Friday, December 5, 2014

Pain and the Process of Healing

My research in the D.R. is on how discrimination impacts mental health. I’ve been doing interviews for a few months now and, although it feels like an obvious statement, many things impact mental health. Respondents do talk about discrimination, but they also talk about poverty, job loss, family tensions, marital conflict, and the death of loved ones – things that connect people across the globe as fellow human beings.

In the wake of highly publicized police brutality, the past month has been an emotional one for many of us.  People are deeply wounded and many feel betrayed by a system – a country – that is supposed to protect everyone’s right to life.  There are so many necessary conversations, and I think a conversation about healing is one of them. 

I shared a previous post on the tragic loss of our dear brother. I wrote that I wanted to bring my family back to this place “in search of healing”.  And I’m realizing that maybe healing is not a destination.  Maybe it is a continuum, a constant process.  When I reflect on how far I’ve come, I no longer have nightmares and flashbacks about the day.  I no longer feel broken, like my world was ripped from under my feet.  I no longer feel bitter when someone refers to ocean sounds as “soothing”.  But sometimes, I imagine the most tragic outcome possible when I’m away from loved ones.  And I still have to swallow negative thoughts when I find myself anticipating the worst. And I still have to reign in my fears that joy is only temporary.

A fellow blogger and friend recently wrote about how motherhood changes your body and mind in a way that makes it impossible to be the person you were before.  Not only that, it's an unrealistic expectation to think that you can go back to that person.  That’s how I imagine healing to be.  I will never be who I was before.  Nor should I try to be.  But I’m still healing.  

The point is, it's a process.  We may never know what it looks like to be "healed", and I imagine that there's variation in what people/communities need for their own healing.  I needed to stare my tragedy in the face in order to begin my healing process.  Maybe not everyone needs that.  But I did.

I asked one of my respondents how she copes with sadness when it comes up for her.  She told me that sad feelings are “passengers”, they come and go but they are always there.  My heart broke for her.  Some of us live in a continuous state of sadness, anger, worry, and fear – and have been for years…decades…centuries.  I’m still hurt, sad, angry, and afraid as black lives continue to be lost because of injustice.  But maybe we have to stare the pain in the face before the process can begin. It’s scary, uncomfortable, and difficult.  But maybe it’s one way for healing to begin...and maybe we can begin to see ourselves as fellow human beings sharing this world.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The New Normal – Finding Order in the Chaos Part II

Things are feeling really good here.  The preschooler loves going to school.  The toddler loves daycare. My husband found a part-time job he enjoys. My research couldn’t be going better.  Sometimes, with major life changes, I work myself up over what is to come, then when things are ok, I work myself up in anticipation of difficulties ahead.  So, I thought I’d take a moment to bask in this happy place and share our “new normal” with you.  I wrote about creating a work schedule in a previous post.  It was about our life juggling work and family in the U.S.  Now that we’re in the D.R., we’ve carved out a new routine that works for our family.

Here is our weekday schedule:

6:15-7:15am wake up and get dressed, get the kids dressed, give the kids breakfast, pack school lunches/snacks

7:15am – My partner drives the 4 year old to school on his way to work.  I put the toddler in his stroller and we walk to daycare. It’s a nice, cool, leisurely 5 minute walk where we imitate the sounds we hear (birds, dogs, roosters, and motorcycles)

7:30am – I am back at home. I tidy up from breakfast and check emails.

*I start my work day at 8am and there are two potential work days for me:

Work Day A – at home
8am – 12:30pm  Work from home: writing, reading, organizing the data I’ve collected.
12:30-2pm Go pick up the toddler from daycare, make lunch, lay him down for nap, make lunch for the 4 year old. My partner picks up the 4 year old at 1:15pm on his way in from work.

2-6pm  Continue working. Sometimes I work from home in our bedroom with the door closed to deter noisy children. Other times, I work in the eating area at a nearby grocery store.  The kids nap from 2-4pm. My partner is on duty when they wake up.

Work Day B – at my field site
8am-10am  Work from home: writing, emails, organizing

10am-1pm  Head to my field site. Do 1-2 interviews with people.

1-2pm Have  lunch. Maybe a cup of coffee. Leisurely conversations with people. Check in with my research assistant.  She does interviews in Haitian Creole so we use this time to talk about how things are going. My partner picks up both kids from daycare/preschool, makes them lunch, puts them down for naps.

2:30ish – 5pm  Do 1-2 more interviews. Sit and talk with people.

5-6pm Head home.

6-7pm– Make dinner.  Feed the kids.

7:30-8pm Bedtime routine for the kids: bath, pajamas, story, prayers, song, bed.

8pm-11pm  My partner and shower, eat, watch Hulu or Netflix, check in about our days, go to bed!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Post About Poop

We talk about poop so often in this house that I would be remiss not to write a blog post about it. Once I decided it was necessary, I thought “how can I tastefully write about poop so that I can still get a job in the future?” Then I thought, “people on hiring committees poop too, so…I’m just gonna go for it.”  We have been in the country for three months now and things seem to have stabilized for the moment. Here’s our poop story.

Month 1: Diarrhea
We were all adjusting to the food here, but the toddler and I dealt with frequent bouts of diarrhea.  I would venture to say I had diarrhea about 5 out of 7 mornings each week.  The general treatment is to hydrate and get acquainted with the BRAT diet – Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.  I got a prescription for Azithromycin from my doctor before I left the U.S., but I never felt bad enough to take retrospect, maybe I should have...ha!

Month 2: Constipation
The pre-schooler has dealt with constipation for about 2 out of 4 years of his life. We brought a vat of Miralax with us and we have definitely needed to use it for our sweet boy.  If we need a re-fill, we can find an equivalent medicine here, or we can have it refilled in the US and ask grandparents to pick it up and mail it to us.

Month 3: Stomach Virus
This month was the worst! The stomach virus that hit our household was ugly.

Bout #1) I woke up in the middle of the night vomiting, then I was out of commission for the entire next day with fatigue and a low fever.  I was convinced I was dying of some rare Caribbean disease, but by day 2 or 3, I was alive again.

Bout #2) First the preschooler fought off diarrhea and vomiting, then it attacked the toddler, then jumped back to the preschooler again!  I was in tears the morning I saw my 4 year old standing at the toilet, vomiting while poop ran down his leg.  We consulted the pediatrician we’ve gotten to know here and she recommended a stool culture to rule out amoebas/parasites/worms if things didn’t get better in a couple of days. But luckily, rest, Pedialyte, and the BRAT diet prevailed, and we all survived.

Friday, October 17, 2014

XYP! Examining Your Privilege

When you were somewhere between 8 and 10 years old, did you ever hear someone shout, “XYZ!!” while pointing at a classmate’s crotch and giggling?  Maybe you were doing the shouting, or maybe you were wearing the offending pants, but the point is that you needed to “examine your zipper” because it was unzipped and your underwear were probably showing.

Well, today, I’m shouting “XYP!”  My time doing research in the Dominican Republic has forced me to examine my privilege.  The thing about the zipper is that you don’t realize you’re unzipped until someone else points it out to you.  I think the same is true for privilege.  You don’t realize your privilege is showing until someone else makes it plain to you.

As a sociologist, I am very familiar with the concept of privilege, and I have not considered myself a “privileged person” in the past.  Many instructors use Peggy McIntosh’s work “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to illustrate the benefits of whiteness that go unnoticed. There are assumed and taken-for-granted beliefs and practices that are associated with privilege of all kinds including race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality, physical ability.

I am a black woman who grew up in a working class family that struggled to make ends meet.  I am very proud of my background, but I have never considered myself a person with privilege…until now.  Being in a developing country and connecting with people here has made me realize that my privilege is showing.  Here’s my list of privileges:

  • “American in the DR” – I have connections through the US Embassy and other organizations that validate my work because I am here as an American scholar at a prestigious American university.  
  • “American woman of a certain social class” – I was sitting at someone’s house in my field site chatting with a woman who was about my age, married, two kids.  She asked me “your husband is not mad that you’re here?”
  • “Not dark-skinned” – There are benefits and drawbacks to being a brown American and not a white American here.  However, being “lightish brown” also matters.  Research has shown that for people of color, there is a penalty for having darker skin (education, wages in the labor market, etc).  This happens in many countries in the world (U.S., India, Latin America). It’s called colorism.
  • Highly educated – On one level, I am literate. Reading and writing comes with its own privilege, but being a scholar is a different level.
  • Money – We still worry about debt and covering bills, but the money we have here has provided a car, an apartment with hot running water and electricity, and the luxury to not worry about how I will feed my kids each day.
  • Able-bodied – I don’t have to think about and plan for whether or not my body will do what I want it to do.
  • Sexuality – I introduced my husband and family to everyone at a couple of churches.  We fit into their schema of what a family looks like: husband, wife, kids. This helped with my community integration.
We move about in pretty homogenous spaces. This means that invisible privilege is likely to remain invisible.  Go somewhere different! Start small: neighborhood, grocery store, mall.  Call each other’s privilege out! Would you let someone walk around with their fly open?? Tell your loved ones when their privilege is showing.  It’s the right thing to do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic

We bought a used car to get around during our 10 months in the DR.  The car-buying process deserves its own post, but for this entry, I will attempt to explain to you the rules of the road – or as I like to call it: “How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic”. (Disclaimer: We live in La Romana. Driving in the capital, Santo Domingo, is another beast.)  Data from this post come from my own driving experience and from an interview with my perceptive husband who was brave enough to learn the rules, recite them on every outing, then teach them to me.

Sociologists find that in places and situations that seem random and disorganized, there is often a system of order and mutually understood social norms that are not readily apparent to outsiders.  I have tried to apply this concept as I make sense of driving in the DR.  Here are the things we’ve observed thus far divided into “rules of the road” and “words of wisdom”.

Rules of the Road
1)      Green lights mean go. Unless the electricity is out. Then you just go whenever, easing out until someone has no choice but let you go. When in doubt, just go.  Unless you might cut someone off – then, don’t go.
2)      Red lights mean stop. Unless there are no cars coming in the other direction…and unless you’re on a motorcycle.  Motos create their own rules.
3)      Double yellow lines mean no passing.  Unless the person in front of you is slowing around.
4)      Blow your horn to let people know you’re there.  Unlike in the US where we beep when we’re angry or frustrated, in the DR, a beep means “hey, I’m passing on your left” or “don’t cross this intersection because I’m coming through” or “I see the light’s red, but there’s no one else coming, so GO!”  (Notably, some car horns sound like sirens or alarms and you might not recognize “wee-oo…pause…wee-oo wee-oo” as a car blowing at you, but it could be. Especially when it’s accompanied by flailing arms in your rear-view mirror.)
5)      At intersections, one street always has the right of way.  It’s usually the street without the speed dip. Figure this out quickly.
6)      One way streets are sometimes marked. Don’t try to use motos or parked cars to gauge whether the street is one way.  If someone is flailing their hands and shaking their head pointing in the other direction, you’re probably going down a one-way street.

Words of Wisdom
1)      Don’t daydream or get lost in thought.  Focus on driving and only driving – even if you see two clowns go by on a scooter.
2)      Be aware of all moving things: motorcycles, scooters, people, cars, dogs. They typically don’t move in predictable patterns.
3)      Look for speed bumps and speed dips – which are more like canyons. They will scrape your car…and make a really awful loud noise…causing onlookers to turn and cringe.
4)      Know where a couple of big streets go in case you get lost.
5)      Have car insurance. 
*Image credit:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Confronting the Myth of the “Superwoman”: Hiring Housework Help

In my head, I know that Superwoman is not real.  But if I’m honest, I still felt pretty close to her.  I’m a mom, a wife, a writer, and a full-time graduate student…and I really enjoy all of these roles and (most of) the responsibilities that come along with each of them. I’m ok with not doing all things at 100% capacity at all times, as priorities shift depending on the day.  But whatever life threw at us, my partner and I could handle…until we got acquainted with laundry and cleaning, DR-style.

Here’s the deal. In the U.S., I could throw a load of clothes in the washer, read/write/email, throw them in the dryer and start the next load, read/write/email, repeat.  This could happen once per week or randomly as needed.  That system is not possible here.  Laundry is its own beast which requires focused attention…and sweat.

First, *you* fill the washer with a hose. Add detergent and clothes. They wash for a while, then *you* drain the water out.  Fill the washer with a hose again for the rinse cycle. Drain. Repeat until clothes are not soapy anymore. (Alternative rinse: put clothes in a giant bucket of rinse water.) Put clothes in the “dryer” attached to the washer. (“Dryer” is a misnomer. This is not a dryer. It is a spinner – like the thing at the YMCA that spins your swimsuit.)  Take clothes out and hang them outside on a clothesline where they can dry in the sun.  (If it rains, get your clothes down quickly and hang them all over the house, in front of fans.)

So, I hired someone to clean and do laundry for our family so that my partner and I could focus on the kids and work.  This was a very difficult decision for me and I was (and still am) uncomfortable with it. I am uncomfortable because of both the class and gender implications of this choice.  Because of my own working-class background, I feel some kinda way about having "help". The woman who comes needs the work, she has 6 children. But I am also aware that I am participating in an informal labor system which is unregulated and renders millions of people vulnerable to unfair treatment. 

With regards to gender, I have had to come to terms with the fact that we could not do everything here…more importantly, *I* could not do everything.  I could not keep up with the housework and also focus on my research and spending time with my family.  Now, I’m not hung up on gendered responsibilities, but I still felt like cleaning was my realm, and I still felt like this was a “mom/wife fail”.  In the end, we do what we have to do to make things work for our families.

Superwoman can handle all things, all the time, with grace and a smile.  She can work outside the home, kiss and tickle her clean children with loving patience, and make a healthy dinner while wearing a cute negligĂ©e so that her partner finds her attractive.  If you meet her, please send her the freshly baked, organic, whole grain, gluten-free muffins I’ve baked. They’re delicious.   

Image credit:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Homesickness Sneaks Up on You

I have tried 4 different kinds of milk and none of them taste right.  And it’s not just me.  The toddler won’t drink it either, so I know something’s different about it.  It’s not in my head.

I didn’t expect to be homesick.  I’ve lived here before and I know people…but there’s still a nagging voice that says “Ugh! If I were at home (fill in the blank)”. Last week was a struggle.  What’s interesting is that my schedule is really falling into place. I am in the groove with work. My partner and I have a good pick-up/drop-off system going with the kids. Things look a little more settled at our apartment…well…we bought a rug and some curtains.

Now that the frantic “get settled” frenzy is over, I guess I’ve had time to miss the U.S. I miss how easy it was to phone-a-friend just to check in about their day or my day.  I miss not wondering whether I’m culturally incompetent (“Did I miss something?” is a recurring question). I miss my church. I miss family gatherings.  I’m sure it doesn’t help that the big kid is turning 4 this week and we won’t be with everyone to celebrate.

Anyway, the good thing is that I could name it for what it is and know that it will pass.  So, to get out of this funk, I have decided I need something else to ruminate over.  Before I left, I posted about trying a 30-day meditation challenge (Aligning Mind and Body).  I have to report that I did not stick with it.  BUT, the good thing is, you can always start again!  So, I’ve decided to re-commit to meditation, incorporate exercise into my weekly routine, and I will also start reading “Oprah-like” articles and quotes about gratitude, perseverance, and life challenges.  

What strategies have worked for you?