This is a long one, friends! So much happened on (last) Friday that even though I left events out of the narrative, this post grew into a novel of its own. Grab some coffee and play some music, 'cause its going to be a while before you finish this, if you finish it.
And I did not edit at all. Sorry, kind of. But here it is at long last:
'Tis now our second full day of staying in La Tinajita, and much has happened since we arrived. In my naïve take on providence, I had imagined that our time in the mountains surrounding Santiago would be one of quietude, a breather where not much that was blog-worthy would occur, even if our hearts would be stirred up the Word. Well, our hearts have been stirred up by the Word and I think all of us have much upon which to reflect, but that whole bit about it being quiet and not so very blog-worthy was all hogwash. God had...other plans.
On Thursday evening, Emily R. returned to our country home with a new, tailored, functioning retainer ~ completed in one afternoon! God fully and rapidly answered our orthodontic prayers in ways far beyond our expectations, as He often does, and I think enjoys doing. On top of that, Mumsie was able to get some dental accoutrements for herself, which was like throwing bonus points into the jackpot. We feel very blessed and well-cared for, but I suppose that is what happens when God is God. That night we went through our third study on Biblical Thinking and went to bed very tired but very thoughtful and very thankful.
The plan for Friday morning was to get up at a decent time, eat, and leave by 9am in order to see a Haitian church with which Tomàs is working before going on to one of our only "touristy" stops of the trip, 27 Charcols (27 Waterfalls, or Puddles, or Pools, or just think Swiss Family Robinson again). You might be surprised, but we pulled off the schedule rather well, and, with the help of Emily K.'s "Yay!" music playlists, we made it safely to the Haitian village where the church is located.
But then plans started changing (for which I am just going to start planning). Daddy thought we would meet the Haitian pastors and see how Tomàs, a student of Daddy, is in turn teaching others, to demonstrate that discipleship is actually a vital component of healthy evangelism. We saw that truth, to be sure, but when we walked up to the church we discovered that they were holding a week-long conference and were hoping Daddy would speak. Surprise! Unfortunately, none of our group knew tuppence about this situation and thus Daddy did not come dressed for the occasion, and could not speak.
Now, this might shock some people. He could not talk because He was not dressed correctly? Is that even Christian? It certainly is not American. But hold your individualistic horses and hear me out on this one. Something that the gospel brings to these impoverished and disheveled communities is a sense of respect and value for God, others, and themselves, which they communicate through a variety of ways including the clothes they wear. Before, they had nothing to value, nothing to strive for, nothing to live for, nothing to dress for, but now they have all of this purpose because of Christ. For these once-careless people, the hope found in Christ has brought them joy and order. If Daddy were to go up and preach in shorts and tennis shoes, the church members would not understand why this American doesn't get the new life in Christ. For them, it is not a legalist matter of "I have to wear this to look good" but a love matter of "I want to wear this because He has made me new." See where I am going? So, it might sound strange to us, but it makes perfect sense. Daddy did not preach, and everyone was the happier for it. Oh, and this was only one of the first cultural lessons we would learn that day.
After Daddy discussed micro-loans (another post in itself) with the Haitian pastor and we had handed out some Christian books translated into Creole, the gang turned our sights upon the mountains, where the 27 Waterfalls were hid. Many foreigners come to this spot because it combines beauty with thrill. You wear sturdy shoes, grab a life-jacket, put on a helmet and hike up jungle-like paths until you reach a lovely little grotto into which rushes the beginnings of a mountain spring. You proceed to slide down that mountain spring, through 27 pools, until you get back to where you started. It is like a crazy-long water slide, except God made it, not man. None of us knew what to expect but we all were excited about it, nonetheless.
However, you have to pay for it first. And that is where cultural lesson number two pounced into our day. And I mean suddenly. Daddy and Tomás had squared away the price of our excursion while the rest of us were getting into our swimming outfits, and it had come out to be around nine dollars per ticket. Everything was good to go, and we were about to set off to the forests when, "Wait, wait, wait!" You see, they had caught a glimpse of the blondes (and the redhead, Jessie).
"Wait, wait, wait, you need to pay for your crowd," the ticket-guy said. Um, we had agreed on the price already? "But those are foreigners, and their tickets cost more because we need to take care of them better, and because our community lives off of tourism."
Nuts, I know. At Disney World, everybody pays the same entry fee, no matter what their colouring is, but Dominicans have this odd mixture of admiration (we need to take care of them especially well) and scorn (they are not Dominican and therefore are gullible: let's charge them more!) for those of fair complexion. That racism gets Daddy rather upset, understandably. And it was racism. They were not charging the foreigners more, for everyone in the group was foreign except for Daddy and Tomás; they were only charging the non-dark people more. Zach passed as a Dominican because he has black hair and brown eyes, Josh passed as Dominican because he started rattling off in Dominican Spanish, and I, well, I don't have to explain why I passed as a native. Mumsie, Jessie, and the Emelii were singled out for the higher price. Coinkidink? I think not.
|The expensive ladies|
Daddy went at the ticket-guys (and now their manager) from the angle of honesty and doing right by your customers, saying he would be fine paying the higher price as long as everyone was charged the same amount, regardless of their features. While he did that, I went all girl on them. In as Dominican a Spanish as I could, I hounded them with, "So, their lives are worth more because they are blonde? I do not deserve the same amount of protection as they do, just because I have dark hair? I am not even from here, yet you value me less because I have brown eyes and beat you in your own vernacular. That's stupid." Judge me or judge me not, but I don't abide that sort of wheedling racism. Of course, we were nice, but, well, firm. Adamant? Yeah.
|The price-efficient gal|
Cultural lesson number three came in the form of our tour guides: two young-ish men, one who looked like a bull and the other who looked like a wiry lizard. They were jokesters, to say the least. The kind of joking that makes girls cry, ya know? So all of us felt a bit...creeped at first and sang quietly to console ourselves (or at least some of us did). Then we started hearing a little girl wailing to her mum, just behind us, but when we turned to see her, nobody was there. Then we heard the clear screech of one of the DR's many birds, but when we looked to where the sound came from...no bird. We heard owls and cows and donkeys and that wailing girl over and over again, just behind us but never present.That's right, we had ourselves a pranking ventriloquist for a tour guide.
Can anyone say unnerving? I know the four of us girls can, after that first hour of hiking. But the tour guides whom we detested in the beginning of the trip, we ended up loving by the time our excursion down the waterfalls was done. See, we soon realised that these annoying, creepy, completely non-serious guys were actually very alert and aware of what their duties were. They needed to relax us because some of those jumps off the rocks into the pools were positively dizzying. I am not a dare-devil, so facing a twenty-five foot plunge into blue waters below could have been quite frightening, but the light-hearted ways of the tour guides distracted us so that our jumps became a reality.
And not only did they relax us in a very roundabout way, but by the end of the day they had proved themselves heroes in the truest sense. Not only did our bird-calling guides know how to spot all signs of fear and illness, but they also exuded astounding patience when some of our group ended up being not quite up to the challenge of jumping and sliding down a mountain. Through a bewildering display of acrobatics and by wielding their chilling grip strength, these guys managed to safely put up with our team, and even turn themselves into a living slide for those who preferred them to a slide of stone.
I guess the lesson I learned here was two-fold. One was cultural: Dominicans deal with hard and strenuous circumstance with jokes. It’s like the third stage of Oklahoman tornado recovery, right Jessie? Rather than cry about it, let’s laugh about it and get the problem solved! There are many aspects of that philosophy which I hope to adopt ~ even if I don’t borrow our tour-guides special kind of ventriloquism. Ahem. The other lesson was one in patience. From talking to our guides, we learned that they had been at this job for fifteen years, every other day of the year. As in, they had ascended this mountain and descended these pools approximately 2,700 times! And yet they were patient when we stalled at a jump for half an hour. Even though they had done this action literally thousands of times, they still sympathised with a novice’s fears, never made the beginner feel dumb for being scared, and gently though firmly worked to help the newbie get over his anxiety. I know that when I know something inside and out and backwards, it becomes very difficult for me to show patience to someone who does not understand the given concept or motion. These guys, who had not experienced the patience of Christ and His faithfulness to re-explain as have I, blew my tendency of impatience to smithereens, and blew away this recipient of Christ’s grace. I have no excuse to be overreaching and demanding and exasperated when our unsaved tour-guides made us feel like a million bucks despite our slowness to learn. Learning from the mouth babes is one thing; learning virtue from those who have not the greatest Teacher as their Father takes it to a whole new level of humbling. And I am glad of the humbling. Lord willing (and He does will it!), I will not forget this lesson in patience.
And now for one last lesson. By now I have completely muddled whether the lesson is cultural or not. But whatever. It is a fun story to end this entirely too long post.
At the second to last slide/jump down the mountain, we came across a group of Canadians. Amongst them rowdy, restless, and rather reckless folks (and I can say that because I am Canadian), we noticed a young woman sitting mournfully at the top of the slide and we also noticed that her ankle was bright red and swollen. After a third glance, we confirmed she was crying. Jessie and Musmie, being the compassionate ones of our group, rushed to her side to see what was wrong. Me, being the compassionate-wanna-be, followed in suit. There we were, the three of us huddled around this 12-year-old Canadian girl named Erin, who had twisted her ankle on the hime after she wilfully demanded to wear her flip-flops instead of recommended tennis shoes. Silly or not, this poor girl was completely alone and abandoned on a rock without anyone caring who could speak her language around ~ except for us.
Erin would absolutely not go any further down the mountain with that hurt ankle. She was alone and scared and, might I add, stubborn. She was crying. And a woman who is wild and weeping won’t do whatever it is she doesn’t want to do. Believe me. We talked with her, and pitied her for her striking solitary state, but she needed to get that down that mountain! Her tour-guides, who were different than ours, had lost patience with her about twenty pools ago, and she had lost grip on herself about an hour ago. That part was obvious. So it seems as though God placed the three of us, Mumsie, Jessie, and I, to get her to slide down those last two pools to her disconnected aunt and medical help waiting below. So we did. We prayed aloud for her multiple times, although she had firmly stated she was not into church. We encouraged her, although she refused to be comforted. We reasoned with her (I mean, no slide, no help), although she was far past the state of rationality. So finally, with much love, we nudged her. And gravity and grace were on our side. Down down down she went! Thankfully, my Daddy was waiting for us at the bottom, too. Little did he know that he would be putting his doctoring skills to work that day, but that he did. It turns out Erin was not seriously hurt, and definitely over-reacting. But, to be honest, how would I behave if I were in a strange country with strange people with an aunt who seemed to be oblivious to such basic things as the colour of the sky (that aunt was seriously clueless). And had I not just seen a tremendous example of patience? This was my first chance to put it into practice.
And you know what I learned? I learned that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to speak truth, and deal with the realities of a situation whether the person involved wants to or not. In short, sometimes you need to nudge. And that is okay. Be kind, be gracious, be gentle, be compassionate, but be firm ~ and do not expect thanks. Was not Jesus that way? Was that not how He loved? So combine patience with purpose. That is love. And that is what I learned on the trip down the mountain. Alright, alright. So much more happened on the way home, and we ate spectacular food after our day-fast, but I am sick of typing and you are sick of reading, and knowing about the moro we ate shall not change your life one intsy bit.
I would recommend you not refill on coffee, because by the time you reach this point in the narrative, you shall have drained at least ten cups. That’s enough for two hours. Go out and jump down 27 waterfalls or something. And do not wear flip-flops.