After Christmas. After New Years. After (nearly) officially 11 months. After the newness rubs off. After the freshman experience. After we tell ourselves we know what is going on; or at least that we might. After the joy and freshness of development work turns to bitterness and resentment. After the dog being beaten and slandered becomes routine. After the children being told they are worthless begins to form into normality.
It’s amazing how we adapt; how our minds take our environment and morph the way we look at the world into something that makes sense for the here and now. This means taking the ridiculous, absurd, detestable experiences from my first few months and converting them into just another part of life. A person can set the bar as high or as low as they like, but eventually the bar begins to either lighten or become heavier, and with this the bar starts to lower or rise without a conscious realization. Simply by trying to do the work we do, by trying to look into and examine the greater landscape of Dominican social-economic problems we are probably prone to forfeit a bit of the utopian dream we once shared. Previously considered grave problems begin to pale in comparison and even seem laughable when one discovers greater individual need. Just today I found myself discussing the problems of Haiti and Somalia and thinking: “what am I doing to assist in lift-or-death situations?” I guess sometimes the real need seems far away and your own work gets overshadowed by some greater world need. I’m not exactly sure what all of this means for me, but perhaps it’s a lesson in humility or core beliefs. For example, if a person believes strongly in equal opportunity for education and inherent individual worth, these core beliefs would (I hope) not fade away so quickly with the surrounding culture. It is definitely a balance of cultural integration and sticking to your roots, and I hope and pray that I have the humility to learn from my surroundings while not allowing my roots to be torn away. I hope these jumbled thoughts make at least some sense.
Maybe I was spurred on to these thoughts by some recent interactions i had with volunteers at a kids conference called “Montañas al Mar”. During the camp we taught the kids about the environmental connection that the Mountains and the Ocean have with one another. We took kids from our mountain communities and showed them how everything done in the mountain directly affects the habitats of the ocean. Anyway, there were a handful of volunteers and during one conversation we began to speak/wonder about whether the Peace Corps has actually had a real impact here in the DR. I suppose one can take the fact that the Peace Corps has been here for 50 years as either positive or negative – obviously the fact that we are still here means that this country still has a long way to go… but has the Peace Corps’ attempts to build and train people had a significant impact? Honestly, who knows? What we do here is generally very small scale, so the impact is on a very personal level, meaning an impact country-wide would be impossible to measure. But contrary to some of my more pessimistic Peace Corps volunteers, I’d like to think that we have made an impact here. The DR has come a long way since 1952, and although we cannot exactly know what role the Peace Corps played in this, I’d like to think it at least played a secondary one. I have found that it is very easy to get bogged down by the small scale of my project, but I don’t think it necessarily makes it less important. I mean, look at the grassroots movement that Jesus during his ministry. He constantly focused on individuals and small groups. Maybe this is where I need to be humbled.
The conference went great, btw. We took the kids to the beach, to a beautiful swimming hole at the river, and we gave several lessons including Erosion, interconnectivity, AIDS and trash. The youth participated in a lot of the lessons which was awesome to see, and it was hilarious watching them teach and demonstrate the use of condoms. Besides one of my children throwing up on the bus ride and wetting the bed the first night, I’m pretty sure my kids enjoyed themselves. They were very shy and a bit freaked out by the newness of being outside of our tiny campo, but I really think it was unforgettable for them.
Lastly, I’d like to catch some of you up on the happenings in my life for the last month. Hopefully you got to take a look at the pictures I posted. Christmas was very different but still enjoyable, especially being able to make people laugh with my Santa costume. Sarah and Masa and several other volunteers made Christmas day very special as we shared an INCREDIBLE Christmas dinner of ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. After a fairly calm New Years dancing with a few of my community members I headed up to Jarabacoa/Monabao to see my old host family. It was really nice being to see them and catch up on the happenings in their lives. We ate some good food and chilled (literally) inside with what I imagine to be about 50 degree temperatures. Besides this adventure, I have been sticking around site trying to get information together for a few new project opportunities that have arisen. I was preselected for a $50,000 grant to build a hydroelectric system which would give real electricity to my community for the first time. Also, some leaders in the area have informed me that they want to build a bridge crossing the river at the entrance of my community. There is some waiting that must be done to determine if these projects work out, but I am hopeful! If all goes well I will be a busy man come springtime.
Love and hugs to all, pray for my perseverance, patience and humility!