The past month resembles that damn superman ride at 6 flags New England. The slow, steady ride up and steep fall, the twists and turns, the dark tunnels and high top beautiful views. I have been up, down and all around it feels like. Upon my return from Thanksgiving, when I was in the peak of my high I was ready to return and get to work. I got here on that Friday after thanksgiving and settled back in for a 2 month stretch where I will be at site. Saturday I had a pretty steep ride down to what I thought was the lowest of low. Between drama with my project partner and host mother, feeling that I am only here for my project partners to reap the monetary benefits of having a PCV in the community (ex: getting to go to hotels for trainings and conferences).
I have been struggling to find my niche in the community and was suffering from serious campo envy. Sunday, I went out to a Batey for an annual party they have and then went to celebrate the last night of Patronales at another campo town. The drive jump started my campo envy and the allergies I developed from all the horses really brought energy and motivation down. Come Monday I couldn’t do anything as I was drugged up on anti-histamines. Monday began a 6 day drag of decreasing motivation, depression, loneliness, frustrations, and questioning why I am here. I tried to remind myself that this is normal but it just seemed to be dragging on for too long. On Saturday night I decided to have a glass of the home-made wine while my host mom was cleaning the kitchen. Half way through my first one I decided to continue – woke up Sunday morning and, though I was feeling like I was going to die, my spirits were a little higher. Not as high as any point in my honeymoon stage but they were there. A couple days later, I realized that this is the plateau. The plateau that happens when reality sets in and I say “ o, this is my life for the next two years. I have come to accept the hardships that come with PCV life in a semi-urban setting – some of my communities are more impoverished than any campo I have seen in this country so far.”
Health wise I am feeling like I am walking through a fun house- it’s a take your pick kinda deal – allergies here, common cold from climate change there, fire ant bites where ever you turn, dodging mosquitos the way you would startling clowns, and everything else you can imagine.
I have been eating well –for the exception of the semi fried-dough food stand resembling kitchen on a Sunday morning. Frying pieces of dough all morning long and letting it sit in oil. If only there was confectionary sugar or cinnamon – nope just drizzle some refrigerated oil on it instead.
I made my first batch of wine the other night! I am learning how to make it out of the fruits that she grows in her garden! It’s a simple process and the wine is delicious, all natural (only 4 ingredients) and dangerous..hahha
|making wine with love....|
The most interesting part of my life so far is the spectacle that is my host mother. If I haven’t yet mentioned it, she is a witch doctor/spiritual healer/spirit pocession vehicle. I have learned that she does in fact cast spells and believes in them more than anything. She mixes potions and puts them in the fridge – most of them are nothing harmless – potions for people to find money, or couples to get back together, healing potions, etc. When she talks about all of this I find it hard to sit and accept the things she is saying. I cannot, and will not, laugh or say I think she is crazy – the whole witchery thing is a huge part of the culture at my site. It seems that everybody does spirit possessions and talk about it all the time.
I had my first – semi-encounter with one of her spirits. She was sitting on the couch when I got home listening to music on headphones, something she never does. My host sister told me to just let her be. Next thing I knew my mom was making sounds – it sounded like she couldn’t breathe or was having a panic attack. She got up and went to her room, where I thought she was lying in bed. My sister came out, took a glass of water, dripped three drips on the floor and put the cup upside down. Immediately I knew something up but my sister just kept telling me, she’s fine she just doesn’t feel well. They have been keeping me sheltered from all of this for a while because they don’t want me to get scared. So my sister and I are sitting in the kitchen and next thing I know there is an old man calling out to my sister to go to him. It sounded like a grandfather but deeper and raspier. I got chills and didn’t know what to do. My sister comes out after about 5 minutes and still says her mom has a headache. I left it and didn’t question. My host mom came out to the kitchen, as herself, as if nothing had happened. I asked her if she was okay and she said “Si! Porque?” The day went on normal. Finally, a day has passed and I decided to ask them both “SO I know that when your beings are up your face changes but does your voice too?” My sister immediately looked at me and said “you heard him yesterday didn’t you” - my host mom was not happy that I experienced this – she’s afraid I will be scared away. She never experiences her beings because she “blacks out” the time that they are up. So I asked all my questions to my sister – apparently this old man had a message for my host mom and then left.
I have also been experiencing some other weird – supernatural type stuff lately. She has been saying a lot of things will happen and I won’t really give it much attention until the event actually happens:
- 1. She told us that the cat was going to go missing and get hurt in the near future. 4 days ago the cat went missing. After day 3 of him being gone, my host mom asked one of her beings to bring him back and that if they did she would light a candle for them. The next morning we woke up and the cat was at the door with his hind leg badly damaged and a deep hole/cut on his back. Call it coincidence – call it supernatural. I don’t know.
- 2. I had my host mom read the coffee cup of one of my friends back home. She told me a lot of interesting things, which I wrote down of course so I could relay it all back to my friend. Again, took it all with a grain of salt – until I got on the phone with her and shared everything that came out of the coffee cup. My host mom nailed some of what’s going on in my friends life right now.
- 3. I have been thinking a lot about moving to a place closer to the majority of my communities due to the sexual harassment filled walk I have everyday. I have been afraid to tell her because I know how much she wants me to stay here – I would be finishing construction on the annex of her house to then move there. I haven’t wanted to tell her because I knew she was preparing and had set in her mind that I would be paying her rent – something she was going to somewhat depend on for daily needs. So I didn’t really know how to approach it. When I finally did – in a delicate, well thought out way – she turned to me and said “ I already knew that”. I was surprised. I guess this is something she had known for about a week (the same amount of time I decided this to myself). About a half hour later, my sister came out of her room and I pulled her aside and asked her “hey did your mom mention something about me moving to you?” she said “yeah the other night we were just watching TV and all of a sudden she said “Laura is going to leave – she isn’t going to live with us anymore and will be looking for a place soon”.
I don’t even know what to believe anymore. I feel like I am in an episode of the twilight zone.
A little bit about why I am actually here:
- - I am about to finish the interviews that I have been doing for what is called the Diagnostic period of my service. This is the time where I go around, get to know the communities’ needs and talk with families about different health topics to get a glimpse of their knowledge level with each topic. This will help me prioritize my work with each initiative and help me figure out the layout of the charlas I will be giving. So far it’s looking like the need for education on nutrition vs. malnutrition is high as well as women’s reproductive health and with the youth teen pregnancy and hopefully do something about the high rate of HIV and AIDS. I have met many young girls who have or have had their first pregnancy at 12 or 13. No wonder so many of the women have reproductive system issues. I have also seen a lot of malnutrition and it kills me. I see these children running around, barefoot, with big bellies and super thin limbs (kwashikor).
|One of my communities - majority hatians who live here - houses vary form block, to wooden to zinc.|
|Another one of my communities - this is one of the poorer ones|
|About to introduce the Healthy Homes initiative to my group of leaders for the women - this is so they can go back and explain what I am doing in each community and invite the women to participate in March|
|My Charla Papers - I will be making 9 months worth of Charla papers (usually using about 5/week) - this is what happens with very limited resources|
- - I will be collaborating with a program at UPenn also, as a side project, to develop a garden with a program that works with child’s health here in my pueblo. Someone there is looking for a volunteer who lives here and has the chance to help over a longer period of time.
- I have been getting involved with the firemen of the town to have more community events.
- - On the 23rd of this month I have planned a clean-up for the park with all the youth from my communities. We are getting paint donated, the firemen will be using their high pressure water to clean and we will be picking up all the trash! This is in preparation for an activity for kids that we are planning for the 6th of January. There will be games, competitions, clowns, gift-giving, etc. It will be great – they have never had anything like this in the pueblo!
Being in a Pueblo come with certain challenges. It is difficult to explain however I feel that a peace corps volunteer has to do a lot of work to integrate, feel part of the community, build confianza within the community and feel safe. I feel like I have to work doubly hard for all this to happen. Most future PCV's dream of being in a rural setting where you become one of the community member and can form deep relationships with most people that live there. Managin my expectations of this has been difficult. However, spending time in my 5 barrios has shown me that will be working in some of the poorest communities - some even poorer than campos/more rural setting I have seen. I think this has to do with density and how close the houses are to each other - Chronic infections and disease spread faster this way.
|Heading into the market|
|Typical crowdness and loudness - motoconchos everywhere|
- My exercise class has been going well. I have been using it as a time/opportunity to throw in tidbits about nutrition and preventative health!
|I promise my exercise class has grown...|
With New Year’s around the corner I have been thinking a lot about where I was a year ago. Appealing the decision from Peace Corps to defer me for service until January 2013. I am so grateful for everyone who pushed me to appeal. I know I have only been here for about 4 months now but I have already learned a lot from the people here and am already seeing that this is where I am supposed to be. I now understand all those times when I would come home from work and feel like I wasn't doing anything, I wasn't contributing the way I knew I could or I just felt plain unfulfilled. I see that I am finally accomplishing a goal I had from way long ago – before I even knew options post-college and before I could even think about living on my own.
If you want something bad enough in life – you can make it happen. It may mean sacrifice but if in the end it will give you peace of mind knowing that you are on the right track – it is more than worth it.