Columnist Joanna Sun is back. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. This month we have the chance to catch up on her latest linguistic and culinary exploits. —ML Awanohara
Hello, Displaced Nationers.
In my last post, I talked about how I came to live in New Zealand, which in so many ways was nearly opposite to my home country of Korea.
Now let’s turn back to the present, to my vibrant life in the Dominican Republic. I’m five months in…and counting.
The good news is, I’ve been a bit busier of late, having kind of (?) adjusted to my new conditions. I mean, I still feel homesick and miss my family and friends, but because I’m keeping myself occupied, my mind doesn’t wander elsewhere so much. The old adage “Work hard, play hard” seems to be true: it keeps you from focusing on your problems.
Hm, what kind of Spanish am I learning?
As those who read my first post will know, I’m working as a clinical assistant in an orphanage called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (which literally translates as “Our Little Brothers and Sisters”), in the southeastern part of DR. Sometimes I have a huge amount of work to do, but other times it is quiet and, honestly speaking, I get bored.
Whenever boredom comes creeping in, I take the opportunity to practice my Spanish with the doctor, who in turn tries to pick up some English words from me here and there.
But the thing is, the Spanish I’m learning is Dominican Spanish. They have their own distinct style of speaking, their accent differs and THEY DON’T PRONOUNCE THEIR S’s!
So, for example, they use the word fresca to describe children who are acting a bit cheeky and have an attitude. Recently I learned that in other Spanish-speaking nations, this word more often means “fresh” or “cool”.
Anyway, for the longest time I thought people were saying “freca,” just because they never pronounce the “s”. Hm, why bother having an “s” if you can’t be bothered pronouncing it? Actually, I only learnt yesterday that the word is actually fresca.
Even in the case of popular names, they do not pronounce ”s”; for instance, the name Crismeily, which is quite a common here, is pronounced “Crimeily”!
On top of this, there are also regional pronunciation differences. The doctor I’ve been conversing with has a regional accent, for instance. I cannot quite put my finger on how it is different from most of the Spanish around me, but it is definitely different. Like most people when learning a new language, I find listening much easier than speaking. I can understand a bit of Spanish now but still struggle to formulate my own sentences.
Not so glorious food!
Given that I studied the health sciences, it is perhaps not surprising that I’ve taken on an extracurricular project: I want to see if I can help change the dietary habits of the orphanage children and staff.
I became concerned upon realizing that the average height of kids is lower compared to other Caribbean nations and that the Dominicans have a significantly shorter life expectancy. Many suffer from hypertension and diabetes from an early age—problems that can be traced to diet.
I soon noticed that the proportions of the various food groups are completely off here. In the DR, they tend to limit vegetables and fruits in favor of carbohydrates: namely, rice and beans. No one seems to have heard that you should limit carbohydrates and eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Protein intake, too, isn’t what it should be.
(That said, the children living in this orphanage have it better than the kids who who are living off sugar canes or solely on rice and beans.)
And did I mention their love for fried foods? Don’t get me wrong, I love fried foods, too, and have been gorging at the empanadas, plátanos fritos (fried plantains) and even fried yuka (the edible root of the cassava plant). But really, these foods haven’t been good for my waist and neither are they good for anyone else in this place.
Before I got here, another volunteer, who is in his second year, started a project on improving nutrition. He has asked me to help him out. Hopefully I will get the ball rolling soon and can implement my ideas for new dietary programmes.
Tell me, have I bitten off more than I can chew?
Adding protein and a smoothie to a traditional DR meal
Bring on the cake!
But before I go, allow me a moment to brag about a food-related accomplishment I baked my very first cake! Yes, you heard that right. It took reaching the ripe old age of 22 and coming all the way to the Dominican Republic for me to bake a cake.
Now listen, I love cooking, but baking has never been my thing! I tried baking brownies and cookies in the past—and they were not something you would want to eat.
The problem is, I don’t like following exact measurements. With cooking you can estimate, you can add more things, and be creative with spices and ingredients. But baking requires an appreciation for science and a willingness to be exact. No wonder I screw up every time I attempt to bake something.
But as a volunteer, I am obliged to celebrate birthdays with the kids in my house—and the birthday of one of my kids was coming up at the end of last month. So it’s good I gave it a go and didn’t fail miserably.
Okay, doesn’t look like the most amazing cake on the earth, but it was quite nice…
* * *
Thanks, Joanna! That cake looks yummy! And having written about Jamie Oliver in the early days of the Displaced Nation, I recognize the syndrome. Since repatriating from Tokyo to New York, I keep wanting to rewrite the diets of people here in the United States to be more Japanese: smaller portions, more variety. Good luck with your project!
Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.
STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!
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Opening photo and two food photos were supplied.
Español, by Daniel Lobo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).