DISCLAIMER: This post may cause what I like to call TADD (temporary ADD) - the choppiness of it is meant to let you experience un chin of life as a peace corps volunteer...erratic, chaotic, random
We usually do an annual reflection close to the beginning of the New Year. Today, I start a new year with my service. Exactly one year ago today I hopped on a plane filled with nerves and excitement, thoughts about whether I should actually do this or not and landed in the DR in a state that I can now only describe and ignorant bliss. Having no idea what the next 27 months would bring I decided to just go with it. All 42 of us in the new training group were squished onto our first guagua ride where we were taken for first vaccinations and orientation stuff. The temperature was awful…am I going to be able to handle this year round? I thought to myself.
|a year ago (yesterday) ready to take on the world!|
Training came and went – learned everything from proper techniques of bucket flushing to what all the hand-signals in Dominican lingo mean. I learned to love onions soaked in vinegar and the freedom of showering (bucket bathing) outside. I learned how to sit. I learned how to tolerate the culture differences in the beginning. How to tolerate the machismo. I met incredible people and learned a lot about life outside of Peace Corps.
Site assignment day finally came – it was early October and we were all sitting under a gazebo like structure waiting for our boss to give us the okay to head in for a 5 minute sit down where he would tell us where we would be spending the next 2 years. Where our lives would change. Where some of us would make decisions to stay or go. Where our dreams of being peace and development workers would come true.
Hi Laura, I have the perfect placement for you. It is a town, more like a municipality, where you will be working in 5 neighborhood. You will be living with a wonderful mother and daughter and working with a foundation that already has a women’s group established. You are going to love it here, it tranquilo, you shouldn’t have any problems, especially because of your Spanish level.
5 neighborhoods….. that’s what stuck in my mind. I can’t do that. I need to be in a campo, somewhere where I can be calm and work effectively. This can’t be right. Did he not listen to my needs and wants at our first interview?
ok ok... I know - Peace Corps is about going with where you are placed...just had a momentary lapse of altruism there for a second...
I walked away confused. Can I do this? A pueblo?
Project Partner day – for me, the worst day so far. Very uncomfortable and the day where reality hit. I met my host mom and project partner and was quickly on my way to Consuelo. My home for the next two years.
November and December were incredibly difficult months. I very often called home to remind myself about why I was here. I didn’t think I could hack the caliente, tiguere streets of Consuelo. Confianza built with my host mom and I began to make it a couple days between my “doubting” periods. It was a constant
DO I STAY OR DO I GO battle in my mind
Soon enough I would be living on my own, have my own space and be able to breathe a little better. Not having to answer to anyone when I come home after walking what seemed like a hundred miles through a thick wall of piropos which unfortunately I understood, no matter how nasty they got. In February I moved out on my own to a new neighborhood and was welcomed by the head matriarch of the barrio. I felt safe and at ease. As my first month or two went by I had a security incident which led me to make another decision…
do I stay or do I go?
Do I stay in Consuelo and try to handle this on my own? Do I go to another site? Do I go home?
Not knowing what to do I avoided having to make any decision and just tried to deal with it. Thank you to a number of really great people from all my walks in life, I took their advice and called Peace Corps. I was out of there in two hours with nothing but a few undies, two pants a couple tops, a travel size shampoo, laptop and books. Upon my meeting with security I learned I would be living in the capital for an indefinite period of time. I would be getting a site change if I so chose it.
Do I stay or do I go?
A new site means starting over with a diagnostic, formation of groups, integrating into the community. I have to be the one who stands out the most AGAIN….
I visited a couple of volunteers, trying to imagine starting over after being somewhere for 5 months. What it would be like to make new friendships, to live with a host-family AGAIN ( this would mean losing most privacy privileges which is epically important as a PCV)
I felt confused…I had to make a decision and I knew it was up to me. I had already faced a lot of challenges with host family dramas, project partner foundation problems and a lot of cultural stuff that just got me plain heated.
I went home for a week during Semana Santa to mentally check out. I went home and it was great that I did. It confirmed my wanting to continue with service. I didn’t feel I had a place at home – I mean I had family, friends, etc. but after living and being part of another culture, learning about different ways and different people, tasting different foods, challenging myself in ways unimaginable prior to this experience…how could I leave that behind? How could I cut it short?
Back to the DR I went fresh and ready to move forward. I had visited one of my friends who lives in the southern region of the country. As it so happened, very serendipitously, the community next to her was soliciting a health volunteer from the Peace Corps. This place is beautiful. Serene. Tranquil
The opposite of Consuelo.
I fought hard for it. My boss wanted to send me to so many other places but I felt a pull… I don’t know exactly what it was, the feeling, the ambiente, and the people…I knew I had to be there.
I fought hard enough that I even went against the suggestion of my boss…I would never do that usually – but something was pulling me towards this place.
Finally, after a whirlwind of yes’s and no’s I found myself moving stuff into my new host mom’s house in Los Blancos. My new room had an ocean view and the people had a southern hospitality you only find drinking sweet tea in Georgia.
Starting over was hard. A project partner was selected last minute, the community wasn’t prepared for a volunteer so soon and I was still trying to process everything. Luckily, my friend who I had visited lives only 15 minutes away!
Work started off great in April with a lot of motivated groups and grand plans for the community… the summer months came and the groups got cold…people stopped showing up or even showing interest. During my transition here I faced a lot of family stuff going on at home and hardships I had to endure on my own…just in time for another …
Do I stay or do I go?
This was my decision only now – I didn’t allow help from anyone in helping me to make this decision.
Why has the universe put so many obstacles in my way? I just want to be a volunteer and do what I am here to do…jeesh!
I stuck it out – I had a lot of support from friends here, both volunteers and locals. Thanks to them I am going strong in my service and beginning some great projects in my community…
However, a couple of weeks ago, when all my projects had flopped, when I felt completely lost and had no idea of why I was here if I hadn’t really done much I though again to myself….
Do I stay or do I go?
I told myself I would give myself time to see if the project could actually work. I went to town hall to talk to the mayor. Not there. I talked to people, there was no land for me to work with for a project I had in mind. I was getting frustrated….Do I stay or do I go?
Then, all of a sudden the cards fell into place. There is land for two projects I want to do and the owner is incredibly motivated and has been very on top of everything since we started working together only 2 days ago. I have a proposal in already and a partner organization that wants to donate.
I have decided that there is a reason I am here…a reason I will only get to know once my service here is over and long past.
Lessons Learned so far:
1. Culture is not changeable. You are. Adapt, or be willing to - it will make any experience a million times easier.
2. Learn to tolerate living in a fishbowl. Always being stared at and watched. This has led to a deeper sense of humility and heightened awareness of my actions
3. Sometimes you are always in the wrong..just because. It is okay - sometimes you have to give that sense of satisfaction to the other person - they may need it that day.
4. How to be alone. You are your best companion. enjoy your you time - privacy is important!
5. Smile even when you feel like it is impossible - it will help alleviate uncomfortable Dominican conversations about how you are sad or depressed and it is their fault.
6. Just go with it. every moment is a new experience to add to your book!
7. Don't forget where you come from and where you are going. They can be two different places but learning to balance them is what will get you there safely!
I am happy to say that despite all the close calls, all the difficulties and hardships, I am going strong and happy in my site. I couldn't think of being anywhere else and wouldn't change one things about my time here so far! I thank all of those who have helped in the last 365 days of my life – you have helped me survive one incredibly rocky journey! Get ready for round number 2!
|several guagua rides, about 100moto rides, plenty of rice and beans, and hundreds of other Dominican experiences later....|