A Day on El Camino

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” –GK Chesterton

Never have I understood these words more than while walking the ancient pilgrimage called El Camino. It will be different for each peregrino, but my two weeks along The Way quickly became a steady parade of reminders for “how rare and beautiful it is to even exist” (song). As always, the peace comes just in time.

During my college years, I’d fallen in love with learning more than ever before. I became swept up in gathering information and hypothesizing about the world we live in, but from time to time, there was also an inner voice bidding me to be silent… to just take everything in. Through the hustle-bustle of costs, benefits, projects, and papers, I had willingly brushed aside my childlike capability for wonder. After four semesters too long, I finally rediscovered my balance– a sort of necessary rhythm emerging between fervent knowledge acquirement and quiet awe. Luckily, this is also exactly the kind of thing that a walking pilgrimage engrains within you. 🙂

To commemorate the end of that life-chapter, I’ve decided to write-up the happenings of a typical day on El Camino. The narrative is simple– walk, talk, eat, sleep– and the fluidity of the days made them nearly as a dream (save the very real blisters and ever-pressing laundry needs). Buen camino!

__________

5:53 am: Waking up seven minutes before my alarm (courtesy of my heavy Polish bunk-neighbor thumping to the ground), I gather that half the room has already emptied out. The older couples like to hit the trail before the day heats up. I emerge from my cocoon sleep-sack, since it’s usually smart to follow the older and wiser. 😉

6:00 am: The rest of our group begins to awake, and we greet each other with a sleepy nod and smile while stumbling to brush our teeth in the dorm-style bathroom. Wow, my nose and shoulders got some serious sun yesterday… those pack straps are going to feel grrrrreat!

6:30 am: On our way, at last! The air is magnificently fresh in the morning, and our group decides to stop at the next town over (someone said its “only 4km away”) for the usual chocolate croissants and cafe con leche. The sleep-soreness is worked out of my body as I hit my stepping rhythm.

8:00 am: We step onto those narrow cobble-stone streets, just as the special Camino cafes begin to open– since the usual opening time for any business in Spain is actually around 10am… (what a life!). It is very common to find that the cafe and hostal owners were once Camino peregrinos themselves, who have decided to stay. This establishment is no exception, and while I wait in line for my espresso, I gaze at their grainy old Camino photos on the walls.

11:30 am: Since we’ve fallen behind a km or so, Favorite Pilgrim and I decide to rest for a hot minute, snacking on almonds and taking in the poppy-speckled wheat fields that cloak the sun-soaked hillsides. Turns out, nature’s fruitful offering is more effective at healing aching bodies than Advil 🙂

1:30 pm: We’ve arrived into our final town for the day! This hostal looks divine– a neat, clean little gift from God. We bring out our pilgrim passports to be stamped while eagerly looking at the peaceful wading pool and hammocks that grace our newest residence.

2:00 pm: The cool showers can wait just a little while longer while we trade our boots for a pair of breathable flip-flops and stumble into the neighboring cafe for lunch sandwiches. It feels so good to sit around, eating and drinking and sharing stories from the other peregrinos we met today along the way. (It has been said that the Camino is the world’s largest walking group therapy…haha).

4:00 pm: Laundry hooray! These words will come back to bite me one day, but I actually have a real love of doing laundry… it’s sooo soothing.

5:00 pm: Interspersed exploration, chatting with other peregrinos (the “so why are you walking the Camino” conversation starter is a tried and true favorite) and card games until…

7:00 pm: Mass time! We pilgrims join the local daily-Mass-goers for the sacred celebration, which always concludes with a special pilgrim blessing. This time, the twinkly-eyed priest demanded that each nationality sings a hymn in their native tongue. Forced performance is good for humility, and I’ll never forget the Italian couple whose (clearly) polished performance put us all to shame 😉

8:00 pm: Dinner (at last). Bring forth the three courses of salad, seafood, ice cream and unlimited vino! I take a moment to admire the bubbling, cross-border camaraderie. People can be so good.

10:00 pm: Fortunately, the hostal curfew doesn’t mean the merriment has to end. Here’s to the nights of bunk-jumping, story-sharing, and giggling ourselves to sleep! Before submitting to the exhaustion, I lift up my heart to the One who gave me feet, food, friends, and the beautiful Christian faith… and I pray for the chance to do it all again tomorrow 🙂

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If there is anything I’m taking with me from the pilgrimage, and if there is any reason that you should consider El Camino, it is this:

“If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder, and every one of them true.” — St. Brendan of Birr

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A smile is like a drink 

A smile is like a drink of water;

It flows from that boca of yours.

 

A handshake beckoning as the noble

Seagull that flies along the shore.

 

A voice comes deep like rolling waves..

¡Corre, mi corazón!

 

A gaze like twin pools of glory-deep

Was before my eyes, born.

Calm my quivering heart;

Soothe my longing soul.

Clasp this wandering waist

La paz shall make us whole.

“For We Can Only Wonder”

“Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.” –Denise Levertov

Over the years, I’ve heard various private and public voices argue that our culture–the millennial generation in particular–suffers from a need for instant gratification, constant entertainment, and a steady dose of thrills (see here and here and talk to your parents). There is clearly some truth to this, but perhaps there is something more. This hunger may be the blessed antidote for something that frightens me much more: numb minds, lukewarm hearts and the general stagnation brought about by a sleepless society (in almost all senses of the word).

It reveals some important information about ourselves, that we were made to be fully alive every single moment with arms stretched open to receive both the palm branches and lashes of life.

But how do we reconcile this taste for drama with the slushy grey snow and monotonous lectures that surround us most days? I’ve found an answer in the idea embodied by the word open— having open eyes and open ears. Although this will be published later, I’m presently typing this reflection on my personal magical rectangle, as I literally soar through the clouds themselves with a group of friends and many strangers. The experience of flying is almost too easy— only the most self-absorbed minds are not open enough to grasp the thrill and wonder in such an experience.  

Take my pending trip to the grocery store. I will soon drive my warm, fast car to a massive complex (my beloved Trader Joe’s), that is owned and operated by mysterious, unseen faces. There, I will play the fun game of stretching my college budget through bright aisles of exotic bananas, organic and fresh heads of lettuce, and past perfectly-proportioned boxes of Coconut Pancake Mix. Perhaps I will even collect a jasmine candle from Indonesia or a Dutch pink tulip plant— of which I am still always surprised to wake up and find this vividly living thing on my window sill!

And I haven’t even mentioned the glory in every detail of human friendship… I recently enjoyed dim sum with a beautiful old friend, whose fantastical entrance into my life was a generous compliment about my (infrequently) curled hair while we waited in line for lunch. What if I had run out of time to curl my hair that day! What if I had never attended that event, or that party, or made an offhand comment about that mediocre book! Somehow, these beautifully unfolding stories are ever more evident in the presence of this stunning peach sunset, and this momentous music, and the lingering memory of love letters that make up my environment. That is the function of beauty in art forms: the opening of the eyes and ears. They gently shake us awake to see the unfolding stories of which we play a part. Only with open eyes can I fully affirm the truth written by my old friend C.S. Lewis,

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work…”

So, hold on to that hunger for excitement, the urge to explore with reckless abandon, and the ache for a good story. It’s making you more childlike.


Perhaps this fascination with the daily details makes me sound like someone in love. Truth is, I am. The joy in being open lies in the fact that it is is a form of the vulnerability known by the lover’s heart. Peter Kreeft has explained it far better than I in this essay:

“We can see the same principle at work on every level: gravity and electromagnetism on the inorganic level; a plant’s attraction to the sun and to water and nutrients in the soil on the plant level; instinct on the animal level; and love on the human level. And within the human sphere there is also a hierarchy beginning with the sexual desire (eros) and affection (storge) that we share with the animals up to the friendship (philia) and charity (agape) that we share with the angels. The universe is a hierarchy of love. This is not a myth. This is the splendid and glorious truth. Look! How can you miss it? It’s all around us…

When Jesus threw open his arms on the cross, he said, in effect: ‘See? That’s how much I love you.’ “

It is good to be small

It is good to be small,
Sparrow declares in his morning hymn;

Dancing lightly on pink-blossomed twig.

It is good to be small,
Baby giggles as his mama

Scoops applesauce into his open mouth.

It is good to be small,
Priest teaches his sheep;

Pointing to the Father’s Love Crucified.

“It is good to be small,”
Wandering woman speaks in her heart,

As 99% of those papers loose
Their meaning
When exposed to
angelic heights.

Alain de Botton on “The Art of Travel”

The first time I laid eyes upon The Art of TravelI immediately knew that I would adore it. Not only did its giver have an impeccable track record for book gifts, but travel, art, and beauty, all explained through the eyes of a witty English philosopher?* How much better could it get? If we could eat books, this would be my first course.

And now, precisely a year later, I have reopened the pages (to be welcomed by a small shower of Domincan sand) to once again meet the text for use in a short speech assignment. I’ve come to the sad realization that rarely do friends take my fervent book recommendations into serious consideration (God bless them when they do), and so the speech is a fun way to share my favorite portions. The chapters chosen were “On Curiosity,” “On the Country and the City,” and “On the Sublime.” Although my real presentation includes a notes-sheet packed with delicious verses, for simplicity’s sake I’ve included just one per chapter here, along with my Prezi:

I. On Curiosity

“Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, form a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions. In childhood we ask, ‘Why is there good and evil?’ ‘How does nature work?’ ‘Why am I me?’ If circumstances and temperament allow, we then build on these questions during adulthood, our curiosity encompassing more and more of the world until at some point we may reach that elusive stage where we are bored by nothing. The blunt large questions become connected to smaller, apparently esoteric ones. We end up wondering about flies on the sides of mountains or about a particular fresco on the wall of a sixteenth-century palace.” (pg. 116)

II. On the Country and the City

“Of what moment is that when compared with what I trust is their destiny, to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is, all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves” –Wordsworth in a letter to Lady Beaumont after his poetry was initially described as “namby-pamby” and “a piece of babyish absurdity”

III. On the Sublime

“‘Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me’…When divine wisdom eludes human understanding, the righteous, made aware of their limitations by the spectacle of sublime nature, must continue to trust in God’s plans for the universe” (pg. 171)

Surely there is nothing more enthusing than the prospect of traveling, not only to new places but with such playfully enlightened eyes.


 

*If you need any more reason to read the text, consider that there is a portion entitled “The Exoticism of Shitting Donkeys.”

Walt Whitman on Miracles

Oh God beyond all praising, we worship you today!

As I sleepily sit in a white rental minivan with my dad at the helm, zooming through the streets of Paradise Valley back to the airport, nothing seems short of a miracle. A mere three days of family Easter vacation in this desert oasis have reminded me that first things come first, and a first thing is to grab the person closest to you and give them a hug.

For me, the second thing is to share the wonderful things that strike me in the things that I read. I love poetry because it attunes our minds to the melody of the everyday. It sings from the order of leathery airplane seat rows, juxtaposed to the reckless glory of dawn unable to be held back by a thin airplane pane, the extra squeeze in a brother’s hug before we depart to our respective terminals towards our respective homes, and the unexpectedly cheery grin of the flight attendant as he dispenses breakfast cookies, lemon waters, coffees, and the occasional cocktail (oh what a mystery at 6am.) As Alain de Botton declares in The Art of Travel (a jolly brilliant book on which I frequently bubble over with mirth by quoting passages to my poor traveling companions):

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places (pg. 54.)

And believe me, with the mind of an economics major, I mean to grasp and share this point in all its practicality. We know we’ve found the truth when it changes something. It begins to make all things new. So what do these mini-miracles mean for the way we go about our everyday lives? It’s pretty simple: our concrete reactions. Life sweeps us up in a new dance each morning (I’m pretty sure this is the reason that music, rhythms, and poems resonate so soundly with us.) A real gem for your Easter morning:
Miracles
By: Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,

Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,

The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

 

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,

Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

 

To me the sea is a continual miracle,

The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships with men in them,

What stranger miracles are there?

Living Abroad Brought Me Home

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. — Pico Iyer

It has been a full week since I kissed my studying and service semester in La República Dominicana adios, flew smoothly through a 10-hour travel day, and crossed the threshold of my good old Wisconsin home for the first time in five months. I had told myself earlier that I would resist the urge to pen one of those “How Studying Abroad Changed My Life For Ever & Ever” posts, since the Internet (or at least just my Facebook feed) is overly indulged with them; all preaching essentially the same “carpe diem” thing. Yes, you should go study abroad! Your life will never be the same (obviously)!

But these next few paragraphs will be about something quite distinct: how spending five months in a beautiful yet developing country turned out to be just what I needed. Because I didn’t find what I needed there.

The central question that made itself at home in the depths of my mind throughout the entire five months was “why am I here?” And before I am misunderstood, I must emphasize that Encuentro Dominicano was an incredible opportunity that I continue to be 100% indebted to for revealing to me the beauty of service and community. Even more, these past few months could be viewed as a rapid succession of thrilling adventures, in which the Comunidad 19 accomplished feats we had scarcely previously imagined, while doing our part to leave our temporary home better than we found it. I was inexplicably drawn to the service-learning program in La República Dominicana, but it continually bothered me that I could not quite put my finger on why I was there.

Seeking out the answer relentlessly, I stumbled upon the “little” reasons. I was here to learn the patient art of living in community with 15 to-be-friends; I was here to be an older sister to Caoli and Carelin, my siblings in the campo; I was here to belt out “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with the bright smiles of our Haitian school and teach them the English words for their favorite animals while a cuddly 2-year old was cradled at my hip; I was here to revel in the glamour of the open, glittering sea and to fail miserably at salsa dancing.

But by the time I had about three-fourths of the semester under my belt, I found in myself a desire that shocked me beyond belief, truly. Clara Elizabeth Jace just wanted to go home. This was astonishing because up until this summer, when someone would ask me where home is or where I am from, I took pride in explaining that I have moved a lot in my life and don’t really feel right calling just one place home. I was the independent, free-spirited wild child who wanted to discover and possess every aspect of life, intimately. And we all know that those kind of people are bitten by wanderlust and were made to explore the wide world rather than end each God-given day by watching Netflix at home in their suffocatingly comfortable beds. What was wrong with me? I became haunted by this aching desire to return home in order to carry out my unfinished business, business that was nothing more than a resolution to be a better person, both professionally and personally, to those who were ordained to remain in my life for longer than just five months. I especially couldn’t wait to start being a better daughter and older sister after relearning the value of family through the campo immersions. There is no denying the marvelous natural beauty of the Dominican Republic and of Misión ILAC (please believe me that some of my favorite nights were going on jogs around their tropical plant-enveloped trail) and it’s friendly culture. But while I was happy, my restlessness kept my thoughts turned homeward.

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Living abroad taught me how to be thankful.  I had this intellectual sense of thankfulness before, where I knew instinctively that I needed to practice thankfulness in order to be happy, but it was only habituated for the obvious things– I was thankful when I had a major victory in school, pushed my limits on those evening runs, or enjoyed a fabulous night on the town with friends. When not only those things (which did actually appear in their Dominican form), but the general order and cleanliness I was accustomed to in the United States, every single one of my friends, and most of my material possessions were stripped away for those five months, I had to discover newer, “smaller” things to be thankful for. My list (yep, actually a note on my phone): the lull of the fans, yuca, the rocking chairs, the spiral staircases to reach the rooftop terraces, plantains, la bandera, the characters of the campo, Sunday mass in Spanish, the comunidad and our awesome teachers/friends, familiar books, bachata and merengue dancing, the powerful sun, childhood songs I had nearly forgotten, technology such as Skype and handwritten letters, spontaneous adventures due to the gauguas…the list is extensive while not nearly exhaustive. Currently resting on my peaceful back porch in the States, it may be said that my thankfulness count has increased exponentially. I notice the birds, plants, and whistling wind as if I were encountering them for the first time. We truly aren’t aware of how good we have it here.

Living abroad taught me how to understand beauty. And that is absolutely, inextricably linked to practicing thankfulness. My individual aesthetic ascribes beauty to a certain sophisticated elegance, for example, on the rainy days my heart wanders back towards the seductive wisdom, history and art of the museums in Rome, the lofty cathedrals of sacred Israel, and the rolling French countryside in which I picnicked on white wine and fresh bread last summer, surrounded by my family and friends. Though the Dominican Republic undeniably possesses an intriguing history and abundance of culture, our service-learning program revealed a novel kind of beauty to me. In particular, I was returned back to the basics. Though I was admittedly out of my comfort-zone in the simplicity of the campo, I only had to raise my eyes to admire the sublime mountain range that watches over the houses. Though the road was not paved and we didn’t have running water, I soon began to see the beauty in the careful manner in which my campo mom, Olga, thoroughly cleaned her house every day. Though there were no books to be found, I saw how the kindness and piety that was displayed by countless members of the community is purer than any worldly knowledge. I could continue on with precious pearls of experiences, but let it suffice to say that the gift of simplicity revealed itself to me. All the while, I still did not lose sight of my more learned loves and made it my personal mission to leave Carelin and Caoli with their own petite, classical library.

Living abroad taught me what home is. With my renewed understanding of thankfulness and beauty, I could not wait to rush back and behold the familiar as if it were magical once again, to treat my family and neighborhood like we were a real community. Though far away from our homes proper, our experience had been saturated with experiences of community and family. I have long held that one ought to practice the ability to cultivate a home wherever one is planted, no matter how transiently. I had not legitimately put that belief into practice until taking up residence in the Dominican Republic for those months, and I now realize the poverty of that view. What makes home “home” is that it’s irreplaceable, unable to be replicated. Sure, enough time might suffice to reconcile the disparity between strangeness and familiarity, but the object of the majority of travel is to return home. With new eyes, a rejuvenated perspective, and a new treasure chest of memories and friendships, yes, but nevertheless to return home. I profess that never have I been more enchanted with my home, more thankful for my country, or more in love with my family. I have my thrilling, difficult, interesting, uncomfortable, crazy and refreshing semester abroad to thank for that. Living abroad brought me home.

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences—their insignificant, everyday experiences—so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others—and how many there are!—are driven through surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. —Nietzsche

Getting to Know You

“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2)

There is something divinely human about hospitality. It is a universally-acknowledged truth that the measure of a soul’s nobility and elegance is in the generous hospitality that he or she displays. As a long-term guest in a foreign nation, I have had the constant privilege of being on the receiving end of such comforting generosity. From a sweet, steaming cup of coffee waiting for me each morning in the campo, to strangers taking on the role of self-appointed tour guides, to professors going out of their way to drive me to my favorite café, my time as a guest has only confirmed the comforting power of hospitality. But what of the duty of the guest? A snowball effect of experiences have let me to this conclusion, that my mom (and I’m sure mothers everywhere) was correct in insisting, one should always leave a place better than how it was found. Obviously this applies quite conveniently to messy playrooms, but as is so often the case, our lessons from kindergarten apply more gravely as adults (much like how I had the funny urge to pass out those “The Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated” rulers at the Haitian-Dominican Republic border yesterday.) Focusing on leaving a place better than how we found it gives us a great goal, while leaving the creative specifics up to the demands of the situation. I think its important to understand hospitality as a means to an end, that it provides a gentle framework for getting know a fellow human being on a deeper level. Both the host and the guest engage in an ancient, at times awkward, dance that allows space for a genuine relationship to flourish. Think about it– we offer our best to our guests, not because we actually feel any affection for them yet, but because we want to display our respect for them and our excitement to share time and space with them. To put it another way, the manners and formalities provide the avenues through which joy in one another’s company can be cultivated. At it’s root, hospitality is about the dignity of the human person, and that is why it is so ancient, universal, and continues to be needed all over the world. Whether through washing the dishes after a meal, arriving with a thoughtful gift, or simply inclining a listening ear, practicing the art of hospitality refines and beautifies our characters.  I have seen it over and over again here; the simple display of courtly manners, for example, asking if you can help with cooking dinner, blossoms into an unexpected friendship. No one can resist the inherent elegance of generous heart. Simply put by Mother Teresa,

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

And how else to tie up this article but to share the lovely song from the King and I that lends itself to its title: Getting to Know You and of course, a timeless recipe from one hostess to another: The Best Lemon Bars Recipe. Here’s to good music, good food, and good company!

In Between Guagua Rides

“Aw man, I really wish so-and-so could see me right now.”

Whether out of humor, glee, or smug pride, every fresh traveler knows the above sentiment well. There have been many instances recently during which that the thought has traversed the paths of my mind– the guiding theme has been humor. In fact, I would even venture to say that travel is the art of learning to laugh at yourself. And to laugh incredibly hard. Please see below:

The Guagua

Thirty-four. This week I rode in a twelve passenger van with thirty-four other passengers and it was great. In fact, it was one of those times you rush to dinner, excited to brag about your experience over the beans, rice and salad. For all who need a reality check, or just a little cuddling, please take the preferred Dominican public transportation- the gaugua. The name itself demands the attention it deserves. Additionally, my inner poet requests that I mention the lovely local scenes one can witness through the wide-open windows (ventilation is key), and my inner economist adds that the fee is only 25 pesos (roughly 50 cents.) What a deal!

The Service Hours

Few things are more enlivening than screaming the hokey pokey at the top of your lungs while jumping amidst a gaggle of happy, dancing children. For a moment, the hokey pokey was my favorite song in the entire world. The funny thing is that rewarding experiences like such are the exception, not the norm, during service but you keep coming back because that brief and intense joy so far makes up for the tedious and frustrating times. Two weeks ago, I was awfully reluctant to climb out from my mosquito-net canopy each morning and hop on a guagua to go to my service site.  But part of maturity is gaining the undeniable elegance and grace required when leaning into such discomfort. Part of maturity is understanding that teaching requires entertaining, and entertaining means screaming long-forgotten nursery rhymes at the top of your lungs and sillily dancing, well, like the gringa you are. Having a few more classes at the makeshift Haitian school in Pontezuela under my belt now, I can finally say that I know why I am doing this. Little-by-little, picture-by-picture and song-by-song, I am confident that Sarah and I will be able to do good. And as always, doing good feels good. I could not ask for more.

The Salsa Hours

Two Fridays past, the Comunidad Crew made an appearance at a local bar. We were led there by our maestras y advisoras, Margarita and Kat, who slyly knew what they were doing, since we soon discovered that this was the Friday date night hot spot for all the elderly couples of Santiago– though it was still just as lively and loud as one would the expect the scene of twenty-somethings to be. Looking back, for confidence’s sake, it was probably for the best that we were primarily spectators that night. In fact, we niñas were happily mesmerized by a darling old couple who didn’t even make it to the dance floor; the man intercepted his wife right after dinner and began to twirl her around right next to their table. We all search for what they have.

Then in Santo Domingo last Friday, we were led by the locals to the promised land, and by promised land, I mean the local hot spot for dancing (and with partners more our age-group.) For all who have never tried bachata, merengue, and salsa, they are worthy of addition to the bucket list– in ALL CAPS and permanent marker. There is truly nothing like letting the music move you. Like the bad tourist that I am, I only have two grainy photos to share from that night, a dance and our addition to the signature wall. Thankfully, there are times so gleeful that one forgets to take pictures.

And the next morning… the Comunidad got the grand tour of La Zona Colonial: Catedral de Santa María la Menor, Calle El Conde, Plaza de España, y Museo de las Casas Reales. It was all so beautiful, but still my primary takeaway was the reminder that deep in my heart, I still yearn to be a princess and live in a castle when I grow up. 😉

The Studious Hours

And in addition to the little daily lessons that emerge in the sneakiest places, our actual coursework has also been marvelous. My studies have been a lovely mingling of economics, theology, history, accounting, and literature– infused with zesty Spanish. Not only do we examine the tumultuous DR-Haitian relationship through texts, but we go forth to teach English in both Dominican and Haitian schools. We don’t just learn about free-trade zones; we spend Friday morning touring Alta Gracia (which deserves its own future post, I promise.) Not only can we conjugate comer in the future tense, but we throw around Dominican slang words and hum our new favorite songs: Las Cosas Pequeñas, Todo Cambió, Niña De Mi Corazón y Darte Un Beso (honorable mention, always: Heroe.) Let us now take a moment to appreciate how endearingly over the top these music videos are.

There are also the universal lessons. The clash of cultures and countries is only a supersize version of the clash between individual personalities and minds. At best, it involves the beautiful mutual exchange of knowledge, best practices, and wider-encompassing interpretations of the world in which we live and thrive. Thus it turns out that travel is about the root of laughter: delighting in and learning from one another. Emerson is quoted as saying,

 “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

I cannot think of a better way to describe my days here in La República Dominicana.

Siempre Estoy De Buen Humor

And I’m not just referring to the fantastic beaches and waves, although the natural beauty here does rock me to the core. This lush ground has already begun to infuse some of its soul into mine, and that is very, very good.

!!!
“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” -Jane Austen

Thus begins my four-month long excursion in La República Dominicana, and I am currently a lovely mess of enthusiasm and nerves. The thought “This will be very good for me” has rung thrice through my mind in these last 24 hours. And I’m not just referring to the fantastic beaches and waves, although the natural beauty here does rock me to the core. This lush ground has already begun to infuse some of its soul into mine, and that is very, very good.

I wish I had words for the grin on my face as I disembarked from the plane early this morning (literally 3am) to find myself caught up in a gaggle of boisterous Spanish voices – voices whose owners were clearly full of the zest of life, even at that ungodly hour. When we experience such unexpected, simple joy, we immediately understand how we ought to make others feel. The Dominicans – and this is unabashedly cliche, I know – have a real grip on the simple joy in the simply lived life. Stripping away life to its necessary components will be very good for me.

Already, I have been humbled. Not only is my grip on the Spanish language so weak that my blunders had Ricardo, our cab driver, chuckling the whole way here, but I am sure that his amusement with my inadequacies will be shared with many other of his countrymen as I continue to struggle through claiming “sí, hablo español, más o menos.” I am looking at copious amounts of copying verb charts and Duolingo-ing up a storm, although I can’t complain since all studies will commence under the glorious Dominican sun to the view of rolling, tropical pastures. Why nap all day when you could be learning a new language? Oh and also, I persisted for a grand total of 14min on my morning jog before surrendering to the heat. Gosh darn it. Adjusting to life in the big and little ways here will be very good for me.

Lastly, there is a pastoral quality to the entirety of life here that is wholly uncommon in the States. Chairs are always pulled out to the streets and from them reign eternal observers.  I think first of our gatekeeper– a lanky, tan man who keeps a sleepy, yet mysteriously watchful, eye on the entrance into “Sunset Valley.”  Side note: he is also quite the friendly and encouraging jogging companion, as I discovered this morning.  Another small example, after some gloriously fresh seafood last night (that certain members of my family ended up regretting late last night), my dad slowly backed up our massive white van as a huddle of Dominican men looked on from their perch outside a restaurant. It was clear that this sort of gathering was a nightly occurrence as their experienced hands handled fat cigars and worn cards.  I have already mentally collected a plethora of favorite characters that I could reference in this regard, but already it seems safe to gather that the Dominicans are generally not a hasty people. Slowing down here will be very good for me.

As the trials of travel are popular for showing the true colors of one’s traveling companions, likewise the curveballs bring out the usually concealed sides of ourselves. My all-encompassing travel advice? Always be in a good mood — as we all know, this involves a whole hell of a lot of “fake it ’til you make it.” 😉

Hasta lugeo, mis amigos!


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Amen.
dom rep sun
Mi vista as I’m penning this post 🙂