Written Tuesday, April 24, 2012
So, it’s been a year already! I’m over the hill with my Peace Corps experience, and I hardly know where the days have gone. Twenty-seven months is approximately 810 days; I’ve completed about 418 of those. Pretty soon, I’ll be writing this about finishing up my service (wowzers!).
In the last year, I haven’t felt any change that’s happened to me as it occurred, but I know I’m different than when I first began this journey into international development work (i.e., working on someone else’s neighborhood, rather than your own). So how am I different? Hmm… Well, maybe I have more of a “get-it-done” attitude. When something needs to be accomplished—be it transporting people or a cooking a meal for a lot of folks—and Dominicans have the will to get it done, it gets done. “Cuando se quiere, se puede,” they say around here (where there’s a will, there’s a way, loosely translated). This attitude doesn’t carry over to everything, but when it’s there, it’s impressive to see. Some of the means may be uncomfortable or unconventional to us Americans (like fitting seven people into a 1994 Honda Civic, and calling it public transportation, or transporting a kitchen table on a motorbike) but what needs to get done gets done. So when my grass needs cutting, and I don’t want to have to pay 800 pesos for the service, naturally, I get out my trusty machete to cut my own grass. Cuando se quiere, se puede.
I also now have the ability to sit in silence with complete strangers and not feel awkward. Domincans are great at this, but in reality, hardly anyone is truly considered a stranger, especially if you have a mutual friend with the unknown person. You’ll meet someone, and moments later, they’ll say to you, “ésta es tu casa,” (this is your home). So sitting down on the porch, and not talking with someone means you’re in good company. And if a small cup of coffee is involved, now you’re really compartir-ing.
I’m also a bit more doubtful of people’s words. This could be good or bad. But here, for as much planning as you do, there will likely be something that comes up to alter, completely change or in some cases put an indefinite halt to your plans. There’s a saying here that goes, “el hombre hace y Dios deshace; el hombre propone y Dios dispone,” (loosely: man does and God undoes; man plans and God arranges). I hate that saying. While true, man’s plans should always include God, what it’s translated into, in my observations, is lack of planning for many people. Being a planner (admittedly, sometimes an over planner), that saying makes me very itchy. And in its manifestation, I’ve been left waiting several times. So, I think nowadays I take people’s words with a grain of salt until I see it manifest. On the other hand, I think that has also made me a bit more flexible (Peace Corps’ favorite word!). With so many non plans, you tend to have a few scenarios of how your own could potentially play out, and I think you’re more prepared for any outcome in the end.
I’ve also taken on a number of cultural norms, some of which I should hope to drop before returning to the States. Among them: I participate in crowd/line cutting. This is absolutely a cultural faux paux in the States, and for me personally…and it’s also something I find to be culturally paradoxical here in the DR. Dominicans will spend hours waiting on a bus out of town, but will break in line at the local corner store to get 15 pesos worth of butter that’s not going anywhere. I don’t get it, but now, I also do it myself. I hiss at people to get their attention. I stand what’s probably uncomfortably close to people. I say things like, “you’re fatter,” to Dominicans or to my fellow volunteers who’ve put on some weight; fortunately many of them are used to hearing it in their communities, so I’m not offending them (I hope!). I also greet people really loudly walking down the street, no matter their distance from me (well…I may have done that some before), and I think I’m more generous now, especially with food. Dominicans tend to be very generous folks.
Physically speaking, I’ve not had too many major issues, but I have had more calls to the doctor than I ever have. I’ve had some bouts with skin reactions, allergens, diarrhea and bacterial infections, but nothing major other than the herniated disc…mmm…okay that’s a little major (check out my fly back brace). And of course I’ve lost about 20 pounds with all the walking around I do.
Professionally, now is the time where I’m starting to think about what my next steps are in terms of life after Peace Corps. I have a few paths that’ I’m considering, but I haven’t decided yet. In the meantime, I have roughly 392 days left before the end of my 27 months, but I’m not quite ready to start counting them down just yet.