Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to conquer time

    I was standing in chest-deep water near a small waterfall. I had to keep shifting my weight from one foot to another because the small fish in the pool kept nibbling on my toes and it tickled. I was watching a couple of muchachos in my youth group horsing around and jumping off a huge bolder into the pool. There was lots of laughing and exclamations of "Ay coño!" We had spent the morning putting down the first coat of paint on a mapa del mundo at the local liceo, and now we were rewarding ourselves.
    There was a splash next to me. At the top of a 30-foot rock wall that leaned out over the pool was a mango tree. I picked the mango out of the water and began to peel the skin. It was delicious.

Today was a good day. I wish all days in the Peace Corps could be like this. Unfortunately they aren't.

Most days in the Peace Corps involve trying to wait out the heat of the day in my sweltering casa, or at least until the luz returns so I can sit in front of my fan.
Most nights involve trying to ignore the blaring bachata music of the local colmado.
 Most days in the Peace Corps involve feeling like a moron because I can't understand my vencino's campo spanish.
 Most nights involve sitting alone in the dark trying not to feel homesick. Most days in the Peace Corps involve spending days preparing for a class that the students arrive 30 minutes late for, if it doesn't rain, or if there isn't a festival that no one told you about, or if the luz hadn't arrived in two days so you can't use the computers.

 Like anything in life, the frustration and failures make the victories sweeter.

I had an epiphany the other day.
It occurred to me that this past year in the Peace Corps has been one of the longest of my life. Normally that would imply that the past year has been very boring, but that isn't true. If anything this past year has been almost too full.

 It's a well-known fact for anyone over the age of 30 that life speeds up as you get older.
When you were in grade school, summer vacations seemed to last forever. Trying to see the end of them was like trying to see over the curve of the Earth. It's impossible.
 Summers in college were jam-packed with things that only seemed to end when you ran out of money.
 But once you get over 30 time speeds up. Summer seems to slip by before you could do all the stuff you wanted to get done.
 After 40 time goes even faster. You find yourself saying things like, "How is it possible that it is September already? And why do things hurt on me all the time?"
The two years before I joined the Peace Corps were the fastest of my life.

 Then suddenly evenything slowed waaayyy down. I had to stop and wonder why.

 It occurred to me that the reason why things speed up for people is because they get into routines. They start doing the same things every day. If you do the same thing every day, at the same time of day, ten thousand times, is it any wonder that your days start to blend together? You put yourself on auto-pilot and start thinking about other things that you would rather be doing, while you are living your life.

 The way to slow life down is to get out of your comfort zone and do things you have never done before. Do things that you aren't good at. Do you things radically different from what you've been doing. When you dramatically change things up it forces you to suddenly focus on where you are, what you are doing.

 I can tell you from experience: it sort of sucks at first.

 The first thing you realize is that you aren't as smart as you thought you were. That's always an unpleasant experience no matter how many times life forces you to relearn it. There's nothing like the moment when you are forced to say to yourself, "Hey, I'm kind of stupid! How did this happen?"

 The second thing you do is ask yourself, "What the H*ll have I been doing with my life recently?" An honest self-examination is never an easy thing.

 But then, like anything in life that is good for you, it gets better after you've managed to swallow the bitter medicine. It's only after you've discarded some of your illusions that you can gain some wisdom.

 The wisdom I've gained this past year is something the people of the Dominican Republic have taught me: there is no need for fear to rule your life.

 This bit of wisdom occurred to me the other day when about half a dozen of my little neighbor kids came over my casa to play. None of them were older than seven. In the States this would be unheard of. If you are a single man you can't even stare at a little kid, much less touch one, without everyone suspecting you of being a child molester. And what parents would send their kids to your house without escort for any reason?
 It's sad that people suspect the worst about you without any proof. People are afraid all the time in the States. Most of the time they aren't even sure what they are afraid of.

But that's not true here in the DR. People aren't afraid of their neighbors because they know their neighbors. In the DR you are more than likely to be handed a baby by someone you don't know.
     When the power goes out, which is every day, what do you do? You go visit your neighbors. You sit out on their porch and drink suggary coffee and talk about nothing important. And when everyone knows you if becomes impossible to walk down the street without people stopping you to talk. Imagine that in today's world?

 In my pueblo there are 7,000 people and only 3 cops. The cops have exactly one motorcycle for transportation. There is no enforcement of laws at all. Yet serious crime is practically unheard of. It's amazing how society can function without armed men to "protect you". Fear is a great control mechanism. I'm safer here than if I was in the States.

 It's fear that locks people into predictable patterns. After all, if you try something new you might fail at it and look stupid. Fear is ultimately what makes your life go by faster than it should. Thus fear is the biggest thief of them all.
 It's amazing how a bunch of functionally illiterate farmers can teach you about life.