By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Heather Polo’s dad, Ken MacDonald, met her husband years before she did. Ken had been leading youth groups from St. Luke’s Church* down to the small village of El Pedregal in the Dominican Republic and he’d become friends with a sunny teenager named Carlos.
Heather had been on the mission trip when she was in high school but that was before Carlos started interacting with the Episcopal camp where the youth group stayed so she didn’t meet Carlos until after she’d finished college and decided to spend three months working at the camp and learning Spanish.
Heather had a teaching degree from URI but hadn’t been able to find a job.
“I was subbing and it was discouraging,” Heather said.
During her three-month stay in El Pedregal, Heather learned about a school in a nearby town, Jarabacoa, that hired American teachers. After some thought, she decided to go for it.
It was a big move. By her own admission, Heather is “not so adventurous.”
But she flourished teaching in Jarabacoa and on weekends she would see Carlos in El Pedregal. Love blossomed.
Heather’s parents knew the two were close but they realized things were serious when they got a call from Carlos after Heather had been teaching in Jarabacoa for more than a year.
With the help of English-speaking friends, Carlos told Ken and Susan how much he liked Heather and that he wanted to get more serious.
A year later, Heather and Carlos got engaged. Their wedding dovetailed with a St. Luke’s mission trip; while most of the missioners travelled back to the U.S., a few – including St. Luke’s rector Fr. Tim Rich, stayed behind for the festivities. Rich officiated at the wedding, which was followed by a grand Dominican party with lots of dancing.
Moving back to the states with Carlos was not easy but that was when the magic of their relationship kicked in.
“Carlos makes everything a little lighter. I tend to think of the next problem or the next thing I have to do. He’s more easygoing and brings me back to earth,” said Heather.
“And we needed that getting through everything to get here. He was always the positive one,” she said. “It’s a lot of stuff. You have to be really committed to your relationship in order to come here.”
When Heather flew to Rhode Island to interview for teaching jobs – she was now a veteran teacher with three years under her belt – she had a job within a couple of days. She is an ESL teacher for sixth graders at Nathaniel Greene Middle School in Providence.
“I called Carlos and told him, ‘I can’t believe they offered me a job!’”
“I know, you’re a good teacher,” Carlos told her.
Carlos and Heather moved in with Ken and Sue at their house on Post Road. It was tough for Carlos at first and he still misses his family, friends and, this time of year, the weather of the DR. But his English is improving and he works two jobs – at a manufacturing plant in Quonset during the week and at Olive Garden on the weekends.
Winter may not be Carlos’s favorite but come spring and summer, you’ll find him two to three nights a week playing slow-pitch softball at Eldredge. Baseball is part of the fabric of life in the Dominican Republic so playing here in East Greenwich suits Carlos very well.
A little over a year ago, Heather and Carlos welcomed Luca into the world.
Carlos said he’s very happy being a dad.
“Luca’s the best!” said Heather of their easygoing, sweet-tempered son.
Heather’s mom, Susan, helps out with childcare but Luca also spends two days a week at a Spanish speaking daycare right across the street from Heather’s school.
It’s working, this bridging of cultures. The long thread of connection has helped.
“I already felt like Ken and Susan were my parents before we got married,” said Carlos.
This is one in a series of East Greenwich love stories we will be featuring during February in conjunction with our February matching donation drive. Find out more about the drive here. Or click on the Donate button below. And, if you have a love story you’d like to share – anything from a story about best friends or a child and their pet to love of a special place or business in East Greenwich – email [email protected]
* Full disclosure: I am a member of St. Luke’s Church and have gone on two mission trips to El Pedregal.
You can read previous love stories here: