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The Caribbean Sea is so different than the Pacific Ocean, the waves barely lap against the shore - more like the Columbia River!


Today marks 4 weeks we’ve been on the island.  That sounds surreal.  We still feel so very green, so naïve, so unsure as we try to navigate our new normal.  For those of you who are curious I thought I’d share with you the routine we’re falling into:

Monday-Friday we get up about 6:15 (that’s 2:15 to those of you back home … and yes I might still be a little bitter about the time change!).  Two dogs and a puppy from across the street (dogs roam all around free here) follow us every morning for about half of our 5 minute walk to the main road where we flag a “transport” (15-passenger van).  The kids & I take the transport to the Ross campus while Jon walks the shorter distance to the satellite building where 1st semester classes are held.  This was stressful for me at first because the transports are usually filled with locals on their way to work and it can be slow getting the kids and their backpacks on & off while fumbling around my bag to find the $1.50 EC taxi fare – I don’t want to be the reason anyone is late!  But the locals here are really patient and helpful with the kids.  Another walk across campus then I drop Solveig off at the Ross Prep School (of around 50 kids), and take Lincoln to the preschool/daycare adjacent to it.  Solveig’s teacher is a strong soft-spoken Dominican woman who Solveig says has both a “lady voice and a big voice.”  There are about 10 kids in her combined pre-K/kindergarten class and she loves it.  Lincoln also has three wonderful, very nurturing Dominican women for teachers, but it’s taken a while for him to admit that he has fun there.  A lot of their classmates are administrator’s and faculty’s kids, so I’ve gotten the pleasure of knowing a couple of Jon’s professors as regular people!
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The view from my morning workstation.
After I drop off the kids I grab coffee and sit out on the school’s upper deck overlooking the Caribbean Sea with a few regular students (who watch their lectures online instead of in class) and get some design work in.  One of my clients is rolling out a couple new product lines and I’m so thankful to have something structured to do --life for me is slooooooow here.  The prep school closes for the noon hour so the med students can have lunch with their kids, so Jon meets up with us and we eat together. Then the kids & I head home for their naps (and I try hard to resist taking a nap too!).  

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Solveig's favorite place to nap - I often find her like this at naptime!
After their nap it varies, if it’s not dark yet (it gets dark about 6) we’ll sometimes walk to the grocery store or the mile-and-a-half back to the school where they have kids’ activities on Wednesdays. Friday afternoons I’m going to start taking the kids with me to volunteer with an outreach that plays with, teaches and feeds local kids.  Grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning is a huge chore here, so that usually takes up most of my evenings.  Staples like fresh milk and eggs (and chocolate chips!) are hard to find, and a lot of things I used to buy I now make on my own: bread, tortillas, jam…

Jon’s afternoons usually include a cadaver lab, group study session or tutoring, and in the off hours he camps out in the library re-watching the recorded lectures from that morning and studying.  He has dinner on his own and usually takes a shuttle home between 9:30-11.  

Saturdays Jon tries to spend the morning with the kids watching movies, and leaves for school to study sometime before lunch.  Our landlord’s wife comes to clean Saturday afternoons (which I thought was going to be great but it actually just forces me to spend the whole day hurriedly cleaning in preparation for her to come later!).  The kids have swim lessons in the afternoon and we’ve been meeting Daddy for dinner on campus.  Some Saturdays Jon’s been going up to the Carib Indian Territory with some other students and working in the free clinic there.  

Sundays we’ve been going to the Ross Christian Fellowship.  We’ve been keeping Solveig & Linc with us during the music time just like back home, and then to Sunday school where all the kids are together in one big class (Lincoln LOVES getting to be in with all the big kids!).  The church is a lot like a college group so we feel a little old, but it’s important to Jon & I that we spend time with other Christians encouraging each other and everyone there is really loving.  I’m going to start playing and leading music soon, which I’m really looking forward to!

One thing that’s nice about that church is everyone knows and understands each other’s situation, exactly when you have an exam coming up, or what it’s like to study things like histology - it’s really quite unique.  And each exam day the prayer team greets students outside the test site and prays with anyone who wants to.  The speaker at church yesterday very thoughtfully pointed out how med students can so easily get self-absorbed; wrapped up into their studies, stressing about their next exam, agonizing over their schedule.  God disappears and students fall into a rhythm of relying on themselves for their success.  They forget Who They Are.  We are called to be Jesus' disciples first then everything else second, right?  And while I vehemently feel that we are to respect the opportunities God gives us with energy, effort and excellence, we can’t forget Where Those Opportunities Came From.  The opportunity that Jon has in medical school is not something he deserved or even earned.  God was very specific in the way He gave it to him and did not leave any room for us to think we did it on our own.  So now, when we are completely absorbed in med school, how can we think we can do this on our own?  This has been really sticking with Jon and I.  It’s so hard for Jon to justify time away from studying (he’s actually really grateful that we are so isolated here with zero other obligations), but taking time out for God is something he cannot ignore.  So we’ve been working on being more intentional about that because we’ve realized: the reason we’ve been feeling so much like we’re drifting in the waves is because that’s exactly what we have been doing!
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We've also been feeling bogged down with the "living in a developing country" part of being here and not appreciating the spectacularly beautiful island that is now our home.  So we've recognized that we need to be proactive about spending some time enjoying our environment, which is why last week we took a boat ride up the Indian River that runs near our neighborhood. Now we know what you all really came to this blog for: some pictures of a Caribbean paradise!  

So without further ado...

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Stopping for a drink at the "bush bar" upriver in the middle of the jungle.
Thank your prayers, notes, emails, Skype visits and checking in, it has been really comforting and encouraging.  Jon may be appreciating the isolation, but I’ve been really missing all my people who “get” me.  As we become braver and start venturing out more, we’ll be sure to share our adventures with you!
 
 
Back home, I'm used to a choice of 100 cheeses at the cheese counter, Chuck's Produce's 15 varieties of apples, and to me a store has bad selection if it only carries three kinds of pate.  So with the limited ingredients available here cooking here has been really challenging.  I can't say I have't had a dinner-time meltdown or two when yet another meal is turning out to be total crap, but I'm slowly learning how to use all these substitute and strange ingredients here in Dominica.  Check out the yummy things starting to emerge from my kitchen (and my ridiculous screw-ups) over at my new food blog.
 
 
Take a tour of our little home for the next 16-20 months!
 
 
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The clouds rolling in behind our house - it's rained about 4-5 times per each day we've been here.
Since we are here for medical school after all, I'd say our first week has been, well, very educational. 

The night we arrived we were taken straight to the school where we fought to hold off a mutiny when (after 20 hours of travel) Solveig & Lincoln were asked to sit quietly through an orientation presentation.  But then came the food, oh, the food.  We've learned since that the chinese food we had that night is just about the only take-out option available on the island and we've now eaten it many more times during our first week.  But that night it didn't matter what it was, it was our first meal in a day and a half and it was demolished in about 60 seconds.  Eventually our land-lord (very nice couple with kids our age) arrived to take us (and our endless luggage) to our house where I was pleased to see it was exactly as good as I'd hoped (it is about $500 a month cheaper than the lesser-standard homes in the area so we'd been suspicious it might be too good to be true).  So PRAISE GOD we don't need to worry anymore about housing!

The next day we decided to time our walk to the school and were very discouraged to find out it was much further (and rockier, hillier, etc.) than we expected, until a Ross administrator who recognized us from the night before pulled her car over and called out the window, "I noticed you were taking a very long walk this morning…"  Turns out we had gone waaaaay out of our way and she showed us a quicker route.  But our daily hike to the school is still considerable (not to mention somewhat dangerous walking in the shoulder of a road without a speed limit!) which I both curse and praise every morning on my way in, trying to think of all the weight I just HAVE to be losing doing this every single day!!

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Our neighbor the Rooster.
Jon has had orientation every morning this week, and the kids & I went to family orientation on Wednesday.  Our afternoons have been filled with grocery shopping, setting up cell phones, paying rent and unpacking.  Today we got to go to a class on local nutrition and learn a little bit about Dominican produce.  Tomorrow I'm excited that we get to visit the Portsmouth street market, despite the early hour (we have to get up at about 5am which is, for those of you keeping track, 1:00am PST!).  I'm really looking forward to buying some fresh produce and fresh fish to try my hand at some island cuisine!

I'm going to have to completely re-learn everything I know about cooking; fresh milk is very rarely available here, as are eggs, butter and (brace yourselves) ice cream (man, I knew I should have brought that ice cream maker!).  BUT, my Haiti mission team friends, remember that bread & nutella they served there?  Yep, they have it here too.  And there are lots of things I've never cooked with; dansheen, sour sop, papaya, custard apples (??), tamarinds...   And they call avocados pears here.  If you're curious about the exotic produce Dominica has to offer, take a look at this site, it's very interesting! 

We've also learned this week how to pre-pay for "units" of electricity at the convenience store down the street, send out our laundry (this culture generally doesn't have in-home washers & dryers or laundromats so we pay a service to pick it up & do it), and we've learned how to give directions to our house (since we literally don't have an address, our daily conversation with taxi drivers, take-out guys, laundry lady goes like this: "We're in Glanvillia.  You know the Mountain Breeze?  Yes, the bar.  Kind of by there.  Next door to Anita and Clive Rodney.  No, Clive Rodney.  Yep, the little green house."  Sometimes we don't even have to tell them that much; since there aren't many white American families here and the town is so small, I guess everyone knows who we are.

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The view off our front veranda.
Solveig says she likes Dominica a lot.  She likes all the flowers and that it's sunny and that we live right by the beach.  She loved taking off on the plane.  She says she also likes that I don't have to work anymore!  --(haha, don't know about that, Lady, feels like I'm working pretty hard right now! ;) --  She likes her room (she gets her own room now) and there's a banana tree right outside her window.

Jon officially starts school Monday, so pray for him.  It looks to be a very demanding schedule and he's definitely in the minority here (everyone he meets goes "oh, you're the guy with the wife and kids, right?" ...there's 352 in his class and only 4 guys have families).  So he's very cognizant that needing to keep a balance probably means sacrificing better grades.  We're going to try the campus church on Sunday, but so far it sounds like there aren't a lot of members who are a little older or have kids so we'll see.  We finally got our barrels today (there was a cruise ship blocking the port so they were late) so now I'll be able to get our house a lot more set up and give you a tour soon!

Thank you all for praying and building us up!