I had been stung by bees on two separate occasions this week, one time the stinger even got stuck in my hand and the bee stuck in my hair. This week had just been one of those weeks.
My chest, like a swollen balloon, was uncomfortably full of intangible emotions. If you asked me what exactly I was feeling, I am not sure I could tell you. It felt like everything and nothing all at the same time.
I decided to hide from the world in my room, trying to deflate what was building up inside of me. I knew that anything- a question, a look, a bird flying above me- might just be what causes enough friction to pop the balloon, sending everything inside of me flying- the stress, the sadness, the frustration, the anxiety, the discomfort, the irritability.
I wasn’t going to cry, I told myself. Not again.
Christmas was coming and I was hoping it would pass like a thief in the night, quietly and without notice. It hadn’t felt like Christmas, after all. December in the Caribbean isn’t exactly a winter wonderland. I knew it may be the only Christmas I would spend in site, and so initially I had been excited to spend this holiday in site with my host family and community, to share in their traditions and hopefully share a bit of my own with them, too.
Here in the Dominican Republic, Christmas Eve, otherwise known as La Buena Noche, is the big night for celebration. Families come together to eat a big, traditional Dominican feast- pig, chicken, rice, empanadas, Russian salad, dulces, apples, nuts and grapes all have a role. After engorging yourself, people put on their nicest threads, begin drinking La Fuerza or rum and let the photo taking, video shooting, merengue dancing commence- this ritual often goes into the wee hours of Christmas morning. (However, for me, I lasted until about 11pm, which is actually pretty late for a gallina like me.)
My host family and neighbors were so excited that I would be celebrating this important holiday with them, excited to share with me the beauty of their own traditions. They wanted me to feel comfortable and happy, knowing that being away from family and friends during this time would not be easy. They asked me about our own family and country traditions, too, and I told them about Christmas cookies, decorating the tree, Santa Claus and the tradition of gift giving.
I wanted to put on my best game face for them. I wanted to be excited and present. Two months ago I was a stranger, and now my host family had taken me in like one of their own, sharing with me their most precious of traditions, doing their very best to make sure I felt wanted and loved. However, I realized that talking about my own traditions had me left me longing to be home, a place that was familiar and comfortable.
Me hace falta mucho.
I wanted to eat Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I wanted to go to a holiday show with my family in Denver. I wanted to exchange gifts with my best friends. I wanted to eat all the cookies, sit by the fire and watch Elf in my pajamas. I wanted to dress my dog in ridiculous Christmas outfits and take photos of her- it was the American way, after all.
More seasoned volunteers had warned us that the holiday season could be one of the hardest times in site. However, I thought I would be an anomaly; a volunteer who would escape Christmas and New Year’s unscathed. Apparently, I thought wrong.
Homesickness had invited himself into our little yellow and green wooden house, and like an unwanted house guest, made himself at home- eating our food and drinking our drink, as I waited impatiently for him to leave. I realized that this was just another part of the Peace Corps experience. Being away from home allowed me to truly appreciate the life I had before, the life that will be waiting for me when I finish my service.
Amidst the nostalgia, there was omnipresent feeling of gratefulness- how lucky am I to have a life that is worth missing.
I decided to peel myself from my bed and sit on my front stoop to talk myself out of this funk. This too shall pass, I repeated to myself again and again. This too shall pass. Hoping the more I said it, the sooner I would believe it. I needed a distraction, something to laugh about.
I looked at the house that sat across the street. Michael, my 4ish year old neighbor was standing at the top of his houses entrance stairs, his pants pulled halfway down. He was peeing onto the street from his stoop. Sin verguenza.
I started to laugh. I felt the balloon inside me pop. I began to cry. Pandora’s box of emotion had been released.
Yep, now I just looked crazy.
How is that for comic relief, I thought…
And with that, I leave you. I hope everyone had a magical holiday season- truly sharing in the magical spirit of giving yourself in service to those you love, those in need.
Un beso fuerte,
P.S. I am happy to report that “it” did pass, like it always does.
These weeks in photos:
Shucking guandules in preparation for Christmas Eve lunch