Tag Archives: barahona

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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Close of Service?

12 Mar

My two-year mark has come and gone as quickly as mosquitoes flock to a gringo at dusk. Last week we had our Close of Service (COS) conference in the capital, where 517-13-01 (the name of our group who swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers together) celebrated and reflected on the experience we’ve had here on this island.

517-13-01

517-13-01

To say the least, COS was bittersweet. Like almost any other unit that trains, lives, and endures hardship together, 517-13-01 has become a tight-knit group. Although we live far apart in distance, a phone call with a fellow volunteer always seems to elicit sympathy, resolve frustration, and inspire endurance, creativity, and the motivation to continue with what we as a group set out to do. Our COS conference provided us with both closure and opportunities. We listened to the experience and advice of three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to work in the development world, and learned how to translate two years of service into convincing bullets points on a resume. Our Country Director explained how Peace Corps Volunteers can take advantage of non-competitive eligibility status, useful for those of us who wish to continue our careers working for the federal government. I shed tears during several visualization activities, stumped at the thought of how on earth I can say goodbye to two incredible networks I’ve created here in the Dominican Republic – my cohorts and my community. My family.

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

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517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

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After two years, I’ve become aplatana’a. Essentially, native, as the Dominicans say. Though I still don’t understand or agree with certain parts of the culture, the uncertainty or uncomfortableness with other aspects has long since disappeared. No longer having to deal with uncertainty avoidance (a concept I was taught in Intercultural Communication classes and now can apply to real life experience), it’s easier and more comfortable to work and interact in a foreign environment. Loud noises during conversations, cramped guagua rides, non-formal education techniques, machismo tígueres, lethargic concepts of time, and superstitious doña myths have become normal, expected parts in the equation of sustainable development here in the Dominican Republic. Though they still present a challenge, setting out to work in this environment no longer seems as daunting because I’ve got two years of experience under my belt.  Or better yet, bathing suit?  Apron?  Fingernails?

Having just co-coordinated a sub-regional conference for about 30 Chicas Brillantes, I am as busy as ever. Plans for the annual Construye Tus Sueños business competition are due at the end of the month, and I’m working with two young entrepreneurs to complete their plans – one who aims to start a clothing store and another who hopes to improve his already existing operations as a veterinarian. To top it all off, my mom and aunt came to visit! We painted a mural in the local high school with students of the junior class, and crafted artistic expressions of individual beauty with my Chicas Brillantes, who continue to impress and inspire me every day.

Workshop with the junior class - choosing values to put on our Tree of Values mural.

Workshop with the junior class – choosing values to put on our Tree of Values mural.

Learning about values and deciding which ones to put on our mural.

Learning about values and deciding which ones to put on our mural.

Choosing values to put on our mural

Choosing values to put on our mural

Visit from my auntie and mommy!

Visit from my auntie and mommy!

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Tree of Values

Tree of Values

Additionally, I’d like to share that I’ve secured the help from a new project partner. Project partners, or key community contacts, are members from the local community that work in conjunction with volunteers to meet both local needs and Peace Corps’ goals.  Essential to both community integration and the longevity of projects, they are the true volunteers. They are the people who, once the volunteer leaves, ensure the sustainability of a project, and continue to multiply education and opportunities throughout the community. Monica is a young woman from my community, who not only teaches Construye Tus Sueños and Chicas Brillantes with me, but has also become one of my closest friends on the island. A natural-born educator, Monica presents what we’ve planned together with grace and conviction. She imparts the same tools and knowledge that I could as a volunteer, but because she is native to the island, our audience receives it more instinctively. Seeing her impart tools and knowledge that I’ve introduced to her, and the positive effect she’s having on our students, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my service.

Michelle and I - Co-coordinators of the Sub-Regional Chicas Brillantes conference

Michelle and I – Co-coordinators of the Sub-Regional Chicas Brillantes conference

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Professional Panel of women from our Regional .  Rosiris (President of La Cabrita) and Mónica (my new project partner) both participated and represented Pescadería with fuerza!

Professional Panel of women from our Regional . Rosiris (President of La Cabrita) and Mónica (my new project partner) both participated and represented Pescadería with fuerza!

Chicas y Mujeres Brillantes

Chicas y Mujeres Brillantes

Professional Panel

Professional Panel: Yessenia (Educator for World Water Relief), Rosiris (President, La Cabrita), Mónica (Math Teacher, studied abroad in Cuba), Yasmiris (Presidente of Women’s Association and local Tilapia Business), Indhira (Doctor) —- all from the region of Barahona and huge inspirations for our Chicas Brillantes

Mónica and our girls from Pescadería celebrating International Women's day at the conference

Mónica and our girls from Pescadería celebrating International Women’s day at the conference

Rosiris, Mónica, and I - two inspirational women from my community who have contributed to the motivation I have to continue working here in the Dominican Republic.

Rosiris, Mónica, and I – two inspirational women from my community who have contributed to my decision to continue working here in the Dominican Republic.

So for now, I’m staying. Yup!! I’ve signed up to stay another whole year on this island. Starting mid- to late-May, I will be living in the capital and working as the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development sector. I will describe more of my plans and responsibilities as PCVL in a later post, but I figured I owed an announcement now that I’ve been officially cleared to stay on board ☺