Archive | June, 2016

manGo with God

16 Jun

And just like that, it was over. I was on my way home to Vermont; my 40 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer were complete.

Overcome with a confusing combination of exhaustion, relief, sadness, and disbelief and surrounded once again by swooning valleys, rolling hills, and luscious greenery, I gazed at the outstretched highway and struggled to process the reality.

How many mangoes might I have eaten throughout my service? Will I remember how to dance bachata like a campesina? Might La Cabrita eventually turn a profit? What kind of person will Omailin be when he grows up? How many of my Chicas Brillantes will avoid an adolescent pregnancy and instead graduate university to become young professionals? When will I be back to visit?

Memories from the last 3 years overwhelmed me – receiving our site placements, relearning how to be myself in a foreign country, inaugurating the court, hosting visitors, my Chicas Brillantes, the sounds of my neighborhood, how wounded I was when things weren’t working out with La Cabrita, watching Omailin grow up, all of the road trips I took with Alejandra and Michael, my two students winning Construye Tus Sueños, this last year in the capital, passing through the metal detector in airport security with my cat Mio in my arms and trying to be brave for him. I couldn’t help but smile, and prayed that these moments and the love I that have for the Dominican Republic would never escape me.

My last visit to Pescadería was comforting and bittersweet. Three years ago, the people there became my family, adopting me into their lives without blinking an eye. Since first arriving, babies have become toddlers, teenagers are now moms, and La Cabrita has slowly developed into a functioning enterprise. I had a teary conversation with Mari, one of my Chicas Brillantes and the first friend I’d made in site. She thanked me for helping her to realize that she didn’t want to grow up to be like her mother (an illiterate single mother of 5), but that she instead wanted to study, work, find a loving companion, and then consider having kids. I melted. Two busloads of us took a trip to one of my favorite places in country, Las Marias de Neiba, to celebrate all of the hard work we’d accomplished as a community. We splashed, laughed, and recounted each detail of the court-building process. Later that night, we jammed into a cozy, campo house to watch the NBA Finals.  I had a long conversation with Rosi, the president of La Cabrita, to discuss their setbacks, growth, and plans for the future. We plucked mangoes off the ground, the trees overburden with fruit from recent rains, and passed the days in front of Pepelo’s colmado as the nectar navigated around our grins.

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One of my favorite views in country – the entrance to Pescadería

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Southern plantains

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Visiting the mural my mom, aunt, and I painted at the local high school!

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Girls at Las Marías

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Mari and I

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Reni and I

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Carlos, Pepelo, and friends

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Taking Omailin for his first swim!

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NBA Finals

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Neighborhood happenings

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Reina and I collecting mangoes

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Omailin and his papayas

 

I did my best to savor these last moments – each view, smell, taste, conversation, and hug – as much as possible.  I departed from Pescadería in peace, and though I was unsure when I’d be back, I ensured myself that I would be.  Si Dios quiere…

 

 

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Southern coast, Los Patos beach

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Showing Carlos what the southern coast is all about!

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Los Patos

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Amanda (current PVC in Pescadería) and I on the way back to the capital after my last visit, stopping to get coconuts along the way!

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Another pit stop – mango festival in Baní

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Farewell party with one of my favorite ladies, Natalie – the Yin to my Yang

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Carlos’s brother and I out for one last time in the Colonial Zone

 

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Late-night eats at Barra Payan, a renown Dominican establishment that’s open 24/7 and known for its traditional sandwiches and delicious, fresh juices

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Couldn’t leave the island without one last trip to the colmado for empanadas and Presidente beer

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Julie and my last day at the office!  We first met on the plane 40 months ago, and were the last ones to leave from our group.

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Last dinner at my favorite restaurant – lion fish ceviche, grilled octopus, and a goat cheeseburger!

In terms of immediate future plans, I’m most looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and basking in the joys of Vermont summertime; to rejuvenating parts of me that were quieted during my service, especially while living within the sprawl of Santo Domingo. But nevertheless, another adventure is not far off, as I will join my mom in Africa for one month of travel around Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Namibia. She also finishes her Peace Corps service this month, and we are rewarding ourselves with a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter Close of Service endeavor.

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence.  I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love.  I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.” – Leo Tolstoy; a quote from one of my very first blog posts.

In conclusion, this has been an incredible experience, one that will take time to truly register and recognize its impact on my soul, beliefs, expectations, and future plans. These last three years have filled me with an indescribable amount of memories, gratitude, curiosity, and faith.  Time has flown and my heart is full.  People near and far have been both supportive and welcoming, encouraging me to seize the opportunities at hand to create friendships, affect change, and continue learning – I hope you’re able to do the same for yourselves. Thank you for being a part of this adventure.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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Peace, love, thanks, and mangoes. 

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mujeres in the mountains

7 Jun

Even the vicious maye that sucked away at my bare legs and dotted my skin with swollen lumps and dainty drops of blood didn’t bother me. We were in the mountains tasting sweet air and basking in the pleasant greenery of Constanza.

The four Sector Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders and a fellow capitaleña/Returned Peace Corps Volunteer had decided to reward ourselves – to escape the sweltering city of Santo Domingo and enjoy each others’ company in a more intimate setting before moving on to our respective next life chapters. We set our sights on Constanza, a region known for its agriculture (strawberries!), refreshing climate, and opportunities for outdoor adventures.

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4 PCVLs: Natalie (Youth), Julie (Education), Silpa (Health), and me (Business)

We booked a cozy-looking cabin nestled in the hills, tickled by the thought of having our own space to bake goodies and lounge around in socks by the fireplace. To our delight, the house was better than we had imagined – quaint and quirky with an idyllic view of Constanza’s lush valley.  It was not the typical setting one conjures when imaging the Dominican Republic, and we were thrilled.

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Our cozy casita!

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Fog lazily hugged the hills as we woke up each morning to snuggle into blankets and relish the tranquility, souls soothed by the cradle of a rocking chair. The crisp air kissed sweet moisture onto our skin and sent welcomed chills down our usually sweaty spines. The vast array of greenery was impressive and revitalizing.  We did yoga, read, played card games, gazed upon the valley, dined on incredible homemade meals, and drank copious amounts of warm beverages (coffee, hot chocolate, and room-temperature wine). We relied on our neighbor and his pick-up truck to find strawberries and take us adventuring high up into the mountains to visit a remote waterfall, a frigid crevice tucked far away from any school or clinic (though we passed several communities along the way); he presented us with fresh, local produce and brought firewood at night to keep us cozy. We reflected on how much we’ve enjoyed working with one another and tried to wrap our heads around the fact that we are just days away from becoming Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

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All sorts of greenery!

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just one of our tasty meals!  black bean breakfast enchiladas

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Hillside agriculture on the way to the waterfall

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Stacey (RPCV), Silpa, Natalie, and me

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Silpa and Julie

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Natalie and me

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mujeres de fuego

Tomorrow I will head to Pescadería to say my goodbyes. How is it that in some ways I feel as though I’m visiting my site for the first time? Anxiety, hope, and disbelief. But, then come the waves of sadness and pangs of grief. It’s a paradox that I will only be able to process with time. Certain crannies of my soul wish that I could have just hidden away in Constanza and have the mountains protect me from the tears and heartache that surely await me. Leaving will be  painfully more uncomfortable than arriving.

Ideally, this “goodbye” is more of a “see you later”, and that I am able to embody the strength with which I was rejuvenated this past weekend. After all, “Beyond mountains there are mountains.”

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