I’m coming to you, alive, from the porch of our training center in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. I am here, and I am loving it.
Staging was at 12:30pm on February 28th in a Georgetown hotel. I rolled around the house like a ball of nerves, anxiously obsessing over the weight of my bags and constantly finding new ways to arrange my things. I had to force myself to eat food and read the increasingly-hard-to-handle “goodbye and good luck” texts that were streaming into my phone. Finally my parents drove me to the hotel, helped me haul my stuff up to my room, and said goodbye. There were tears.
Staging involved a lot of strangers standing in a hallway outside a Holiday Inn ballroom juggling forms conversation. After we turned in our forms we got to play ice-breaker games inside. My table was pretty awesome, and we learned a lot about each other’s backgrounds right from the beginning. Then the talks started. We learned about the history of the Peace Corps, its three goals, its ten Core Expectations of us, and much more. We even got to draw pictures!
The highlight of the day was definitely our Special Guest. Now I had an inkling as to who it was going to be, and I was totally right. Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams showed up to our modest staging advice to give us advice and see us off! He was a PCV in the Dominican Republic back in [find out the year], and now he runs the whole organization. I’m a big fan. He told us stories of his time in the DR, reminded us to work hard at learning Spanish, and told us about his plans for the Peace Corps. He is really excited about how communication technology can change both Volunteers’ impact and their experiences, and he wants to increase the Peace Corps’ visibility to attract more applicants. Afterwards we all took a picture with him, he wished us well, and he left.
After staging we got a little bit of money to go out. A group of nine of us went to an awesome piano bar on M Street’s Georgetown. I got an INCREDIBLE burger and a delicious beer. It was a solid last meal in America (airports don’t count, shhh). Then Paul and I went back to our room, wrote in our journals, and settled in for the shortest night’s sleep.
At 12:45am my alarm startled me awake, and I shoved things into my bag, dressed in the same business casual clothes as the previous day, and made my way downstairs to await the bus. By 1:30am we had checked out of the hotel, and at 2:00am we were on the bus heading to Reagan National Airport through the eerily empty streets of Washington, D.C. We arrived at the airport to find that the check-in counters for our airline didn’t even open for another two hours. A few naps and games of Bananagrams later, we were checking in. I am a horrible flyer and the flights were nothing special, so I’ll just say that we got to Santo Domingo around 3:00pm by way of Miami, some Chinese food, and lots of naps.
We were met at the airport by none other than our country director. He taught us a valuable lesson within minutes of landing: if you amass in a big enough horde at customs, they’ll just let you through without opening anyone’s bag. That was nice. When we left the airport we walked through a crowd of screaming gringos holding signs with fun sayings like “Merengue & Dengue” and “Free Hugs (and Scabies)!” It was great to see some PCV humor right off the bat. After some shuffling of possessions between the bags to be sent to our host families and the one we could take with us to the retreat, we boarded two buses, met our training director, and set off along the coast towards our retreat center.
“Retreat” sounds too fun for this event. If we’re being honest here, it should have been called “Filling out Paperwork in a Convent.” But it was nice to spend time with other trainees, eat some delicious fruit, and FINALLY rest. We got a quick overview of training and a quick overview of medical issues. Then we each got popped in the arm with a rabies vaccine, received our mosquito nets (mosquiteros), bug spray, and malaria prophylaxis, and were sent to bed to await our malaria nightmares. (I’m not kidding—the preventative medicine causes really, really weird dreams.) I managed to snatch some restorative sleep that night somewhere in between the chickens, dogs, merengue, and truck horns. But it was more than the one hour I’d had the night before, so I was a happy camper.
The next morning we hopped on buses to go to the training center. The center is located in Pantoja, a barrio just outside of Santo Domingo. It is an oasis. Different kinds of fruit trees hang over the gravel paths that connect the open-air classrooms and larger enramadas. There is a lounge next to the offices (with wi-fi, so I’m posting this from those couches), a library downstairs, and an open-air cafeteria. We met the training staff, who are all Dominican and all seem really friendly. I can’t wait to start working with them. I really just can’t wait to start it all.