Liberated/Exhilarated/Reinvigorated

I made it. I survived.

I just got back to Monte Cristi after my swear-in group’s 3-Month IST (in-service training) where I presented the results of my community diagnostic. Whew. It still feels strange thinking about having been here for over 5 months… 3 of those here in my community. The conference was actually quite amazing. Since we were told that during our first three months, our only job is to get to know the people and work on our diagnostic (a paper and a presentation discussing the needs of the community) we were all pretty nervous about actually having to start work verdadero. But after IST, we are all on the same page and I am more motivated now than I have been at any other point in my service thus far. In the next week or so, I plan on starting a women’s group called Somos Mujeres (We Are Women) that will focus on how women without any formal training or education can start income-generation projects from their homes. I have worked with a local woman who is now ready to be the “face” of the group and will facilitate most of their meetings and activities. The women in the community seem really excited at the prospect of being able to increase their family’s income, even by just a fraction. Let’s hope it’s a success!

Also, potentially even more importantly, I moved out on my own this week! IST also marks the time when volunteers can get a house and live independently of host families. I found a sweet house up on the hillside of town with a strong breeze and a great view. It’s a bit of a walk to the center of town, but it is definitely worth it for the tranquility and friendliness of the neighborhood. There are banana trees growing in my back yard and I would really like to plant some more produce both as a challenge to myself and to cut back on some costs. The most interesting thing about moving out is that nobody here lives by themselves. Nobody. If you aren’t married, you live with your family. If you’re old, you live with your family. If you’re unemployed, you live with your family. If you have your own family, sometimes you still live with your family. Needless to say, community members seem to be quite concerned that I will either starve, accidentally burn down the house, or die slowly of isolation and boredom. Someone even tried to give me a puppy yesterday to keep me company. As much as I truly want a canine companion, I think I should focus on work first and if all goes well, then puppy time. It’s such a liberating feeling to finally be able to have my own space… where I can establish my own house rules. Shoes off at the door, please. I don’t have time to sweep my floor six times a day.

Supposedly, other volunteers had lived there before me so it looks like I picked a good spot! There even seem to be less mosquitos up there! Although, I have plenty of repellent, just in case. The place is a tad expensive, buttt it is completely furnished… Down to the forks and spoons. So I figured it would be worth the extra expenses to avoid the headache of tracking down all of the household necessities. You all know what this means, TIME TO PLAN YOUR VISITS!

I got my second care package this week as well. What was supposed to be a birthday package arrived over a month late, but I can’t complain. The goodies (and the hand sanitizer) were worth the wait. Thanks mom! After giving almost all of it away to my host siblings, I had to lock up the rest of the candy so that I could eat it in peace. Funny how as soon as I brought home that box, I was all of the sudden the most popular person in the house…

Now it is time to get to know the DR on a different level. Not as the brother of so-and-so or the guy who lives with such-and-such, but to develop relationships with my neighbors as just a guy living in the same town, in the same country, speaking the same language. I want to stay up late playing dominos with the old guys across the street, serve coffee to everyone who stops by my house, shout out (by name) to everyone who passes by, harvest some produce and give it to the family next door for no reason at all, and most of all, simply take part in the goings on of my new surroundings. One of the biggest mantras in Dominican life is compartir, or sharing. They take it very seriously. It doesn’t necessarily only apply to splitting your cookie in half to give to a friend (but it is definitely expected!), but also taking the time to get to know people. To sit on their porch and spend an afternoon discussing the weather and letting the rocking chairs do most of the talking. To establish that everyone is an equal. To share means to give a little bit of yourself to someone else and take a little bit of them with you. It’s a beautiful way of looking at life, and I can’t wait to share with all of you.

Until the next time,
–Andrés