After spending June and July in pre-service training on St. Lucia, I arrived in Dominica on August 1. We had our last weeks of pre-service training here, and then we were to be officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers on Friday, August 28. I decided that my hair (and beard) needed a trim prior to this formal occasion, so I stopped into the only barbershop in my village on Wednesday evening, August 26. I wanted to look my best on this momentous occasion. Little did I know that Dominica's world would be forever changed after that evening in the barbershop.
Unfortunately, it started raining that night, and continued raining. Tropical Storm Erika dropped about ten inches in ten hours on our island, causing floods, landslides, etc. I've previously written about the aftermath of this disaster. Dominica is still trying to recover from this devastating storm.
Needless to say, the official ceremony for the Dominica Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to take our oath of office was postponed. In September, the Peace Corps sent a four-wheel drive to pick us up and a staff member conducted a quick swearing-in so that we could be considered official (described in this story), but the intention was always to reschedule a formal ceremony. This tradition is a “rite of passage” that all PCVs around the world go through.
For various reasons, there were difficulties coordinating a new date for our ceremony with the American ambassador (there is no embassy on Dominica—there is an ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean with the embassy located on Barbados to serve several small island countries in this region). The new date was finally set for Wednesday, January 20, 2016.
I decided I needed to go back to our village barbershop on Tuesday night to get trimmed up again. This time, I decided to try something different and so I let him trim the sides of my beard down to give it a more sculpted look (similar to Kenny Rogers in his prime). I'm still trying to decide if I like this new look, but my students and some of the villagers I spoke with seem to like it. We'll see if it lasts.
So on Wednesday, I went to the capital for this long-awaited swearing-in ceremony. It was held in an auditorium at the University of the West Indies building. Although the ambassador could not be there, there were a couple of State Department officials who came, as well as a couple members of the Dominican parliament. After brief remarks by the dignitaries, we took our oath.
We recited the following pledge:
I, David Kurtz, promise to serve alongside the people of Dominica.I was asked to give the closing “thank you” on behalf of our class. The local press covered the event and below is a photograph taken as I gave my remarks (see the news story and more pictures here). It gives you an idea of my new look—feel free to let me know what you think. It certainly is a lot different than the Santa Claus look I was sporting this time last month!
I promise to share my culture with an open heart and open mind.
I promise to foster an understanding of the people of Dominica with creativity, cultural sensitivity, and respect.
I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility, and determination.
I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve and beyond.
In the proud tradition of Peace Corps legacy, and in the spirit of the Peace Corps family past, present, and future—I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.