A Bigger Vessel

I need a bigger vessel to hold my happiness right now, or else it might just start spilling over the brim. Life, I just might be in love with You. I’m sorry if I’m moving too quickly, but I can’t help it- that’s just the way I feel. Joining the Peace Corps is perhaps the most selfish thing I have ever done in my life, because I am being more useful than I have ever been before, and knowing that makes me happier than ever. You see, the only thing any of us want is to be is useful. We want to feel like somebody out there felt something because of something we did. We want to know that in this age of connectivity, that we are connected to one another by more than just pixels on a screen. We just need our world to spill over into our neighbor’s world, just enough to see a reaction, to check to see if we exist beyond our own minds.

If I did not think that I would be a happier, more satisfied individual for serving in the Peace Corps, I would not have signed up. I will not say that this life is without sacrifice, but I will say that when compared with the happiness I feel when my friends are unloading a truck full of pipes that I called in, sometimes it’s hard to remember what those sacrifices are.

Some people find happiness with extravagant electronic gadgets. Others find happiness playing pickup football on the weekend. Some people write, or paint, or listen to music just to feel that quiet joy glowing within them. Some people don’t know peace unless they have money or power. Some people can’t find peace unless they are wrapped in a pair of loving arms. Some people don’t know what makes them happy so they just work so hard they don’t have time to think about it. The point is, none of us begin our day saying, today I will do something that makes me extremely sad. If there is something to marvel at in the work that is done in Peace Corps, it is not the people who do that work, it is the ideal that drives those people forward.

Now let me explain why I’m so damn happy. I don’t think I could have smiled any wider a few hours ago. No not chocolate ice cream cake or a meal without biberes– it was a bulldozer! Luck is when preparation meets opportunity (I saw that quote on the wall of my hotel). I prepared a letter asking for a bulldozer and dropped it off at Barrick Gold Mine, explaining that my pale white skin would burn in the sun if I had to dig seven kilometers of trench by hand, so they better help us out. Mariela, my Dominican Peace Corps supervisor informed me over the phone that she spoke with Barrick after receiving my letter, and that they wouldn’t help us out anymore because they already donated us 200 pipes in December. I poked my head in one of Barrick’s offices this morning and demanded a sugarless coffee before commencing negotiations. I explained to them that the community is paying 2,000 pesos a household and that if we need to pay for the gasoline and bulldozer team, we would do it ourselves if it would get us water quicker. I went on to explain that I needed to be done construction before June so I could host an engineering team from UVA as they develop a water system in El Corroso, the community down the road. A bulldozer could do in a week what my massive work brigades could do in 3 months. I explained that I needed their help so that we could take advantage of my time in this country to bring as much development to the Zambrana region as we could. The man I was talking to at Barrick was smiling and took notes. He told me he’d call me back this week.

Naturally, it was a shock to find him standing in Emilio’s house with his supervisor just a few hours later. They told me to be ready at 10AM tomorrow because a bulldozing team was coming out to estimate the time and cost of digging seven kilometers of trenches for us, which he estimated would be around 80,000 pesos. Barrick told me they could probably pay for half of that, and between 250 houses the remaining 40,000 pesos is cake, albeit an expensive one. The men from Barrick left, and I saw my host mom Tona’s blinding white teeth. The next thing I knew I was writing about how I’m in love with life. Bulldozers are pretty awesome, I’m glad you understand why.

Well, that’s odd… I haven’t put up a blog post over the course of the past celebration packed month, and I’m in love with life because of a bulldozing team that might arrive tomorrow. I think I just discovered the key to happiness. Do not forget to leave the house as you dream about your happy moments in the past, and don’t forget that an unofficial promise for a bulldozer is worth celebrating RIGHT NOW, even if you haven’t seen it driving down the street yet. In other words… happiness does not live in the past or the future.

Despite the fact that I will try to focus my thoughts and energy on the present, I’m sure you want to know how Christmas on a tropical island was. I had a sexy date on Christmas day involving a sweet dinner and seeing the Hobbit in 3D. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I wooed my date with an all you can eat cheese tasting table at a pirate themed restaurant. The date ended with me hoping that I could one day get a second date. The cheese table move will go down in the playbook, because the day after, she met the entire family. No, not my parents- it was my parents, brothers, sister-in-law, and 3 year old niece- no pressure, just don’t tell them you’re not Catholic. We pretended to be tourists for the next couple of days, staying at hotels that cost 40% of my monthly income per night (thanks, Dad). We stayed at a ridiculously nice rental house with a pool, about a football field’s length away from the main beach in Las Galeras, and a quick boat ride away from the legendary Playa Rincon. Considering the fact that we could hear the ocean from our house, I think the pool was more of a socio-economic statement from the house’s Italian owners. New Years was full of debauchery and dancing… for those who were able to go to the volunteer New Years party in Cabarete, but was a quiet night involving a chess game between my younger brother and I, followed by a late night viewing of Old Country For No Men. The family trip ended when I somehow tricked them into spending a night in my campo house, which is really just a battleground between cockroaches and spiders the size of the ones in your nightmares.

In the little time I have spent in the year 2013, I have probably done more work than all of 2012 combined. I don’t think I’ve spent a single day in my site where I couldn’t find two hours without something to do.

Let’s take last week for example. I had to go into Cotui to do battle with extortionate lawyers every single day of the work week. The owner of the water source needs to sign a land contract donating his land for the purposes of the aqueduct. I went into Cotui Monday, prepared to hand 10,000 pesos to the lawyers as they were walking out of the church in Cotui, for a single sheet of paper. My commission of angry neighbors talked that price down to 5,000 pesos. Tuesday, I went to Cotui to see how 5,000 peso pieces of paper are produced. The secretary opens up Microsoft Word, find a template, replace the names, dates, and numbers. The lawyer runs in 20 minutes later, doesn’t sit down, narrates one single sentence, pausing after every three words to make it look harder than it was, and then left the building within two minutes. Two hours later, the lawyer from FOMISAR rejects the document, laughing when he heard that I paid 5,000 pesos for it. If I don’t get this man’s approval on this document, FOMISAR doesn’t give me 860,000 pesos. I ask FOMISAR’s lawyer for a model document to share with the other lawyers. Again, laughter…. “Why should I help the competition if they’re incompetent?” (This translates into, pay me 5,000 pesos and I will do it for you). Oh, I forget to mention that this lawyer also rejected two other documents he was presented with, including one that was made by INAPA- a Dominican government institution that manages their water resources. He said it’s embarrassing that even a government institution can’t make adequate legal documents. Wonderful, I need 4 contracts and I have spent a lot of time and money and still have 0 of them. Wednesday, at my request, Mariela visits FOMISAR’s director to encourage her to have a word with her lawyer who has spent all week smiting the unworthy documents prepared by heathen lawyers from the competition. Thursday, I walk into the lawyers office, ask him how he’s doing to which he replies… “FAN….TASTICO!” I was frightened, but before saying anything else he hands me a model document to deliver to his competition so we can finally win his approval. Price? He did it for free. Mariela wins at life. I carried the model to the other lawyers secretary, who writes the entire document with the lawyer never even seeing it, charges me 50 pesos to print it. “What… is 5,000 not enough for you?!?!?! (yes, I said that) On the way to FOMISAR’s office, I randomly bump into the lawyer who was just missing in action, who tells me I need to go back to reprint the document because he just found an error. By the time I get to FOMISAR’s office, the lawyer has left for the day. The document was finally approved on Friday. Only three more land contracts to go… why is the rum always gone?

Ok, the good news is that my social life in Cotui is booming. I even had a party at my house the other day which attracted 5 guests. Two of the Canadian volunteers, Tal, and two new volunteers who live near Cotui. That was the second big social event in a month in which we all attended, and I see these people on a regular basis in Cotui now. This is NOT a typical Peace Corps experience. Thank God.

So where am I now? I have 200 pipes waiting to be buried, 300,000 pesos to be deposited into my bank account today, work brigades have been formed, and the tools are supposed to arrive this week. That means… we are breaking ground next tuesday, if Dios quieres it. I am as nervous as I am excited. I am not the person that I will need to be to succeed in this massive endeavor, but I will be by the end of this project.

Why am I so happy? Because if I never do anything else with my professional life apart from this, it will have been a life well spent, because I will have done something useful with a few people in some forgotten campo in the Dominican Republic. I wish you could’ve seen their faces when they were unloading the pipes from the truck. I have found the bigger vessel that I needed so desperately in my fellow man.

8 responses to “A Bigger Vessel

  1. My heart is ready to burst…you have figured out that sacrifice+service=joy. Si, Dios quieres. I told you when you arrived there that God had planned to put you there. I was overwhelmed by it. Far too many coincidence had happened for it to be an accident. So you are exactly there in that spot where He wills it. A brother named Daniel, a chapel to attend, and a barber brother. You know how you are about haircuts? Right. With Octavio and Manuel as capable brothers. Great parents! An accepting family.

    I agree Tona has an impressively blinding smile (such white teeth!) Emilio kind! Fun to take “la caminata” with Manuel! Anyway, time to celebrate the pipes arriving! Sit under the tree as a family, and have Emilio cut you up some oranges, and maybe eat one for us. :) Make mint tea with a bit of their mint!? One leaf is all it takes, and maybe a pinch of sugar.

    Um, you were not exactly forthcoming about the roaches; and the size of the spiders was incredibly scary. You have to do somethings before the UVA friends arrive in March. I had one heck of a time dealing with your living arrangements. I felt guilty because I wanted to leave; wanted to stay with you, of course, but NOT there in that house. Not to mention my terror when I read and hear about the falling and fallen unshielded power lines. It’s terrifying to rely upon a small dog or child to know if it’s safe to walk in the road.

    For some reason, after I read both of your Dec. and Jan. blogs…I thought back to 24 yrs. ago in December – when you were born and I had to breathe for you so you wouldn’t die…one of the best experiences by the way. Very humbling/empowering at the same time. You were en route to NICU. You got to live and thrive, of course. You also got to take those breaths, and do a lot more with them! Helping in Honduras, S. Africa, and sharing it there in that forgotten campo…teaching geography, hand washing, and really putting liquid hope into those pipes. Amazing what a few well timed breaths can do. My contribution was you. I am so very happy for your well earned joy. Atta’ boy.

    Missing you terribly! Eat some pineapple, oranges and coconut for me. Chat up Ellen Abrams about “horno” cooking. I admire how intrepid you all are. Hi to Katie and Tal!

    Love,
    Mom

  2. Forgot: the spiders in your house REALLY ARE the size of spiders in nightmares. I remember getting up at 5:00 AM, and telling everyone who was asleep, “I have GOT to get out of here.” Scary big. Yep. I did see the bit dead dead frog in the doorway, and the big dead roach under the front curtains; but, the live roach BOLDLY running across the middle of the room full of people, well THAT tells me right there, you have got a surplus, baby. He surely has got brethren. Get the crowd from UVA to spray for you! Either that or pass beers around, so they can sleep. I needed something, I’ll tell you!

    Love,
    Mom

  3. Congrats, Daniel… you deserve to feel a pervasive and lasting sense of satisfaction. You are doing what many of us could not. Uniquely gifted and giving. God blesses us with you. xxoo miss you! Lois

  4. decided to randomly Google a Peace Corps blog for the Dominican Republic (my site soon to be) & I stumbled upon yours. Read this entire post (love the whole crickets & spiders battlegrounds comment lol) but yeah the post is beyond words great. Keep it up!

    Sincerely,
    A curious PCV en route to DR

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