Yesterday was my last meeting with the CHL's. Although we usually hold our meeting Sunday afternoon, this Sunday (today) a team of Americans were coming to serve as a short term mission team so I have to be with them. Also, we received a small gift of money just enough to treat the women to a day at the local dam and then dinner at a restaurant which is a HUGE deal to them. So we decided to hold the meeting Saturday morning from 9-11 and then rent a bus to take us to the dam for the day and enjoy a nice dinner at the fish restaurant. The plan was to have everyone there, all 10 CHL's, me, Ruben, and Anel, in order to celebrate their successes this summer. I hoped to get a big group picture and spend the day reminiscing and enjoying each other's company, and finally saying goodbye personally to every single one of them. But God would have it another way that I just wasn't ready to accept.
I arrived to two waiting CHLs (something that has never happened before- they were early what?! this is a miracle by Dominican standards) and had my hopes so high when I saw Wendy and Yesenia waiting. I began to set up for our last class and then waited as usual... most of the time they come about a half hour late. But by 9:30 I only had a handful of the 10 and I was getting worried. I knew one could not come because she goes to University everyday except for Sunday, but all the others I was expecting to go. I came to find out that one was sick, another had unexpected company and was only there for the class, and the other just didn't show up... And for some reason I was absolutely distraught. It was my very last opportunity to be with them all and we spent lots of money preparing for this special outing and I had lots of information to cover. I was tired of the excuses and tired of preparing so much for every meeting only to find out every week that one person or another couldn't make it for this reason or that reason... If it rained before the meeting then they couldn't come because of the roads, if a distant relative passed away they would miss several meetings due to a lengthy mourning period, their ride might not show up or their motorcycle might die, they might be "sick", or simply there were "circumstances out of their control" that would a plethora of other excuses But I think it goes even deeper than this. I was taking my frustration that had built up over the months out on this amazing group of women that were doing there very best to spare 3 hours every week, traversing terrible roads and leaving their children and grandchildren with neighbors and relatives and on top of this all they are doing this work voluntarily, something very rare here.
Yes, they should have been here at this last meeting, it is one of the expectations they set for THEMSELVES and motivating adults has been one of my hardest challenges this summer. For that reason I decided to start the teen group as well as it's often easier and has a greater impact to work with children and young adults.
We purposefully had these ladies set expectations for there own group according to what they thought they could do. So I was upset that they weren't necessarily living up to the expectation to attend every meeting, but I think the deeper problem was that my feelings were hurt. I thought they would at least try to make it to this meeting to say goodbye and celebrate.
This culture is a culture of "mañana." "Mañana we will do it," "mañana it can happen" so many mañanas but never "hoy!" What could be a beautiful reminder of how their faith and trust in God is so interwoven into their lives,"Si Dios quiere"- "If God wills/wants it." has turned into one of the phrases I dread hearing the most here. It is the most passive, noncommittal response that completely avoids any responsibility and commitment for a future event. I might say, "Ok, see you tomorrow at the meeting!" and instead of saying "Yes, I will be there!" or being upfront and replying "I don't think I can make it" they reply "If God wills it." When I first arrived I didn't realize this was an everyday idiom so when someone responded this way my reaction was "Yes of course he wants it!" I thought, why wouldn't He want it? Why wouldn't He want you to come to a meeting to educate yourself and your community on important matters of health? And so I'm still wondering, why wouldn't He want all of the CHL's to be there for that last meeting? Was it divine intervention or apathy on the part of the women that prevented half of them from attending our last meeting... I'm thinking it was a bit of both.
And to be cliche, this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was frustrated at many things. For one, earlier this week I went with the CHL Angelita on a house visit to in the community of Jaguey. We decided to go to one of the families most in need. Upon arriving I was shocked at what I saw. It was as if I was back in Kenya. In the DR there is poverty but it is more of chronic, underlying poverty... they have enough food but it's not the right kind of food, they have sturdy hosues but they are not lavishly furnished and often leak a little or are not quite large enough for their very large families, they have education but it's not top quality and many students fail or dropout. However they have food, they have shelter, they have family, and they have their community. In Kenya the poverty was acute, like acute malnutrition, everyday was a matter of life and death for many. Here it is more a question of quality of life and so we work on how Project Hearts can better the quality of life for the people of Baitoa. However, this family's situation is pretty dire. Their house is falling down, there is trash and filth everywhere, they have no bathroom and not even a latrine, they haven't receive water in over a year from the government and don't have money to buy water, there are dirty animals everywhere and the baby of one of the oldest daughter was in the dirt naked. The mother is actually a grandmother at the age of 28 and isn't sure if she herself is pregnant. The abuse and violence was hanging thick in the air. So palpable and oppressive. So when we visited them I was crushed. Where do we start? The second oldest daughter was home and was translating what we were saying to the mother who only speaks Creole. Midway through our discussion and assessment the Father came home and began to ask us for help. Both him and his wife have been having health problems and the second eldest daughter smiling and giggling said, "We all drink (referring to herself only 13 years old, her older sister of 15 with the baby, her mother and her father) and who knows if my sister or my Mom or pregnant... they definitely could be!"
We finished our assessment and I left there house wondering where to even begin to help this family or how to guide Angelita to help them in the future. The next day I was still thinking of this family when Ruben and I went to meet with Profamilia in Santiago about a potential partnership with Project Hearts. They are an organization/hospital that specializes in family medicine, specifically women's health providing education, prevention, need-based health care services, counseling, and follow up. The meeting was fantastic and it seemed as if God was providing us the answer- they said that we could bring the Mother of the family and the oldest daughter to the clinic for free services and education. It was going to work out perfectly! We were to make another trip to Santiago anyway on Friday so they could ride with us and then we would pay for their transport home. They wouldn't have to pay a dime and they would receive the help that we thought they were asking for! I joyfully went and talked to the family and they agreed that the Mother and oldest daughter would go with us on Friday. It was a perfect plan. They didn't even say "Si Dios quiere" but merely agreed and their reply, although positive in words was not positive in action. And sure enough Dios did not quiere... although in my opinion I think it was them that did not want to go... He had other plans I suppose and they certainly had other plans.
Friday morning they did not show up so I walked the half mile or so to their house on the slippery, muddy road as it started to drizzle. I thought, just maybe if I can talk to them they will change their mind, but they were "busy." With what, I'm still not sure. They assured me they'd go to a local clinic "mañana" to get a checkup for their Mom but that day they were "busy." The daughters didn't want to translate my plea to the mother to go and that was that. I failed. I can't speak Creole, and I couldn't get the importance of going to the Doctor across or the fact that this was such an amazing opportunity. But I know that the basis of community development and lending help is that the people have to want it. I guess I mistook their pleas for help, recalling that it seemed as though the Father really wanted fiscal help more than anything. And I walked back dejected. The perfect plan was not so perfect after all.
This week I had also left one of my teen health classes feeling dejected and frustrated. I'd had pretty good responses in my teen class and felt like I was really breaking down barriers and mounting enthusiasm. And then last week only 4 students came and they were on their cell phones the whole time taking advantage of the internet access. I spend a long time preparing for these classes and had a dynamic lesson planned, but I don't blame them for wanting to use the internet since they rarely have access.
The planned trip to the river that everyone had talked about for weeks with the neighboring community of Mocan failed. It had rained too much to go as the roads were washed out.
One of the projects that the team of Americans is supposed to complete this week is on the verge of failure despite weeks of planning.
It was as if all the failed plans from this summer hit me at once as I stood outside the centro communal yesterday trying to calm myself down. And then Ruben came outside to talk to me. He said "the fact that we even have one person here is a miracle, Meghan. We have a CHL group, we have women here dedicated to their community's and there's nothing we can do about the rest. God has a different plan so let's make the best of what we have and keep going with what we had planned. He has made it how it needs to be today. We are doing the work that we are supposed to do so let's keep going." So I took a deep breath, plastered a smile on my face, entered the room and began what was sadly my last lesson with the CHL's and what turned out to be a very enjoyable day!
The Dominican Republic can be the worst nightmare for a planner like me unless you realize that there is a greater plan happening. The best moments here for me have been the ones that have been unplanned or resulted from altered plans.
For instance, the week that Matt came to visit I dropped all of my plans and just went with the flow. We ended up working at a children's camp that week, making the best of friends here, hiking in a canyon, dancing the nights away in Santiago, and holding awesome classes!
Another was when dinner plans fell through so Chiquita ended up coming up to my house and I decided to fix dinner for her and I. I poured her drink, cooked her dinner, cleaned up after us, and didn't let her lift a finger. She is the most hard working woman I have ever met and it gave me the most pleasure to SERVE her. Chiquita LOVES to read but told me that when she tries to read tears run down her eyes from the strain. I had a book to give her but upon finding this out I didn't want to give it to her because I knew she would want to read it but really couldn't and that it would probably be more like torture to give her something she loved but couldn't use. When I mentioned this to Ellen, my American neighbor who had come over when she saw Chiquita and I sipping wine on the porch, she exclaimed that she had dozens of eyeglasses that had been donated. We ended up laughing and giggling as she gave Chiquita eyeglasses to figure out which pair worked best for her. Chiquita was beaming.
I can't forget the spur of the moment dance party at my house with half of San Jose Adentro. Or the hysterical game of charades demonstrating disease routes of transmission in my CHL class. I could go on and on.
What really matters is the fact that the successes and amazing moments far outnumber the challenges and failures and that we continue to persevere through which ever moments we face next. I even turned my temper tantrum into a moment of learning and clarity as I later saw that the day was exactly as it was meant to be despite only having half the group. Seeing the women playing in the dam as if they were children again, pigging out on our amazing picnic lunch (Nina, one of the women exclaimed "Meghan you sure will break our bad diets!" because I only bring healthy food to the meetings and to the picnic) and eating at a restaurant for the first time was incredible. I asked them about their highs and lows and what amazed me was that the only low moments they had with the new CHL program were the difficulties and barriers to them attending the meetings. My jaw dropped. I thought they might say they hated the quizzes, or how long the meetings were. Despite any negatives, they remain focused on the positives of the CHL program just as I am focusing on the positives of my experiences this summer.
|Chiquita at my house with her new book and eyeglasses!|
|Some of the Community Health Leaders at the Dam.|
|Yera, a CHL and leader in her community, enjoys the fish fry|
|All of us at dinner|
|The teen health class|
|Me giving a class at Ruben's cousins house because the centro comunal, where we usually hold class, had another activity going on. Always have to be flexible here! Thank goodness these people let us hold the class at their house.|
|Matt and I hiking in the guarda raya river gorge.|