Landing at the airport in Santa Domingo is vastly different from the one we left hours ago at JFK. We left the cement and skyscrapers of NYC and landed in a field surrounded by palm trees. I smell food I can't identify and the scent of something burning. I feel like I have been dropped into the middle of a new planet.
The air is hazy with smoke and humidity. Sweating commences. We wait in lines to have our passports glanced at and to claim our many bags. We stand at the edge of the street with our stuff, sweating profusely, ears bombarded by whistles shrieking, horns blaring, and men shouting. Nothing is on a discernible time frame and people seem pretty relaxed about that reality. Hurry up and wait: a foretaste of things to come? Everything surrounding us. Is strange and unfamiliar. I understand nothing of what is said to us or any of the writing on the signs covering the walls.
Leaving the airport we are sideswiped by a truck and off flies the side mirror. The kids cheer like we are in a demolition derby. I clutch my nephew's knee. Our bus rocks and sways until the driver gets it under control and we are thankful it did not tip. Our bus is packed to the gills and some have to stand. There is not a seatbelt anywhere in sight. All around us horns are used liberally and motorbike dart in and out of traffic with abandon. It is pretty wild.
All of us are starting to feel the effects of having risen at 3AM and we are very glad when our bus finally stops in front of the Mission House where we'll be staying for a week. Our neighborhood looks very similar to every other street. Residences and businesses are intermingled in low buildings with porches and tiny courtyards facing the streets. There are many kinds of walls and fences around people's properties. There are children and chickens everywhere and dogs who don't seem to belong to anyone. Lots of yards have palm trees and flowering shrubs. No steps or sidewalks following any sort of standard code so I trip a lot.
Our first night at the mission house we eat at a long table with open windows at either end that open into the street like a wide hallway. There seems to be no hurry to get started. When we finally get around to eating the warm food is cold and the cold food is warm. We are hungry and the food is good.
There is mashed plantains topped with sautéed onions and fried spam with some kind of peanut sauce,. The "salad" is cooked slices of carrots and potatoes with pickled onions. The woman who prepares and serves all our food is seven months pregnant with twins. Her name is Anna. I love her. I can't understand a word she says.
After a trip to Jumbo , the Dominican equivalent of Walmart where we get our dollars exchanged into pesos, we head eagerly to our beds. Our room is very hot and very noisy. There is a man preaching into a microphone across the street and it is like he is in the room with us. He yells his entire message in Spanish. For two hours.
There are also many dogs barking, children up way past bedtime calling to each other and the sounds of motor bikes and car horns. There is loud laughter, salsa and rap music and yelling--well into the wee hours of the morning.
Every once in awhile the power just randomly goes out. The showers have only cold water but the girls did not get showers at bedtime tonight because the boys used all the water cleaning up after a very competitive pick-up game of basketball with the locals.
All day I have been thinking of the scripture that tells us we are just passing through--this world is not our home. Sometimes, it is good for us to get outside our places of comfort and familiarity so we are properly reminded of this eternal truth. The Dominican Republic is surely not my home. But neither is the US, or Minnesota, or Fergus Falls. HEAVEN is my home.