Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Last Week

[I started this post early during my last week in the DR, tried to finish it up and post it mid-week at work, and then was interrupted, as you will see, before the power/internet went out. Sorry to be posting it so late after it was written.]

It’s getting toward bedtime, and I’m sitting here listening to salsa music float in from the street and feeling semi-teary about facing my last week here in the DR. In mid-April, I remember looking at the calendar and feeling fairly certain this week would never come. At the time, I was feeling a little homesick, though I knew that deep-down I didn’t want the year to end any earlier than was already planned. What I didn’t expect was how hard it is to leave now that the time has come.

What an unbelievable year I’ve had! I really do find myself at a loss for words to describe it – but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it! In fact, I want to go ahead and put out a formal request, in writing, to all of you friends and family: Whenever our paths next cross, please do ask me about this year. I have so many anecdotes, reactions, feelings, and observations I want to share! If you find yourself wanting to ask something beyond “How was your year?”, here is a list of subjects I’ve recently been wishing I had written postings on:

  • The livestock and poultry farm where many of our Los Conucos families live and work, and where we spent a harrowing day doing our door-to-door health census.

  • Wanda, the seven-year-old I currently live with, who likes to dance in the kitchen with me, leaves surprises like finger-paintings and eye-ball-shaped candy on my bed, and is currently engaged in a lively effort to convince me that the frost build-up in the freezer must be snow.

  • Modes of transport ranging from feet and the occasional Jeep to gua-guas, backs of flat-bed trucks, motorcycles, and rafts.

  • Anything relating to my fabulous dance class.

  • What it’s like to work in an office that offers free HIV testing. I’ve found that simply being the check-in person for people asking for the test – and then waiting with them for their results a few days later – has been one of the hardest and most compelling experiences for me.

  • Cultural stuff: Dominican Time, manners, personal space, sayings and beliefs around illness...

  • My new identities as amazing chef (taught somebody to make scrambled eggs yesterday and am already famous for making Betty Crocker cake mixes), computer whiz, master of visual aids, typing genius, and – yes, ETHS folk – even video game aficionado.

  • My (limited but memorable) encounters with politics, elections, and police.

  • "How to Be a Responsible Donor": what I'm jokingly calling a collection of experiences, observations, and advice I've gathered this year about what's really helpful to donate to places like our clinic in the DR.

Just as I was getting ready to post this on the work computer, friends from Boca Chica and the capital arrived and I was ushered upstairs to a surprise Despedida (goodbye party).

Well, here I am full-out tearful and touched after my goodbye party at the clinic. We all sat in a circle (true Dominican party style) and took turns saying a few things. I was really touched by the wonderful things my Dominican colleagues and fellow Americans said about my work here - I feel truly accepted and appreciated! I was presented with certificates and a beautiful Dominican painting.... there were empanadas and cake and two flavors of ice cream.... and when I got up to say something I was about two sentences in before the tears started. Even though crying and speaking in Spanish are a particularly hard combination for me, I think I managed to tell everyone how dearly I love and appreciate them. San Pedro, the clinic, and particularly this group of people are another hogar y familia (home and family) for me. I just can't emphasize enough how incredible this has been and how much I will miss them all.

And now that I've re-triggered the tears by writing about it, I'm gonna stop here and just post what I have. The next few days will be incredibly busy, and I won't be in the office much with internet access, but I will try to post this weekend when I'm back in the States. (...still an unbelievable concept.) My love to everyone.

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