Peace Corps Baby
(Rachel, this post is not what you think.)
Okay okay, I know Thanksgiving has come and gone. So have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So I’m a bit late with this, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be thankful for a whole mess of things in my life.
At this point I’ve been in the country for nine months. If my Peace Corps service were a fetus, it would’ve popped out by now. Sometimes I do feel like I have kids…about thirty of them. I also have a goddaughter, for real. Her name is Cyndia and she is adorable. These kids come to my house to play, to learn, to color, to hang out with me, to try my crazy American food. Sometimes I’m strict or short with them, like all parents are, but the next day they’re reset and ready to be my friends again. Last night a bunch of kids were in my house coloring while I was cooking dinner. They were pediring things left and right—“Give me a pencil!” “Give me some water!” “Do you have another sheet of paper?”—and my patience was growing as thin as the broth in my soup. Then I heard the familiar ping sounds from my roof; it had begun to rain. I shut all the windows and doors to avoid the rain soaking all of my things, and the kids continued coloring happily and driving me crazy. The soup boiled, and I boiled. But neither of us blew our lids (okay, there might have been some minor yelling).
I’m thankful for these kids and the daily craziness they bring into my life.
During the past nine months I have been a passenger—willing, but at times forgetful of that fact—on the wildest emotional ride imaginable. If you could combine the speed of Top Thrill Dragster, the twists of Volcano, and the nausea of that Scrambler ride, you would have the approximate physical representation of what I’ve gone through emotionally as a Peace Corps volunteer (you’d also have one kick-ass amusement park ride). I’ve sent panicked emails to friends back home, I’ve had hour-long bitch sessions on the phone with volunteer friends, and I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt with my host family. One hour I can be riding a high from my literacy classes (“They all knew how to read the sentences with M and P!”) and the next I can be holed up in my house trying to cool down after having to physically break up a fight outside the school. But I’ve always been able to find an outlet for my giddy highs and devastating lows.
I’m thankful for my support system, both here and back home.
Every once in a while someone will ask me, or I will wonder myself, “What would you be doing if you were in the US?” And honestly, I draw a complete blank. I like to think this doesn’t mean that I would be dead if I were in America. Just that…I’m where I should be. There’s no other place in the world that I need to be right now. Sometimes I pine for the cultural mish-mash of the border, or to live in a batey, or that Peace Corps would reopen their Haiti program, but in the end Baní is my home and where I should be living and working. And I get to not only teach kids how to read, but also be a role model in everything that I do. My employer pays all my needs, so I don’t have to worry if my next paycheck is going to cover my rent and food and loan payments. I live on a beautiful island with a warm and welcoming culture, where all my friends live at most a 7-hour bus ride away. (Realization: In America I would not spend 7 hours on public transportation to visit a friend. Sorry guys.) I’m becoming fluent in one language and stumbling my way through another. I’m teaching and learning, all day, every day.
I’m thankful for this experience and the opportunities that come with it.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. I was worried when I first came here that I would spend the holiday holed up in my house crying and missing my family. Luckily, that was not the case. Every year Peace Corps Dominican Republic puts on a huge dinner for all the volunteers so that we can celebrate the best American holiday (don’t argue—it is known) with other Americans and get a break from our grueling campo lifestyles. The day started at 5:50am, when my alarm woke me up to get ready for the 5k Turkey Trot. Ben and I met Ginny on the street, and we rolled over to the office to catch the bus to the park where all the sports were to be held. I ran my first 5k ever (28:20!) and felt like dying afterwards, but there was no time for dying because we had to play football! Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without football, as the Fields family can attest (Turkey Bowl!) Played a game of football, then two games of ultimate Frisbee, then another game of football, then a game of kickball. By the time we finished with sports people were covered in blood, sweat, dirt, and grass. We got on the shuttle to the hotel as the driver looked worried that we were going to bloody up his nice seats (probably a legitimate concern). We got to the hotel and took the elevator up to the rooftop pool. The doors opened onto a scene from a music video—people jumping into the pool, lounging around, listening to American party music, sipping on tropical drinks. We made a whirlpool in the pool, I sat in the hot tub with my friends, and had a piña colada because, come on, you have to. Then it was time for dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and…rice and lasagna. A nice, if weird, mix of American and Dominican foods. I ate it all. Then the pies came out. Some volunteers had come in early in the week to live with Embassy families in their palaces and take hot showers and bake delicious pies. Dinner ended with a talent show, and then we all bussed off to our hotels to nap, shower, and go out to dance the night away to a mix of bachata and American music. For at least one day, those smug jerks in other countries who call PCDR “Posh Corps” were right.
I’m thankful for Thanksgiving. (Is that meta?)
Now I’m back in my site for a solid few weeks of nose-to-the-grindstone work. I’ll admit, it was hard (depressing, weird, awkward) to come back to my site after Thanksgiving. I’ve been struggling to start a new literacy group in the afternoons, but my morning kids are going strong. They’ve got all the vowels and five other letters under their belts, so we are on a good track. I’ve got a lot of mornings left with them before school lets out for vacation. I also have a few more meetings with my boys’ group. We’ve been playing a lot of chess, and I’m hoping to hit on the topics of values and alcohol with them before the December party season. After those weeks of hard work, my parents and brother come visit me in the middle of December! I seriously can’t wait for them to get here, see my island, see my home, meet my Dominican family, and of course enjoy some time relaxing at a beach. It’s going to be great.
I’m thankful for this life.