by Kara Harvey
First, I want to begin with thank you! I would not have learned these lessons that I hold close to my heart without YOUR support. Your donations and prayers sustained me through the 5 weeks that I was in the Dominican Republic. For this reason, I want to dedicate this list and its contents to YOU. I hope that you will be able to experience the Dominican Republic through these words. Thank you again!
**Throughout this list, there may be references to reflections I participated in as well as the daily mass readings and passages from Simply Surrender, a reflection book of writings by St. Therese of Lisieux.
1. Living in the moment is not an excuse to be crazy. It is a reminder to sit still.
Pause. Be patient with others, but first and foremost, be patient with yourself. During the school year, my mind is as busy as my planner, which if you ask my friends, looks “scary”. I am a color-coded, list- making, schedule-follower. My first day in the Dominican Republic (DR) transported me into another culture where getting the most done is not the status quo. Taking care of yourself and spending time with people is valued above organized chaos. I was even encouraged to sit still. Siéntese. Sit down.
2. Take pride in where you are from, where you are at, and where you are going. God is present in all of these.
On the outskirts of Santiago, there is a community called Cienfuegos. We were given an inside view of the community from a Deacon who has faith, trust and pride in this community that has come so far. Cienfuegos began as a shanty town and then became a place of crime and delinquency. More recently, the community has become a place with schools, safety, and growth though it is still in deep poverty. We were able to go up on a hill that over looked the entire area. The Deacon asked us, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Si! From most people’s eyes it is a group of run-down, poor buildings. For him, it was an improvement of life for thousands of people. It is his legacy. God is present and at work in his life and in all of our lives no matter how it may look on the outside.
3. Take chances. Jump off a cliff into a waterfall.
There are times in our lives (such as going out of the country for the first time) when we come to the edge of a challenge and we don’t know what is waiting. It is in this moment when we must jump into God’s waiting arms. Once I acknowledge that I need God, it becomes obvious that God will catch me, carry me, and give me peace in the mist of the challenge. Going to 27 Waterfalls to jump, slide and wade through the water in the mist of God’s beautiful creation was a kind of trust fall. In the end, to jump is not to succeed, but it is to try. It might not be pretty at first, like me trying to speak Spanish, but if I go into the unknown dark tunnel, I have the possibility of singing like a canary.
4. Interprofessional teamwork is important.
The communication between professions, students, and translators was what made our clinic in San Felipe run so smoothly. As a team, we were not afraid to help out someone who needed it no matter what our “job title” was.
5. Juice builds community
The families in San Felipe, the community where we lived and served, loved juice. Each time we entered a home, they brought out homemade juice. Chinola (passion fruit), cherry, limeade, pineapple, and many others. They did this to welcome us. To give to us. They saw us giving to the community through the daily clinic and health visits and responded with generosity. Gratitude leads to generosity. And the generosity of San Felipe led me to deep gratitude for each person, the community, the juice, and for God’s love for us all. We grew as a community by asking our hosts questions about themselves while drinking juice.
6. You can adapt to almost anything.
Chirping birds, crowing roosters, dishes being washed, the scrape of a plastic chair, card games, Dominos, the wind, the dispensing of filtered water, buzzing of bugs. Silence. Not understanding the language. Weather. Scenery. A bed. Bucket showers. A home. But maybe not the bugs…
7. Take care of yourself.
Look clean. Take a shower. Show others that you care for yourself to give them confidence to put their trust in you.
8. Take a step back and let God have all the credit.
Many people in our group came to the DR to do good. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus references hiding our good deeds so that others can not see them. This is not to belittle us and how we want to help the people of the DR, but to allow God, the source of the good, to shine. When I take a step back, humbling myself, others can experience God through my actions giving God the glory. In this, I am learning to depend and trust in God more and more, which allows more mercy and more love to shine on others.
During my time in the DR, I was continually humbled by my inability to speak Spanish. In this, God reminded me of my worth as a person and then He used me to connect to others in ways I did not originally think of. I pray that my patients and the people I met in San Felipe saw God through me.
9. There is a universal language.
I won the superlative for best Dominican hand language, which is funny looking back because communication was the component of this trip that I was most nervous for. One evening I told my group, “Mireya made me put on a long-sleeved shirt before I left!” They responded “Wow! You understood that she said that!” I responded, “No… she pointed to my room, rubbed her arms like she was cold, and then pointed to my bare arms.” Language is not always words. When in doubt, find a child. Children and food gather people together and create a common language of smiles and hugs.
10. Confidence is the combination of experience and trust.
Throughout my time in the San Felipe clinic, I had chances to perform wound care, ear irrigations, assist with a small procedure, set up pap smear trays, complete intake forms, and above all, interact with and advocate for my patients. This experience increased my trust in myself. This improved trust in myself has increased my confidence in my nursing ability.
11. Chocolate comes from a fruit.
Google it! This is a fun fact that I learned first-hand in San Felipe where they grow cacao.
12. Holding someone’s hand can be enough to form a bond.
Benita came to the clinic many times throughout the month for her chronic disease management and I was able to form a deep friendship with her. She taught me to listen, even when I don’t understand. She taught me that supporting someone through sadness does not have to be through words, but through a hug or a squeeze of a hand. And in these meaningful actions, a friendship was born.
13. Sometimes a pair of earrings is more than just that.
A few days before I left the DR, my Dominican mom, Mireya, handed me a pair of earrings. We did not speak the same language so we mostly communicated through tone of voice, actions and hand gestures. I saw that she only had an earring on one of her ears. I tried to communicate to her that these were her earrings. She told me she had her matching earring in her room and pushed the gift towards me. She told me to wear them en la mañana. In the morning, I put on the earrings Mireya had given me. When I walked into the kitchen, her entire face lit up with a smile. I learned that generosity does not come out of wealth, for Mireya did not have money, but from a heart of love. I learned that I could show my gratitude for this generosity by accepting the gift.
14. Siempre ~ Always
A common response to gracias in the DR is siempre. In a way, they are saying that they are always there for you. As a culture, I found that the Dominicans in San Felipe prioritize people. This directly correlates to a phrase we heard every day in clinic, gracias a Dios. After the patients find out that their glucose or blood pressure is normal, they praise God. They thank God. They are grateful for their health and for the people in their life. They put people first because there is nothing (material, jobs, etc.) that is worth more.
15. Home is people.
Home is not a building, or food, or weather. Home is not a structure built by man. It is the people built by God that will be forever in your heart. The bonds that were created with my family in San Felipe is not one of blood, but it was just as powerful. After only a month, Mireya, my Dominican mom, made an irreversible mark on my heart. As I stood in our kitchen watching her make me a warm drink for the last time, I started to sob. She loved me through morning coffee and crackers, Domino games, big hugs, and staying up late to let me in. Mireya and many more people I now call friends are a part of my home.