Greetings from the DR!
Things have finally calmed down from all my out-of-site work trips and travels (and my first visitors, family who came and stayed for a week here in Puerto Plata), and I’m trying to use this time to get a few things back up and running, namely another group of kids for the Actas de Nacimiento in addition to helping the Escojo group get back into the swing of things with school starting, and helping CHOCAL (the chocolate project in Fundelosa) get a hold on their costs/prices and keeping track of things (inventory, attendance, sales, cash flow, accounts receivable, etc).
I’m also trying to help Camino de Luz transition from being a “youth business” to having a community member take over running it and being responsible for it. She’s going to have to take out a loan to buy materials and get production back up and running, and because the loan will be through my counterpart organization, I’ll have more responsibility for it than I’d like, although none legal. People in the community want me to do all sorts of things I don’t want to do, which I usually get out of by explaining that it’s not why I’m here… not my job (and not a hobby I’m interested in) (for example, being the Community Photographer Available At Your Beck And Call). Since Day One, Camino de Luz has been my most frustrating, least rewarding and least favorite activity at my site, and leaving it to run its course is tempting. I’d be happy to be rid of the headache. However, I don’t want to fail, and I hate admitting defeat. I don’t want to be the one who throws in the towel. Although the youth “can’t” (read, “don’t want to”) continue, they do want the business to stay open and operating. The community wants it to continue, and they want me to be involved in it. In addition to the woman who is taking over, there are others who had expressed interest in doing so. The “It’s not my job” line doesn’t work, because, well, it IS part of my official project assignment, and the community isn’t totally ambivalent about its success (although they certainly aren’t passionately proactive about it, either). And so I toil, and stress, and beat my head against the wall.
I think part of my problem with Camino de Luz is I’ve never seen any indication that it will be able to sustain itself without a Volunteer constantly harping and nagging to pay the bills, buy more supplies, collect on money due, have a meeting, look for new business, reevaluate market costs and prices, clean, organize. I believe what these kids have learned is important whether the business itself succeeds or fails, and it’s exhausting postponing the inevitable. Also, and perhaps more to the point, I’ve never felt much camaraderie with the people associated with the business, apart from the mother of one of the girls. They’ve never sought me out, made me feel especially welcome, seemed interested in getting to know one another or been more than minimally responsive to me or what we are supposedly trying to accomplish. I have only felt like I’ve been dragging them, kicking and screaming, forcing them (generally unsuccessfully) to do things they aren’t really committed to. So I’m sure you, faithful readers, can imagine how trying it is to continue with this project, not wanting to let myself, my community, the business or Peace Corps down. It is so tempting, so easy, to take advantage of any opportunity to reschedule whatever activity is pending; everybody shares the blame in this one.
Anyways, now that my summer craziness is over (I thought it was just going to be June, but it ended up also being most of July and half of August!) I am trying to get back into my projects in my site. Already I can tell that the next cycle of conferences, workshops and Gringo Grita is going to be busy again, but now I know to be more conscientious of my scheduling so I don’t get so booked up andaring.
Although I am doing pretty well, still feeling good about being here and hopeful (if not confident) that I will leave my community at least a little better than I found it, I am finding that, unfortunately, guilt and anxiety seem to be the constants in my emotional status here. I have always been a worrier, only just in control of my anxious tendencies. It pains me to think that I might let someone down or not fulfill their expectations (my own included). I stress, worry and feel guilty when I am out of my site, be it for work or pleasure, because my community wants me here. But then I feel pissed off that when I am here, people don’t make much an effort to include me or get to know me beyond the basics (I am reprimanded for not coming to visit, but when I visit, I’m given a plastic chair and left by myself), or engage themselves in my projects. I feel guilty for not participating in more recreational volunteer events, or hanging out/bonding with other volunteers. I feel guilty for not being as neighborly and social as I think my community wants me to be. I worry that they think I’m not working enough, not doing enough, not contributing enough because I don’t work very much one-on-one with individual families. I feel guilty and judged when I take the personal time and space I need to stay sane (which too often negates the positive effects of taking it). I feel like I am constantly being measured by and compared to previous volunteers, and that I don’t cut the mustard (even though I rationally know it wasn’t always easy going for those previous volunteers, this doesn’t seem to help). I am surrounded by many acquaintances, few peers and even fewer friends.
This is not to say that my days and weeks here are without happiness, successes. Moments of clarity and inspiration, of feeling wanted, valued, appreciated, respected do come, and not as infrequently as it might seem, given the tone of this entry. It just kind of all cancels itself out to being “okay,” and I want things to be amazing. I want my heart to feel full with pride and love for my community and my work; I want my heart to be “in it,” but, sometimes, the reality is that it is mind-over-matter here to stay motivated, to keep going, to remain positive.
Aside from that, I miss home. Of course I miss my family, although seven years now of living away from home we are all accustomed to not being in touch on a daily basis. But I so miss my niece (who I haven’t even met she’s so new) and my nephew. I miss my friends, and am missing huge events in their lives—weddings, babies, new serious-seeming boyfriends who I don’t get to evaluate and approve. And then there is a certain RPCV who is making my life difficult, although hopefully in a good way. Life continues at home. Everyone is headed full-speed into the futures, and I have no idea what mine holds.
Yet things are progressing, happening. Time, actually, is flying by. Here are some important upcoming milestones:
- September 13: One-year anniversary In-Country
- End of October: Halfway point of Peace Corps Service
- November 20: My BIRTHDAY
- November 24 (mas o menos): One-year anniversary in my site
Although the days sometimes go by oh so slowly, the weeks and months are flying by. I look back, now, and cannot believe it was a year ago that my mom dropped me off at the airport at some absurd hour of the morning to embark on this adventure. When I reflect on what I have done and how smoothly things really have gone (if I’m honest, instead of super-critical of myself), and how quickly time has gone by, I feel bolstered, surer, that I can do this, that I will do this, and that I will do it well.
When I started writing this, I thought it would be more of an update on what I’ve been doing instead of so much about how I’m doing, but it seems I had a lot to say. One wonderful thing I did do was receive my first visitors of my service. Uncle Dennis, Linda and Lila, and my cousin Jami spent a week with me. It was wonderful to see them and spend time with them, not to mention the amazing HUGE suitcases of goodies they brought me. We went to 27 Charcos, spent an afternoon and ate lunch at my site, went souvenir shopping in Puerto Plata, got massages, cut about 10 inches off my hair, laid on the beach, read, ate, took HOT SHOWERS! Of course, I was really the only one who got any mosquito bites to speak of… just my luck. Also, they got to enjoy the anxiety/anticipation and, fortunately, let-down of Tropical Storm Fay (nothing much happened here).
Anyways, thanks for the continued support. Keeping this blog has been more helpful to me than I had thought, both in terms of keeping in touch and documenting my experience, but also in fleshing out what’s going on in my mind. I find it hard to talk about it, or put my thoughts into words on the fly, so writing about it has been important to make sure it all doesn’t stay inside.
Until next time!