Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Refugee Status

Mi Amor,

Do you know what you are doing to me? You break up with me. We get back together. You break up again. I take you back. You promise to be good. You promise it will be better. I believe it.
I put my heart and soul into it and convince myself that it will work out. Things go great for a few weeks. Life has never been better!

Then you break up with me again. And again. And again. And now it’s for good.

How do I know? I’m sitting in a hotel in Lima, Peru, with a broken heart and broken spirit, picking at food, tossing about instead of sleeping, unable to believe how my life got to this point. I feel like I need to cry but I can’t make sense of any of the feelings I have.

You’re killing me, Bolivia. What do I do now???

With the saddest of goodbyes, and the fondest of memories, I wish you the best of luck.


Word came in on Wednesday that Ambassador Goldberg was out. Thursday I get a call in the evening about emergency consolidation and the next morning I am out of Samaipata. I say bye to the few people I can as they are picking up their guns to go protest. Twelve frantic hours in a 4x4 with nine people driving the back roads in order to avoid the tanks, military, and unnecessary confrontations with protestors in the streets, I arrive in Cochabambaba, tired, confused, and sad.

Our sites told us to get out before the Indians kill us. Counterparts called Peace Corps and told them their volunteers were not safe. We watch as friends in our communities respond to the calls to take up arms and we don’t know what we should do. Is it that serious? It must be this time. I usually tell people Peace Corps is consolidating, and they respond with a wave of the hand and a “No pasa nada…” Nothing will happen. This time they respond with tears. Tears for their people, tears for their country, as they process feelings of total bewilderment and despair. After all, where will they go? They have no consolidation point, no evacuation plans.

After my arrival Friday night in Cochabamba, I sleep and wait. The longest hours of life. Waiting, without any idea with what might happen, without explanations. Saturday we move hotels. Sunday we get the message that we are indeed evacuating to a neighboring country. We are not told where. Then we move again. It’s for our safety, they say. Anti-American sentiment is high and no one can know where we are going or that we have even consolidated. We’ve only told our communities that we have to meet up for a minute and that we should be back. Yeah right.

Monday we are scheduled to get out of the country. It is an interminable wait. Half of the volunteers have already been evacuated to Peru. My group is still in Bolivia. No one is allowed to say anything to friends or family for fear that the military cargo plane that had to jump hoops to get clearance for a bunch of Americans to get into Peru will run into problems and that we will have no way out. American airlines has cancelled flights in and out of Bolivia til the end of the month. Private chartered planes have waiting lists of 20+ organizations and hundreds of Americans are waiting for a chance to get out.

During the eight hour wait in the airport for our military jet to get there, we receive more news. We are not going to just wait it out in Peru for things to get better. The decision has already been made that the Bolivia program is suspended. No returning there. Do you now want to close service early and go back to the U.S., or would you like to take another run at it in a different country?

It’s just too much to take in. Our minds are numb. There is a cloud hanging over us that makes for a subdued, depressed atmosphere. Not only did we leave our communities, now we will be leaving each other. That’s just something we can’t process yet, something that I will not allow myself to think about.

We jump on our military aircraft, strap ourselves in, and several bumpy, airsick hours later we arrive in Peru. The back hatch of the plane opens up and five or six men in suits walk towards us to greet us. It’s just like the movies. We walk out, a group of scraggly, tired, sleep-deprived volunteers and shake hands with the Embassy reps, the Peruvian Peace Corps director, and members of the U.S. Air Force who were responsible for our safe evacuation.

Minutes after my group lands on Peruvian soil, the press release goes out letting the world know that Peace Corps has suspended the program. Up til then, no one in Bolivia, minus the people involved in flying clearances, knew that we were on our way out.

I now feel like a refugee in wait. Waiting to see if Bolivia continues to blow up. Waiting to speak to people I care about. Waiting for that inevitable moment when things catch up to me and I fall apart. And waiting, and wondering, of what the future holds. This sucks. It all sucks.

1 comment:

11frogs said...

Found your blog linked from a Peace Corps online site. So, so sad what is happening, and I'm so sorry for you having to leave your sites like this and for the people you're leaving. All of us here are thinking of you.