I arrived in the DR on a Thursday afternoon, and as I made the drive from the airport to the town nearest my community, it all came rushing back. I remembered everything. Almost nothing had changed. The heavy, humid air was overwhelming as we sped along, jamming to some bachata and merengue tunes. I got to town and quickly found a motoconcho to take me to my community. We piled my bags on top and went on our way. Ahh the adrenaline of dirt roads and suped-up dirt bikes. The ride started to drag on at about 45 minutes…HOW did I not notice just how isolated I was before? Damn. I finally roll up to the center of town when the moto driver decides he can’t make it any further; the roads are far too bad from recent rain. Welcome home (What’s new?!)! I get off, and begin the remaining quarter-mile walk to my host family’s home with two big bags through 3″ of mud. A neighbor sees me and begins yelling, “Jessica! Jessica!” I run over, give her a hug, and she promptly asks, “So are you married yet?”…”NO?! Oh God!”…”Any kids?”…”No? Oh dear God!” I continue my walk, quickly avoiding a herd of cows, when a kid arrives on horse to help me with my bags. Perfect. Coming on foot, I essentially sneak up on my family. My host dad spots me and begins screaming, “It’s Jessica! It’s Jessica!” I got some of the best hugs I think I’ve ever received. Tight, all encompassing hugs, full of pure love. I grab my little Yameiris and hold on to her, as if she really was my hija. Part of my family and some of the kids had set up a welcome party decorated with pink balloons and all of my favorite things: popcorn, fried plantains, candy, soda, and beer. (These people clearly know me far too well). That first afternoon truly felt like I had come back home; it felt as though I had been gone for only a few weeks.
I spent a few more days in my community. We walked from neighbor to neighbor, spent a lot more pesos than I ever previously had at the one store, bathed in the river like old times (right next to thirsty cows, of course), and just relaxed. As great as it was to return, I did feel some conflicting emotions that I wasn’t expecting. Staying in my old home alone (that was looking rougher than I remember) was a nightly reminder of just how lonely some of my Peace Corps days really were. The constant attention and doting on by all in the community reminded me of those dreadful feelings of being the one person that was different – the one person that stuck out. And going back with different eyes – not living this life every day any more – made the poverty that much more striking. Some of this hurt, but overall it was great to be back with people that I consider a second family.
On New Years Eve I met up with three of my close friends who had served in the same Peace Corps group as me. We traveled to our favorite beach on the north coast to bring in 2014 together with our toes in the sand, sipping President, and having fireworks rain down on us (there was a slight mishap with whoever was in charge of directing the fireworks above the water…not very surprising). We split about 8 days between two great beaches and a final night in the capital. Having money this time around for good food, drinks, and taxis (!) was a nice perk. Overall, traveling together was a much needed vacation; we relaxed on the beach, danced some bachata, and laughed more than I think any of us have in a long time. Reminiscing about our days together in the Peace Corps, and being there to confirm each other’s amazing, yet slightly painful returns to our communities was nice. Not to be overly sappy, but it was honestly all just a pleasant reminder that there is no bond like the one between Peace Corps Volunteers.
Yameiri (she’s about to turn 6!). A leader in the making…
My host mom, Julita, making one of my faves. :)
Yes, this happened. And I looked absolutely beautiful.
One of my favorite kiddos.
Sarah, Chelsea, Merry, and I.