October 31, 2013

Weekend Adventures

Happy Halloween from Dominica!

Halloween isn't a holiday that is traditionally celebrated by local Dominicans, as this is their time to celebrate their Independence. But most importantly, the local grocery does have a candy section to cater to the Ross community.

Matt and I aren't very festive this year. He's got Mini 2 coming up next week, so exhausted medical student is Matt's costume. I'm going for sweaty islander. I think we nailed it.

But anyway...

Weekends have become adventure days for me while in Dominica. Monday through Friday, I'm tied up in the apartment, so I relish the opportunity to get out and see the lovely sights. So typically, we will pick out a few places we want to go, and hire our favorite driver for the day. It's not typical for students to have their own vehicle, so we've grown accustomed to hiring a driver or utilizing Ross shuttles when necessary.

A couple weeks ago, Tabby and I ventured to Screw Spa - a natural sulfur spa, Cocoa Cottages and Roseau to do some shopping.

After relaxing in the sulfur spa pools, they treat you to complimentary fruit!

The market in Roseau.
Save A Lot is typically overflowing with people, but has quite a bit more selection than the grocery in Picard.
Delicious chocolate we got from Cocoa Cottages.
This past weekend, we went to Roseau for some shopping, Emerald Pool, drove through the Carib Reserve and finished off with lunch at Pagua Bay - my favorite on the island.

The market was full of vendors as Dominica celebrated their Independence with the Creole Festival in Roseau. So therefore, several ferries of visitors from Guadeloupe and Martinique came in for the event.

Our fearless leader in his bus waiting for us to finish up in Roseau.
We stocked up on some more - yes more - baskets. And I finally got my lovely handmade shoes!

On the drive out of Roseau.
From there, we went to Emerald Pool. It's about a 15 minute trek through the rainforest to an opening where the pool and waterfall are. It's a well-maintained path with easy steps to walk down. The water in the pool is frigid, but feels oh so nice!

As you can see, the pool is appropriately named, as it gives off an emerald hue in the sunlight.

It was such a quiet, serene place and quickly became one of my favorite sites! 

The walk out from the pool was gorgeous, as the route took you past some awesome views.

It was a hazy day, but you can see the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon.

From there, we drove through the Carib Reserve or the Kalinago Territory. This is an area preserved for the native people or the Kalinago. They make beautiful baskets and various other crafts that are sold throughout Dominica.

After picking up more souvenirs, we continued the drive up the Atlantic side of the island. This was a route I had not been before, so I was very thankful for new Dominican scenery.

We ended the trip at Pagua Bay for a delicious lunch. Their tacos are a.maze.ing. Love them. It's by far my favorite meal on the island. Plus, you have an incredible view of the ocean overlooking a pool. Does it get any better?

This trip took us all the way around the island. So needless to say we were exhausted by the time we got back. And I literally mean exhausted. I forced myself to stay awake until 7:30 p.m. And forced myself out of bed at 10 a.m. the next morning. I think it's a combination of the heat, traveling, etc. that just totally takes it out of you.

This was the last adventure with dear Tabby! She's back to the U.S. next week to finalize the big wedding plans for December. So the next time we'll see her she'll be walking down the aisle. Crazy! But we are so looking forward to being there for the nuptials and to be reunited with our dear island friends.

October 24, 2013

A Day in the Dominican Life

So while our lives here in Dominican aren't that especially riveting on a day to day basis, they are certainly different than the life we had back in the States.

While I would love to say that we spend the majority of our days soaking up the Caribbean sun, taking shade underneath the palm trees while sipping coconut water, it's not quite that dreamy.

The sun rises here rather early - sometime in the 5 a.m. hour. Thankfully, I'm not usually up that early, so I don't find out exactly when. We shut off the air conditioning in the bedroom, and savor the last bit of cold air in the room by keeping the door shut as long as possible. Then, it's out to the heat.

The first application of deodorant for the day is on, and we get freshened up a bit. And by that, I mean wash my face and brush my teeth. Make up? Yea, right. Doing my hair? Not a chance. It's pointless. Of course, we don't run the A/C all day here because it is ridiculously expensive. So the days that we are graced with a breeze are that much more comfortable - and a little more friendly to my overall appearance.

Matt is a class-goer. Ross University gives students the option of watching lectures online or going to class, or whatever combination suits each student best. He prefers class, so he's off all morning to sit in the freezing cold air conditioned room that campus provides, while I'm left to sweat it out.

It the weather is nice - meaning relatively low humidity, breezy and no rain clouds coming over the mountains, I'll try to get some laundry done before work begins. We invested in a countertop washer that we shipped in a barrel. It has certainly saved us money! Most apartments don't come with a washer/dryer, so for laundry, most students will send out. Different laundry services will provide free pick up and delivery same day for laundry. An average load was costing us roughly $35 EC or $13 USD a week. Now we just send out for our sheets and towels, so we are saving quite a chunk of money. So, every couple of days I'll wash a load, wring it out, and hang to dry on our porch. It's not that big of a washer, so every couple of days I have about two loads to do.

Of course, there is most definitely coffee consumed every morning. We've shipped our coffee down here as well. That's another item that's super expensive here. I can hardly drink hot coffee at his temperature. It's always iced.

Instead of watching the weather, I've resorted to checking the National Hurricane Center's website every morning, especially now during peak hurricane season. We don't get a local Dominican news or weather station, so it's all online reading. Then it's off to work. And by off to work, I mean to my desk where I plant myself for the majority of the day.

The sweat and grime is usually plastered all over by this point. I've gotten used to feeling like a post work-out as a constant state of being. To help with the amount of sweat, I wear as much dry fit clothing as possible. Shorts and tank tops folks. That's all there is.

Throughout the day, we drink so much water or gatorade. It's so easy to get dehydrated.

And I feel like I'm washing dishes all day because it's important to keep dishes out of the sink, otherwise the sugar ants will find you. And you'll be sorry.

On that note, all of our food is stored in ziplock baggies. Event if it's something that's sealed, it's still wrapped in a ziplock for extra protection from the ants. They are vicious.

Matt typically comes home for lunch. On good days, we'll treat ourselves to some Subway. At home, we didn't eat Subway much, but here, it's a taste of home that I think makes it so appealing.

Then Matt will either go back to campus to study for the afternoon, or study at home. We then start dinner around 5 p.m. Of course, afterwards we make sure all the dishes are done and put away in our fight against the sugar ants. Then I take my at least once-a-day a shower, then get comfortable in the bedroom and turn the A/C on. Oh, those glorious sweat-free moments.

I'm not sure if it's the water quality, a chemical they put in it or what exactly, but something about the water irritates my skin. The only relief I've found is to dry off as quickly as possible and get in the A/C.

The sun sets around 6 p.m. so we enjoy the picturesque ocean-view sunset. Then we both settle in in the bedroom with the A/C on for the remainder of the evening. Matt studies, while I watch an embarrassing amount of Netflix. Both of us have our headphones on, so not to distract from his studying. Matt said once that it would be fun to see how many TV series I can get through while we're here. Well, there's nothing 'cool' about that. I won't divulge on that one. But to give you an idea.....here's what I'm watching now.

That's right. All the way from season one. I've got a lot of spare time.

Then, lights out around 10 or 11 p.m. when Matt's done studying. The Dominica outdoors is rather loud with the sound of crickets, frogs, bats, etc. that serenade us to sleep.

So see, it's not all palm trees, ocean breezes and paradise. Just a little bit of it all!

October 22, 2013

Forever a Triangle

My dear friend Chelsea shared this blog about what it's like to repatriate. It was a great visualization of what the experience of living in a foreign country has been like for us.

Click here to read.

I wanted to share this here for several reasons.

I started this blog to share with you all the day to day of our journey through medical school along with the new adventures we experience. But it is also to give you a glimpse of the transitions we are facing in our lives.

It was definitely terrifying to leave our home, our traditions, our comforts and be dropped into the land of unknowns to start from scratch. Just like the blog says, we've molded some our old traditions into new traditions, we gave way to old routines and started a new blend of a workable routine while drawing from our home cultures and dabbling with the new. But we are nowhere near melting completely into the Dominican culture.

It's not something I necessarily expected to be a harder element to get a grasp on. For someone to fully understand, they do need to experience it as well. It's nearly impossible to have someone understand the culture shock and transition that can leave you feeling isolated when expatriating and repatriating.

Hopefully this blog article referenced above will serve as a good visual representation of what this experience has felt like for us. With my last trip home, I have to admit that I didn't feel quite like myself when I was home. Things fell into place, and old routines settled in, but it just wasn't the same. It was those pointed edges coming out.

In conversations with our friends who have already repatriated, it's been interesting to see how they've transitioned. Perceptions are permanently altered, values are realigned, priorities shifted and more.

I think for me at least, this blog hits the nail on the head with what I've been feeling with the recent trip home, and thinking about our time in Dominica coming to an end. So from here forward, I'll try and be more deliberate about sharing our new routines, challenges and adaptations we are facing to give a bit more insight into a life as a triangle.

I'm certainly not trying to convey this in a negative light. I am very grateful for our shiny, new pointed edges we've earned. I'm sure they will round out with more time spent back in the States, but never completely. However, my goal is to give light to what many expats face when coming home. It is a life altering experience, and we are forever changed.

October 20, 2013

Saying Goodbye

I've been putting off this post for some time now. Writing, deleting and rewriting. Nothing I put together really seems to suffice or accurately depict what I'm feeling.

We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put Emmy down.

I'll tell you now, if you're not a dog person, or ever had a pet that you consider your own, then you surely won't understand where I'm coming from.

Just over a year ago, Emmy was diagnosed with cancer. It was after we had left for the Bahamas, and I had traveled home for a work event. During that time, I took her to the vet as her leg had swollen. It turns out it was cancer, and she was given roughly six months. We were crushed.

But as the months passed, Emmy stayed strong. She had a rough day here or there, but we could hardly tell a difference when we were home for Christmas. We loved on her like crazy when we were home for those short six weeks - savoring every evening snuggle, every walk, every stuffed animal she tore apart.

Saying goodbye was beyond hard. I had gone through the same thing when I left her in August, but had to dredge up the strength to say goodbye again.

The six month mark came in February. Her leg had increased in swelling, but she showed no significant signs of slowing down. There came a time in March where she strained her leg, and we thought that would be it. But sure enough, Emmy bounced back again.

We came home in April over break. Again, we loved on her, and cherished the time we had with her. It came time to say goodbye, and I know we both hugged her a little tighter that last night we were home. Saying goodbye all over again. It didn't get easier as we didn't know if we would see her again.

And then I came home again in September. Emmy had been having a rough few days and was put on some different medications, but she still seemed to bounce back. She couldn't handle the long walks anymore, so Matt's parents would take her on car rides instead. She was certainly spoiled!

The cancer had started to spread to her lymph nodes. But her appetite and personality didn't really suffer. I didn't pick her up until my last week at home as I was traveling back and forth between Indy.

I picked her up on Saturday. She ran out of the house and straight to me. She rolled onto her back and had me rub her belly. It was the same routine we shared for years when I would come home to her. 

Saturday passed and Sunday passed. We took it easy, but we were both just comfortable being together again.

Then Monday morning came. 

The tumor on her leg had turned bright red and started bleeding. She was panting heavily. I could tell she was uncomfortable, in pain. Then she looked at me with those pleading eyes. If you knew Emmy, you know she could tell you exactly what she was thinking with her eyes. She was ready to go. And it completely broke my heart. 

And so the conversations began. Not only was it the hardest decision to make, but Matt was over 2,000 miles away. We had the conversation before, that we never wanted Emmy to suffer, to be in pain at all. That we would need to make the decision for her, not out of selfishness for us wanting to keep her here.

It had come to that point. She wasn't our fun-loving, sweet, sweet girl anymore. She was in hurting. 

Emmy wouldn't let me get near her bleeding tumor, so the only thing I could do to try and make her comfortable is to lay towels down for her to lay on. That night, I 'slept' at the wrong end of the bed, so I could be close to her, and make sure she was ok throughout the night. She slept more than I did as I savored the sweet sound of Emmy snores.

The next day came, and I was dreading what was going to come next. Emmy wouldn't leave too far from my side, giving me those pleading looks all morning. 

I tried to get some good pictures with her, but she has the uncanny ability to avoid the camera. So this is all I got at first.

And then I resorted to bribery. Her favorite treats worked wonders into fooling her into looking at the camera.

Then it was time. Matt's dad went with Emmy and me.

I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay with her the whole time. But when it came down to it, I couldn't walk out of that room when she needed me the most.

We said goodbye to Emmy that day. I held her and comforted her. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. 

Now we have a small crack in our hearts. I never considered Emmy just a pet. She was our family. She was a vital part of our day to day plans, our holidays and our every thought. 

One of my favorite Emmy stories is when Matt lived near campus. It was a house full of boys, so you can only imagine the overall cleanliness - or lack thereof. And of course, there were mice. Well one of them died in Matt's room and you can only imagine that smell. Then one day, Matt came home and walked into his room, and Emmy was sitting there wagging her tail with this mouse corpse laying in the middle of the floor. She presented it to Matt, and was so proud of her gift to him. Matt on the other hand wasn't quite as pleased.

She always knew when we were getting ready to leave. She even planted herself inside Matt's suitcase when he was packing for a trip. But when we would come back, we would most definitely get the cold shoulder. She'd sit near us, but with her back to us saying, "I'm glad you're back, but I don't want you to know that." 

And then of course all the times that I was sick or just had a bad day, Emmy was there to just lay her head on my lap just to let me know she was there, too. The time that I broke my ankle and foot, Emmy didn't leave my side for weeks. She hurt for me, too.

There are times when I wake up and still feel for her at my feet. I long to feel her face rub up against mine, and for her to jump up and just snuggle next to me for the evening. 

Matt and I are so grateful for the wonderful care she was given by our families and vet while we were gone. I know that is how she survived as long as she did.

I also like to think Emmy was waiting for me to say goodbye. She wanted my blessing to go, and wanted me to be there for her. This alone breaks my heart even more.

I was glad I could be there for her, but it was incredibly hard.

There was so much you can learn from a dog. The unconditional love they demonstrate is something to be admired. So for now, we are taking the lessons that Emmy taught us and enjoying the memories of the laughs she gave us.

We finally realize that she adopted us long before we fully adopted her.

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