1. Day One: a lovely charla entitled, "How Did We Get Here?" which basically consisted of two hours of history regarding the decision to conduct this evaluation of this country. This was them trying to ensure us that this was not some overnight decision and has actually been a long time coming. Just google El Salvador and you will be inundated with reasons for why we are in this position. And although this post sounds super angry, I am not arguing with the need for the security assessment in this country, but I am upset with how it has been handled thus far.
2. Day two: This was basically a day to present us with various options including Peace Corps Response, re-enrolling in another Peace Corps program, and what it is going to mean to stay here in El Salvador (including new transportation system and current rules), etc. There were also additional informal sessions in the afternoon regarding these options and also Career planning, Extending, etc for all of those people who are being forced to leave the country early (I am not sure if I have mentioned how many volunteers are being forced to leave. We are basically losing 60 with a forced early close of service (including my sister group which holds a number of my closest friends and volunteers). That leaves my group (newest) and the group with about 6 months more, which is a total of about 35 volunteers. And that 35 number is dropping everyday as people decide to leave.
3. Day three: We had a weird mental health session in the morning followed by meeting with our program managers to talk about what is going to happen here. Then in the afternoon there were sessions on various different projects, writing grants, etc.
That is a rough outline of the conference. If it had not been for the opportunity to see and hang out with my friends, it would have been a serious waste of my time. Why? Because....What did I learn from it? Absolutely nothing. And here is why: Apparently Washington is sending an assessment team here February 15. This is going to decide where volunteers can go, live, etc. They are going to have the decision by the middle of March. Following that the volunteers that are not in that area are going to have to switch sites. They gave to no clue as to who is going to have to move, where they will be moved, or when (but it will probably be late April). Yes....more....waiting....
In the meantime we are still on a serious travel restriction. We still cannot go to the capital. We cannot really travel out of our departments. When we leave we still have to clear it with our immediate bosses. We are restricted to basically only traveling when absolutely necessary. And we really have no idea as to when this is all going to get better.
I have been trying to write this post and I am sure I am doing a terrible job at explaining what happened at this conference, but that is because my mind right now is wiped. I am not sure if I can fully explain how draining this entire experience has been since we got that dreadful email back in December putting our service here in question. And the question now is what do I do personally? How do I handle all of this?
Unfortunately, I am still trying to figure this out. I am trying to decide if it would be worth it to re enroll in a new Peace Corps program. It would be a nice new adventure of the full 27 months, I would have more say in where I go and what program I do, and hopefully it would be a in a safer and more stable place. I should point out though that my decision to leave actually has nothing to do with security. I have never felt unsafe in my community and very rarely in this country. When I do leave site I am usually on a bus with a driver who I frequently play with his children and drink coffee with his wife. I feel fine under his watch. My reason for leaving would ultimately be the harsh ambiguity and not knowing the future of my service, the challenges of starting projects under these conditions, and the inability to travel at all. Plus knowing I could have another service elsewhere with the potential to be better is all too tempting...
I'll be honest all during the conference I was ready to jump ship. I was completely willing to start over and join a new country and hopefully avoid the next months of uncertainty here in El Salvador. Of course, I had things holding me back, which made the time during the conference very stressful. Just thinking about leaving my friends, community, this country, everything I have known for the past 6 months, and embark on another new, uncertain journey, made me sick to my stomach. Nevertheless, I had just about made my decision to leave because I was so done with feeling so crappy all the time. I was on the bus back to site and just starting to figure out how to handle having made said decision. And then something changed...
I arrived back in site and I realized that I am not ready to leave Upire. I am being given another 1 month and a half in this beautiful caserio for sure and I am going to take it. Yesterday, my host mom greeted me with a "Hola mi hija chicquita" (Hi my little daughter) and I knew I was not ready to leave her. I am not sure how to do my host mom justice in words. She is almost as amazing as my own mother (and if you know my mother, you know that is saying A LOT). I just sat looking at her and almost cried at the thought of leaving her prematurely. We then sat and chatted about the current situation but she moved right on saying "you know we are going to work hard for the next month like everything is fine" and we talked about potential projects. Next week she wants me to come in and help teach classes (one on art, one on school gardens, and another or hand washing, etc) and then help with this adult English class. We also talked about doing Valentine's Day, working on raising funds for computers, developing a newspaper (kind of) club and starting a "History of Upire" book. I know that I should not start projects with all of this uncertainty but you know what...I am going to pretend like I am staying because that is what I need to do.
If I have to leave here, I have to leave it, but at least I know I stayed as long as I could and did all that I could do. I am going to wait it out until Washington comes through with a decision. And then it will be time to think about it some more. But I think I have come to the conclusion that this is the time when this country needs us the most. I may have to suffer now through a changing Peace Corps program here in El Salvador, but if I can help keep it alive by staying, I am willing to do so. I signed up for an adventure. I signed up to be removed from my comfort zone. I signed up to be challenged beyond my wildest dreams. So with all that Peace Corps is giving me exactly what I wanted.
I hope this is coherent enough for everyone to understand. Please feel free to send comments, questions, or advice my way. I appreciate talking this out with other people. I want to thank everyone for their support in my decisions, the process, and just listening to my story.
For whatever challenges you are currently facing..."May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into the and above the clouds."~Edward Abbey~
*I hope you all notice the change in tone in this post. The beginning (which highlights my angry feeling during and immediately after the conference) and the end (once I got back to site). Quite an amazing range of emotion, one has.