Sunday, March 30, 2014

Paradise? Bloom Where you are Planted

I heard from my family today. It snowed again. And its almost April. And they live in Virginia. That is not supposed to happen. Today's Facebook and Instagram feeds from my East Coast friends were filled with shock, complaints, and witty remarks about snow, cold, weathermen and groundhogs. Everyone is dying for sun, for spring to come, for green grass and flowers, for change. And I get a lot of comments about living in paradise during these times. "If only I could be where she is," people think... 

But wait. Isn't there a saying about this? The grass is always greener on the other side... But is it really? 
I took picture this near the beach where they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean! 
Lets talk about here. It is wet. Let me tell you, the rainforest, the tropics, the islands... it is really wet. Not like Scotland or Ireland; foggy and raining, grey and poetic. Not like monsoon-season in India; everything washed away or drenched and then the parched dirt cracks in the heat a few weeks later. Here on Dominica, at least so far (January to April), its more like ... a broken sprinkler system. 

When we first arrived the rain would come in droves, sometimes in a cloud, sometimes seemingly raining from the sun itself. A few minutes later the sun would shine and things were nicely moistened. Except that I was still drenched or just emerging from my protective overhang or constantly carrying my raincoat, even on the sunniest of days. Until recently this on and off confusion was the trend and it was simultaneously pleasant and a bit frustrating. 

But summer is coming. And we can feel the threat. Its a bit like a lighted match is getting a tad too close to my fingers. The sun's heat is shockingly strong at times. I hear its only going to get worse. While the broken sprinkler system seems to be mostly off, the cool winds still make the days bearable for now. But soon the sun's flame will burn close all day and the humidity will drown us all. I hear that the wetness that once was outside will be your own sweat constantly streaming. The sea is like bathwater and the once cold showers are just more wetness washing over you. No one pays for air-conditioning (especially as you can watch your electricity meter go down) and the nights bring little relief. Sunscreen is your constant companion and, even with the incredible amount of walking we do, I'll cross the street multiple times just to escape the sun. 

Hearing about the snow, more and more snow, makes me yearn for some. I missed an epic year of snow forts and cross country skiing. I missed fires and hot soup and being snowed in. I missed the silence that only falling snow can bring and the dirty slush that looks like a 7-11 Root Beer Slurpee all over the roads. And now I will miss the change of seasons back home, from snow to spring. Its was hot when we got here, pleasant mostly but warm and it will stay hot and get hotter. The sun will shine and then shine some more. I do love it. But there will be little change in the season. Is it better here? Or is it better where you are? Yes ... if the grass is always greener. 

But its not. It takes effort and conscious choice to be content and grateful where you are. Choose gratitude not paradise. I have to tell myself that everyday and have people who will remind me too. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lessons from the Island: A Guest Blogger

Today's post is a guest post from another spouse who just arrived here in January, like me. I loved what he had to say and asked if I could share it with you. And without further ado, David McElprang, ladies and gentlemen: 

"So, today pretty much marks my 2 month point of living in Dominica. It also happens to be 1 month from when I fly out to go back to Atlanta for a short break. A few things I've come to realize while here that I feel deserve sharing with others: 

1) everyday spent snorkeling or hiking, is a good day. This island has so much beauty to share, but you have to be willing to go find it. The instances of true beauty finding you while sitting on your porch or hanging out at a bar/restaurant are far less common than when you go actively looking for them. I guess this could be said about most things in life… 

2) just because you can, doesn’t mean you should… this covers so many facets of life on the island, I won’t bother to elaborate, but just think of a situation this could possibly apply to, & it probably does.

3) when the clinic has free de-wormer, just take it… don’t ask questions, just take it. 

4) when you’re spear fishing & you see a large fish that you know would be a good fish to eat, don’t just shoot it in the hope that you will catch it; think logically about the size of the fish & how far out it can drag you before it gets tired enough for you to kill it… don’t ask, lesson learned the hard way.

5) no matter how bad you think your life is, I can personally show you proof that your life is fantastic compared to what some of the locals here live with every day, so quit being a freaking drama queen & appreciate what you have!!! All in all, life in paradise is not as perfect as anyone would like to think it is. You learn to do without a lot of the things you used to just take for granted. You also learn that you can truly do without a lot of the things you used to think were necessary. 

But most importantly, you come to realize that there are so many different people in this world that have such varied pasts & life experiences, that you need to be open to new friends, opportunities, & experiences without our preconceived notions."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Nature Island Challenge!

There are four of us. All women. All Americans. And we are the only Americans and only women who are competing in the Nature Island Challenge: a four day adventure race on the island of Dominica in the West Indies! 

Team Captain: Sarah (Coffin) D'Alessandro 
Teammates: Jen Manly, Maddie Pletta, and Tara Jorski 
[Subs: Meche French and Charles Manly. These two incredible teammates are willing to be subs in the event of an injury.]

We need raise $1500 USD for this competition. And we are stoked that anything beyond the $1500 will be given to a local Dominican charity. Thank you so much for your support, encouragement, and cheers! 

THE RACE: This race covers over 50 miles along the Waitikibuli National Trail. Everyday includes 10 - 15 miles of trails, cultural challenges (last year they had to relocate a cow and make cocoa tea), and a major team challenge that may include diving, paddling, relay racing, or any other crazy thing they come up with. We have to be ready for anything. 

Our training includes wet hikes in the tropical rainforest, running epic hills, swimming in the Caribbean ocean, rowing machines, paddle boards, kayaks, bikes, and various other sweat inducing, stamina testing, morale trying, and muscle pumping activities. 

This race, however, isn't just about the physical. The Nature Island Challnege is about Dominican culture, about learning, thinking, and coming alongside the local life. We, as a team, get to learn about this tiny little island, rich in resources, stories, and cultural histories, and share the wonder of those things with the world. The event, April 7th through the 11th, will be televised and all over social media (FB, IG, and Twitter). Follow our story and the story of Dominica! 

Social Media?Sarah: sjdalessandro on IG;
Jen: jennifermanly
Tara: montarmoments
Meche: fitness_traveler

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Visual Post: A Few Fruit and Veggie Explorations

Stuffed plantain - with salted cod, oil, parsley, onion, and some other herbs.

Yellow grapefruit - much sweeter than the pink. 

Confusing root veggie... all root veggies are called "Provisions" here. And there are a TON of provisions. I haven't even tried them all yet. 
Apparently this is a "sweet potato"

Sweet sop. Not my favorite sop. 


Guava. LOVE.


Breadfruit Chips! 

Local eggplants

Coated them with herbs and cornmeal and baked them to perfection. Eggplant fries! 

I found this "custard apple" sitting at Betsy's produce stall today. I was intrigued as she described it as a sweet fruit with a custard consistency. So I bought it, peeled it, squeezed/picked the seeds out, and mooshed it around with a fork. I added a bit of nutmeg and dash of salt and put it in the freezer. Custard apple ice cream? We'll see! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Heartfelt Updates from The Study and The Studio

"The Study" Update: Just Keep Swimming... 

Medical school in the Caribbean feels like an island on an island. 

My fingers are increasing adept at describing the anatomy and physiology that fuel human life.  Biochemical pathways for cellular energy, protein synthesis, and deficits that lead to disease are an ever-growing scaffolding in my mind. 

My fingers are increasing inept at finding the words to describe what fuels my drive to study for the elusive patient I will serve years down the road.  The daily grind of rise, shine, and study actually leaves little time for cultivating a day to day determination for the all-encompassing endeavor of medical school.  

Fortunately, the years of anticipating, dreaming, and waiting for a chance to enter medical school entrenched a zealously that helps me treat every day like game day even as our schedule makes every day seem more like Monday.

Some days I maintain a hustle just so that my mind does not deflate from defeat.  This is training season.  Board exams will be here before I know it and on that day of mental reckoning I want to step into that test center in full confidence that my preparation involved ever ounce of determination I could muster.  Even more so, on that day with my first patient I want to serve them with my full strength cultivated by a history of preparation and hard work.  

I am thankful to have a partner sharing this journey with me.  I am grateful to be known and at times reminded of who I am beyond a study robot.  That’s enough left brain exercise for now, back to the study…

"The Studio" Update: Re-rooting and Patience 

Something interesting is happening. I wasn't quite sure what it was until recently. After a few weeks, a few long walks up steep hills, and a few conversations with wise people, I think I'm getting a glimpse. 

I've been quietly frustrated with my seeming abundance of time and corresponding lack of production, inspiration, and energy when it comes to making things. "So much time and space and new resources: What is wrong with me?"... is the mantra subtly threading through my everyday. It is a mantra that can creep in for all of us in different ways. We have certain expectations of ourselves and of situations. Then, in the situation, we wait to see those expectations filled rather than what the actual experience brings. We build a social construct in our mind that becomes a faux-Truth even before the experience can produce the actual reality. 

Beginning in December of last year, I was uprooted and replanted. I graduated from a Masters program, welcomed my fiancĂ© back from 4 months apart, got married, turned 30, and moved to an island. When I got here 2 months ago, it was as though I put my hands on my hips and stood there watching, waiting, expecting to see fruit bloom as soon as my feet hit the ground. Well, where was the fruit?! I'm adventurous, creative, and now I've got time. What is wrong with me? Stupid tree. It doesn't work anymore. Great, now I'm on an island with so much time and I'm worthless. Am I drowning or acclimating? Acclimating, obviously, right? RIGHT? Get on with it!

My lack of patience astounds me. My wise sister said maybe I should recognize mini-wins each day (like the day I figured out how to change the propane tank on our stove and carried the 50lb. thing all the way home just to prove something to myself). Maybe I shouldn't try to be producing creativity in the midst of figuring out the basics of living, of surviving (like how not to get run over while crossing the street or crossing in front of an angry donkey). The daily hardships of this place are real but hardly seem so to outsiders since my pictures mainly exude the beauty of this Nature Island. How do I explain things? How do I communicate (an act of expressing something inside of me) through my artwork that which I haven't yet ingested? 

Like any adjustment (losing a loved one, moving, getting married, new job, new kid...), patience is key and expectations can kill the possible joys in your new reality. I am grateful for a partner who shows me this patience and one who can see my fears and emotions I try to hide oh so well.