Thursday, July 23, 2009

Week Six Update

The Final Countdown

It´s so strange to think of leaving in 5 days! School ended yesterday, and we have a few days to process before the other Kids Alive interns join us here in Montellano for two days of fellowship and wrap up before we head to the airport on Tuesday. I´m glad for the time to transition.

Yesterday at school was great. We started a little bit later than usual and set up the dining hall like an auditorium. There was a mini stage and the band from the church we´ve been going to. The kids all got juice and little cupcakes in their classrooms and then headed to the auditorium for some praise and worship, each of the class presentations, review of the story of Moses and the Israelites that they all learned in class, and prayer. Some of the class presentations were hilarious. For example, when Rachel K´s class acted out the story of Jim Elliot, all the kids laughed when Jim and Elisabeth got married and it was two of their peers, and when David was going to win Michal in the story of David and Goliath, more laughter. Dominicans love stuff like this, the romance stuff. And it is really funny with first graders. My fifth graders did the poem really well, they all wore white shirts and jeans and were beautiful. They surprised us by calling each of us onto the stage and having our teaching teams present us with a little present and say how much they loved having us here-- that was the part when I teared up. It was a really good last day. Sad to say goodbye to the kids, but a good celebration of the summer.

Saturday night we went to the wedding of two of the teachers at the school. All the staff came to our house and we stuffed about 20 people dressed in their finest into the van without a/c to drive to the church, the location of which no one was quite sure of. The bride was late, the groom was nervous, both wore all white. The groom had these great white leather shoes... The church was totally packed out, standing room only, people were outside the church. When they said their vows, the minister made them say it loud so that everyone could hear, and they both said ´´Si señor!´´ Yes sir! The groom couldn´t decide if he was going to kiss her or not at the end, but the crowd was chanting ´´beso, beso, beso´´ so he didn´t really have a choice. It was a beautiful wedding. I liked the interactive audience, it made it fun.

We´ve gotten a lot of really good people time this week. Ariel (husband of one of the American missionaries who normally is here, but has had to take some time to be in the states because of health) took us to the beach this weekend. Sunday and Tuesday night, Rachel K played her violin at church and the people loved it! She played songs that she knew they would recognize, and they sang along. They were so blessed by her playing. This week we also got to take out Lydia and Alberto and their family as a way of saying thanks for everything. We´re always amazed by them-- their wisdom. We got up to the village again and I played chanchi (a card game) with my fifth grade girls. Last night, we had two of the teachers over to our house and made pizzadillas together, played mancala, and Rachel K taught them a little how to play the violin. We´ve also had a great time as a team the past week, we´re happy to be together. We´ll go to the village tomorrow and say some more goodbyes to the kids and have all the female teachers to our house tomorrow night. They want to eat hotdogs!

Not many stories this week, but it´s been really full and good. The trip is wrapping up well. I´ll send another email when we´re home about the next few days and our trip home.
Thanks for thinking of us,
with love,
Sarah and Co.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Week Five

Twelve Days and Felipe the Fish

We only have twelve days left. Our flight is on the twelth day. Only two and a half days of class. Tomorrow is the last Oansa/Awana. Into all this we will fit a wedding, a beach day, a party with the girl teachers at our house, the final program on the last day of school, saying goodbye, and the last two days with all the other summer interns. I cannot believe that I´m going to leave.

Friday night we said goodbye to the work team that we grew to love while they were here and got on the bus on the windy mountain road to Jarabacoa. For the first time in this country I wished I had a jacket or a long sleeve shirt. The mountains feel cold compared to where we live. The night we got to see the other two interns from Wheaton who we had had orientation with all last semester. They arrived about a week prior to our visit and we got to tell them about how our time had been and hear their stories too. So good to see them.

Saturday we drove to the capital, toured the first cathedral in the new world, Fortaleza Ozama, and Diego Colombus´ house. This was our tourist time, we hadn´t really had any up to this point, so everyone had out their cameras. It felt like last summer in England to me, cathedrals and castles. However, this was definitely a Dominican experience because the lecture about the cathedral was about five minutes instead of 45. It was great. We also did a little tourist shopping. It was nice to see the other interns and to sleep with a fleece blanket in Jarabacoa. In Montellano, I use a sheet, and neither of the Rachels uses any blanket at all. Sunday we caught two buses back to Montellano. The team had already left, and our Dominican housemates came back later in the afternoon.

This week is a blur. My two favorite parts:
We got to go to the village on Tuesday afternoon for an hour and a half of so. We went with three of my fifth grade girls instead of one of the teachers. I got to go to their houses and meet their moms and siblings and I could tell it meant a lot to them that I was there. They all live close together, so we went from house to house, sat down for a while in each one, went to the next. We went to the house of one of the more difficult girls first. She just sat on the couch looking bashful and happy and when we walked to the next house she and I walked together. I put my arm around her and talked with her, it was a great moment of building trust and rapport with her, letting her know that I liked her. Sometimes it´s hard to convey that in the class when I have to tell her no. Another of my students in fifth grade, a boy, had eight or ten glass jars of beta fish outside his house and I stooped down to look at them and said, ´´ oh, I have two of these!! one´s red and named fuego (fire) and the other one is blue and named Posiedon´´ and I had to explain about the origen of that name. Also, they belong to my roommate at school. So the student gave me one of the fish for a gift!
´´Does it have a name?´´ They looked at me with confused faces, maybe they don´t name their fighting beta fish here. I suggested, ´´Like Juan, Felipe?´´ They laughed and all said ´´Felipe!´´ so the fish was named. I have to say, that was the most interesting ride back to town, in the way back of an old Ford van that rattles holding a mason jar with a beta fish named Felipe and trying to keep the water in the jar through the sugar cane road. Never going to forget that. They´ve asked me the past two days, how´s Felipe? and they laugh.

Second favorite: We´re having a program and all classes will present something for the others. On Tuesday the main teacher in my class asked me if I would write a poem for the fifth graders´ part of the program and bring it the next day. I told her I would try. I felt a little discouraged about it the night before because I was also preparing an involved activity for the next day that took up a lot of time. I got up early the next morning and worked on it, and was really pleased with it, gracias a Dios, as they say here. Each of the classes is supposed to use the theme from the summer ´´Yo veo Dios´´ I spy God. So the poem includes Psalm 19:1-2 that the kids have been memorizing this week and then talks about how we can see God in each of the subjects at school. The teachers in my class liked it, and at the end of the day the main teacher gave post it notes of one or two lines to seven of the kids to memorize. When they all got the notes, they read them outloud, just to see what they said, and hearing them read it was so cool. They didn´t know that I wrote it. When we have the program on Wednesday, I´m pretty sure I´m going to bawl. I don´t want to say goodbye.

As a team, we´ve been talking about going home a little bit, what´s it going to be like? would we ever come back? We´ve all become aware of different areas in our lives that either we want to change when we go back (or keep it the way it is now), or we´ve realized something´s important to us at home that we weren´t aware of before. I´m glad to be here with these girls, each of us is so different, we have every perspective on every issue or question, everyone thinks about it in a different way.

The time is flying by! Again, as always, thank you for prayers and encouragement. I´m so glad to share our life and ministry here with you. It´s been such a rich experience.
Till next week and the final update from this side,
With love,
Sarah and Co.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Update Four

Semana Cuatro

So, I´m chilling in the Internet cafe with a Country Club (like a creme soda) and american chips, and it´s the end of the week for classes, and it feels good! Also, tonight we are going to the beach for a worship night.

Rachel´s party went really well. They loved the pizzadillas and ate them all. All the staff at the school love to play dominoes, so there was a lot of that going on (Dad, when they ask if I know how to play, I always tell them that I played with my dad when I was a kid). Saturday was a day of rest, so wonderful. We didn´t have to do a thing or go anywhere. That´s the first day like that the whole time we´ve been here. Sunday we prepped the house for the work team that´s here all this week. There are three groups within the team: construction, teaching, and sewing. This week 26 people have been living in the team house, which is a bit stressful at times as there is no where to go to be alone or have quiet. However, the team is really cool, and I am enjoying getting to know them and spending time with them. They all work so hard and have good attitudes, even when we haven´t had power (that´s been worse than usualy this week). I would not be as happy as they are.

The three of us interns have been thinking a lot this week. Rachel K and I experienced a little bit of culture shock when ´´the americans´´ showed up. I missed speaking spanish in our house because I´d gotten into the habit with the girls who were there before. It´s funny to see what we were probably like when we first got here and weren´t used to the norms. For me, it was hard to watch parts of the teaching seminars that the work team did for the dominican teachers in the school. One of the skits used the phrase ´´mixed modifier´´ which I´m pretty sure that none of the teachers knows. It´s hard to see how different the working base of knowledge is for us and for our dominican teaching peers, especially in math. It´s a really difficult position to be in/it´s hard to know how to approach it without making anyone feel embarrased because they don´t know how to do certain things. School in the states is such a different thing than school here. The average education level here is fourth grade, and the three of us are coming from 15+ years in the u.s. education system. It´s difficult to negotiate sometimes. Rachel K wished there had been more of a dialogue between the teaching team from the states and the dominican teachers instead of instruction. Rachel J thought they negotiated it really well, however. We´ve been talking a lot about it, it´s a big thing for us because we know both of the worlds. Some of the things that they taught were really good (Rachel J talked with one of them and got a ton of ideas for activities for her classes), and we hope that the teachers here do learn and implement the things. To me, the problem is much bigger than any one thing. Like all the hardest problems, it´s a combination of things forming one giant complex whatever you want to call it, and to work out any kind of solution or change will take a lot of work and time. But it´s not at all a hopeless situation.

Two things, I was talking with one of the other teachers with me in second grade about some of the kids who have potential, but they don´t have the tools that they need to do well. They can´t read or write, so anytime that we have a worksheet, it´s impossible for them to participate. Then they misbehave because they´re bored. She told me that there´s a special class for these kids, and that was great to hear! Something´s being done to catch them up. She also said that they´re different now than they used to be, also encouraging. The second, the work team has been doing a sewing class while they´ve been here, and it´s been really great. Some of the older girls have really taken to it. They have six or eight machines, and today they were working on quilts. I was in there today to translate (try to translate hah). This is part of Alberto´s vision for the project at Caraballo, that some of the older girls can learn how to do sew really well, and can teach it to the other students. They can sell the stuff they make. With the quilts, because they did them in teams of two, they´re going to be used for a quilt show for their parents and then they´ll use them to decorate the classrooms. So cool. The girls love it. It´s something that they can have pride in doing. Pray for the electricity tomorrow so that they can get the most out of the last day with the team.

We went to the old Haitian batay a few days ago. The sugar cane company built some of the houses and rented them out to the workers, but not a lot of people live there anymore. It gave me the creeps. I was really glad that we didn´t go just the three of us, because this place was like a tv commercial. Vic and the whole work team were with us. There´s a witchdoctor who lives there, and we actually saw him but didn´t know it till afterwards. Someone reliable said, ´´did you see how fat he is?´´ he didn´t seem that fat to me, but he was bigger than most people there. ´´it´s because he makes the people give him food or he says he´ll put demons on them.´´ I was ready to get out of there. We went to the first village again yesterday, and I loved it even more for its contrast. I saw a lot of my students, and I can´t wait to go back next week when I can spend more time there.

That´s pretty much it, we´re busy, we´re thinking, we´re learning, we´re praying. This weekend we´re going to the capital, Santo Domingo, with the rest of the summer interns to tour and hang out. We haven´t seen them since the beginning. I can´t believe how quickly the time is going. It´s unreal.

One more cool thing, I got to talk about the missionary Jim Elliot in geography today and about God, and I said a prayer at the end and my second graders repeated each phrase after me. So cool. It was fun to talk about someone who came from Wheaton, also, fun to use the kids in my class to act out canibalism and flying in an airplane.

Please keep praying for us, and thank you. God gives us the strength we need for every day.
Much love to you all,
Sarah (Rachel and Rachel)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Update Number Three

Cantar, Orar a Dios

Looking back over this week to try to write the highlights is overwhelming. We pack so much into them.

Friday at school is Oansa (Awana), so there´s no teaching, just kids playing games and singing and memorizing. It´s nice for us to have a day off of teaching, it also starts an hour later! It was really cool to see how excited they were to do the games and I loved the singing.

We left early to go to La Vega. It´s around a two hour drive to the fertile agricultural center of the country. Four squished in the back seat makes it longer : ) Alberto´s parents´ house was a wonderful retreat. There was a huge fan in our bedroom, so powerful! There was a sitting room with some orchids perfect for reading in the mornings. Their family is so welcoming.

Saturday we got up early to go to the Mueso Hermanas Mirabal (the reason for coming to La Vega). Lindsey and I both read a book called In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez about four sisters who were revolutionaries during the Trujillo regime in the 1940s-1960s ish. Three of them were murdered, but one is still alive. They´re all national heroes. It´s an amazing story, and the book really helped me get familiar with the geography and the culture of this country. The museum is the house that they lived in for a period of six months I think. It was incredible to see all their things, it made the story more real. I got chills. We bought some books, then Alberto took us to Ojo de Agua, the location of the other house and where the fourth sister, Dedé, lives now. We drove up, and Dedé herself was standing in front of the monument talking to a group of kids. We got to hear her talking to them, and afterwards she came over and talked to us, asked us what we were doing here, volunteered herself for a picture, signed our books. I could not believe it. We got to walk over to the house and one of her guards showed us the cacoa they grow. We got to taste some. (Allison, I wanted to call you so badly!!!) Meeting her was like the equivalent of meeing Anne Frank. Talk about ´´immeasurably more than all you could ask or imagine,´´ that´s how I felt.

Vic, one of the Kids Alive guys from Jarabacoa who´s in charge of things, came to our site on Monday and it was great to see him and speak Enligsh. He helped us with all of the questions we had about cultural things, house visits, other things. It was just very reassuring to see him. We had been craving pizza, and he told us how his family does it-- with tortillas. So we made pizzadillas: a giant tortilla, tomato paste mixed with canned tomatos, a little garlic paste(?), two kinds of cheese, ham, fresh tomatos, onion, pepper, and jalepeños for the Rachels. Amazing.

The past two days/nights we were without power in the house, which sometimes seems like an adventure and sometimes seems like the worst thing that could ever happen to you. It´s only bad without power because there are no fans at night. It bothers me because it´s hot, and it bothers the Rachels because you can hear the music from the gym across the street from us beginning at 6am and also the roosters and other animals. But it is now fixed! Gracias a Dios! Today was the third day they were working on it.

Class this week was good. One of the main problems we see in the school is violence. If the kids get mad about something, they start punching each other. There were a couple incidents this week with that. Also, it´s challenging to engage them. Once you get their attention, it´s great, but if there´s a pause or a distraction, it´s hard to get it back again. I feel like I´m getting better at knowing what are good activities for each class, what´s appropriate for their age and knowledge base. In Geography Tuesday I got to teach on the Mayans (Guatemala), and I drew a Mayan man and woman on the board with their average heights, and then for every characteristic that I read, I drew it on the person on the board. The second graders loved that. Wednesday was volcanoes (Nicaragua), today was Central America/Costa Rica and I drew a map of Central America on the board and all the names of the countries and then we went over it. I pointed with a ruler and they said the name, and then after a while I erased the names until they could name all the countries by looking at the map. I really enjoy the challenge of presenting the material.

Yesterday after school we went to one of the three barrios around the school. This one was built by an organization and the houses were given away I think to women with kids and no husbands (?). We got one of the teachers to go with us who lives there so we wouldn´t be wandering around aimlessly. I expected it to be like one of those TV commericals with depressing music and a tear stained child wandering around. I expected misery, but it wasn´t like that at all. It was peaceful. I actually felt more comfortable there than I do walking through the town here. People were sitting in front of their houses. The first group we saw was cutting some sugar cane to snack, and they offered us some, so we got to try it. We walked around to different students´ houses and stopped in or said hi and kept walking around. We made three longer stops, one in one of my teaching partner´s house, one in our tour guide´s house, and one in one of the student´s, and this was the coolest by far because there were around 7-9 kids and the mom and they swarmed Rachel Jones to get to her hair (blonde), the mom ended up braiding it in the end, a gorgeous inside out braid. One of the girls noticed I was wearing earrings and asked me if I was a Christian (we found out later that the church around this barrio doesn´t permit the women to wear earrings).
Si, y tu? ´´Yes, are you?´´
Si. ´´Yes.´´
Y que te gusta hacer en la iglesia? Can-- ´´What do you like to do at church? Si--´´
--Cantar, orar a Dios ´´Sing, pray to God´´
Me gusta cantar tambien. Canto en mi iglesia ´´I like to sing too. I sing in my church´´
What followed was a amazing exchange of singing. They wanted songs in English, we wanted songs in Spanish and Creole. They would sing a line of an English song and want us to sing the rest of it. We caught on to a few of the Spanish ones. We sang them ´´I Love You Lord´´ and the Doxology in three part harmony. That´s going in the books as one of the coolest, sweetest, most fun, most powerful moments in the trip. We´re going back up there next week, but we also want to go visit the other two barrios (everything here needs to be spread around evenly between groups, everyone needs to get the same thing, Dominican and Haitian).

I´m trying to think of some more funny things that have happened. A kid in Rachel Kusmer´s eighth grade class wrote her a note telling her he liked her and got someone else to deliver it. In adolescent/young adult Sunday school, they made everyone go around the circle and say if they were soltero/single, casado/married, o conpromitido/engaged, which I´m pretty sure they would not have done had we not been there. American women are silver bullets here, tickets to the good life. We have to be careful about how friendly we are.

We´ve had some good team bonding time this week too. Last night especially, just talking about how things are going, how we feel about issues in the school, what´s up spiritually. I think we are good supports for each other, we all have bad days on different days. We are all learning to be content.

Tomorrow it´s Rachel Kusmer´s birthday and we´re having all the teachers over to our house for pizzadillas. I hope they like them. We´re making rice and beans too, just in case. (For my birthday a while back- I forgot to say this last time, but- they surprised me with a cake and sang to me and all gave me hugs. I felt so welcomed).

That´s all from this side. Again, thank you for encouraging emails, they are so good. I love to hear what´s going on at home. And thank you for prayers for safety, for being equipped for this work, for the language, for strength, for kindness and love for each other in the team, to have wisdom for the issues we see, and for peace and contentment.

Some verses that have been made real for me while I´ve been here are Colossians 1:10-14: We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, and being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Much love , till next week,
Sarah and co.

Second Week Update

From Montellano with Love

Greeting from Montellano, DR!

We are in the land of sugar cane, giant clouds- somehow the sky seems bigger here-- and friendly, welcoming people. This is a beautiful country, but that's not all it is ; )

We started at the school this week after spending the weekend with our Dominican family, Alberto, Lydia, y Jean Pablo. Alberto runs the school in Caraballo (Montellano and Caraballo are neighboring towns, Caraballo is more of a village). There was a work team in the missionary house, so we got to stay with them. I don't think any of us were very thrilled at first because we really wanted to get to the missionary house and set up camp, but it was so good to be with them. They took wonderful care of us. We got to go to the beach a couple of times, got to rest after orientation with the other interns and get used to the country a little bit (Alberto and Lydia are taking us to La Vega this weekend to go to the Mirabal museum!) I am grateful that we weren't just thrust into life here in Montellano because I don't think any of us would have been ready. We would have gone into shock! Our trip has been like climbing a mountain, a little higher everyday. We are in an environment that is so different from anything (I think) any of us has ever experienced before.

We also had an incredible gift to help us feel more comfortable, one of the other interns who's been in the DR with Kids Alive the past three summers, Lindsey. She came with us to help us get set up at the school and make sure the curriculum was ready to go. She's fluent in Spanish, so she helped us to communicate. She went back to Jarabacoa yesterday.

We feel good being here. We're all glad to have started classes. The school is a really cool place. Last night we had wonderful team bonding time hunting mosquitos in the house (sounds weird, but is necessary haha) and talking about team dynamics and school and everything that's going on. Living with us in the missionary house is one of the teachers and her two daughters, one who's nine and one who's 13, both are in the school. We are so fortunate to be with them, we're like little chicks who need guidance. It's so good to have someone who we can ask questions and who knows how to cook and knows the culture. The younger daughter is so friendly and I play cards with her a lot. When we talk, she helps my Spanish.

Let me tell you about school. We heard on the front end that this was the most difficult placement in the program. The school is in a very poor neighborhood (barrio), there's a lot of tension between the Dominicans and the Haitians who come over to work in the sugar cane, people don't have the economic resources they need, so they resort to other ways of getting the things they need. There was an incident in the barrio last night that the staff found out about today and prayed about in morning devotions. I asked one of the teachers if the kids were going to be different today, if they would be afraid or anything, and she said no, that they were used to it. That was almost harder to hear.

I am teaching 2nd (morning) and 5th (afternoon) grade geography and writing, and I help out some with the other subjects. Rachel K is teaching geography, and Rachel J is teaching geography, math and science (her teaching partner speaks English, so she gets to teach more). Everyday with the kids is different in my classes, and there's a huge difference in the second and fifth graders. The second graders are crazy and fun and wild and adorable. With them, it's really hit or really miss. The fifth graders are much less rowdy, and I think they learn more. With the second graders, sometimes it seems like we spend more time distributing and collecting materials than learning. There have been some really cool moments so far though. Yesterday I got to work with one of the 2nd grade boys in math, finding points in a plane. It was a cool God moment because the night before I tried to teach one of the kids living in the missionary house with us how to do a sudoku puzzle, so she taught me all the words for row/line, column, square. I was equipped to talk to the boy about lines and columns and squares and all those things. It was great. When I did the sudoku with her, I felt a little anxious because I still had to prepare for class and do all these different things, but spending the time with her was the preparation I needed and I didn't know it.

All of us are in class with other teachers, all Dominicans or Haitians. I teach geography, there's a Bible lesson, science, math, reading, writing, maybe some other ones I'm forgetting. I can't really believe I'm doing it sometimes. It is exhausting to be between the languages though. Sometimes I forget what I'm doing. I like being at the school. The kids really are glad that we're there. They want to play all the time. This afternoon I played dominos with some of my 5th graders and one of the younger girls came over and just stood kind of leaning on me the whole time. They want love and they want to be hugged and valued and smiled at. They want to hold your hand. The school is like an oasis in the neighborhood, it doesn't feel safe outside, but inside, yes, it is safe and clean and nice. That's kind of simplistic, but...

Alright, it's time for us to go home (from the internet cafe).
I would love to hear from any/all of you and thank you to the ones who have emailed. All the words are encouraging. Thank you for the prayers, we need them.
With much love,
Sarah and co.