801 days in Country
731 days as a Peace Corps Volunteer
0 days until official Close of Service date
Well, I did it. I stuck with it and completed 27 months in the Peace Corps. In a month, I will be state side and I am not going to lie, I am both excited and scared. It will be amazing to see my family and friends once again and while I have grown accustomed to cold bucket showers and black outs, it will be nice to have amenities (hot running water and electricity) once again. Today, while I was boiling squash and eggs to eat for lunch, I longed for my dad’s amazing cooking. But, I will also miss so much about this country and culture. I will miss sweeping and mopping my house everyday (I know, hard to believe) and having my house filled with youth who think I am the coolest person on earth. I will miss being the expert on everything (physics, sure, I can teach you that…puss leaking out of your toe, no prob bob). But, all things must come to an end. I am mostly nervous about how to reconcile who I have become with who I used to be. I am not sure how I will fit in. I am also wondering how to translate what I have experienced and done in this country into something tangible. Something others want to hear about and can understand and relate to.
When I left for the Peace Corps I was talking to my friend Colin about my anxieties and fears of leaving my life in the US to do the Peace Corps. What if I failed? What If I don’t succeed? I asked him. He looked at me and said, “I think in Peace Corps, making it to the end is succeeding.” While I believe it takes a little more then just burning up 27 months of your life to succeed in the Peace Corps, making it to the end definitely fills you with a feeling of accomplishment. And one must take a few moments to celebrate the little differences made in the lives of others and (some would say more importantly) the big differences made in yourself.
During these 27 months I have reached my lowest of lows. Peace Corps is lonely, probably one of the loneliest experiences I will have in my life. If you were to spend days keeping company with only yourself, would you like the company you kept? I at times did not enjoy the company kept. I had to learn how to not let my anxieties and fears take over my life. I have been forced to face the parts of me that I often hid from others and myself. I’ve had to learn how to accept and love myself in spite of my faults. I have learned how to make peace with mistakes made and to forgive both myself and others for pain caused. I came to this country mourning lost friendships and the end of an era and I have had to find a way to work through all those feelings and allow myself to move on.
I have been put in very challenging situations that have pushed me to my breaking point. From being homeless in this country on two different occasions, living in a hostel for months with little access to my belongings to having to tell a young mother that her precious baby daughter had passed away during surgery; I have had to push through strange territory and evaluate why it is that I am here and how I want to move forward through extreme frustration and heartbreak. There were times that I wanted to pack it up and head home. But I didn’t. And I am better for it.
I have reached my highest of highs. I climbed my first mountain, Pico Duarte, the highest peak of the Antilles, at 3,087 meters. . I have learned how to dance and developed a sense of self-confidence. I now love myself for who I am and no longer feel that I am as hard on myself as I once was. I have started to run and stretch and take better care of my physical being then before I was in Peace Corps. I have goals to run a 10k and a half marathon. I have laughed more in this country, then ever before.
I have failed miserably and humbly. I have stood in front of my whole community and babbled on in a language I could barely speak, realizing half way through that no one understood me. I have had meetings where no one showed up, I have tried to implement projects that people said they wanted only to watch them die (the projects, not the people). I am now comfortable with failure and am better able to pick myself up and move on to the next thing. Most importantly, I can laugh at myself.
I have celebrated success. I have taught a number of children how to read. I have supported young women and mothers in pursuing their educational goals. I have provided a safe place for children to do their homework and play games. I spread my love of reading to a few community members. I successfully ran a community literacy assesment and oversaw a library project. I have been brave enough to stand up to others and speak up for those who were voiceless. I have shown the young women in my community that females can be intelligent and professional. I have shown the young men that women can be independent and strong.
I have lost a lot as well. I have lost touch with friends and family at home. I have lost my ability to speak English fluently. I have lost at least 15 pounds. I have lost my sense of personal space and ownership. I have lost, or better put, let go, of unrealistic expectations and learned how to embrace life for what it is, an adventure. Live in the present and take it all in is how I now view life. I have lost cameras and cell phones. I have shed tears and lost hope. For all that I have lost, I have gained a lot more.
I gained an appreciation for silence and being still. I can sit with someone for hours without saying a word and not feel awkward. I have grown to love afternoon rain showers and hurricane season. I have learned to understand the “god willing” culture and let go of my need to control everything. Sometimes it is better to wait and see if dios (god) really does quiere (want/will). I now understand what it means to meet someone where they are at, and not force your own beliefs and way of doing things on them. I have gained weight and have acquired scars. I have made life long friends and enough memories to write a memoir. I am now fluent in another language and another culture. I have gained the love and respect of dozens of children, and that, in the end, is all that matters.
While I may not have raised a community out of poverty, I have developed some life long friends and found a family here in Las Pajas. It will be hard to leave but I know that I will return in the near future. When I do leave this country, it will not be a goodbye, but a see you later, because the Dominican Republic has changed me forever, and I am forever grateful. My green card may expire, but a huge part of my heart will remain on the island and among the cane, and a part of me will be forever Dominican.
**Post Peace Corps Plans? Still figuring it out, but I have my sights on grad school in fall of 2013 to pursue my Masters in Social Work or my PhD in Counseling Psychology.**