|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, October 07, 2001 - 3:14 pm: Edit Post|
Medivac from Guatemala
Medivac from Guatemala
Medivac from Guatemala
(Photo) Only 8 hours after leaving Guate I arrived in D.C. to the cold of Washington in March. A stark contrast to the dry hot season of Chiquimula. After my taxi got only slightly lost I arrived at the Virginian a clean Arlington apartment complex and met my two new roommates: Dan from Honduras and Bob from Krygstan.
I quickly learned that there are roughly 20 others also in the Inn waiting on surgery, or receiving some sort of psychological treatment. Each from a Peace Corps country: the Gambia, Kazakstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Zambia, Nepal, Dominician Republic, St. Lucia, Jamaica, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere. There stories were striking and honest. Despite the thousands of miles between us, the devils of poverty were similar: alcoholism, a culture of leave it to tomorrow, and machismo. It was also amazing to hear the different languages and their work.
The roughness of others lifestyles made me appreciate the merits of Guatemala. My roommate from Kyrgystan talked about 30 degree days and nights, living without heat and electricity, no bed, and eating meals of bread and pigs fat. Beans and tortillas became real appealing. Peace Corps/Guatemala is about hardship, but it's not the life of an ascetic monk. Many volunteers live in better apartments than they had in the states. A few have refrigerators, TVs and phones. The hardship is more in the adjustment to a foreign society.
I had a taste of what it's like as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, as I was walking down the hall of the 9th floor. A extremely tall guy swung out of his office and said "Hey are you Peace Corps/Guatemala?" "Uh, yeah, how did you know?" "The bag silly, Todos Santos isn't it?" Within minutes Steve and I were exchanging names, locales, Guatemalan lore like we had known each other all our life. Later he would introduce me to the other members of the PC/Guatemala "club." A great feeling of support.
Although I've only been out of the states for 8 months, I did get a bit of culture shock. With my $20 per day living allowance (very tight for D.C. living) I went grocery shopping. My eyes got bigger and bigger as I turned each aisle. Guatemala does have grocery stores in the capital, but even the huge ones don't have the same variety, especially of things I would want. Arriving at the Soap aisle I got stuck trying to choose a shampoo. Slackjawed, I couldn't stop looking. Sixty-five different types of shampoo and I couldn't choose.
With a look of concern the manager came up and asked "Can I help you?" Without breaking my gaze at the shampoos I answered "Just looking" "OK well you let me know if I can help" he offered, scuffling along and continuing to stare at me.
Hardest Job in PC, besides volunteering
Making the rounds in PC/Washington, one of the first stops I made was the Peace Corps/Central America Desk. After a hello how's it going, we talked shop. They didn't like this website because of the comment about "Don't believe the desk jockeys," thinking I was talking about them. That comment on my advice list is simply: Believe the volunteers. The volunteers that are out in the field doing the job will have great useful information on the lifestyle, culture and adaptation for new volunteers. During training I learned more from volunteers than anyone else. I think D.C. is starting to get the knack for that as well. Laura Swetz in particular has pushed Peace Corps D.C. to use the medivacs waiting around from appointment to appointment. Every couple of days we had a chance to talk with either higher-ups, Peace Corps Survey people or whomever wanted to talk to a real live volunteer.
However, my advice to anyone is to get as much information from as many sources as you can and then sort it out for yourself. The Central America desk, staffed by returned volunteers Kirsten and Jay really understand the Peace Corps experience. They are hardwired into the D.C and country desk loop and have invaluable information about preparation for training and the status of volunteers in country. Paul Teeple is also really on the ball - of course that's self-explanatory because he was a PC/Guatemala volunteer next door in Jutiapa !Puro Oriente!
The Central American desk is also the hardest in the Peace Corps desk world. Just add these wonderful countries of tranquillity together: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica (OK pretty low key but PC is pulling out) and (I think) Panama. Then add slightly goofy, relatively young PCVs traveling around for work and play. Stir and you've got one big headache of a job. The desk somehow manages thousands of letters bound for the diplomatic pouch, calls from future volunteers, every single serious and less serious crisis, calls from parents of volunteers, PC/Guatemala office, and bored medivacs.
Meeting with Mark (Photo)
I arrived late to a free Peace Corps talk on African-Americans in International Relations, sitting down next to a dapper, clean-cut late 30s, early 40s man. Seeing my Guatemalan tipica bag he asked if I was a volunteer in Guatemala. Surprised, I said "yes." "I was there last June. Were you serving then?" "Uh, no, I arrived in July." "My name is Mark Gearan and I want to thank you for your service" I mumbled my thanks being somewhat dumb struck that I had somehow sat next to the Director of Peace Corps. We chatted a little bit and he invited me to stop by his office sometime.
I took him up on his offer two weeks later, after my surgery. I figured that I would stop by and be told he was too busy to see me. After a moments pause and a suggestion that he only had a few minutes, I was shown in. I found myself being interviewed by a precise calculating mind that was not without empathy for my own PC experience. The comment that struck me most was about this very website. I mentioned how I believe this was important for relating my experience to my family, friends and maybe others such as future Guatemala volunteers. He agreed and emphasized that it was important that people be given full information to make their own decision about volunteering in Guatemala. I agree and remain impressed.
US Congress Rayburn 2317
A week before I was set to leave, I was called at my apartment and asked if I would be willing to testify in Congress about the expansion of Peace Corps. Uh, of course.
March 19 six PCVs and I listened to the testimony of Senator Dodd, Senator Coverdale, and five congressman, Secy. of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, all former PVC's. All could still speak in the language of the country they served from Spanish to Farsi and did. Most said it was a seminal experience in their life. Senator Dodd said if he wasn't serving in Congress he said Peace Corps had an appeal. Our heads were swimming. Yet each of these very powerful people came up to and talked to us, curious as to where we were serving and what were our projects.
When it came to our turn, we each stood up saying our country of service, state of residence and thank you in the language of our country. (Realizing that all would recognize muchas gracias as Spanish, I substituted B'ahn't'osh - a Quechi thanks) Then our "spokesman" told the representative that we were delivering a message of thanks to Congress for their support in the past and a hope for the same in the future. -- See overheard in Congress
Within minutes of arriving to El Sauce, my neighbor the tall good-natured Don Roberto ambled up and asked if I'm just passing through. He was concerned and wanted me to stay. Three minutes later Don Ernesto arrived at my house--he was sick and had cracked his ribs from a fall he took a few days before, but he walked the 2km between his house and mine to greet me--saying I'm one of his family and that I've been missed. On the way to Don Ernesto's for dinner I passed a young girl- almost with tears in her eyes. "You weren't at English class, we all waited for you." Her small frown could have felled Achilles. I apologized, but couldn't help but be a little elated. She and the other children had missed me.