For the first three weeks of training I lived in a second level, small house in Pantoja with a Dona that worked during the week, a Don who was quasi-around, and a 9 year old host sister, who quickly became my teacher, friend, and sister. We bonded over our mutual love of coloring, puppies, and the latest Spanish music while my host mom cooked us dinner. Life was relatively simple – I had training Monday through Friday from about 8-5 and then I would return home or head over to a local colmado to pass the time dancing or compartir-ing with fellow trainees. On the weekends, we would make the 15-20 minute walk to the mother of my Dona’s house in Los Cocos where we would sit in plastic chairs (as I would come to find, a staple in Dominican culture) in the street and chat, dance, and compartir.
I’ve used this word compartir twice now… translated, it means “to share” but here in the Dominican Republic I have come to find that it means SO much more. To compartir, is to share in every sentiment of the word – a sense of togetherness that cannot be described simply. It extends to include the sharing of thoughts, sharing laughs, words, beers, music, or simply sharing time and space. It is sitting in a plastic chair until your butt is numb, talking well into the night, or sometimes simply just sitting there, silently, watching your abuela do the neighbor’s hair in rolos.
During training we hear stories about moments that you know that you have integrated and how they are different for every volunteer. Feeling a little jealous of fellow trainees who had experienced this level integration that I hadn’t, I began to lose faith and assumed that I would always feel like the blonde foreigner with light eyes. However, as fate would have it, I had my moment.
I was preparing to leave to visit a volunteer (see blog post!) in her site to get a taste of what life was like out of training. It was a weekend and we were sitting in plastic chairsoutside the colmado, owned by my friend Arturo, that is kitty corner to my abuela’s house, compartir-ing well into the night. The people present included my abuela, my Don and Dona, Arturo, as well as a handful of my abuela’s neighbors. Upon finding out that I couldn’t attend her birthday the following weekend because I would be visiting a volunteer, my abuela quickly grabbed me and brought me into her house for a photo shoot because it was “necessary” to have pictures with her rubia granddaughter. This photo shoot carried out into the street, and also included some of the neighbors, too. After too many flashes and countless arms wrapped around me, I felt like I belonged. They considered me one of their own, a part of the family that includes people like neighbors and Arturo, etc. I had my moment… or so I had thought, because I mean how could it get any better? (It did)… Afterwards, while sitting there my Don quiets the group, as much as Dominicans can be, turns to me and says “there’s something different about you, than all of the other volunteers we’ve had. You have this light, this heart that just radiates warmth and love. Gracias a Dios, that we could be so lucky to have you” and I sat there in my plastic chair… mouth ajar, partially grinning like a kid on Christmas, because I was left speechless: my Spanish and my English se fue, (it left). The only thing I could do was nod and smile and that somehow seemed to be enough, as everyone raised a plastic vaso to me and smiled back… I had my moment. And it’s one I’ll never forget.