The only constant in my life as a Youth Development Volunteer with the Peace Corps has been change. Change of climate, change of diet, change of routine, change of host family, change of community, change of health status, among other things. Hence, talking to my friends and family back in the states about “my typical day” has proved difficult. But since, Jojo is one of my best friends here on the island, I will attempt to blog about my life.
This will be my circuitous attempt to give you a look into my life. In order to tell you what my typical day has become, I’ll tell you where I came from- in my first months as a recently sworn in volunteer serving in the mountains of San Cristobal. In the end of October, it was very difficult for me to say goodbye to my friends, who would be serving a minimum of 4 hours away from my community, but I boarded my bus and was on my way, ready to fall in love with my host family, my neighbors, and my community as a whole. I was blessed to have a host family that introduced me to campo life in a way that respected my personal space, but also knew when to test my reservations. My host sister was an amazing cook and overall host. When one little hole in my roof leaked in water, they replaced the whole roof. When they noticed how many books I had, they brought me a bookshelf. They went above and beyond to make me feel at home and loved. Due to this, the first month seemed relatively easy. I created a routine of studying Spanish, looking through program books, journaling, and meeting neighbors in the morning. Afternoons I spent in the school developing relationships with the school staff, observing teachers and eventually co-teaching lessons on sexual education and English. In the evenings I taught a Zumba class with interested youth and some adults. Once 8pm hit every night, I would go into my bedroom, call my friends to check in, and watch movies. This didn’t seem like work to me, it seemed like my purpose, I’d finally found my niche. Going into Thanksgiving week, although I missed my family back home, I was excited to hear how other volunteers in my cohort were transitioning into their communities. Then on November 22, 2016 at 1:30pm while on my way to school on the back of my neighbor’s motorcycle, a woman who was learning how to drive a manually operated pick up truck, hit us off the road. This was the biggest change that has affected my Peace Corps service to date.
Although the accident happened more than 5 months ago, it seems like yesterday. It was just a normal day; I always rode on my neighbor’s motorcycle to school Monday-Friday. You see the school was a 45-60min walk from my house. Once the truck hit us, everything was in slow motion- I was in shock. I didn’t feel pain. All I felt was confusion and then immediate fear for my neighbor, who unlike me hadn’t been wearing a helmet. The community members rushed to our aid, and managed to get us both in the pick up truck that hit us in order to drive us to the closest hospital that was an hour away and receive emergency care. My friend was one of the first responders to the accident and accompanied us to the hospital. He took care of everything. He called my host family as well as the Peace Corps medical staff. He arranged transport for us from the San Cristobal hospital to the emergency clinic in the capital to receive treatment. He tried to provide normalcy. He did his best to make sure I was ok. The Peace Corps medical staff did their best making sure I was taking care of. In the days following, my friends would get anything I needed; I was never alone. In those crazy times, it was the support I received from my community, my friends, and the Peace Corps staff, that kept me grounded. However, when the Thanksgiving whirlwind was over, all my friends were heading back to their communities and I was finally alone- I finally processed what I’d been through, and I realized I was not ok-emotionally nor mentally. After expressing my concerns to the medical staff, they extended my stay in the capital and signed me up for counseling with the psychologist approved by Peace Corps.
What followed after my accident, were my darkest months in service. I contemplated quitting service daily. I was told there would be no shame in that-in quitting. However, I chose to stick it out. Even though I spent 90% of my time in my bedroom in those first months, my friends told me I was strong because I was still here. I chose not to take motorcycles, and I couldn’t walk much. My programs in the school and the community, fell apart. I tried to talk about it with my host family, but at the end of the day, they were never going to understand where I was coming from, because they have all been in motorcycle accidents (to some extent)-it’s just something that happens and then you move on, because Gracias a Dios you survived. In early January, it was decided that in order to continue my working relationship with the school, I would move host families. It was another blow to my psyche. My host family was my foundation in the community. However, I understood the reason for the move. I adapted to the routine of my new host family, I returned to the school. 3 month IST happened. It felt like I was still going through the motions. Then I moved out to my own house.
To report that I am happier than I have ever been in site is an understatement. My typical day nowadays consists of waking up to my morning playlist, making my own coffee sans diabetes inducing sugar, preparing breakfast, washing dishes, checking in with my friends and family, playing with my new kitty Sasha Fierce aka Abeja (Queen Bee, thanks Jojo), and planning for the day. I eat lunch at my host mom’s house and then spend time with neighbors. When I return home, my young neighbors come over to color, read, and participate in my girls group where we’re currently discussing what makes us unique. When school is in session, my afternoons are occupied co-teaching HIV/AIDS awareness and planning for the upcoming school year. I then cook dinner while listening to my favorite podcasts, and make more phone calls to friends.
I’ve come a long way from where I was at in December. I understand now that change will always happen, but as long as I do what makes me happy and keep up my self-care, I will successfully complete my service with a smile on my face.
Name: Tess O’Leary
Sector: Youth, Family, and Community Development
COS date: October 2018
Site: Jamey, San Cristobal- A mountainous campo in the subtropical rainforest an hour-long uphill ride away from the 4th largest city in the Dominican Republic. Pros: scenic views, river, waterfall, all the fruit and viveres you want, my house (COME VISIT!!) Cons: you can’t summon a magic carpet to transport you around wherever you want