While sick in the city,I had lots of time to step back and reflect on my project and its future. Last March 30 families entered into the project, and some of them have put in over 100 hours of labor. In August we got funds for 15 latrines, and construction began. I have sweated with them hauling heavy building materials in ridiculous heat, shared oranges with their kids while mixing cement, and been fed in their hammocks on work days when I never get a lunch break. They work, nonstop, from before I want to be awake in the morning until mother nature forces us to quit with rain or sunset. Their motivation and dedication to the project, voluntary participation, on top of all their other jobs and commitments, is unprecedented. The construction of 15 latrines, which I had originally expected to take the rest of my service, will be completed if not by the end of 2013 then very early in January 2014. Inspired and motivated by them, I set about last October to try to figure out a way to fundraise the money for the last 15. Working with the previous PCV in my site, we found a few different options to pursue, although the timing would be close, and we would be building through the last month of my service.
Then I got sick, and spent a week out of site and with rice harvest season, construction fell behind. Then the Peace Corps office told me I had to submit my new grant application in December, not January. There was no way we would make it, and rushing things is never a good idea. So an hour before the med office got my lab results, an hour before I found out what was wrong with me and why I had felt sick for a month, an hour before I got meds, I was told I could not build the last 15 latrines.
Don't get me wrong- those 15 families will still get latrines, eventually. Just not by me. It will be the job of my follow up Volunteer to make those happen. I was sad and disappointed. It means that I have to tell 15 families that it will be another year before they get a latrine. It means I have to let go and trust the next Volunteer and accept that this project is bigger than me and my two years. While I know that all of that is true, it feels like giving up.
Yet...I was also relieved. Which was a surprise. Pursuing another 15 latrines meant closing my current grant, applying for a new one, getting approval, raising another $5,000 and building 15 more latrines in 6 months. Possible, but very stressful, and a lot of work for everyone involved. By not pursuing them, I now will have the last 6 months of my service to focus on my secondary projects, my ultimate team and my women's group, projects that I am much more passionate about and love.
I was in rough shape when I left site the Friday before Thanksgiving. Physically I was on the mend, still tired all the time, but even starting to get my appetite back after its 5 week hiatus. Mentally, I felt like I was giving up on my primary project and was dreading having to go to those 15 families to break to them the news.
Pizza lunch on Friday afternoon with my Darien Volunteers was awesome, followed by a pasta bake dinner at a Volunteer's house near the city, topped off with an evening of card games and laughter. Saturday was a short trip the rest of the way into the city, then a shopping adventure with Danielle and Aja as I bought new clothes for the first time in months. Many, many months. We even wandered around a shoe store in heels for half an hour just because we forgot how great heels look! Sunday I spent the morning doing email and internet work at a bagel shop (bagels!!!) in the city then headed a few hours west to another Volunteer's house for a free place to crash. Monday we made the next leg of the trip to David, a city near the Costa Rican border to get groceries. Tuesday morning we finished our cross country adventure with an early morning bus ride to Cerro Punto, a ski lodge-esque resort in the mountains of Chiriqui. Without the snow of course, and only 50ish degrees. It felt arctic to me!
Tuesday afternoon was a training session for those going to be counselors in the next round of GAD camps, and Tuesday night we went to our giant cabin (enough beds for 22 people!) and grilled homemade black bean burgers. THEN we stayed up til nearly midnight baking homemade chocolate chip cookies from scratch. With cold milk.
Wednesday morning we finished the GAD training and I spent the afternoon selling the artisan crafts my women had sent with me. A group of us left the lodge early evening to hang out at the cabin. We made cornbread, started simmering homemade chili, and played card games until it was time to head to the talent show. We got home from the talent show and dance party at midnight, and midnight chili was delectable!
Thursday I spent the morning laying around the cabin, as a rain blizzard was pounding the mountainside. I finally rolled out of the most comfortable bed in the world and made it back to the main lodge at noon, where I sold more artisan work until 3. I hurriedly ran over to the school to cheer on the Darien volleyball team as they played in the championship game of the tournament. We came in 2nd. I was drafted onto the dodgeball team and we won our first game by a landslide. Our second game, against the other indigenous reservation in the country, was a tough game. Of the nearly 20 Darien players we started with, only 3 made it to the final whistle. I was one of them! While we didn't win either sport, another region commented that we had the best team spirit, since we did ridiculous and silly cheers pretty much constantly. The dirty D makes me crazy, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Dinner was delayed, but when we eventually ate it was so good, and so much. I was full until Friday. The dance party was mediocre, but singing Christmas carols in the shuttle on the way back could not have been better.
My cabin mates drug me out of bed at 7am the next day to get us to the beach to celebrate my birthday. While swimming out passed the break, I saw a dolphin! Ben and Andrew were talking about dolphins, but I thought they were kidding...until he surface just a dozen or so meters away from us! A few minutes later I also got stung or bit my something...it didn't hurt that much, so I don't think it was a sting ray, but it did sting some and bleed for a bit, so I'm gonna say it was a baby sting ray, not a fish. That's a better story.
After a delicious dinner and margarita, Kim and Ben made a campfire happen on the beach and we roasted marshmallows, underscored by acapella caroling. The stars were super clear, and many of my friends were there to hang out. It was the best way to celebrate turning 25 that I know of!
Saturday all but a couple people left and I spent a lazy day on the beach napping, playing volleyball, swimming, and walking along the beach. Oh, and you can't forget afternoon daquiris of course.
A month in the life, complete with the highest high and the lowest lows of service thus far. I am thankful for every moment of it. December 1st, my actual birthday, I go home to start the last phase of my service, my last 7 months as a Volunteer, with a new focus, new energy, and newly restored immune system.
I can never predict where my service will take me next, but 2 things are always certain:
1. It is always an adventure
2. It always works out in the end.