January 25, 2015

Using Comedy to Cope

Playing with kids and puppies can brighten any day.
When I was in 4th grade I went through a phase where I was really into holocaust survivor autobiographies. I was transfixed by the different ways the holocaust victims were able to carry on through such immense hardship and go on to live relatively normal lives. (My obsession got to the point that my friends gave me a necklace that said “Morbid Freak.”) My love of grizzly true-life stories continues to this day, and may be one of the reasons I have been able to make it through my Peace Corps service relatively unscathed mentally.  

In the Peace Corps volunteers have to deal with a lot of depressing facts on a daily basis. We have students in the third grade who can’t read, neighbors who die young in motorcycle accidents, project partners who beat their children, etc.Some volunteers will get weighed down by the harsh reality surrounding them and choose to head back to the U.S. where they don’t have to confront these injustices on a daily basis (although they certainly still exist in the U.S.). Those of us who stay employ a variety of different coping mechanisms to help get us through the day. We all do what we can to improve the situation such as start tutoring programs and hold parenting classes. Many of us try to reduce our stress by exercising. Some, like me, try to remember worst things have and can happen. And at some point we will all try to find the humor in our experiences as volunteers. 

Here are the different types of humor volunteers use to distract us from reality: 

Ridiculousness - This can be employed when anything out of the norm happens. One just has to be able to recognize the absurdity of the situation and be able to laugh about it. One of my friends, Cory, has had to deal with maggots in random places in her house and unrequited lovers planting flowers in front of her house. She has a lovely laugh.

Mental health days at the beach are great.

 Only in the D.R. - Typically used to preface a comment about something that you hope does not occur elsewhere. Can be used as an excuse for culture clash volunteers can face. Example: “Only in the D.R. do citizens say that changing the constitution to allow the current President to run again isn’t a big deal because terrible politicians are always changing the constitution, and they might as well let a slightly good-guy change the rules for once.” Or, “Only in the D.R. can you let your twelve year-old child drive your car on the highway while you stand up through the sun roof drinking a 750 ml beer without fear of being arrested.”

Too True - When someone delivers news like it is a joke but there is no punch line, the sheer audacity of the statement is supposed to make it funny. Too true statements can often fall flat and are more commonly heard when people are drinking and the comedy bar has been lowered. I have made the following statement on several occasions and received laughs in response only because there isn’t much more you can say to the following: “My 70 year old neighbor asked me to be his lover.” 

Humor is definitely the most enjoyable coping mechanism, so if you know a volunteer send them a funny email or a link to a Buzzfeed listicle. I promise you it will make their day. To all the volunteers who make me laugh, you guys are the best. And to my sister Kelly, who always finds a way to make me smile, you are the most wonderful sister a gal could have! Thanks to everyone who has helped keep my spirits up the last 23 months – only four more to go!

January 15, 2015

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My Spanish has improved leaps and bounds since I arrived in the Dominican Republic. But the comments my students make are often so out-of-the-blue that I have to ask them to repeat themselves or elaborate. Here is a sampling of some recent conversations:
Collecting Cajuil Fruit

Student - Susan, how big is your property?
Me - My property? I just rent the house. I guess just the front yard.
Student - And is the Cajuil tree part of your yard? 
Me - Yes
Student - Can we go get some Cajuil fruit?
Me - Sure.

And thus I spent an extra few minutes after class collecting fresh fruit with my students.
Student - Susi, do you have a secret boyfriend?
Me - A secret boyfriend, why do you think I have a secret boyfriend?
Student - Because how can you not have a boyfriend! He lives in the capital, doesn't he? I am sure of it!
Me - No, sorry, if only.
Student - Fine be that way, I know you are lying!
First class with my new boy's youth group
Me - Okay boys, it is time to come up with the rules for your youth group.
Students whispering.
Me - What was that? I heard my name. Tell me what you all said!
Student - Wilberto says we should have a rule that says that none of us are allowed to fall in love with you.
Me - Fall in love with me?
Students nod heads.
Me - Well don’t worry boys I promise I will never fall in love with any of you. You all are a little too young for me anyways.
Student - I don’t believe you were in a fight?
Me - When was I in a fight?!
Student - Susi! Don’t pretend you don’t remember telling me!
Me - Oh, you mean the time when I was 10?
Student - Yeah!

This conversation then turned into my student demonstrating how she would have attacked a person who recently gave me some bad news.

I have the best students.