Some of you may have seen something I wrote on Facebook the other day: “The Northern triangle of Central America [Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala] is the most dangerous place in the world outside of an active warzone.” While the Peace Corps kids may be alright, the rest of the country and region are pretty fucked, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s first Global Study on Homicide. The Obama administration has offered billions of dollars to help with the issue, and it seems that Capitol Hill has also taken a personal interest, as became clear to us PCVs when we were summoned to an all-volunteer conference last week. Apparently Congress has been asking for some time why Peace Corps is operating in such dangerous countries; according to the Inter-America and Pacific Regional Director Carlos Torres, the specific question was: "What are you doing to protect the angels of our country?" [sidenote: why does Congress always get caught up in the details and never look at the big picture? And more importantly, what makes us angels?? It's not like we enjoy living on less than $300/month...!]
Anyway, in light of the new information presented to us, I decided an update was due, especially since some people seemed confused by my last one. First of all, I am not going anywhere and neither is PC/Guatemala. We are instead being consolidated into the 6 “safest” departments (which are like states) in the Central Western Highlands – those with the lowest homicide rates. As El Quiché is one of them, I’m not affected by the decision at all. For everyone currently in sites outside of the 6 departments – including San Marcos and Huehuetenango, which are in the Highlands, but will most likely soon be put under states of siege/martial law to combat the drug problems there, like in Alta Verapaz last year – they can either get a site change or take early COS (close of service, your status after 2 years of service), which has been extended to everyone on top of Interrupted Service. Moreover, to bring numbers down as quickly as possible to better provide volunteer support, the volunteers who were slated to leave in March now have to leave in February, and the July group has to leave in March. Again, as my COS is October, I’m not going anywhere.
On a more personal level, many of my ag friends affected by the policies are opting to get a site change for their last 8 months or so; Whitney may even move to an aldea of Uspantan, which would put us at 6 hours apart rather than 12! Sadly, a whole lot of my muni friends have decided to take early COS and are leaving right away; I spent a nostalgic Thursday night with Noor before she disappears. Another muni friend, Rachel, however may get sent to Cunen for her site change, which would be awesome. Kate and Melissa, my present 2 sitemates, are part of the July group and are being forced out early, putting serious difficulties on their ability to finish planned projects (mainly building improved wood-burning stoves with USAID funds). The good news is that the two of them will be replaced by 2 girls from their program (who came to country the following year) being evacuated from San Marcos. So their hard work will not have been in vain and I will not be alone.
To be honest, I toyed with the idea of taking early COS…I wasn’t sure if Kate and Melissa would be replaced and if they left in March and Save the Children in May, what would really be keeping me here until October? However, I would’ve wanted to leave in May/June, but the early COS option expires on March 24th, which is just way too soon for me. I understand why many of my friends are taking the option – you get all the benefits of having been here for 2 years and it’s an opportunity to get out of a bad or stagnant work/living situation (though I’m totally judging anyone who’s been at site 6 months or less and isn’t even considering a site change). But with the (albeit minimal) work I have here and the Foreign Service off the table, I figure I might as well finish out my time, during which I can take the GREs and apply for grad school or jobs for 2013. All the uncertainty had totally freaked me out, but I’m back on my original track now.
Oh but what I’d wanted to stress was that it wasn’t the latest security incidents here that provoked all this change, though I’m sure they didn’t help. Carlos Torres explained to us how Peace Corps has been evaluating at its Central American posts for a while now. While Guatemala and El Salvador were deemed safe enough to keep us here while they make safety changes – including a transportation policy that involves a highly inconvenient PC shuttle on the Inter-American Highway – Honduras was not. With the highest homicide rate in the world, Honduras has super dangerous pockets all over the country and so even if a PCV was in a safe site, they'd still be traveling through dangerous places on bus routes. As I mentioned previously, all their volunteers were sent home temporarily while the security situation is being evaluated…though it seems that their chances of returning are quite slim.
At least one good thing about the conference was being able to see all my friends one last time before they leave; here's a photo of what remains of my training class (the serious faces are a play on how Guatemalans pose for photos lol). We’ll be about a third less by March 24th…qué será, será.
And on the bright side, this week is feria in Cunen, so the fun times live on :) We went to the cofradia’s (Catholic brotherhood) town lunch last Saturday with Jenny’s family…and ate at her family’s part of the cemetery…totally normal. Melissa and I spent that night in Nebaj at honestly one of the most fun parties I’ve ever been to. So actually between all the happy drinking and sad drinking (from everything going down), the conference was kind of a nice break haha. It also forced me to cancel several work meetings, just as things were getting productive again…oh well.
Ok that’s enough rambling for now. Since I’ll no longer be visiting home for the Foreign Service interview, come visit me hereeeeee!