A friend of mine from the choir at my church recently returned from the Dominican Republic. He had gone down there on the same mission trip that I was on, but he chose to stay for forty-five days instead of a week like the rest of us. While down there, he lived with a host family and taught English, worked at the nutrition center, and built latrines. Last weekend those of us who had gone on the mission trip, but obviously returned home sooner than he did, had a small welcome home party for him, during which, he shared plenty of stories about what happened after we all left.
He told us many, many stories about things he did or things that happened and what it was like down there, but this was the most surprising: It was common knowledge that at the end of our stay in the Dominican Republic, we would spend our final night in Santo Domingo. We toured the city and saw some of the major tourist sites, did some shopping, and slept in a hotel… with running water and air conditioning. Needless to say, after a week of bucket showers and no flushing toilets, we were looking forward to that night in the hotel before boarding the plane home. For more on my stay in the hotel, see my article “Why You Should Spend a Night in a Hotel Room Alone at Least Once in Your Life.” That night in the hotel was like heaven on Earth.
But this friend of mine didn’t stay in the hotel the night before his departure. Instead, he went into Santo Domingo a few days early to drop off another boy (who was not from our parish but at least nearby in our state) who was leaving a few days ahead of him. And of that night in the hotel, he said that it wasn’t as glorious to him as it was to those of us who had only spent a week in the living conditions he’d inhabited for a month and a half. In fact, he said that having the working shower and toilet made him appreciate more the way that the Dominicans in Sabana Yegua live. How could this be?
Well, as he explained this to us, I came to realize that none of us (out of those who had merely been there for a week) ever fully adjusted to what life there is like. We could put off things like bucket showers, only ever taking a few or surviving completely off of the “normal” shower at the parish center, because we were only there for a week. My friend, however, was living there for a month: he had to learn how to live like a local. When we got to the hotel in Santo Domingo, it was the haven we had been pining for all week because we had never allowed ourselves to fully experience living like a Dominican and appreciating it for what it was.
I thought this was fascinating: if we allow ourselves to live in a “temporary” state instead of adjusting to wherever we currently are, we’ll miss what’s around us and never appreciate what it is.