Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Flora of The Dominican

As I posted my 7 days of events in the Dominican, it just killed me to not include the beautiful plants, flowers, and foliage I came across.  The plants were one of the first things that excited me on the island.  We got into a bus that carried us to the hotel from the airport, and the whole way I was shouting with excitement as I saw all the beautiful diversity of plants along the roadside.  The hotel held even more of that excitement!  So without further ado, here are my favorite photos from my Dominican trip!

Plants Around the Hotel

Plants From the Rain Forest

As we left the hotel for our camp sites, I was very thrilled that my site was held on the very edge of the rain forest.  From the time I was in elementary, I have loved the rain forest and all the beauty it holds.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take more photos of the plants here.

These girls showed me around their school grounds that held a wide array of plants and flowers.  I never would have found half of the plants that they showed me!

Plants from the Village

The village day was an incredibly humbling experience for me.  I walked the dirt roads of the village and was humbled by the people and their living conditions.  One thing I quickly found out though is they are very proud of their flower gardens that grow beside their houses and along the fence lines of the roads.  I had so much joy walking up to people to ask if I could take a picture of their plant, and then see the pride in their face as they said yes.  They would give me a cutting of the flowers, or a seed pod to take with me.  I kept thinking to myself, that at least in all the poverty they were surrounded in, they got to experience a little bit of joy and beauty with their gardens!

This is a tree called The Forest Flame.  It is covered in these beautiful red-orange flowers that are simply stunning!

He climbed up to get me a couple of seed pods from the tree!

And he kept on helping me find other seed pods!

And he helped me take photos.  He held the grass back so I could get a photo of the Maidenhair Fern!  So sweet!

These plants made my trip an exciting adventure.  I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

AIM Dominican Mission Trip: Day 7

So it's been almost two weeks since we got back from the Dominican, and I still haven't posted the last days' events.  As much as I don't want them to, the minor details of the day are slipping further and further away, so I am forcing myself to sit down and finish these posts before it's too late!

Day 7 was the one and only day of true vacation included in our trip.  We could chose from several different activities to go on in a group, but the choice was all ours to make.  My mom and I really wanted to go to Puerta Plata and go shopping.  That group was also going to visit a rum factory and the Amber museum there.  I was all set to go, but Christian kept "complaining" that he wanted to go with the surfing group to the beach in Cabarete.  I finally had "heard" enough and gave in to the "requests" of Christian.  We both loaded up on the bus to Cabarete while mom went to Puerta Plata.

On the way to Cabarete, we ran out of gas but were lucky enough to get going again within 10-15 minutes.  We made it to the beautiful beach of Cabarete shortly after that.   We broke up into groups of people who wanted to take a surfing lesson from Orlando (the 7 time Dominican surfing champion!), people who just wanted to get a board and go on out, and the rest of us who just wanted to be beach bums for the day.  I just wanted to relax on the beach and enjoy the scenery, so Christian and I found a spot on the beach and laid our towel down.  The water was a gorgeous clear blue, and the sky was clear and beautiful! Christian jumped out into the water, and soon after started in on his "requests" to get me to let him try surfing.  I wasn't so sure about letting him, so I stuck to my guns and said no.

He had fun swimming with the rest of our group, but it wasn't long before the surfers were up and at 'em, having a blast!  It was very fun to sit back and laugh at our friends wipe-out on the waves.  I have loads of photos from them falling over!  It wasn't long before one of the kids Christian's age came back in because he was tired of trying to get up.  I think he had bumped his head one too many times and was going to sit the rest of the day out on the shore.  I finally gave in and let Christian go on out and give surfing a try on that board.

He paddled out to the waves, and on the very first try, he was up and surfing!  A natural born surfer...who'd-a-thunk!?

He had a blast out there and it was a lot of fun watching him.  We stayed at the beach for a couple of hours and then finally loaded back up onto the bus to head back to the hotel.

The surfing group.

We got back before Mom did, so I went up and took a nap in the room while Christian watched cartoons.  I was so exhausted from the week, I probably could have slept an entire week at that point.

Mom got back a couple of hours later, and we went shopping at the market down by the beach.  I purchased a beautiful painting of sugar cane which I knew would remind me of the Dominican.  Mom also bought its mate.  We both loved the colors in the painting, and they were both so different from all the other paintings on display in all the shops.  After that, we walked down to Patrick's Silversmith shop and we bought jewelry with Larimar and Amber in them.  Larimar is a stone that can only be found on the Dominican island, and is a very pretty blue color!

We went back to the hotel and started getting ready for dinner.  We we going to enjoy the evening with all the coaches and helpers that helped us while we were there.  I enjoyed this evening so much.  Alfre was there with his brother, along with all the other coaches from our site.  Many people took the opportunity to extend their thanks and gratitude to the people there.  We had interpreters helping everyone go back and forth in conversation.  It was such a fine evening to end our stay with!

Alfre thanking Fred.

The next day, we spent the day packing and getting ready for the flight home.  Mom, Christian and I all walked down to the beach one last time.  I really wanted to go snorkeling one last time, but the water was to cloudy to really see the beautiful colors of the fish.  I spent the rest of the time picking up pieces of broken coral, shells, and sea glass on the shore.  We walked the beach for awhile and then came back to the hotel to finish up the last bits of packing.  Mom and I decided to take one last shopping trip and made our way back to Patrick's silversmith shop.  We made our way back to the hotel, and then waited for the buses to arrive and take us to the airport.

Alfre and his little brother came to see all of us off to the airport.  I gave his little brother a whole bag of Jolly Ranchers that I had left over in my bag.  He was all smiles!  I gave Alfre a few more photos of our group that I had printed for him and he was very thankful.  Our group was slowly making their way onto the buses, and Alfre joined us on the ride to the airport.  As a surprise, he jumped off the bus at a busy intersection to buy me and a couple of the others that were at the Bella Vista site a cup of ice cold sugar cane juice.  I tried the sweet drink and was instantly reminded of the days at the camp when we chewed on the canes for an afternoon treat.  It was good, and many of the others on the bus got to try the juice too.

We made it to the airport where we sent our checked luggage through the x-ray machine.  An hour or so later, and a couple of computer failures later, we were hugging Alfre goodbye with tears in our eyes.  I was ready to go home and see my family, but I was very sad that I had to leave my new friend behind.  I reminded him that we could talk by email or on Facebook, and he seemed to be a little comforted by that.

We boarded our plane with a few set backs in security, but it was all good.  I was very surprised when I was offered a first class seat on the way home for all the hard work I did that week.  I sat in the very first row and quickly nodded off for a nap!  We made it home to Houston, safe and sound with all our luggage in tow.

This mission trip not only changed my life, but my families life.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to have joined the AIM mission team on this adventure!  I met so many wonderful new friends, and am very happy to say that Google translate is working just fine to translate messages to and from Alfre in the Dominican.  We've corresponded back and forth a few times since I've been home, and he is still doing God's work in his community.  Many of my AIM friends have said they have messaged him too.  I'm so glad we all have a bond and can pray for one another's strifes and triumphs.  I can't wait for this coming year to fly by so we can repeat the whole week again in 2011!

Next blog post: All the plants I encountered that week!  I can't wait to share them all!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

AIM Dominican Mission Trip: Day 6

Day 6 of the AIM mission trip was our first non-camp day.  We finally had a chance to go out and explore the local area for ourselves without a schedule in the way.  We broke up into two groups and loaded up into buses to go out to the local villages and hand out candy to the children.  I had no idea how humbled I would walk away from this experience.  No amount of preparation could have prepared me for the next few hours I would experience.  It is something that is deeply ingrained in my mind, and it changed my heart forever.  I am only saddened that I didn't stop and take a few moments for myself to take it all in...and I mean really take in the scene around me.  I think I learned a lesson in photography:  Sometimes we can get so caught up in all the subjects around us, we can forget to appreciate the subjects.  I regret not taking a few minutes right there in the poorest of the poor places to thank God for all the blessings he's given me in my life.  With that said, I hope you will take the time to thank God for all the blessings in your life.  The following photos are just a very small fraction of the ones I took, but they are the ones that moved me the most.

This is the beginning of the village road, looking out into the mountains.

The kids were jumping onto our truck as we drove up the village roads.

Word quickly spread that the candy had arrived!

I'm giving away dum-dum's.  The look on their faces was unforgettable.

This is a mom giving her baby a bath.

The woman bending over is bathing in a 5-gallon bucket as well.

Most children under the age of three or four did not have any clothing on.  
Many over that age, including more than a few adults, were without shoes.

She was excited to see herself on my screen!

He is hiding his candy so he can get his "1" piece...again!

Yes, that is an infant sucking on a dum-dum.  No, we didn't give it to him/her!

Cock fighting is legal there, and is watched by many for entertainment on Sunday's.

This is a concrete wall with broken glass on the top for security.

Our medical team stopped into a few houses to tend to a few babies.  We each helped them carry a can of formula and a bottle to give away to moms with infants.  I have a couple of other stories to tell from this time in the village, but I'm saving it for my plant post.  We left the villages after a couple of hours and returned to the hotel to eat lunch and get ready for church that evening.

We all attended Pastor Rivas' church that night and had an awesome time doing so.  I find it incredible that you can feel God's mighty presence in the air even though you may not understand the language being spoken.  We all sang songs and listened to a sermon that was incredible (thank goodness we had a great translator!)  It was an awesome way to end such an incredibly moving day!  

When I'm feeling depressed or worried, or lose hope, or feel anxious, I hope I can remember this day and feel thankful instead!

Stay tuned for day 7 tomorrow...
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