Tag Archives: volunteer

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.

IMG_3650

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

IMG_3648

Southern plantains

20160616-133409.jpg

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

IMG_3359

Girls at Las Marías

IMG_3663

IMG_3362

Mari and I

IMG_3672

IMG_3361

Reni and I

IMG_3685

Carlos, Pepelo, and friends

IMG_3665

IMG_3360

Taking Omailin for his first swim!

IMG_3363

NBA Finals

IMG_3364

Neighborhood happenings

IMG_3349

Reina and I collecting mangoes

IMG_3374

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…

 

 

IMG_3356

Southern coast, Los Patos beach

IMG_3354

Showing Carlos what the southern coast is all about!

IMG_3350

Los Patos

IMG_3365

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!

IMG_3366

Another pit stop – mango festival in Baní

IMG_3367

20160616-133447.jpg

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

20160616-133628.jpg

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

 

20160616-133635.jpg

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

20160616-133433.jpg

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

IMG_3378

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.

IMG_3397

20160616-133440.jpg

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.”

IMG_3392

IMG_3357

Peace, love, thanks, and mangoes. 

Advertisements

calmed by community

3 Jan

Written 12/28/15

I find airports bewildering and entertaining. Both weary- and bright-eyed travelers represent a spectrum of individuals coming from or heading to an adventure of some sort. Overwhelmed, curious, rude, oblivious, excited, seasoned, and determined. Airports are strangely neutralizing; they are international arenas through which such an array of passengers navigate systematically, and where one has the choice to interact with, observe, or neglect his/her immediate surroundings. Today, in the wondrous community of the Miami International Airport, I am one of these travelers. Stimulated yet calmed, I am sitting at the same gate where I had been intensely people watching just over a month ago while awaiting my flight to Boston. It had been two years since I was last home in Vermont, and now, as I wait to board my flight back to Santo Domingo, I have some time to reflect on the whirlwind vacation I just experienced.

Between November 23rd and December 28th, I traveled over 10,000 miles, visited three major US cities, spent two holidays in my hometown, attended my grandpa’s 98th birthday party, gave six 50-minute Peace Corps presentations, watched my sister graduate from Auburn University, reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer (check out mom’s blog here), got two massages, ate all the food I’ve been longing for, spent quality Auntie Kati time with my five sobrinitos, took the 5:20am Dartmouth Coach to the Logan Airport too many times, and reconnected with a healthy number of family members and friends. I owe the majority of these ‘accomplishments’ to my parents, particularly to my dad. Generous with his time, feedback, humor, and goodwill, Tom has become an active, integral part of the local Woodstock community; he not only made my homecoming possible, but also humbly heartwarming.

12294864_10153714548670349_819200844558305763_n

Turkey Trotting

photo 1

Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler and his granddaughters 🙂

11220059_10205768486359586_8131031710334328043_n

Chicago with my college roommate, where we watched Clemson make it to the Orange Bowl!  

12313928_10153733220240349_8959583344875309287_n

Tree decorating in Chicago

 

12274643_10153718684650349_2386794388853053089_n

One of my favorite activities?  Catching up with a fellow Tiger.  

photo 1

snuggle seshes in Denver

12376049_10153770956760349_3073041491932001085_n

So happy I was able to catch this guy’s holiday concert!

734683_10153770956425349_2410170973966188593_n

Tree decorating in Denver

12391434_10153749665125349_5015497079526884090_n

Reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer

12347980_10205764557929912_7747600492121576643_n

Carrie graduated from Auburn!

12373354_1749736748581628_7312404383801724383_n

War Damn!

12369045_10153748903030349_1868869294251833348_n

Weschler sisters and the Mister

photo 2

Long weekend with mom = awesome bike tour in Atlanta

12373419_10153101846491504_4895996433019989810_n

Grandpa turns 98!

969836_10153128900401856_9052271069470263005_n

*Merry Christmas*

This sense of community – bumping into classmates at the gas station, alumni hockey games, celebrating the holidays out on the dance floor of the only bar in town, sharing my Peace Corps experience with the local schools, exchanging motivational cheers with both tourists and Vermonters alike during the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, an unspoken yet shared appreciation for good beer and local food – is what I missed most about Vermont, and is also one of my favorite parts about the Dominican Republic. It seems almost paradoxical that one has to leave a place to be able recognize what makes it so special in the first place.

12278798_10153720698140349_8658789935496719690_n

hungry -> Worthy -> blessed

During my trip home, I came to several realizations. The three that reoccurred the most were: 1) I am excited for these next 6 months of work in the Dominican Republic. 2) I am excited to start preparing for what might come when it’s time to leave the island on June 15th. 3) How will I bridge 1 and 2 to close this chapter that has shaped some of my most intimate beliefs and experiences to date?

These next six months have a lot in store to keep me busy in the mean time – site development, volunteer visits, arrival of a new CED group, training sessions, hosting Stateside visitors, planning the national conference of Construye Tus Sueños, and soaking up all the time I can get with mi familia dominicana. My mind races with to-do lists. I consider the thought that I’ve lost the ability to speak Spanish. But as the passengers begin to arrive for our flight to Santo Domingo, the familiar vibrancy (read: loud colors and voices) assures me that I will finish out this service how any traveler can choose to embark on an adventure – curious, stimulated, and determined.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Since writing this post, I’ve realized that I still do know how to speak Spanish. I celebrated this New Years in my home away from home, surrounded by mosquitoes and blaring bachata music, and watching my Tigers make it to the National Championship.

photo

Reni and I on New Years Day

photo (1)

my home, my heart. omailin.

photo (2)

Hungry hippos, happy campers

12466205_10153793115680349_7521503457185359773_o

Watching the game in my Dominican family’s house.  ESPN in Spanish!  

Love knows no boundaries.

10360715_10153780034610349_5017500457677397567_n

12391363_10153753863700349_4692386120176739204_n

1919049_10153777292650349_8942520127237779856_n

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

celebrate we will

27 Feb

Happy Dominican Independence Day!  Led by national hero Juan Pablo Duarte, the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haitian occupation on the 27th of February in 1844.  Given its historic importance, February is also the month of Carnival.  I haven’t seen fireworks yet, but this little country sure knows how to party and Dominicans seem to always be looking for an occasion to celebrate – Christmas, Kings Day, Independence Day/Carnival, and not too far away is Semana Santa!  Hopefully next year I’ll be able to write a more descriptive and first-hand account of the locura that is Carnival.

Lots has happened since my last semi-chaotic and long post so I’ll do my best to keep this short and highlight the important (and positive!) stuff:

Chicas Brillantes Conference:

  • Invited 3 girls that participate in my Chicas Brillantes group to a regional 3-day conference in San Cristobal (How did I choose which girls to bring?  It was tough, but I based my decision on their ages, participation and attendance at meetings, maturity, and who I thought would best use and share the information they would learn at the conference back in Pescadería)
  • Over 80 girls and volunteers participated in dynamic and educational activities concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, nutrition, women’s health, self-esteem, team work, inner and outer beauty, sports, and so on
  • Many charlas were led by graduates of the Chicas Brillantes program – a group of adolescent girls known as the Comité.  This was SO important for the girls to see because a) they could look to them as role-models and b) it promotes and ensures the sustainability of this initiative
  • The girls got to meet many other girls from other communities around the country who are also participating in the program.  For my girls, they made at least 20 new friends that live within a 30-minute radius.  We’re getting together this weekend to plan how to incorporate what we learned into our meetings, and also which events we can plan to raise money for our group and/or activities with our new friends
  • A panel of professional Dominican and Dominican-American women came to talk to the girls –natural hair promoter (and fellow blogger: http://www.missrizos.com/2/post/2014/02/las-chicas-brillantes.html), architect, social worker, journalist, muralist (and fellow blogger: http://innovativeinitiativesblog.com/about/), and even the DR representative for Miss Universe 2013.  They shared their life stories, gave advice about how to plan and reach professional and personal goals, and promoted natural hair styles (a semi-controversial topic here because many women chemically treat their hair so it’s straighter and therefore ‘more beautiful’)
Mujeres Brillantes - our awesome panel of role-models

Mujeres Brillantes – our awesome panel of role-models

Girls practicing correct condom use

Girls practicing correct condom use

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR's Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR’s Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

volunteers with the panel

volunteers with the panel

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Translating for Builders Beyond Borders:

  • Joined up with other PCVs to help out our friend Jim, fellow volunteer AND Vermonter, at his site near Alta Mira in the province of Puerto Plata
  • High school group came from Connecticut through the program Builders Beyond Borders to start construction of a local clinic
  • We helped with translating and some construction work, but also shared a lot about our Peace Corps experience and Dominican culture with the students and chaperones
  • BBB invited us volunteers to join them on a field trip to 27 Charcos!  Located on the Damajagua River and literally meaning 27 ‘puddles’ or waterfalls, it’s a beautiful and adventurous attraction for both locals and tourists alike.  Depending on the water levels/time of year, you basically hike down the river, jumping off or sliding down natural rock formations on your way (wearing helmets and lifejackets of course).  This adventure had been on my bucket list, and was certainly one of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving in country (it will be one year March 6th!).  We only were able to do 12 of the 27 falls/slides, so I’d be more than willing to accompany someone who wants to come and visit 🙂  Fun fact: Joe Kennedy III was a PCV in the Dominican Republic, and helping 27 Charcos develop a guide association was one of his assignments as a volunteer.  More info about 27 Charcos here: http://www.27charcos.com/index.php
  • Realized how resilient and not-awkward Dominican youth is
  • Gained some insight about how this court project is going to be – how I should organize accommodations, construction materials, plan activities, etc.
Fellow PCVs - Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Fellow PCVs – Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Speaking of which…The Court:

  • So after a few semi-heated meetings, we are going to build the court in the Pley
  • We will have the mayor’s support – has committed to leveling and filling the entire area; will build streets around the pley so that the people that live there are no longer trapped by mud when it rains
  • Today we measured the entire area and marked the court’s official location – PHEW
  • Working on creating a Facebook Page to share the progress of the court and to fundraise – will have a working link where YOU will be able to donate to this project soon 🙂
future location of court!

future location of court!

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

That’s “all” for now – off to celebrate!