COS Survey: Part II
I spent my first two years here working on the unofficial Peace Corps Dominican Republic, the Gringo Grita. Every time a group leaves, the magazine prints interviews with each of them. My interview was published with my group’s issue (shout out to 517-12-01!) last May. A lot has happened since then, and I can do whatever I want on this blog, so I think I’ll take the COS survey a second time and see what’s changed. Warning: It’s full of Spanglish and is largely focused on my third year extension. Dale.
Name: Brendan Fields
D.R. Apodos: Brandon, Brandol, Brandor, Braulio, Rubio, Flaco, Brenda
Site Location: 1) Baní; 2) The Road; 3) Santo Domingo
Program: Education; Peace Corps Volunteer Leader
Project Assignment: Provide programmatic and emotional support to Education volunteers. Assist in pre-service and in-service trainings for Education trainees and volunteers. National Coordinator for the teacher training program, Escojo Enseñar.
Project Reality: Supported education volunteers in planning and organizing three regional and seven local teacher training workshops. Trained a kickass group of new Education volunteers in Monte Plata. Helped out with training a second group of kickass newbies in Santo Domingo Este. Responded to volunteers’ monthly reports with personalized feedback. Answered late night phone calls. Visited new PCVs in their sites. Wrote a quarterly newsletter for the Education sector. Unceasingly told people to text whereabouts and wear their helmets. Random tasks for any number of staff members in the office. Hosted couch crashers.
Most useful thing brought into country: Chef’s knife. Camera. Persistent optimism.
Least useful thing brought into country: Vergüenza. Although I’ve gotten rid of a lot of it along the way.
Best “I-know-I’m-in-Peace-Corps-now” moment: In my first months as PCVL, I spent about a month visiting the 20-something new volunteers in their communities. At one site, I got there incredibly early because I had to leave the previous site on the only bus, which left at 6:45am. I did my visit, hung out with the volunteer, met her family and project partner, and then started to make moves to leave. The host family told me there was no hope that I would get a ride, so I should stay for lunch. I’m a lambón to the core, so of course I didn’t say no to free food. After lunch I waited another two hours, chatting and playing with kids, before a vehicle passed that was going my way, and the longest (but very enjoyable) PCV visit was over. It ended up lasting about 7 hours. Ah, the realities of this job…
I felt most integrated into Dominican culture when: I was invited to a reunión de primos in Baní, with all the cousins and their kids and some older family members. We ate and talked and took pictures and danced and blasted our music in the barrio. It was clear that I was solidly another member of the family. The day ended with my doña scheming ways to get me to stay until July to celebrate her mom’s birthday. I wish I could.
Also, any time I play tourist or cultural ambassador for another foreigner in Santo Domingo.
Funniest experience in country: So for Christmas, a group of four of us, all RPCVs or extenders, went up to Río San Juan to celebrate. On Christmas Day, we went to an awesome lagoon with a zipline that drops you right into the middle of it. After, the plan was to go to the nearby beach, Playa Diamante. Like any tacaño volunteers, we tried to flag down a free ride. The first truck that stopped rolled slowly to a halt as the driver hung out the window, looking back at us with a look that said he didn’t believe we would get on. We immediately saw why — the bed of the truck was occupied by a wiry old campesino and a MASSIVE pig. I didn’t even know pigs got that big. Surprised but unfazed, we hopped up. My three companions quickly filled the side where the pig wasn’t, which left me sitting on the rail with the campesino and his pig. I wiggled my way in behind it, my legs open and the pig’s ass right between them. We start rolling, and the campesino assesses the scene, looks up at us, and says, “Cuida’o si le caga!!!!” (“Careful if it shits on you!”). We all broke out laughing, and I spent the whole ride expecting to be shat on by a super-pregnant, mud-covered sow. Gracias a Dios the ride ended shit-free, and we said goodbye to our two new friends and went to the beach.
Most memorable illness or injury: I’ve been pretty healthy this past year, luckily. I guess city living has been good for me.
Most Dominican habit you’ll take home with you: Preferring public transportation over walking whenever possible. Buscaring shade when I have to walk. Making people sit, making people drink coffee or water when they visit me.
Most beautiful place in country: The top of El Morro. Bahía de las Águilas. Margot’s front porch. The view from a certain farm outside of Moca.
Most creative way you killed time in your site: Yoga. Getting lost in Santo Domingo. Applying to grad school. Finding new things to clean in the apartment.
What Spanish word or phrase have you made up during your service and what does it mean?: Yogar. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
How have you changed during your service?: I’m much more confident in my leadership abilities. The unknown has ceased to intimidate me and instead inspires me. I am becoming secure with insecurity and comfortable with confusion. I’m slower to trust, but trust more deeply. I am more aware of the tides in my mind and the connection among my mind, body and spirit. I like people more, but now know when I need alone time. I stopped drinking. I started meditating and doing yoga. I’m happier.
If your service were a book, what would its title be?: “Pero Tú Hablas Bien El Español!” and Other Unchanging Commentary in the Capital. This is the sequel to my previous book of course, entitled Sisyphus in the Barrio.
What books did you read and/or podcasts did you listen to during your service that you would like to recommend to other volunteers?: Serial and Invisibilia are both solid podcasts. As for books, go into the pack shack and pick up a book that intrigues you. Or check out the list of books I’ve read while here. There are some winners there.
What are you glad you did here?: Stayed. Traveled to new places. Repeatedly forced myself out of my comfort zone. Practiced “fake it until you make it” when I wasn’t feeling particularly social. Invested in people. Accepted my faults and worked to improve them.
What do you wish you had done here?: There is still time left, so I’m gonna go ahead and leave this one be.
What will you miss six months from now?: Dominican food and music, everywhere, all the time. A public transportation system that can take me to beaches, mountains, deserts and cities all for a few dollars. Volunteer friends. Belonging to the PCDR mission. The people I’ve come to love.
What won’t you miss six months from now?: Corruption. A public school system that fails spectacularly at educating the population. Yuca.
What’s next?: Going to Haiti with Courtney, and then traveling in the DR for a bit to hit up anything I may have missed. Then it’s back to DC to reconnect with friends and family. Moving to New York in the fall to start a Master’s Degree in Latin American & Caribbean Studies at NYU!
Big plans for your readjustment allowance?: Haiti trip and DR adventures. A new camera. Rent in New York. Plane tickets to visit friends. Clothes.
Advice to a new volunteer: You’re doing a good thing here. It will get hard, you very well might want to leave, but push through and seek out ways to be happy and successful. It’s very likely that you won’t even see the solution to your unhappiness on your own, so make sure you can be vulnerable and rely on others when you need to. Other volunteers understand your experience, your parents always have your back, and Peace Corps staff, doctors and therapists are always there for you. See and do everything you can while you’re here — 2 or 3 years rushes by quickly. Figure out how to be happy in your community. Be yourself, even as your self is changing and revealing new facets to you. If you treat your service like your life and not like a temporary gig, you will be so, so much happier. Above all, respect this country and its people. Avoid generalizing, embrace relationships with all kinds of people, and trust others (professionally and personally). Be aware of how you talk — often our words can betray ugly and uncomfortable prejudices that we didn’t even know we held. Work hard, but enjoy yourself. Best of luck!
Oh, and always wear your helmet and text whereabouts!
Algo más?: Peace Corps, it’s been a blast. Thank you so much for offering me this experience. República Dominicana, gracias por todo. Casi me voy, pero dejaré un pedazo de mi corazón anclado aquí para siempre. Cuídate mucho, y nos vemos pronto.