On What Peace Corps Means to Our Relationship

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am less than two weeks away from being reunited with Arthur and I have been finding myself looking back to blogs and people who helped me through the first few months of his service, especially the author of My Boyfriend Lives in Kenya. Back in 2010, she wrote a piece titled “What the Peace Corps Means to Our Relationship,” hence the title of my own post today. Reading her post, I couldn’t help but be reflective on our own journey and what this time has meant to us. Our story and “Kenya’s” story are similar … but I thought I’d try it for myself.

I think since the first time I heard the sound of Arthur’s voice I knew he wanted to join Peace Corps. After all, since he was a teenager, Peace Corps has been on his mind. We met about a month after he graduated from his undergraduate and he had already been to multiple recruitment meetings and had spoken to several recruiters. While I did not know much about Peace Corps, I did know that he was extremely passionate about it, which immediately gave me cause to support him. I can remember late summer evenings on my parent’s deck, listening to him read aloud one essay or another for his application and early summer mornings where we would labor over difficult questions with difficult answers. Peace Corps was always a topic of conversation from the day we met.

Arthur was nothing but honest from the first day we met. If he was accepted to join, he wasn’t sure he could commit to a long distance relationship. He was projected to leave in October, only three months after our first date. Peace Corps nearly kept us apart on multiple occasions. For a long time, I held a small bit of resentment over the fact that I fell in love with a man who wanted to chase his dreams. It was a time of mixed emotions – for you cannot truly be angry with someone who follows their heart to do good in this world. After he submitted his application, there was a lot of waiting and a whole lot of silence. But during that silence from Peace Corps, we grew together. We took our relationship a day at a time and soon, we were planning trips to California, North Carolina, and Connecticut.

Every day that we grew closer was another day that he checked his e-mail for word from Peace Corps. Until finally the recruiter contacted him. I will probably never forget the way my heart fluttered and dropped into the bottom of my gut simultaneously. And thus began the whirlwind of Peace Corps placement. Each potential placement from his recruiter was a small punch in my gut. And as more time went by, the recruiter asked him to fill out a survey on our relationship. At the time, it felt strange and made me uncomfortable to think about how those questions and interviews about our relationship went. Perhaps it even still does feel odd to know our relationship is documented in some way “officially” and in writing. In time, Arthur was selected to leave in February of 2012, a year and a half after we began dating and nearly a year and a few months after his initial application submission. It would be a safe bet to say that for every single one of those 500+ days, we spoke of Peace Corps in one way or another. 

A hair over two years ago, I was helping Arthur move out of his apartment and pack and compartmentalize his life into little boxes, big boxes, and trash bags. Some boxes went to his mother’s house while some went home with me. Bringing these boxes into my house was devastating. I did what I could to be brave and to be strong, but without knowing what I was truly getting myself into, I did not know how to feel or how to talk myself into feeling courageous. There were mornings when Arthur and I would wake up and immediately begin to cry. Other mornings, we would immediately get up and make breakfast burritos and go for a hike or a drive. But always, we would talk about Peace Corps.

I can remember sitting on his bed while he filled out his paperwork from his invitation package. I would listen in on conversations with doctors and dentists and old employers. I remember flipping through the Family and Friends guide to “having someone special in the Peace Corps.” We tried to laugh at some of the entires, but on the inside, I felt like I was trying to ingest every word in hope that I would find answers to the questions I did not even have. For the record, I’m not really sure if that booklet was helpful or harmful, but at the time it was the only security I had.

I drove Arthur to appointment after appointment. I watched as each requirement was checked off until finally his surprise going away party came and went. The friends all hugged him goodbye. The mattress went into the dumpster. And we closed my car door to drive to my parents house for the last time together from the apartment. I don’t really remember breathing. I remember dropping him off at the hotel for staging and running last minute errands at REI. I remember crying the whole way home at 1 in the morning after dropping him off at the staging hotel just in time for him to catch his bus to the airport. I remember our last American phone to American phone call. It was 9 AM and he had just finished eating a $15 cheeseburger and beer.

Over the past two years, we have talked about Peace Corps every single day, in one way or another. We have discussed policies, decisions, expectations, and its future. We have picked apart his service in more ways than one. Together we have problem solved, collaborated, and been stumped on what to do. We have discussed our regret for not doing Peace Corps together. We have discussed our uncertainties about doing Peace Corps together. We have discussed serving Peace Corps together in the future.

Now, nearly four years after this whole process began, we are at the next junction in our lives, one where Peace Corps won’t be taking such a huge part in. It will be strange to have conversations that do not involve the uncertainties of what is to come due to Peace Corps, but rather the uncertainties of daily life. I acknowledge that while Peace Corps may no longer be our daily conversation headline, it will always be a part of our lives. It brought us together, stronger and more loyal to one another than perhaps any other experience could have. It tested it, shook us, and forced us to ask questions about ourselves that could break others. It bonded us as not only as significant others, but as companions, teammates, and partners. It forced us to think outside of the box and get creative. It required us to communicate and be honest with one another. Most importantly, it solidified for us the qualities we saw in each other that caused us to fall in love with one another in the first place.

While I held such mixed emotions about the Peace Corps for taking my boyfriend away from me for 27 months (yes, I can still be angsty), I have turned a new leaf. At some point along this journey, I learned his dream had nothing to do with me, but rather was the path he needed to take. Despite my previous grudge, I am actually very thankful for these years. I watched as a man grew in front of my eyes into a humble, gentle, patient, hard-working, obstacle overcoming, problem solving individual. I experienced a new world, learned a new culture, and walked several miles in the shoes of the people who looked to him to highly. I watched him build stoves with his bare hands in the mid-day sun. I listened to him solve community disagreements. I overheard people speak of him highly, and saw the smile on community members faces as he would walk up to their homes just to say hello. Together, we overcame obstacles and struggled through daily chores. We depended upon each other in ways we’d never have to experience in the States. We took the time to appreciate a simple smile and took the time to appreciate the sweet sound of “I love you” after the day from hell. We learned to kick off our shoes and hold on to each other tightly under the shade of a mango tree as the wind gently rocked us to a mid-afternoon nap in a hammock.

I am grateful to Peace Corps for accepting Arthur. I am even more grateful for Peace Corps for giving us the opportunity to grow and learn from each other in order to become a stronger, closer, and more loving and grateful couple towards one another. I am grateful for every struggle, every moment of happiness, and every time of failure. I am thankful for this time. And I am even more thankful for the next adventure ahead.

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On Shoes and Buying In

March 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Over my two years of spending time in the Dominican Republic, I visited the Dajabon market on several occasions. The market is, in one word, hectic. The border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is opened on Monday and Friday so merchants from Haiti can cross the river and sell their goods. Generally, these goods range from produce and spices to donated First Aid items, clothing, and electronic kitchen supplies from the United States. Over the past year, one of the most sought after items has become the TOMS “Not for Resale” Black Canvas shoe. I decided to post my personal e-mail to TOMS about the situation. As you’ll find, I am deeply struggling with my purchase of a pair of shoes I was suppose to have “donated” to a needy child/teenager/adult in a country of need. Any feedback is welcome, though I can do without nasty comments. Thanks.

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For some time, your company has been one very near and dear to my heart, something that you could only wish more people would be able to do. You help people feel connected to the world by giving back. People always want to do good, they just never know the best way and your company has made giving back one of the easiest feats. We all need shoes – rich, poor, or shoeless. We all need shoes. After two years of traveling back and forth to a small town on the border of Haiti, I have learned this lesson all too well. Shoes aren’t just good to protect your feet from glass and rocks, but diseases and hook worm. Modern medicine can fix hook worm, but without access to that medicine, you risk long term health complications. Shoes are important and shoes are special. And even though I now struggle deeply with your organization, I still believe it is meant for good. Over the past year and a half, I have traveled into the Dajabon market, one of the largest border markets between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This market, just outside Quanaminthe, Haiti, is well known for its abundance of supplies being resold. Some of the items being sold are First Aid supplies sent from the States to Haiti and are now being resold through the market. Seeing large piles of hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and Nyquil are quite common. As are piles and piles of winter clothing, heavy down comforters, and crock pots – donations from those in the States who wanted to help, but weren’t quite sure how. That’s why your organization is so unique and helpful. Shoes! You streamline the process of getting your product into the hands of those who need it most. Or do you? For a solid year, I was guaranteed to find mountains of “TOMS – NOT FOR RESALE” shoes in the Market. Women selling “free” shoes for the asking price of $6. And now I, the consumer, am faced with an incredible dilemma. I need a new pair of shoes and I know how well my $54 pair of TOMS have held up for me. And I know that even when I barter down her asking price from $6 to $4, she has enough money to buy 8 pounds of rice for her family. Now, I am not taking in consideration for how she got the shoes, so perhaps some of my $4 belongs to another person she bought the shoes from. But I am to assume that by purchasing these shoes, I have somehow contributed to her. As I walk away after my purchase, listening to her mumble in Kreyol about Americans, I can’t help but feel torn between two ideas. The first being that I directly helped this woman who was reselling “not for resale” shoes for profit. The second being that the consumer products that I am purchasing in the States are not always as true to their word as I believe them to be. Certainly as a consumer, I should not always believe what I am consuming, but I should be able to know that an organization that delivers shoes to those who need them most is doing exactly that! I am not sure how your Giving Partners distribute shoes. According to your website, they do so by putting the shoes directly on the child’s feet. And if each order is customized, there should not be mountains of shoes to be resold. As someone who is no stranger to work in Third World countries, I understand that your NGOs are your eyes and ears on the ground. I understand that you cannot control every circumstance. However, I believe it to be incredibly important that you are made aware of the reality of your shoes in this particular corner of the world. I wear my Black Canvas “Not for Resale” TOMS at least once a week. Their durability is impressive, I must say. But inside of my shoes, I walk forward trying to better understand my role as the consumer in this situation. I, the consumer, purchased from a Haitian mother the very shoes I “donated” when making my most recent purchase of a $54 pair of red canvas TOMS. So as you celebrate (and I celebrate with you) your partnership with the incredible artists of Haiti (thank you for recognizing their talents … for truly they deserve it), please recognize how your good samaritan actions are beginning to take a turn in a very different direction in the small country of Haiti.

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On The Final Month

March 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve left you out to dry for some time and perhaps have not been the greatest at blogging. So I apologize.

A week ago, Arthur celebrated two years in Peace Corps – and nearly two months ago, we celebrated his approval for an early, 30-day COS. Arthur will be home in only 32 days.

These final days of his service have been incredibly busy for the both of us and leave us exhausted come night fall. Arthur’s latrine project took off and slowed down and is now finally bursting once again to race to the finish and my professional career exploded immediately once I arrived back in the States. Needless to say, we are very happy to know we have only a few more weeks to trudge through without each other, side-by-side.

Our time together in the Dominican solidified our relationship and renewed our lust for travel, life, and exploring and growing in love and knowledge with each other. Spending the final four months of his service apart has been difficult. We were use to a rhythm beside one another and finding the rhythm of how to exist without being together was no easy feat.

Originally, I had intended to return for a two week trip for Carnaval in La Vega. Before heading back to the States together for Arthur’s job interviews in January, we took a two day trip to the beach. Nearly 12 hours before boarding the plane to arrive home, I received an e-mail with a full-time job opportunity at the school I had interned at for graduate school. While our two week vacation plans fell through, I was able to make a five day trip to collect the final pieces of my two year experience in the Dominican, say a tear-filled goodbye to friends whom became my family, and wave goodbye to the beautiful island that is the Dominican Republic. Perhaps more on this another time …

Over the past two years, our relationship has learned how to grow and expand in ways that we never knew. We learned how to love fully, but also be ready for constant shifts and change. Plans have a terrible way of falling apart just when you believe you’ve fully put them together. And just when you believe all hope is lost, something happens to make your heart full again.

As we venture into the final 32 days of this long-distance relationship, I would just like to thank you all for your love, support, questions, and stories. Your courage to keep on keepin’ on made me feel more empowered and less insane – I am forever grateful for this time of my life. And yet an incredibly excited for the next part of our life to begin – the one where we are together again.

On Learning, Three Months In

October 23, 2013 § 3 Comments

I’ve done my best to keep my personal blogging out of this blog – mostly because my experiences here are not related to be in a long distance relationship. After all, we are together for the time being. But I feel it important to write about this; I know it will change the way our relationship will work in the final months of Arthur’s service.

Now – my life here … Obstacles are mountains but happy moments continue to pour into the week. Bad news never comes alone but excitement sometimes electrocutes. Life here rarely has a middle ground, a point in which I feel steady on my feet and prepared for the course of the day.

I remember a point in Arthur’s service where days, sometimes weeks, would never go as planned. In the morning, he would be prepared to accomplish his work. In the afternoon, most of the work had been postponed. By nightfall, nearly half if not less of the ideal work goal was successful. Now, of course, this was not every day. But on these days, he would struggle on the phone with me to find the words that would capture how he felt.

Now I can understand those feelings in a way that can sometimes be so debilitating to my spirit. Other times, it can be a reprieve when a heat headache knocks me on my ass. The past few months have taught me quite a bit about education, myself, my relationship with Arthur, and the unfortunate pain dengue can bring about. While I will refrain from commenting on the state of education here, I will say I have learned so much more than I anticipated. One of the greatest difficulties of teaching I have faced in this country is the incredible, impossible achievement gap in my students.  Teaching here is a daily lesson, frustration, heartache, and accomplishment. My role as an educator here has made me appreciate the education my parents pushed me to pursue. Even when education was the least important part of my life as an angry and frustrated teenager, they continued to encourage and inspire me to love being an educated woman in society. Every morning I am thankful for that. I look forward to standing in front of my students in January and trying to instill that same gratefulness towards education. Though I know it may be years before any of my students see, or willingly admit, the changes their education has brought them, I hope they have a chance in their life to reflect and see what a difference education has made in their life.

A few weeks ago, I was bit by a dengue-infected mosquito, leaving me virtually writing the month of October off. The slow, creeping pain lingered through the weeks, leaving me out of my classes and stuck inside of my house. Dengue seems to choose which victims will suffer the least, and which will suffer the most. It is different for everyone. For myself, dengue robbed me of my desire to eat, drink, move, get dressed, and teach. For weeks, I struggled with mild depression and serious thoughts of education not being for me. I felt as though I had let down a great number of people. I thought of my students in the states regularly, fearing they would see me as a different person, less accessible to them upon my return. On my last days, my students went so far as to say I was abandoning them. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that I had done just that. Over the past three months, I have grown incredibly close to some of the youth in this community, especially my one-on-one student, Rismery, and my six-year-old next door neighbor, Oliver. I struggled with what would happen to them when I was no longer a part of this community. The thoughts kept coming. What if teaching was not for me? What if I shouldn’t have left the States? What if six months here weren’t enough?

I spent most of my afternoons alone in the hammock during the second week of dengue. Here, I began to struggle with missing my family and friends. One morning, I received word from home that my childhood dog, Brooklyn, was not doing well and soon, the word came through he would be put down. My throat closed up and my heart broke. It was perhaps the straw that broke the camels back. I can remember now spending most of the rest of the week staring at the many trees surrounding me in my hammock and thinking about how delicate life can be. Losing my dog ripped the small whole in my heart into an even greater, more painful one. Thank goodness for technology. I had the chance to Skype for a couple of hours with Brooklyn – watched those huge eyes of love and understanding look back into the computer screen. Those final moments with him gave me some peace that I may never have had otherwise.

The days went slowly and my mind kept reeling. I could stare at the trees for hours on end, searching for birds and lizards to try and keep the thoughts from completely taking over. I had never before felt as though I were failing as an educator. Every morning and afternoon, Oliver would come over to ask if I were alive. Every day it got a little more important he spend time with me. He kept me from falling into the back of my mind, the place where I felt eating me away.  The dengue kept me from teaching for three weeks. It kept me from Rismery, my students at the school, and any other obligations I had. His presence next to me kept me connected to the outside world.

Arthur, through this whole situation, remained positive, insanely patient, and above all, loving and sincere. While his work kept him from staying at the house all day, he did as much as he could. There are times where the people who we love most in our lives remind us why we love them so much. Arthur, nearly hourly, pulled me from that space in my mind begging for me to give in and go home; give up on this idea of education here. Amongst all the wonderful things he did to keep me happy and healthy, he reminded me of the growing collection of art supplies here in the house. Suddenly, my every once in a blue moon class became the medicine to my heart and mind. The way the sea and salt air has always healed my aching heart, art class in my backyard redeemed me from the dengue hell. While Arthur may regret his suggestion as we have now run out of wall space in the kitchen, I know he appreciates having me back. And I must agree, it is nice to be back.

I have memorized the view of the sky from the space outside of my enramada, the covered back patio of Dominican houses. Spending two weeks on your back in a hammock can do that for you. I read books from cover to cover. I watched mango leaves fall from the sky and mango flowers bloom in the morning sunlight. I laughed every time a muchacho fell off his bike and cheered every time he rode it on one wheel. I have learned where the sun will hit the hammock at any given time of day. I know what it feels like to have feet in so much pain that even the thought of shoes makes me cry. I know what it feels like to lose faith in myself. I know what it feels like to have to gain the same faith back.

Once I felt better, Arthur and I took a trip away for a few days to visit a few of his friends. I drank beer, ate well, and soaked up the opportunity to spend a few nights with some incredible people. But most of all, I allowed myself to heal. Laying on my back in the ocean, I came to terms with my work here. While it has been nothing I anticipated, it has changed everything about how I see myself as an educator. And that itself is worth its weight in gold.

Upon our return home, I was greeted by my best friend in the campo. His six-year-old eyes lit up, and his older brother running close behind him. Perhaps they both are the closest thing I will have to a solid companion here. The first few hours here reminded me of why this place always felt like home. Those sad desires of wanting to run away and go back to the States seemed so distant from me. And then the rumors began to knock on our door.

Over the weekend, my English student ran away from home and got (campo) married to a boy she had only known for a few days. Her family cannot communicate with her. The police have tried to bring her home and she refuses. She is not going to school and has completely locked herself away in his home. If the chisme (gossip) holds true, she is drinking and possibly engaging in drug use.  Her mother has run off and her siblings are abandoned. Word got back to her father in the States who had promised to bring her there for a better life. He demanded the police and lawyers to find her and bring her home. He is coming here next month to bring her back with him. The family is destroyed. And if this beautiful, intelligent, and promising girl does not make the right decision, her life will be forever changed. And I suddenly feel myself back at square one. Laying in the hammock, writing this, I look up at the palm tree, the mango tree, the lime tree, and the breadfruit tree. I ask myself like I did walking away from my students in the States, did I abandon her? Could this have been avoided? I feel responsible. No one understands what happened.

Life here tends to be full of ups and downs, this I was ready for. But when did it all have to be so damn hard? I suppose I will resort to the comforts of my childhood and just keep coloring with the muchachos in my art class. Just as I was preparing to post, one of my students from the States sent me an e-mail. She wrote, “Things here are just not the same without you. I miss you and am counting the days until you’re back here with us!”

I suppose it will always be hard to feel as though it is all okay.

On New Directions

August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over the past year and some change I have been blogging on this site, I have attracted readers from innumerable backgrounds. Some make it here through random searches. Others are looking for answers on how to convince their future Peace Corps significant other that a long distance relationship will work. Sometimes, successful partners in this crazy test of patience and love will swing through to share with me their stories. And every once in awhile, people who have zero connection to Peace Corps but wish to carry out a long distance relationship will find their way here. All of them searching for a story and a glimmering piece of hope that everything will work out.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Before you get too ahead of yourself, let me say that Arthur and I are doing swimmingly. He is projected to come home in May – and we have plans. Many of them. Just as we did two years ago. But life happens when you’re making plans.

I’m writing this blog today sitting next to the man of my dreams. Over a month ago, I packed up a few bags and relocated to the small concrete house to stay with Arthur. It was a bold move. I was offered a job through the school I did my M.Ed internship with. Turning down that job was not only hard, but it broke my heart. If a person could ever have a dream job, I had somehow miraculously been given two. And I chose the less traveled. At first, I wasn’t sure how my family and friends would perceive my decision to move here in the Dominican. But quickly it dawned on me that my happiness was not with their approval – something I suppose I should have assumed. 

Here, I am teaching English in a variety of ways to a variety of students with a variety of needs to know the language. I am happy. I am seeing the work I did in my middle school suddenly come full circle. There, many of my students were immigrants from other countries. Their new life in the United States was hard and continues to be a difficult journey for them. Regularly my students would escape the loud cafeteria and share lunch with me. We would talk about culture, music, religions, hopes and dreams, shattered dreams, and sometimes discuss why a white person like me would ever want to go back to the places my students and their families narrowly escaped. “Don’t you know you can’t save us all?” they would say.

 And now here I sit on the other side, working with a young girl moving to the United States, facing all the trials and tribulations my students talked about. Preparing to work with an entire family also preparing for the future travel and facing the ridicule and difficulties immigrant families must endure when relocating to any place new.

I see my work come full circle. Yet this time, I am seated beside my beau. “Left stateside” is no longer – for she has in fact left stateside. (English, you’re so tricky.)

As for my readers, the ones whom pop in every once in a long while to see how things are … here is the single greatest piece of advice I can share with you. Continue to make plans to see your love again soon and always know when that next time will be. But do not be alarmed when that next time suddenly becomes an extended visit. Life happens when you’re busy planning for it. So let it.

On Reaching Out

May 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Feeling charitable? Arthur has a new project up for dry composting latrines. Your donation, even at a single dollar, can help make the difference in the life of Dominican and Haitian families. Click here to learn more about the project and how you can help out Arthur’s community!

On New Adventures

May 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

This time last year, Arthur and I were starting to talk some pretty big ideas and plans. He had just sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and I was full of so many different types of emotions. I was proud. Incredibly proud. How could the man I had waited for to waltz into my life be such a selfless man in addition to filling all the requirements on my “future partner” resumé. Only kidding, sort of.

I was also incredibly lonely during that month. Perhaps not quite as lonely as Arthur – during the month of May, he was getting to know his community. Some days he was very active in his diagnostic, while other days he preferred to not stray too far from his Doña. I felt loneliness in a way that I am not sure how I was able to overcome. Arthur’s absence suddenly felt real, permanent, and he was beginning to establish himself in his community. I felt lonely because I was not a part of this. I was here, working hard as Nanny Meena – and he was there, working hard as the Americano in cargo shorts and flip flops.

This time, last year, we made big plans. We made some scary promises. But we kept those promises. And in a few weeks, those promises will come full circle. Together, we decided it was best for us both if we could be in the same place on a regular basis. At the time, we didn’t know how it would all play out. But here we are, a year later with a final plan and only a few weeks away from being together for seven months.

We decided, after hours of phone calls, four visits, and a few parasites that I would put finding a job directly out of graduate school on hold and try my hand at a new found passion – teaching students how to read, write, and speak English. My time at my internship has showed me how much fun ESOL is – and now, I’d like to try it out on my own before I make a decision about what it is exactly that I want to teach.

Arthur’s time in the Peace Corps will end a year from now. If you do your math correctly, that means I will end up back home with less than 5 months to go before he comes home to decide exactly who and what I want to be teaching. 5 months to take Praxis tests, substitute teach, even try to find ourselves a new apartment – we laugh when we say this, but one of us has to know what they want to be when they grow up! 

I suppose our decision is not the most conventional. But it works for us. Our families have been so incredibly supportive in our new adventure together and our closest friends have been nothing but positive. Of course, as with any major decision, there have been those who disagree with our choice. At the end of the day, we feel as though this is a new adventure for us to take on together! And just like every other adventure we have taken together, there have been moments of fear, frustration, and anxiety – yet I anticipate this adventure to come together just as the other adventures: the time of our lives.

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