What is a Peace Corps Volunteer?

 

Terry Campbell (Tanzania 1985–87, Dominican Republic 1989–92;
Crisis Corps: El Salvador 2001–02, Hurricane Rita 2005)

Peace Corps Volunteers get into various activities during their two years, which brings to mind something several of us were involved with in 1990 while serving in the Dominican Republic. Word had come down at the office that they were going to be filming a major motion picture in Santo Domingo, and they needed Americans to appear as extras. And they would even be paying a small amount of money for each day of work. The Country Director put out a letter saying that any Volunteer who wished to could participate, as long as he or she used this extra money for his or her individual project. The movie, called Havana, was about a chance encounter between a middle-aged, self-redford-1990absorbed gambler played by Robert Redford and a young, passionate revolutionary played by olin-lena-1990Lena Olin, basically a story of love and war set around the time of the Castro takeover in 1959. So several of us went down and tried out. Most people were cast as wealthy American tourists to appear in the casino scenes, but for some reason they cast me as a waiter, and I was given what I would call the standard orange food service industry costume. Making movies isn’t all that glamorous if you’re an extra, most of the time we sat under a large tent, sweating and waiting to get called. One day, a member of the crew came down in a haste and said that he needed a waiter, and I was immediately taken to where they were shooting. I was told this was a very important scene, the first meeting of the two stars, in a bar and I was to bring them drinks. That’s all I had to do, come in, set the drinks down and leave. We rehearsed the scene several times, but there were problems, for one thing Mister Redford had problems focusing. For example, one time he looked up at me and for some reason said, “Hey amigo, how’s it going?” “Huh?” “Cut!!!” Another time, my hands were so sweaty that the glass started to slip through my fingers, I quickly brought it to the table with a bang. “Cut!!!” After about an hour, the director, Sydney Pollack, called for a ten minute break. Most of the people went to an air conditioned trailer, but I was told to “stand here and don’t move.” So I did. A few minutes went by and then I saw Miss Olin come out and take a seat in one of the director’s chairs. Suddenly it dawned on me, I’m standing ten feet away from a famous movie star, I could . . . but no, I had been told specifically to just stand there and wait. After a moment, one of the assistant directors came over and tried making small talk with her, which prompted her to pull out a cigarette. He fumbled through his pockets, but could not produce a lighter, at which point I stepped in, and with perfect aplomb, flicked mine and the cigarette was lit. He looked at me angrily and said, “I’ll get you for this,” and I said, “Hey, that’s my job, I’m a waiter.” Now this may seem like just a frivolous anecdote, but it occurred to me later, that’s what a Peace Corps Volunteer is, quiet, unassuming, yet always there to do the little things nobody else seems capable of doing.

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