Stuff I Have Done
I figure this post is a good way to follow up the previous post, entitled “Things That Have Happened.” I’ve been doing stuff down here, and now I’m going to tell you about it. Hold on tight.
I have planned and run a two-day conference for Dominican educators and Peace Corps Volunteers. As Southern Regional Coordinator for our national teacher training initiative, Escojo Enseñar, I was responsible for putting it together. Despite my worries, everything went really well. In early October around 15 participants gathered in a rustic little church conference center on the Dominican-Haitian border, and we spent the weekend talking about classroom management, lesson planning, and didactic materials. During processing, one teacher almost cried when she told us how nice the conference had been. Success.
I have attended another educators’ conference for the same initiative. I took a teacher and the vice principal from my school with me, and we did much of the same thing as the first conference, but this time in the Peace Corps office in Santo Domingo. I left feeling tired from running around and making sure the snacks, coffee, and lunch were on point. My teachers left feeling motivated, excited, and empowered.
I have, with those same two teachers, facilitated a number of workshops with the teaching staff in my school. My vice-principal, Jacqueline, has been incredible in organizing the workshops, and I feel confident that I can leave the project in her hands when I move out of Baní. This has been my first brush with sustainability, and it feels great.
I have taken a youth from my site to the Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams) national business plan competition, where he did really well. My friend Kenny worked on the CTS project with another volunteer, and wanted to participate again. So we worked together on his business plan, and he was invited to the national competition to compete! We stayed in a 4-star hotel (insert obligatory “Peace Corps is hard” joke), and I really enjoyed watching him engage with the other participants and learn from the whole experience. He made it to the finals, and presented his plan to the whole crowd! The judges chose other plans as the winners, but Kenny left feeling very excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of him.
I have ascended to the highest point in the Caribbean (and east of the Mississippi River!), Pico Duarte. I say “ascended” because I didn’t hike the whole way — at one point I had to get rescued by a mule. But no worries, because riding mules is a lot of fun. The peak sits at 10,164 feet (3,098 meters) above sea level in the province of La Vega. I made the trip with Ben and Ginny, two of my friends from my education group. They are awesome travel buddies, and they DID walk the whole way. We went with two guides, Eli and Edi, who carried our stuff on mules, cooked our food, built fires, and entertained us with stories about wild pigs in their crazy Cibao accents. The trip was one of the high points (topographically and mentally) of my whole service.
I have partied at the rooftop pool of a swanky hotel with a bunch of other volunteers for Thanksgiving. Everything was white, the rum flowed freely (or as freely as your PCV budget allowed), the bachata floated over the revelers, and the pool and hot tub were never empty. After the pool party we descended to dinner — real Thanksgiving dinner, with all the fixins. And all the pies. Afterwards I sat in awe of my fellow volunteers, who gave real meaning to the word “talent” in the post-dinner talent show. After a quick nap and shower, we were out on the town dancing the night away. My second Thanksgiving on the island was just about as fantastic as the first.
I have facilitated a basic computer skills class for the staff of my school. The participants were from the administration, from the teaching staff, and from the support staff. We had veteran teachers sitting side-by-side with doormen and janitors. There were people who had never even touched a computer before who were looking up things on the internet and printing out letters by the end of the short course. The course ended with a graduation, which I thought was going to be a short and informal potluck. Silly me. I should have known it would involve delicious food, a toast with wine, rum, merengue, and speeches, all in a kindergarten classroom on the weekend. One student cried when I gave her her certificate, and then they surprised me with my own “recognition” for being their teacher. As much as I complain about my school, I am really glad I agreed to work on this project.
I have gone to court in Baní for my burglary. Yes, still. On the upside, I’m getting insider knowledge of how the Dominican justice system works, something that few other volunteers can say (gracias a Dios). On the downside, I’ve now spent one quarter of my service dealing with this bullshit. And it keeps dragging on.
I have gone to Christmas parties. Our country director had one on his rooftop for the whole Peace Corps family. The views were incredible, the company more so, and the food was out of this world. After, we danced. Another Christmas party was held for the whole Escuela La Saona family. After celebrating the Day of the Child at school with cakes and toys and soda, the grownups went out to play. We went to a pool/bar/dance place in a town just outside Baní, and spent the night dancing, chatting, eating, and drinking. Good times.
I have spent Christmas in the United States. Last year I did Christmas in my site, and I’m glad I did because my host family is amazing. But it just wasn’t the same. So this year I went back to Virginia for a quick trip to spend Christmas the way I like it. I saw snow, I basked in the warmth of my parents’ fireplace, I watched our Christmas tree twinkle, and I spent Christmas Day cooking and relaxing and eating. It was definitely bizarre to be back in the US, but not as shocking as the first time. I got to see friends, but not as many as I would have liked to. One week went by pretty fast, and before I knew it I was on a plane back to the DR.
I have rung in the New Year on the beach surrounded by people I love, again. Days spent lounging on the beach, nights spent drinking and dancing. I’m incredibly lucky to be here. Of course there were some shambles that needed managing, but so it goes. To be on the beach on January 1st kicking up sand to the beat of a bachata song in a crowd of some of my favorite people…blessings don’t get much better than that.
Now I am back in my site, writing this in my little zinc house while a warm breeze blows in through my front door and windows, pondering my third calendar year on the island. I saw and did a lot in 2013, and I am excited to see the ways that I grow and what I can accomplish in 2014.
Siempre pa’lante, amigos.