HI! I’m here. I’m soooo here.

I’m so excited to be writing my first post as an official Peace Corps trainee! That’s right, I’m not even a volunteer yet, so there have been lots of inaccuracies on Facebook, but that’s O.K. If I meet certain criteria, and am still willing, I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer before Halloween.

I met the group of nearly 50 people in D.C. for a full day of Staging. The next day we woke up at 3 a.m. in order to catch our flight to Miami and on to Santo Domingo. Peace Corps volunteers and staff met us at the airport and shuffled us on to where we would spend our first night. When we arrived we were told we would first be taking identification photos. When someone complained (given our haggard appearances), a staff member replied, “This is the best you’ll look for two years.” I hope not. Happiness agrees with me.

Jennifer and Carole, two staff members, gave really great welcoming speeches. Jennifer told us, “As much as you have to give, you also have to learn.” This theme of mutuality keeps presenting itself, and I welcome it, because it’s so important to me. At Staging, our facilitator said it best: “It’s not about you…They’ve been waiting for you for a really long time.” I am so grateful that this is a two-sided process. As much as I want them, they want me.  (Also, as a side note: Our Staging facilitator also told us that she often ‘blamed’ the PC as a blanket explanation for a procedure/action which 1) is a great idea and 2) shows that people here don’t really know what the PeaceChirps is.) 

Our first night in country, Jennifer also told us that during the 10 week training process, the most important thing will be to “overcome [our] doubt.” I can tell she’s been in our shoes before, which is  comforting. Carole teared up as she welcomed us. I could feel how this can be an almost holy experience. But she also was very straight with us about the challenges. I laughed when she told us that from her experience as a volunteer she learned that she would “love to be rich, but never famous.”

I live with a mother and her two teenage daughters. Every day it feels more normal to be here with them. My Spanish is good enough that I can express everything I’ve needed to so far (I can get my point across), but I still don’t feel like a whole person yet in Spanish.

I’m sure I’ve made some pretty hilarious mistakes. I read just this morning that here, presentar is used instead of introducir because it means insert. So, there’s probably something there.

In the mountain of papers we received, there was a paragraph about the kind of person that makes the most successful volunteer. These volunteers are said to “have motivations that balance enlightened self-interest which acknowledges benefits to the volunteer with altruism and humanism.” Luckily, on my good days, I think I fit this.

To summarize what I’ve learned so far about the core of what I’m doing here is: Commit myself to make changes for the better while dealing with any hardships and integrating into this culture, 24/7 for 27 months. I will work together with my community, cautiously and within the rules of the P.C., while representing the U.S. and sharing with those back home a little bit of the D.R. 

I’m scared when we talk about the hard stuff in our training. Here’s my anxiety list for you to read while you eat Mac’n’Cheese from the microwave and watch streaming Netflix, but more importantly, it’s for me to read months and years from now:

  • I’m afraid to be really, achingly lonely.
  • Or mind numbingly bored
  • To not feel like myself and then to question whether I ever felt like myself and was there a ‘myself’? And just what made up that self, exactly? And then just unraveling. Mentally.
  • Being an ABSENT friend and family member. Especially an absent daughter and sister.
  • Being 24 years old when I get back.
  • Having no real plan for the rest of my life (this is also lovely).
  • Any kind of crime thing involving mean people.
  • Losing all motivation and being consumed by frustration.
  • Realizing one day that I am not creative and thus any project I touch is doomed to dullness (and failure).
  • Also, yesterday walking to the PC offices I saw a dog that must have just been hit by a car. It’s leg twitched and I saw it die. A tiny stream of the brightest, comic book red flowing into the gutter. No one seemed to notice.

But here is why I stay:

  • Spanish!
  • A changed life, “and it’s always for the better.”
  • Better, richer relationships – here and there.
  • Being in ONE place for TWO years and being fully committed to those people.
  • Empowerment for myself and hopefully others.
  • The luxury to focus on what I really think is important ( people, food, talking, walking, health).
  • To live in the moment.
  • To be able to document this experience!
  • Because I might figure out what I want to do with myself.

When Tundun died I had one of the biggest revelations of my young life, which is that we often don’t let people know that they impact us or that we really love them. And we do, we love so easily. So my mantra at this moment, pushing aside cultural differences and resulting awkwardness, is to MAKE IT CLEAR THAT I LIKE PEOPLE.

In closing, for now, I just want to say that I’m in great hands – from my host family (that taught me how to dance merengue last night) to the PC staff. One of our doctors put it simply: “You’re the center of our lives for at least 8 hours a day.”

Ahhh, what people do for other people, huh?

MY LOVE TO YOU,

Laura

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