Peace Corps Blog, Dominican Republic, Daniel Wendt

Life in Peace Corps has not been easy. It has however been pretty diverse, rich and satisfying.

  • Take into account the various tasks that I will be or have been undertaking this week:
  • Teach memorization techniques to 21 workforce development students.
  • Complete 5 Insanity work out videos.
  • Visit two Peace Corps Volunteers and butcher their goat.
  • Recruit business owners to accept my students as interns.
  • Assist a volunteer with writing a grant and budgeting a construction project.
  • Run 12 miles, barefoot on the beach (during 3 consecutive days).
  • Have a romantic churrasco dinner on a dock overlooking a lagoon.
  • Fabricate hotel, restaurant and sales dramatizations for my customer service students, practice, advise and evaluate with a rubric.  
  • Help guide a group of 100+ volunteer study abroad students.
  • Drink a bottle of whiskey that was smuggled over the Haitian border with Arthur on his fare-thee-well visit to Cabarete.
  • Apply for summer internships with the US Department of State
  • Teach 31 students how to develop a 4-6 minute informative speech.
  • Schedule decommissioning processes with Peace Corps (1/2 a dozen exit interviews, medical, dental, language competency evaluation)
  • As the Officiant, plan my brother’s wedding ceremony
  • Hassle the admissions department at Bowling Green State University about the paperwork regarding funding for my master’s studies.
  • Hug my 75 year old Dominican neighbor, Oro.
  • Zipline into a spring-fed lagoon and CAVE SWIM.
  • Go snorkeling and spend the day at a pristine rural beach on the north coast.

 “…Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.


But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Establishment of the Peace Corps (March 1, 1961)

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Do you ever reflect and think, “Did I really do that?”

Last night I was on the phone with Rinnie, a fellow Ohioan Peace Corps Volunteer who was assigned to my old village. She is great and has agreed to undertake the task of finishing the Library/Community Center. For an hour we worked on a budget for a grant that she is writing to pour a floor, install an electrical inverter, put up shelving, organize a library, build a latrine, paint and landscape around the building.

Deep-down, I feel I little guilty that I couldn’t get all of these things done despite extending my stay in the village. 

Suddenly, I had a realization. Never have I been a foreman, an engineer, a mason, an estimator or a fundraiser. Still, with the meager plans that I have posted above (1 drawing, 1.5 page material estimate), immense help from my community, some calculations from an off-site engineer, the knowledge of my masons and a ton of blood/sweat/sunburns/pulled muscles/tears/blisters/dehydration headaches; look at what WE did.

There is a great Dominican adage that goes to the tune of: 

Falta de pan, casava dice el pueblo. Literally it means, “If you don’t have bread, eat cassava (a starchy root) says the community.”

O sea: If you have a goal, make the best with what you have, 

Photos of the Finished Project Soon To Come. 

Watch 7 seconds of me being awesome on a zip line at Laguna Dudu. 

This just in: Underwater cameras are pretty cool.

Last Sunday, I took some R&R and I went to Laguna Dudu with Yulia, Kirill and Olga. Here I am doing some of my favorite activities: Cave Yoga, Cave Swimming, Underwater Superman and talking about non-point source pollution and soil types while walking down the beach.

#schwing

"Nearly all Dominican women straighten their hair, which experts say is a direct result of a historical learned rejection of all things black."

The Dominican Republic is rich with culture and people who are as beautiful and varied as their natural resources. My parents taught me to respect people of all races, cultures, disability status, ages and religions since childhood. I majored in sociology so you would think that after talking about race/class/gender in an academic setting, broaching the subject wouldn’t be so precarious for me in the Dominican Republic.

You would think.

Then, I spent a month resisting my 12 year old neighbor Christopher’s nickname. You see, no one knew who Christopher was. In fact, his own grandmother might ask who you are talking about unless you refer to him by his house-name, “Negro.”

Follow the link below to keep reading about race in the Dominican Republic.http://www.miamiherald.com/multimedia/news/afrolatin/part2/#storylink=cpy

Are you looking to nerd-out?

This is for you international development minded individuals who are interested in knowing how the United States government is working with the Dominican government to help mitigate HIV/AIDS transmission, implement better democratic practices, improve equal-rights public services, foster government transparency, promote a sustainable economy, encourage disaster preparedness and response, reduce the flow of illegal drugs through major ports, and attack nonpoint source pollution problems.

Go-Go-GADGET-Pocket-Protector

Huh?

Agreed. 

This is a great video that exaggerates (but only slightly) what it is like to ride a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) in the Dominican Republic. 

Seriously, they drive poorly. 

In the DR, I have personally known many people who have been in motorcycle accidents because they were either driving drunk; operating like an arrogant, macho, aggressive idiot; or, they were just simply unlucky.

This is going to sound too harsh for someone who hasn’t seen it so prepare yourself. The other day, I saw a motorcycle accident and didn’t even flinch. I didn’t feel bad, I didn’t feel anything. A part of me has been jaded.

Before you judge me, take a look at the picture in this article. Think for a moment about what you would do if you saw your brother, his wife, two kids and their groceries all crammed on one motorcycle just rolling down the highway. No helmets. I am fully aware of my cultural bias. It is still dumb and child endangerment. It is quite possibly a form of technological natural selection. Recognize that this isn’t the United States. You don’t need to own a car to get around. Public transit exists nearly everywhere making this type of risk, slightly less than necessary.   

You are thinking, ‘ok, this is just regional.’ Nope. They are some of the deadliest drivers on a global standard. Note that many of the fatalities are alcohol related. 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/09/19/global_traffic_fatalities_map_africa_is_deadliest_region_dominican_republic.html

Quoted: 

"It’s not unusual in the Dominican Republic to see up to five people, including babies, scrunched atop a motorcycle, or for drivers to carry all types of cargo, including heavy gasoline tanks, atop their bikes. Motorists also dodge hundreds of dilapidated cars and trucks as they zoom across lanes without warning, fail to stop at red lights and go against traffic, often at high speed and sometimes even taking over sidewalks.[…]

Dominican officials believe a lethal mix of alcohol, speed and blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. On a recent weekend, police stopped more than 460 motorcycles and 170 cars in the capital of Santo Domingo, issuing tickets mostly for driving the wrong way or running red lights.”

To my knowledge, the Dominican Republic is the only Peace Corps country that allows us to ride motorcycles. Because we work in rural places with a typically lower human development index, oftentimes there is no form of public transit other than paying a motoconcho. So there is a need, I just wish that they would go about it a little better. 

It has been a great week for the A Ganar vocational training program! Yesterday Villa Taina, a luxurious European standard hotel in Cabarete, gave our customer service students a tour. The hotel is located right on the beach, has 50+ rooms, pool, restaurant, bar, yoga studio, gym and wind/kite surfing school. This experience was illuminating for my students’ development. Of 21 students, only three have ever stayed the night in a hotel. Imagine learning English and trying to work in hotel reception without ever having entered a hotel.

After the tour, Villa Taina gave us juice and took the time out of their busy day to have a Q&A session with the lead receptionist, customer service manager, restaurant manager and a gentleman from the maintenance department. My students asked our hosts about professional development, learning English and certain customer service scenarios. We learned that many of Villa Taina’s guests return year after year. Also, the hotel employees attempt to learn the name of every guest.

One student asked what the hotel does when they are full and someone wants a room. Marleisia, the customer service manager, explained that when they have to recommend another hotel, they don’t recommend a direct competitor (for instance: one that is of similar price, on the beach, has breakfast included and a kite surfing school). Instead, they recommend a non-competitor such as an all-inclusive resort so that competitors don’t have the chance to snag potential clients from the same market.

These types of strategies are the things that only a professional can teach.

Also pictured above are some of my students practicing professional scenarios that may occur in hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.

Enjoy!

When I get back from Peace Corps, I am going to build a standing desk for graduate school. This plan has legs made from galvanized steel pipes and looks like a good, minimalist way to go…

There seem to be many benefits of standing while working. Hyperactivity makes sitting for a long time a real challenge for me. I hope that this strategy will help me burn some energy while pour through books for the next two years. 

What I wish Americans knew about the Dominican Republic…

This two minute video is about Dominican Youth and was created by my friend Ryan Browning. Ryan’s focus as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic was appropriate technology but you can see from this video that he was very well integrated in his community and very passionate about youth education and development. 

This video was submitted to the Peace Corps Week Cultural Windows Challenge. You can watch videos that were submitted by Peace Corps Volunteers who served all over the world by clicking here: Peace Corps Week 2014 Videos.

Today, I was great at my job.

When I was an IT consultant in Columbus, my supervisor Joe told me that all of his good technicians leave as soon as they are getting good. While it took most of his technicians a year to get really good, it took me nearly three. What I lacked in technical competency, I made up for with hard work, reliability and by being that IT guy chocked full of personality. At Data Resolutions, Inc., I was immersed in sales, several computer disciplines, remote support, IT training, prioritizing, negotiating, urban navigation, convincing third party providers that they were responsible for my clients’ problems, saying no to bosses at client offices, critical thinking, arguing with thieving insurance agents, deduction and best IT business practices across many sectors. Data Resolutions, Inc. treated me exceptionally well and I will always be grateful for the professional development that came from the sink-or-swim, work well and be independent mentality.

I was a recent college graduate with no money and success was the only option. I put in long hours and I studied after work. I remember that one time that Janelle, the boss’s wife, got a flat tire on the way to the airport. Business casual and all, I grabbed my own tire iron out of my truck, we got in in his care and went to get Janelle, I sent them ahead so that she wouldn’t miss her flight and then left the car in long term parking. I don’t know if that helped me get taken on full time. It didn’t hurt. Useful employees aren’t limited to the parameters of their job descriptions. 

Peace Corps is like any other job in that it takes a bit of time before you really know what you are doing. I will pat myself on the back and say that yesterday, I was in the sweet-spot.

Before starting a new A Ganar (vocational training course) in a community, the team of teachers goes out and conducts market surveys with business owners and managers. We do this to identify career paths that pertain to the area and the subjects that we teach. Yesterday we were not in a tourist zone, so it wouldn’t make sense to teach hotel reception. We were in an area that has a lot of construction, motorcycle sales and a new 90,000 sq. ft. greenhouse project. It sounds obvious, but many do-gooder-service-minded-groups set out to SAVE THE PEOPLE without even trying to understand them. Believe me. This happens more than not. I say trying because I know that I will not fully understand the local situation.

I will say that people avoid doing this type of research because like sales, people are apprehensive and say NO frequently.

Regardless, yesterday, I was on. I warmed up by interviewing owners in a few small shops. There is the straightforward approach. Enter the store, ask for the boss, explain the program, get the phone number and go down the bulleted survey questions furiously scribbling answers. This is not how I went about it when I went to a rather large appliance and hardware store.

Instead, I went to the corner store, bought some gum and asked the name of the boss across the street. I arrived at the giant hardware store, approached the clerk and said, “My name is licenciado (meaning I am a college educated professional, it is a cultural thing) Daniel Wendt and I teach customer service. I am here to speak with (boss’s name).”

No further explaining necessary. They sent me right upstairs. When I got there, the big boss wasn’t there so I asked if there was a human resources manager. There was. I asked her to excuse the interruption. She was happy to handle something for her boss and patiently smiled. I explained that I teach customer service/sales and that I was trying to start a vocational training program in the community and simultaneously figure out how to improve my curriculum by identifying characteristics of good and bad employees.

I asked her about the good and by the time we got to the bad, we were both laughing and telling stories. Nonchalantly, I asked her how many employees she had. 107 employees! ¡Cónchale, anda diache! AND they come from the town and surrounding villages. Perfect.

The next strategy is to get her to say yes before arriving at the true objective. I get her to say yes by asking her if she likes her job and if she studied business in school. Next she tells me that she is getting ready to do her master’s. Me too! Common ground established.

I smile and tell her that as part of our vocational training program, we conduct interview tests with local managers. I explain that the students really work hard to prepare for the interviews, that we have a rubric and that the interviews provide valuable experience for poor students that may have never had a professional interview. She is impressed and smiles. Keep in mind, that I am not lying or misleading my new professional friend. I am telling the truth, persuading, trying to help Dominican students get jobs and also, I am attempting to win her over. In the Peace Corps, I have learned to adapt to win.

I will never forget my first day in Peace Corps in Washington DC when they told us about village elders resisting water treatment because they were sure that people were getting sick from evil spirits, not the water. So a Peace Corps Volunteer got a microscope, hauled it in for hours, showed the elders the water and said, “You are right, I can see them right there!” She then ran the water through a filter and took out the spirits. No one lost face. Spirits eradicated. Mission accomplished.

I continue.

 “Many of our students are single mothers that haven’t really had a professional female example to follow. As the HR manager at a large business, we could really use your experience, do you think that you could help us out during the next round of interview tests?” Another yes. Perfect.

Finally, I arrive at the true objective. I explain that in our program we teach reading, writing, mathematics, English, teamwork through sports, HIV/AIDS prevention, sales, healthy lifestyle decision making skills and customer service for 4 months. After that, in order to graduate, our students have to complete 80 hour internships with the goal of gaining experience, converting that internship to a job and earning a positive professional recommendation.

Using the information from our conversation about worker tendencies, I ask, “If I train some of the poorest students from the area and address the problems that you have had with previous employees, if I teach them good habits like I have done with over 200 other students, if they learn to speak some English and have a customer service/sales strategy, would you accept a few as interns?”

What do you think she said?

Only then did I ask for her last name and phone number.

Cultural agility.

It was one of those days that made me feel like I have come to master my job. The point of all of this, is now that I am getting good, it is time to fish in another pond. Bittersweet.

Hooorah.

(Pictured above are my current students and some of the other A Ganar teachers.)

Peace Corps Day 1099

5 for 5

Peace Corps Day 1099: The Political Science Department at Bowling Green State University offered me admission to the MPA program, a full scholarship and a living stipend as a Coverdell Fellow / teaching assistant!

I can’t believe that I got into all of the graduate schools to which I applied!

¿Qué vacanería?

March 1, 2014 was my 3 year anniversary in the Peace Corps… 
Day 1,097 was anything but typical and this is how I went about celebrating: 
I got up, drank beet juice and made oatmeal with yogurt.
Sabine, Shira and I went to the beach. 
We then bought Dominican coffee makers (grecas) and met Krista for burritos. 
We went our separate ways and I lifted weights at the gym. 
I got back, had just enough time to shower and then went skateboarding with Yulia. That is right, I went skateboarding once… making me a hipster regardless of the size of my board. O sea… soy una persona en la onda pese al tamaño de mi patineta.
In the evening, I drank exactly two small Bohemia beers, listened to a Canadian/Dominican band play and then retired. 
It was great.

March 1, 2014 was my 3 year anniversary in the Peace Corps… 

Day 1,097 was anything but typical and this is how I went about celebrating: 

  • I got up, drank beet juice and made oatmeal with yogurt.
  • Sabine, Shira and I went to the beach. 
  • We then bought Dominican coffee makers (grecas) and met Krista for burritos. 
  • We went our separate ways and I lifted weights at the gym. 
  • I got back, had just enough time to shower and then went skateboarding with Yulia. That is right, I went skateboarding once… making me a hipster regardless of the size of my board. O sea… soy una persona en la onda pese al tamaño de mi patineta.
  • In the evening, I drank exactly two small Bohemia beers, listened to a Canadian/Dominican band play and then retired. 

It was great.

Fiesta de Palo, San Cristóbal, República Dominicana, 2014, 5 de 6