Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What happened down there?? Day 4 - an introduction to the I Love Baseball boys

On Tuesday we were introduced to the I Love Baseball team for the first time.  On Monday because of the holiday the boys weren't practicing which is why we spent the day in the bateys.  We showed up in the morning around the time the boys were doing their daily devotional.  Pastor Brent led the devotional, telling the boys about the experience their church had where they changed their diets to match what a typical Dominican family would eat.  The boys were polite and listened and then tore out of the stands to start practice.

Team meeting to go over pracitce plans for the day

Some of us Americans got in on the fielding practice

Jonathan, Dwight, Angel and Francis getting to know one another

Coach hitting grounders

I had an interesting conversation with a boy named Danilo about the benefits provided to him as a member of the team during a break from practice.  I had no idea about Danilo's situation which I will tell you about later, but he told me he lives a twenty minute walk at most from the furthest practice field.  ILB doesn't have a set field to practice on yet and they often have to move from field to filed to find a place available to them for the day.  One of ILB's next main goals is to purchase a piece of property near Barahona where the boys will have their own practice space as well as a school. 

ILB provides money for the boys to take transportation to practice.  I asked Danilo how he usually gets to practice and he told me he usually goes by foot.  The money provided by ILB can then be used to buy food for him and the rest of his family when he isn't in school.  The ILB leaders were quick to tell me this is acceptable behavior.  The program is a huge benefit for the boys in more ways than one, but it definitely doesn't come without sacrifice for the boys.

After practice, when the boys went to have lunch and go to school, we went to the COTN offices in Barahona and met some of the in-country staff.  They were all very welcoming and warm and we went around and introduced ourselves and they did the same for us.  It is a tiny staff considering all they do in the community. 

COTN In-Country Staff.

Next to the COTN offices is a very nice medical clinic operated by COTN.  We had a tour of the facility which includes multiple surgery rooms, a dental clinic, an othopedic center, eye center and very nice recovery room.  Only American doctors are allowed to do surgery there.  I don't know the reason behind that but I'm sure it is a liability issue.  Also, next to the medical clinic is a technical training school that people in the COTN program can use to train for varying vocations.  Both the medical clinic and the technical training area are bright, clean and fairly state of the art.

After lunch and a typical amount of afternoon downtime we went back to the field where the ILB team had practiced and there was a group of boys from the greater Barahona community practicing there.  This is a team of kids who are too young to be part of ILB yet but community leaders have stepped up to coach and ILB has provided Maximo to serve as a spiritual guide for the boys.  Kyle led a devotional with them and then we did drills and played a short game.  The game was cut short when another team from the community showed up and wanted the field.  As is common in many third world countries, money talks and this field, owned by the government, was given to whoever would pay the most.  On this day, it wasn't ILB.

After we were kicked off the field we had some time before dinner so we went to the University in Barahona and wandered around.  It is a beautiful campus with an open courtyard where we took pictures and basically raised a raucous until we figured out classes were in session and we were disrupting them - well, some of us were.  Larry just found a way to join one of the classes because that's what Larry does.

The Front of the School

The Team (minus me and with two interpreters (Fancis and Angel) and Willy, one of our security guys)
At the end of the day during our debrief Ann made a statement that would continue to ring true throughout the rest of our week there.  She said: "I have learned it is better to be poor but know Jesus than it is to be rich without him.  This world is only temporary but knowing Jesus and the joy he gives, is eternal."

Day 5 was the best day for me.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tune Tuesday - Driving Tunes

It seems lately, about three times a week as I'm driving home from work, about the time I'm turning north on Freya from 57th the same song comes on. It's actually a remake of a song I loved last year.  I've fallen in love with the new version of it too.  It's an open your sunroof and sing at the top of your lungs type of song.  Try to be glum while it's playing.  I dare you.  Go ahead.  Try.

(Unfortunately, the video is ridiculous.  I wish they would stop using my body with other people's faces.  It's starting to get embarrassing.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tune Tuesday - It's summer, wear sunscreen

I was in Seattle a couple weeks ago and the radio station I was listening to played a "song" I hadn't heard in ages.  It's from 1999 and it is so full of amazing advice I knew when I heard it that I wanted to listen to it again.  I strongly encourage you to take the five minutes it takes to really listen to it.  Hopefully, you enjoy the flashback as much as I did and walk away a little wiser. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The comfort of friends

Memorial Day week I was able to escape for a number of days in Minneapolis/St Paul.  I've been in great need of some time with my easy friendships in MN and the recharge was exquisite.  Sometimes you just need time to be with people it takes no effort to be around.  My girls in MN are that for me.  When life gets frustrating and I need something real or time with someone who actually knows me I call one of them.  There's no faking it with them.  Sigh. (in a good way)

Sarah picked me up at the airport and we didn't immediately get her car broken into so that was a good step compared to other visits. haha  We went and had brunch at this great spot in Linden Hills and I got to go on and on about The DR and she got to catch me up on what's going on with her.  It was soul filling.  Then we got Jake and spent sometime with him and Aaron.

I got to meet Kristen's new little one, Gideon, and spend a good amount of time with Kristen and Michael on Memorial Day.  That was a treat because it seems like I never get enough time with her.  Gideon is adorable and such a good baby.  Even though it was a bit chilly we went on a walk from their house in an attempt to get Gideon to take a nap.  He decided I was too exciting to have around though and stayed awake all day.  That's what I like to tell myself anyway.

Jenny scooped me up from their house that evening and she and I got a couple of hours to catch up and talk and talk and talk before she took me to Jodi's house because she had to work the next day.  Tuesday Jodi and I hung out with my main man Walter.  We ran some errands, went to The Blue Door for lunch (ummm - I got a Jiffy burger which is a bacon burger with peanut butter on it - please don't try that if you want to ever be able to eat another burger without peanut butter and watching your weight is an issue.  You've been warned.), and went to her mom's house for a bit.  We watched a chick flick that night because Jodi's stinky husband Eric (j/k I adore the guy) doesn't like chick flicks - go figure - and having a chick flick buddy was a bonus for her.  I'm always happy to do what I can to make people happy.

The next day was Jodi's birthday! Jodi's birthday means a baseball game of course. I had tried to attend a game at Target Field two years ago and it was seriously rained out - like it meant it. The weather this week was a little touch and go so Jodi and I watched the weather very closely and kept our fingers crossed. Thankfully, God kept the storms away perfectly and the skies opened once we got back to the car from the game. It couldn't have been any better timing. The stadium is grand and the Twins actually won so it was all in all a great day. Eric had to be out of town for work so he owes me big time for stepping in and being the birthday buddy.

It was a huge sacrifice as you can tell.

Sorry about your face in this Jodi. :)
On Thursday, with time always being too short, Sarah came and got me from Jodi's house and we went to Jake's tee-ball game after a "quick" stop at Hot Mamma.  I love being able to be part of those activities since it isn't very often I get to be in town for the everyday stuff.  Aaron is his coach and Jake does a great job.  After that we went to a party at Kris' house.  It was great to see some of the girls from the Miami trip.  And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday Jake got sick so Sarah and I stayed pretty close to home during the day other than a walk around the lake.  I read my book a little and Sarah got some work done.  When I say I read my book a little, really Ely and I read together. 

I love this dog
That night Sarah and I went to the Lumineers concert.  As I mentioned earlier they were amazing.  I'm a bigger fan than I was before their concert and I can't wait to see them again.  It was great fun to go with Sarah and every time I hear them now I will think of her and ache a little.

Saturday was a Jenny day.  After a great breakfast at a place by Sarah's house she and I decided to head to Target Field to try to get tickets to the Twins/Mariners game.  Getting a ticket wasn't a problem and her brother and nephew were there also.  It was great to get to go to two games during the week and the fact it was against the Mariners on Saturday was a bonus.

We weren't quite as lucky on the weather but they got the game in and the seats we were in were under cover so alls well that ends well.  Well wait a minute, the game did NOT end well - after the Ms being up all game they blew it in the bottom of the 9th.  Such is the life of a Mariner. But we did stay dry.

After the game Jenny and went on a little shopping spree for her which was a lot of fun and then we spent some time at her house.  Sunday morning, all too soon, the week was over.

I could use six months there. 

Love you girls.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What happened down there?? Day 3

I'm struggling a bit with how to fully explain what happened on Monday in The DR.  We are starting to get into the "heart stuff" where I'm not sure my words can really say what needs to be portrayed to help you feel what I went through which frankly is what is important at this point - the feeling of it.

As someone who had never really been in true poverty I was blown away by the time we spent in the villages around Barahona.  There are two levels of village.  The first is the barrio.  It is the least primitive of the two with running water, not potable and electricity, that while present isn't very reliable.  The second is the batey.  The batey truly has no services - no electricity, no running water, no latrines, etc.  COTN serves both.  There are 42 bateys around Barahona.  Because I don't want to get it wrong I'm going to refer to all of the villages we visited as bateys - which technically I suppose is wrong but for ease of writing and understanding I think will get the point across.

The poverty we saw there was unlike any poverty I've seen in the states.  The correct term for poverty here is relative poverty.  Based on the standard of living we have here people live in poverty but it is different than poverty where the average standard of living is basically at the poverty line we use.  Fortunately, with the help of COTN we are seeing less distended bellies in the kids from parasites and orange hairlines that are a telltale sign of undernourishment.  There is still some but not to the shocking levels I have heard they one time were.

The first batey we visited was Los Robles.  It is the largest batey served by COTN and is the one we returned to the most often.  When we first got there we were told about what COTN does in the communities.  (If you want to learn more about their services please see my earlier post: COTN and ILB.)  Then we were told we were going to walk through the village.  I didn't really know what to expect and was one of the last to come out of the school grounds.  When I first entered the village most people had been greeted by some children who were there, likely because they saw or heard our bus and wanted to come meet us.  I thought to myself that I would just stand back and watch my fellow teammates to have an idea about what to do but before I knew it I was surrounded as well.  The kids loved hanging out with us and followed us as we walked through their community and then back to the school, taking pictures and having their pictures taken.  It was suggested to me that I bring small bottles of nail polish with me on the trip and that was a HUGE hit.  Any time I pulled out a bottle I was surrounded.  I ended up handing out a bottle to Emily too so she could help because I was overwhelmed by the number of little fingers that were being thrust in front of me.

Los Robles School

Before I was surrounded 

The second batey we went to was Alta Gracia.  It was horseshoe shaped and had some nice shade but the housing was definitely more primitive.  The kids were just as friendly and excited to see us.  Some of the cutest kids lived in Alta Gracia.  Shoot - who am I kidding, they were all cute.  Alta Gracia definitely had more adults out and about.  There was commerce taking place and community being built.

My little friend posing for one last picture while I was on the bus.  She followed us out of the village waving goodbye
From Alta Gracia we went to Algadon which for me was the most heartbreaking of all the bateys.  It was beyond primitive.  There was a basketball court which had been installed by a COTN team that came a few years ago just outside of the village and we walked through the village to the court where we were told about some of the problems with projects that are started but not continued or committed to long term.  There weren't many people out and about in Algadon.  After the visit there is was time for a break.  My heart was broken and I was spent.  Thankfully, it was lunchtime.

We went back to Casa Bethesda where I took this photo:

It didn't feel very fair.

After lunch we still had two bateys to visit.  The first one we went to  was Pueblo Nuevo.  This batey by far had the most fun interaction with the kids.  We played a version of duck duck goose and quack dideleoso.  This was a lot of fun. Not knowing what fun "play" was to come with the baseball boys I thought this interaction was going to be tough to beat.  It was, but it also turned out to only be the first of many fun games played.  There was a beautiful view from the top of the hill behind the COTN school (a very stinky view).  You could see the sugarcane factory on the coast which is the reason for all of the bateys in the first place.  To me, that vision was pretty poignant.  Beautiful but poignant.

Sugarcane Factory

My Friend - Miss Molly.


Our final batey was Don Bosco.  I will never forget the voice of the little girl on the left in the picture below as she announced our arrival - AMERICANAS!!!!  AMERICANAS!!!  She and her friends asked for Barbies and books and other items a typical American kiddo their age would ask for.  How I wished I had everything they asked for in my pocket.  While we were there we met Pastora Africa.  She is the pastor of the church in Don Bosco and they have outgrown their building which is a very exciting problem to have.  She has a piece of land in mind to purchase in the village to build a new church.  We, as supporters of COTN, are praying the funds will become available to buy the land and build a new church.

That was the end of the day and I was very thankful that it was because it was all I could take and all I could take in.  We had a very powerful debriefing session as a team that evening with some worship and a lot of prayer.

I will say as a final thought that while what we saw was heartbreaking and overwhelming because of the massive amount of need that is so obvious I also was filled with awe at the joy that was shared with us.  In my pictures you'll notice most of the time the kids have full smiles.  This isn't just for the pictures.  The kids and even the adults we encountered truly were filled with a joy that I don't have every day but I know I should.  I've had a bit of a rough week with quite a few things dragging me down or just creating frustration, but really those things are nothing - it's like relative poverty; I'm encountering relative hardship.

Looking back through these pictures today I'm reminded how thankful I should be everyday for my circumstances.  My joy should be contagious.  If it isn't, I'm doing it wrong.