That night, and for the next two or three nights, we stayed at a hotel in town. It was going to be our last experience with air conditioning, so I made sure to enjoy it. I was paired up with a friendly trainee who had been buying me shots in Miami. For the first night, all anyone did was sleep. We had been traveling all day and arrived in the country late at night and we were tired. The next day began our training in earnest, however. We met in a conference room just down the hall from our rooms -- gratefully, this was also air-conditioned -- and we were given several sessions in what to expect during the next few weeks, what shape our training would take, who the various trainers were, etc. We were firmly told not to drink the tap water from the hotel; but honestly I don't think any of us were about to sip from that light brown flow.
At lunchtime we gathered in a large room in the bottom floor and sat around a very large table. The United States Ambassador was there, along with a couple other official attachments to the U.S., and we were given a hearty welcome on the part of our CD. He read from two aspiration statements to give the Ambassador an idea of what we were all about, and one of them was mine, from which he pulled a rather lengthy paragraph regarding my take on positive thinking and approaching another culture by looking not for what is missing, but what it has to offer. Later I was given kudos from the other trainees for my eloquence.
Immediately following lunch, the trainers put us in a couple vans and took us on a whirlwind tour of Georgetown so that we might see some of its more famous landmarks: the 1763 monument, the Indian monument, the Place of the Seven Ponds, the final resting place of Forbes Burnham, among others. Mostly it was amazing to finally see Georgetown in the daylight (we had come in too late to see much of it other than what could be seen alongside the road). It was crowded, active, exciting. We passed markets, street vendors, weaved through intersections choked with buses and cars, saw buildings ranging from tumbledown wooden structures housing rum shops, to very tall concrete office buildings, to the grand and venerable wooden Dutch buildings like City Hall. It was an explosion of color and vibrance and energy, a maelstrom of poverty alongside wealth. Through gaps in the city blocks we could see glimpses of the ocean and the Demarara river, both such a chocolate-brown that it was impossible to see where one ended and the other began.
The tour ended at the Peace Corps office, a four-story building along a less-populated stretch of Georgetown near the sea. It is heavily gated due to an increase in security after 9/11. We rolled up and climbed out of our vans, filing into the foyer of the office and smiling at the cool air. We stretched out on the wicker furniture in the volunteer lounge where we awaited our afternoon's main event: our first round of immunization shots. One by one we were led into the PCMO's office for innoculations. I already had quite a few of them, but nevertheless she had to give me Yellow Fever and Rabies. Getting through everyone's shots took several hours, and so we finally returned to the hotel, moaning about our sore arms, after dark. We sozialized until we couldn't bear to be awake any longer, then called it a night.
Day two ended our tenure at the hotel. This was the day when we were introduced to our homestays. The trainers began the day with some information on what to expect, and some quick culture lessons in "Dos and Don'ts" for the homestay. Some cultural classes followed, and then after lunch we were directed to head to our rooms and pack our things. Fortunately I had done so, with much effort, the evening before, so I simply enjoyed some music until it was time to deliver our enormous mound of baggage to the front of the hotel. Representatives of our homestays began to arrive shortly after, and we all formed a great party in the patio out back to mingle and get acquainted. After a short exercise in propriety and expectations, we met our hosts and everyone was bused from the hotel to one of the two communities where we would be spending the next few weeks.
Up next: the Homestay experience