Here in our town we are always the strangers, always the foreigners, yet we are also part of the community. We have established relationships with the forty children and families involved in Si A La Vida. Each of these have extended family, so as we walk down the street people will call out.."Hola Dona Margarita" I return the greeting, but sometimes have no idea who they are. This recognition helps place us within the community.
There are the little exchanges that remind me I am an outsider. Like when I share our strange custom of eating banana AND mango in a smoothy or that showering at night is a common in Australia.
There are times when we feel we are slowly integrating into the community. Here there is a lovely custom around dusk time that reminds me of our holidays at caravan parks. People often sit in their rocking chairs on their front porch enjoying the evening breeze and watching the world go by. As we pass by we exchange greetings or stop to chat before continuing on.
As you know I have had a bit of a problem with my knee, so as part of the rehab Mart and I started walking in the evening with our dog . We kept passing two women who were also out walking for exercise. This is a very unusual thing to see people purposefully exercising. We started talking and found they were walking to improve their health and fitness. We have now joined them and we have our little walking group. Things like this as we set off together bring a sense of belonging into our life.
Some things never change though. Eighteen months and we have never become complacent about looking out our front door every day and seeing the changing face of the volcano. We often have those moments where we wonder how we got to have this experience. There are still surprises like when I realise I have not even been aware of speaking Spanish all day...but before I feel too cocky I will encounter someone and not understand a word they are saying.
I would like to say that life here is more simple, but in truth it is more that it is pared back to the essential balance of existing with the bare minimum. Time and time again we hear stories of families having to make choices between what we would consider essentials. It is not unusual here for people to buy their medication one dose at a time as they do not have the funds to buy the whole course. One of the children we work with has a particularly virulent type of parasite and is very under weight. He was prescribed a course of medication but the family could only afford the first three of the tablets. Hence he is still living with the parasite. It is simple yet there is the complex act of balancing needs with available resources. Distractions of choice, and options that we take for granted are not part of their reality.
In reflection, I can end this blog telling you that for all the challenges of the past 18 months the experience has been enriching. We love living in Altagracia, we care deeply about the people we work with, and those in our neighbourhood. It is both our home and not our home, we are part of the community and yet stick out like a sore thumb, we laugh and share with our neighbours, yet we can never really stand in their shoes.
We will continue being part of this community and sharing with them as they share with us.
Keep well and love those close to you in your community