every single one of them as if they were family. So this post is to them! (and to my future myself as a promise that I will see them again one day.)
Our local coordinator. This lady was our go to person for questions regarding the schools, health issues, the culture, and pretty much a shoulder to lean on anytime we felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or homesick. She worked directly with ILP, made sure that we were doing our duties as head teachers, and always double checked that all of the volunteers were having a good time.
She also set up our service projects, taught us Spanish lessons, and occasionally checked in on the house to make sure the power and water were working correctly. She was our local coordinator, but to me, she was so much more than that. The first time we met Amarillis at the airport she hugged me and said “Welcome to the DR, I love you very much.” And even though I knew this lady for 5 seconds, I never felt anything less from her than love.
The day that our house got engulfed by smoke from a wild fire was the same day that I found out I was pregnant. Since we had to evacuate our house, Amarillis found a different house for all of us 30 volunteers to sleep at, but I told her I wasn’t comfortable staying there because I was very sick that day. She looked at me with worry and asked “what are you so sick with?!” And that made her the first person Derek and I told. She jumped up and down for 5 minutes with joy, saying “I am going to be a grandma again, but this time to an American baby!” She then let us stay in her home, made sure I slept okay, and even woke us up with Dominican breakfast to say “congratulations.”
Amarillis was the most busy person I’ve ever met. She workd with our volunteer group, taught adults English, had 9 grandkids of her own, and was constantly giving back to her community with service projects. Between all of this, she has checked in on us and “baby” 3 times since we’ve been home to make sure we are doing okay and to let us know that she misses us. I’ll never be able to repay her for the love she showed us in the 3 months of knowing her, but I am so thankful that I had the chance to meet someone like her.Tamari-
Also known as a literal angel. This lady was the cook at our house. She made our group lunch and dinner every single day, in a small little kitchen that didn’t have AC or even a fan. She didn’t speak a word of English, but she was constantly showing us love and laughs by giving us hugs, flashing her bright smile, and dancing to her loud Dominican music. She couldn’t pronounce our names correctly, but she always called us her son and daughter.
On our first day in the DR, Derek and I really wanted our usual morning cup of coffee, and since the volunteer program is mostly LDS, not a lot of people in our group drank coffee, so our house didn’t have a coffee pot (until we bought one later.) We walked down to the kitchen to ask Tamari if she had any coffee, or where to get some, and to our surprise, she acted so excited that we asked! She pulled up two chairs, directed us to sit down, and then proceeded to spend 40 minutes making us Dominican coffee from scratch with a manual coffee pot. And that was only the first act of love she showed us.
When I started getting my daily morning sickness, I had to stop going to the kitchen as often because the smells would make me nauseous. Derek would still go visit her every day, and loved helping her (since cooking is one of his favorite hobbies.) He also practiced his Spanish, and she practiced her English while they cooked together. Since I wouldn’t see her as often, she would ask Derek what specific food I wanted every day, and would go out of her way to cook me something completely different than the rest of the group. Derek once told her that a hard boiled egg sounded good to me, and she made me 5 eggs every day for the week!
The day before we left, Amarillis came to tell us goodbye and told us that she’s never seen volunteers get so close to Tamari, and that Tamari was so sad to see us to leave back home. It made Derek and I sad, but also feel so good, knowing that we changed this lady’s summer like she had changed ours.
Oh, Papi. Where do I even begin? This man was our next door neighbor, and he was also our go to taxi driver. Any day that I saw Papi was a good day. We bonded over our weekly grocery store runs, and practicing Spanish while driving around in his beat up taxi that didn’t have a working door or any AC.
Just like Tamari, Papi didn’t speak any English and couldn’t pronounce or remember our names. So a month in, he renamed Derek and I. And from then on out, we were known as Pedro and Mari by all of our neighbors and community. Most mornings I’d wake up, and go outside and there Papi would be yelling “Hola hola hola Mari!! como esta!” It was always followed by “where’s pedro?” He loved both Derek and I, but could speak to Derek better, so he always wanted to talk to him and he always worried when I was alone without Derek, in case I wasn’t feeling good.
Papi lived in a little 2 bedroom (seperated by a sheet) shack, that was painted bright pink and didn’t have any AC. He lived there with his wife, Frecia (she’s next!) his son Davey, their two dogs Toby and Bronco, and his grand daughter, Denise, who occasionally stayed with them. They had close to nothing, and as a taxi driver, he was the provider of the household. Frecia was in and out of the hospital all summer getting surgery on her legs, and he would tell us all the time that he was stressed with money, but he was one of the happiest person I’ve ever known.
Frecia was the sassiest, most hilarious person, and the definition of a Dominican woman. She was Papi’s wife, our neighbor, and she was also in charge of the school that was in the lower level of our house. She would walk around the school with curlers in her hair, and smack the walls with a fly swatter or a ruler to get the kids to behave. Some of the kids found her “scary and strict”, but she really had a heart of gold.
Frecia loved dancing, but would tell us that she couldn’t dance good anymore because she had to have leg surgery. That never stopped her from trying though. She would rock back and forth on her front porch whenever the neighborhood would play loud music, and laugh at Derek and I for dancing (because she knew she could once do so much better).
My most favorite thing about Frecia was that, much like Papi, she would always greet me with a “buenos dias Mari, como esta?” But before I could ever answer she would ask how the baby was. She was so excited for us, so much that she would tell all of her friends and family who visited her house, that I was pregnant. Frecia always cared about how I was feeling and how the baby was. And when we left, she begged for me to visit in the future with the baby, so that she could meet the human she already loved so much.Colasa-
Colasa was another neighbor of our’s. If I could think of one word to describe this woman it would be, giving. Her whole life revolved around serving others, and giving way more than she personally had. She was always in and out of our house to visit with us, but to also clean our toilets, mop our floors, and help us with our laundry. And even when we told her no thank you, she persisted to help. She was always so happy to do it. Just like Papi, Colasa lived in a small little house with close to nothing, but she was always welcoming us into her home to visit, and loved to show off photos of her sons, who she was so proud of.
When Colasa found out I was pregnant, I woke up to fresh fruit on my kitchen counter every morning, even when I told her I didn’t need anymore. She would insist, because “the baby needed it.” She would always leave my room with a “I love you, Mari” because I love you was the only thing she knew how to say in English. And I loved her right back!Marteen-
Marteen also lived in our neighborhood, and he sold handmade jewelry out of his little house. He lived with his wife, and his autistic son, who was always so shy when we came around, but would randomly break out with the best dance moves. Other than constantly trying to sell us jewelry, Marteen invited us to his home for dinner twice. His wife spent all day cooking for a large group of us, and they never let us leave hungry. Even though, we knew they didn’t eat much themselves, they always gave us seconds and even thirds.
Marteen offered us a certain flavor of soda once, and when all of us politely declined, he went all the way back to the store, to buy us a different flavor, just to make us happy! He was always so fun to visit, and like most of the people we met, was always so willing to give.Jose Luis-
Even though Jose Luis is a kid, he deserves to be mentioned, because he taught me so much and holds a huge place in my heart. He lived with his grandparents just a few blocks from our house. And every time I saw him, he was either smiling the biggest grin, or making the most angry face. His facial expressions were my absolute favorite, because they always made me laugh.
Last year, Jose Luis walked on his mother who committed suicide, and after this heart breaking incident, his father stopped coming around, which is why he lived with his grandparents. Sadly, just before we were leaving to come back home, his grandfather passed away. This kid had been through more in his lifetime than any kid (or even adult) should go through, especially at his age. He always acted out in school, and had a hard time listening to his teachers and Frecia, but watching him act that way just made me want to love him more.
He just needed some extra attention and love, and Derek and I were always happy to give it. He was so sad when I told him Derek and I were heading back to the US, but then he quickly smiled and said “yay that means new teachers” in his perfect English, that he loved to pretend he didn’t know. I know he didn’t mean it though. 😉I apologize for the long post, but if I’m being honest, I could probably write a whole novel for each of these people. I’ve never felt so welcomed, and so loved by a community in such little time. They always told us volunteers that the work we were doing was so incredible, and how thankful they were for us, and for what we do. But I don’t think it would be possible to do any of it without them.I learned a lot this summer (lessons learned posts still pending), but my greatest lesson of all, was this:
You can meet complete strangers, who have a completely different life than the one you have back home, who speak a different language, and believe in different cultures and lifestyles, but love is universal, and it is the one thing that connects us all as a world. Even though I’ve always known this, I will forever be thankful for the people of the Dominican Republic for showing me it.
Onto the next adventure, Wren