I'm staying in my site for New Years. This will be the first major(ish) holiday that I haven't spent with other Volunteers, and while I like the ability to decline participation in large group activities, the site seems to be conspiring to make me regret my decision.
Let's talk about child abuse a bit. Say you have a kid, and the kid falls and hurts himself. Obviously, you go up to the kid, and start smacking his arms and back. If you are creative, grab a switch and beat him. Maybe throw some rocks. The kid should have known better. Or, let's say one of your kids is picking on his younger brother. The smaller kid is on the ground, being punched and kicked. Naturally, you egg it on, and yell for your neighbors to come out and watch. When it's over, you go over and beat the little kid, because he should have defended himself or have known better. If it is night time, you should probably go ahead and throw the kid out of your house and tell him to never come back.
Every so often, when I'm in my house at night cooking dinner, I'll hear wimpering at the front door. You can't take the kid back to his house, where he'll just get beaten more, and you can't really let him stay at your place, either. So you load up a Spanish-dubbed Pixar film on your laptop, make some chocolate milk, and open a pack of cookies and wait for him to calm down. If your battery is dead and there's no power, you can play the game where you each try to draw a cat/goat/car with your headlamp turned off, and then laugh at the squiggly-lined blob on your paper. Is his grandma home? Yes. Go to the grandma's house. She starts yelling at him, neighbors come out. Public shaming. He runs away. Go back to your house, pull out the spare mosquito net, and blow up the "self inflating" sleeping pad that you pulled out of the volunteer give-away box. Give him the spare toothbrush you keep for him, and make zombie faces in the mirror with the toothpaste foam.
I can't make parents hug their kids. I can't stop them from hitting them. That's the hardest part of being here--it's not the poverty or lack of water and power and sanitation and American food.
On the other side, I find myself in a great, smiling, happy, welcoming community. Kids run around and play all day, and at lunch, just showing up means you get a big heap of rice. As soon as I moved in, my neighbor decided I needed lunch every day, and I almost had to talk her into letting me pay her for it. Every single person I pass will do a fist pump or wave and smile and chat, including the workers out in the fields. My dog is a rock star, and more people probably know his name than mine. The crazy guy in town, who everyone told me to watch out for, brings me sugar cane stalks and soup, and shouts random words in English. I left a chair outside one night, and a neighbor swooped in to grab it. When I thought it was surely stolen, as soon as I opened my door in the morning, they brought it back and told me to be more careful. I got frustrated with trying to keep order in my lab, and the next time I went back, the youth I'm working with had organized themselves and were enforcing rules, and have worked out almost all the problems in the lab since then between themselves. The organization I'm working with has given me everything I've petitioned for. Little kids sit in my house and draw, and I put the pictures up on the wall. I've spent days with them playing with rocks, teaching them how to pet my dog.
I love waking up, making coffee (and chocolate milk for the muchachos), and chatting with the neighbors who come by to say good morning to my dog. I haven't had a bad morning yet in the batey, possibly because I can hit snooze on my phone alarm as many times as I want to.
So, yeah. Some stuff sucks. Some stuff is good. There is still nowhere else I'd rather be, even on New Year's. This adventure is almost over.