On Thursday, at 3:30 am, 36 of the 37 original trainees in my staging group met in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in Washington DC. After being issued our new Peace Corps Passports, complete with Dominican visas, we boarded a plane to Miami and then another one to Santo Domingo. Being the star sleeper I am, I dozed through both flights. The country director and his assistant had special security passes that allowed them to greet each of us as soon as we got out of the gate (even before we got to immigration). From the airport, the PC staff whisked us through the sun, heat, and humidity to a ìretreatî. There they gave us our first briefing, malaria profilaxis, and the first part of our rabies vaccine. They also presented us with our first challenge as PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees): mosquito nets. The vile taste of the anti-malarial was nothing compared to the frustration of setting up our mosquito nets on a few hours of airplane sleep. We were all in bed by 9 pm.
In the morning, we were brought to the PC training center by more tiny (but air conditioned) vans. This training center and the surrounding neighborhoods have been my (and the other aspirantes’) stomping grounds thus far. Training is run on a very intensive schedule. A few times a week, we receive briefings regarding what to expect regarding PC policy, medical stuff, and a safety lectures, and Dominican culture, history, politics, etc. These lectures are combined with 2-4 hours of language class per day, which at my level also involve cultural assimilation activities, such as fieldtrips to the supermarket and guidance on how to take public transportation in Santo Domingo and the rest of the country. These activities are peppered with classes on Development Theory, dinámicas (icebreakers), and technical information relating to our project (in my case, Environmental Development). We eat a delicious lunch daily, complete with the juice of chinola (passionfruit), lechoza (papaya) piña, or lemondade. All of which are just as fantastic as the fruit itself. For fruit lovers, it should be noted that pineapple and papaya are in season, as is avocado, and we’ve had quite a bit of these normally expensive tropical fruits.
Dominican Spanish isn’t really like any accent I’m used to, but at least I can communicate with my host family beyond the basics. My doña lives close to the training center, and I have a 15 year old hermana to spice things up. My host-hermanos are older and live separately- one with his wife and kids. My host father taught me Dominos (a favorite Dominican game) and I have watched TV of various sorts with most family members. My doña owns and runs the neighborhood Colmado, or convenience store. I pass a lot of time sitting on the patio, reading the newspaper, and talking to the people who come to make purchases. So far, it has been a good way to socialize with my family and meet my neighbors.