Sunday, September 13, 2009

The transition...

It has been a while since my last entry and for good reason. I have moved back to the USA! I closed my term of service on August 20th, after my group’s close of service (COS) conference, and flew back to the motherland. It was a pretty rough transition I have to say.

The last couple of days in my site were almost like a funeral of sorts. People kept stopping by to ‘pay their respects’, asking me if I was really going, and then telling me to have a great trip and popping off. Then there were the people that were really close to me. They just stopped by and stayed a while. The awkwardness of the whole thing is what I miss the most. They are just there to spend time with you. No TV, no radio, nothing but two plastic chairs and a messy house I was trying to clean up. One of my favorite guys, a Haitian from the other side of the river, kept telling me he didn’t think I was really going to leave. He jokingly said, “I am not going to bid you farewell, because then maybe you won’t leave.” On the Saturday before I was to leave site Sunday we had our last water committee meeting. I didn’t plan anything, didn’t expect much from it, and just showed up. I wanted to see if the collapse would start immediately, or not. They completely surprised me with a whole agenda, a plan for having new elections to fill some of the empty spots in the directive, and a detailed sheet outlining all of the expenses that had been paid out from the water committee since July 2007! I was floored. The president, treasurer, secretary, and my host-dad had gotten together and worked out all the expenses with the owner of the colmado. They had heard that people were saying they were stealing funds, and wanted to address it clearly. Everything was accounted for, down to the blocks of ice bought for juice when Builders Beyond Borders was here. When they were done they quietly passed the turn to speak off to me, knowing that it would probably be my last chance at a water committee meeting in Agua Larga. I thought for a little bit, told them how impressed I was and then tried to get a couple words out explaining how grateful I was to have been…that was it. My throat closed up, my cheeks started to spasm, and I looked down trying to compose myself. The next half hour was the best and worst time of my service. Everyone from my host-dad to the water committee president to the beneficiaries at the meeting were in tears sputtering whatever thanks they could to me before they couldn’t talk anymore. I just sat with my head down accepting all of this love for the last time, and in many ways, the first time. Seeing these tough guys that work in the hills with machetes most days balling was really hard. And it didn’t stop.
First thing the next day was my host-mom, which triggered me again, which triggered everyone else: the colmado guy, the old guy across the street, the kids. They snapped a photo of me and those who were around, and I left my community on a motorcycle, balling.

Agua Larga with their token gringo.

And just to give me one last whirl, it rained. Then it stopped, but the damage was done. The motorcycle rounded the corner and we saw a truck that had slid off to the side on the muddy incline. We got off the motorcycle, the driver and I with all my big bags and my cat in a carrier. We then tied a rope to the front of this big truck loaded up with rocks, and proceeded to straighten it out while it spun its wheels. We went from on the road to slipping off the side about five times and then it got traction and started climbing. So now, muddy, sweaty, and much later than planned, I left my site for the last time. I stopped at a high point that overlooks my valley and snapped these two photos, one of my valley and one of my moto-guy, who had come to pick me up for over a year almost without fail.

I was no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. And it felt terrible.

When I got to the capital I was lucky enough to have a bunch of my PC friends around up until the moment I got in my taxi that would take me away to the airport, but that made it tougher. I had a red-eye so I got in the taxi at midnight, gave everyone who was there a hug, then tried not to look at them much and got in. Then the driver started to ask me how long I had been there and what I had been doing. I told him, and then he said, “Oh wow you must have a real connection with the people.” That did it. I was sitting in the back seat with the window open and tears just started pouring, being blown aside by the wind(which I now realize was an amazing temperature). He asked a couple more questions but soon realized there was something wrong with me and it was just better to leave it be. That was just the beginning.

To perfectly cap off the irony that is Peace Corps service in the DR it took me seven hours to get from the hostel where the taxi picked me up to my parents car at JFK, one hour less than it took me to get from my community to the capital, Santo Domingo. That trip was very Dominicanly broken up into segments by me trying to get people to allow my cat on a bus, them kicking me off, and so forth. So when I arrived, saw my parents, tried to act like my head wasn’t spinning, and got in the car so quickly, it just added to the whirlwind that was the last 24 hours. They were asking me questions about this and that and I don’t remember much, but I remember sitting in the back seat feeling as if I wasn’t ready to be there. I was right back where I had left off and the last two years was some kind of dream. I had to concentrate really hard just to take it cool and try to absorb things in stride. Well, my schedule was not a great one. I was going to spend two days at home and then head off to Pittsburgh where I would begin grad school in a week! Those two days I left my home maybe twice. I was not balanced yet. The first thing I noticed waking up on my floor in my room that next day (I don’t know why, I wanted to sleep on the floor) was how quiet it was. It was sadly quiet, made me feel all alone. The first time I went to the bathroom I realized I could get a drink of water from the sink, did so, and lost it. I was balling. My face was not under my control and I had to just ride it out. Then I took my first shower. It was amazing, so much water and so warm. I was doing alright then for some reason a thought of the Haitian guy popped into my head and my face went crazy again. This happened probably about ten times in those two days in my home. Chatting with volunteers online, making a sandwich with food from the fridge, sitting on my couch. I had no control. I literally would not know when it was going to come and then my face would flip out and I had to just ride it out. It was sad, but on a weird level I was happy. I didn’t want to forget, I wanted to keep remembering. I wasn’t ready to let it all go.

So before I knew it I was packing clothes and things, supposedly everything I would need for a year in Pittsburgh-where there is snow! I haven’t seen snow since the winter of ’06-‘07. Needless to say I got very little sleep the night before leaving, and then I set off with my parents in a full car. I still didn’t really know what was happening until two days later, when they left. I was moved in with my Peace Corps buddy, which helped, but I was on my own. I did not feel at home, did not feel comfortable, and I just had to take it like I had taken my first night in my village, two years ago: with a deep breath. I knew I didn’t have to figure everything out right then. I just had to wake up the next day and things would be a little bit better…

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