Hi Sunflower Wirth friends and family! Hope this letter finds you well. Actually, this is meant to be more like an old fashioned excuse slip… Remember the kind you’d have to turn into the teacher when you were absent? You all are the teachers and I am the cool best friend who is forging an excuse slip so they can play hookie from writing a blog post. And to explain to all their loved ones why you probably not have heard from Phoebe and Dan in a while…
I am Pheobe and Dan’s closest neighboring volunteer and a close friend. I live in a community about 10 minutes away. And if it makes you feel better, I just recently met their ‘new’ cat, Chocolate, who they’ve had since December. It’s definitely not that they don’t care. And they certainly haven’t forgotten about you. It’s partly because there is no dawgone signal where they live. And they’re, well, busy. “Busy with what?” you might ask. They live in a tiny rural community where it is actually considered a pastime to sit under a tree all afternoon for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the shade and breeze.
Let me clarify; in their free time - when they are not heading up initiatives, writing grants and manuals, preparing for and facilitating classes or painting murals - they are sharing their time with other people. Compartiring, as the Dominicans say. And Phoebe and Dan are expert compartirers. They are the masters of small talk. “How was your day?” Sometimes the response goes something like: ‘yes, yes, wonderful now let's talk about mine.’ Most other people have a small circle of friends that they will actually devote 20 minutes of honest effort and attention to listening to the rather insignificant details of their day. But Pheebs and Dano really want to know and extend this courtesy to just about everyone in their community. (NPH has over 200 youth, and that’s just the kids; Batey Montecristi has over 2000 people). Imagine that. If you have any unlived dreams about being famous or getting elected to some sort of public office, I recommend you pay Phoebe a visit in her community. Walking down the street with her is pretty darn close to getting a sweet taste of what celebrity must feel like. With every step you take, people are shouting her name. “Gira! Gira! Girasol! Girasol!!” Spanning 50 yards takes a little over 45 minutes because everyone comes over to shoot the breeze and Pheobe artfully gives everyone her unrushed attention. (Let me also add that much of the small talk that happens in such tiny, rural communities is a repeat of previous conversations, for instance, if someone stole a goat you’re probably going to get the same story fifty times with only slight variation.) So as you can see, this is a pretty amazing skill.
Pheebs recently planned an Awesome field trip for International Women’s Day. It was one of the most memorable things I’ve done during my time in the country, (and not only because the bus got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out with a 35 year old tractor.) It was partly so special because the group of girls and volunteers got to meet and talk to Dede Mirabal, the only living Mirabal sister, whose family resisted the Dominican dictator Trujillo and who are now national symbols of anti violence campaigns across the DR. Dede is now 87 and still receives groups regularly who come to home to answer questions and tell stories.
Let’s be honest, we all really struggled trying not to act like star struck preteens. We couldn’t exactly run up to Dede jumping up and down like I know we all wanted. I think we successfully didn’t freak her out. But I couldn’t help but to think that the whole situation reminded me on a smaller scale of Pheobe in her community. I kept thinking Why? Why give so much time, effort and energy to people you don’t even know? When someone asked Dede something similar, she said, “Why not? Other people are deserving of my time.” Huh, good answer. One that Pheobe later told me struck a chord in her. Go figure.
Again let me reiterate that it’s not that they’ve forgotten you, it’s just that the level of dedication they give to their Dominican neighbors is extraordinary. Please excuse them, it not their fault for seemingly falling off the face of the planet. This is just the way they are, very generous with their time, a very rare quality in any country. Vicky Harbison, YFCD 517-10-02