I got a text message around noon on Tuesday while I was waiting lunch. It was from Peace Corps, and it said that an important email had just been sent out to all volunteers. I wouldn’t be able to access a computer until I got home, thus I waited in agonizing curiosity for about a half hour. As I ate, my mind raced with the possibilities of what the message could contain. I tried my best to tell myself that it was nothing, but my gut was telling me that the news was big. As soon as I finished the meal I walked straight home and checked my email.
Only there was nothing. I found out later that through an error in the email system, my cohort of volunteers didn’t receive the message. Through the use of Facebook, thankfully, I was able to get someone to forward it to me.
I read through it quickly. There was so much information to take in. First, I found out that a ‘Standfast’ had been activated. This means that we are not allowed to leave our sites. I wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas in Valle de Angeles with my old host family, which I had been planning and looking forward to for months. I’m not even allowed to visit Danlí, which is only about a little over an hour away. This news wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as now I get to spend Christmas with other families in town that have been inviting me to celebrate with them.
But this wasn’t the biggest news. I had to read the following section over a few times in order to make sure I understood it completely:
After the January conference, all Honduras Volunteers will be placed on Administrative Hold for a period of at least thirty days and will return to their Home of Record in the United States while Peace Corps assesses the future direction of the program. We are currently working on the details of this process and will provide you with additional information at the Volunteer Conference. Administrative Hold means that you will remain a Volunteer, but will be away from your country of service for the convenience of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps will, among other things, continue to be responsible for your medical care. While you are on Administrative Hold, our staff will analyze our options and decide whether we can implement the steps that are necessary to ensure your safety and security.
Once I made sense of it, my immediate reaction was one of excitement. I get to go home and see my family. Not only that, but the trip would be on Peace Corps’ dime.
I immediately called my parents to let them know what was happening. I then spent much of the rest of my day talking with other volunteers on the phone and through Facebook. Many of us were extremely upset, though I did my best to be positive. The problem is that there is a lot of uncertainty to the situation. The rest of the message includes a suggestion of the possibility of PC Honduras shutting down, perhaps with the opportunity to continue service in another country.
In my heart I know I want to stay here in Honduras, and in Teupasenti. In the past six months I have begun some great relationships that I had been extremely excited about developing over the next 21 months. My Spanish has a long way to go before I am an expert speaker, but it’s definitely developed enough to make friends and get a real sense of who people are. My optimism for the future is heavily based on how I have found people in this country who have come to feel as close as family. That’s a beautiful thing when the only world you’ve ever known is 2,000 miles away. On top of the social aspect, I also feel like I’m in a great position work-wise. In my first month and a half in site I was only able to get a few small projects done, but I also came a long way in bonding with my counterparts and getting to know the community. I feel really well-integrated, and I was excited about my position to help move towards meaningful changes in the school systems and community in the coming year.
Now, all of those relationships and work opportunities are at risk.
I can’t say for sure that I won’t be coming back here, but I can say that my gut is telling me it is extremely unlikely. I have so many questions that I simply must wait to get answers for. I know that Peace Corps is doing their best to let us know all that they can as soon as they can tell us, but it’s hard not to worry that the bureaucratic aliens in Washington that we’ve never met might not leave us with a favorable decision. Though nothing is certain, from what I’ve been told that if we end up going to a different country, the process of doing so would not be an easy one. It might require an entirely new application process, as well as starting the entire 27 months over fresh, training and all. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’m trying my best not to worry about things until they happen.
But the worrying comes, despite how hard I try not to. In some ways this experience feels like a break-up. My mind has been racing with worried possibilities and uncertainty about what is to come. The first two nights I basically didn’t sleep, and my appetite wasn’t quite what it usually is. Just a week ago I had the next two years of my life completely figured out. The next two years were supposed to be a time of challenge and personal growth, to find out what I’m really made of and emerge as something entirely new. Though I’ve learned and grown so much in the past six months, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. So far I’ve barely gotten my feet wet, and it might be over already.
I’ve realized that much of what happens next is out of my hands, and in a strange way that gives me peace. As many of my friends in town have been reminding me, “it’s in God’s hands now.” Whatever happens, I know that life will go on. I recently watched the movie “Cast Away”, one of the first movies I sat through after getting my hands on a giant collection of movie files from the hard drive of another volunteer. There was one line in the movie that struck a chord with me, so much so that I felt compelled to watch the same scene over again the following day. Tom Hanks is venting to an old friend after being rescued from being alone on a desert island for four years, only to find that his wife has moved on and started a family with another man. He has every reason to hate the world after finding this cruel irony, yet he’s reminded of the time on after several years on the island where a plastic sheet washed on shore out of the blue. This same plastic sheet was what he used to make a sail for a raft to escape from the island. After this scene where he is talking to his friend, he decides to move on and deliver the one package he brought with him from the island, the package that gave him hope. Upon its delivery, it is implied that the woman that receives it is to be the next love of his life. Instead of giving up, he takes his own advice, and something beautiful happens that he never would have imagined beforehand. His advice, his philosophy (which I purposely omitted earlier in this paragraph), is the simple and hopeful statement that “you never know what the tide will bring.”
Where do we go from here?
I’ll be home in mid-January, roughly the 16th or 17th. I can’t wait to see all of my friends and family, and I already have a list of things I’m looking forward to doing after being away from the country for six months. I’ll probably look for work (ECDC? Marriott? Both?) and then wait to hear my fate. Until then, I’m going to just enjoy myself. It’s as if I’ve been given three weeks to live, so I want to do it right. I’m going to spend my time doing the things I love the most, with the people I love the most. I don’t want to waste a single minute.
It’s almost as if there’s a life-lesson in all of this.