The Stumbling Blocks & The Blessings
Disclosure: This will be a long read, but it will explain what I experienced and how I felt during the time of being away from my home in San Juan for more than 9 months.
A LONG TIME AGO IN A COUNTRY FAR, FAR AWAY…. (Ok, that was a little reference to Star Wars. Ethan has watched all the movies during our time in PA)
We were in San Juan during what we thought was going to be a long Easter break due to team cancellations caused by the unknowns and early spreading of COVID-19. At this point, the Dominican Republic only had 3 confirmed cases. This was when I started feeling the stumbling blocks. We received the phone call that we always feared would some day happen. My brother-in-law had been found without life due to a drug overdose. We did not want to return to the states before this call, but we felt like we needed to return to be with family. However, we had all the major concerns of returning during the early stages of the pandemic. Will we contract COVID during our travels? Should someone pick us up at the airport? How long should we quarantine after travel? Etc.
We traveled to the airport on the day of our flight. When we arrived, we found no one working at the Jet Blue counter. The line was huge, with over 150 people, and our flight was supposed to leave in approximately one hour. The Jet Blue employees arrived to the counter about 45 minutes before our scheduled flight time. I started to worry. When we were close to the front of the line, we received an email from JetBlue saying that our flight had been delayed by one hour. I breathed a sigh of relief. We passed through TSA. When we arrived on the other side, I realized that my computer was no where to be found. My family had no clue where it was, and the TSA staff did not have it. I explained to the TSA staff that I believed that it was left in the bottom of one of the bins. They took my information and told me to head to my terminal. I began to worry again because I remembered that my computer was still logged in and anyone could have accessed my accounts. I did not want anyone to have access to my passwords, credit information, etc. I quickly started changing account passwords from my phone to prevent that from happening. We arrived at our terminal to find that the boarding process already started. A TSA staff member showed up and told me that they found a computer and wanted me to verify that it was mine. I asked, “Will the plane for wait me?” She gave me no assurance that it would wait. More worries. We hustled to the TSA counter and sure enough, there was my computer. They asked me to log in to verify that it was my computer. I froze. I could not remember my new password. Finally, I remembered it. She said, “Hurry. Let us get you to your terminal.” She flashed her badge at every place that we would normally need to stop at so that we could pass through quickly. We arrived at the terminal and all my family entered the plane as they were preparing to shut the door. We made it! I breathed a sigh of relief.
We arrived in Newark, which felt like a ghost town. We rented a car to drive to Pennsylvania. This resolved the “Who should pick us up question”. Upon arrival to our apartment (1/4 of the size of our home in San Juan) in Pennsylvania, we quarantined for 14 days. We watched the struggle of COVID-19 restrictions unfold. People were angry. People were not working. Walmart was considered essential. Small stores were not receiving the same treatment. People were questioning if masks worked or not. No one quite understood how the virus was spread. Larger public gatherings were not allowed. My brother-in-law’s funeral finally happened in July after some restrictions had been lifted. Airport restrictions to/from the Dominican Republic were also lifted in July. I wanted to return to San Juan, but teams continued to cancel. It was recommended that we wait to return. September passed. I spent some time repairing the brakes on our ridiculously cheap spare car that was practically gifted to us. In October, I blew a head gasket. It was not worth trying to repair it. I am still waiting for the title to arrive so that I can scrap it and recuperate some of the money invested in the brakes. October passed. November passed. Every month, I wanted to return to the DR.
In October, SRI’s construction coordinator, Euclides, began to message me about problems with the SRI guesthouse/clinic waterline. Tree roots broke the pipes. The whole waterline needed replaced, but Euclides did not want to take on this project without me being present. Euclides patched it for the time being. In the beginning of November, it was more of the same. Euclides sent me pictures of another leak at a different spot. He patched it. At the end November, it happened again. I was really depressed and frustrated that I was not on site. I also received messages that some of the breakers in our home in San Juan would not reset. There were electrical issues at our home. Euclides checked it out, but he could not figure out the problem. We decided that it would be best to turn everything off, and we would work on it together when I was finally able to get to San Juan.
Around Thanksgiving, we considered traveling to Wisconsin to visit my sister and family. Covid-19 was on the rise and we felt the need to cancel those plans. December came along and it was much of the same. We had decided to spend the holidays in the States before returning to San Juan.
After a SRI staff meeting at the beginning of December, Nicole surprised me by saying, “I think you should go to San Juan to repair the waterline and fix the house before we go back in January.” It floored me. I immediately started making plans as I knew that Tyler, our GH host, was also going to San Juan in December. Well, those plans changed quickly. On the same day that I booked my plane tickets, I was informed that I had an exposure to someone that tested positive to COVID-19. Even though the encounter was outside, following all masking and distancing guidelines, we felt that I should postpone my trip until the recommended quarantine time expired. This shortened my planned time in San Juan which caused me to worry about not finishing the necessary tasks on time. I wanted to be able to return home, quarantine, and be able to see a small portion of family on Christmas Day.
My time of travel started off with a 3-hour drive to Newark, NJ with a hotel stay before my early morning flight to the DR. On the way to the Newark, we stopped for a quick bathroom break, coffee, and donuts. While in the vehicle, we discovered that our order was incorrect, but we did not want to complain, so we accepted it and moved on. Then, I took a big swig of what I thought was my Chai Tea. It was Nicole’s coffee! I hate coffee! I almost spewed it across the van. After that, we made it to the hotel without any other glitches. I ordered dinner through Uber Eats. It was the second time for the day that my order was messed up. There’s nothing like cold food from Wendy’s! No ketchup, napkins, drink, nor spoon for my Frosty. The chicken sandwich was also messed up. *Sigh* Needless to say, I made it work, but it was just one of those days.
It was finally flight day. The lines at the airport were long. There were screaming kids and a lot of confused people. When I arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo, I was randomly selected to do the rapid COVID test. This process was very scary for me. Even though I told the airport staff member that I understood Spanish, he tried speaking to me in Spanglish. While doing this, he was also speaking Spanish to and taking documents from a Dominican. This made me really nervous as our customs COVID paper was being stapled to our COVID test paperwork. I was afraid that he was messing up the paperwork as he had a mess of documents laying in front of him. After I took the test, I had to wait approximately 30 minutes to receive my results. My paperwork was verified with my negative test results and I was able to pass through customs. I did witness someone trying to dodge this process and he was rejected and sent back to the COVID testing area. At the baggage claim area, staff scanned my bags and questioned me about them. They were unable to see through a certain part of my luggage. I showed them a bag of grass seed that I packed for my yard. Because the original packaging had a hole, the seed was in a Ziploc bag. The agent said that she would need to submit a lot of paperwork so that the seed could “maybe” pass through. I told her that it was not worth it and asked her politely to throw it away. Problem resolved and on I went. Communication with my driver was a challenge. I was only able to use Messenger on the airport’s WiFi network. I was able to message Nicole. She, in turn, talked to my driver. We finally found each other and headed to San Juan. There was a lot of traffic. I was not surprised.
When I finally arrived at my home in San Juan, I had to get some of the electrical working ASAP which was simple for me. I went to vocational school for electrical. I found the wire that was the problem. I disconnected it from the breakers so I could use it a learning experience at a later moment for Euclides. I checked the invertor. Both batteries were gone. Next, I went on to my motorcycle which also had a dead battery. I had no way to start it without a battery. Next, I moved on to Nicole’s Moped. It also had a dead battery, but it does have a kickstart, so I was able to start it. Now, I had some form of transportation. I headed to the guesthouse to meet with Tyler and talk about our plans for the week. I also was able to grab some food at the grocery store on the way back to my home. At home, I stripped the beds of their dusty sheets and put-on clean ones. I was finally able to go to bed at 11:30 p.m. after starting my day at 3:15 a.m.
The next day, I headed to the guesthouse to meet Euclides to finalize our plans for the waterline and to buy the materials to repair it. While we did this, Euclides reminded me again that all of our truck batteries were dead. We started the charging process, but in the end, only 2 worked.
We needed to replace the main water line that comes from the basketball court at the guesthouse all the way over to the cistern by the clinic gate. To repair it, we brought all of the piping above the ground where we could, except at the side gate where guests need to be able to go in and out. There, we poured a concrete column 29 feet long that houses a conduit. Inside of the conduit, we placed the PVC water line. Future repairs, if needed, should be much easier. It took us 4.5 days to dig the 29 feet for the column/conduit area. There were 4 to 5 of us working on average and there were many tree roots. At one point, we hit an area of solid roots that were 4 feet long and the whole width and height of the ditch. This section alone took us 2.5 days to dig out. We finally finished the water line project after 5 working days. On my final workday, Euclides and I cleaned up everything, organized the shop, and worked on the electrical problem at my house. We inspected the wire that I knew was bad. We looked on the roof and outside, checking the whole wire, but we could not find any problem with the wire. We then checked the outlet and box at the end of the wire but did not see any marks or sparks from a problem. The last thing was to check the outlet itself. When Euclides removed the outlet, he pulled out the skeleton of a dead lizard and said, “I think I found the problem.” We believe the lizard went into the box to hide or look for food but did not survive the electrocution. He most likely touched the two sides of the outlet where the wires connect. The electrocution melted one of the wires and this wire was touching the metal box. Therefore, the breaker would not reset. We taped the wire and solved the problem. Euclides and I said our goodbyes and I began to prepare the house for my departure in the morning. I finished late and woke up early.
We left San Juan around 7:30 a.m. I traveled with 3 other Americans including Tyler to the airport. Tyler and I just happened to be on the same flight. On the way to the airport, we hit a lot of traffic. I began to worry that we would not make it on time. However, we ended up making it in plenty of time because our fight was delayed by 1 hour due to the snowstorm in the Northeast. We were not surprised by this as we were watching the forecast and talking with our families. At our home in Pennsylvania, we received 18” of snow. Nicole and I planned for her to pick me up on Friday instead of Thursday evening. I was hotel bound when I arrived in Newark. As Tyler and I were waiting at our terminal before boarding, we were called to go and inspect our bags with TSA agents along with 3 other people on our flight. We were asked to wait. We waited for 30 minutes. At this point, I realized that my keys to our house in San Juan were missing. I started calling others to go check the door to see if I left them in the lock. Both my neighbor and Oto were checking in front of the house for me. Neither of them immediately located the keys. I asked them to begin asking other neighbors. A guard at a nearby office building saw the keys a few moments after I left and picked them up and kept them for me. As I finished talking with Oto and knew that my keys were safe, they finally called us to inspect our bags. There was another delay with an older gentleman in front of us arguing with TSA workers about his bag. Again, I worried about the time. Twenty minutes later, our bags were inspected, and we were released to board. By the time we arrived in Newark, Tyler was unable to make his connection fight. We planned to room together at my hotel. There were some major delays with the shuttle because we were unable to use the air train to get to the shuttle pickup area and the shuttle driver was unable to find us. He also did not have a cell phone, so the hotel staff was unable to communicate with him when he was away from the hotel. After over an hour, we made it to the hotel, ate dinner, and had a good rest. Tyler left early the next morning and Nicole picked me up at the hotel without problems around 11:00 a.m. We arrived back to our home in PA about 3 hours later.
I wrote this short story to all of you so that you could see in detail some of the stumbling blocks that I have faced over the past 9 months. I count them all as blessings. I believe that Satan does not like it when we try to do things for God. God gives us strength to press on through the difficulties. If you are going through a hard time, just keep on pressing on.
I also have many positive memories from the past 9 months. I will not write you another short story, but here is quick list:
- Vacation with family. Boating!
- Visit with a friend in Virginia
- Ark Encounter/Creation Museum
- Staff Retreat in Indiana
- Helping on the farm I used to work at
- Friend’s bathroom project
- Parent’s bathroom project
- Best Walleye Fishing Trip Ever! I caught over 150 walleyes in 4 days of fishing.
- Family Time
- Zane Time (our dog)
- Nicole’s shoulder. She has had an injury since September. We are waiting until new insurance kicks in after the New Year to get it checked out.
- Visa process. We are STILL waiting for word from the consulate. We really want our visa stamps in our passports before we head back to the DR.
- Plans to come together to head back to the DR in January.