It’s Christmas Eve in Honduras. Today is the day most people gather to celebrate with family here. In a little bit I’m going to take to the city and go visit all my friends. However, this holiday finds me with a heavy heart and while it’s Christmas Eve, we’re on the eve of something else here in Honduras. As most of my faithful readers will know, I don’t usually post until the end of the month. However, this month has been a topsy, turvy roller coaster ride for Peace Corps Honduras and I feel I need to do my part to keep people abreast of what’s happening here. Basically, my Peace Corps service is coming to an end soon, unless I get really lucky.
The Back Story
I’ve kept mum about this the whole time I’ve been here. I don’t like people worrying about me and Peace Corps always did an excellent job of keeping us informed about how to stay safe. What I knew from the first day I got here in February of ’10 is that this is a dangerous country. The drug trade is alive and well. Drug traffickers are above the law. The police and military are heavily infiltrated with corrupt personnel. The poverty rate is high, so along with that comes much petty theft – lots of being held up at gunpoint for cell phones, cash, wallets, purses, etc. Due to all this Honduras became the country with the highest murder rate in the world in October of ’11 (where there is not a war being fought). Further, unrelated to all this is something that seems to plague Peace Corps – many victims of rape. For whatever reason an unfortunate number of female volunteers suffered this here in Honduras. So, Peace Corps has been facing a lot of negative stuff for as long as I’ve been here, 23 months, and it has more history than that still.
The One That Broke The Camel’s Back
On December 4, we had an incident here in country that finally made someone say, “OK, we’ve got to get these kids out of there.” Around noon on that Sunday, a bus was assaulted by three armed men on a major highway. One robber held the bus driver at gunpoint and made him keep driving as the other two fleeced all the passengers. A passenger on the bus decided to try his hand at vigilante justice and opened fire on the robbers, which resulted in many shots being exchanged. One of the innocent bystanders who took a bullet was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thankfully it was not a fatal shot. This whole incident put us PCVs in a frenzy as we started buzzing about what this would mean for our future. That very same week we talked to PCV peers from each geographical region who reported back to PC Honduras staff about what our thoughts and feelings were given this incident. General consensus was that we all feel safe in the sites we live and work in, but are more fearful when traveling on public transportation.
The Decision Making Process
As it turned out our Country Director was going to a meeting to discuss the security of Honduras and other Central/South American countries the week of December 11. We heard that week that one of the major issues on the agenda was the future of Peace Corps Honduras. We volunteers got a summary of the results of that meeting as soon as our CD got back to Honduras that Thursday, the 15th. She told us the situation in Honduras had been extensively discussed and Peace Corps Washington, DC (HQ) was now analyzing the information and we would have a statement from them soon. Each day we waited for news was a careful exertion of patience as we were all full of nerves waiting for an answer as to what was coming our way (no one likes their future being out of their control). Finally, on Monday my site mate and I sat down together and wrote up an email to send to our CD. We expressed our frustration with lack of knowing and asked what Peace Corps was waiting for before closing the post. Did it have to come down to a volunteer dying in Honduras? My site mate, who has only served for three months, expressed her lament for even being brought here to Honduras to serve because Peace Corps has known all along how dangerous it is here. I expressed my ambivalence to the fact that we may soon close this post because I’m so close to being done. Within half an hour we had a reply from our CD telling us we would have an official statement from PC/Washington by the following day. The popular questions were: What do you think the decision will be? What should the decision be? What do you want the decision to be?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 we got the email we’d all been waiting for and knew was coming. Peace Corps had made the decision to suspend operations in Honduras. Effective immediately was that our security level was updated to Standfast. While on Standfast we cannot leave the communities we live and work in without express permission from the CD. The message told us that all volunteers currently in Honduras would attend an all volunteer conference in mid-January after which we would be sent to our respective homes in the US. During this time in the US, at least 30 days and up to 45, Peace Corps would be reviewing the situation in Honduras and decide whether or not to keep operating in the country. If the decision is made to stay in the country it will be on a much smaller scale, they will consider moving the central office out of Tegucigalpa and restricting volunteers to a more specific geographic location deemed safest.
This is all affecting me and my emotions immensely. After receiving the email Tuesday I cried a lot. Despite having told our CD that I’m ambivalent about an early departure, I’m clearly not. Sure, when it comes down to work and projects I am because right now I’m not in the middle of anything and didn’t plan on starting anything new. What I’m not ambivalent about is my community and the people here – my friends who are amazing, the girls I’ve worked with, the small business owners whom I’ve helped, my neighbor kids who just made me a ton of extra special mud pies for Christmas. For emotional as I was leaving home nearly two years ago, I feel the exact same way now: I’m leaving home all over again. I think I may even feel a little worse now because I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back here and life is a lot more volatile here. Maybe Peace Corps will let me come back and finish my service until May as planned, although I highly doubt it. I knew leaving was coming, but having it come up and be beyond my control in less than a month’s time is not how I wanted to go. I wanted to have going away parties with my friends, start some more work in the high school next school year, get the Chamber of Commerce opened here in Guaimaca. It makes me so angry that the handful of bad people in this country ruins everything for the majority of the good people who need us here. I’m angry because these selfish people are ruining their country and making life for the good people miserable. (Ugh, sorry I’m too emotional still. My best Honduran friend just now called me and as I updated her on everything she started crying and got me going again.) I’m frustrated because I don’t feel unsafe here even though my odds of being an innocent bystander or robbed are very high (when outside of Guaimaca). I’m frustrated because this is happening so fast and Peace Corps isn’t going to help us make sure we volunteers with pets can get them home to the US safely. I’m excited to be back in the US, because well, it’s freakin’ awesome. I’m nervous to be back in the US because life is so different there. In the blink of an eye I’m going from being a self supported adult with meaningful work back to living with my parents and without a job. I can’t start grad school this fall because I wasn’t planning on being home until May. Now I’ve got almost a whole year and a half back in the US to pass before I can get into a program. Basically, I’m a whole jumble of sad, angry, frustrated, nervous and excited amongst others. Never did I think it would come down to this. However, one thing that comforts me a little right now is my belief that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what it is, but I know God has His plans and I’ll be ok, just like I always have been. A little sliver of peace despite all this other tumultuous stuff going on right now.
Will this be my last blog from Honduras? Perhaps. My parents are coming to visit next week and will leave after the New Year, so I probably won’t post again this month. I may try to post again from the States while we’re there so people can get that insight of what it’s like to be a PCV on Administrative Hold. I know that what’s happening here in PC/Honduras is the right thing in my head. But, what I feel in my heart is completely different. It’s a disconnect that commonly occurs. I think this is the last struggle of my Peace Corps service where I will have to stay positive despite adverse conditions. For now I’m going to enjoy Christmas with my friends here and make it all that more special.
Hasta yo no sé cuando…