It’s easy to think about a typical work day in the States, usually it’s 9-5, traffic, coffee shop before maybe, a 30 min lunch break if you’re lucky, get off at 5 and you’re done. When I think about a typical day in the Peace Corps, I laugh to myself. We don’t really have a typical day or maybe the funny and somewhat embarrassing stream of events that happen on a regular basis becomes our typical day, in our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers. Our life is our job and our job is our life. It’s immensely hard to separate the two realms that are intricately woven together, each stitch leaving no wiggle room. They say it’s “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”. When I first heard this job title, I laughed. I was like I don’t know about that, but after a year in, I can say that it is SOOO true.
My typical day consists of trying to make it through the day without doing something embarrassing, saying something in Spanish that I didn’t mean, surviving campo guilt, trying not to feel inadequate, not sweating like a pig, not having diarrhea or constipation, winning the war with mosquitos, not getting lice from your students in the school, drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee, playing dominos and getting my butt kicked by 7 year olds, winning confianza with doñas by chismeing with them, dancing bachata, trying to memorize the next reggaeton song so you feel like a badass at Patronales (a 10 day neighborhood party) and ultimately trying to be a good community organizer with a compassionate heart.
I also feel like depending on the season, my “typical” day completely changes. Especially since I work in the school primarily. My typical day in the summer is waaaaaay different than my typical day during the school year (my fellow teachers out there know this). With that said I will try and paint a picture of my “typical” day.
The day consists of waking up usually 6:30-7am depending if it’s a school day and I’m woken up by motorcycles and yelling children or if it’s a weekend and I’m woken up by the early morning ensemble of vacas and gallos. I start the day untucking my mosquitero and then retucking it (nobody likes sleeping with those pesky mosquitos of death). I open my windows to let some light in and more importantly some fresh cool air the mornings give to my house. I live in a 2 bedroom cement house with a zinc roof. It has a small living room that doubles as my kitchen and an indoor bathroom (Gracias a Dios). I share a wall and a backyard with my dueña, which has its pros and cons. She is very much my doña, always brindaring me food and always telling me what to do hah! Every morning, I turn the dial on my gas tank so I can lite my stove with a match. I fill my greca with water and put coffee in the filter and let it sit on the stove. Being able to drink coffee without gobs of sugar is absolutely glorious. As the coffee is percolating, I gather what I am going to make for breakfast. Usually this consists of yogurt and granola, eggs and avocado, french toast with bread from the colmado, arepas, oatmeal pancakes, or some assortment of tropical fruit. Once I’ve got my coffee in one hand and my breakfast in another, I sit down and have some quiet personal time. This could include reading, listening to music, journaling, crafting, doing some yoga, or meditating (these two would be after eating of course). For me having that personal time every day in the morning is crucial in order for me to serve others and ultimately just be at peace with myself. I feel energized and ready to take on the day. Of course this isn’t every single day, but I really try hard to make it a priority.
Once the clock strikes 8:30, I know its time to buscar water and fregar my dishes. I get my red bucket from the bathroom, walk down my dirt road to the well and start pumping water. This only takes a couple minutes. I haul the water back up and set it outside. Then I grab my bucket of dirty dishes and start washing them, dipping them in the clean water and setting them out to dry. Once this is done, I put on my work clothes (jeans and a nice blouse), pack my backpack, grab my water, and head to the school around 9am. I am about 10 min walk from the school. I am an education volunteer so most of my time is working in the school. However, over the past 3 months we have had teacher protests so there has not been any school. Thankfully we have started up again and I am usually working in the school Mondays through Thursdays in the mornings until after lunch (gotta aprovechar the free lunches, pero claro!). I don’t work on Fridays because frankly neither do the teachers. There is always some kind of assembly with the district in the nearest pueblo.
I arrive at the school around 9:15, open the library if my librarian isn’t already in there. Greet all the teachers, chisme with the secretary, sit in the library and try to motivate my librarian. If I’m not making literacy tools for my teachers and librarian to use/not use, I am running a little school garden, playing literacy games or reading with kids at recess. In the mornings I work with the 3rd grade teacher and co-teach and try to introduce different teaching strategies and discipline techniques. Right now I am helping the 3rd grade teacher prepare her students for the national 3rd grade standardized test they have to take in a few weeks. Another project I started with my 8th graders and with the help of a few very dear volunteers is drawing a world map mural on the wall outside of the school. It has been a process of learning how to engage the community, how to work with different people, and how to be creative in regards to community development.
If I’m not in the school, one Sunday every month I meet with the kids in my neighborhood and we have a 2-hour art camp in the afternoon. I also meet with my story-book making group one Saturday morning every month for a two-hour storybook making session. We have about 6 kids and a 10-year-old leader. Previously, my time outside of the school was consumed with planning for a teacher-training conference and a girls group that met every Thursday at 5pm as well as a zumba class that met every Mondays and Tuesdays at 5pm.
If I’m not in my house napping, reading, listening to music, planning for meetings and lectures, hiding from the kids that are leaving the school at 3pm and walking right past my house to go home, most of my afternoons consist of visiting with families of my students, visiting my doña, coloring or exploring with my 10 year old best friend, or studying for the dreaded GRE. 4pm is Spanish study time. 5pm is exercise time. Around 6pm, I close my door, close my windows, shower, light a candle, put on my favorite music, and begin cooking. After dinner, I wash dishes and get ready for bed. 8pm is my precious time to talk to my boyfriend who lives 4 hours away. Lights out at 9:30-10pm.
Days change, locations change, your work partners change, emotions change, I have good days and I have horrible days. I have days where I feel like I’m on top of the world, feeling like a strong independent woman and other days where I feel like a child, insecure, inadequate, questioning my place here in this country, comparing myself to those around me, wanting to run home into my mother’s arms because sometimes the day is just too much. I have days where I am full of energy and get a lot of stuff done, and other days where I lay in bed all day, watch movies, read a good book, and try to relocate myself because I’m just too exhausted and frankly over this service. But I push on, I keep going because this job isn’t about me, it’s about a larger picture. I am just one puzzle piece of the puzzle. And if I can just make a difference in one child’s life, or help one teacher use a book in her classroom, or empower my librarian to have reading programs in her library, well I have done my job.
Name: Hannah Barrentine
COS Date: May 2018
Site: Hato del Padre, San Juan Population: 275 houses, 1100 habitants Description: A campo located in the fertile valleys of San Juan surround by mountains in the south of the country. Agriculture and dairy production are the main sources of income exporting rice, beans, yuca, corn, peanuts, and leche. Famous for its Dominican dish chenchen.