Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Dead Place

Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson

I picked up PCDR's worn copy of Big Dead Place in the volunteer lounge at Santo Domingo office. When I discovered it amongst the shelves of Greg Mortensen and Isabel Allende, I couldn't help but feel moved by the hand of fate. I had researched jobs in Antarctica back in 2009 when I started to rethink my place in the world and ponder the dark corners of the job market illuminated in books like Nickeled and Dimed and The Working Poor and the prospect of work in the so-called Highest, Driest, Coldest Continent still holds a special place in my imagination similar to that of work in the canneries of Alaska.

In Big Dead Place, Nicholas Johnson gives a candid, unpretentious account of the seasons he spent working as a general laborer in the Waste department of Antarctica's McMurdo Station. Through ambling, disjointed stories and anecdotes from his own experience, accounts from coworkers, and material clearly gleaned from researching heroic era of Antarctic exploration a picture emerges that is equal parts Catch 22, The Office, and another book I once read called A Working Stiff Manifesto. I think the following passage does of good job of conveying the author's tone:

"[After arriving in Antarctica's McMurdo Station for my first winter, I realized] I would be stuck in an outpost with all-you-can-eat desserts and and endless procession of theme parties. A small town where phone numbers are four digits but the budget is nine digits, where everyone had frequent flyer miles and no one had wisdom teeth. A town that courted ambassadors and senators with luxury accommodation in Building 125. A town with disco clothes and high-power microscopes. A town where a pet snail from a head of lettuce faces execution by government mandate. A town where going outside requires authorization. A town responsible for divorces. A town where corpses have reportedly been stored in the food freezer and where it is illegal to collect rocks.

This was America, I realized, all in a tight little bundle.

And there were no more flights out."

I remember thinking to myself, as I took in the chapters and paragraphs Big Dead Place with the kind of slow relish usually reserved for novels by J.M. Coetzee and Cormack McCarthy, that I would be sad when it ran out. And it's true. Now that I've finished the book, I feel as if I've finished running down the clock at work with a delightfully sarcastic friend who has a gift for creative self-expression and who shares my odd fascination with things most people never discover because it doesn't occur to them to look or them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fixing Up The EEMUR Lab Part 2

Old IBM systems in the EEMUR lab, in various states of assembly for
troubleshooting and cloning.

Being one of two or three ICT's who had experience cloning hard drives, setting jumper to designated drives and master/slave, cannibalizing parts from multiple machines, et cetera, I volunteered to take the lead in fixing up of the lab. For the next few hours, I floated from one computer to the next, tutoring others in the pulling apart of computers, pairing of drives with IDE cables, changing of boot orders, and execution of cloning software. After awhile the crowd thinned and I was left with a handful of others diligently prodding and sculpting machines into working order. Some of the stubborn systems just plain refused to come about. One kept rebooting in an endless loop another couple shocked my fingers when I tried to hold on to it while I pulled out the power cable. Still another had somehow lost its CPU.

This morning I had even fewer helpers and by two in the afternoon is was just me and the machines. Methodically, I sank into a rhythm, getting one computer working on some process before moving on to another. I researched errors on Google, and got into the real heavy troubleshooting, using things like the recovery console, the F8 boot options, running chkdsk and fixmbr. I got to dig around a bit in a tool we use called Hiren's Boot CD, an ample toolbox of computer maintenance, administrative, and troubleshooting software that will no doubt be indispensible. I became so engrossed in my work that I lost interest in food and sleep. It was exactly the experience I had been craving ever since my time in Guatemala.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fixing Up The EEMUR Lab Part 1

"Hay Charlie, nobody works today, today is a holy day, oyete," Criseida chides me. It's Good Friday, and I am perhaps the only person in El Seibo who is working. Since yesterday at noon the atmosphere in town has been changing. Families pile into their SUVs and go to the coast or to the river to swim and visit relatives. It's almost nine and I am eating the breakfast that Criseida has made me. "You have to rest," she goes on. She's bitter because she is up and cooking for me, a task I insist I can do perfectly well myself. Unfortunately for us both, as a man the culture here requires that I be doted upon by the women of my family. Criseida literally threw a fit when she learned she would stay home and care for me and Daisy who is still recovering from her surgery. Jesus and Libby are going to the beach and she is indignant.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we had two volunteers, Geoffrey and Adam, come to teach us how to take a room full of disused computer and turn it into a useful technology education lab. For our guinea pig, we had a lab at EEMUR, a vocational school near the liceo. The computers were donated by the Unión Dominicana de Escuelas de Formación de Alternancia (UDEFA) and bear the stickers of the NGO who had them before. Most have 256 MB or RAM or less and 40 GB hard drives. After Adam and Geoffrey demonstrated how to reformat a hard drive and install windows, we went on to clone a drive on which Geoffrey had installed a variety of educational and administrative software.

Friday, April 22, 2011


It is a little-known fact that South Korea is the first former recipient of foreign humanitarian aid to turn around and become a provider of aid to other countries. The country's version of Peace Corps is called KOICA and it happens to have a strong presence here in El Seibo with four volunteers serving in different government offices around town. One of them even lives in my host house. Her Spanish leaves much to be desired, though, which means I have had little opportunity to learn much about her work. So I was excited to learn a few days ago that she and her friends would be showing a movie at Centro Progressando, a kind of trade school funded by the First Lady's Office.

When I arrived at the movie, the KOICA volunteers were there along with one Dominican. They put on an informational video that featured Koreans all over the world accomplishing feats in a remarkable array of fields. A Korean doctor gave a latina woman an ultrasound. A Korean manufacturing engineer held some kind of technical workshop in and Indian factory. Koreans taught computer classes to adolescents in Afghanistan. Of note was the frequency with which host country nationals appeared in leadership roles implying an emphasis on skills transfer and self-sustainment. As we watched, about 25 Dominicans trickled in. Next came a very long, violent Korean action film. About twenty minutes in, all the Dominicans had to go to a class leaving behind me and several Peace Corps volunteers along with the KOICA volunteers.

As I watched, I pondered the foreignness of the Far East. There are whole cultures with customs and belief systems, rock stars and politicians, slang and fashion that I've never even begun to explore. We westerners aren't the only ones capable of blockbuster motion pictures and lives devoted to development work. There's a whole developed world out there, too.

Youths edit audio during a workshop led by me, Damian, and Claire

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taken By Surprise

Part of CBT involves each volunteer giving three technical presentations. A technical presentation is a presentation in Spanish that sythesizes the principles of teaching we've been learning in our technical sessions (visual/auditory/kinesthetic, learning/asimilation/facilitation, What's In It For Me, etc.) We gave our first technical presentations to our fellow trainees. Our second technical presentation we gave to our respective youths while our Spanish teachers and technical trainer observed. I learned last week that the third technical presentation does not occur during our final showcase of our practica as I had supposed.

It turns out we were accountable for the independent scheduling and execution of our third presentation in addition to the material we present during the showcase. This would be fine if I had had time to decide on a topic, plan a presentation, and schedule it. As with many things in the DR, though, it wasn't so easy. This week is Semana Santa which means that everything kind of shuts down for the week. I will not have access to the computer lab I would like to use and even if I did, many of my youths would be on vacation during the days that it is available. What this has meant for me is that I have had three days to schedule and plan a presenation. In the confusion that ensued, it just so happens that I planned it to coincide with a training session that a really don't want to miss.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Animal Rights

In my host house, the television is always tuned to a telenovela (soap opera) channel that fills the kitchen with violent arguments, men threatening women, men brandishing weapons a other men, women plotting against one another, weddings and funerals and masses interrupted by empassioned lovers and mortal enemies. The opening sequence for a particularly insipid telenovela set on an agave ranch in Mexico features a spectacular shot of a horse taking a fall from a full gallop, making a quarter-turn in the air and throwing its rider before landing hard on its side and slamming its head against the ground.

Having just watched this disturbing footage for about the seventh time. I turned to see that my host mom, Daisy had also taken it in. "I always feel sorry for the horse," I remarked. "You don't like horses?" Daisy responded, evidently deciding that I what just said couldn't possibly have been what I meant to say. "Well," I explained, "the man is just acting, but the horse isn't acting. It doesn't what is going on." For a moment Daisy was silent. Then she said, "Yes. The poor thing. He doesn't know how to act. Horse can't talk. Poor horses, they can't even think."

I don't think she got what I was trying to tell her.

Participating in an activity during one of our youth group activities

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Peace Corps Spanish Teachers Dismissed

In a sudden and unexpected turn of events, two of our Spanish teachers have had their employment terminated for a violation or violations of Peace Corps policy. Nobody knows any details. One of the teachers was with the ICT group in El Seibo. She was summoned to the capital and shortly thereafter, Ann, our technical trainer, was informed that she had lost her job. For the nine remaining Spanish class sessions the teacher's students will have a new teacher.

This year Entrena, a company founded long ago by a former Peace Corps volunteer to train volunteers, became the last private contracter to be assimilated into the Peace Corps. Entrena's employees, including some or all of the Spanish teachers became employees of Peace Corps, or were given contracts with Peace Corps directly rather than working through Entrena.

Peace Corps Dominican Republic's long-time country director is nearing the end of his tenure in that position. It is my understanding that he is currently on leave in the United States tending to a personal matter. I don't think he has officially transitioned out of the country director position, but from what I understand there is someone else acting as director in his absence. I am not aware as to whether or not this person will become country director when he is gone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Radio Hit Part 2

No sooner had we been shown the DJ booth and watched Canela read the news than I found myself seated in front of a microphone surrounded by youths answering question in Spanish, live on the air. Canela interviewed me, Damian, and Claire about our radio practicum, our time in El Seibo, and our lives abroad, interjecting with banter about music and politics and commentary to entertain our youths. He even had everyone singing along to a couple of choice Bachata songs. Next he gave them an opportunity to share the spotlight, interviewing a few and answering some of the questions produced earlier at the liceo.

Live on the air at Radio El Seibo

Slowly the group began to dwindle as some the more far-flung participants saw the need to get going so as to be home before too late. After an hour, those who hadn't already trickled out watched in awe as four or five elementary-school-aged children took over, queuing up tracks and introducing one another. They were like a well-oiled machine with their polished radio personas and grown-up charm. It was like something out of a strange dream. I don't think any of them could have been over twelve. After watching speechless for awhile, I began to feel as if I had better leave them to their business. Out on the street, we mused at our incredible luck while we waited for Ann to take us home.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Radio Hit Part 1

After our flop Saturday, my practicum team was determined not to let it happen again. We had Canela, a local radio DJ who teaches at the liceo (high school) announce our group to his students. We heard about a TV group and had him mention it to them. The day of our next youth meeting, we went from classroom to the next telling students. We offer candy and treats. We enticed them with a visit to the actual radio station. Nevertheless, it came as a shock when, at a quarter past four on Thursday, the library began to fill with students who had come to participate.

Recording material for our radio program

My groupmate Jason had his second technical presentation that day and by the time we had finished our opening dinámica (fun activity to lively things up) of the prop game from Whose Line his audience was huge. There must have been at least 30 youths. In addition, Ann and three of our Spanish teachers were in attendance. Jason presented on interview techniques and gave pointers on how to present well on the radio. While Claire led a question-writing activity and Damian signed up the youths for our Facebook group, I got pulled out into the hall for my second placement interview. Then half of the group joined Garret, Damian and me in Ann's pickup and we trucked down to Radio El Seibo to wait while Ann fetched the rest of us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

CBT Marches On

My practicum group got thrown a curve yesterday. After two rather successful youth meetings, we crashed and burned pretty hard in our third. To begin with, we had only one youth show up. Next, we were stood up by the radio DJ, Canela, who promised us his time. Finally, we just plain conducted the meeting in a sloppy manner. I sure hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

La Negrita cream of wheat

We’ve reached the end of week five which represents the midpoint of our ten weeks of Peace Corps training. Of the 35 training days in El Seibo, 17 have already gone by meaning CBT is also about halfway through. If you had told me five weeks ago about all the things I’ve done since, I wouldn’t have understood. It’s hard to imagine the position I’ll be in once I’ve finished training and have my placement. Right now I feel something akin to what I felt in college during the second or third term of my senior year.

Criseida makes Pasteles de Hoja

In other news, my host mom had surgery a few days ago and has since come home. In the days that have followed she has received a steady stream of visitors such that, at any given time, there are between four and eight people standing or sitting in the small bedroom where she watches TV and visits, an IV bag hanging from a nail on the wall, supplying her with fluids. All the same she insist on drilling me on whether or not I’m hungry and what exactly Felicia has most recently made me to eat.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Youth Practicum

Between Spanish class and training sessions on topics like Classroom Management and Computer Hardware 101, we have been charged with assembling a youth group and leading them in producing some sort of finished product using ICT (information and communication technology). This comprises what is called our Youth Practicum. On my part, I have joined with six other trainees to lead some youths in making a radio show.

So far we have met twice with our youths. They've decided that for their show, they want to do interviews on topics of interest to their peers, tell jokes, and interveiw Miss El Seibo, the winner of last year's annual pageant held during patronales (festival honoring the town's patron saint). We have two weeks left to complete the practicum, but that's hardly any time at all when you consider that we meet only twice a week and must meanwhile do two presentations.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Miches Part 3

Demonstrating proper form when posing on a fourwheeler

After a few trips down the beach on the fourwheeler and a few dips in the ocean, we played in the sand and took pictures. Then, at dusk we packed up our things and hit the road. When we reached the main drag in Miches we turned in the opposite direction from home. When I consulted Bobby, it explained that we were going to a nearby town for some cheese. By about halfway there, I was tired of the bumpy road and really indifferent to the experience of getting cheese, but also mildly amused at how parallel it paralleled the tradition of visiting the cheese factory in Tillamook.

Gracia, Julieta, Yonathan, Libby, Criseida, Vivi

The cheese turned out to consist of balls the size of tennis balls that had the texture of fresh mozarella and tasted of raw milk and, strangely, straw. For the next two hours I was miserable and tired, shivering in the back of the truck as it tossed me up and down all the way to El Seibo.
I emerge from a sandy grave

On the outskirts of town we passed a check point where some kind of officer in uniform who asked to see the permit for the pistol it turns out Jesus had brought on the trip. Although he was able to provide it, he did so in such a manner that the officer became unpleasant, looking for a reason to hold us up longer. The result was that we were made to go to the police station with an official escort. At that point I knew my way home, so I walked. I later heard from Jesus that he had loitered inside the police station until the escort was gone and the simply drove away.

Time to go home

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Miches Part 2

Miches Beach

As we reached the outskirts of Miches, the landscape assumed a character I recognized from rural communities in Intibucá, Honduras and Guatemala's Altiplano. Small homesteads held sway against the eroding slopes at either side of the road, abruptly giving way to cinderblock structures and storm drains where the road descended into town.
Jodiendo with the doomed kite: Muchacho, Jesus, Adonis, Bobby, Yonathan

Moments later we found ourselves at a beach with late afternoon sunshine casting long shadows and a gentle breeze stirring the leaves of palms. The beach was situated at one end of long, lazy bay whose other extreme could be seen on the horizon at one's one o'clock when facing perpendicular to the coastline. Two or three other parties idled in the shade or tossed about in the gentle sea.

Bobby explains to me some finer point of tigueraje to me while Angel plays in the surf.

 After watching the lowering of the fourwheeler and the stranding of a kite in a tree, I could wait no longer. The hopped in the water. After more than a month spent sticky with sweat, my constitution vaguely fogged over with the constant warmth of the Caribbean, words cannot not describe my refreshmentment. It was as if I had been holding my breath for a long time and cold finally exhale.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Miches Part 1

Let's go to the beach!

During my first week in El Seibo, I was told by my host family that on Sunday they would take me to the beach. Something you need to understand, though, is that they meant they would take me to the coast si dios quiere (if God wants). Whenever someone here mentions that they intend to do something, what they are really mean to express as a desire to do said thing. Whether or not the desire is sincere, it is goes without that any divine intervention is not out of the question.

Bobby approves of the scenery

You can understand my lack of surprise, then, on the Sunday after I arrived, when the beach plan suddenly and mysteriously dissolved. By the same token, on the following Sunday I was taken off guard when Libby's wife, Jesus appeared in front of my host house in his Mitsubishi cargo truck, complete with a forwiler lashed to the bed and a crew that included Libby, friends Vivi, Bobby, and Criseida, and a couple of muchachos (young guys) from around the way. Along with Julietta, her friend and fellow KOICA volunteer, Gracia, and host nephews Adonis and Yonathan, I hopped in the bed.

Look! It's a view!

Moments later we were at a gas station filling up, when Jesus hopped across the street into a local colmado (convenient store) and emerged with about ten liters of cheap beer. What followed was a unruly hour-and-a-half episode involving much spilling of beer and hollering. I clung to the fourwheeler and struggled to maintain my balance as we sped along the bumpy, winding road to Miches and my fellow passengers board cup after cup of Brahma Light and tried to engage me in sexist banter.

Angel, Julietta, Me, Adonis

One of the muchachos, named Angel, seemed intent on the tiresome routine of tricking the gringo into agreeing with some outrageous statement on account of not knowing the local slang. Equally obnoxious was the other muchacho's insistence on barking token English at me (wayornaim? omaiga! Ulai tu wakin?) as if he thought the mere sound of his unintelligible English was an irresistable delight to an American such as I. However, as we drove out of the morning's sprinkling rain and crested the coastal mountains a view opened up that told me this trip was going to be worth the hassle.

It was like something out of a dream

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Nightmare Part 3

On Monday we present our mini-diagnostics. It will be one of only a few times when I've presented in Spanish and I've had scarcely four days to prepare. It's been only about 36 hours since I decided to Let Go Or Be Dragged. I began my reserach in a state of indecision and intimidation which I allowed to impede my progress. When my original presentation topic proved impractical, I tried to force it. Had this been college, I would have asked for an extension, but we only have five weeks for CBT and every day is carefully planned to take advantage of that time. Meanwhile, my youth group practicum, a four-week group project, was beginning in earnest.

Trash-strewn lots like this are a common sight in the DR. The sign reads,
"No Dumping, Please."

I could well have panicked had I not taken a step back and looked at how I could learn from this experience. Even to reach this stage of the assignment I was operating on a level far beyond any development work I've done in the past. I was conducting interviews with host country nationals and practicing speaches in Spanish. For the first time in my life, the time constraint was an asset instead of a barrier. And it was because I had decided to let go of my attachment to my original idea and let the process guide me. I imagine this lesson will be of vital importance when I am at last in my 2-year community. Indeed, it may be useful even beyond my time in the Peace Corps.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Nightmare Part 2

At 1:30 am I walked out onto Daisy and Ronaldo's front patio. From there the sounds of El Seibo's strip of clubs could be heard blasting house and dembow into the night. On Friday nights, these establishments become a sort of city commons, flooding the sidewalks and islands of space created by cars parked on the Avenida, El Seibo's main drag. People even mill about in the median strip, sipping their beers and taking in the scene.

El Seibo's deserted post office

I was about to go inside when I was struck with a realization. I was staring up at the stars when it dawned on me that it was the first time I'd seem them since I arrived at the beginning of much. In Santo Domingo, the night sky had been rendered a nondescript mat of black by ambient light. In the week since I arrived at CBT, I have been too caught up in training to notice.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Nightmare Part 1

I awoke at one in the morning from a recurring nightmare. In the nightmare, I am enrolled in college. I have signed up for only two classes, the main purpose being to remain a student and thus retain the benefits of campus life. However, I am several weeks into the term and I have yet to attend a single lecture. This is a dire situation and, try as I might, instead of making the most of the time I have left, I only panic more as I try to invent a way out. The stress mounts until stirs me awake.

US Marines Corps footsteps burn holes in the Dominican flag: I found
this gym in the "library" where we receive training.

Taking some deep breaths, I relax and remember that I have once again believed this dream and the pressure is once again off. I haven't slept well since my second night in the country. This is partly on account of bad dreams. At night I am stabbed, kidnapped, broken up with, disowned. Even on nights that I don't wake up in a sweat having endured some awful ordeal, I am awakened by some mysterious force at three or four in morning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I've decided to write down some of the peculiarities I've discovered here in the DR in order to capture them before I forget that they ever struck me as peculiar.

Me with host sisters Lorena, Libby, and a neighbor girl

Okay - The proper response to "gracias" (thank you) is not "de nada" (it was nothing) as is the case in every other Spanish-speaking place I've visited. In fact, in the month that I've been here, I've only heard this once. Instead, everyone responds "okay". I'm not sure if this means I'm not welcome. I kind of think people aren't accustomed to being thanked for things.

Dancing salsa with neighbor Karina. Note the look of boredom on her face.
She later told me need practice.

Chin - Dominicans have a word for a small amount of something. The word is "chin" (pronounced "cheen"). I suppose this translates pretty well to "bit", but for some reason I still giggle a little inside every time I hear it. Can't quite say why.

Host sister Marilu dances with a friend

Everybody is expected to know everything - In Dominican culture, it seems it is considered poor form to have any gap in their possession of the sum-total of human knowledge. As a result, I have yet to hear anybody use the words "no sé" (I don't know). Instead, they either give some vague answer that makes it clear they don't know or they just make something up.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Community-Based Training Continues

The days continue to roll by in El Seibo as I partake of CBT and settle in. It seems my host family is bent on killing me by over-feeding me and dancing me to death. On Sunday they had over some neighbors and friends, bought liter after liter of beer, and took turns thrusting me at various partners to dance bachata, salsa, and merengue. Above all they loved to watch Felicia dance with me and collapse in laughter after getting fresh with me to the tune of humping me or grabbing my butt. (I should note that Felicia is in her 40's and not in the least viewing me as prospect.)

ICT technical trainer Ann Smyntek leads a training session in the disused
library at Liceo Sergio Augusto Beras, El Seibo's only public high school

With each progressive beer the hilarity grew along with Felicia's agressiveness until it culminated in a sandwich of me, Felicia and Daisy grinding to house music. I'm pretty sure Felicia had a minor heart attack. She smokes and has high blood presser and by the end of the night she was complaining of pain in her arm. I didn't see her for the next three days during which everyone joked that I had killed her.

Felicia and Ronaldo shake their booties

Monday, April 4, 2011

El Seibo

El Toro del Seibo statue at the town's prinicipal intersection

On Thursday the time arrived at last to say goodbye to the capital and to two-thirds of the trainees as we went our separate ways to our various sites for Community-Based Training (CBT). My group, the ICT volunteers relocated to El Seibo, a charming little town that dates back to colonial times and was home to the mother of Duarte, father of the country's independence from Haiti in 1844.

Piracy is widespread an accepted. This guy made me buy something before I could
take his picture.

Our first morning in town we were given the task of finding and taking photos of as many things as we could from a list of 30 things. Examples included an entire family on a motorcycle and someone carrying things on his/her head. While I was hesitant at first, I found I rather enjoyed the scavenger hunt and that it was a good excuse to cruise around town for a bit and get the lay of the land.

Downtown El Seibo

My host family here is quite different from in the Capital. My host father runs a trucking syndicate and is actually a consistent presence in the home. He and Doña Daisy (my host mother) have three daughters, aged 22 to 26, and a grown son who is a doctor. The older two daughters have houses elsewhere in town. One of them has a baby of perhaps two or three months. The youngest daughter attends college in Santo Domingo and returns home to work during the weekends.

This truck drives around all day blaring advertisements from its enormous PA.

I spend most of my time with Daisy and her fun-loving maid Felicia learning about Dominican culture and making them laugh at my peculiar American responses to their questions and comments. In addition, they have another boarder, a development worker with KOICA, the Korean foreign aid agency. She is interesting, but speaks very limited Spanish and only sometime understands better when I repeat myself in English. Thankfully, there are no ear-splitting shouts of toddlers or children imploring me to join them to watch WWF and Kids' Network.

Wow is El Seibo's premier disco

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shame, Blame, and Rape

The stars shone brightly over Copan Ruinas the summer night, in 2001, when we watched our colleague pee his pants. We'll call him Sam. I don't remember his name, but I do remember he was one of the first to tear the sleaves from his Amigos de las Americas shirt to show off his shoulders and impress his friends. Last week, as I sat with my peers in the training center, I remembered the strange mixture of confusion and embarassment I felt that night so many years ago.

We were assembled after lunch Tuesday for what was to be a difficult portion of our safety training. The topic was rape. Peace Corps had produced a video with interviews of three female RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) who were victims of rape during their time in the Peace Corps. As the women on the screen emotionally recounted their respective ordeals, I glanced around with mounting discomfort, trying to determine what response was expected of me. Moments later my suspicion was confirmed that sincerity was out of the question.

The video was stopped to give the volunteers a chance for discussion. I'll never know what impulse prevailed in the next excruciating half hour. To say that emotions ran high would be an understatement. On my own part, the response was physical. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and hear ringing in my ears. It wasn't long before we were talking over one another, some voicing contempt, others making appeals, still others desperately seeking the middle ground. One person got up and walked out in protest. Another did likewise, then another.

Now that my fog of consternation has finally cleared and I am able to reason, I am left with an overwhelming sense of disappointment at two things. Firstly, I am disappointed to find that I submitted to an atmosphere where many people spoke, but nobody could be heard. Rather than ask questions I resorted to defensiveness and platitudes. Secondly, I am disappointed that I had was concerned with winning.

The night Sam peed for us, while I had the comfort of distancing myself, my feelings were similar. We were gathered for the culmination of eight weeks of volunteer service in rural Honduras, once again enjoying hot showers and fresh fruit. The urination was intended as the physical punchline to a comedy sketch he was performing. Some reacted in outrage. Others didn't care. In the end he was shamed in front of everyone and made to clean up, retreating to his room for the remainder of the trip. All that seemed to matter in the end was which side you were on.

Unlike in the episode in Honduras, last week there was no decisive closure. No Sam was made to answer for the discomfort we all felt; for trying to share something that some of us didn't want and wouldn't take. We all still have to live with rape. As a man, I can't understand what an American woman faces in a country like the Dominican Republic where men hiss at you from street corners and you are constantly reminded that you are different and thus a potential target of sexual violence. I can only do my best to be supportive and patient with my fellow volunteers.