I am well known to be procrastinator. In the past it was always most notable in my schoolwork, as I would pull many all-nighters in Stanger fueled by Dunkin Donuts coffee and chocolate covered pretzels from the caf. Every finals period I would have my roommate change my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram passwords, and make her promise not to give them to me until I was done with all of my work. Zero self-control. In a weird way my procrastination stems from perfectionism. If I can’t do something really well, I’d rather put it off until another day when I can. Then it becomes too late. I’ve found that this cycle often surfaces in many other parts of my life. In fact, it’s the very reason I haven’t posted on this blog in 3 months. At the beginning of something new I’m filled with hope and anticipation. I set big unrealistic goals and then feel badly when I don’t accomplish them. I will wake up at 6am and run every morning. I will do all of my reading for this class. I will post weekly on my blog. I’m setting myself up for failure.
Upon arriving here, I had some big aspirations. There were so many things at the school and clinic where I saw the need for improvement and I was filled with ideas on how to do just that. However, it wasn’t long before I felt like it was impossible to accomplish anything, let only the big ideas I had. Things run a lot differently here. Everything is slow, from checking out at the grocery store to the pace people walk. Organization is lacking in comparison to what I’m used to, and many times I feel as if things are made much more complicated than necessary. It drives me crazy! However, I’m finally starting to learn that I can take a lot from working in this environment. No work environment is perfect. In fact, nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything. It’s important to understand the perspectives of others and learn from them. Maybe someone does something differently than you do, but there’s always a reason and it’s important to try to understand it. It’s still very hard for me to understand how our preschoolers are not read to every day, however after I started reading with children in the library, I realized how difficult it must be for these teachers to maintain the attention of more than 40 young students. I would love to do a huge reading program with all 600 children in the preschool and see that they are read to on a daily basis. However, the fact that Virginia and I are taking small groups of preschoolers to the library every afternoon and getting them excited about literature is something. The fact that for that half hour these children get individualized attention is something.
One of the first things my host mom, Carmen, in Spain said to me was “poco a poco” or “little by little”. It was the first day I moved into her house and we were sitting down for a meal of foods strange to me. She and her daughter were explaining to me how to get around the city and about the new school I would be going to. I was struggling to communicate with them and felt quite overwhelmed. Carmen put her hand on mine and said, “poco a poco”; poco a poco my Spanish would improve, poco a poco I would become accustomed to the food, poco a poco Sevilla would start to feel like home. Since then I’ve carried this phrase with me. When I look back on my life it’s composed of small moments and many different people, all of which have made me who I am today. I often feel overwhelmed when I think about all of the needs here in the DR. But if I let the fact that I cannot meet all those needs paralyze me, I will never help anyone. If I sit around and wait to speak until my Spanish is perfect, I’ll never speak. We often fail to realize that even our smallest of actions can leave an impact on the life of someone else and even on our own lives.
Earlier in the year, I was able to work with group of Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists who traveled to Centro Médico to provide free surgeries for children in need. Upon arriving in post-op I felt inadequate and almost useless in comparison to the high school students from the bi-lingual school, who translated and communicated perfectly with everyone there. I ended up sitting down with a mom and her son before his surgery. I noticed that they had been waiting for a long time so I offered my iPhone for the little boy to play with. When he started listening to my Dominican music, the mom became curious who I was. I was clearly not one of the local bilingual students, but I also wasn’t one of the Americans visiting for the week. We talked for about an hour and played with her son. We laughed about how her lighter skin made Dominican men think she was a gringa. When it was time for her son to go into surgery, I walked her out to the waiting area where she burst into tears. I gave her a hug and sat with her, explaining that her son was in excellent hands and that these groups only performed low-risk surgeries. I told her that I understood and would definitely feel the same nervousness if I had a child going into surgery. She soon began to relax and we looked at the pictures we had taken of her son in post-op. She then used my iPhone to log into her Facebook and upload some of the pictures. To my surprise, the first one that she uploaded was a picture of me and her son and the caption said, “mi bebe con la tia Lauren”, “my baby with Aunt Lauren”. Soon enough it was time for her to go see her son in post-op. As I helped her put on the scrubs and mask, she thanked me saying that she was very grateful that I was there with her that day.
When I look back on moments like that I realize that although I may have not had something concrete, like interpreting, to show for my work that day, I accomplished something very important. I was there for that woman in that moment and that had a much greater impact than any report I could’ve handed. Each day here I try to focus on what I can do to make a difference that day because the little things are the big things. I’m learning that if I’m able to chip away at my big goals by focusing on doing little things each day, I will soon look back and realize I’ve already met my goals, even if it’s not in the way I had imagined.
Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies is about the famous Dominican Mirabel sisters who fought for social justice during the time of Rafeal Trujillo’s dictatorship. Although on a smaller scale, I like to think that my efforts here are also working towards social justice. In the concluding note of the book Alvarez remarks, “Often when we read about brave women like the Mirabel sisters, we think that in order to advance the cause of freedom we have to do grand things. But in fact, if we look at the lives of these four sisters, we realize that all of them came to their courage in small incremental steps, little moments and challenges we all face every day of our lives. In some ways, we become brave, almost by accident. Something happens and we respond to that challenge courageously and compassionately. But really, all along the way to that something big happening, we’ve been cultivating a passionate heart, a listening and big-hearted imagination.” So as for now I’m trying to learn from the Mirabel sisters by making the most of every imperfect day poco a poco.