Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day 4: Epiphanies, Conversations, and Cards

(I have photos to add, but for some reason I can't post them right now. More later.)

I love the season of Epiphany. How fitting a season to be here in the Dominican Republic, and how fitting as well that I will do my Sunday work at Cathedral of the Epiphany! The cathedral is also the site of the seminary, so I won’t have to go far. As it is, we worship here every morning and every afternoon. I am told I was placed here because I have the least experience in Spanish of the four of us, and Epiphany has both an English and a Spanish service on Sundays. I will help with both. The other three will travel on Sundays (or even Saturdays) to more far-flung places, which I'm sure they'll also have much to write about.

Sarah and I shared our first Spanish lesson yesterday. Patrícia is a wonderful teacher: she started with the basics, but all the while she was assessing our different levels of understanding. She breezed through the things we already knew in an effort to get to new things faster. We’re well on our way. Yesterday evening we attended a Bible study en español, which was quite an experience! Some people spoke much too quickly for me to hope to understand more than a few words here and there.

With Kristin, I attended a class today in pastoral theology. This experience was similar, but a little more controlled. Both sessions were led by Padre Servio, who is very patient with us and is quick to interpret when he senses that one of us (usually me) is totally lost.

The experience of speaking Spanish has been a little frustrating for this recovering control freak, but it is joyful, too. I find that with each day, I’m able to spend more time in Spanish conversation without getting unduly frustrated. When I become too overwhelmed to listen, I content myself with picking out individual words, looking them up in my pocket dictionary, and writing them down. By this afternoon I had written down over 100 words! Also, I frequently need to find 20 minutes here and there to lie down and close my eyes. Luckily, there is plenty of space in the day for this to happen.

In most of our conversations, I find that I’m able to figure out what the general topic is, but not the aspect of the topic we’re discussing, nor much of a clue about people’s feelings about it. As this is a seminary, we’re dealing with pretty heady stuff some of the time, and I can’t always read what people are feeling. Strangely enough, though, it's not the big words that trip me up.The finer points of pastoral theology in its relationship to the social sciences make use of many words that are similar in English and in Spanish. It's the little words—the prepositions, the conjunctions, etc.—and the verb conjugations, especially as they relate to pronouns—that leave me in the dark most of the time. I'm hopeful that I will continue to pick these up quickly. Also, we have learned that Dominicans drop their "s"s the way Cockneys skip their "h"s. Since "s" is so important in verb conjugation, this can be very confusing!

We are having a great time with the seminarians—Jose, Juan Pastor, Vanel and Luis—and with the sexton/sacristan, Rémy. Just now, before and after dinner, we played cards. Sarah taught us all to play Slapjack, and Kristin and I taught Spoons. The most priceless moment of the night was when we tried to translate the word “sneaky” into Spanish (a trait required to win a game of Spoons). Luis looked very confused and pointed at our feet. It turned out Kristin had been saying she was a running shoe! (Get it? Sneaker.)

One downside is that Annie has been down with some sort of flu today. We’re aware of the widespread flu in the U.S. right now and wonder if she may have brought it with her. She’s resting up and hopes to be back on her feet before long. Please keep her—and all of us!—in your prayers. Muchas gracias.

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