Feb. 28, 2006
By Lindsey McKay
In honor of Peace Corps week and to celebrate the 45th anniversary of that organization, the Outlook editors asked Lindsey McKay, a 2004 Ohio University graduate in journalism who is serving in the Dominican Republic as a community health volunteer with the Peace Corps, to share a day of her experiences there. More than 180,000 Peace Corps volunteers, including the 36 Ohio University graduates currently serving, have worked in countries around the world.
5 a.m. The roosters are crowing. The men are getting up to work the fields and milk their cows. It's still dark outside, and I am warm in bed.
7 a.m. Most of the respectable doñas are awake by now, cleaning house and cooking breakfast. I live alone and have no husband or children, so any chance of my being respectable is precluded anyway. I roll over and go back to sleep under the protective green cocoon of my mosquito net.
8 a.m. I drag myself out of bed and contemplate my breakfast options: There are none, because my gas stove was repossessed by the person who lent it to me. So I feed my cat and my chickens instead, and I lug a bucket of water into my shower — a four-by-four concrete room with a pink plastic shower curtain for a door. Pouring ice-cold water over myself, I shiver in the breeze that sways the palms overhead.
9 a.m. I'm in my house, working on invitations for an upcoming health promoter training. Then I start making posters for my youth group meetings. (As a health volunteer, I do more drawing than a kindergartener, and I love this.) I'm training a group of teenagers to become peer educators in AIDS prevention; it's challenging work, but not impossible. Indeed, the hardest part for me is overcoming shyness, mine and theirs.
Sitting on my couch, with my feet propped up in a chair and a notepad in my lap, I'm comfortable. Living conditions aren't terrible here, but the cold baths and the absence of indoor plumbing are the biggest drawbacks.
12 p.m. Time for lunch, which is invariably some form of beans and rice, often with chicken or eggplant mixed in. At my friend Dolores' house, I eat half the plate she serves me and save the rest for dinner because I'm already too full from the coconuts we ate beforehand.
2 p.m. I make rounds, visiting neighbors who offer me coffee and gossip. As I cross the street I spot my ex-boyfriend on his porch, chatting with friends. This bothers me, and I don't know why, so I stare at the ground and keep walking. Relationships are trickier in places like this because women in America enjoy a level of freedom and respect unheard of in other parts of the world. Love is universal, but gender roles aren't.
4 p.m. In the local clinic, I'm waiting for the rest to show up for the women's group meeting. It should've started by now, but most trickle in twenty minutes late.
5:30 p.m. The doctor and I go for our nightly walk. A single twenty-something from the city, she's a fish out of water like me. We walk to ease stress, stay in shape, set a good example and gossip in privacy. As the sun sets over the rolling hills and pastures around us, we stride along the dirt road leading out of town and laugh about everything because crying isn't an option.
7:30 p.m. I grab a plate of boiled yucca from Dolores' kitchen and fry an egg on her stove. In the Dominican campo, where scarcity is not the exception but the rule, friendships are more valuable than money. We eat dinner with our chairs pulled up to the TV, watching cheesy telenovelas. Suddenly the lights go out. Apagón! Laughing, we pull out the gas lamp and the domino set.
9 p.m. Back in my house, I read, write and listen to music, my Juanes CD competing with the blaring bachata on my neighbor's stereo. I smile, stroking my cat purring contentedly on my lap, tilt my head back and close my eyes.
I love this place.
For more information about the Peace Corps, visit the Ohio University Peace Corps office at www.ohio.edu/internationalstudies/peacecorps.htm or the national Peace Corps Web page www.peacecorps.gov.