The air was stiff with cold. It was 6:40am and having already pressed snooze three times I decided it was time to peel myself away from the second-hand warmth of Jamie’s mosquito-net draped, makeshift princess palace. I wanted to stay one day longer, drinking in the infinite coffee, valuable friendship time and endless access to nature, but it was time to make the journey back to my site in Monte Plata.
Jamie lives in a beautiful, remote, campo of just fifty homes in the mountains of the San Juan province, surprisingly reminding me very much of our Rocky Mountain home back in Colorado. Her site is nothing like mine in aesthetic or spirit. Being so enveloped in our own life and experiences in site, it was nice to be able to see how other volunteers worked and lived. This is one of the most wonderful things about this country- so small but so rich with diversity. I often felt like this country had it all.
We sipped our greca-made coffee, eating granola and yogurt while listening to Jamie’s hippy-dippy wakeup playlist. These were the type of things that made me excited to live on my own- the independence to do what you want, when you want with whom you want, making a place of refuge for yourself when everything else, at times, can seem so overwhelmingly foreign.
One of the hardest parts of service for me has been the constant feeling of being an adult-baby in this unfamiliar world. Having my 21-year-old Doña cleaning, cooking and washing for me, having to check-in and ask if its okay to have houseguests doesn’t exactly leave one feeling like a capable or confident 25-year-old woman.
My competencies and my independence had been lost somewhere in translation…
I shook myself from daydreamy thoughts. I looked at my phone; it was time to go. I grabbed my backpack and helmet and followed Jamie out into the crisp mountain air. We walked down a rocky path to her former host-brother’s house. He had graciously agreed to take me down the mountain, so I could catch the 8:00am guagua to the Capitol.
The Dominican Republic was one of the very few Peace Corps posts that allowed volunteers to take motos- however, of course, not without rules and regulations- the first being wear your helmet or get sent home. No if, ands or buts about it. So my helmet had become like an extra, bulky, but necessary appendage.
Jamie’s host brother tried to start the motorcycle, again and again and again, but like a man who had smoked a pack a day for sixty years, the motorcycle coughed and coughed, not able to breath in. It needed gas. I gave Jamie money and she ran back up the hill to buscar a bottle of gasoline- literally a Presidente beer bottle of gas. 5 minutes later she came back, we filled the moto and we were on our way.
The moto ride down the mountain was nothing short of an experience. It was steep, rocky, bumpy and many more uncomfortable adjectives. I grabbed on to the waist of my driver, holding on tightly as we bounced this way and that. At one point I had to get off and walk up the hill as the moto proved too weak to be able to haul us both up the mountainside. But whatever discomfort we may have had from straddling a steal, upset bronco for 45 minutes, was made up by the incredible view of a newly waking sunrise over a glassy-eyed lake that was embraced lovingly by the mountains that surrounded it. The serenity of it all was awe-inspiring.
Eventually we made it to the guagua that would take me back to the Capitol. Being a Monday, I had hoped that maybe just maybe the guagua may be on the not-as-full side. My hope quickly vanished when I walked into an almost completely full guagua, leaving me a seat next to a young mother and her baby. My loaded backpack was shoved under the seat by our cobrador, and my helmet became my footrest.
Within 10 minutes of the ride, we were at Dominican capacity for the bus, which means a row designed for four people, now sat seven- five adults and two children. And only 30 minutes into our 4-hour journey, the baby- now apparently malita- missed the bag her mother had for ready for exactly this moment and puked hot curdled milk all over her, my feet, helmet and backpack. There was nothing we could do, we were on this bus for many more hours without stopping- however, someone in front of me sprayed flowery perfume in an attempt to cover the smell, but now it just smelt like flowery curdled milk. I was impressed by how little I reacted outwardly. Inside I was screaming many things. I tried breathing through my mouth, but sometimes the smell of sick found its way in through my nostrils.
Luckily, this guagua had WIFI. I messaged my group about my series of unfortunate events, looking for comfort in humor and solidarity. I thought to myself this would at least make a good blog post, and I was assured by my dear amiga, Tess, that I was a strong, capable woman, vomit washes out and surely many other PCVs have experienced similar #BabyVomitFail stories that would fill the comment feed of said blog post… so now is your time to shine y’all. Also, #ThanksTess- I know you will be reading this.
But even still, I wrestled between a feeling of annoyance and sympathy, and so in attempt to find my happy place, I plugged into a podcast and hoped that the 2 Dope Queens would hold my hand through the three and a half hours we had left in our viaje. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. If you are out there reading Jessica anPhoebe, know that you’ ve got a forever fan in me.
Eventually we made it back to familiar territory. I got off at Maximo Gomez and made my way straight to McDonald’s. I decided I deserved french fries and a McFlurry, and so french fries and a McFlurry is what I got.
I sat down in a booth by myself, stinking of acidic, expired milk and began inhaling my food. I took my weariness and irritability out on the vulnerable food that sat in front of me. I took no prisoners and ate and ate and ate without pausing, with fervor and with passion, without looking up from tray until the job was finished. I sat back, wishing there was more McFlurry to eat, and looked up to see the man next to me staring at me, drink halfway to his mouth. My eye contact did not even deter him from his continued mouth-agape looking. I could not tell if he was confused, disgusted or impressed, but honestly, I did not care; I was sin verguenza.
After a halfhearted attempt of removing the remaining vomit from my belongings and myself in the McDonalds bathroom, I was back on my journey home. I took my metro ride back to Mama Tingo parada where I then picked up another, completely full guagua… I took note that Monday travels perhaps should be avoided in the future. However, after another 2 hours of travel, I eventually made it back to site. Halle-freakin-llulaj
(Insert applause here.)
I walked through the pasture with my helmet and vomit backpack. My vecinos and host-mom welcomed me warmly, asking me with sincere interest about my few days away and about me. I realized I was really happy to see each of them; I was warmed by their apparent excitement to have me back in site. It felt good to be back in my casita, in my bed, and I was even excited for a much awaited and much needed bucket shower. It would seem that slowly but surely this place that once felt alien-like was becoming my home away from home. Slowly but surely I was finding my place and my way and my people. It gave me hope for what the next 20 months of service would bring- and I was optimistic it would be a lot of coffee-drinking, plastic-chair sitting, bachata-singing, compartir-ing, jugando with the jovenes, neighbor-loving type of time.
Yes, I had plenty to look forward to, but hopefully it did not include more baby vomit.