“I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names. Only the words “yesterday” and “tomorrow” still had any meaning for me.”
- Albert Camus, The Stranger.
New trainees will be arriving shortly in the Dominican Republic, making it almost a year since my training group said good-bye to America, and hello to the unknown.
I came to this country with the very dumb idea that serving in the Peace Corps wouldn’t dramatically change me. Sure, we all grow and change with the passage of time, but I thought myself to be pretty set in my ways and was not on any mission to “find myself.”
Well here we are a year later. The fastest and slowest year of my life.
So, am I different?
Of course. I have learned to live in a different culture, and in the course of doing so I have learned to be more open and easy going. I have learned to live with less materially. But I have also learned to live with less emotionally and spiritually. The latter was much harder to come to.
In the Dominican Republic I pay about $127 USD for an apartment in a tourist town in the mountains. I spent considerably more money than that on “basic” make-up (think foundation, concealer, powder and mascara). I can’t even begin to calculate what I spent on the “extras” without making myself sick. Now I live without all of that.
For the last week I have been eating very little other than ramen noodles, rice, eggs, and plantains. In the States I would have my groceries delivered after using my break at work to order them online. I would have a variety of fruits, veggies, fancy snacks, and things I cannot even remember why I needed. I could go weeks without repeating a meal. Now I eat simply to quiet the needs of my body for nourishment.
I’ve let go of the idea of having control after realizing how much of a control-freak I must have been in my life before this one without being aware of it. I have cried over the simplest of things and realized how whenever I cried in the States there was always someone there to give me a hug and talk me through it (Thanks for all those hugs, guys!). I cried anyways and got myself through it. At times I have cried, and my fellow volunteers have gotten me through it (Thanks for listening to me talk in circles for hours, guys!)
I have made new friends and experienced generosity unlike any I had experienced before. I have become more generous in the process out of shame. Yes, I gave before, but I hadn’t truly seen giving until I saw someone who lived in a wooden shack wedged in the space between two houses smaller than my closet back home spend their money to buy me, their guest, a soda.
I have had more free time than I know what to do with and less internet than needed to fill part of that free time with all the new TV shows out there. I nap, read, paint, think, listen to the same Lupe Fiasco album on repeat for hours.
I have felt happy and at home here, which has warded off the daily temptation to return to my actual home. A home that I can see so clearly when I try to go to bed at night. No longer the pastelitos and cortaditos of my youth, but now the tamale carts and fruit stands on corners. A day has not gone by where I haven’t thought about it and the people there.
But as I said, here we are a year later. Ready, I think, for another year on this island. Ready to accomplish more than I did in the last year, but less than what I originally set out to accomplish. Ready to learn to be okay with that. Ready to be one month, one day, one hour closer to returning to my home. But while I wait, ready for a ton of coffee drinking, plantain eating, beach lounging, and waterfall chasing.