Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Training: AmeriCorps, chapter 4

After that most intense first week, there was another four or five weeks that the entire corps spent on campus, training and getting ready for the year.

There was driving training, saw and tool training, firefighter training, Red Cross training, a diversity workshop, a conflict management workshop, a health (sex ed) workshop ("There is no shame in your humanness!"), service learning, day projects, PT (physical training), all corps meetings, unit meetings, team meetings, military physicals, weekend trips, project meetings, project packing, it went on and on.

It was a crazy time, but fun, too. I felt like I met someone new at least several times a week: people in the next house, people on other teams, people on the other unit, other team leaders. Young, (mostly) enthusiastic people everywhere. It was radically different than any other part of the year, because only after fourth round finished was the entire campus together again for more than a day or two.

There were regular trips to the Rendez-Vous and regular hangouts in neighbors' or teammates' houses. Not a ton of time to really bond with the team, because you were always just overwhelmed with people all the time.

Let's see. I know that one of the first things we did was a day project. Most of my team and most of Fire 3 went to Delaware, to the Brandywine River. (We spent the last half of the ride making "Hi...we're in Delaware" jokes, like the lameasses we were.) There was an old mill/factory that we worked at, preparing a giant truck bed to carry a Civil War-era cannon. There were piles of old lumber that we picked up, moved, and removed nails and other things from. Then we brought it outside and stacked it on the truck bed. It sounds simple and easy and sort of silly, but it was exhilarating, hard work. We all used hammers, crowbars, levers, and hauled around twelve-foot planks. We had a fabulous time getting dirty and bonding with each other.

It was our first exposure to posturing men that dominate manual labor tasks, who talk down to girls and assume we can't do anything. (We had some very strong girls on our team, for one, and two, ALL of our team was motivated and driven to do the best we could. So fuck off, condescending chauvinists.) Again, it was only the first; there would be many that year. Lots of sexist people still about.

Another exciting time was the military physicals. (I can't remember the catchy acronym for some reason, but they were called something, maybe MPs? No, that's military police. I don't know anymore, I'm old and losing my memory.) The entire Fire Unit (90 people) got up at 6 or something, and drove to Baltimore, or was it Washington? and crowded into this building. We were all nervous about the pee test for some reason. Everyone was drinking water so we would be ready to go. However, like all things government and especially AmeriCorps, it was a day of sitting around and waiting. So some of those water-guzzlers really had to pee, even though it was nowhere near pee test time.

We sat in the front area/waiting room. Some of us had pillows or books to kill time. We had to fill out some forms, I think. They called groups of people, separated by boys and girls, and sent them into lines. There was a pee test line. Then you got into another waiting room and waited there, then went into another line in the bathroom. FYI, the pee test requires an open stall door. No sneaking! People were nervous and then some of those water-guzzlers had to dance around and go before it was their time, because they were so desperate. Others couldn't 'perform' under pressure and had to go back and wait in line again.

There was also a line for the hearing test, where five or six people went into a special room and sat in booths with giant headphones. They did the same kind of hearing test that we all had in elementary school. I always second-guess myself with those; very quickly I can't tell if the tones and beeps are in the headphones or just reverberating around my head.

Another line for vision checks. We looked at computer screens that had those big circles of multi-colored dots, and you had to tell the attendant what you saw in the dots. (Color blind people, like our Sethie, would not be able to differentiate.)

Then, I think it was last, we had a physical examination. Ten or so girls got into yet another waiting room, and put on those fun open examination blouses. We waited in a long line to see one of the two doctors. When we got in the exam room, we lay down, the old man doctor palpated us (felt us up) for a few seconds and then let us go. Apparently the boys had a harder time, having to do some kind of chicken walk, or hop around on one foot, or some such nonsense.

A lot of Red Cross training was spent trying to stay awake. The information was a little confusing and overwhelming, so it was hard to take it. They were trying to explain the finer points of damage assessment, and we were all, "So...how do we get to the disaster?"

Let's see. Our team leader and Fire 3's team leader put together an activity to tell us where our first round was. First we all joined hands and closed eyes, and they led us around to a 'mystery location' that ended up being the TV house on 3rd street. Then we split into small groups and got puzzles that fit together to make key words. End result: local round doing education in Baltimore.

For the first night, I was really bummed. Supremely disappointed. I was so excited to get 'out there' and have an adventure...somewhere. Staying at the Point, commuting to Baltimore? LAME!

But soon enough, I got excited. Education was the one type of project that I figured I might know something about ahead of time (as opposed to projects like Habitat or other manual labor). We would still get to live in our spacious, funky houses but without so many other people in them. In fact, I would have my house to myself that whole round. (More on that later.) We would have nearly free reign of the computers, since only three other teams would be on campus that round. We would still get to go to the regular grocery store on our own.

Next chapter: the real work begins!

1 comment:

eyeanna said...

I'm not sure if anyone schools you know what happens at inner city schools. They (students and teachers alike) are used to young, french hair braided, "We're here to help" 20 somethings come in and try to hide their dismay that 17 year old teens can't divide, spell, nor have a clue who Bill Nye the Science guy is. Our problems are systemic and much bigger than them. When such visitors come around, it looks and feels a lot like the great white hope has arrived, emphasizing what the have and have not's do with their youth. It takes years of dedication and heart, as I have found out that to make a difference around these parts. So, if we are a little hostile to their arrival it's because we see this shit all the time and learned that they are here in between their natural disaster tours. It's insulting and undermining actually.