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6 Aug

I love anthropology.

The history of people groups, the study of their development, and the analyzation of their culture is beautiful to me.

I have such a fascination with native americans. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Northeast Ohio where Native Americans originally settled the land and, despite our bloody conquistadorian history, attempts to pay them homage are weaved in modern culture. I took field trips in elementary school to the Cuyahoga River, named for its crookedness by the tribe that settled there. Our baseball team, The Cleveland Indians, was named in a much less politically correct time.

I don’t know if it was fourth-grade social studies or not, but I have always appreciated the natives of a given land. I think that they have so much to teach us, more today than ever before.

My most recent musings on indigenous culture were spurred by a project in one of my classes last fall. We were to analyze our cultures and recognize modern tribes within. I chose “The Organics” and humorously mocked their culture, in my own right, in that I am one of them.

Just after the project, I started looking at my own life and the tribes that I see, am a part of, or have been a part of at different phases of life. I reflected on times when I was tribeless and floating in the abyss. I analyzed the world around me through this lens. I analyzed myself.

It’s easy for me to be alone. People require energy. They talk. They have opinions. Then, to make it worse, they want me to talk and they want to know my opinions. It’s terrible.

The worst part, though, is that I need people. I can’t live without them. I have tried. I got so sick of people that I isolated myself from all things that annoyed me. All that I found was that I eventually annoyed myself back into community.

The key for me was finding the right tribe. The right group of people to share life with. New York is an easy place to be unnoticed, especially if that is your goal. It took me seven years of cycling through fluff and anonymity, but I eventually found my tribe. I eventually found people that I trust. I eventually found people that I sincerely want to be around. I eventually found myself.

I thought about this again when I got to Bogota. I had been in DR for a month, essentially without a tribe. There were people to share life with. Good people. But i was relating to them with the understanding that I had not planted roots on Dominican soil. This is not to say that I did not make authentic friendships. I know that I did. We did not have shared experiences in the past that allowed us to process the present in the same context. We were working on those experiences while I was there.

Then my professor came to observe me. A familiar face in the airport. A few days of summarizing, reflecting, and debriefing. A healthy close to a month of intenseness.

Then we flew to Colombia. I saw my other professor in the airport. I saw the rest of my class at a restaurant. I saw some of the faces that I had been carrying with me.

I saw one of my tribes.

This specific tribe, this group of urban studies students, is so incredibly unique. We are devoted to the arts, to philanthropy, to sustainability, to resiliency, to hope, to faithing, and to one another in a way that I have never experienced before, at least not with more than one person at a time.

We’ve been together, as a tribe, in Bogota, for a few days. We laugh together, we dance together, we build together, and we process together.

The contrast of this experience with my month of solidarity in the Dominican has reaffirmed what I already knew. I need people. I need to process life alongside close friends that validate and support and challenge me. I need to do the same for them.

Sometimes I have to force myself into it, but I know myself well enough to know to do that.

I’m still figuring out balance. It’s never been my strength.

But I’m headed in the right direction. Towards wholeness.

With people.

It’s community. It’s the good life.




30 Jul

New year’s eve has to be the most under-appreciated holiday.

It might get more play than say, groundhog’s day or earth day, but it does not get the respect it deserves.

There is a gathering in times square. A rather large one.

We get together, eat and drink, watch a ball drop, and close out the holiday season.

The true value of the holiday, though, is far greater than the surface festivities would lead you to believe. The end of the year is a time to reflect. To ponder. To contemplate. To look forward.

We watch the latest pop sensation sing to a screaming mob and think that we’re celebrating.

I love a good celebration, don’t get me wrong. I have no trouble finding a reason to tap my glass of fine red wine across the table. I look for reasons to “cheers” in daily life.

But I equally value the quieter moments, alone with my thoughts, where I have carved out space to reflect about my day/week/month/year/life.

I have one more full day in the Dominican. In preparation of my departure, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting. I’ve thought about the past month of my life, what I’ve learned, how I’ll be a better teacher, how I’ll be a better person.

The biggest lesson, what I’ve reflected on the most, is what brought me here and what makes it hard to leave.


I’ve thought about the faces of new friends that I’ve made in this past month. Friends that I will be sad to say goodbye to. Friends that have treated me as family, taught me, and loved me. Friends that I didn’t even know existed just four weeks ago, but will now have a difficult time parting ways with.

I’ve thought about my students. About how their faces are reflected in the ones that I’ve passed thousands of times on the streets of La Romana. I’ve thought about my school, my colleagues, my supervisors. I’ve thought about how I carry them with me in every step of my walk on the island.

I’ve thought about the faces of my friends from home. About the community that I left in NYC. About how they have been behind me, supporting me, emailing me, and cheering for me since before I left. About the ones that made my eyes tear up when I saw their faces through my computer screen.

I’ve thought about the faces that have helped me thrive while I’ve been here. My professor, who has been supportive, demanding, and encouraging since the beginning. Who has sent emails, at just the right moment, to tell me that he is on my side. About my classmates that inspire me to be an agent of change in the broken places, the ones that model what it looks like to live in the plausible instead of the probable.

I’ve thought about the faces of my family. Ive thought about my sister and how much faith she has in me. How that lives in my soul and rises up when I have no faith in myself. I’ve thought about how my niece made a paper chain of how many days until I come home. I’ve made lists of all of the things we’ll do together when I get home.

I’ve thought about my mom and how she would randomly hug me in the grocery store in the days before I left, stealing as much contact as she could before my six week voyage to a foreign land. I’ve thought about how she raised me to be strong enough to make the journey in the first place, and how I’ve only ever wanted to make her proud by being here.

I wouldn’t be here without those faces.

I chose the Dominican Republic because I felt connected to it, connected because of my community in NYC, connected because of the faces.

Any good that had come from being here is because of the support of the faces I left, and the support of the ones that I met, but will soon leave.

I look forward to leave because of the faces that wait at home, the ones I hope to have made proud.

I leave for Bogota on Wednesday morning. I won’t be home to those faces for several weeks, but they will still be holding me up until I return. They will still be the voices inside my head, pushing me to accept nothing less than my best, nothing less than what they believe me to be.

Tomorrow is my New Year’s Eve.

I have reflected.

I will remember that new faces are in every new community. I will remember that I stand tall for the sole reason that I have been loved well by the faces I already know.

I will raise a glass as well. I will celebrate the end of my time here, filled with a grateful heart for all of the faces in my life.

I will remember that we are relational beings, meant to connect and share life and walk and fall and love with one another. And that not much matters outside of that.

And I will still blog from Bogota. Not because it is a requirement, or because I have fallen in love with the life of a blogger.

Fear not, this did not happen. I still hate to blog.

I will blog, though, because it makes me feel connected to the very faces that this blog is about, the faces that I love so very dearly.

And everything changes when you fall in love with people.




One thousand words

28 Jul

I have lived without a phone for a month. I love it. I love not being expected to communicate at all hours of the day, people constantly knowing where I am, missing phone calls and receiving voicemails.

It’s pure ecstasy.

I have also lived without my iPod for a month, which is not as easy for me. But I decided to be here, to be fully here, and not escape the moments with the familiar music that soothes my soul.

I have not, however, been without my camera. I have to document classes, projects, and events throughout the course of the internship. This requires me to participate in a world that I openly and unashamedly loathe – technology.

I am not a fan. I hate when there are cameras in my face. I hate the imagined connectedness that social networking provides. I hate spending hours trying to update software and download programs and format documents. Hate.

Yet, I’ve had a camera with me just about every minute since I left my mom’s house in New Jersey. The drive to get the grade I want has the ability to ignore the fact that I’m annoyed.

One thing that I can’t ignore, though, is the voice that whispers to me every time I photograph in a bateye. I pull my camera out, a small, digital, point and shoot that my mom lent me, to capture a moment as it is happening.

Then the kids run to me, asking for, “A photo! A photo!”

They pose. The girls, with their hands on their hips. The boys, flashing numbers with their fingers, representing what they imagine to be a tough kid from the city.

They know how to use the camera. They know how to switch between the photo library and the active camera.

It’s clear that Americans visit bateyes frequently.

Lately, the little voice has been more of a scream and less of a whisper.

I’ve been wondering about how it must feel to be eating your breakfast and have your photograph taken, as though the act of being alive was worthy of documentation.

I’ve been wondering how it must feel to see people walk through your village and capture images that represent your reality, knowing that it must be so drastically different from their own.

I’ve been wondering about the subject of the photograph. The object.

I imagine it must be dehumanizing.
I’ve taken some amazing photographs in my time in DR, photographs that speak words I’ve yet to find. I’m grateful for them. I’ll have them forever.

And I know that the camera has changed the world. Photography has exposed atrocities, injustice, and poverty that never would have been seen otherwise.

Dorothea Lange showed the depth of sadness of the great depression when she photographed a “Migrant Mother” with her two children.

The photograph of Tiananmen Square is symbolic of the power one person to impart change. That poster hangs on the wall in my classroom.

The imagines of starving children, genocide, and war have evoked emotions from all of humanity, causing us to speak on behalf of those that have lost their voices.

Photo-documentation is necessary. I appreciate it on multiple levels.

In the act of photo documenting, I have been looking at the photos in a different light.

I can remember this thought process beginning in me just after September 11, 2001. The cover of time magazine showed the plane hitting the second tower. You could see the shadows of bodies falling to the ground, bodies that were easily confused with the pieces of cement headed to the street below. I remember thinking that those people were fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and friends. I remember thinking how enraged I would have been if the image of my loved one falling to their death had been published and sitting on coffee tables across the country.

Now I’m on the other side, to a much lesser extent, and still asking those same questions.

I have no answers.

I know that photography, specifically to expose injustice, is noble and beautiful.
I know that being photographed in your natural setting by people that you don’t know is dehumanizing.

I wonder what the consequence is of being photographed in this way, what it does to the psyche.

I wonder if there is a way to document, to capture the images that need to be seen, without sacrificing the dignity of the person on the other side of the lens.

I imagine that the process would start with a conversation. Perhaps a request for permission coupled with respect for the culture.

I imagine that remembering that people are humans with feelings would be a good place to start. Maybe if we all did that, there would be less injustice to ask for permission to expose.


with love.

25 Jul


Everyone is a teacher. Everyone.

My mom was my first teacher. She literally was my kindergarten teacher, but she was also my first teacher in life. So was my sister. So were my grandparents. And while they were teaching me, I was teaching them. I was learning how to tie my shoes and count to ten while they were learning what all toddlers already know about the world, that it is full of adventure and wonder.

We never stop being teachers, but most of us have stopped being learners. A poor learner is the worst kind of teacher, I think. Unexamined. Unpassionate. Stubborn.

Even so, no one has the option to choose to not teach. We teach through our actions, through living. We cannot choose to be alive and not live, and if we could, that would be a lesson as well. It’s beautiful. It’s a responsibility.

Whether banker or doctor or mother or chef or taxi driver, we teach those around us.

To narrow those that teach to those that are in the classroom is an easy out. It relieves the rest of us of being responsible for how we respond to our worlds.

In the public education system, teaching has become about planning, preparation, grading, classroom management, scope and sequence, differentiated instruction, data collection, assessment, and paperwork.


Those are the tasks that distract me from the vocation of teaching. Those are the demands of the job that disconnect me from the mandate of being fully human.

To teach, to truly teach, is intrinsically connected to learning. It is to be “with” your students.

I am the best teacher when I forget about outcomes and test scores and objectives.

I am my best when i learn with them. Do with them. Be with them.

That is when earth is aligning with heaven. That is renewal.

In those moments, neither of us walk away unchanged.

I remembered this so clearly on Monday. We were waiting for the truck to pick us up after school. Life in the bateye was relatively quiet, with the exception of a few kids playing with a tire.

Then the water truck came and all of that changed. The water truck comes once a day to supply the bateye with water. It’s been two weeks since the water filter broke, so the truck carries gallons of water and infinite joy to the people of the bateye.

The entire bateye stormed the truck with buckets and containers, with anything that would hold water for the 24 hours until the next delivery.

I’ve read about the water crises in the world. Ive read about kids carrying Jerry cans for miles. I’ve read about sickness and diseases and death. I’ve supported programs that support clean water in developing countries.

I wouldn’t consider myself uneducated about the topic.

But then a little boy walked past me, a container in each hand, and paused to wipe the sweat from his face before continuing to take the liquid gold home.

I could feel my heart in my throat.

Reading about something is very different than watching it happen in front of you.

Then a woman walked by, pausing at the same spot. I went to her and grabbed one of the containers before she could pick it back up. She tried to stop me, but I can be a tad stubborn. Just a tad.

It took every ounce of energy that i had to follow her home with one five gallon bucket. One bucket for one half of one trip and I was done. It was heavier than I ever could have imagined.

All that I’ve read, all that I’ve seen, and all that I’ve supported could not have taught me what I learned in 300 hundred yards with a bucket in my hand.

Watching something happen before you is very different than participating in the process.

I walked with her, even for a brief moment, and was changed.

She might have felt that I was serving her. I was. That’s why I wanted to walk with her.

But the process, the “with”, of serving her, actually served me.

And that takes me back to my classroom, where I am an actual teacher that has to care about the trivial tasks of the system. It reminds me to not disconnect myself from the desks and chairs that my students sit in everyday, that we might learn together. It pulls my eyes to meet theirs so that we can look at life together. It calls me to try things that are difficult for me, that I might be more patient when they complain about what comes naturally to me.

It reminds me to be with them, because that process serves them and serves me. And then we, together, will be equipped to serve with the world.

Three-hundred yards with five gallons.

Always learning. Always teaching.


Donated clothes and birthday parties.

22 Jul

I’ve had a few “small world” moments since landing on this island, moments where I remember that there is one sky above all of us and what I do under it effects the other people simultaneously sharing the space beneath it.

Last week I was walking through a bateye in the morning hours, greeting the community as they were waking up to the day. An elderly woman came to the door of her makeshift home.

She waves and says hello.

“buen dia.”

I return the gesture.

“buen dia.”

She was wearing a brightly colored electric blue shirt that I recognized immediately. It came from a camp near my hometown, a camp that I grew up going to as a kid, a camp that I worked at throughout my college years. Someone had donated it to a local charity in the Akron area and it somehow it made its way to a bateye in la romana where a woman was wearing it at her doorway on the morning that I happened to walk by.

Small world.

Part of the reason that I came to DR in the first place was to shrink my own world, to make it smaller so that I could holistically understand it.

I came to understand the culture of the transplanted New Yorkers that I love so deeply.

Understanding the respect that a society, that this society, has for dance, for hospitality, for appearance, for religion, for art, for leisure, for family, for sport, and for patria helps me to comprehensively understand the dynamic in my neighborhood and in my school and in my classroom.

School is not in session here. It’s summer, so kids are everywhere. I imagine them being my students. I see the younger kids and wonder if they’ll end up in my classroom one day. I see the older ones and imagine my students in the future, returning home for a summer with their families. I watch everything, seeing the connections between what happens on the streets on the southeast coast of DR with what happens on the corner of 182nd and wadsworth in New York.

And it all came together again last night. I was at a birthday party of the husband of the cousin of a friend. Family. Kids and adults and friends. A little boy, maybe in the third-grade, was sharply dressed and sporting a Mohawk. His grandmother called him over and reprimanded him for not pulling his pants up when they slip below his waste. He was respectful and obedient, pulling them up immediately and motioning that he understood the consequences of exposing his backside.

I understood, too, because the sign for decapitation (using the hand to slit your own throat) is apparently universal.

I watched this little boy return to the middle of the room to practice his dance moves.

The kid had skills. Serious, serious skills.

I pointed him out to Blad, the friend who invited me to the party.

“That kid is good. Really good.”

“That’s my nephew. He lives in New York. He’s just here for vacation.”

“Blad, that kid lives in New York? The city? The same one that I live in? And you didn’t introduce me? You didn’t tell me?

Blad, no bueno. Call him over. I want to talk to him.”

I spent the next few minutes getting to know Bhenny. His English was broken, probably as much as my Spanish, but we were able to talk about his school in the Bronx, and mine, in The Heights, before he was called away by the bachata in the background.

I watched him the rest of the night, running through the house, jumping on his uncles, teasing his cousins, and keeping his pants around his waste. He was the realization that my connection with this community isn’t imagined and that what I’m doing here is only going to help me understand what I do at home.
Bhenny, like the woman in what could have been my old tee shirt, was a reminder that everything is connected. That everything we do matters. That we are all tied to one another. And that it is, in fact, a small world.


warm milk

17 Jul

I’ve been in DR for two weeks.  There are moments that it feels like I’ve been here for two years. There are moments that it feels more like two hours.

It’s amazing how much one person can learn in two weeks time.  Life lessons that make you a better version of yourself.

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned, thus far, came late last week.

We didn’t have access to the second Bateye that we wanted to teach in.  You can’t just walk into a Bateye, talk to the people, see what they need, and then serve them.  There are rules.  There are guidelines.  There are corporations.

Each Bateye has a promoter that seeks to connect the Bateye with the community and provide them with their basic necessities.  The promoters live in the Bateyes, but usually in the nicest house at the main entrance.  We know the promoters of the Bateyes where we work, but they do not have permission to give us permission when we ask for things.

It’s all quite complicated.

We kept reaching out to our different sources, making attempts to receive access, and failing.   We scheduled a day trip to the department of education to ask for favor.  Just before we went, though, we ran into the promoter at the hospital and talked with her for a bit.  She suggested one last at-home effort before going to the education department.

She knew someone.

The next morning we picked her up and drove through some sugar fields to a little village.  We got out of the car, walked between a few homes, and met with an elderly woman.  She was in her nightgown and drinking a large glass of warm milk.  She was as delicate and fragile as she was commanding and assertive.  Everyone knew that she was in charge.

We spoke for well over an hour.  The conversation was in Spanish, so I followed as closely as I could. There are times, though, that you don’t have to be fluent in the native language to understand the situation.

She was approving our program.  She was supportive.  She was behind us.

And that was it.  That was all we needed.  I still don’t know her name or why she mattered or what her role with our Bateye is, but I know she liked us and wanted us to be allowed to teach.

We started yesterday.  The kids stormed the school to try to get in.  We had to guard the doors and stand at the window to keep order.  It was incredible.  Yet, it didn’t come through an email or a trip to the government. It came just as it was supposed to come.  It felt like a version of social networking, without technology or phones or facebook or twitter. It came through warm milk and an hour in the sun, through faces, through people, through relationships.


Central Dots

16 Jul

You know those really annoying kids that ask questions about everything?  The ones that want to know why cargo is transported on a ship while shipments travel in cars?  The ones that have to know why streets have certain names?  And how roads were built? The ones that ask about why the mirror in the bathroom fogs the most when you shut the water off, as opposed the while you’re showering?

I was one of those annoying kids.  Always asking questions.  Always trying to connect dots.  Always pondering the deeper meanings of things.

Face value was invaluable to me.  I wanted to understand everything.

I wanted the truth.  The marrow.

My poor mother.

I was really annoying.

Eventually, I grew up.  I never stopped asking questions, I just stopped verbalizing every single one.

I’ve had millions of questions since I landed in DR.  I have questions about the flora and the fauna, questions about the language, questions about why men speak in cat language when anything female walks by and how many of them have had any luck with the ladies that they’ve hissed at, questions about laws, education, policy, and questions about life.

I see dots everywhere I go.  Asking questions helps me put lines between the dots, it helps me to draw the picture.

Working in the bateyes, seeing the snapshots that I’ve been blessed to witness, has led me to ask millions of questions.  I want to know why the communities are so different than hunter/gatherer natives, why they haven’t learned to harvest the land, why there seems to be a lack of sacred space, why disgust is dealt with in such a counter-intuitive manor, and why it is so difficult to evenly distribute resources.

I don’t like the picture that those connected dots form.  I don’t like what it makes me see, what I’m forced to admit, because there is nothing I can do about it.

Agencies. Governments. and Corporations.

Profit before people.  Actually, profit on the backs of people.

It’s ugly.

My hope, what keeps me moving forward, is knowing that all major movements in history have been preceded by nameless people that went out with their fists in the air.  We read about the heroes, the ones that stood on their shoulders.  Martin Luther king.  Gandhi. Rosa Parks.  Cesar Chavez.  Their lives meant something.  They altered the course of history.  But they only did so because someone before them had lived and died with such passion, making way for them to do the same.

My vision for my time here is not ignorant, or even naive.  I know that I will leave and be forgotten.  I know that I am just a face in a crowd of Americanos that venture to the Caribbean motivated by their altruistic ideals.

My hope is that there will be one day where the work that has been done culminates to the point that one charismatic leader stands, speaks, and is heard, because a few people gave a year or a month or a week to lay the foundation.

Then, maybe there will be a new picture to draw.  One where everyone is allowed to draw on the paper. Image

Face down. Face up.

11 Jul

My sister has two kids, Lily and Judah, and I love them as though they were my own.  I only have one sibling, Amy, and she only has two kids, so I’m not discriminating against other nieces and nephews.  They are my only ones and I love them the entirety of who I am. 

Judah was a summer baby, born just three Augusts ago.  Since I have been staying with my sister for the majority of the summer for several years, I was around for her third trimester with Judah. We spent the summer cleaning the house, painting murals, redecorating, and going to birthing classes every week.  Apparently, there are requirements for choosing a midwife over a hospital and education is part of the deal.  Who knew?

Every Thursday of that summer was spent traveling to the Goshen Birthing Center and back, which is a 45 minute trip each way.  The way to Goshen would usually be spent singing songs, talking, smelling the odd farmy smells of the Midwest, and entertaining my niece.   The way home, on the other hand, was time spent discussing the birthing class.  One of the most distinct memories that I have, something thatforever altered the focus of my internal lens, was when Amy told me about worldwide cultural birthing practices.  She told me about when giving birth in rice patties, in hospital beds, in homes, and in bathtubs.  She told me that (all things being equal) every baby, in every situation, in every culture, in every country, from the beginning of time, has entered the world the same way.  They come out face down and immediately flip their bodies to be face up.  This isn’t taught or practiced or forced.  It’s the way that babies instinctually know how to enter the world.  Face down.  Flip.  Face up.

I started to think about this, really think about it, I mean.  I started to wonder how we can be so different, so unique, so opposite, yet our first moments of life on the outside were exactly the same.  What causes someone to pick up a gun?  What drives someone to self-medicate?  What pushes someone to a particular belief system?  Or away from one?  What inspires a person to create? Or to love?  Or to dream?

Obviously these are complex issues.  Obviously there are factors beyond our instinctual natures that contribute to the story of who we are.  Obviously.

It just seems like it should be less complex.  It seems like we know how to act, but we learn to operate in opposition to what we know.  I came into the world the same exact way that John d. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Sojourner Truth, Michael Jordan, Dorothy Sayers, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin ladin came into the world.  We were face down.  Then we flipped.Image

I thought about this fact again today.  I looked into the eyes of the kids in the bateyes and thought about their first moments of life.  I thought about how they were the same as mine.  The same as all of the other people in the world.  I watched them create self-portraits and draw things that they care about around their portrait.  They were sprawled all over the floor in our created safe space.  I could see my niece and nephew in them, having done the same type of art at the kitchen table instead of a cement floor.  I could see that their lack of ability to hold a pencil came from lack of exposure, not lack of ability.  I wondered about their hopes, their dreams, and who would eventually pick up a gun.  They were artists, these little ones, creating and expressing, reminding me of all that binds us, and all that wedges us apart. 

Thinking of how we all start the same way.

Face down.  Flip.  Face up. 

If only it would stay so simple.


4 Jul

For a while, all I could see was white.  On occasion, darts of blue would pierce the condensed air, teasing me with glimpses of the ocean below.  When we finally broke the cloud line I could see blue for miles.  I watched her ebb and flow against shades of green that I had not even seen in my dreams.  As we descended, I could see more colors, more shapes.  Roads, villages, trees, and cars were forming before my eyes. The plane jolted when we landed and everyone cheered.  I mean, literally, everyone clapped their hands and audibly made noise.  The woman next to me smiled and told me that it was tradition to celebrate a safe return to the homeland.  All of the objects on the ground blurred again, but only for me.  It’s hard to see clearly when your eyes are filled with tears.  It’s hard to not let your eyes fill with tears when you finally make it to a place where you love so many people, ones that you already know, and ones that you haven’t yet met.

My last communication with my program coordinator was an email that I sent before I left Indiana on Monday morning.  I sent my flight information and said that I would be at the airport at noon on Tuesday.  Who was picking me up?  How would I find them?  Where would I meet them?  Details.  I was in DR.  I would figure it out.

I made my way through the airport, through exchanging dollars for pesos, through lines, and through broken Spanish.  A man by the door, Orlando, had a sign with my name on it.  We walked to his truck and drove the 83 kilometers between Santo Domingo and La Romana in silence.  I would have been fine with stumbling my way through conversation, but he was the quiet type-one of the best qualities a person can have, in my humble opinion. The trip along the ocean, with palm trees, donkeys, bike-taxis, and tiny villages was more than enough to keep my mind occupied.

We pulled up to a house, with seemingly little warning, and got out of the car.  We had arrived.  Where were we?  Whose house was it?  Where was any one of the people that I had emailed for the past two months?  Details.  I was in DR.  I would figure it out.

ImageMen were playing dominoes just outside the door.  I felt like I was home, the way I feel when I walk down any street in the heights when the temperature is above 70 degrees.  Orlando stayed with the Domino men and I walked through the house on my own.  A variety of people, involved in a variety of programs through the hospital, were scattered about.  None of them knew me.  None of them knew were I was staying or where I was supposed to be.  None of them knew where my contact people were.  They did, however, have internet access, and really, that’s pretty much all you need to figure out most things.  I emailed my contacts, told them I was here, that I was tired, that I would be taking a nap at the end of the hallway, and headed off to catch up on the countless hours of sleep that I had missed in the past 5 days.  I hadn’t laid down in 36 hours, so my hierarchy of needs had sleep on the top of list.

I woke up to the hustle and bustle of people preparing to eat dinner.  My contact person was among them and we finally sat down and met, face-to-face.

As it turned out, I did figure it all out.  Getting here was the biggest component of the journey.  Being a bit displaced, not being connected, and not knowing anyone were minor details.

I even got a nap out of the confusion.

I am here.  It all worked out.

Preparing to leave

28 Jun

For my first blog entry, I should start with an introduction.  My name is Kelly Finlaw and I live/work in Washington Heights, which is a predominately Dominican neighborhood at the top of Manhattan. From early September through late June I teach art to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in the New York City Public School system.  I say that I am a teacher and this is true in the technical sense of the word.  But, the truth is that my students teach me more than I teach them.

I will start my journey into the blogging world by stating that I am completely against blogging.  I love to write.  I love to read.  I write for myself, poetically and ignoring all grammatical rules.  I read books about things that I care about.  The day-to-day/how-to/shop-here-not-there blogs are of no interest to me.  Having said that, I will be obeying all grammar rules, blogging regularly, writing academically, and sharing my day-to-day life with you.  Sometimes, in life, we have to conform to the world around us.  For me, this means being technologically savvy so that life around the world feels less far away.  I will still be poetic, though.  It is that fine line between conformity and identity.

It is the night before the last day of school.  Usually, I am preparing to say, “goodbye” to my students and colleagues for a two month vacation.  Usually, I am beginning to feel a certain level of anxiety about how I will occupy my time until September.  I don’t do well when I am bored and teaching has me on my toes for ten months of the year.  It is the other two months that push my limits.  I can handle a week of open space.  I can even handle two weeks.  But two months of blank canvas overwhelm me.

On this particular evening, I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed for completely different reasons.  My summer will not be spent roaming the streets of New York, sitting in parks, soliciting my skills as a henna tattoo artist, reading books, playing with my niece & nephew, or listening to the waves collide with the Jersey Shore.  Instead, I will be in the Dominican Republic as a teaching artist with BuildaBridge.   I will travel to the Dominican Republic as an “Artist on Call: with BuildaBridge, International and working with The Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana.  I will be helping to implement an educational program for 5-8 year children living in the Bateyes just outside the city.  Over the course of my 4 weeks in The Dominican I will be working towards four main goals.

  1. Identify students that have the greatest educational/behavioral needs and assess these students, working with staff on how to best meet their needs on a holistic level.
  2. Work the staff that is already in place in order to train them to be more effective in teaching in the BuildaBridge classroom model for education that is trauma-informed, hope-infused and children centered with the purpose of building resilience in children.
  3. Create a curriculum that ties art and core subjects, especially math.  This curriculum will be given to the staff so that it may be implemented in the program for future use.
  4. Prepare an evaluation based on the experience and through observation that can provide recommendations for further educational development of the program.

I am beginning my seventh year as an art teacher in a Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan.  I fell in love the first day.  Ever since, I have dreamed of going to DR (that’s short for the Dominican Republic, for anyone that may have thought I was referring to my general physician) and now it is finally a reality.  Yet, I am still anxious.  This anxiety does not come from the fact that I am headed to a country where I am not fluent in the language, will be away from home for six weeks, miss my family, miss my friends, or start to feel restless.  I could easily address those issues.

I am anxious because I am afraid.

I care so much about what I will be doing, but I don’t feel equipped to do it well.  I don’t know that I can give these kids, these teachers, and this program the depth of what they deserve.  This scares me.  I don’t like to fail.  I don’t like to be average.  And I don’t want to be anything less than the best for the kids and people in this program.

I know that I will learn as I go, just as I have done in every other aspect of life.  This time, however, I only have a few short weeks to learn enough to give my best.

I know that I will come back a different person.  I know that I will come back more prepared for my own vocation in Washington Heights.  This will not be enough to feel successful.  Success will come if the people that I work with feel more equipped, more empowered, more prepared, and well-loved.

So I head to bed, ready for one more day of school, feeling anxious for different reasons than other late June evenings bring.  Yet, I know that my anxiousness never added any minutes to my days, and perhaps, a certain level of fear is a good thing.  Fear, at least in this case, comes from a heart that cares enough to miss some sleep in order to blog.  Hopefully, that will translate between cultures and languages in order to give the best version of myself.