Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Uncertain Roads

My head is spinning.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I was getting ready to make the 2-hour bike trip to visit Don Vicente's bees. His wife was out of town, which meant he was alone at home and forced to cook for himself: He thus had asked me to bring some eggs, so we could have something to eat. Around the world we men are helpless without women. I put the eggs in a ziploc, wrapped the ziploc in a towel and tucked the bundle away in my backpack, praying that at least a few would survive the bumpy ride to Vicente's. Unfortunately, I never got there.

I called Peace Corps to check in, because they had activated the Emergency Action Plan a day earlier. Since the EAP had been called already some seven times since I arrived to Bolivia, I wasn't too concerned. But, as it turned out, this time was different: Violence had erupted in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and La Paz; Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the American ambassador, Philip Goldberg, of fomenting the violence by meeting with opposition departamental governors; Goldberg was thus declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country. My bosses told me I was not allowed to leave my site, and to remain on standby until further notice.

At 4:30 p.m. my neighbor told me I had received an urgent call from Peace Corps. I called the central office in Cochabamba, and was told I must immediately get on a bus to Sucre, because all volunteers were to be consolidated in Coch. the following day. This left me about two hours to buy a bus ticket, say a few rushed, uncertain goodbyes and pack my things.

I was pretty certain it was over then. Unfortunately my best buddy Jorge was out of town at this time, and my counterpart Valerio was out working construction, so I wasn't able to give them the news or say goodbye. But my friend Valentina accompanied me while I packed my things and waited for the bus, and she knew from my face how serious the situation was. I got on the bus as the sun fell, put on my headphones to listen to one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs:

There's roads and there's roads, and they're calling, can't you hear it
Roads of the earth and roads of the spirit
The best roads of all are the ones that aren't certain
One of those is where you'll find me till they drop the big curtain

Hear the wind moan in the bright diamond sky
These mountains are calling, brown-green and dry
I'm too old for the term, but I'll use it anyway
I'll be a child of the wind till the end of my days

I looked out the bus window and saw the glow of an adobe stove, burning in someone's home across the river. From the circular opening in the stove, the fire glowed in a perfect disk, and I imagined it was that family's own little sun. Then the bus turned a corner and it was dark again.

We stayed in Cochabamba for a few days, and then on the 14th we were flown in a military C-130 to Lima, Peru. Once all the volunteers had arrived safely a day or so later, we were finally told the news: Peace Corps Bolivia had been suspended, and our service was over.

We were given a few options: 1) Close our service in good standing and return to the US; 2) opt to wait a few months and re-enroll for another 27 months in another country; or 3) apply for a spot to transfer directly to another post. A team of 9 Peace Corps staff members from Washington was flown in to organize this process. With 113 confused, frustrated, and demanding Peace Corps Volunteers to deal with, it was a bit complicated. But, more than a week later, our futures seem to be clear. Here's what I decided:

After eight months in Bolivia, things were actually starting to feel pretty good. I was becoming comfortable in my site, Sopachuy, had made some great friends, and the work was starting to make sense. The experience was just starting and I am not ready for it to be over. But I am also honestly not ready to commit to another 27 months. Thus I applied and was accepted to transfer to a program in Paraguay, where I will finish the remaining 18 months of my service working in their agriculture and beekeeping program.

The program starts October 8th, and Peace Corps has kindly offered to fly us all home to the US first, to wait for medical clearance and visa details to go through. So it looks like I'll be making an unexpected visit to the Ville for a week or so, to see family and friends, have a beer at Cumberland Brews, and get mentally ready for this next test.

It's been a tough couple of weeks, man. It was not easy to say goodbye to Sopachuy, and to all of my wonderful PCV friends. But all of this was out of my control, so I will try to accept it and look forward. And, despite everything, I am truly grateful for the experience in Bolivia. I don't regret anything.

See you guys soon.


ramona said...

Into Wonder Life Will Open.

Locojhon said...

When one door closes, another opens, they say.
This will give you another valuable perspective, and a chance to put to good use that which you learned in Bolivia. I hope the new experience will be as meaningful and enjoyable as were your Bolivian experiences.
Endangered in any way--you were not. Unfortunately, as was proven so clearly in Bolivia, PC vols are only a pawn in the game.
Prediction: The PC will be back in Bolivia within a year.
I hope to hear more of your experiences in your new posting.

megwards said...

Glad I checked my old email so I could read this latest post! The tiny clip I read in Omaha's newspaper obviously in no way conveyed what was going on in Bolivia...As big as America is, it's vision is amazing blinded.
Well, It's a little farther from Ecuador to Paraguay, but, $$ permitting, totally worth a visit! It's not wonderful that your time in Bolivia ended so much sooner and chaotically than anticipated, but as John said, when one door closes another opens, and you'll have the chance to know and love two different countries during your time with PC.
Take care, Andrew, sorry I wasn't in Louisville to see you, but I really would like to visit you next year.
Besos, Megan