As of yesterday, February 16, 2012, we are officially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. No one is ever a "former" PCV, just returned. This is because your Peace Corps experience never leaves you, and even on the strongest of us has left an indelible mark on the way you interact with the world.
It has been a hard two months for us. When we left Honduras, we had every intention of returning to our home, our friends, and our family there. Now we are still struggling to re-integrate to society here. The cost is mindblowing. What we can spend in a single night just socializing is incredible. Looking for a place to live--not knowing if we really want to find one--those things keep me awake at night. I was extremely lucky to be able to go back to my old job at fibre space. Danielle seems prone to taking in wayward strays, such as I. And people there have given me time and space to deal with separation from Honduras. They have even offered me their cats to cuddle :).
We were very excited to be visited in Washington DC by a number of other volunteers from Honduras. Since we were rather outspoken about pushing for the S&S review of the country, I was rather concerned that other vols wouldn't speak to us--though we've been hanging out with the other Honduras Med-Evacs since they got here. Unfortunately, it wasn't the reunion I hoped it would be (Peace Corps style party in someone's house), because everyone else had just gotten back and wanted to blow a bunch of money on US luxury. We, having been here for a month and a half already, could not really do that on our budget. Still, it was nice to spend time around some people who really understood kind what we were going through. More volunteers will be here soon, too, for a big jobs conference that happens at the end of the month.
We are still waiting for our things to come home. Apparently Peace Corps went to our house and packed up, but has not yet (two weeks later) sent us the inventory, which means that they have not shipped our things. Anyone who tells you its "only a month" is probably fooling themselves. We expected this, however, it is making things difficult. We have been living on only a backpack worth of clothes for two months now and I need more for work (and more that don't look like Peace Corps clothes). Our country staff is also pushing us really hard to finish our DOS (Descriptions of Service), but I've told them quite clearly that I need my records and notebooks to finish the document. DOS is what you get at the end of your service that lays out your accomplishments, your work, language level, and qualifications for non-competitive-eligibility. This is also a hang-up on the job applications, because I need it to apply for federal jobs. I don't care all that much about my "stuff", but I do want my record of Peace Corps to be as complete as possible, since I intend to pursue a public sector career.
So, those are some of the challenges of being back. Uncertainty being chiefest among them.
13 January 2012
Dear Honduras, You will always have a piece of my heart. Un pedazote. Love, Your adopted daughter, Sam
When you join/apply for Peace Corps, you expect your life to be unpredictable in very predictable ways:
You expect to have your sense of culturally appropriate behaviour challenged.
You expect your American-ness to color your interactions with everyone you work with
You expect that you will be in limbo for an unlimited amount of time until you get your invitation (PC never tells you that while you make a 27 month commitment to them, they do not reciprocate that. We have 30 days to start a new life, and that is considered generous).
You expect to eat weird shit and get really sick.
You expect to get your hands dirty in unpredictable ways.
You expect that your work will fall through due to developing world problems.
You never expect that Peace Corps will evacuate you, tell you that you can’t go back to your home, send you to your “home of record” which isn’t really a home, and give 30 days of not-even-minimum-wage-pay to find a job again in the worst job market this country has seen in more than 50 years.
What you may or may not have known from our last post is that we are already in the United States of America. For ongoing medical problems, Jeff was medevac-ed in mid-December. What he told Peace Corps was: If you medevac me, you have to bring my wife. Otherwise I will worry too much about her safety to be able to recover. So here I am as well. We were here a week before we got the official news about Honduras, the security review, the Standfast—though we knew something was coming.
We had been working with the doctors and country staff to make sure that we would be able to come back to Honduras, to pack up our things, and hopefully our cat too. Everyone had been supportive of that idea. We were finally at a point where we were discussing dates, because the conference date was known.
I emailed my country director on a Thursday for more information on how to bring our cat back, and guess what? She was informed by Peace Corps Washington that we were not coming back to Honduras. Well, that was news to us. It was a weird thing to find out third-hand, since apparently that decision was made on Tuesday. I immediately called Jeff so he could ask some questions at Headquarters--trying to figure out who made the decisions (Medical, since that’s why we’re here, or Region) was difficult, since they were all finger pointing like a bunch of Hondurans echaring la culpa.
Leaving a country comes with a complete roller coaster of emotions. We are being removed due to the safety and security situation in the country, which is remarkably disturbing. A murder rate of 86 per 100,000 is absolutely a reason for our removal. We’ve been wondering for a while if Honduras, the whole country, isn’t the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, it leads to a lot of feelings from the volunteers.
Jeff and I encouraged other volunteers to report all safety and security incidents, since we were aware of a large number of unreported cases. Jeff having a BA in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, was very concerned that Peace Corps would not be able to adequately support us if the volunteer withheld S&S incidents. We definitely agree that this was the right decision on the part of Peace Corps. However, the decision that was made with regard to us was absolutely ridiculous.
After two days of speaking with various people in Peace Corps, we were told that medical had absolutely no reason not to send us back to Honduras, and frankly thought it might be a good thing to do to give us some closure. They have a policy of generally not sending people back to post if they are within 30 days of their COS date, but that doesn’t exactly apply in this situation. We took it up with our regional staff. After a long process, it was admitted to us by the person who made the call that this was a decision of convenience. He decided not to send any of the medevacs to Honduras for the conference (all 3 of them who could go, and me), because it would put a logistical burden on in-country staff to deal with our transportation, etc. Mind you, Jeff and I would have had the same transportation, so we are talking about a maximum of 3 different transports (IF the other two folks had decided they wanted to come back). It was even more outrageous when people in Honduras got approved for vacations to Nicaragua, leaving the country and coming back, AFTER we were told we couldn’t return.
It is difficult to process the abrupt end to the life we’ve built ourselves in Honduras and the feelings of happiness, financial and medical security that Peace Corps provided. It is even more difficult to have the rug pulled out from completely underneath you and not get really say goodbye. When we left we had every expectation of returning. I’m a very conflicting ball of emotions still, three weeks after this decision. I apologize to the family and friends I have ignored over the past few weeks. Jumping back into the life we had before we left is not possible, and trying to do so feels too much like saying it never happened. I didn’t want to write about it before because I was too angry, though anger is no longer my predominating emotion.
Relief is one of those emotions: we are relieved to be out of the dangerous country that is Honduras: headed toward a murder rate concurrent with the death rate of US troops in Iraq/Afghanistan. But on the same part, guilt. Guilt that we have a right to expect safety and security in our lives when others do not.
Not one of our counterparts is surprised that we are leaving Honduras because of S&S. They do not expect security, they expect insecurity, but they think that we deserve something safer. But they don’t believe that about themselves. Having dinner with my counterpart and her husband the night before we left Honduras, I just wanted to scream, “Instead of taking vacation to the US, why don’t you use that money to apply for a Visa!???” Her husband is US educated (legally), and she is super bright. They only have 2 kids. Please, please come with us, don’t stay in this dangerous country, I don’t want you to die.
Yet I feel that way about so many people in my town/community. Our host mom/brothers/aunt. Our neighbors. Our neighbor’s brother was just killed in a bus assault, and he has several family members living in the US. Please, just go. I want your children to grow up. How do you leave people you love who may as well be family (they certainly treat us as such) in a country where you know they will grow up being victims of drug crime and suffer for it?
Now that we can’t even go back to say goodbye it has all become real way too quickly. I think I was convincing myself that this would all be easier if I could go home, talk to people, make sure they understood we weren’t abandoning them by choice, and pack up our cat. I thought to myself that everything would be ok if I could just save the cat. Just that one thing from Honduras. But now that has all changed, and they’ve decided that we can’t go back. And Peace Corps regulations forbid PC staff from dealing with animals. She’ll have a good life by Honduran cat standards—we were teaching the neighborhood kids how to handle her, pet her, cuddle her, but still none of them believes that they can touch her without getting bitten. She will never again be cuddled or slept with or held in the way she was used to. And really that’s nothing compared to the way Honduran people will be treated under the drug lords and organized crime, but it hits me in a different way. She was part of our family and now I have to abandon her, courtesy of the US government.
I never expected Peace Corps to be so unfeeling in this way. I know it’s not the individuals (well, actually there were some individual calls there), but as an agency it really upsets me.
To any Honduras staff who may read this: Thank you for being amazing. I sincerely hope that the violence calms down and volunteers will return. In particular, Luis, Javier, and Jorge—I hope we can all stay in touch. I completely bawled on the phone with Jorge as he asked what he could do to make this easier for us (Who does that as they are losing their own job?). Being here with other medevacs and hearing horror stories from other countries makes me appreciate the staff from Honduras even more. Thank you all for your service to our country and yours.
My apologies for the longest post ever--it was more for me than for you. Hope it was ok anyway.
Posted by Sam at 11:43 AM