Last Sunday was the Dia de la Virgen de la Altagracia, and my neighbors had a rockin’ fiesta de palos all day long. They pulled out the big drums and the shakers and that merengue grinder thing, and the music was bangin’ while the players got progressively drunker on homemade moonshine and rum. Of course I danced in their kitchen, to the delight of all my rooster-fighting compadres.
Between sweaty midday palo dances, I was fed arroz con leche, painted the little girls’ nails with blue sparkles, sat under my mango tree with the muchachos to talk about love and fidelity (aka. why they shouldn’t have five girlfriends at a time), and lent my guitar to some drunk guy because he claimed he could fix the messed up high E tuner (he didn’t really fix it, but somehow made it playable for the day). We sang outside on the boulders in my yard until all the rum breath and enamoraring gazes got to be too much for me and I had to shut it down.
The palos played strong into the night, but at a certain point I was done. I have to admit that over the last few months I’ve participated less and less in Tabara’s daily life. I stay in my house much more than I used to, I leave as often as possible on the weekends, I’m less hospitable to those who show up at my door unexpectedly. During my first year, I left my door open. I went to parties, church, community events. I hung out on the street in a plastic chair, went up to the mountains with my neighbors, talked to everyone. I shelled beans and deveined tobacco leaves. I shared my Spanish movies and let kids color in my house until 9 PM. I had a yoga class and went walking with a group of women, even though I really just wanted to run alone.
It worked. I am a member of this community. I have a successful project and lots of enthusiastic project partners – I’ve lost one facilitator who finally got a teaching job in the school, but gained three new ones who are excited to work with the kids. So now my reading program is going strong, with seven facilitators working with eighty kids! And ever since I took the principal to the Escojo Enseñar conference, he’s super motivated and wants to change the whole school. I led my first teacher training with twenty teachers yesterday! I have no illusions that I’ll revolutionize the place over the next few months, but some motivation is definitely a step in the right direction.
I understand everything here more than I once did, and with that understanding comes more tolerance about some things, and less about others. I understand the difficulties of the teachers in the school, all that they are up against, and I am much less judgmental about the state of their classrooms than I once was. I also understand when someone is crossing the line, and have no tolerance at all for a drunk man trying to serenade me with my guitar… Which happens more often than you might think. It’s not cute.
So, two years later, I no longer feel the need to participate in everything, or be social when I don’t really want to. I love to dance, but these campo shindigs never really deliver. At least not for long. Even so, sometimes participating is a lot more fun than the alternative. Everyone needs a reminder sometimes. Nothing like incessant drumming and dancing in the streets to get me out of my house.