Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Results

Since December Peace Corps El Salvador has been waiting. Waiting on answers from Washington, D.C. about the fate of PC here. I don't think until coming here and experiencing this dreadful waiting period for myself that I realized just how devastating closing a Peace Corps country would be for the people of that nation as well as for us volunteers. Think about the Salvadoran staff who have great jobs with PC that they absolutely love. We have program managers, training staff, teachers, medical staff, secretaries, guards for our buildings, etc. On top of that we contract with medical/dental facilities, psychologists (by the way she is making bank right now), taxi services, hotels, and other businesses, people, etc. That doesn't even begin to mention the number of people volunteers on the ground affect daily. I am not saying that we are Gods and we are changing the world, but there are volunteers that have incredible projects that touch thousands of people. But more important sometimes than the "work" we do: we live with families, we have friends, and we live in small communities where most people know us. Relationships have impact. Big impact. People rarely remember what you do, but they always remember who you are and what you mean to them. I can only imagine how devastating is to have to tell them you are being forced to leave when you really do not want to go. And luckily I won't have to....

The results from the assessment are in from Washington (see my previous posts on security if you do not know what I am talking about) and the northern part of the country is safe meaning I can stay in my site! That is really the best news one can get (when you like your site). I am thrilled that I get to stay here, continue living with my host family, and working in Upire. Gracias a Dios. :)

But there are some changes with PC El Sal and here they are:
1. We can no longer take public transportation from one department to another. We must use private transportation or use a Peace Corps shuttle.
2. San Sal still off limits.
3. San Sal office will be relocated (no idea when or where)
4. San Vicente training office will be closed (we probably won't get no trainees for awhile, hence no need for the training center).
5. Indefinite no travel to Guatemala or Honduras.

I think that is pretty much the gist of it. When I look at it like and when I first heard the results, it felt very anti climatic. It was almost as if we had been holding our breath for 3 months expecting a big blow, expecting to go home, and expecting to have to end our service early. It felt really like a terrible waste of 3 months. When you are holding your breath and expecting to leave, you really do lose a lot of your motivation and ganas. I think every volunteer suffered from this. But now that I have the results I just keep thinking: why did I have to go through all of that? All that worrying for nothing really. But I guess I should just be glad I was pleasantly surprised rather than correct about my assumptions that we were going home. I guess it is just hard to turn yourself around when you are thinking you are going home. And when others are going home too...

That is what makes this hard. It is the rapidly diminishing number of volunteers in country that makes me nervous. I can deal with the new rules and regulations. They really do not bother me. The transportation system sucks right now (it does not work well for me because of the distance my site is from civilization) but I know I can adapt to that and at least it will be free transport. I can deal with San Sal being off limits- it is annoying at times, but I don't really need to be there (especially after Sansalvadornucleosis). It is only nice to get in there to buy some items and get out. I am upset about Honduras and Guatemala being closed but I am hoping they will open up for us eventually. If not, I will just have to wait until I COS from PC to go there, which is doable. The major challenge with all of this saying goodbye to my PC family.

Although I know it would have happened eventually, this is not the way I wanted it to happen. It is also true that people early terminate or leave PC early all the time, but this is different. We are in a matter of months going from over a hundred volunteers to about 20 or less. My training class was already small when we got here (15). We are less than 10 now and more people are considering leaving because of these changes. *Note: We are still allowed to take early Close of Service with all benefits until April 13th.* My group honestly has felt like a family and with every member that decides to leave, it breaks my heart more and more. Selfishly I want everyone to stay. I want to finish together. I feel like I need my friends to do this. But I know I have to let them go and do what they feel is right for them. But that does not change how hard this is mentally and emotionally for those of us left. It stinks sometimes to be left behind watching your friends all go home. It is not that we get together all the time or would get together all the time, but it is just knowing people are here with you. Knowing you can call them and talk about that random time you killed a scorpion crawling up your leg or that random time you went to the bathroom in the street (yes, guilty of both). Peace Corps Volunteers have a special bond and I am going to miss having that here with more people. I am going to miss the fun activities with large groups of volunteers, working together on projects, and just having a large network of friends and colleagues. And that goes for all the volunteers leaving (not just my group), especially those in the area closest to me.

Luckily, I know that with those that leave we will still have a bond for life. We will always have these memories and experiences that bring us together. They are still my Peace Corps Family. They are incredible people and I will always treasure our time here together. I hate to see them go, but I know each and every one of them is going to find their own happiness and success somewhere else and that is what matters most. I just want to see them happy rather than suffering here.

Although I have to say goodbye to many, I am also reminded that some of us are staying. I am so blessed because these people are also downright amazing and with them I know I am not alone. We can absolutely do this together. We might be small, but we are mighty. I feel so lucky to know them and I cannot wait to see what happens in the next 1.5 years. I can't wait to see what we do. It will be hard again I am sure. But it will be awesome too! The adventure awaits... And I can't wait to ring the bell at the end meaning we finished the two full years!

*I just have to add here that this post has come out a little more positive than I sometimes feel. There are some days where I feel that this security problem is not over yet and our country hangs by a small thread of being shut down. The closing of the office in San Sal is a big blow to the staff and I am not sure what would happen if many of them had to quit because of travel concerns. I am not sure what is going to happen if more and more volunteers leave. There are still some uncertainties. There are still plenty of questions. We still have a long way to go until the dust settles (people have until April to leave with the COS status, then we wait until new offices are built, etc). I am not sure the dust will settle in my time here and that frustrates me. Why did they send my group here to be put through such an administrative shift? Why do I have to deal with all of this on top of everything else a PCV deals with? But I can't ask questions like that any more. Every service is different and all volunteers have rough times (some really rough times). I am here and despite all of this crap and PC changes, I still want to stay. Although they are letting us leave with all benefits and I could escape this turbulent PC time, I still want to stay. El Salvador must be a pretty special place. Or maybe it is just Upire friggin rocks...:)

Monday, March 5, 2012


Sansalvadornucleosis: noun meaning terrible, virtually unidentifiable virus resulting in headaches, earaches, fevers, various random abdominal pain, and overall fatigue requiring about a 2 week stay in the capital. Okay, I made that up. But I figured something that resulted in such a long ass stay in the capital deserved a name (actually my friend Cory told me it deserves a name and this was the best I could do under pressure). Plus, just saying I had a "virus" is not acceptable (even though that's all the doctor said) and it seems really lame. To be real and appear as daunting as it felt it needs a name. Therefore, I had Sansalvadornucleosis. And it was bad...

I would not normally choose to write about something as boring and stupid as being sick. Plus, I don't want you all thinking I am fishing for your sympathy and or your praise for dealing with it. I am choosing to write about it because well I have been super super bored and to be honest it has been one of the lowest points in my service thus far, which that cannot be ignored and pushed under the rug. Now I know what you are thinking (and some of my fellow PCVs as well): damn girl you are living the dream! 2 weeks in the capital with yummy food, a/c, mosquito net free beds, hot showers, cable, lots of things to do, the possibility of seeing other volunteers in the capital, the list goes on. Plus, we have been dealing with the terrible, no travel permitted, sticky security situation! It must be so good to be out of site, right? Yes, I agree that looks good on paper, but trust me it is not all it appears.

First all of that stuff in the capital fantastic when you are healthy and feeling good. As for me, I felt like crap most of the time I have been here (not even wanting to get out of bed, buy yummy food, or do fun things, watch tv, etc) and I was moving from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what I actually had for the first week and a half. I was playing a fun game of mystery diagnosis. I went to the regular doctor, the ear, nose and throat doctor, the brain/head doctor, I had an abdomen scan, 2 blood tests, and when all of that failed they sent me to the shrink (apparently they thought maybe it was all in my head which at some point I started to believe them). Unfortunately, they did the blood test way late in the game and realized then I had a virus. But I guess it was good I went through all that because meanwhile we discovered I have some allergies here as well. That is the one positive of moving from doctor to doctor and having every test possible done.

Okay so that does not sound too bad when I write it like that. But it sure felt sucky in the moment. I guess the main problem was the anxiety of not knowing what I actually had in the beginning. Actually my biggest problem was just pure loneliness. The capital is not a fun place when you are by yourself for the majority of two weeks. There have been very few volunteers here because of the new safety and security rules leaving me in an empty hotel room by myself for hours/days at a time. On top of that the only volunteers that were here in the beginning with me were some who were leaving the country and had very negative opinions to share with me about the program here, which only made me feel worse and worse. I would have left the hotel to enjoy some of the pleasures of San Salvador, but I was feeling pretty fatigued all the time and the capital puts a giant dent in a volunteer's wallet. Peace Corps pays us when we are here for medical but it comes a month later, which means I paid out of pocket for everything here in terms of food and activities. Food is so damn expensive. actually gave me serious anxiety thinking about the amount of money I had to spend daily to eat. I am not even sure I could have done anything else (even if I had felt up to it). I mean we make enough money to live in the rural areas, but for capital expenses no way!

As the days passed and I had nothing else to do really I kept thinking (sorry but here comes the verbal diarrhea... gosh I used to be so healthy in the states-why am I dealing with this when I can go home and find out what is wrong, about the amount of money I was spending, the amount of days I was missing from my community, my lack of productivity, the trust my community was probably losing in me, the guilt of being gone for so long, the status of the country and Peace Corps here, my fellow volunteers leaving, more volunteers talking about leaving, my own desire to leave, etc. And of course since no one could figure out what was actually wrong with me I got sent to the shrink (with all of the above emotions to explode on her) as a final resort (she is popular right now as there are many volunteers in therapy trying to deal with the changes the program is facing here).

Seeing the shrink experience. I have never seen a therapist before and I actually never thought I would. My best friend Julia (who used to want to be a psychologist) could tell you the truth: I am not really a fan of the practice. I think it is a bunch of bullshit. Why would I want to tell some rando about my problems? Plus, what are they really going to tell me that I probably could not tell myself? And even if they tell me something that does not necessarily mean it is practical or even applicable to how things work in my own real life (IMHO). But for the sake of Peace Corps I tried to give it a shot. And at the point I figured...hey maybe I am making it up? So I went...

Surprisingly the session was both helpful and painful. And maybe the practice is not a bunch of bullshit. And there is really NO SHAME in someone listening to you talk about the challenges in your life. It made me realize I don't really deal with my emotional responses. I tend to think about things very rationally and very black and white, right and wrong. This is this. That is that. I make decisions based on what I believe is right or wrong (black and white), rather than the way I feel. Then I tend to push my feelings aside and tell myself I can survive through the emotional pain because I am just that strong and I don't want other people to see my human/vulnerable side. It is helpful to realize these kinds of things about your personality but it also hurts. It is like someone taking away your defense mechanisms. Someone forcing you to really deal with something you like to ignore. It strips think you bare and forces you to self analyze and reflect. It is a difficult and exhausting process. But I guess it is good to do. I did come to Peace Corps to learn about myself. And I am definitely doing that even if it is through Peace Corps induced and semi mandated therapy.

Through therapy I was forced to deal with some emotions I had been ignoring/suppressing while here in Peace Corps. Emotions like loneliness, anger, guilt, pain, frustration, anxiety, nervousness, shame, self doubt, etc. I realized how at times how my self esteem has suffered (constantly asking myself: am I doing enough, am I worth it, does my community like me, how do I compare to other volunteers, etc), how much I question my role here (am I making a difference, do I really want to be this outcast for two years), and my overall productivity and worthiness (what am I actually doing, am I seeing results) here in El Salvador and in my community. And facing those emotions caused me to look at the question : do I really want to be here in Peace Corps? Is it good for me to be here? Are these just normal volunteer questions/emotions? Will it get better? Should I give it time? Or am I just hoping the country will close down due to security issues? Yes, some days I do wish that so I could just return to my relatively easy, cushy life. It seems like an easy way to escape these pressures. Even better if Washington/Peace Corps took that decision away from me and I could be free from guilt and blame my leaving on them, rather than feeling like a quitter. And then I could just move on with my life.

The above verbal catastrophe is the dark side of Peace Corps. All of those terrible, dirty, no good, rotten emotions we face a lot here. Everyone goes through it and it is rough. It is why Peace Corps is not for everyone. It is why Peace Corps is tough. It is why it is "the toughest job you'll ever love." And I will be the first to admit that here in Peace Corps my self esteem is pretty much shit. It is a daily and never ending struggle to feel completely good about yourself and the work that you are doing here. And you may ask yourself why on earth would anyone ever want to deal with that?

I had to sit and think awhile about my "true feelings" apparently because according to the therapist I often "suppress" them. When I remove my external pressures, ignore what other people are telling me about their own feelings, and forget about Peace Corps' abrupt changes here and my issues with Washington, I realize when I think about me and my community, I have very few negative emotions. Yes, there are days when I question my work and self worth (but I do that no matter where am I) and how many pounds I have gained, but my frustration, anxiety, anger, and sadness all comes from Peace Corps and everyone else deciding to leave the country. But none of that has to do with me and my personal situation really. My day to day life really has not changed much. It is not like I would see volunteers all the time and the Peace Corps changes are not really hard to deal with at least for me. I think the only reason I have thought about leaving is because they are offering it to me and other people are taking it. But that doesn't mean it is for me. I know (according to therapist) I think in black and white, but there can be a grey area. We can't all stay right now. We can't all leave right now. One answer or choice we make is not right or wrong. All that matters is what we feel is best for us. As for now all that matters is that when I am in my community, where I feel I am supposed to be, I am happy (most of the time). And that is all anyone can ask for.