Stories of Sitting
Jessica, the Volunteer who I’m following up, is sitting in my living room. We’re chatting about this and that, when we hear a motorcycle crunch to a halt outside the front gate. The driver steps off and approaches the door, an apparently empty rice bag in his hand. He walks into the kitchen and asks, “Is here okay?” to which we just shrug. He turns over the bag and out falls a tiny, black kitten with white paws. It can’t be more than a few weeks old. Jessica and I laugh at the idea of cat delivery and name him for the concept—Domi, short for Domicilio, from “Servicio a Domicilio,” which means “Delivery Service.” When Doña Margot comes home she is pleased to see the cat because “there are too many mice around here.” She looks at him, then at us, and pauses to think. “He’s going to have to get bigger. The rats will eat him!”
I’m seated in a plastic chair on our front porch, one end of a lid from something long-forgotten resting on my knees. The other end is resting on the knees of Moises, my host-nephew who lives next door. We’re surrounded by other children, some of them in my family, others from around the neighborhood. I dump the Uno deck out of its plastic bag, and one of them excitedly shouts, “Shuffle how they do in America! Look, look how they shuffle over there!” Obliging, I shuffle the cards how my grandparents taught me, letting them fall together between my thumbs, then pressing them together in a bridge. I deal the cards out under our porch’s bare light bulb and we start to play.
“And who can tell me why it’s important to plant trees?” The entire crowd of children raises their hands, some of them rising impatiently out of their chairs. I sit on my motorcycle helmet, observing from the sidelines. My project partner Ana and her two kids are with me as well. We’ve just done a tour of downtown Bani so I can see where important things are. After checking out the town hall, a bakery, a copy shop, and the bus stop, among other places, we happened upon an event for trees. The youth in charge are talking to the assembled children, when suddenly a BANG BANG BANG pierces the air. Some of us crouch down, others run towards the site of the sound. Ana looks concerned, and my immediate thought is that someone in the political caravan got shot. Turns out it was just a motorcycle backfiring, gracias a Dios.
I’m sitting my modestly-furnished cinder block room just off the porch. The fan I inherited yesterday is blowing gently, causing the curtains and wooden door to sway slowly back and forth. Boxes of art supplies, children’s books, and educational materials poke out from under the bed. Slow bachata and frenetic dembow trade off on the radio in the living room, and footsteps of children sound off the concrete floors. The smell of cilantro and guandules wafts in from the kitchen every so often, letting me know that lunch will be ready soon. I’m home.
Home. I’m still trying to get used to the idea. The Don and Doña are incredibly friendly and want me to feel comfortable with my “new, Dominican family.” My host sisters are telling their kids to call me “Tío” and the neighbors are already claiming me as theirs. I’m going to spend the next two years of my life here. But tomorrow I have to head back to the capital for my final training tests and swear-in. And after that I come back here for two days, just to leave again to a batey outside Barahona for a four-day Kreyol class. It’s hard to call something home, and actually believe it, when I’m still not settled.
I got here three days ago, escorted by two women from the community. They came to Santo Domingo to meet me, sit through some sessions on what Peace Corps is all about, and bring me to my site. Virgen works in the school as an Orientadora, which I think means she keeps the kids in line and makes sure they go to class. And Ana is the president of the PTA. They’re both really nice and seem excited to have me here. Ana showed me her house and I met her family and ate some fruit. They seem proud to have me and I can’t wait to get to get to work with them.
Since getting here I’ve been alternating between two extremes. I’m excited. I’m excited to meet everyone in my community. I’m excited to start working with the teachers and students in the school. I’m excited to finally be in My Site, something that until now has just been a theoretical place where Peace Corps will happen. I’m also terrified. I’m terrified of the ambiguity that comes with starting a new project in a new site with people I don’t know. I’m terrified of the crime. I’m terrified of being far away from the people I’ve become close with during training. So far the good is outweighing the bad; regardless, I’m strapping in for the emotional rollercoaster that awaits me in the next few months.