So I really dropped the ball recently. Even my photo a day challenge couldn't keep my blogging. I stopped after 4 days, so much for self-starter huh? Anyway things have been busy and I just haven't had the time to blog. That's a pretty lame excuse I know but I guess I'll go with the update. November was fun with Shirley's visit. We were able to spend some time together and see the awesome kites so it was a nice trip. Then came Thanksgiving. Year 2 at the beach. I have to say Thanksgiving is fun normally but super fun unconventionally. Staying at the beach, swimming with friends and eating a hodge-podge Turkey... I mean chicken feast complete with spagetti is pretty great. We were also able to release baby sea turtles into the ocean. It was a fun trip, and no sunburns to be found.
Then came December the longest month ever because I was waiting to go home for the first time in 2 years! I couldn't believe that much time had passed. There was a birthday celebration in there and lots of things to break up the 19 day long wait but going home was so wonderful I can't even put it into words. I was able to spend sometime with friends and family that was so much needed it made coming back too hard! I ate at my favorite restaurants, went to a real gym, the mall, and just hung out at home with the dogs, cats, and everyone in between. It was really hard to come back to Guatemala even though I only had 3 months left. After being so comfortable and happy to be home, it was not fun to come back. However, as soon as I was "home" again in Guate, things fell back into place. I was looking forward to our end of service conference (close of service-COS) which was canceled due to the visit of the Washington head Director of Peace Corps Aaron Williams. He came to represent the US government at the inauguration of the new Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina.
That combined with a changing state in Guatemala has really made the past few weeks a roller coaster. With the increased danger in the northern triangle region of Central America (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) Peace Corps has decided to completely restructure the programs in these countries. Honduras volunteers were completely evacuated by mid-January for the first time since 1963 and Guatemala and El Salvador are severely lowering their numbers. The good news is that programs are still going to be run in these countries, they are just being changed. Volunteers are being moved to new sites or being asked to leave early. Every volunteer in Guatemala has the opportunity for an "Early COS" which means they can leave and will receive the benefits of serving for 2 years. For my group this means finishing our service one month early; February 25, my 25th birthday. Honestly the last month of service is full of goodbyes and reflection so I am ok with this decision. I have spent two years here and had plenty of experiences both good and bad. I'm ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I feel anxious about the future for Guatemala and for my fellow volunteers but I know after 2 years here that downsizing is a good thing. It is cause for a lot of difficult conversations, a lot of hard feelings, and a lot of discontent.
I think that volunteers here don't realize exactly what we go through daily and how rare it is. At a recent meeting the regional director for Latin America and the Pacific spoke about how he met with a volunteer who was shot in a bus robbery in Honduras in December. She stated " I did everything I was taught[while the robbery was happening] I ducked, leaned in, used the seat and my bag as protection..." but before she could finish he interrupted "Wait, they are training you to avoid being shot?" This is not ok. Many volunteers have said that they are willing to assume that risk. I for one am not and think that is a naive perspective. We came to a country to serve and help people but when you step off of the plane you have no idea what you are getting into. We forget that getting trained how not to be shot isn't really normal. I feel that this situation is difficult to swallow because volunteers form a bond with their country, their towns, and their friends, we don't want to have to leave but we aren't always thinking clearly. I know that my perspective isn't a common one because I'm finishing my service completely and fully and other volunteers aren't getting that chance. The truth is your experiences here will shape you for the rest of your life and we can't risk bad things happening to volunteers every day. The goal to reduce numbers in the northern triangle started when my group came into country and is finally be put into effect 2 years later. That's a long time and a lot of danger. I feel that Peace Corps as an organization has to do the right thing for its volunteers in the big picture and that makes it harder for us down here actually doing the leg work but it doesn't make it right or wrong. As I'm finishing up my service I'm trying to make the best of it and it's almost as hard as it was at the beginning. I still feel committed to the ideals of Peace Corps and will stand by their decision because at the end of the day it's my safety and my friends safety that is important. The work we do here is important and life-changing but we can't do it if we're dead. Sorry for the negativity but I feel that it needs to be said. There are many things to do in the world and many people need help but I didn't sign up to die for that ideal. I came here to learn and grow which definitely happened. I know that my experience here will shape how I live my life from now on. That may not be exactly what Peace Corps advertises as their goal but I think that's what usually happens. So I'm going to get off my soap box and enjoy my last few weeks here with people I love, conditions I sometimes hate, and extra tortillas, beans, and eggs because soon it will be over and I've got to make the best of it whether I like it or not. I volunteered to work for the United States government and serve as a US ambassador thus I must understand that like any other government agency there is bureaucracy that I cannot change, all I can do is learn from it and make the best of it. Pretty good life lesson.