On Wednesday, October 27 I took the congressional oath and swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I made a commitment to myself, my fellow volunteers, the people of the Dominican Republic and the United States that I will serve out my two years to the best of my ability. The week leading up to the swear in ceremony was the toughest week to date, filled with moments of self-doubt and frustration. I was more overwhelmed and alone then I have ever been in my whole life. It was also the first time in my life when I knew that I would never again be the same.
The week leading up to me taking the oath was the first time during this whole experience that I considered hitting the escape button, the first time that I actually wanted to. I never thought that I couldn’t do “it” (whatever “it” is), but questioned if I wanted to. There was a point, after a heated discussion between my Haitian project partner and my politically affiliated Dominican host family (for those of you who don’t know, there is extreme racism and discrimination in this country against the Haitian community), that I locked myself in my room, stared at the wall and fought back the tears and contemplated what to do next, considered all my options. Went over in my head what had just happened, trying to make some sense of it all.
I was frustrated beyond belief. I had only arrived in this town less then 20 hours prior and was already sick and tired of being bullied around by my host family. While my Spanish has improved, I could not explain myself or defend my Haitian counterpart. No one would listen to me. I felt guilty for being the catalyst for any pain this family had inflicted on him during the “discussion”. I kept thinking, if I weren’t here, none of this would be happening right now. This is my fault. I am not worth this.
After the “discussion”, I was alone in my room, wondering why I was even here? Reminding myself of how easy it would be to go home, that maybe I have nothing to offer and everyone would be better off anyway. In the states I would have my independence, my family, my friends, maybe even a relationship. I could start my life and move forward. The people of Andres, Boca Chica wouldn’t have to put all their hope in some 24 year old gringa from the US who wasn’t qualified to do anything anyway.
But then something happened, a feeling came over me. I was standing in the dark (because se fue la luz), more angry and frustrated then I have been in a long time and more alone then I have ever felt in my life. And all of a sudden, I knew, that from that moment on, I would never be the same person again. Whether I stayed in the DR or returned to the states, I would not be the same Sara. I could feel the change as it was happening. It is weird to be aware of when a change is occurring, to be conscious of it taking place. Usually one looks back on events in their life, and can identify life changing moments or events, but rarely are aware in the moment.
I knew that I did not have all the answers, but I would learn how to deal with situations like the one I was in. I would learn how to stand up for myself. And more importantly I knew I wanted to. I knew that it would be ok. That I could do it.
There will be many more frustrating days and scary moments. I will often feel under qualified. But I knew that today was the worst of it. Every day would be a little better then today, no matter how bad. Events like today would happen whether or not I was here to witness them. My Haitian project partner doesn’t have an escape button to push to escape from the uncomfortableness of such situations. Who would benefit from me hitting my escape button.
I hate it when people say that they are going to the Peace Corps to “find themselves”. That is not why I am here (we can discuss my reasons for joining the Peace Corps at a later date). But I now know that I will change drastically. The changes may not be visible to the untrained eye, but they will happen, and are already happening. I will become more self confident, more self assured. I will doubt myself less and believe in myself more. I won’t wait for permission to be happy, to do what I need to do for myself. I will learn to not be so hard on myself.
When I took the oath on the 27th, I was able to take it with out reservation. I had been successfully pushed to my limit (which I think is the Peace Corps goal during training) and tempted by the comforts of life in the US. I knew as I took the oath, that the next two years would not look anything like what I expected, but I was excited to see what they would look like.
So I am now an official Peace Corp Volunteer, living in Brasis del Norte, Andres, Boca Chica. No more training wheels. Real life is about to start…