Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 10: Hot water!!!

This is Charlie. If he ever asks you for money to help
people in the Dominican Republic, give it to him.
He gets things done ... and most importantly, he really,
really does the work Jesus would have us do.
Not just
hot water heaters, but building things and feeding people!

My day started out great. I owe major thank-yous to Padre Servio, Charlie, and anyone else who may have been involved in putting a hot water heater in my apartment. You may think, “It’s the Dominican Republic! What do you need a hot shower for?” Well, it is January—it’s not stiflingly hot here, despite what I’d anticipated. My first hot shower in nine days felt GREAT!

I got grumpy after that, and I think I’ve figured out two reasons why. Number one, we’re nearly halfway through our time here. It’s kind of a “hump day” phenomenon. Number two has to do with the process of learning Spanish. Speaking it in conversation can feel exhilarating, but it’s always exhausting, and there’s always some level of frustration associated with it.

See, I’m a flaming extrovert. I can’t really process much of anything unless I process it out loud. When I’m all alone and thinking things through, I whisper to myself. But I do a much better job of processing my thoughts with other people. Around here, we’re supposed to be speaking Spanish all the time. That is the point of an immersion, right? Every hour I spend speaking English actually works against my progress.

So as an extrovert learning Spanish, I find that I keep having to take an introverted role—to absorb everything that goes on around me without the least guarantee that I will be given space to participate. When I need to clear my head, I have to spend time alone—either that, or really cut loose in English with my fellow students. All this is to say that being here isn’t 100% easy, but it’s 1,000% worth it.

Sarah and I had another Spanish lesson today, during which I was not at all on top of things, and I was visibly flustered about it. Patrícia and Sarah taught me to say, “Inhala … exhala …” And things got better as we went along. The most fun I had was when Sarah read out loud the passage from Isaiah that she’s been practicing in order to prepare her sermon, and I listened for the verbs and wrote them down. I think this will be a very helpful technique for the rest of my time here.

Tonight was Padre Servio’s weekly Bible study. Initially I decided to go out of a sense of obligation—and, besides, my grumpy self had taken too much alone time already today. There were fewer people in attendance this week, and that helped a lot. Padre Servio asked me to read the Bible passage, which was Matthew 19:13-30. Reading it aloud helped put the words into my mouth and my head.

Some very gracious people
And then I found that not only was I able to participate, but I had original thoughts to contribute, and the people were patient with me when I got stuck. Most of them know enough English that I could have just spoken English, but they very intentionally made space for me to learn, and I was grateful. I was able to compare this passage to the parallel passage in Mark, in which Jesus predicts “persecutions” for those who follow him in addition to all the benefits. And thanks to the Gordon Lathrop book I’ve been reading for my New Testament class, I was able to voice the theory that the benefits Jesus refers to—mothers, fathers, son, daughters, brothers, sisters, property—are the benefits the early Christians received by virtue of being members of the growing Church. Of course, at the time the Gospel writers lived, persecutions also came with the territory, but for some reason Matthew was more reticent to point that out than Mark was.

Reading back over this entry, it must seem that today was a very insular day. It kind of was. It’s always a tricky balance, learning Spanish, absorbing the culture, engaging with the Dominican seminarians, attending worship, taking time to study, taking time to goof off, and getting beyond the gate of our “bunker.” There’s no road map that says, “This is the proper division of your time.” There is, however, a paper to write when this is all finished, and I assume these reflections will help.

Me with seminarista Jose Abreu
Not only that, but I’m beginning to wonder what my ongoing relationships will look like with the people I’ve met, the churches I will have visited, and the country in general. At morning Eucharist today, I noticed that our relationships with the Dominican seminarians seemed to have ramped up a bit. Taking them out to dinner last night was a great thing. We’ve also connected with most of them on Facebook now, which is exciting. Catherine took them out for a beer this afternoon and talked not only about liturgy, which is her specialty, but also about whatever questions were on their minds. I understand they had a very meaningful conversation.

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