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Emails from the Peace Corps, No. 11

  • Jun. 16th, 2008 at 5:01 PM
Nine months in. This one is a heavy one -- lots of thinking and philosophizing.

There have been a lot of mental changes in the last nine months. I'm in that Peace Corps phase now where you become philosophical about the romanticism and the real benefit of Peace Corps and all other Peace Corps-esque organizations out there in the world.

 There's this place called The Hub in Santiago (the second largest city in the Dominican Republic) and I'm not sure if I've talked about it before. It's really a Peace Corps Volunteers' Oasis in the middle of mental exhaustion. It was started by a Canadian couple years ago as a place that Peace Corps volunteers could take their R&R days. You pay RD$150 for a night which is a grand US$4.41 for a clean bed, sheets and a hot shower. They are a Christian couple and the husband is some big deal shoe distributor and they wanted to donate money to help out the Dominican Republic but instead of donate it to anonymous organizations they let Peace Corps volunteers stay in this amazing place for pretty much nothing. It's great. Anyway, a lot of the time at The Hub is spent sharing stories, anxieties, doubts, ideas, and whatever else. It's also spent watching cable TV…. it's not all romantic. Now I can get to my point.

 An idea that was floated around The Hub a couple of weeks ago is the Peace Corps Crazy Rollercoaster that most volunteers tend to ride via volunteer Dave Benitez. This is, mas o menos, how he put it: You come into Peace Corps pretty much sane. You meet volunteers that have been 6-months in or a year in and you see that they've gone a little bit crazy and the new volunteers figure it's cool to be crazy so they pretend to be crazy but they really aren't – not in the Peace Corps way. 3-4 months in: you get to your site, away from other volunteers, immersing yourself, speaking a language that is not your 24/7 language and get used to your new living situation. 5-6 months in: you start to go Peace Corps crazy. Your brain is over stimulated by the most mundane things and you just react in a not normal way to things that would have kept you calm and tranquil in the United States of America. 7-8 months in: you embrace your craziness and come back down to an even plane right in time to get all crazy again in a continuing cycle.

So in my downward ride towards Peace Corps Crazy I began thinking about something: romanticism. We all come into the Peace Corps, whether we like it or not, with pre-conceived ideas of what our service will be like, what we'll be able to accomplish and a whole bag full of other expectations. We're told even before we get here that we're not here to change the world, nor the country and we should expect our service to cause some sort of evolutionary change in the countries that we serve in. But, we're never told that we may not even change the communities that we're in. We just might touch a few lives before we leave and that's it. That's all we'll have done in two years and that's okay. And even if people tell you that you still think that you're some sort of agent for change because of the idea of Peace Corps and the romanticism behind it.

I just watched Blood Diamonds for the first time the other night in my house, under my mosquitero, while the entirety of Marmolejos was well to bed and it got my brain going about how the idea of America as the goal to reach has ruined so much of the purity of culture and being in this world. America is the country to be with its capitalistic imperialism and image of money, money, money. The movies don't normally show poor America, suffering America, ugly America. Everyone in this country, the DR, wants to get out. If you're in the campo you want to get out the campo and go to the city. If you're in the city you want to get out and go to America or Spain. I think, if I'm right, 25% or more of the economy of this country comes from remesas – money sent by family in the states or some other foreign country. If everyone's goal is to get out and become un-Dominican, how is anything sustainable… how is there ever going to be development if no one cares about investment because the goal isn't to make your country better but to leave your country so you can become rich like the gringos? Ready, set, delusion. Then I ask, what am I doing here?

What if we just left well enough alone? What if there was no globalization, no envy, no wanting to be like someone else. What if every country was happy with feeding its people and leaving the desire to be rich behind? Then there would be no use for the UN, for the Peace Corps, for NGOs. But we're not in that world and I'm getting disgustingly philosophical about all of this. We are where we are and there's no going back to change the past so we just have to deal with that we have, don't we? I really think I'm getting much more out of this than my community. I graduated my youth group from essentially a life skills class – HIV/AIDS education, teen pregnancy information, self-esteem, etc.  I'm pretty sure that once these kids turn 18 they're going to bounce which will be max 5 years from now and then what will happen with all that information that they're supposed to be multiplicating in the community? They've already said to me that when I leave the group is going to fall apart.


This is not to say I'm completely disillusioned with the Peace Corps – far from it. I just thought I'd express my feelings because I know how much you guys love reading 1,000 word emails.



I love you all. I miss you all. I'm planning to come home to visit January-February 2009 if I don't go stir crazy before then.



Hearts, hugs, and peace,





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