The other day, my site mate, Chelsea, and I were walking home and stopped by her former host family’s house to pick up her dog, Sasha. Although I’m not sure they understand Chelsea’s devotion to her adopted (and loveably neurotic) pet, the Dinamling family has agreed to let Chelsea chain Sasha up in their front yard when she is at work. Before coming to Peace Corps, I dreamed of a vibrant interchange of ideas, traditions, and practices between people from different nations. In reality, the cultural exchange I see on a daily basis more often looks like one American dog on a leash while all the other dogs run free.
Upon opening the front gate, we were greeted by a terrible sight—blood, smears of green shit, and three slick, dead mammals. Sasha—who we figured was due to give birth in a few weeks’ time—had unexpectedly aborted her puppies.
Alarmed by our screaming, Chelsea’s host family came to see what was causing the commotion. Dogs here in the province are for protection, certainly not for coddling or showering with affection. Freddy and Jovy, Chelsea’s host parents, looked puzzled as they took in the sight of Sasha’s shocking miscarriage and the presence of two highly perturbed American girls in their front yard.
However, in the midst of the chaos, their efforts to try to understand pet-related trauma touched me. Within minutes, Freddy was busy at work digging three small graves in the side garden. Jovy got down on her hands and knees—IN WHITE PANTS—and started sweeping up the mess with a bucket of water and a wicker broom.
The whole scene was too much for me and I scurried home to ponder the metaphor turning over in my mind.
I am pathologically fearful about wearing white clothing. It’s too stressful for me to imagine all of the accidents that I could get into with colored liquids and imaginary wet paint. Rather than spend the whole day standing up in fear of soiling myself, I stick to all black everything. I like to think of my fashion choices as more Johnny Cash than dour schoolmarm, but regardless of the overall effect, there is an underlying psychology when it comes to my attire. I’ve mellowed a bit from my ‘Type A’ ways as I’ve gotten older, but I still struggle to cope with uncertainty and change. If it were up to me, every day I would look perfect, I would have it all together, and I would feel pure.
Seeing Ate Jovy clean up the detritus of Sasha’s short-lived pregnancy IN WHITE PANTS reminded me of how futile and limiting it is to cling to such a narrow perception of perfection. Is ‘perfect’ the untouched and unblemished? Or is it a willingness to jump into action on behalf of another person without first thinking about yourself? My bleached and pristine “perfect” felt inadequate when I saw Ate Jovy crouching low to the earth—washing away our mourning and working to set the world right, if only just for this once.
I’m not going to start wearing white pants any time soon, especially while I continue to be responsible for handwashing my own clothing. However, this experience challenged me to shake the need to equate flawlessness with success. I’ve been busy lately–not an orderly, unblemished busy but a sweaty, disorganized, not-enough-sleep level of hectic activity. Although I’m tired, I wouldn’t trade my messy life for anything. I am reminded that these last few months of service are not the time to sit on the sidelines, but rather offer an opportunity to embrace being a work in progress, to engage more with the process than the outcome, and above all–to dig in.
Enjoy these pictures from the past few months and know that I am thinking of you all, always!