As many times as my eyes have seen how foreign the world is outside of the American bubble of security and convenience, I will never be accustomed to what happens within as the bubble pops; the blend of excitement; frustration- with a tinge of guilt around every street corner.
It is all together beautiful.
I have composed a list of the realities that most Americans live in everyday that are privileges we have taken far too lightly. Things that I will miss, but am so thankful that I have the opportunity to do without.
- Free Water flows as freely as words from our mouths. The thought of paying more at a restaurant for a bottle of water than a glass of wine makes us giggle. Before any of you say, “that’s awesome!,” think of those who not only struggle to find food- but water as well. Late night runs to the sink for a drink are not an option, and the long hot showers that we enjoy sometimes multiple times a day seem a laughable extravagance.
- We don’t think flushing toilet paper is anything special- I mean, who really thinks about that anyway? The answer is, me. And most people living in Central America and the Caribbean. No matter how many times I’ve done it, I can never get used to it. Public restrooms don’t usually provide the cherished white squares, and I find myself always needing more tissues for my purse. This little detail will have you dancing for joy in every bathroom in the states… yes, even the public ones.
- Pedestrian walk lights are not a thing. Stop signs are but I don’t think Dominicans are aware of what they mean. Traffic rules are more guidelines than anything else, and the person with the most aggressive horn seems to win the right-of-way. While walking across the street, I fervently pray that the car speeding toward me will stop. After the first car, I’m a little more confident that I’ll make it across the other three lanes… but not much. The positive in all this- yes the positive– is that Dominican drivers seem to be much more alert, gracias a Dios.
- Power only goes off in the states when there is a storm or major damage. I can count on my hands the amount of times it has been off for an extended period of time in my life. Here, it’s as reliable as the weatherman on the morning news (and in case you didn’t catch that, not very).
- There’s contrast between the rich and the poor in the states, but we are very good at putting a fresh coat of paint on the good parts and ignoring the others. Here, it is right in front of your face. The extravagance is flaunted next to the poverty, and the gap is so wide I can’t seem to see the end of it.
- Family means something here. Granddaughters looking after Grandfathers, families living together and taking care of one another, elders being valued and not pushed aside as inconvenient, and friends become as much family as everyone. Children live at home with their parents often until they marry, and why not? It is a strong unit and an unbreakable force that relies on every part. I realize more and more how much I have not valued having a close family unit in the past.
- On a typical stroll through American streets, it doesn’t involve avoiding large piles of trash and debris, strewn about so carelessly that you would think the street had been mistaken for the landfill. We are so blessed to have a place to put it, and people willing to put it there.
- Feeling the sand in my toes is not a luxury I’ll be enjoying on the public beaches of Santo Domingo. The white pieces in the sand are not shells… no. They are pieces of styrofoam that will never decay. Instead of seaweed, bottles and cans wash ashore with every wave. The first few hundred feet off the shore is highly contaminated with sewage… and even still, it had a beauty to it that showed me God’s creation has a way of poking through to give us hope in the heartache caused by humanity.
- Making eye contact with men will not land you a smile or wave, but sexual and flirtatious comments. This is something I struggle with being from the south, where every stranger is really just a friend you’re waving hello to.
- Things upon things are a thing of my past. Simplicity is in abundance here, and my life seems to be less complicated out of a couple suitcases and a backpack. The more you have, the more you want. The less you have, the more grateful you are for what you do.
Some of us may read this list and feel pity. Some, dread. For me, all these differences make me so grateful that I am able to experience what life is like outside my “normal.” I have a heart that desires to be rich in experience, culture and relationships. Here, I know now that will not be a problem… at all.