The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: Still adjusting to the land of mean mossies, burning bodegas & fab fried foods

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, medical, and foodie exploits. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers.

Wow, time flies. I’ve already surpassed my six-month mark here in the Dominican Republic. It seems like just a few weeks ago that I arrived, but I’ve already completed half of my year here!

Spanish-level check: it’s still quite terrible but I’m occasionally managing to hold longer conversations. (YES!)

Project progress: I’m still working on improving the nutritional intake of the residents of this orphanage, as reported in my last post, but progress has been slow. There are so few of us volunteers here now. The program has two intakes of volunteers a year: one in January (when I came) and the other in July. Thus when July came around, many volunteers left, leaving the house emptier since the January volunteers have yet to arrive. It feels odd. Once we were 12 but are now down to six!

Dominican mosquitoes are not my friends

Many things have happened since my last post. For a start, I’ve had an agonizing time of it with Dominican mosquitoes. I am always that person who gets bitten the most wherever I may be. Here in the DR, however, oh dear lord, it is out of control! Even when I wear jeans they somehow manage to bite me. Even with repellent, which I swear is so bad for my skin, they bite me. No matter what I do, they bite me! It is not as huge a deal for the other volunteers. Something must be in my blood. I am covered in mosquito bites all over my arms and legs. Several of the bites have gotten inflamed and turned into blisters.

I am a deep, deep sleeper but my bites are so itchy that they actually wake me up. Even now as I work on this column, I have swollen bites all around my ankles that I am really trying hard not to scratch…

And you know what the worst part is—well, apart from the dangers of getting mosquito-borne diseases? Even after the itchiness and swelling goes down, it still leaves a brown mark. My skin discolours and it will stay that way for months until it fades away.

Now, this is not news to me since it happened prior to my DR days. But this time I have discoloration all over me! My legs especially look horrendous, as though I have a skin infection of some sort…

Some people told me that the marks will not go away! I sincerely hope not…fingers crossed for that one.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I recently tried using natural repellent without DEET and then coconut oil with lavender…to no avail.

But the other day I was talking to some of the tias here (which translates to aunty—they are the ones who will sleep at the house with the children and look after them), and they told me to use shampoo. At first I was reluctant: I mean, shampoo? But one day one of the tias saw me getting eaten alive, she gave me a dollop of shampoo to use. I was skeptical, but wow, it actually worked! I still get bites—it’s not a perfect repellent—but out of all the methods I’ve tried, shampoo has been the most effective, which I find amazing. The only down side is that it is sticky and you need to be careful about using it when it rains…as you can imagine the suds it would churn up should your skin come in contact with water.

But I would still like to find a non-chemical option. If someone has suggestions for how to repel mosquitoes without covering myself with DEET, please leave in the comments!

P.s. On a related note, the ants here bite and sting like crazy—I think they’re a type of red fire ants….

Nobody talks about the weather…but me!

The weather has been…interesting. In a previous post I wrote about living in New Zealand. That country is known for its erratic weather patterns: it will be sunny at one point and then all of a sudden start raining. You can never trust the weather forecast, we used to say.

Little did I know it could be worse than that! Here in the DR the weather changes so drastically—like right now it is really sunny. In five minutes I won’t be at all surprised if the weather start raining like there is no tomorrow. This pattern has been getting worse as we approach the rainy season; I am not looking forward. It is hard enough already to bear the heat in this place.

Heat coupled with rain means super humid conditions—and just imagine the amount of mosquitoes! I’m really not looking forward to it at all… Oh, and surprise surprise, my rain jacket/wind breaker ripped the other day…just my luck!

Peanut butter, chocolate & pica pollo: oh my!

Readers, as you know I cannot write a post without mentioning food. At this point I would like to report that I’ve acquired a rather odd taste for peanut butter during my six months here. Now I am not a huge fan of peanuts. I love all other types of nuts (which are expensive here); but peanuts have never really been my thing—let alone peanut butter. Nowadays, however, I have changed. I am eating peanut butter sandwiches with honey, peanut butter on crackers… I am going crazy over peanut butter. I am not sure why…

Speaking of which, in the town nearest here, San Pedro De Macorís, there was a grocery store named Iberia that had these nice chocolates. I loved going there and buying them. Then about two months ago? There was a fire and Iberia burned down… So now I am going to a different grocery store, Jumbo; and they do not carry my chocolate brand!

I have to say, as a person who prides herself on eating healthy on a regular basis, I do not always come across as such. Admittedly, I occasionally indulge in sugary and fried foods… One more delicious fried food I’ve discovered here is pica pollo. They call this desih omida de Chino (Chinese food), which is odd to me because I’m not sure why they would think fried chicken is Chinese food. But it is true that most of the pica pollo stores are owned by Chinese businessmen and they do serve Asian-style fried rice and vegetables. Pica pollo is the go-to food for Dominicans (and myself) because it is everywhere, cheap, and really delicious.

Now to talk more about the better foods I am eating: I am in fruit heaven! Mostly I eat pineapples and mangoes. Wow, they are so sweet and juicy I could live off them! There are also papayas here—but I’m not a huge fan. They also have amazing melon and of course bananas: not even in question! Since they have such extraordinary fruits, the jugo (juice) they make is also top notch, and the smoothies are quite nice also, but I usually will drink jugo naturales since I do not like the milk here and also tell them to take it easy on the sugar, because they will immerse that smoothie with sugar even though the fruits are sweet like no other.

Next I may start talking about the places I have visited here so far, unless you have topics you’d like me to cover. Hope you are all well!

* * *

Thanks, Joanna. You’ve made it sound like it’s never a dull moment in the DR, with volunteers coming and going, rainstorms suddenly arriving, grocery stories burning down, and so much else. I think I can speak for all your fans in saying: we look forward to your next post!

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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Photo credits:
Opening photo, mossie bite photo and food photo supplied. Caribbean beach via Pixabay.

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