Manabao- majestic Manabao. Above this peaceful village, the peaks of mountains emerge curiously from the river of clouds that flows around their base, gracing all residents with a daily sense of wonder. At 2PM exactly, the mountain peaks retreat beneath the clouds and the sky darkens. Lone children run for shelter from the impending downpour that will turn streets into rivers and a tin overhang on the street into a sanctuary in a matter of seconds. First you hear what sounds like a distant rush of wind, and before you can blink your eyes, the sky is pouring buckets of water on you. The rain rattles our tin roofs like a snare drum, and you know that an umbrella would be about as useful as a bottle of water to extinguish a forest fire. The river doubles in size and power as silty water careens down the channel fast enough to merit a CNN report. Although I initially thought of these daily downpours as inconveniences preventing me from going about my normal day, I now just marvel at them and have learned to lace up my running shoes and go with the flow. When you stop fighting things beyond your control and adapt, you realize that a peaceful village in a downpour is still peaceful- its just a wet.
In the culminating weeks of my life’s greatest period of transition, a more relaxing place to lay my head at night could not be found. I would be misleading you however if I left you with such an unbalanced, placid illustration of village life over the past week, because this week is Semana Santa (Holy Week). Before moving on, erase all of your preconceptions about Easter as you know it in the United States. There are no 6 foot tall rabbits plotting to give children their sugar fixes with overflowing baskets of candy- here there be dragons. In the Dominican Republic, Semana Santa is a beadless Mardi Gras.
Manabao has been marinating in merengue music the entire week, and now my silent citadel in the mountains has entirely transitioned into an immutable dance club. The schools closed down a week and a half ago and family members have been steadily filtering into the community to reunite with their families, tripling the village population in a few days.To be honest, I am not even sure how many people are sleeping in my house- but I estimate we have around 10 extra family members, which is apparently much less than in years passed. That really means nothing however because the entire village is literally one big family. At any given moment there could be 10 additional people wandering around my house who are somehow related to my host family. Yes, even the one with a lightening bolt design that has been shaved into into his beard.
The craziness of Semana Santa has required me to play defense constantly. I need to start using the back door to leave my house, seeing as my porch is teeming with feral children that are constantly on the prowl, looking for me to play Vieja Siega with them. There is an additional benefit to using the back door, because it may help me to avoid the predatory advances of one of the new female house guests. Within 5 minutes of meeting her, I was chosen. She dedicates 95% of her time to trying to seduce me. Although I am fairly sure this is just a twisted game, I still tuck my mosquito net under my mattress extra tightly at night in the hopes that it will work on rogue women as well. Here is a memorable conversation I had with her that accurately represents about every conversation that we have.
Me- “Do you want a cookie?” Her- “No, I want a kiss. When are we going to sleep together?” Me- “No, my hands are tied.” Her- “That’s fine!”
I have already survived 4 nights in the household with “Pandora’s Box”, as a friend described her to me, and only need to endure 2 more before she departs. Yesterday, I realized her tactics are truly shameless when her 7 year old nephew came over to me and was begging me to kiss her, and walked away spilling forced tears onto the ground when I refused. I find the entire situation very amusing and that it makes for great blogging material. She’s attractive and a great bachata dancer, but I’m terrified of her. My defense beard is not growing in fast enough, so your prayers are appreciated in the interim.
By the time the sunsets, beer has already been flowing freely for hours, and couples are dancing merengue at break neck speeds outside convenience store/bars called Colmados. Seeing as the Peace Corps encourages us to engage our community, I decided to do my duty and join in the festivities. I didn’t think any of the Dominicanas would take me seriously if I danced Bachata with a fully buttoned up shirt, so I decided to blend in with the locals by unbuttoning my shirt to just a few inches above my belly button. It was drafty and initially awkward, but undoubtedly a roaring success. Although merengue is fun, I am incapable of standing still when I hear the bachata beat. My passion for bachata may cancel out any effects of my defense beard against Dominicanas.
Most Dominicans think we are crazy for having worked throughout Semana Santa. This week, we were very busy in the afternoons, even during the daily downpours, huddled under that familiar blue tarp sweating and getting red clay and concrete all over our jeans. We built the wooden frame of a pit latrine and sheathed it in corrugated tin. Knowing how to work with corrugated tin and having a capacity for carpentry will prove vital to our future work if we choose to implement a sanitation project in our communities. Additionally, we learned how to assemble plumbing fixtures that will be connected to a water storage tank we will build next week, which involved cutting and stripping 2 inch iron pipe by hand- easier said than done!
When I am not burying my boots in red clay at the work site, I enjoy swimming in the river. The Dominicans in Manabao treat the river like the beach, and giddy children are constantly trying to get me to go swim with them. Even though the water is freezing because we are in the mountains, my ice cold showers have conditioned me to be indifferent to my chattering teeth. The brief adrenaline rush I feel every time I jump from the embankments into the swiftly moving river current makes the shivering worth it!
Sometimes I will be walking alone down a dirt road, taking in the mountains, cows, and tayota fields, and just wonder how on Earth I got here. In a sense, I feel like my “decision” to do the Peace Corps was not a decision at all, but rather me just accepting the direction that my life was pushing me. In my life in the US, there were always choices to make that I felt would define my future. In a period of 5 years I had to choose which university I would attend, which major to select, which classes to enroll in, which internship I would take over the summer. After graduating, the questions became more intimidating. Which job do I take, which city will I live in, what do I really want in life? All of those life choices seemed to be presented to me like a multiple choice test that would lead me down a road that would be right or wrong- no pressure right? Now I am happily on the path I know my life should be on, but not because I chose it, but because I followed it. Just like running in the rain, “going with the flow” in life leaves me feeling truly liberated.
PS: If I don’t post an email on a Sunday, I will post it the next soonest day I have internet access. Internet has been blocked up because of Semana Santa and this is the first time I’ve been on!