This will be my first blog post in quite some time. Since my last post, I have moved into the CBT portion of my training. It has been quite an experience. More on the title later, but first a quick overview of my reality in this beautiful place called La Cumbre.
I moved to La Cumber on March 25th. However, that weekend, before we arrived in La Cumbre, the environment sector trainee group went to an awesome little conference in Monte Cristi (the upper NW corner of the country) hosted by the PC/DR Marine Interest Group. It was a Brigada Verde youth conference. Brigada Verde is a PC initiative for environmental youth education. Its basic philosophy is that in order to change the opinions of the people, we need to educate the youth and have them embrace environmental conservation before society imparts on them horrible environmental practices. The conference was in an absolutely gorgeous locale and it was an incredible weekend. It inspired me to start my own BV group when I saw these young Dominicans getting excited about environment. Some of the sessions were even led by youth! That was really a high point for me in the weekend. I posted some pictures of Monte Cristi.
After our lovely weekend there, we moved with our host families in La Cumbre. It turned out that I was going to be the only volunteer with no running water. This meant pit latrine and outdoor shower. It was kind of frustrating to hear that I was going to be the ONLY person in this situation, but I just kept telling myself this would make my transition out to my site just that much easier later on. I will be accustomed to living in a wood shack and rationing out my water on a daily basis. I feel like these will be useful skills to have once I get out to my site. I have been maintaining quite well here. That being said, my transition into this style of living was a little difficult the first week I was here. When I was living in Santo Domingo, I was living with a family that was solid middle class and could afford things like meat and dairy products on a regular basis, as well as fruits and vegetables. My family here is one of the poorest families in the area and also does not have a fridge or other modern food storage techniques. Therefore, the options in what they feed me are very limited. It has been hard adjusting from a balanced diet to eating mostly boiled carbohydrates three times a day. I feel like I am missing a large portion of protein in my diet but I do get meat twice a week. I have managed to get more eggs in my diet because they are relatively cheap here, however I am missing fruit. I get absolutely no fruit at home and as for vegetables, I will get a salad of shredded cabbage and cucumbers. Its better than nothing, but I feel like diet is one of the hardest changes to make because its how you get your energy and it can affect your mental disposition every day. I have grown more and more accustomed to it and now it doesn’t even bother me but I can’t wait till I have a kitchen of my own here. I want to cook so badly!!!
Now onto training itself: CBT has been an absolutely amazing experience here. I absolutely love La Cumbre, it is a beautiful community, nestled into the mountains above Santiago. Santiago being the second largest city in the DR, which I personally like WAAAY better than the dirty, noisy capital, Santo Domingo. I can see incredible nightscapes of lit up Santiago from my front door at night. In the afternoon, the fog roles in and it feels like I am living inside of a cloud. The mountains are incredibly lush and beautiful. I feel genuinely lucky to be living in such an incredible community. The climate here changes a lot. I have experience temperatures here from 48F to 97F. It really depends on the time of day, as well as how much rain has fallen here on any given day. I am wearing my boots A LOT because I live very much off the beaten path and it gets really muddy after a good rainstorm. It does rain almost every day here. I do love my family and my house. We live in what can only be described as a small compound of houses down the side of a mountain. It feels like Noah’s ark here. We have chickens, turkeys, pigs, a horse, dogs, cats, parrot, canaries, and other ornamental birds. The birds they raise to sell but some of the animals are here simply as pets. My neighbor has four ~35 lb. rabbits as well. I feel like I am living on a farm and I have felt that way since I spent my summers as a kid in the Polish countryside. I like it though; it’s a great feeling!
A typical day for me here consists of two 4-hour sessions, a morning and an afternoon session. Morning sessions are more often that not Spanish class. My teacher here is very strict with his lessons but has been an incredible help in the evolution of my Spanish. When I came to the DR, I tested at a level 5. Since I have been at CBT, I have jumped 2 levels to a 7 and he believes that by the time I swear in, I will test at a level of 8.5. My language coordinator and my teacher have both been very impressed by progress because it is rather uncommon for someone to jump two levels, especially upper levels, in less than a month of taking Spanish lessons. I am also taking individual private lessons on the weekends with my teacher when I can. I really want Spanish to be a tool/skill rather than a weakness during my service and I have been doing absolutely everything I can to see that through.
In the afternoons we usually have our technical sessions led by our technical trainer, Tim Keifer. Topics here have included: non-formal education techniques, organic gardening and soil bed preparation, improved- cook stove construction, the Dominican education system, mini-community diagnostics, and many more. I have received and integrated such a plethora of information in the last few weeks it is really difficult to comprehend it sometimes. This is really where the inspiration for the title of my blog post comes from. It’s a phrase that came from my technical trainer when he tried to describe what CBT can feel like. He is absolutely right! Although my experience here has been excellent, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it has been really intense. I understand that they are trying to get us trainees ready and mold us into PCVs but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. There has been several large projects/presentation as well as smaller homework assignments to do outside of class. On top of the 40 hours/week of training and the projects/HW, we are expected to integrate with our families and learn more about Dominican culture! Needless to say, there is a quite a bit on my plate right now.
I have to keep reminding myself that once I get out to my site, my pace of life is going to change significantly. The first three months of my service are designated for doing my community diagnostic and literally just hanging out with people in my town. I am really going to experience Dominican pace of life first hand. I try to keep this in the back of my mind and remind myself that my training is really the only crazy-busy part of my service. I obviously hope to have lots of projects going on at my site, but I know my days won’t be jam-packed the way they are here.
I am know approaching almost 1400 words according to MS word, so I think I might need to cut off this blog post. I will be posting again very soon, I am working on another blog post regarding the amazing communication and support that me and my amazing girlfriend Marie are having with each other during my time in CBT. I will try to post again with more updates about CBT before I leave here. I have another week here so hopefully I will find the time to do so! I hope you all enjoyed this (rather long) update about my life!