I was out of my site a lot in September. I went to a Prince Royce concert and danced shamelessly with a big group of Americanos. I went to a three-day series of meetings for a bunch of different Peace Corps initiatives where I learned about documentation, literacy tools, teacher training, and boys’ groups. I went back to my site for a day and half, washed some clothes, and then found myself back in Santo Domingo working on our Peace Corps Dominican Republic magazine, The Gringo Grita. That was a five-day project that had me sitting in front of a computer screen and eating wonderful foods with the six other Volunteers on staff. We finished the magazine on Friday, and I was back to my site that evening.
When I came back, I felt weird. Uncomfortable. Out of place. I was short on patience, which meant I could only go so long before I snapped at kids who were fighting over a card game. Instead of firing off witty comebacks to my sister’s jokes, I just laughed awkwardly. I thought maybe I needed some introvert time to recharge my batteries after being so social for the past two weeks, so I holed up in my house and watched lots of Dr. Who and Battlestar Galactica. My 24/7 internet was a convenient escape too. Monday was a national holiday, so I got to stay home from school. Turns out I would’ve stayed home anyway because I got sick. I spent all day between my bed and my host brother’s toilet (we still don’t have a latrine after the hurricane took out our old one). The whole time my projects—which are not quite off the ground yet—were hanging over my head, making me feel like a slacker.
I spent the week in the school, trying to test kids’ reading levels and help out in the more difficult classrooms. I ended up spending most of my time helping parents fill out their paperwork to get government assistance. They have to prove they have kids in school—each kid in school means RD$300 more in assistance. So I brought my computer to school and worked side by side with the secretary, Nancy, to look up kids and put their school IDs down on these papers to make sure mothers could get enough money to feed their families. It was dull work, but when I thought of the bigger picture I felt better about it. While that was going on, I kept noticing things in the school that brought me down. It seemed like there was so much wrong, and so many insurmountable problems, and I started to get really pessimistic.
It was not a good week.
Then, on Friday, I made the decision to leave school early. I had to deliver a package and talk to Bianni at the community center about getting a space for my boys’ group anyway. So I moseyed over to the center, gave Bianni her package, and then we sat and talked about everything and nothing. “Talking about everything and nothing” is, I think, a perfect translation of the Dominican verb compartir. Sometimes, I don’t even have to talk—compartiring could consist of just sitting together in silence. Bianni had to close up the center, and I left and wandered down the street. I ran into Juana, my neighbor who never fails to tell me what pills she’s taking right before she accuses me of having forgotten about her. I decided to go in and sit down with her, and we chatted, again, about everything and nothing. I could feel my mood lifting with every word and smile. It was almost noon, so I tactfully negotiated my way out of eating lunch and made my way for my house.
On the way home, a realization struck me. I wasn’t feeling sad and out of place because of my projects, or because I needed introvert time. I was feeling off because I sincerely missed spending time with my neighbors. I realized that compartiring is magic. Holing up in my house and watching TV shows to while away the hours when I feel down is not the way to go. Going out into the neighborhood, andaring, finding a friendly face and plopping down into a plastic chair to compartir is the solution. It’s a nice feeling, realizing that my happiness depends on my neighbors. I have friends here, I have family here, and being away from them gets me down. So now, when I come home from a trip, I know exactly how to get back into the swing of things: pull up a plastic chair, talk, listen, and share.