I arrive around dusk, when the sun still setting behind the mountains makes everything glow yellow. It’s all beautiful. Through a smudged window I see Joaquin jump on his motorcycle, last in the row of them parked under the mango tree. He drives out to meet me as I extricate myself from the crowded bus, a big smile spreading across his face when he sees who he’s picking up. Merengue is in the air and I am still laughing from the last moments there – the familiarity of everyone I meet.
“Vaya con Dios, rubia!” My tiguere seatmate of the last three hours bids me farewell. Go with God, blondie. I smile and lift my chin – the least amount of effort necessary to acknowledge our new friendship (based on sharing our snacks from the rest stop and trying not to elbow each other) – as I let myself and my bags be passed down the steps of the guagua and onto Joaquin’s waiting motorcycle.
“Ya,” I say once I’m settled on the back. “Vámonos.” We ride up the mile road into town, past green fields and banana trees, cows grazing, the town cemetery and the aqueduct, past the school and through the pebbly river, greeted by the kids and the men bathing there, avoiding narrow collisions with other drivers. I notice a few colorful new paint jobs on old cement walls, and some new clothes on my neighbors. ‘Tis the season. They look up, surprised to finally see me after a three-week absence. “¡Llegaste!” They yell. You arrived! Madel and Luz drop their jump rope and run to my door as I get off the moto, grabbing my legs and giggling their greetings. Bombo crosses the street from the colmado to hug me hello; Neno smiles and waves from where he sits on the curb beside his wife, knee-deep in guandules. I drop my things inside, shoo the girls out, and take a very cold bucket bath – which is not nearly as pleasant now, in January, as it is when I can barely breathe from the heat. Tomorrow I’ll warm my water on the stove.
After I’ve washed off the travel grime and greeted some more neighbors, I head up the street to my host family’s house. The length of this walk depends on who I run into along the way, and now I end up lingering every few yards: Yes, I had a wonderful time in America. Yes, my family is doing well. Yes, it’s very cold. Of course I missed you! I finally round the corner and hear a little voice yelling my name. Helen, my host sister Sami’s five year-old daughter, is jumping up and down in front of the house (probably anxious to know what I brought her). My other host sister, Caroline, is sitting on the rocking chair out front with a little bundle in her arms. Her belly was about to burst when I left, but now Camila is here, born just last week!
I have gifts to distribute and pictures to show, a baby to meet and more friends to find around town. My house is just as I left it, my people just where I left them. Coming back is nicer than I thought it would be.
* * *
I didn’t really want to come home to Tabara – after two weeks in the U.S. with my family, and another week celebrating with my fellow volunteers in Santo Domingo and at the beach in Cabarete for New Years, the prospect of the campo really wasn’t all that appealing. I’ve lived in this country for almost two whole years, and as much as I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it, it’s nice to be somewhere where people don’t stare at me. It’s nice to be with family and friends and not have to think about anything else – just what delicious food we might eat and what fun things we can do today. Even after two years, being the only Americana in the campo can still be exhausting.
It’s hard to believe, but I only have four months left in Tabara Arriba. Luckily, January is the best time here. There’s a nice breeze in the air. I don’t sweat much… It’s lovely. I’m already swinging between nostalgia and relief, and I’m not even gone yet.