Sunday, December 28, 2014

In a Space Between

28 de diciembre 2014.  
There have been difficulties in my service thus far. Ways that I've been challenged beyond my imagination. Things I've had to learn, overcome, change about myself, and/or accept. If I were to write a novel of all of the parts of these last two years that were difficult, I'd write one longer than all the Harry Potter books combined.
And while I'm sure that in every moment, I would have said, "This is the hardest moment of my life," looking back (though even in that perspective lens we are in danger), I now know that I was wrong. The hardest moment of my Peace Corps service was this Christmas time. For the first time in 25 years, I wasn't going to be home with my family, the cold,the tree, the music, the movies, everything. And being raised with a family where traditions are everything (and I, on my own particularly, might even take that a step further), I was trapped in a world where nearly none of those familiarities existed. I tried mightily by putting up my tree a little earlier, lights outside my house in the formation of a star, a stocking (to which, upon being asked, realized I had no clue where it came from), and even orally sharing and comparing traditions between cultures with my neighbors and loved ones surrounding me.  But as the big day approached, it got harder, I got weaker, and I was lost as to how to cope. The 23rd? In and out of tears (okay, so sobbing tears) kind of mess. I wanted to lock myself away in my house all day. But the loneliness consumed me. I tried to leave and be with other families to help fill the void. But the loneliness consumed me. 
All I wanted was my family (selfishly); my mom, my dad, my big brother, little sister, and my munchkin. My grandmothers, cousins, Guncle, and random friends who always manage to stop by. I wanted to make cookies and eat the batter behind mom's back. I wanted to help put up the tree while watching the Grinch, annoyingly quoting every. single. word. I wanted to go Christmas shopping no matter how bad I am at it or how broke I would be doing it with Christmas music blasting through the slightly cracked window just so I could feel the freezing cold air bite my left cheek while my right was burning red with the warmth of the heated car. I wanted to go to church, even if it was with the same outfit as last year. Eat every appetizer grandma put out and then on a full stomach, shovel dinner down too. Maybe even going for seconds. I wanted to watch my cousins open presents Christmas with a glass of white wine in my hands that dad never fails to keep full. I wanted to fall asleep with my little man beside me, kicking me all night long or taking over the entire bed with his skinny but long body, knowing my baby girl was right there too sleeping soundly through the night. I wanted to wake up before the two of them, go to the bathroom (taking an illegal peek down the stairs as if I was 5 years old again), return to both of them awake and start our knocking ritual to "wake" the sleeping parents next door. I wanted to wrestle, laugh, and pretend to get annoyed as we wait for the adults to get everything prepared and start video taping. To take our picture on the stairs still all groggy and gross but always with a sparkle from the tree and excitement in our eyes. To take turns opening presents with a patience that should never exist. To find the cookies and carrots partially eaten and the milk slightly spilled on the table or floor. Drink coffee, eat breakfast, call relatives, and then get ready to head over to grandma #2's. Where the ticking clock in the dining room always matches the pulse of my heart and makes me feel safe and at peace. More presents, wine, food, making videos, playing games, and just basking in the warmth of family. Never wanting to leave but the end of the night inevitably arrives. Always.

I have learned of an entirely new world, new culture, and seen how small our country that we consume ourselves in truly is. I've loved parts of here far more than certain things back home. But I would be a liar and betrayer if I didn't admit that there are still so much from back home that I appreciate far more now. Sure, we are over-consumers, we use technology way too often, we lack in soaking in the simplicities of life, and we forget about what truly matters some days. But damn it, do we know how to celebrate Christmas (to me at least). Haha And maybe being sick, lacking sleep, needing peace and quiet more than I ever have, and being so damn attached to certain traditions isn't being fair to where I live now, but it's just how I feel. 

But to continue being honest, I was stuck in a space between living in the past, and trying to enjoy the present moment. So to be fair to the present: 
I was able to celebrate Christmas Eve dinner with my second family and it was a beautiful disaster. 

Absolute perfection, to be honest because it was just as unorganized and crazy, and delicious as it would have been back home. 

I then got to dance and be with friends. 
Christmas Day I was blessed enough to gather with some Americans in the area and we made food from back home, 

a little man (whom I just met that night) stole my heart while mashing potatoes better than me and telling me his life story,

And my family was there through all of the mess that I was. Even at midnight while I was feverish, just got finished throwing up and was sobbing. Sam, you're the best for answering me while naked and about to shower (did I just post that publically? Oops ๐Ÿ˜œ)

Reminding me that even if I make the decision to be away, they will always be there waiting with a suffocating group hug and glass of white wine.
Merry Christmas everyone. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where Children Should Never Have to Be.

Santiago Children's Hospital 12 of December 2014. Casilda's twins were getting check-ups and she needed someone to make the trek with her. So with a note sent to my teachers and students to forgive my absence, we were off at 5am.  
Such a beautifully painful trip. They were celebrating Christmas and the number of people handing out gifts, cookies, juice, highlighters, lo que sea was overwhelming. I did a lot of waiting around with the munchkins as Casilda did what she needed to do. Here are some pictures of us just hanging out and then the craziness of Santa Claus, presents, and the gathering of all the children who attend this hospital far too regularly.

Angel Manuel 

Angel Miguel. I used to not be able to tell them apart... 

Momma and her princes.

They were terrified of Santa Claus. Haha

All of these children have some sort of chronic illness...


Miguel and I playing together while his momma and brother had a consultation. She has to go back with Manuel on the 22 where they will inform her whether or not the next step will be the surgery or one more round of chemotherapy... And then on the 31st, they will have to return for whatever is decided.

I pray for little Angel Manuel and his family everyday. They have showed me what the strength of a family really is capable of and I'll never be able to thank them enough for it. We just have to have faith that his thinning hair, loss of his beautifully thick eyelashes, slimming of his tiny body, sinking of his once-plump cheeks, and the unseen battle inside will all be worth it in the end. And we can celebrate another life saved by a miracle someday soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who wants a Sack of Rice?

The day I got back (8 de diciembre) was a long one. I arose an hour early, forgetting my clock was an hour behind because of the lack of daylight savings in the DR. Unable to fall asleep, I simply arose at 5:30 and through difficult goodbyes, I headed out with my daddy, coffee in hand and a suitcase beautifully stuffed by my mother. The drive was long and the tears threatened to descend the entire way but my dad and his loving support kept me together. I said goodbye outside the airport and rushed in since I was cutting my time quite short. After getting my ticket, checking my 49lb bag (1lb more and I would've had to pay! GO MOM), and making it through security, I sat at my gate with only ten minutes before my boarding time. Phew!
I arrived in Santo Domingo at noon, made it through customs, and rushed to find a taxi. I had to ask if there was still a bus to Loma because again, cutting it short. He said the last one left at 2:30. Perfect. But upon arriving at the bus station at 1:10, the last one was leaving at 1:30, and the ticket man first said there were no more seats available. But upon checking again, there was one! Phew again! Six hours later, I made it to Loma in the dark. Yoelbi was late picking me up but when he arrived, I couldn't have been happier. And Eudy tagged along to haul my suitcase. I hopped on with Yoelbi and we were off. HOLY FREEZING. I literally felt my bones shaking. But about 30 minutes in, Eudy hitting a pothole and my suitcase going flying, I made it to my house. And to a bonfire right outside and a bunch of kids chanting my name. God they just know the way to my heart. I unpacked little and passed out after visiting a few favorites (oops, can I say that?).
The next day I slept in until 11. Oh yea :) I was arranging my house and unpacking a bit when Dominga called me from next door. She told me that across the Play, two girls were fighting. I booked it. After breaking through the crowd chanting and laughing, I grabbed the one girl (almost my height and much "stronger" than me) as she was ripping the other girls hair out and getting bashed in the head. My arms alone weren't strong enough to break them apart. So, I pulled my weight back and used my entire body to separate them, falling flat on my back on the rocks with the girl falling on top of me. Fight over. And commence full body shakes from the adrenaline. Some teachers were there watching but too afraid to get involved. Thank goodness Dominga called me... I was fuming, yelled at a guy my age who was just watching with a smile and returned home.
The rest of the day was just organizing, handing out presents (who knew the dollar store could be such a hit!), and finishing up plans for class the next day.
Back to class I went at 8am and boy did I miss it! Casilda and I then went around to sell tickets for our raffle on Sunday. And Sunday was a SUCCESS. A sack of rice (125lbs worth) was such a good idea. We spent more on the prize but raised more money than any other raffle we had done. And there were many more people in attendance. 

Other updates? Still no answer for location. We got through to the secretary of the presidency who is going to speak with the man who promised to help us and then dropped off the face of the earth. And another Christmas raffle is in the making :)

Too Much love for Words

The first week of December was vacation time! And can I be honest and say, I cried the night before leaving haha. I'm sure it was just a bunch of emotions running through my body but oh man was I excited. The week was full of family, food, and just good old times. Seeing everyone was incredible. I can't even describe it all adequately but I'm so beyond blessed by the ones I have back home. And I'll never forget it, even while I'm so far away for so long. 
The wedding was beautiful, the house where we stayed, incredible, and the love I felt, overwhelming-in a good way. My family gave me Christmas early and we just lived each and every moment to the fullest. I find myself without words here so I'll just post some pictures to show my beautiful family and I together for the first time in too long. 

And while everything being so perfect made it hard to go back, it also made it that much easier. Because I know they're always there, loving me and supporting me through all my crazy shenanigans. 
I miss you all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Adventure of a Lifetime

So on Thursday, the 20 of Noviembre, Ann and Keila came to my neck of the woods to visit. They stopped by to pick me up and we headed to Restauraciรณn for a meeting with Ramon, the district director. The meeting had been scheduled and confirmed as of the day prior but of course, upon showing up, he wasn't there. The sub-director, however, was. The purpose of the meeting was to form a better relationship between Peace Corps and the district. Ann's brilliant plan is to make them more aware of the volunteers in the area, what our job is and how it lines up with theirs, and to hopefully find a way to collaborate together more effectively. This is why she creates "clusters" of volunteers in one district when she does site development. The meeting went beautifully. They saw her passion, loved how much our goals line up with theirs and are excited for the relationship to form. We are still in infancy stages with the process but it was so neat to be there and have a hand in moving forward.
Next? Lunch. Then we headed to a community called Cruz de Cabrera for site development. Ann had been there before but had heard of another route through the pueblo which was apparently shorter. What she was unaware of, however, was the condition of the road. Literally the worst road I have ever seen in my entire life. Imagine me in the back seat, holding on to both "Oh shit" bars on either side and Ann and Keila screaming in the front as we rise and fall and curve with ditches and mud and cliffs hanging off to our right. The complete lack of houses and people was also terrifying in that NO ONE would've known if were to have gotten stuck. I had to get out three times to see if it was even possible to keep going with the way the cracks and holes dipped. THANK GOD for the PC four wheel drive and the incredible chofer that Keila was. An hour and a half later, we made it to the school. 
Incredibly enough, despite not seeing many houses, the school's population is higher than that of Mariano Cestero. We met with the director's wife and the teaching staff of the afternoon. They were wonderful and excited about the possibility of a volunteer working with them. All I have to say is this volunteer better be prepared for living out in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone service, and they have to LOVE walking. A lot. Haha But oh my god did we have a blast together, the three of us women screaming, praying, singing, and laughing until we were sick to our stomachs (or maybe that was just Ann's pregnancy ๐Ÿ˜œ). And again, it was neat to see the back stage of site development. Something that we don't see much as volunteers since we are just sent where our bosses have already been to and explored.
On the way out, we headed in the other direction and it took only about 20 minutes and the road wasn't nearly as bad haha. We vowed NEVER to go that way again! We stopped by and saw Tiffany and then they brought me home before heading to where they were staying the night. So much fun.