I left you hanging like clean laundry back in September...and with good reason. Around that time I realized I was taking a lot of things in my life for granted. A beautiful island, loving people, great friends and my quality of life. I will never be in that exact place ever again and I am so overjoyed that I did it. There were a lot of times I wanted to go home and it wasn't always cold presidentes (sometimes they were warm) and playa, but it taught me things about myself I could not have learned anywhere else.
Yes, on May 15 I finished my Peace Corps service. It was bittersweet and down right scary. I stayed in country for a few extra days to say my goodbyes, which even thinking about it still makes me well up a little bit. If you would have told me two and a half years ago that I would leave the DR with a couple of second families and someone who means the world to me I might not have believed you. Being a foreigner is hard. I wish more people understood that. Love for a culture, for an overall way of life, for an unforgettable dialect of Spanish, for hardworking and inspiring friends and the excitement of never knowing what each day would bring are what kept me going. I don't ever expect to do more rewarding work in my life and if it ends up staying that way, I'm totally okay with it.
On Mangaring Visas
Although I never really took dating Dominicans seriously (ha, maybe an understatement), one got me good. To make a long story short, when my time came winding down I decided that I wasn't ready to be done and living in another country wasn't necessarily a reason to end things. Many people don't realize that Dominicans (and the majority of the world) can't travel to the US without a visa. Visas are hard to get. There is a lot of criteria to meet and the process is complicated. Not to mention there is a stigma about getting a visa through an American (marriage for business). At the end of April we decided that he would apply for a tourist visa to give us some flexibility to continue seeing each other.
On the day of his interview we were both nervous wrecks. What will this mean for our relationship if he is denied a visa? How happy will we be if he's approved? I waited outside the U.S. Consulate in the sweltering heat as I watched him pass through security. While I waited I made friends with the police and security guards who work the front doors. After about an hour, one of them yelled "here he comes!" I felt my stomach drop but when he saw the little piece of paper in his hand he looked at me and smiled. "They wanna talk to you."
I walked through security and up to the second floor where interviews are held. Interview is a loose term as everyone can hear and see your exchange with the consulate officer. We nervously held sweaty hands as we waited our turn. When we got to the front of the line at the window where he started his interview the officer began to speak to me in English, asking me about us and about Peace Corps. I could tell English was not his first language. After a short exchange he stared at his computer screen for awhile and then turned back to me.
"I'm not going to give him a one-entry visa," he said. I looked down and began to process what had just happened. "I'm going to give him a ten year visa," with a huge grin on his face. I quickly raised my head.
"But..why?" I asked.
The officer paused and responded, "because 12 years ago I was in his exact position, at the U.S. Consulate in the Ukraine asking for a visa to visit my girlfriend and her family. She was a Peace Corps volunteer there and I met her during her service. She's right here, actually." He pointed to a woman who walked by behind him. They are married and have two kids and are now foreign service officers in Santo Domingo.
On What's Next
The one who got me visited the U.S. for the first time for 3 weeks in June. I could not have asked for a better visit. He met almost all of the most important people in my life.
I also live close enough to my compadre Andy and we've been able to see each other a few times now. I live in my parent's basement (lolz) and am currently looking/interviewing for jobs.
The DR calls me. It's like a magnetic pull. I dream of the Bella Epoca, driving around the campo while drinking a beer out of a plastic cup, the beach and technicolor bachata. I know when I go back it will be like nothing changed and I can't wait. Until then I'll just keep dancing merengue in my bathroom.
I'll never stop listening to reggaeton, craving fried plantains or feeling a familiar affection when I see a plastic lawn chair. And every day for the rest of my life I will think about my service.