It was a different life

Originally written on 6/1/2013 for ThePot-Luck.com

I lived in the Dominican Republic for almost three years.

Today, I won’t be writing about what it was like to live there. Instead, I would like to write about what it was like to leave.

As the day of my departure approached, I took comfort in Kahlil Gibran— particularly the closing passage of The Prophet, part of which reads:

In the stillness of the night I have walked in your streets, and my spirit has entered your houses,
And your heart-beats were in my heart, and your breath was upon my face, and I knew you all.
Ay, I knew your joy and your pain, and in your sleep your dreams were my dreams.
And oftentimes I was among you a lake among the mountains.
I mirrored the summits in you and the bending slopes, and even the passing flocks of your thoughts and your desires.
And to my silence came the laughter of your children in streams, and the longing of your youths in rivers.

I was excited to leave… to speak English, to not be the only white girl in town, to have electricity and running water, and especially to see my family and friends. However, there was a deep and abiding sadness in me whenever I thought of actually leaving. It was a lossy feeling, like when someone dies, but less specific.

I had been living and working with these people for a few years now, and the thought of not being able to see them anymore seemed unreal. The leaving process itself was like a dream. Looking back now (three years hence), I only remember snippets. The experience of coming back to the States remains perhaps the most surreal of my life.

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

All quotes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prophet_(book)

It’s not about them.

*Trigger Warning—This post may contain the following triggers: sexual assault, depression, anxiety*

 

It’s about me.

I was raped in the Dominican Republic, when I was in Peace Corps. Very few people know about it—I think four, total, including the Peace Corps doctor that advised me to stay silent.

Some of you will chafe at that, and I understand that reaction. Here, we’re taught to speak up and speak out. It’s how we get our power back, right?

Well, maybe. My doctor at the time, Dr. L_____, is Dominican herself. She understood what would happen to my assailant if I reported it to the authorities. Americans have certain protections in the DR (Dominican Republic), especially those working for the federal government. Since Peace Corps is federally funded, that included me. While the DR police probably would have thought it was the right of my assailant to rape me (more on that later), the American authorities protecting me would have sent him to prison…and you don’t want to ever see the inside of a Dominican prison.

Let me be clear about something: my assailant was my boyfriend. In the DR, since he lived with me, they considered us married. In the DR, if you’re married, you can’t be raped by your husband, legally speaking.

I remember my downstairs neighbor coming up to see what I was yelling about. When I told her, my “husband” T_____ looking abashed, she said, “Oh, I know…that can be so uncomfortable sometimes.” It was a pat on the head to the new “wife” who obviously didn’t understand her husband’s rights or her wifely duties.

Feeling broken and ashamed, and stupidly feeling bad for T_____, I didn’t report it for a few months. But after hearing some rumors that had obviously been started by T_____, I stopped feeling sorry for him and realized that I could no longer live and work in my small inland community. The people had heard too many strange things about the Americana living in their midst and I couldn’t continue the projects I had started there.

Feeling angry and even more ashamed, I decided to request a transfer. Privately, I told Dr. L_____ the reason for my request and had her run a full panel of STI tests. She asked if I wanted to report it officially, adding that “his life would be over.” Here’s the thing…T_____ has a daughter. Maybe that’s just an excuse, but I loved that little girl and I didn’t want to take her father away.

There is another factor here, as well. I needed a win. I needed a win so badly. It felt like I had left Jima Abajo a failure and I needed to feel like I had made a difference somewhere. I talked to Dr. L_____, and she promised to help me find a job in the capital, where people are generally more accepting of different cultures (since they see more travelers there) and, in large part, better educated.

If I reported the rape in official channels, I would be sent home, probably on a medical release. I didn’t want to leave the Dominican Republic until I had accomplished something!

I mean, it’s not like I didn’t accomplish things in Jima Abajo; I totally did…it just felt like everything I did in that town was tainted.

So I moved to the capital and spent six months working at an orphanage. Since it was the capital, I also met and spent time with other Americans, which was really, really nice. After all of my shame and self-doubt, it was refreshing to be with people that understood my point of view.

I’m really glad that I stayed those last six months, but I needed to finally speak out about what happened. It’s still painful to think about it all these years later. When people ask me what it was like in the DR, I might smile and talk about my bucket shower, or spotty electricity, or tell fun stories that I know they want to hear. I avoid thinking about the assault and everything after. I’m hoping that writing about it here will purge some toxin from me. We’re only as sick as our secrets, right?