I’m having trouble getting used to movement as a constant. I left my life in the United States and moved to the Dominican Republic. Then I moved from the Capital to the interior of the country. My time in El Seibo is almost at an end, which means packing up, saying goodbye and returning to the Capital. And after that I take a five-day trip to my site, go to the Capital to swear in, and then move permanently to my site. The ideas of “coming” and “going,” “here” and “there” are starting to lose meaning. I know it’s going to be hard to leave this city. The people who shout and wave to me in the street every day, domino games under the shade of a mango tree, my youth group and its video project, and much more will soon be bumped from the realm of reality to the unstable plane of my memory. After a two-hour guagua ride, El Seibo will shift from “here” to “there.”
It doesn’t seem fair, to me or to the city. Peace Corps sent us here to train; the main purpose of our being here is to learn how to do a community diagnostic, how to facilitate youth groups, and how to teach children’s literacy. And underneath all that is the need to integrate into the community. Yet we integrate into a community that we’re forced to leave five weeks after our arrival. I’ve been asked what we’re doing here, and I respond that we’re working in the schools and with youth groups, when I know that the real point of being here is for our own training. I don’t have the heart to tell people that their city, with its real issues and its real people and its real successes, is one big simulation for us. It has taken effort to not feel like I’m taking advantage of this community. I understand why this kind of training is necessary and I’m sure after fifty years PCDR knows what works best, but that doesn’t stop the nagging sensation of guilt. I’m looking forward to finally arriving at my site and allowing my roots to grow free of the knowledge that they’ll be ripped out in a few weeks.
Our work is moving along rapidly. The main project for the past week has been to work with youth groups on an academic enrichment project that somehow incorporates technology, reading, and writing. This Friday, our groups will present the fruits of their labors in the Ayuntamiento, or Town Hall. We have a group doing a poetry reading and merengue dance show, a group showing a documentary on El Seibo’s tourist attractions, a group that made a short telenovela, and my group’s photo montage morality play. The whole town might be there. And we’ll have cake. I’m pretty excited for it.
We’ve stayed busy shooting for the project, hoping to move on to post-production soon, and I must say it’s been an awesome experience. The kids came up with the idea for the story after a brainstorming session, and then made a storyboard of the whole thing after we taught them what a storyboard was. We’ve used their friends and places around the high school for subject matter. Ben and I both have DSLRs, which have been so helpful in getting good material from the kids. Each shooting session I just give my camera to a kid, suggest ideas of what part we should shoot, and then let them go. They staged a fight scene so realistic that I had to ensure passers-by that it was fake, that we were shooting a movie, “Yes Doña, like the one Jeff is making.” And the movie has added to my celebrity in the community. I’m still not sure how this type of thing happens, but mere hours after we started shooting I had little kids on my street screaming “I want to be in your movie!” at me. Before this, they had mostly just practiced their English by shouting at me. (“What’sjoorname?” “Coffee! Juice!” “Wasuwasuwasuwasu!” I’m still not sure what that last one is all about). It’s entertaining, but then I remember I’m leaving soon and feel the familiar tug of guilt and sadness.
A big part of what makes my imminent departure difficult is my host mom. Her name is Adriana, and she is awesome. She is short and stocky, with gray hair always pulled back into a ponytail and a face whose default expression is a mix between satisfaction and determination. She introduces me as her hijo blanco—her white son—and calls me Brendol (I’m adding it to the list of Things I Have Been Called.) She is a whiz in the kitchen, and always has some kind of homemade juice in the fridge. Her catchphrase—No es fácil!—can apparently be used to describe any situation, or just to fill awkward silences. She runs an internet center that a lot of volunteers use. She takes care of her grandson every weekend. She seems to know everybody in the neighborhood. She is already planning to visit me at my site. She’s great. It will be rough to leave. But it’s part of the job. So it goes.