(This blog tracked my journey as a volunteer, and I hope you enjoyed reading along with my experiences during the last three years. If anyone out there is curious about the Dominican Republic or the Peace Corps, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or comment!)
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Today, I stop the story of my Peace Corps service. After just over three years in the Dominican Republic, I am no longer a capital-v Volunteer. I’m a regular US citizen who is funemployed on a tropical island. Thinking about the past three years inspires a kaleidoscope of memories, emotions and impressions. I recall the intoxicating mix of anxiety and exhaustion that bombarded me upon landing at SDQ on February 29, 2012. A frenetic parade of scenes from Baní flashes before my eyes—Doña Margot laughing, motorcycles roaring by, countless funerals, Bienvito reading on my floor, the teachers raising their hands during a training, the pounding of rain on my metal roof, Benancio’s hug after I dismount from a motorcycle at the front door. My head and chest fill with the sensations from times when I felt triumphant, defeated, excited, terrified, ecstatic, depressed, enamored, indifferent, sweaty, shivering, proud, ashamed, hopeful. Always hopeful.
I have often wondered what treatment my memory will give the raw material collected over the past few years. It’s as if I have shot hundreds of rolls of film, and I am about to process all of them, all at once, in the darkroom of my hippocampus. Will the negatives come out clear and in focus? When I stick them in the enlarger and lay down a piece of paper ready for exposure, what filters and treatments will go into the final image? I can only hope that my memory puts a soft filter on the harsher edges of my service, bumps up the contrast to make the important parts stand out, and finishes with a nice, clean frame to preserve the images for a long time.
For now, I feel content. I wish I had left things at work a bit more neatly closed or packaged, but I also suppose that I would feel that way regardless of how much work I did. I’m proud of my service, and proud to be leaving behind an education sector that is going to do great things in the future. I can only hope that the people I worked with in Baní will have somehow benefitted from my presence. I hope the boys in my Superman group grow up to be happy, healthy and successful men. I hope Niña reads to her children. I hope my teachers feel empowered to succeed in the hardest job in the world. I hope my friend Kenny realizes his potential and does something great for the world. I am also very glad that I chose to stay an extra year. It wasn’t always easy, but I ended up learning a lot and forming relationships with lots of incredible people. Leaving the DR will be very, very hard. I know I’ll come back, though—this country has its hooks in me, and I will return as soon as I can.
So, what’s next? I’m going to spend three weeks traveling in the DR and Haiti. There are still a few places on my list that I haven’t been, and of course I have to say goodbye to my people. After three weeks of adventuring I’ll fly out. The plan is to spend about a month in Virginia to reconnect with family and friends, eat lots of food, and hopefully ride roller coasters. Then the big move to NY happens in August, when I start my masters program in Latin American & Caribbean Studies at New York University. I’m stoked to go back to school, to study something I love, and to live in the greatest city on earth. As a bonus, flights to the DR from NYC are plentiful and cheap! I can’t wait to see what this new adventure has in store for me.
I would be remiss to stop this story without giving thanks. Thank you to everyone who supported me throughout the whole process, from the very beginning when I started filling out the application. My friends and family have constantly been there, even when I am hundreds of miles from them. So, thanks to everyone who fielded panicked texts/messages/emails, sent me letters or packages, or otherwise checked in with me during my service. Jason and Nicole get special thanks for coming out to visit and see what my life in Baní was like! Gracias a todos los dominicanos que me han acogido en su país durante los últimos tres años, especialmente Margot y Benancio y su familia en Baní, quienes me aceptaron como un hijo más. Su hospitalidad, generosidad y energía son increíbles. Y para los que saben quiénes son, su amistad y amor no tienen precio. Los llevo en mi corazón, y ya cuento los días hasta que vuelva a su maravilloso país. Lastly, I owe a huge thank you to my family, my brother Kevin, and my parents Tom & Cindy for never missing a Skype date, sending me care packages, picking me up when things were going badly, and coming to visit me twice. I am so thankful to have been raised by two such loving, generous, conscientious, and hardworking people. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for their example and sacrifice.
Mil gracias and much love.
“Amidst the worldly comings and goings, observe how endings become beginnings.”
So, here’s to this bittersweet ending, and the beautiful beginning it will become. Pa’lante!