El Cercado, Dominican Republic: A Place of Community

El Cercado, Dominican Republic: A Place of Community

First it breaks your heart, then you fall in love.
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"Mi casa es tu casa."

The words "Mi casa es tu casa" were said to us more times than I can say. Selfishness and strangers do not exist in the communities of El Cercado. "Family" is used to describe every single person and if a stranger is seen, the people will make sure they are no longer a stranger. I can without a doubt vouch for this; as soon as I entered the communities of El Cercado, I was embraced with hugs, kisses, and fully welcomed into many homes. I am a complete stranger, I speak a different language, I have different mannerisms, and my skin is a different color. However, this does not mean anything. I am human and I am no longer a stranger, I am family. It brings tears to my eyes and fills my heart recalling the amount of times I was standing in someone else's home only to be asked to sit down, eat, and drink water. Whether resources are lacked or not, I was always offered; guests always come first in El Cercado.

However, let me start from the beginning. I was fortunate enough, with 12 others, to have an experience that changed all of our lives forever through Stonehill College's H.O.P.E. Service Immersion Program. I knew where I was going and I knew I'd be fully immersed in the Dominican Republic culture, but I never thought my heart would both break in half and fall in love the way that it did. When we arrived, we were first welcomed by two friends from IPM-International Partners in Mission. These two women played a major role during our time here. They not only spoke both Spanish and English, helping with translations, but they had open hearts, shared their own stories, and had welcoming shoulders to both cry and laugh on. Their passion to be immersed in this culture and learn as much as possible all while living in the moment spoke to us all. We were welcomed more than simply into homes and the community; we were welcomed to immerse ourselves in their culture and truly be a part of it.

All of the provinces joining together in one festival to share each of their cultures: Carnival.

I am not writing this to share what we did everyday or where we visited. Instead, I'd rather share the happiness seen and felt, the beauty seen and felt, and the faithfulness seen and felt. I'd rather share stories about the people of El Cercado because this is about them, not me. I am writing this because El Cercado is a place of community filled with more social injustices than deserved. Although these injustices are experienced, the people are constantly smiling and refer to everyone as their families. El Cercado is filled with the most amazing and empowered groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. "Community" can be defined as "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals". This does not do the El Cercado justice though.

An agriculture-based cooperative that creates products primarily out of peanuts: Mujeres Unidas en Desarrollo. This empowered group of women also make a nutrition bar called Nutrifort, which works to combat child malnutrition.

We may wake up each day, switch on the lights, take a hot shower, and safely drink tap water. However, this is not always the case for others and it is easily taken for granted. I for one, always take these for granted simply because it is the lifestyle I am used to. It's not bad to take these for granted, but we should be paying more attention. By traveling and immersing myself in El Cercado, I learned what "community" genuinely means.

Fe y Alegría-Faith and Joy.

One of our partners from IPM explained to us an unforgettable comparison-

Service is like a seed planted within us. Simply because we leave the place we learned from doesn't mean the plant lives. We need to keep watering it. We need to give it light. We need to do this by advocating for injustices and sharing knowledge with others. By doing this, the seed will live. The seed will grow.

"Empathy is a seed planted inside of us that must be cared for and watered."

A woman who helped organize our trip spent the entire week with us and shared many of her stories. This humble woman never once focused on herself. If we were to give her a compliment, she'd turn the compliment to the people of El Cercado; "It's because of the leaders of these communities." Joana is willing to give her all to and for others. She is strong willed and encouraged each one of us to strive and be proud of persistence. I will not fail to mention that she is a woman. This woman breaks the gender stereotype and has helped provide homes, education, food, and more to the people of El Cercado. She visited once and then knew her path in life; she has now been living in El Cercado for 35 years. This should be all of our paths. We do not necessarily need to pack our bags and move away from our home country, but little actions and knowledge are more beneficial than a lot of people are aware of. By sharing knowledge of injustices, the word spreads and eventually, more people like Joana are born. She noted that she nearly drowned one time while saving a friend; she had accomplished her goal and was ready to surrender herself to the sea. When she woke up to water being pumped out of her lungs, she later went back into the sea because she knew not to let fear consume her.

I will never forget you El Cercado, Dominican Republic. You stole my heart along with every other member of the group's hearts. We will never stop sharing the knowledge we gained here and we cannot wait to go back.

Until we meet again.

These are some quotes that stood out to my group throughout the week. These were said by both members of our group, our IPM friends, and people we met in the Dominican Republic. We believe these are extremely important and deserve to be shared.

"It's not about the project."

"Don't tell the poor what they need. They know what they need."

"When we walk beside them and accompany, that is the best way to support."

"Each decision that we make, and allow our leaders to make, affects others."

"There are two words that perpetuate inequality; individualism and indifference."

"We saw improvement, but also strength."

"They lack resources, but not life. Their struggles make them strong.

Cover Image Credit: Kalyani Twyman

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Top 50 Things You'll Hear A Southern Say

Y'all.
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For those of you who may need a little help understanding the slang of a southern, I made a list of the top 50 phrases and sayings, along with their translations.

1. Bless your heart.

My favorite saying. It is an empathetic phrase that is usually uttered when the speaker believes the recipient to be sweet, but misguided or stupid. It can also be used if the speaker believes the recipient needs to grow up and deal with it, when the speaker says it in a sarcastic tone.

2. Barking up the wrong tree.

Means being misguided or mistaken.

3. Aren't you precious?

Mostly this saying is used in a sarcastic tone in response to someone being offensive.

4. Britches.

Pants or underpants.

An example would be, "Your britches are too short, you can't wear those".

5. Coke.

Regardless if it's Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, or another carbonated beverage, it's called Coke here in the South.

6. Fixin' to.

Simply means that you are about to do something.

7. Get the short end of the stick.

This phrase means that you basically got an unfair deal or cheated out of something.

8. Give Me Some Sugar.

Simply means give me a kiss.

9. Hissy Fit.

A hissy fit is a grown-up version of a temper tantrum that is as bad as one that a toddler would throw.

10. Hold Your Horses.

Be patient.

11. Holler.

When you say "holler" you are basically letting the other person know something.

Example: Holler at me when you are ready to get something to eat.

12. If the creek don't rise.

This saying simply means that if nothing bad happens, everything will go as planned.

13. You're as slow as molasses in the wintertime.

This phrase means that you are being EXTRA slow.

14. Muddin'.

Off-road four-wheeler riding with the intentions of getting mud everywhere and possibly losing control.

15. Skat Cat.

A phrase that can be used instead of saying "God bless you" when you sneeze.

16. There's Not A Pot Too Crooked That A Lid Won't Fit.

There is someone for everyone.

17. Pitcher.

We mostly mean a plastic container that holds sweet tea, not the position of a guy on the baseball team.

18. Reckon.

When you say "I reckon", you believe that something is true.

19. Hoot With The Owls, Soar With The Eagles.

This simple phrase means that if you are going to stay up all night, you should be able to get early in the morning.

20. Too Big For Your Britches.

Simply means that you take yourself too seriously.

21. Stompin' Grounds.

Your hometown or where you grew up.

22. Back In The Day.

Back in the day could be a month ago, a year ago, or 20 years ago.

23. You're A Spitting Image Of (Insert Family Member).

Yes, I know I'm a spitting image of my mother. "Spitting image" simply means that you look just like someone.

24. "Darlin, Sugar, Sweetheart"

These words are simply terms of endearment.

25. Buggy.

A buggy is a cart/basket at the grocery store.

Example: Who wants to push the buggy?

26. Quit Crying Or I Will Give You Something To Cry About.

This phrase simply means to quit crying and if you didn't then more than likely you got a spanking,

27. Where You Raised In A Barn?

If you are from the South, you have probably been asked this more than once, especially when you left a door open.

28. Close The Door. You Are Letting All The Good Air Out.

This southern heat is nothing to play with. It simply means to keep the door closed so the air (or heat if its winter) stays inside.

29. You Are Going To Make Me Lose My Religion.

When you say this phrase to someone, it more than likely means that person has done something to irritate you or made you mad. Thank goodness Jesus saves.

Example: You are going to make me lose my religion.

30. You Look Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off.

This is said when you are running around like a crazy person. It can be said if you are looking for something that you are searching for or if you are just really busy.

31. Y'all.

The southern way to say "you all".

32. You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket.

If you've ever been told this, it means that you can't sing.

33. Have Their Feathers Ruffled.

You normally have your "feathers ruffled" when you are pouting.

34. Two Peas In A Pod.

When you and someone else are "two peas in a pod", it means that either you almost always together or that you two are almost identical in the way you think and do things.

35. Well Butter My Butt And Call Me A Biscuit.

This saying can be used when you are surprised or excited.

36. Don't Let The Door Hit Ya Where The Good Lord Split Ya.

When someone say this they typically mean to get out and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

37. You're As Good As Gold.

When you are "as good as gold", it means that you are well-behaved and obedient.

38. It's Raining Cats And Dogs Out There.

This simply means that the rain is really coming down hard. It's not actually raining cats and dogs, people.

39. I'm Full As A Tick.

This phrase means that you ate too much food.

40. I'm Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church.

When someone says this, it means that they are really hot and sweating A LOT.

41. Pot Calling The Kettle Black.

This phrase is used when one person is guilty of the very same thing of which they accuse another person.

42. There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.

It means that there is anyways more than one way to fix something.

43. Shut Yo' Mouth.

Means to be quiet or hush up.

44. Whatever Floats Your Boat.

This saying means to do whatever you want to do.

45. Slap Yo' Momma.

This phrase means that something is good.

Example: This BBQ is slap yo' momma good.

46. She's Like A Bull In A China Shop.

When you tell someone this phrase, you are telling them that they are clumsy or careless in the way that they move.

47. Cuttin' A Rug.

Cuttin' a rug is used to describe dancing.

Example: Let's go cut a rug tonight.

48. Clicker.

A clicker is another name for a TV remote.

49. Slow Your Roll.

This also means to be patient.

50. You're A Hot Mess.

When you tell someone that they are a "hot mess", you are simply telling them that they don't have it together.

Cover Image Credit: silhouetteamerica.com

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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