Monday, June 22, 2015

A Life Between Two Worlds

June 20, 2015. 
So here I am. Sitting in my new apartment, English music playing through my window, the water just in front of me, and the city behind. A new life. A new culture. Just a girl trying to find herself in a big city. I think that's from something. I understand it now.
These past two weeks have been filled with walking, office work, diversity trainings, learning about grants, revamping our entire teacher-training initiative (in a good way, though challenging), too much English, craziness with the apartment and electricity bill, early-childhood shenanigans, free sangrias, watching way too many shows and movies, loneliness, running water, constant luz, bringing lunch to work, and planning to visit my babies in their sites for the next month and a half starting Monday. I'd like to say I'm adjusting but I think I'm still in the numb phase. I have plans. I want to paint the apartment. Meet new people. Get out of my new shell that I've put myself in. Volunteer at a home where children that live on the streets of the city are taken in. And embrace the new routine that will be my life for the next year. I'm going to do it. And I'm going to find myself here just as I've done before. But we all need that adjustment phase...right? It's just hard when I either call back home or they call me. I miss them terribly. And it keeps me stuck in a limbo between my life there and my life here. Though maybe that can be my life. In-between two worlds. One I don't want to let go of and one I can't run away from.
So for now. Here's some before and afters of my apartment (though there will be after afters once I'm able to stop struggling financially and buy paint). Thanks to Julie, an incredible new PCV and friend, I was able to nestle pretty quickly. And make it somewhat my own.

I Would Do It All Over Again

The first week of June.
It's funny how many times I've found words to be insuffient. So to share the last week in my home, with my family, I will show simply with pictures. And do my best with words. Forgive me if you're left with questions or wanting more. But at least you should know that you're not alone in that.

The river trip. My going-away party. My incredible friends and family planned it all and told me nothing. Made reservations at a beautiful private river. Invited even the "close" PCVs to join us. We piled into this truck and we're off, food, pots, pans, plateware, and a gift all at our feet.

The gift? One of those pressure cookers that cook beans way faster then normal (like hours faster). Less gas. Saves money. Believe it or not I was the original winner of said pressure cooker when we had our most recent raffle for the library. But as soon as my number was pulled out, 111, despite how much I had actually wanted it, I said no. I truly had only bought the ticket to support the library. Winning was not the reason. So it went to a wonderful, hysterical guy my age from my community. So when they handed my a big, wrapped, box at the river. I knew what it was. They had known I wanted it. And got me one anyways.

Then there was the first "clean-up" at the office. I had begged them to plan it for before I left. Just one last thing I wanted to be a part of. And we did it. I and many others made the first big, visible move in transforming this abandoned office into a library and computer center. One that I pray for nearly everyday. 

If you only knew the difference one day made. Though it may not look like it.

Then there was the day before I left. I had promised a few of my favorites (sorry) we would make rubber-band bracelets. Oh and did we. We started out just three of us but at one point I think I had 15 munchkins crammed into my little living area. It was perfection. And seeing them all day with 5 or 6 colorful bracelets on their wrists and ankles... Priceless. Thanks gram.

Then the goodbyes. The photos I gave out. Double goodbyes. Tears. And my boys stealing my camera.

It's amazing that so much love doesn't make your heart stop. Sometimes it feels like it will. But I keep waking up every morning. As if I deserve to continue receiving such blessings and so much love in return.

 Saturday morning. I finished packing. Was in a complete haze. Hardly seeing straight. My sister came by. She wanted one last photo in front of the office. I thought I had time. But while we were there, I saw the white truck go by towards my house. It was time. I ran. And when I got there, I was no help in packing it up. I'm not even sure who was. I hugged more, cried more, and spun in so many circles. Francheska was hyperventilating. I couldn't get TinTin to calm down. I was shaking uncontrollably. And when I finally got in the truck and we drove off, I realized that Baraquito had been nowhere in sight. Or had I been blinded to him? I called Yoelbi frantically. He told me he had been hiding behind the mango tree. Crying. I told him to hug him for me and tell how incredibly sorry I was for not saying goodbye. My stomach flipped. We made one last stop to see my sister's kids, the twins trying once again to wrap me up with a belt. Just as they did the night before. And then we were off. 
I didn't imagine it that way. I felt so disconnected and yet so connected in that fleeting moment. But as much as my eyes still well up and my throat clenches when I think about it, I wouldn't have had it any other way. They were my life. They were my everything in this last year and a half. I would go back and do it all over again, if not better, even if it meant hurting so much all over again.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trying to Just...Be There.

Today is the first of June. 9:12am. And a wonderful breeze is seeping through my only open window. I should be out and about, visiting, telling people how much they mean to me, starting the goodbye process. But I find that I am not good at this. My heart clenches tight so that my chest pulls itself in. As if to to say, "No, not yet. Please don't go outside." It has been a long time since I have written, I know. But there's many reasons for that. I've started a few times, and then quit. Lack of time, frustrations, and an uncertainty of what I even want to say. I don't have the best memory. I know that years from now, I'm going to look back and be angry with myself for not writing more. But this has literally been a goodbye build-up since February. 
When I decided to stay, applied, did an interview, and got accepted, I didn't realize how much the end of my service was going to change. Technically, this upcoming year's job wasn't supposed to start until the current PCVL left. In June. Now. But upon my boss asking for a favor, I accepted. With the promise that I could have the entire month of May to close out my projects, help the follow-up volunteer a little, and just... be there with my friends and family here in Mariano, I agreed to leave for the entire month of April for training with the new group. I stayed with an amazing host family, met a group of 20 beautiful, smart, experienced, and motivated newbies. Training was incredible and overwhelming. Busy and fun. I reflected so much on these past two years. Cried on multiple occasions (sorry guys). And tried my best to share my experiences, good and bad. We threw a going away party to our trainer who began her journey with my group two years ago. And I was blessed to spend her last with her. We made habichuelas con dulce, empanadas of yucca, we ate too much, always had an excuse to buy a cake, saw the realities of the school systems and suffered together, celebrated our ups, shared our downs, met the national ultimate frisbee team of the DR, swam in a pool, drank chocolate milk, and went to a river. One of the craziest months of my life. And I had to learn real quick how to balance still being a volunteer but also part of the staff that had to evaluate the trainees on their progress. The last day I was supposed to rush back on the last bus possible. But my training manager needed help with the last of the evaluations. I agreed to stay one more night. She offered a hotel room and dinner. We started at 1pm and didn't finish until 5. She then took me to her home, a gorgeous apartment in the middle of the capital-furnished as if it were straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue. Grand piano included. I met her two beautiful daughters, talented and smart. We spent time together laughing, showing off flexibility skills (NOT mine), and spoke in a mix of English and Spanish, waiting for their father to get home from work. We then went to dinner. At an incredible Italian restaurant. Of course, it wasn't my grandma's food but I had a phenomenal eggplant parmasian that melted in my mouth, tried a bite of the oldest daughters pesto pasta, and washed it all down with some red wine. What a change from where I just was and where I've been for the past two years. It was luxurious and I felt so uncomfortable. But her family and their love made me think of my own, and I was comforted. At 10:30pm, I made it to the hotel, 3am was woken up by a volunteer heading out of the country forever, and at 5am I arose to catch the earliest bus back home.
Returning was strange. But it quickly went back to normal; hugs, lovin, coffee, and my family. But I was anxious. And couldn't shake it. In and out of tears.  As my new job overlapped my current one, I learned that I wasn't going to have the entire month of May after all. There were three more times I was going to have to travel back to capital. And being so far away, travelling there and back is always two more days tacked on for travel. So, May 2, I was back in site, the new volunteer showed up for his first "visit" on the 6th, he left on the 10th, and I was gone again on the 13th. We showed the new volunteer the ropes and he's going to be perfect here. I know it even more now but I knew it back then. On the 13th I headed out early and was able to make it to the Swear-In ceremony with my babies. I was like a proud momma watching each one go up and accept their certificate of completion of training. I also finally got to meet my boss' newborn son. He is beautiful, weighed 9lbs 10oz at birth and slept in my arms the whole time. Afterwards, pictures were taken and we headed separate ways to get ready for the "Swear-In" party in the colonial zone that night. I drank 2 chocolate milks and was alllll done (lightweight? Cheap date?). The next morning was PCVL orientation. I was a hot mess all day. Haha but the new PCVL for business, region 3, and I worked our way through all sorts of new information about the work ahead of us (did I mention that I almost cried when we were told about all of the resources we will have available-copier, printer, scanner, etc. it has taken me three days before to simply print something...). That night I went to take a nap at 5pm with plans to get up at 7, get dinner and hang out. I didn't wake up until 2am. Oops. The next day, I was a much better person and we had the second day of orientation involving "coaching" and what it all means and how to do it right. Ending a little late, we had to rush home and get ready for a dinner that our training director threw for all those that were involved in training the new groups: business and education. So back to that beautiful apartment, delicious food, good company, incredibly talented kids playing the piano, and the night ended with us volunteers being the only ones left. 
Oh yea, so the other two trips to the capital? Thankfully turned into just one. I was expected to go back again the 20th-22nd after arriving back home on the 16th. And then at the end of the month? Leaving the 25th through the 30th. I decided to put my foot down. I felt as though I was being punished for accepting to stay for a third year. My time continuously got cut short and I was done. So, I argued my case, my one boss didn't like it, but I told her there was nothing she could do. I wasn't coming. So that week I spent my time playing softball, meeting with a community to hopefully someday get electricity installed, starting to pack (burning memories that will never truly be engulfed in the flames), running errands in DaJabon with a surprise beach trip, having my last community English class full of games and candy, and just...being there. And on Monday, the 25th, I was gone again.  To spend one night and my first night in my new apartment. Passed down by an old volunteer. He left a lot of random shit and I showered with running water. That's all I really know for now. Pictures will come when I move in officially. Then, a week long conference with the group of volunteers that have completed one year of service. It was wonderful to see them all again, hear their success stories, work through their challenges, break boards, play silly games, and oh the work. So much so that I had to write down everything that we want to accomplish this year. For them, for the education sector as a whole, and for this country. And as Brendan said his goodbye to his group, I said hello. The switch is fast approaching. I made it back late Friday night and since then I have been here, not been here, helped with a raffle for the library, planned the office cleaning day with the community, continued organizing and packing, realized that my internet was cut already because I won't be able to afford it in the capital and decided just not to pay this last month, been rained in and an emotional wreck.
Today is the1st of June. I leave for good on the 6th. Today I want to visit my far away family. Tomorrow I have to finish the grant for the library in DaJabon, Wednesday is the first cleaning day, Thursday is apparently my going-away party only God knows where, Friday I want to go out one last time, and Saturday, they're coming to pick me and all my shit up. And I will be off. I have imagined this day for a long time. Whenever you have an expiration date on something, it's inevitable...right? But it's funny. I've done this a lot now. And I don't think I've imaged it right once. Vamos a ver.