Peace Corps Week Phone Call
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer David Smith Talks With Topeka Collegiate School
Topeka Collegiate School in Topeka, Kansas speaks with David Smith, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who once served in the Dominican Republic.
- Ron Tschetter
- Hi. I'm Ron Tschetter, director of the Peace Corps. For more than 45 years, the Peace Corps has helped communities around the world. Volunteer Voices is a collection of audio stories from just a few of the more than 182, 000 volunteers who have served since 1961. For more information on the Peace Corps, go to peacecorps.gov.
- Once a year, a few U.S. classrooms get to talk with a Peace Corps Volunteer by telephone because they've been communicating throughout the year with a volunteer in the field. We've recorded some of those conversations. Today, Topeka Collegiate School in Topeka, Kansas speaks with David Smith, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who once served in the Dominican Republic.
- My name is David Smith. I was a volunteer there from 2000 until 2002. I stayed on for a couple more years as well as a Peace Corps trainer. I lived in the southwest of the Dominican Republic. You know, when most people think of the Dominican Republic, they think of sort of like tropical island nation—palm trees, very lush. Where I lived in the southwest, it wasn't that way at all. It actually looked a lot like maybe New Mexico, where there are a lot of cactuses, very dry, very arid, not very much rainfall at all. I lived in a small village of about 2,000 people. Their main production was tomatoes and plantains, which are sort of like large, starchy bananas, as well as tobacco, was one of their big exports as well.
- What's like the typical meal they eat there?
- Oh, what do they eat? They have this thing which is called la bandera dominicana, which is basically the ?Dominican flag, ? and it's kind of the typical meal. And it's rice and beans, usually like brown beans, and then sort of like sautéed chicken. It's kind of sautéed, but with a lot of juice. The way in which they cook the rice—they cook it, and they let the bottom part of the rice almost burn, so it gets like really kind of hard, and they call that concon, and they serve that as sort of a side dish. It's actually really good. It's something that I miss right now. I wish were having lunch now. I could have a side of concon because—it may not sound very appealing, but it's actually very tasty—it almost is like popcorn rice.
- Did you have to have any language training? One of the things that we've heard from several of our Peace Corps Volunteers is that they had to go through a fairly extensive course in language of the area they were going oftentimes in order to serve the population there, so did you have any of that?
- I did. When I got into country, we had a three-month technical and language training. The language that I learned was Spanish, which is spoken pretty much throughout all of the Dominican Republic. It's its official language. There is a large Haitian population in the Dominican Republic, and they speak Haitian Creole. So, some parts of the country, people speak that as well.
- What was your most memorable experience while you were there?
- Well, one of my most valued experiences was spending time with the people in my village. You know, at times I would spend sort of weeks on end without leaving the village to go into like the larger cities or into the capital city. Interacting with people there, their generosity was incredible, especially for people in the village that I lived, were very poor. They had very, very sporadic electricity, they would probably have blackouts for up to 18 hours in a day, so really only having just a couple of hours of electricity. The average income in the community would probably be around 40 dollars a month, and they would have to sustain their families. But, you know, with these things, I think from our perspective in the United States we would see as really limited, people just had an incredible outgrowth of generosity in what they did have and what they would offer. I'd say that's one of the things that's—perhaps maybe not an experience—but certainly one of the aspects of the Dominican Republic that I remember most.
- Yeah, it's interesting because I think that's almost been one of the themes that a lot of volunteers have mentioned, is regardless of the material goods or, you know, the lack thereof—that there was a spirit among the people, you know, a sense of community and sort of unity that was pervasive, and I think the kids have found that really beneficial to hear—that it's not the stuff that defines you, but it's who you are without your stuff that really counts.
- Yeah, it's interesting because I think that's almost been one of the themes that a lot of volunteers
- That's right, that's right. And it's also mutually beneficial in a way that if you don't have a lot of stuff, you certainly want to sort of pool your stuff together and share as much as possible. I know that one of the things that struck me as really odd when I got there was one of my friends had a bumper crop of tobacco, and so he came into, you know, a substantial amount of money, you know, a couple thousand dollars. I would probably say certainly within a week or two he had gone through all of it, and mostly lending it out to other people—you know people coming by and sort of asking for it, asking for hand outs and so on and so forth. And, you know, I asked him about that; you know, I asked why he didn't sort of save his money, maybe put it in the bank, or try to invest in something as opposed to giving it to some people who maybe weren't going to pay him back. And I remember him telling me that a lot of it was because if he didn't share what he had right now, when it came time for him to ask for things because he didn't have a good crop or he didn't have access to those types of resources that he would be shut out—and people would remember when he had all of that money he didn't share it. In addition to being very sort of gregarious, there's also a very pragmatic element to it as well, a very practical element, which is that when times are tough, unity is very important.
- Thanks for listening. Are you in a classroom? Do you want stories written just for your class? Enroll in the Correspondence Match program through Coverdell World Wise Schools. We can connect your class with a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in any region of the world. For enrollment and program information, visit us online at www.peacecorps.gov/wws/correspond.