:The world around me begins to wake up, and so I begrudgingly do so, too. I open my eyes and stare blanklessly through the transparent walls of my mosquitero at the spider-web laced zinc ceiling above. I remove my earplugs and begin to take in the chorus of sounds that spills in around me from the gaps between my wooden walls- the roosters crowing, the motos speeding by, the dogs fighting, my neighbors chatting, my host baby sister crying.
My multi-purpose mosquito net not only functions as my shield against the mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders and salamanders that like to go bump in the night- but in this moment, it is my refuge between two worlds- what is comfortable and what is not. And it seems that, right now, anything that requires me to leave my bed falls into the latter.
It is my third day, and first Monday in my site, a large campo in the northern region of Monte Plata, Dominican Republic. For the past 10 weeks, my cohort and I have been preparing for this moment, the moment where we were no longer wide-eyed, naive trainees but were instead wise and weathered volunteers in the field… I am sure the volunteers who are more than 3 days into their service are laughing out loud at this sentiment. Perhaps wiser is a better word.
We have been learning the language, immersing ourselves into the culture, gaining the technical skills we need to move to site, to spread our wings and to begin living and working as development workers and as representatives of the United States government in our specific sectors. We have been itching for our independence, craving the work we came here to do, and now that the moment has come, I find myself fighting the urge to roll over and sleep for another 12 hours.
#VolunteeroftheYear … Yeah, I know. I know.
In our first 3 months at site, we are given the fundamental task to integrate into our communities, to build trust, make friends, practice Spanish, ask questions and begin to understand where exactly our work will begin.
The Community Diagnostic we conduct was designed to help facilitate this often intimidating process, through giving dozens of interviews, having community members draw community maps, understanding better the daily schedules and seasonal calendars between different subgroups, all while drinking a lot of Dominican coffee and hopefully having the courage to “shut up and listen.” (Shout out to Ernesto Sirolli’s must watch TedTalk)
What assets do our community’s have? What gaps need to be filled? Who are the leaders in the community? Who are the marginalized populations? What are their needs? What are their goals? What processes need to be built in order to do these things? What resources are being used and what else can we tap into? How does the gender lens affect each of these questions? Why, in general, do Dominicans love sugar so much… (I’m sure other volunteers are wondering this, too …)
With time we hope to unravel the complexities of our new homes and better understand how these complexities will play into our work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
So yes, I have plenty to do if you were thinking that perhaps I did not.
I guess it is just the enormity of the task, the understanding of its importance and the ambiguity of where to begin that is keeping me from opening my bedroom door to my new home that exists around me.
The morning catches me at a vulnerable moment, where I am caught between the day that has passed and the day ahead of me. I begin thinking about all the work that is to be done, all that my community hopes of me. I begin wondering if I’m strong enough, brave enough, smart enough to do this type of work and to do it well. For 2 years. Can I hack it?
My eyes close slowly, my ears begin to ring.
As I’ve been told many times before, Peace Corps is a marathon not a sprint. I will learn a lot about myself and this world in which we live. I will be challenged every single day. I will gain new skills and lose bad habits. I will also find perspective in laughter. But most importantly, I will learn that to do good work, to be the best I can be, I have to be kind to myself. I have to be kind to the day ahead.
Right now, I know I am viewing the morning as another obstacle to overcome rather than another opportunity to embrace. Right now, I am just trying to survive, but I want to want to live openly and presently in this day, in this moment.
I also keep hearing the wise words of my father repeat loudly through my head…
Focus on the positive
Sigh. I know he is right.
I sit up in bed and untuck my mosquito net from under my mattress and put my feet on the concrete floor below.
Wish me luck.