Dear friends, family and colleagues,
This week marked 4 months in the Dominican Republic. It’s been a wild ride – full of all the emotions, the adventures, the learning, the loneliness, the new relationships, and so on.
I really didn’t know what to expect, yet, I had expectations. And generally, they were all shattered. The reality of traveling alone – as a woman – through a developing island country is not to be ignored. It certainly wasn’t the cross between Hawaii and Peru that I was anticipating. But that’s because… it is its own place, with its own culture and its own features and its own challenges.
Since my arrival, I’ve:
- learned how to do many things as locals do (ride motoconchos, carritos and guaguas; shop in colmados; speak a few words in Dominican slang; etc);
- learned to dance Bachata, Salsa and Merengue;
- learned to negotiate/haggle in Spanish;
- tasted goat meat;
- drunk the traditional drink mamajuana;
- made connections with locals and expats;
- been approached by men and/or propositioned to “disfrutar el momento” or for a “masaje” by strangers more times than I can count;
- sprained my ankle – twice;
- ridden on a motorcycle with 2 other people;
- had the underwire in one side come out in 2 separate bras;
- attended Carnaval on a beach;
- gone to the beach a lot;
- been caught between French and Spanish language;
- tutored a few local kids in English;
- seen 5 people on a motorcycle;
- danced salsa on a beach;
- seen motorcycles carrying a mattress or a washing machine or a full size ladder;
- hiked through rivers, swam in caves; jumped off cliffs and rappelled/ridden down waterfalls;
- taken a surfing lesson and managed to stand up;
- eaten fresh tropical fruit;
- danced in dirt while walking into a river;
- taken many cold showers (not for personal growth/resilience – but because there was no hot water in the place);
- written a bunch of poetry;
- begun tutoring French online;
- seen lots of tropical fruit trees;
- started relearn the art of online networking;
- been squished between to Mormon missionaries in a gua-gua;
- gone rock climbing;
- eaten sancocho;
- battled loneliness, anxiety and minor bouts of depression;
- gotten sick with a minor cold/flu;
- been learning Portuguese on DuoLingo;
- attended a virtual conference with the Society for International Development;
- volunteered with Cabarete Sostenible, a local NGO helping to improve food security; sustainable and social agriculture; reforestation; and more;
- and even restarted my podcast (look out for that soon)!
Some of these things have been incredibly amazing, exhilarating experiences, while others have certainly been troubling, boring, frustrating, hard or lonely.
During one of my dips into loneliness and depression, I received a text from a friend that said something to the effect of, “You must be having the time of your life!” At the time, the message felt incredibly out of touch with reality because I had been feeling utterly lost and confused. But, over the last few months, I’ve been learning to embrace the hard times as a part of “really living” or living a “full life.”
When we’re in a low state, it’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that we’re bad, or we are the problem, or we’ve done something incredibly wrong and everything that seems off with the (our) world is our fault… etc. But, what I realized through all of this is that often the challenges we are facing are “features” of the experience rather than “bugs” – to use a programming metaphor – and that instead of internalizing those “negative” feelings, turning them back onto ourselves, it’s helpful to notice them, be aware of the way they feel physically, then embrace them as a signal of something we care about or a need that is not being met, and finally realize that we are actually capable of changing the game.
For instance, when I was living alone in an apartment in Cabarete, for several weeks I struggled with feeling lonely and isolated. It reminded me of the Quarantine times when I was living alone in Newburgh, NY, 9 months-1 year out of a long-term relationship.
At first, my instincts (and anxiety) were telling me that my loneliness and isolation were my fault, and were a sign that I was “failing” and I was a “loser” for not having a million invitations to do things or plans on Friday nights or Saturdays. However, once I started to change my perspective, I realized that actually, the amount of time I spent alone was not a sign of “loserdom”, but rather a feature of being new in a small town in a foreign country, traveling/living by myself (rather than with anyone), having a cultural and language barrier, and so on. Once I started to see that feeling lonely was a natural consequence of the situation at hand, I could realize that actually, I wasn’t the problem – loneliness is the body’s way to tell you that you need more connection. I noticed that I had been taking actions all along to have more of a social existence, but in some ways, the cards were stacked against me, especially in a town like Cabarete, where both locals and expats are used to a very transient population. Cabarete is a very touristy place with people coming and going ALL THE TIME.
Because I was living in Cabarete, not just passing through for a few days, I realized eventually that I was looking for both routine and deeper connections, as well as quality time/plans. Because, I was regularly taking social dancing classes, interacting with locals that I saw routinely in the colmados or cafes I visited, and so on, I got to a point – rather quickly actually – where I “knew” quite a large mix of people, both locals and expats, but it was all a bit superficial. We’d say “hi” or “hola” when we saw each other on the street, but not much more. So, I was feeling lonely, even though I had made a lot of connections. But, once I started to see that actually, the fact that I could hardly go out without running into an acquaintance is an accomplishment in its own right, given I had only been in Cabarete for maybe 6 weeks at that point, I started to be able to shift my mindset. Though I still felt frustrated and realized my social needs (for deeper connection) were not being met, I also realized that if I wanted that, I needed to put a little more effort into it too – by taking the risk to invite people for activities or meals, etc. As extraverted as I can be sometimes, and good at organizing social events, I still find it hard sometimes to ask new people to spend time with me. Around this time, I also started to volunteer with Cabarete Sostenible and to go out to the social dancing parties some evenings. Thanks to all these things, and my regular contact with friends over the phone, starting new tutoring relationships in person and online, and rebooting my online networking efforts – I started to feel SO much better. I got so busy and known by the end of my time in Cabarete, that when I’d go to the social parties, I’d know maybe a third or half the people in the discoteca, and the week of my leaving, my calendar was full. Everyone was asking me when I’d be back.
I’m not saying this to brag or anything, but to share how I’ve been learning to embrace all aspects of life, and how my friend’s text was not wrong – just the timing was startling. It definitely doesn’t feel like “the time of your life” when you are feeling low, but feeling low is a part of being alive, and pretending that we don’t have struggles, even when we are on a wild adventure, is not my style. It just is not accurate. But, neither would be saying that I haven’t had some amazing, fun, eye-opening, surprising and humbling experiences during my stay here as well.
In all, I stayed in Cabarete for around 3-3.5 months. This was a real chapter and it was a real adjustment. I needed that time to transition to this new nomadic lifestyle. To start to find security inside myself, and to discover some new directions in my career/income generation and life in general. To define the direction of this stage of my life. I don’t have it all figured out, but I definitely found some of the healing, connection with my inner child and new orientation.
I enjoyed Cabarete – in spite of the struggles. I’ve avoided writing for the blog during this time because I didn’t know what to say or what I wanted to share. And I was “busy living”. I did start a few times to write my observations and experiences in the town. I may share that on the blog at some point, or I may incorporate it into my memoir. To be determined…
In the mean time, I’ll leave you with a a few poems that I wrote during my stay in Cabarete…
This is Living
Cabarete, February 15, 2023
Don’t fight the wave.
Let it carry you.
Go against the current.
Wait for it.
Let it Flow.
Ride it out.
Float on air.
This is LIVING.
Do it again.
IS what life
Cabarete, February 20, 2023
Bright pink and red hibiscus flowers,
crinkled petals, styles erect,
with fireworks at the end
silhouetted against the white sky.
Red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pizza with prosciutto, arugula and burrata.
It’s not very Dominican…
So what – it’s what I love.
I’m allowed to have what
I love, right?
Life is beautiful,
here in Cabarete.
Cabarete, May 3, 2023
Sorry I haven’t written
I’ve been busy living
I have many things to do
some days are
filled with adventure
I’m sick or exhausted
mentally or physically,
and all I can do is rest.
I live each
I feel all the feelings.
I embrace all the feelings
Because how could we say
we are living
a full life
if we only allow ourselves
to experience fully,
half of our feelings
the “good” ones?
Avoidance is not
a strategy for having
a meaningful life
effort and investment
a willingness to face
the potential of
Meaning is the
what we might rather
The promise for more
is what makes the
hard parts, and the
worth persevering through.
This is what
And this is
I’ve been up to.
If you’ve stuck it out and read this far, thanks! <3
Until next time,