(First off, Happy Independence Day, Dominican Republic! The red, white and blue flags are out in force, there’s electricity all day, and the schools are all doing parades to honor the patria.)
If you’re not a naturally itchy-footed nomad before you come to the Peace Corps, then it’s quite likely you’ll turn into one while being here. Well, I can’t speak for Peace Corps in other countries, but I’m positive that the combination of the Dominican Republic’s wealth of natural beauty, public transportation system, and volunteers’ ability to slide almost effortlessly between geographies and social classes turns most of us into wanderers. Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve spent more time on the road than I have in my own house. I knew when I extended that a big part of the job would be travel; I was excited for it, and I have enjoyed it. But I have also learned that I like being able to go to sleep in my own bed for most nights of a given week.
The first big movement I took was to go back to the U.S. for a 5-week vacation. The timing was perfect. After having a really hard month or so, and honestly considering ETing (“quitting” in layman’s terms), I was able to get on the plane and escape my current reality to reconnect with my previous one (or what’s left of it). Reconnecting with friends, family, and places was, in a word, amazing. I amazed myself by buying a multi-city plane ticket from Washington to New York to Portland to Washington that had me criss-crossing the continental U.S. for two weeks. I read menus in disbelief at the food options and prices, and then ate everything I wanted. I was surprised at how easy it was to engage again with old friend groups after so much time spent apart. After two years of spending Thanksgiving in the D.R., I attended a Fields family Thanksgiving complete with football in the snow, almost 30 place settings at a super long table, and lots of catching up with relatives I hadn’t seen in too long (or at all, in the case of some of my youngest cousins). At the end of the 5 weeks I felt rested and restless all at once. My time off had given me the distance I needed to come back and tackle the remaining six months of my service.
After returning to the country, I kind of got a little bonus vacation. The whole country basically shuts down in the month of December for Christmas and New Years, so I took advantage and made my in-country holidays count. For Christmas I got together with some other oldies who had either extended or stayed in country with other jobs. We went to Río San Juan, a beach town up in the northeast. We rented an apartment, cooked great food, played games, and chilled. We also explored the area, hitting a total of five beaches and one lagoon. On Christmas Day we went to the almost-perfectly circular Laguna Dudú, where you can ride a zip-line out into the center and drop into the clear blue water from about 40 feet up. There were also ostriches. It was rad. For New Years, I got together with some other education volunteers in Monte Cristi, in the northwest. It’s super close to Haiti and right on the water. There’s an awesome mountain looming just outside of town, and you better believe we climbed to the top of it on New Year’s Day. We rang in the New Year the night before at a little park that got jam packed with revelers as the hours ticked away into the early morning. I chose to be in the D.R. for the holidays, and I like to think I made the most of it.
When the holidays were over, I got started again with site development. Site development is the time when we seek out communities that are interested in receiving a volunteer and then prepare them for the volunteer’s arrival. In general, we plan for 20-something volunteers, which means we need to have at least 20-something sites. The Education sector is set up with strategic partnerships in three school districts, so we centered most of our efforts on those areas. The fun part? Two of those districts are on the Haitian border (read: far from the capital) and some of the sites out there are way off the main roads. Luckily, I got to travel with our Program Manager and Program Assistant in a huge, white SUV that could handle the distance and the roads. Over the course of a month or so, Team Education showed up to a ton of rural communities, where we held meetings with community members to talk about Peace Corps. As the resident current volunteer, I talked about what volunteers are like, where we come from, how we’re trained, and what we do once we get to our sites. It was fun to get my spiel down and to tweak and refine it with each consecutive community meeting. We routinely worked 12 hour days, but it was worth it to see all the places we’ll be sending new volunteers and meet people all over the country who are excited about working with Peace Corps!
My last bit of crazy motion was just this past weekend. As the national coordinator for the teacher training project, it was my job to oversee the planning of a bunch of local workshops this semester. In the past we have done a big national conference to kick off the spring semester, but this year we tried something a bit different. One of the goals of the program, Escojo Enseñar, is to create and encourage communities of practice among public school teachers. So instead of bringing 70 teachers to the nearest big city, we took the show to them where they live and work. Volunteers in four different clusters around the country worked together to plan one-day workshops, and I gave them logistical support from the office in Santo Domingo. Keeping track of materials, participant lists, printing, agendas, and budgets for four different events was a challenge. When the weekend of the workshops came, I had to visit all four in three days. It was possible, if a bit forzado, and I enjoyed the opportunity to see how the areas each put their own spin on things. The workshops went very well—our Country Director even gave them a shoutout at a meeting at the embassy, and now the embassy press people want to publish a story about us. Exciting! Knowing that I’m contributing to such an awesome project motivates me for the task of overseeing the NEXT round of workshops, coming up in March.
So there you have it—my last few months have been mostly motion, but in the best sense possible. I’m looking forward to the three months that I have left here, and I hope I can make the best of them!