Monday, January 9, 2012
At this point, I imagine that anyone who is reading this has heard ‘the news’ but allow me to briefly regurgitate it for those who may have missed it. On December 5th, a Volunteer was shot in the leg in a bus assault outside of San Pedro Sula at noon (fortunately, she is okay). That event hit a lot of us hard, especially those of us who frequently use public transportation to pass through San Pedro en route to Peace Corps trainings and other events near the capital. The incident was initially written off as a classic case of ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’, causing a lot of Volunteers to speak up- to Admin both in country and in Washington- concerned that both staff and ourselves have become far too complacent with the violence that surrounds us, and wondering what exactly it would take for Peace Corps to make the executive decision to no longer send Volunteers to Honduras considering a shooting that put a Volunteer’s life at risk, on top of an already troubling number of other incidents, apparently wasn’t enough. Shortly after the incident, our Country Director went to a security meeting in El Salvador with the Country Directors of seven other Latin American countries as well as staff from Washington to discuss the safety and security of Volunteers in these countries. Upon her return to Honduras, we received an email saying that new training groups would no longer be sent to any of the countries of the ‘Northern Triangle’- Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala- until the ‘security situation improved’. Speculation among Volunteers ran amok. A mere four days later, we received a long, convoluted email that told us that all 158 of us were to remain on ‘standfast’ (Peace Corps jargon for quarantine) until mid-January, when we will all be attending a three-day conference with Washington bigwigs in Tegucigalpa and subsequently flown home to be put on ‘Administrative Hold for a period of at least thirty days’ while those aforementioned bigwigs perform a grandiose reassessment of the security situation in Honduras and decide if this country is indeed fit for Peace Corps Volunteers. However, since I only have seven months remaining of my service at this point, it’s pretty unlikely that I will be asked to come back even if they do deem certain parts of Honduras ‘safe enough’ for Volunteers, which I highly doubt they will as it will be Peace Corps’ ass on the line if one of us gets seriously hurt or killed when they were presented with the opportunity to make moves to prevent that from happening. I can’t say that I necessarily disagree with the path that Peace Corps has chosen to take; in my opinion, it was really just a matter of time before our post got the boot. It’s just incredibly difficult to be caught up in the middle of it and to know that the people who will be affected by this decision the most are the countless catrachos (slang for Hondurans) that all 158 of us call counterparts, coworkers, friends and family.
As soon as the initial shock factor had worn off, I called my friend Sasha who’s currently a Volunteer in Guate to see if they were being sentenced to a similar fate and she told me that she doubted it because Peace Corps was there during the entirety of the Guatemalan Civil War that ran from 1960 until 1996. My response was that the reality that has evolved here in the past years really isn’t a far cry from war at all. The homicide rates in these countries have climbed an alarming amount in recent years; in the case of Honduras, killings have nearly tripled since 2005, making it the country with the highest homicide rate in the world (82.1 per 100,000), higher than most conventional war zones. There is seriously heavy armament involved (last July, four guys got bazooka’ed to death in an ambush outside of Copán Ruinas at four thirty in the afternoon), most of which is coming from the states via either private arms dealers or misguided US government efforts (first time that’s ever happened in Latin America, right?). You have refugees in the form of emigrants splitting for Mexico, the States, Canada, Belize, Spain, practically anywhere and everywhere either because they feel threatened by the security situation or because in every single one of those places they can make more money to support their families than they can here (or both). You have Internally Displaced Persons who have fled from some of the most notoriously murderous parts of the country to live in those towns that are still considered ‘sanos’ (healthy). Prime example: mis gringachos (see three of them below), who make the tastiest baleadas you’ve ever put in your mouth and who I’m very close to, who came to Dulce Nombre from San Pedro Sula after two of their sons/uncles/cousins were murdered for standing up to gang members and complaining that the Lps. 3,000/week ($158)* impuesto de guerra (‘war tax’/extortion payment) they were charging their mother’s small comedor left them practically unable to put food on their own table. If this isn’t a war my friends, well then I’ll be damned.
*Frame of reference: An average daily wage here is Lps. 100 ($5.29), so this is a seriously considerable chunk of cash.
There is no doubt that being here has given me a newfound appreciation for practically everything about life in the United States. While it’s true that our police pepper spray peaceably assembled protestors in our universities and our potential Presidential candidates are bigots donning jackets that couldn’t possibly be more Brokeback if they tried (hypocritical much?), there’s no denying that there are many systems that work remarkably well… merely walking into a bathroom here with a wastebasket full of ‘soiled’ toilet paper, a bucket full of questionable water to manually flush the toilet and a candle close at hand for the inevitable and practically quotidian power outages is enough to remind you of some facets of that. But regardless of how very ready and willing I was to return to ‘la USA (pronounced ew-sah)’ at the end of this journey, the fact that my reentry is being expedited seven entire months is unsettling to say the very least. Every Returned Peace Corps Volunteer I’ve ever spoken to vows that the second year of service is the most fruitful and the most fun, and here I am being sent home only four months into year two. Prematurely saying goodbye to the people who have become my family over the past year and a half has been- as predicted- incredibly difficult; especially when I have to tell them that the reason I’m leaving is because Peace Corps has deemed their country ‘too dangerous’ for me, when they don't have the option of simply packing up all their belongings and jumping on the next plane to el norte like I do. And when I do tell them, seeing that genuine sadness and something akin to humiliation that passes over practically everyone’s face as they acknowledge that the delincuencia (delinquency) here truly has gotten out of control absolutely KILLS me. Especially because I now see that they, as individuals, are incapable of doing anything to change this situation, which has evolved largely as a result of US consumers’ unquenchable demand for cocaine teamed with a government and police force so inept that Mexican drug cartels have moved negotiations south to take advantage of the lawlessness, catching all of them up in the middle. Leaving projects high and dry is disconcerting, too; this January the municipality will finally be receiving the funds to begin executing the waste management project we’ve been planning for over seven months, and I will not be here to do my part. Not to mention I haven’t checked all the things I wanted to do here off the bucket list quite yet. I haven’t climbed Celaque, Honduras’ highest point. I haven’t attended nearly enough punta circles nor perfected my own moves. I haven’t seen Calle 13 live in Honduras!!! I haven’t written all the blog entries I have stewing around in my noggin. I haven’t taken enough of those gut-wrenching taxi rides through Teguc that make you thank whoever you may thank in situations like this that, in the States, there’s a healthy urban planning field, seatbelt laws and consequences for passing thirty cars in the left turn lane and then proceeding to run a red light. And although I most likely wouldn’t have been able to anyway, I haven’t seen all the magnificent places hidden within this country, and the countries next door, that I intended to. Tampoco am I ready to no longer live in a Spanish speaking country where I can bellow, ‘¡Siempre en la lucha!' ('Always in the fight!'...trust me it sounds cooler in Spanish) to every single working person I pass in the street or ‘¿Y su casco?’ (‘And your helmet?’) to every helmetless child/adult bicyclist (much to their delight, I must add). Nor in a place where it isn’t considered socially acceptable to touch/snuggle every single child I come across, no matter if they are a complete stranger. I am not ready to have to walk any distance greater than two blocks to have fresh, seasonal, juicy, delectable fruit and anything else I may need at my disposal for a ludicrously low price. I will stop because, ladies and gentlemen, these lists could literally continue on for days...
In spite of all these abrupt, gigantic changes in my life that have successfully afforded 2012 with the title of 'The Most Uncertain New Year I Have Ever Entered', I keep telling myself that everything happens for a reason. While situations like this one are the ones that make it exceptionally difficult to confide in this mantra, I’m doing my best to do so regardless. All I can do is be so very incredibly grateful for the time I did have here and the people and experiences, both negative and positive, that changed me- and I am. And if I've learned one thing over these past nineteen months, it's that I'm a pretty damn flexible, adaptable human being- así que bring it on life, I'm actually quite curious to see what other curve balls you've got hidden for me up that big ole' sleeve a' yours.