Monday, July 20, 2015

The time has come to say good-bye - a reflection after 35 months of Peace Corps service.

Hey there dear friends,

I know, I know, I have not written in a while and it's not because there is nothing new to write about - in fact, it's quite the opposite. So much has been happening that I have been focusing on just living every experience fully and being in the moment of it all. I have put writing on the back burner for many months and am now sitting down to write a reflection of my almost 3 years in this beautiful country.

I have been reflecting a lot about my experience here lately and the opportunities for growth and awe that have been inspired by the people of this country. I am thankful every day for the beautiful souls of Dominicans - their kind, always there for you ways that, when you pay attention, will restore your faith in humanity.

I have ended my service,, after 35 months of service, and want to publicly pay homage to some incredible memories, life-changing moments and people who have changed my life forever.

If my service had to have a tagline or motto it would be this: " Reconnecting with humanity". I feel that my service was shaped by my connections and relationships with people - not just host-coutnry nationals but other volunteers as well. I learned valuable lessons from everyone and it is something I will forever treasure. Yes, I gave a lot of myself, I sacrificed some amenities and comforts for a few years, I ate strange foods and co-habitated with bizarre creatures. But my focus was always on the people I met and how we could connect no matter our backgrounds or where we came from. I learned that though we all appear to be different - we really are all the same - as long as we are compassionate and open-minded enough to take the time to find the commonalities. These means, patience, flexibility and understanding.

There were many moments where I thought I couldn't do it anymore. Where I almost quit and headed home. It was hard, tough, lonely. Then I thought in the people, how resilient they are and how much love and joy they have for life despite their conditions. They love for life and apparent joy is what kept me going. Thank you for teaching me that life is about more than just your social condition and for helping me fight through the hardest of times!

My most memorable time/moment in country: the time my host mom in Consuelo walked in to my room half naked on my first night there asking me what time I usually wake up and if I would like her to put coffee on before 8. I'll never forget this moment, it was the moment I realized just how different we are and the first moment I learned that privacy and boundaries are American concepts. I may not have learned it on a conscious level but it is always what I go back to when I think about how I came to this country with "personal space".

These concepts have played a role throughout my service in how I see human to human interaction and has allowed me to develop a more "collectivist" perspective - something I am so thankful for.
As Americans, we value everything that contributes to our individualistic culture - which, I think, is what helps contribute to the success of our country in many aspects. In Dominican Republic, everyone is constantly working hard to ensure that collectivism is the focal point of interactions, This means, if I am very hungry and I buy a 6" sub I don't just eat it myself but I make sure to share it with everyone around me. I value this - a lot. When a kid gets pesos, he goes back and takes it to his mom. When someone buys a plate of food, they offer it to others first - full well knowing that those others will take some food off the plate, you are always greeting people on the street, wishing them a happy day...  yup, people take care of each other here and it is something I have grown to love and rely on so much. I know that it is something I am going to miss once I leave this little island and is something I can bring to my social bubble in the US!

I don't think one is better than the other, I believe that each one has it's function and purpose.

My most memorable person in country: This is a tough one as two very strong women have shaped my service; my host mom in Consuelo,Charo, and my really good friend in Los Blancos, Jovah. They both inspire my spiritual side, which I value very much, and both have the kind innocence of a child. They have shown me what it is to be women who have to fight for their families, be women who, at times, have to hold on to their belief systems to weather the storm. They have shown me nothing but unconditional love, support and the courage it takes to be a woman in this country. They are my Rosie the Riveters.

Charo  from Consuelo

Jovah from Los Blancos

Food I will most miss: EASY -  my typical campo breakfast - pretty much it includes any vivere (potato, squash, yucca, sweet potato) 2 fried eggs, and sauteed onions with a splash of vinegar.  And of course, having any tropical fruit, for free, at any time of the day that the craving strikes!

Craziest "i'm in the Peace Corps" moment: So many but I guess the top 3 would include going a week and a half without power/electricity or water, the time I willingly  helped my friend  pee in a cup while in the front row of a crowded bus that wouldn't stop for us to pee and  when I learned to kill a tarantula. These moment taught me to be resourceful, have no shame/embarrassment when helping a fiend in need and the courage I have to defend my own territory.

What I have learned: Other than the close to 100 Dominicanisms that I love and will continue to use, I have learned that nature takes it's course with everything. We are not in control of the way things happen and we must place our desire to control in the belief that it's just out of our hands! I have learned to have fun with life and not take it so seriously. I have learned to love white rice. I have learned that human connection is more important than the who you are in society. It's funny, I always thought I knew these things but I learned that knowing and knowing are two different things. One is just knowing on a mental level and the other is truly living and breathing it. I learned to live and breath what I believe and that it is okay to live this way. I thank the people of this country for teaching me that. Thank you for showing me that passionately living your you is okay!

MEMORY: Though it is going to be one of the most difficult things to leave this home of mine, I know that the memories I have will carry on with me. I will forever have imprinted images of people who have influenced me, colmadones after dark, music that triggers my favorite moments and smells that will remind me of my favorite sazones and rainfalls.

I have become: A friend, a sister, a daughter, a godmother, an aunt, a fiance. So many relationships made, built and noursihed in the last three years. I have another family throughout my service and it is comprised of so many people spread across the Dominican Republic.

It has been an incredibly transformative experience and I wouldn't change it for anything. I have no regrets, made life-long friendships and would do it all over again in a heartbeat! I love the me that came out of Peace Corps - more optimistic, understanding, compassionate person and it's all because of the people and connections I made. Thank you!

I have been back for a few days now and it feels like I'm seeing my hometown for the first time. Everything is greener than ever, has more life than I remember and the smell of fresh New-England summer air is crisper than before. It is absolutely beautiful here and I am grateful to have this new perspective.

October 8th, 2015 - heading back to DR for a long weekend - no one can keep me away from that island now!

                        Here are some pics of my very last days in DR and my first few in USA:

Last day at Peace Corps

Hammocking one last time in the Campo!

Hanging out with family on my last night

Last meal in DR - right before heading to the airport!! love!
Where I spent the last year - apartment in the capital!
midnight arrival - reunited with the best siblings one could ask for!

Reunited with these fun ones for a welcome home get together!

Fresh air. Green summer!


The day I became her Godmother!

I tried putting her in my duffle....epic failure!

Gracias por todo, Republica Dominicana - Adoro a toda mi gente!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stepping back into the campo for a few days...

So much has changed. I went back and forgot how transitioning between the campo and the capital was more difficult than I thought. It is absolutely exhausting and can now fully understand why a Peace Corps service is supposed to be 2 years. Any more than that and a PCV gets burnt out.

I went back to my site for two main reasons:

1.       To hang with the coolest Leah I know – one of my closest friends made in Peace Corps. Now, what made it difficult to hang out with her was the constant influx of kids coming in and just sitting, staring. Living in the capital for months now, and having privacy whenever I want, I forgot about this constant interruption. It reminded me so much about how flexible and patient we, as PCVs have to be and eventually become. I was a pleasant and reflective reminder of all that I had learned and gained in my time as a PCV

2.       To check in and meet with my women. I was so nervous to meet with them and find out that quizas, just maybe, they hadn't been working as health promoters. Well not to my surprise they hadn't. There had been 3 homes certified in the last two months and they were lacking some serious work MOJO. SO in asking them what they thought they could use to help them get back to working one of them raised their hand and said “ when the trunk of a tree is chopped down, the tree branches go down with it – they stop working, they no longer need a reason to receive light and nourishment. What we need is another trunk, another PCV.” You can just imagine, especially if you are another PCV, my immediate frustrating reaction. All I wanted to do was yell "that is not the point! this is supposed to be sustainable" After carefully explaining this concept they came to the realization that they themselves had to take responsibility for carrying out this project and created a plan. Once they did I applauded their new-found motivation and goal setting and we were able to move on. PHEW - THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE. They now have a plan for the coming year and have found reasons to be personally invested in the project.

So, back to Leah's I went after this meeting and just reflected at how much a PCV goes through. It's so interesting to be on this side of it - still a volunteer but with a greater Peace Corps context as a PCVL working in the Peace Corps Office. I get to see the big picture and how all of the day to day things I did at my site fit into it. I also get to see the nuances in the field that is supported by the grander Peace Corps Agency.

Going back reiterated my appreciation for this culture's hospitality and vecino-ness. EVERYONE is a neighbor and even though I don't live there anymore I still felt like I was a huge part of the community. It took me a few hours just to get up one of the roads because I was stopping and saying hi to everyone. I sat for about an hour at one of my friends' houses and just chatted about life and family. It was so refreshing. 

                   A HUGE BONUS on this TRIP! Got to see my BFFL Nino who I haven't seen since May! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On life recently & living in Dharma

I have been procrastinating on writing this post for weeks, however, I can’t imagine a better time to sit, reflect and write than today – exactly two years after I swore in as a PCV alongside people whom I didn't know would change my lives forever. Today I said “see you later” to the last one of my friends who has chosen to close their service and move on to bigger and better things (not to negate nor minimize my decision to stay as a PCV). At times I feel like I am “being left behind” although I realize that I myself and moving on to bigger and better. And that is part of what I want to share – how as a PCVL I have changed, grown and developed more than expected, and learned about what I want out of life. I also want to share how the process of seeing said friends leave has helped me reflect on lessons learned, growth had and incredible, long lasting relationships made.

To give you an idea of my life in the past 2 months:

-        - After several calculations, I traveled at least 2,300 miles on Dominican Public Transport just in the month of September. 
o   I was traveling to prepare 17 communities around the entire country to receive new volunteers at the end of October.
o   On these travels I saw:
§  A Christmas tree Farm (YES on a Caribbean Island)
§  An Aloe Plantation (miles of Aloe plants!)
§  An Ostrich Farm
§  Miles of Rice fields
§  Stayed in many strangers’ homes but got new family out of it!
§  Visited sites of some of my closest friends whom I hadn't visited

-         - While traveling I was also in training about 3 days per week to help give a PCVs perspective on technical training to the new group

-       -  I was also in the office weekly to make sure all programmatic stuff with current PCVs was going according to plan. 

-         ALL of this while juggling the end of service for many of my dearest and closest friends - this meant making sure I spent quality, in the moment, time with them and being there with them during their last days in country. 

-         To top it all off - making sure I was spending QT with my boyfriend to make sure our relationship didn't fall by the way-side throughout ALL of this craziness. - Thankfully, Leo's patience, understanding and compassion are in his nature and not anything he needs to work at to have. He always helped me with scheduling friends/work/me/us time and put himself out of the picture until the chaos ended.

How did I manage all of this? With patience, a journal, and accepting the realities of my personality that I did not necessarily like. I learned a lot about myself, my priorities, my need for balance, and my limits. I learned that in order to stretch myself thin, I have to be physically, mentally and emotional strong. This period of 7 weeks called for a lot of internal motivation, self-validation and on my own cheer leading. In the end I learned that I was more capable than I ever gave myself credit for and that I have incredibly understanding and patient friends in my life!

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader has proven to be a difficult line to walk. You are a volunteer yet you are involved in all the staff and bureaucratic aspects of Peace Corps. You are involved in Programming AND training. You are a peer support yet a person whose responsibility is to ensure that programmatic goals are being met and rules aren’t being broken. All this being said, I finally feel like I am good at something and it has given me a lot to think about for my future. I strongly believe in the mission of Peace Corps – now more than ever because I have had to talk about the Core Expectations, the history and philosophy of it to communities, new volunteers and follow it daily! I have found that keeping within this philosophy, mission and vision of Peace Corps comes naturally to me. This is also the first office-type job in which Sunday nights I am not complaining or dreading about going to work on Monday. Thankfully I have a boss who confides and trusts in my ability to do the job well and has given me the independence to create new initiatives and make changes to the Health Sector. The Health Sector team is a wonderful group of people to work alongside in the Peace Corps office and it feels great! 

"We know we are in Dharma when we cannot think of anything else we would rather be doing with our life." —
  David Simon

This quote really reflects how I am feeling about what I have my for myself in life so far - especially with new job, new found empowerment and all of my relationships.

The only Dam I have seen in this country - On the way to prepare a site in the MIDDLE of THOSE mountains - it was an adventure getting there. 

Aprovechared my site development visit to spend some QT with this munchkin! the other Laura - Love you

Laura's Casita in Sabaneta

Drying Corn in San Juan

a tiny campo that will be receiving a new volunteer - another adventure to get here

RICE FIELD E"RWHERE! Northwest - MonteCristi region doing more site development

Could have made this thing a permanent fixture for those 5 weeks

En route to prep a community - had to take a moto through a cactus forest for about 45 minutes ot get to this very isolated site in Monte Cristi

Amongst the chaos - got to visit my sister in Consuelo!

The New trainees on their way to Community Based Training

My host siblings during Community Based Training - where I spent about 3 days/week 

Group work during CBT

Alex's map-filled casita - I was doing site development and got to stay with the one and only!

A ceremony for those who completed the 27 months of service

Jugo & Empanadas :)

On living in the capital!

The past few weeks I have become more and more appreciative of the country I have the opportunity to live in. I live on a Caribbean Island!! Yes I am currently living in the capital city, which is slowly having more and more to offer me as I get to know it. But most importantly I am only a couple of hours away from any type of Caribbean vacation I want. I am an hour from a beautiful clear water beach with fine white sand. I am a couple of hours from mountains, rainforests and jungles. I have lakes and rivers at my disposal. All in all – I am loving living in such a rich, eco-diverse country! It definitely caters to my wandering, adventurous personality that frequently needs a change of scenery!

On Saying “see ya later”

As my groups’ service came to a close I had a lot of reflecting to do. On friendships made, growth had, feelings of “being left behind” in a way and how I was going to make it this year without some of my strongest supports. Knowing that my friends are going off to touch people’s lives the way they did mine (all in different ways of course) was what made saying “goodbye” easier. I focused on how our lives became richer due to this friendship rather than any sort of loss. Focusing on the negative aspect was not going to serve me any function so for the past few weeks it has all been “let’s not celebrate then end of something but rather let’s celebrate the times and memories had and what fuller lives we have because of the friendship”. Forcing myself to see it this way has encouraged me to see many things in a positive light which has helped me a lot throughout this transition. I am happy to say that in my upcoming trip home I will have the pleasure of re-connecting with many friends who have left – whether it is through seeing them in person again or skyping and seeing their beautiful pixilated faces through the computer!

Never did we expect to become life-changers for each other

Katie's Despedida

A very influential person in my life

A friend who ALWAYS knew how to put it in perspective - a big influencer
the two Laura's!


Upon leaving , I was reminded by my friends of how strong I really am. I have faced many personal struggles in my time here and my friends here have been my biggest support system. They are rooting for me in life and in my successes, and will always remind me of that. A theme they all left me with was "Live for you and no one else" ,"to Never give up", and to "fight for what I believe because only I will know what makes me happy"
Thank you to all for believing in me and giving me the strength and inner courage to live for me! You have all been there in my times of need and I don't know what I would have done in my time of struggles without your support. 

They left me with these - to look at everyday!

On what’s next

I have a training coming up for the volunteers who have been here for a year then it is off to Punta Cana with Leo for some R&R of our own. After a whirlwind few months (for us both work wise) we decided to have some QT away from the chaos.  On November 21st I get to see my family and travel to Colombia for 10 days, after which I will head to the states for almost a month. It will be nice to be home for the holidays, see family and friends and have a solid 5 weeks of not sweating 24/7! Upon my return to the DR, work ramps up again with visits to all the volunteers around the country, changes in the sector and decisions to be made about my future. I am confident in saying that after this year I would like to work for Peace Corps – I feel pride in being part of such a movement and want to continue it. I am getting comfortable here in DR so a change to the states would be difficult AND refreshing at the same time….but who knows, no one can predict the future – I like the challenge of living abroad!

I live here!

THE ultimate Suitcase Struggle!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Living in Santo Domingo!

I am coming up on my third week living and working in the capital city, santo domingo. and am quickly acclimating to the loud noises of guaguas, cars and motos, the smells of trash strewn about the side of every road and the prickling heat that is the result of stagnant, smokey air.  While all of this sounds incredibly uncomfortable, ironically it is quite comforting to know that at least I am living amongst civilization; where people have fancy cars and need those guaguas, that are producing the smokey air,  to get to work.

Working at the Peace Corps office has been a nice change of pace – for someone like me (a person who is constantly straddling the Type A/Type B personality type line) it is the perfect step after the regular 2 year service stint. I get to create new ideas for things, support volunteers out in the field emotionally and programmatically, I get to travel A LOT and have a semi routine! It is ideal for what I want to do in the future and I am really happy that I made the decision to stay.

My first week on the job I traveled a total of about 400-500 miles on public transport to visit 7 volunteers throughout the country. I got to see some beautiful country sides, rivers and mountains I wouldn’t have other wise seen and have finally seen a real life version of the Teletubby Mountain in El Seibo, Dominican Republic! I got stung by a bee for the first time, rode an hour and a half motorcycle to get to one site and even had to take 4 different modes of transport to get to another person’s site.

Teletubby Mountain
El Seibo

Ok Ok enough about work:

Living with the guy your dating is quite the adventure in itself. I couldn’t ask for a more patient person to deal with my neediness to be tidy/organized and clean. We are still getting used to each other and understand that communication is key. It helps that we both travel a lot for work so have our alone time structurally built in. It has been fun and crazy transition! I have learned a lot about myself in the short time living together and know it will only continue!

Some other fun things about living in the capital:
-          The other day we did our first big grocery shop and, after two years of buying red onion I finally bought white! I       know, I know not a big deal but for me it was awesome to even have the option! It allows for less onion-y        tasting fajitas, and not as many tears shed when cutting up the onion!
-          Whole Wheat Bread!
-          Blueberry Bagels!
-          Living across the street from an all-natural juice bar! BINGO and only 1 block away from the ocean
-     My Running route is right on the Ocean on the boardwalk!

the "boardwalk" where I run everyday! - Only a block from my Apt!

So, all in all, life in this new role is great. It fills all of my requirements in my current stage of life:
- Adventure
- Stability/Routine
- Productivity
- Independence within the relationship
- Happiness in Relationship
- Fulfilling Work

Saturday, August 2, 2014

From a Home in the Campo to an Apartment in the City ~ the start of a new adventure!!

My Peace Corps Experience as I originally signed up for it has officially come to an end. I will be move to the capital and beginning a new adventure as the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Health Sector. Not only will I be jumping into a new professional adventure but personal one as well - I will be moving in with my best friend and  boyfriend, Leo.

 It has been a difficult transition primarily due to how sad it is to leave the place where I have experienced so much growth, strength and created incredible friendships. I will be staying in the DR until October of 2015 (a whole other year for people to come visit!)

Below are my thoughts I wrote down on my last night int he campo:

6 months ago I met an older gentleman, American, wandering around Paraiso. I was in the pueblo for a meeting with Catholic Church. He asked me if I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and was elated when I responded with a YES! He himself had been a PCV in Belize in the mid 70-s. He wanted help translating at a meeting so I figured why not. I later invited him over for coffee (this was also at the point in my service when I was truly portraying a Dominican) so he could see a PCVs community in the DR and I could hear about his experience etc. Before he was picked up, he told me about his last day in his community. He locked up his house, took his last boxes to the Peace Corps truck, turned around and felt an overwhelming sensation of “Bittersweet Accomplishment” as he put it.
I couldn’t imagine at the time what he could be referring to however, I am less than 48 hours away from moving out of my home in the campo and am just beginning to understand what he meant.

-          The kids. It is going to be so difficult for me to not have all of my little kids around me all the time. They brought so much joy to my day – and at times not. When they did it literally turned my days upside down. They always knew how to make me laugh and would always keep me company at night when I didn’t have electricity. Their wonder, hope and idealism despite their conditions is something I will never forget.
-          My Friendships with Dominicans. I am fortunate enough that my community at times refers to me as their own tiguera (which just means that I get nuances about the street culture that maybe others don’t). Being a tiguera people have a lot of confianza in me. This has created a space where my Dominican friends come talk to me openly about anything that is going on, feel comfortable shooting the shit because they know I understand when they are joking and what they are saying and generally just hanging out. I appreciate everything I have learned from them about life – which has been a lot:
o    Take it easy when you can – no need to rush life, you have the rest of it ahead of you.
o    Don’t live for anyone else but yourself – you’re the one who has to suffer the consequences of living for someone else, not them.
o    They taught me that life is all about the moments you spend with the people you love
-          Feeling like I could have done more. Because I did not do my full 2 years in the same site, I feel like I cheated my community out a bit – which is why I will be returning once a month to continue working with my projects – mainly holding workshops with my health promoters.
-          Love the pace of life in the campo and am afraid I’ll never have it again.

-          Having consistent electricity and running water. As most know, my life in relation to electricity has not been easy – sometime I’ll go a week or two without electricity because people stick on to my wires and steal it before it can even reach my house.
-          Feeling productive: I will now have the opportunity to crank out work the way I like to – staying busy, in the office, in the field, giving volunteer support, etc.
-          Closing a chapter: It feels good to say that I did it. There were sooo many times when I thought two years might not be possible for me. But here I am signing on for another year – finishing this chapter, this accomplishment that I have wanted for so long feels great – I DID IT!

Accomplishment: This is a tricky one – I feel I have accomplished so much on a personal level and a lot, but maybe not as much, on a professional level. I contributed a lot to my community in terms of knowledge, education, capacity building etc. I will admit that I am leaving my community with a sense that I could have done more – but couldn’t we all at the end of our service. I am lucky that my boss has approved me for monthly trips to my site for a couple days or R&R and workshop giving.

Me and Lilita- best, most non judgmental advice giver in the campo!

Me and my Bestie, Rosa

Me and lilian - stronge and confiable woman!

Chila! - Cutest munchkin looking vendor! Always made me smile

The women of the Barrio - any down time I always walked downt o spend time with them while they sold their produce!

My Host Mom!

Jovah - the woman who became my mother over my Peace Corps Experience - I will never forget the support, love and friendship we have formed.

My Chiquitas!

On days when I was frustrated or felt useless as a volunteer - I could always count on Sandy to pick me back up and remind me that my work matters :)

The reason I will always go back to my site

My Support System, Best Friend, Boy friend and new roomate :)

My best girl friend in Los Blancos - Thank You for making my days and nights in the campo more bearable

Mi Pollito

One of my best friends in Peace Corps :) And my kitchen 5 hours before moving :(

Empty Living Room

New Apt Living Room