A Week in the Capital
At 4:45pm on May 9th, I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Our Country Director said a few words, Jim (a fellow Volunteer) gave a great speech in Spanish, and the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic led us in the oath, both in English and Spanish. We swore to do good work as PCVs and protect the Constitution from all threats, then went to eat cake with our host families, Spanish teachers, training staff, and Volunteers who came to visit. It was a really nice event, although it didn’t feel real. I kept reminding myself that the day was about a year and a half in the making and that I had finally started.
The next day we were finally allowed in the Peace Corps office to use its resources. By resources, I mainly mean air conditioning and wi-fi. There’s also the Free Box, where Volunteers can get rid of things they no longer want/need. It’s in the same room as the book exchange, which is a giant library of books that you can take and contribute to whenever you’re in the office. I scored Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, a DVD of the first season of The West Wing, and a roll of toilet paper. I was most excited about the toilet paper.
There were also a ton of Volunteers in and around the office all weekend. My group had just sworn in, another group had just COS’d (close of service) and was getting ready to leave, and people on committees were there for committee weekend. Basically the Volunteer lounge turned into a madhouse of suitcases, laptops, and people running around. It was great to meet people who had been here anywhere from six months to two years, and I even found the Volunteers who are near me in Bani! That night we had a party to celebrate swearing-in, close of service, or just being around big group of other Americans. It was great to relax before having to leave to get settled in our communities.
At this point in service, we have to do what’s called a community diagnostic. It involves a lot of porch-sitting and shit-shooting, with the aim of gaining the trust and support (we call it confianza) of your community. Once you’re well-integrated, you can start asking the big questions about what’s wrong with the community, what they want, what they need, and so on. We use this information to figure out what projects are feasible. Then we go to a three-month in-service training at which we present our diagnostics, share ideas, and develop a project plan.
For most of my training group, this is what was waiting upon our departure from the capital. But I and a few others will be heading down South on Monday after spending just two days back at our site. Why? Kreyol training! We’ll spend five days in a batey taking classes and practicing Haitian Kreyol. The idea is that we have some basic Kreyol that we can whip out during our diagnostic interviews to gain confianza with Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans. I’m really excited for it, and I think I’ll have a good time practicing with my Haitian neighbors. After that I return to my site and start the three-month diagnostic process.
I still have the knot of anxiety in my stomach that showed up my last day in the capital. After such a structured training environment, the idea of having literally no schedule is kind of terrifying. I’m also more than a little intimidated by the prospect of going around to every house in my neighborhood and talking to strangers for three months. I’ll have to do a lot of recharging of my introvert batteries. But I signed up for “the hardest job you’ll ever love.” I guess it’s time to suck it up, shed my vergüenza, and get to work.