Monday, February 15, 2010

from Rubia to Negra

Anyone who took spanish in school probably knows that "rubia" or "rubio" means blonde....Only it doesn' least not in any of the countries I've been to. It basically means "light" person - in color, not weight - and is really in reference to skin, not hair. :)

This took me a while to figure out. I would naturally be called a rubia because although my hair is pretty dark now, it was very blonde when I first went to the DR. I think when I was on summer staff, probably in 2000, I first heard Dominicans referring to our whole group as "rubios" and it drove me crazy. :) We had several summer staffers who were light skinned but had dark hair.

Because of the pride that comes with being "educated," it wasn't even a possibility in my mind that we have all been taught the wrong definition for "rubio". Rather, they were wrong, or silly, or stupid, or not paying attention, or generalizing, or uneducated, or SOMETHING else like that.

So what does "rubio" mean? Someone will light skin...comparitively. Someone who would be called black (or african american?) in the United States may even be referred to as "rubio" in the DR because they are comparitively lighter than all the people around them. Many Dominicans are referred to as rubio, just like us foreigners.

In the Dominican Republic, it is very ok to describe someone by their color or shade or size or appearance, or use it as a sort of term of endearment. If you are at the phone store, the supermarket, the hardware store, or just out somewhere and someone wants to get your attention, it is very likely they will call out "rubio" (light person), "moreno" (very dark person), "flaco" (skinny person), "gordo" (fat person), "mi negro" (my black person), and noone will get in a fight over this, nor will anyone be offended (except the foreigners!).

So, I got very used to being called rubia by strangers and loved ones alike. About a year before I left, something else began happening that felt awesome to me. Every now and then, I'd be out somewhere and someone would call me "mi negra." This literally means "my black girl." I'm obviously not black. :) But, after years of living in a small town, where everyone knew me, as I became more and more Dominican - in all aspects EXCEPT color, and as I really became a part of the community, I was seen as just another Dominican, and thus lovingly called "mi negra."

It was awesome, but sad...since I knew I would soon be leaving and go back to being just another rubia.


What to say about Barranca. Barranca is representative of the DR in my mind. It is where I fell in love with the DR. It's where I fell in love with the Dominican People really. It's where SO many of my beloved Dominicans are from. And it's a place from where the Lord raised SO many awesome servants, who now serve Dominican youth...and it's a little nothing town.

Barranca is a small village really, that is pretty primative and has one major road. It comes in from La Vega, goes down & curves by the Veloz house, and then continues on to the next town. There are no stop lights. There is 1 gas station, 1 school, 1 catholic church, and lots of Plantains. The other "major" road is a terrible road that crosses through town and goes out to the middle of nowhere on both ends. Everyone's houses are literally plopped down in the middle of the plantains. If you have any yard at all, there are plantains behind it. If not, your house is just plopped in the middle of it all.
It's scorching hot and you almost NEVER have electricity. You sit on the porch, under a tree, or under someone's ramada or at their Colmado and hang out, commenting on how hot it is every 5 minutes.
SO many memories! Getting locked IN a house, getting locked OUT of an outhouse (maybe I'll share the story another day!), learning ALOT about culture! falling in love with the Donas - Teresa & Ana, first moto ride, first club talk I ever gave in Spanish (thanks alot Rafa), watching summer staff & work teams get stretched & fall in love with the people as well, take and learn to love bucket baths, swim in the river, LOAD my truck up with an INSANE amount of people (inside & in the back), spend countless nights with Julia & Dioni, build ramadas, pour floors, build outhouses, paint houses, paint the clubhouse, build kitchens, put up a roof, LEARN TO BE JESUS' HANDS AND FEET, learn to JUST BE, fall in love with Vida Joven club & the kids there.

In Barranca I learned that you CAN spend a whole night without sleeping because of the heat & mosquitos and then get up the next day and rely solely on the Lord to give you the strength to shovel dirt, mix cement, & work your tale off as well as give you a good attitude to lead a group of whining Americans who also didn't sleep, are hot, don't like the food, don't want to work, and are going through culture shock - all because I know the ending - I KNOW they will be challenged, end up falling in love with the people, and will be eternally impacted by the experience. I think that's why the Lord is so patient with us when we're whining & complaining. He knows the ending! He knows it's all molding us and growing us and changing us to be more like him. Praise God for places like Barranca that are difficult, get us out of our comfort zones, and teach us how to really live!

I saw the impact of a crazy gringa woman (Tracy Paulino) on a whole little village - they would ALL go nuts as they saw her jeepeta pulling up, and the fruit of her disciples was VERY evident. :) And then there was Rafa and Charro....but they'll need their own post later on. :)

I love Barranca. If you went there to visit, you would think I was insane. If you went there to stay, you would eventually understand.

Everyone is everything :)

Something that drove me crazy at times and at other times I really appreciated about the DR is that everyone is everything. Everyone is a mechanic, a cook, does construction, fixes whatever is broken, is a tour guide, etc... Now, most people really do know a LITTLE about most things....but nobody really knows ALOT about much. So, if you've got a minor problem, this is great because anything can get done. However, if you have a big problem, you're kind of up a creek.

This often came in handy. Nothing is thrown out. You just fix it all. It was especially nice in the first year, living alone, and later with 2 other girls, not knowing where things were around town really, and having NO idea how to do things for myself. But what did I have? Neighbors & all the guys I worked with at camp. It's MUCH better than knowing where a repair shop is. I had appliaces fixed, car problems fixed, my electricity hooked up after it had been cut, etc. :)

Once, sometime in 2001 or 2002, Kate, Gabby, Jorge and I were driving down to Santo Domingo for a staff retreat. About an hour away, driving down the carretera, all of a sudden the truck quit accelerating. At least it didn't blow up or anything, so I just coasted over to the side of the road.

Enter the Everyone is everything guys. :) Immediately we had several people there trying to help us. Jorge, who was with us, really did know quite a big. The other guys - who knows? But it was SO commical to us that we had to snap a quick picture.

I confess that I was thoroughly frustrated - not even really knowing how far we were from Santo Domingo (I had only been there about a year by then and didn't know the road so well yet), what was wrong, how much it would cost, etc. When you're still in the first year or so overseas, being stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, can really stress you out. Oh wait, that can really stress you out anyway! Anyway, God is good. We looked down the road a bit and saw a run-down house with a piece of scrap wood made into a sloppy sign that said "mecanico" and right about then, the mecanic had come out, saw us, and was on his way to help. God's always got our back. We had just come out of a stretch of highway where you drive for a good 1/2 hour without seeing any signs of human life, and then the truck just happened to break down across from a "mechanic." It did take them a while to get the truck running, but they fixed it, and we were on our way.

I guess Kate didn't think this was enough adventure for the day, but that we also needed to go on an adventure to find a bathroom. Now, when in a developing country, you never know what you're going to find. In fact, the side of the road is often better than any "bathroom" you may be offered. (and you really can't drive for more than 15 minutes in the DR without seeing a guy on the side of the road peeing) But Kate (who has lots of crazy peeing stories from the DR), decided to check out it. The mechanic's wife kindly led us to the bathroom and graciously offered to let us use it. I wish we had a picture. :) It was a wooden outhouse (common in the DR), but there was nothing to sit on...just a wooden plank floor with an open slit in the middle that you had to sort of hover over and hope you had good aim. I know we got a GOOD laugh out of her using the restroom and I decided I would wait.

EVERY single time I drove to Santo Domingo for the following 8 years, I would think of that adventure as I drove past that one little spot where it all happened. Adventure was an everyday part of life, and adventure inevitably leads to seeing God's hand on you, watching your back in one way or another. Driving past that house was a frequent reminder that God's got my back. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Trapeze artist

I'm in a bible study at church. I recommend the book, (and class for that matter) to anyone who is moving or has recently moved....or maybe even anyone in a major transition. It is a ministry run by an incredible lady from my home church, Susan Miller. Her ministry is called Just Moved Ministries and the book we are doing is called "Moving On After Moving In." I'm only 3 chapters in, but I've cried through all I've read so far - because it gets right to the core. :)

In one of the chapters for this week, she quotes an excerpt from Paul Tournier's book A Place for You :

"I thought of the trapeze artists, swinging on their trapezes high up under the dome of teh circus tent. They let go of one trapeze just at the right moment, to hover for a moment in the void before catching hold of the other trapeze. As you watch, you identify yourself with them and experience the anxiety in the middle of the way, when they have to let go of their first support and have not yet seized the is the middle-of-the-way anxiety. It is the void in which they are going to find themselves before being able to seize a new support.

All this to say, we must always be letting go...leaving one place in order to find another, abandoning one support in order to reach the next, turning our backs on the past in order to thrust wholeheartedly toward the future."

I guess I just didn't ever think I'd be stuck in that void for so long! But that's where faith comes in. Susan goes on in her book to point out that just as the trapeze artists have a net waiting to catch them "just in case", that is what God is ALWAYS doing for us. So if we do get stuck in the middle-of-the-way void, and do happen to fall, we're going to land in our safety net.

So what did I learn this week????

- God places us where we are in order to prepare us for what He wants us to become
- Accept being where you are
- Let go of expectations that you'll move back! - that one really hit me strong....I'm not ready to let go of this expectation yet, but I guess I will supposedly be there some day.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Well, this blog has been a long time coming. Even before we moved to the US 4 months & 3 days ago, I knew I needed to do this. Call it therapy, call it a journal, call it a record of my life, a way to sort through all that I've experienced, seen, & lived in the past several years. Because now I am here, in what we often referred to as "the land of milk and honey", only it doesn't seem to be flowing with milk OR honey. It seems like a desert....well, it IS a desert, seeing as I'm in Arizona, but it feels like a desert in many other ways as well.

I have been burning to start this journey of remembering, but didn't know where to start. Then yesterday, a dear, dear friend, who sort of just gets things, had a link to an Anderson Cooper blog on her facebook. He was talking about being away from Haiti and said, "I spent last week in New York, but, the truth is, it felt very strange. When you know something monumental is happening so close to our shores, and yet you don't see it on a daily basis – it's an odd disconnect, and it doesn't feel right." And I realized those words described what has been going on inside of me for the past 4 months. Not only do I feel like MY life is going on somewhere else (which is weird enough already), but it seems like there are always so many monumental things going on in life in the DR, that I definitely feel that odd disconnect. I like to refer to it as living in the twilight zone. I KNOW that things around here matter, but at this point, I feel like I'm in a fake world where nothing I do matters and I'm missing out on all the monumental things going on back in my real life. Then I realize this IS my real life and I won't wake up from this dream, so I better start living it and looking for the monumental things happening around me here and be a part of whatever it is that the Lord must be up to around here.