Peace Corps Diary #6

May 6, 2009

How’s this grab you for a goofy, lighthearted, somewhat inappropriate introduction: I’ve been kicked out of the Peace Corps. Here’s why:

Last Picture Taken Before I left Pespire, 5th May, 09

Last Picture Taken Before I left Pespire, 5th May, 09

An Abrupt Change of Course:

I don’t know how to write this; I’ve been staring at a blank page trying to begin for a while now, and all I can think is that I’m in some twilight zone, some alternate dimension, that I didn’t just get kicked out of the Peace Corps. Except I’m not. I’m out, gone, finished, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my friends.

The morning of 21st April, with no warning, no inkling that I was about to end my life here immediately, I got a phone call from the Duty Officer (the person we have to update with our whereabouts) which is really unusual. Generally it means that you’re about to get an answer to a question you asked, permission to go somewhere, or you’re in deep shit. I hadn’t asked any questions, I wasn’t going anywhere, so I knew that I was fucked, just not why.

“Hola”

“K, this is L. How are you?”

“I’m ok, getting ready for school. What’s up?” I’m late, don’t have time to chat.

“K, we need you to come in to Teguc. And bring all of your belongings.” What in the fuck?

“L, what are you saying? Am I in trouble?” What did I get caught for?

“I can’t say K, you need to come talk to T” (country director) I am so screwed!

“L, I don’t understand – what’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you K, I’m sorry. You’ll understand when you come in.”

“L, can you at least tell me what I need to pack?”

“Everything. When can you be ready to leave?”

“It’s 7:15 now? I can be ready by 9.”

“Cheke, vaya pues.”

And then the line went dead.

I sat on my bed and just stared. I wasn’t even completely dressed yet, had been rushing to get to school on time, putting on my pants. However, I couldn’t sit still for long, so I got up and started putting my things into bags. It was the worst feeling I’ve had in a long time; dread, fear, confusion, anger. What the fuck was happening? Why was I getting called in? What did they find? Do I have to leave? What am I not being told? I continued in this vein for a while, stumbling around, packing quickly, unable to stop my racing brain from jumping from one worst case scenario to another.

I told X first, since she’s my best friend here and I’d be one sorry son of a bitch if I didn’t let her in on what was going on. Host family found out next, or at least Don M and the house staff. My mother was at work already by 7:30, so I couldn’t tell her in the same way. M asked me what I would do if I was removed from the Peace Corps, and I told him I just didn’t know. Saint that he is, he offered me his house rent-free for a month, gave me a hug, and told me that God makes everything happen for a reason. I smiled, said I hoped the reason was a good one, and went back to my room to pack my life into the same backback, duffel, and laptop bag that I came in with 2 months ago.

It all just barely fit, and luckily I had X there to help me, though by help me I really mean watch and tell me how she’s going to miss my sorry self. Still, that helped too. The whole experience felt surreal by this point, and I remember sitting around afterward on my bed, with my pitifully tiny pile of possessions, and thinking that I’d blown the best thing in my life and I wasn’t even sure how.

Not that I couldn’t make a few guesses, but really I couldn’t think of anything that I’d done that would get me singled out by the Peace Corps for some sort of admin action. I don’t want to be one of those rumor spreaders, but the stuff you hear about going on as a PC volunteer is as hilarious as it is contrary to the big book o’ rules. And aside from a few minor indiscretions, I thought I’d steered the straight and narrow pretty well – I was one of the ones using the malaria drugs, mosquito nets, taking all his meds and making sure that I did every scrap of homework and reading. I called the Duty Officer to update whereabouts whenever I so much as went for a walk for too long, kept good tabs with my host family, did everything I could to keep myself on the white side of that gray line. Compared to some people I know of, I’d been a less-then-perfect angel. The beach trip was my main concern, but that went by the wayside when I talked with the other people who had been there with me, and they weren’t going anywhere.

Thus it was with a whole lot more confusion then fear that I loaded my bags into V’s Landcruiser, hugged my crying host mom goodbye, blew a kiss to Pespire, and left for presumably the last time. It was, looking back, one of the worst moments of my life. I didn’t quite cry, but I might as well have. My spirits were crashing, I was pretty much hopeless. And without even knowing why, I started dreaming about running away, ditching the Peace Corps and living on in Honduras without them. I could do it! I realized in a flash that all my training and all my classes had been for exactly this – to live on my own in Honduras without the help and guidance of the staff. It was a wildly silly idea, but it comforted me and kept me sane on the ride north to Teguc and my execution.

The other thing that kept my spirits up was V. He cajoled, told jokes, gave me strategies to keep Trudy from throwing me out, told me how all I needed to do was hold my tongue and I’d come out of it ok. I don’t know if he really believed it, but I do know that it kept me from flipping out, grabbing the wheel, and sending us careening off the mountain pass right into that gigantic dam the Italians helped build. (Or at least, that’s what the sign says) Still, it was a long, bitter, frustrated ride, as V and I went through all the bad things I’ve done and tried to figure out what, if any of them, could be sending me home. He was stumped too, and so after a while the conversation drifted to sports, to politics, to his family and kids. V is really a great guy, and writing this now I realize I have to thank him sometime over the next week for all his help. He’s really been the gallo mas gallo of our Peace Corps training, saving everyone’s bacon, driving our gringo army around, and just being a genuinely cool and funny guy. Sitting there talking with him, I remember thinking that I would miss V, just like everyone else I’ve met here.

Getting into Teguc, we passed V’s house, a lot of fast food places, and spent more time in traffic then I want to think about. I was starving for more, I realized. I’d gotten just the barest taste of the life down here and loved it, and now I was about to lose that love forever. I gawked, I stared, tried to take mental notes and pictures. I wanted to keep every second of this place forever, just as it was. In the back of mind I remember thinking; at least you’ve got all your writing… But that just made things worse, as I knew my book, the Peace Corps Diary that I hadn’t really named yet, was going to hell. Who reads a book about 2 months of Peace Corps service? Only the sad depressed writer, that’s who. “I’ve got to snap out of this,” I said to myself out loud. V looked at me and smiled. “You’ll do fine. I don’t know what’s going to happen in there, but if what you’ve told me is true, you haven’t done anything worth getting kicked out for.” I felt a little better after that, but only enough to keep myself breathing. We inched toward Peace Corps headquarters, and I prayed for a pileup collision, or maybe an act of God to keep us away.

No such luck. Around 11:30 we pulled into the back parking lot of the Peace Corps headquarters. V pulled into the gate as it slid open, and we idled between the now-closed gate and one of those drop-down arms like you see at railroad crossings as a guard with a gun popped the hood, checked for bombs under the car, and checked V’s ID. Never once did he actually look into the vehicle, so the giant fertilizer bomb we’d brought with us went undetected. V wished me luck, I left all my things in the car, and I walked into the main building. Here’s where things got interesting.

L met me in the front lobby, shook my hand, told me how sorry he was that I had to come down here. His face told me that I was gone, gone, kicked the fuck out, goodbye, but that it wasn’t what he wanted. I got the same looks from everyone else there. S, the front desk lady, the Spanish teachers walking past. Something big had happened, everyone knew I was going to be gone, and I still hadn’t even figured out WHY! L led me upstairs, and we sat outside the office of one Trudy Jaycox, director, Peace Corps Honduras.

I’d met Trudy before, well less met then sat through her speech on how she was a hardass, and rulebreakers were ruining Peace Corps, and how she wasn’t going to tolerate anything from us. X asked her a question on that date, and I forget the exact wording, but it was about whether Trudy’s focus was on the rules or on helping people. Trudy’s answer? “I run a tight ship.” So I figured I knew just about what was going to happen once I stepped into that office. I took a few deep breaths, drank a glass of water, and sat there in stony, creeping silence with L. He tried to talk to me a couple times, and I gave him noncommittal grunts, and he apologized again, and I felt really bad for the guy. It must suck to have to be in his shoes, doing the dirty work he doesn’t agree with. I hope I never have to do things I hate just to keep my job, because it’s pretty devastating, if L is to be an example.

After 5-10 minutes waiting, Trudy called us into her office, and as I walked through the door, this was her opener: “K, sit, I’ve got some bad news for you – you’re not going to be continuing your Peace Corps training, and you’re not going to be sworn in as a volunteer next month with your class.” She started to immediately go on, but I cut her off at this point. “I don’t even get a hello?” I asked, partly reeling, partly determined to throw her off her game. JC, the security officer, tells us at every session to change the situation, throw your attacker off her guard, get control. Here was a pretty good time to try to put it in action. So we exchanged pleasantries and inquired about each other’s health, which was absolutely ludicrous in the situation. I did love how confused it made L look though, along with Trudy.

So we sat down around her table, and Trudy asked me what I knew about the Cal State Fullerton Daily Titan. I told her that a friend had put some parts of my Peace Corps Diary entries in them, and asked her if this was a problem. Trudy responded that I needed to ask permission for this sort of activity, and I apologized, telling her that I had meant to, but the story had been published before I had gotten a chance to, and I was still trying to figure out who exactly I was supposed to contact. She ignored this, and told me that she was displeased with my language (exact quote, you said the s-word 2 times, and the f-word once.”) and that she had been further displeased when she went online to search my blog and had found it password protected. She asked me for the password, and I politely declined. She went on to say that she had done a series of searches for my name, citizen k, and had found my Twitter account. This, she said, was the bigger problem.

T-dog told me that she had gone through my Twitter comments and read many instances of profanity, vulgarity, references to alcohol and illegal substances, including, and this part was in a super-serious voice; The suggestion that someone ought to send you Marijuana. I couldn’t help myself; I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. Part of it was the indignant, serious, borderline irate voice here, the other was the fact that I knew, being the writer, that she had read all of my inane, sarcastic, sometimes witty, usually stupid Twitter comments, and taken every single one at face value, and completely out of context.

This actually happened too – Trudy pulled out a stack of paper 150 sheets thick and dropped it on the table. “Do you know what this is?” she asked, as if it was a bomb, or some guilt-proving piece of legal evidence. “This is every Twitter message you’ve ever sent. I’ve highlighted all the ones that show inappropriate behavior.” And she had, which was rather impressive, though I did like the fact that she’d highlighted every tweet I’d ever done that contained swearing. This, it turns out, is a fuckload. The stack even had a coversheet of the worst of the worst, the marijuana joke, a few about drinking, one about being hungover, one about the awkward encounter with the 17 year old cousin (last email) and the one about how we all wanted Jesus to just die already after the Stations of the Cross. Minus any context, minus any desire to learn the stories behind these messages, with a focus only on rulebreaking and running a tight ship, it must have been some sort of damning proof of my lack of character, but to me it wasn’t even close. It was Twitter messages – I’ve said worse, and actually meant it.

Still, since she was making the decision and I wasn’t, I tried to reason with Trudy, to put the tweets in context, since 140 character sarcastic little word bombs leave a lot of room for interpretation. I walked her through the stories of a few of the quotes she had picked out, and even though I got L to crack a few smiles and laugh once, Trudy just sat there stone faced and frowning. “And you think this justifies your actions?” she asked in the tone of voice that tells you the question is quite rhetorical, you pathetic little piece of shit moron scum detrius. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong here. I think this is a difference of opinion, and you’re kicking me out of the Peace Corps because you don’t like my language.” And sure enough, after another 15 minutes in which I offered everything from destroying Twitter, writing an apology in the newspaper, and sucking an unspecified numbers of dicks, she dismissed me from her office, telling me that I had a choice between resigning and being administratively separated, which is a nice way of saying thrown out on my ass.

Now, here’s the thing: there was a good deal of lying going on in this meeting, and for once I wasn’t the one doing it. Trudy didn’t tell me that only admin-sepped people can really fight the Country Director’s ruling. She told me that her decision was the only one possible given what I’ve written, which isn’t true, since the Peace Corps handbook pretty much says you’d have to be writing something crazily racist, offensive, anti-Peace Corps to be kicked out. No, really Trudy was kicking me out under the little clause that says “at their discretion, Country Directors can remove trainees from the program at any time.” This was a personal, discretionary sort of boot, but they all feel pretty much the same when they come in contact with your rear end. There were a few other lies too, like the fact that I had to leave the country immediately, that I couldn’t stay in Honduras, that I would be an illegal alien without my Peace Corps Passport, that the embassy would get involved if I tried to stay. Scare tactics and outright lies work just fine when you’re not given the means to defend yourself, and when your only potential ally is staring at his shoes and pretending not to be there.

I wandered around the Peace Corps compound for a while, called my dad, and decided to resign, since I might want to rejoin Peace Corps at some point (hooray lying Country Directors) and really because I knew I couldn’t fight this woman. From all the stories about her, I knew she’d thrown out people for getting robbed, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for breaking all sorts of petty and inane rules. My case was just going to be another future example of how truly off-the-wall mean and strict Trudy is, and how you need to keep away from her at all costs. Helping Honduras be damned, its the rules that really count down here, and don’t you forget it. So I went upstairs, told Trudy I would resign, and started the process of destroying the life I loved piece by piece. Then we went and got lunch together, and had a very civil conversation about how people don’t often get the right impression of others, and make terrible decisions based on these faulty assumptions. As you might guess, I chose the topic.

The only consolation I had in this chain of ridiculously complex and bureaucracy-laden events is that Moneybags, one of my close friends since that first gathering in DC (sushi and sake) was also ending her service, though of her own volition. I was walking shell-shocked out of the main office when I saw her sitting on a couch outside the medical building. We hadn’t seen each other since the programs split off to their different sites, and we gave each other the most deliciously confused faces. “What are you doing here?” we both asked. It was a very welcome surprise to have a comrade through all of this, and I drew a lot of strength from the fact that I will never let myself bring those around me down. Her presence made me act happier, which in turn actually made me happier, because psychosomatic stuff works like that. We really couldn’t do much that afternoon, save close out our bank accounts, get physicals, and return a few items, so we spent a lot of the afternoon and evening hanging out at the hotel, using our computers, catching up on each other’s lives and watching crappy American TV with Spanish subtitles. As far as a last night here could go, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I stepped out a few times to call people, took major advantage of the TIGO plan that gives you free texts all day after you send 10 of them, talked to probably half our training class, and received all sorts of support and well-wishes that I needed. I also got a cool 10 phone calls from members of my host family, all of whom asked me if I would forget them, if I would come visit, would I like to stay anyway without the Peace Corps… My host dad repeated his offer of rent-free living for a month, and made some generous offers about helping me find work. It was about this point that I realized exactly how much of a sad-sack pushover I was being. How in dog’s green earth was the Peace Corps going to force me on a plane after I wasn’t a member? They forfeited their right to do that, and if I wanted to stay, then nothing Trudy Jaycox could say or do was worth the hair on her upper lip about that. But did I want to stay?

There were a lot of compelling reasons not to stay, not least among them the fact that I was going to be without a job, without much money, utterly alone, and after this stunt, public enemy of the Peace Corps. (Trudy would make sure of that.) I also would have to rely on my nascent Spanish, accept that I was going to be very alone and very vulnerable, and figure out how to live without the support structures and safety net of Peace Corps. Was I up for the expatriate life? I certainly wasn’t prepared for it, but was I about to make a crazy run for the unknown? Money told me I was crazy, and that if anyone was going to run off and do something as stupid and wild as escape into Honduras and try to live, it would be me, which made me quite proud though it probably shouldn’t have. I thought about it a lot that night, sent out a text message to all my Peace Corps friends saying goodbye and giving my contact info, and resolved to sleep on it. Only to X did I say I was going to stay.

The next morning, 22nd April, I was up at 7 giving bags of my poop to a man in a lab coat. These he was going to test for viruses, bacteria, little friends I’d picked up, anything irregular. Money was there too, and so I got to witness a fantastic exchange between her and the doc about how one of her little jars of poop wasn’t fresh enough, and how she’d have to come back with another deposit later. Then he took our poop into the other room, and invited me to come have blood taken. What followed made every first responder and biology-knowledgeable fiber in my body scream in agony, revulsion and fear. This man proceeded to draw blood on me barehanded, without even washing them, then squirt my blood into a little tube, which he poured into a third tube and partly on the table. If that man doesn’t have the HIV already, he has a guardian angel or a magical immune system. He broke casi every rule of medical safety in one go, and I’m just hoping he didn’t pass anything on to me.

After that terrifying event, I walked (NOT ADVISED in Teguc by Peace Corps) the few blocks back to the Peace Corps office. There I met with one of the Peace Corps doctors, the one who had done my physical the day before. She gave me the end of service anti-malarial drugs, some advice on insurance, and my medical records. I was pretty much numb by this point, so after a half hour of nodding, signing papers, and getting my life back, I wandered back out into the courtyard of the Peace Corps compound, and sat around on a couch waiting for the staff to show up and let me finish the abbreviated, getting thrown out on my ass in the street version of leaving the Peace Corps. After a while I met with the cashier and found out that Peace Corps wanted all the money back that they’d given me a few days before. I had it, plus some, but I didn’t feel like giving it back if I was going to be living here, so I walked back to the hotel, grabbed a few hundred Lempiras out of the stash of 1200 I had, and paid that plus $5 plus my living/travel allowance of the past few days and was more or less squared away. All that was left to do after that was get my plane ticket and travel allowance ($50!) and take the long sad ride to the airport.

A, the same driver from the day before, and I spent a good 40 minutes in traffic talking about nothing in particular, sports, politics, bullshitting. I apologized to him for being in a terrible mood and he told me not to worry about it. I asked him if they always saddled him with the ex-Peace Corps members, and if they all got treated like felons or just me. He just laughed and we kept inching forward. By 11 we were at the airport, sitting outside the terminal. I said goodbye to A, hoping he would just drive off and let me be, but he parked and followed me inside the building. I sat in line to get my passport looked at, wasted as much time as I could, but A stayed right with me, a few feet behind and to my left, staying in my blind spot and never letting his eye off me. I was getting the full criminal treatment, and he was taking pains to make the experience as miserable as possible. Fuck it, I thought. Lets scare Peace Corps a bit.

When it was my turn to approach the baggage check-in, I smiled at the lady and proceeded to flip her world upside down. “Hi miss, I hope you don’t find me some sort of wild criminal, but I need your help with something. Can you make this process take as long as possible?” Her smile and cheery expression shifted from 5th straight into reverse, tore itself apart, and the twisted remains were very confused indeed. “Excuse me sir? Are you asking me to take my time here?”

“Yes, I want you to make this process take as much time as possible.You see, I don’t want to get on that plane, but the man leaning on the wall back there (quick jerk of the head in A’s direction) and some other people are pretty much forcing me.” Lets see how she handles this one.

“Are you some sort of criminal?” Yeah, that’s not the reaction I was going for…

“No, no, not at all, I just ran afoul of the rules of the organization I was a part of, and they’re shipping me home in a hurry. I’m hoping to stand here a few minutes, and when that man isn’t paying attention, slip out the side door.” Well, now its all out there, hope she’s one of the good people.

“I see… well, lets get started.”

To my utter amazement, she did exactly as I’d asked, taking a solid 5-8 minutes to take my passport, examine it like it was something fascinating, new, and possibly valuable, to read me all the information off of my ticket, to confirm I didn’t want to upgrade anything, to tell me about my flight. (Peace Corps sent me to San Diego via Miami, just for fun.) The other 2 lines open swirled past us, a blur of anxious travelers, efficient agents, and desires diametrically opposed to my own. I used the pocket shaving mirror my dad had given me before I left to watch A lean against the wall and stare over at me. About the time I was beginning to think that A would stand there boring holes in the back of my head forever, he got a phone call, and stepped around into a nearby hallway.

This was it! I thanked the agent, grabbed my ticket and passport, grabbed all 80+ pounds of my luggage, and did a fast little shuffle to the nearby door outside. Here it is, I thought, the point of no return, and I’m in too much of a hurry to even enjoy it. I was just about to step outside when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I spun around and A was there, looking at me profoundly puzzled. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked in the first English sentence he’d spoken to me in 2 days. “You speak English?!” was the first reply I could come up with. It was like that joke about the 2 muffins in the oven, or those 2 horses, or any other joke where the punch line is “Holy crap a talking ____!”

“I spent 2 days stumbling over myself talking to you in Spanish, and you know English?!”

“Yeah, but I thought you were trying to practice. Your Spanish isn’t bad.”

“Thanks.”

“Welcome. Where are you going?” Oh yeah, that.

“I dunno, but I’m not going home just yet. There’s nothing there for me.”

“I can’t let you leave. I have orders from Trudy to do everything short of forcing you physically to board that plane. I could lose my job.”

“I’m willing to tell her you tried your hardest.” Not like I gain anything by telling the truth to Peace Corps…

After a couple minutes, in which I told A what I was getting the boot for, and he expressed amazement that that was on the seemingly infinite list of things one can get removed for, we reached an agreement. I would give him my ticket and tell anyone who asked that he had done everything possible to keep me at the airport, but I’d slipped out without him noticing, and in return he’d give me 5 minutes before he called the office to report my disappearance. We shook hands, he wished me luck, and I walked out into hot sticky Teguc a free man, borderline broke, and strongly questioning my own sanity.

Outside I hailed a cab, loaded my stuff inside, and we took off for the only bus station I knew of that went South, Mi Esperanza. 80 Lemps it cost me, and I found out later there were at least 4 stops closer to the airport, but as I watched A watching us drive off heading North, I knew it was $4.25 well spent. Hit the bus station 10 minutes later, and boarded a bus leaving in 5 minutes for Choluteca. I pretty much had time to throw my bags aboard, climb into the bus, and it was rolling. Found a seat, and just then my phone rang. It was L, calling on the Duty Officer line. I answered reluctantly, only to hear him laughing. “K,” he told me, “I have never heard of anyone doing what you’ve done, and I don’t even know what to say. Are you going to be ok out here?” I told him I had money and friends, and with those two things I’d survive quite nicely. He wished me luck, laughed again, and told me I was pijo loco. I definitely was, and doubtlessly still am.

Turns out that I had gotten on a bum bus; bad transmission left us going 10-15mph through the mountains to get home, and the whole time the grinding gears and burning clutch gave me the distinct feeling that we would plummet off the next sharp turn and die a firey death in the (magnificent looking) valleys below. I stared out the window the whole time, smile plastered on my face, watching the world crawl by and angry motorists whip around us horns blazing. I couldn’t believe what I’d done, but not in a bad way. I just really doubted I’d go through with the plan, that I’d actually take a running leap off the deep end without my floaties on. As I was still airborne, it was todo pijudo, smooth sailing. I had no idea where I might be landing, but the sheer joy of being free blew in my face with the fresh air.

Hitting Pespire almost 3 hours later, I hopped out, pulled my bags out of the under-bus compartment, and staggered fully loaded into the town I’d left 18 hours earlier. It felt… different. This wasn’t my training ground, I wasn’t a Peace Corps member, I had no compelling reason to be here. It was just a place where I happened to know people, a safe place in a strange world. I dropped my things off at the house, showered, and felt the creeping edges of exhaustion, fear, and sadness setting in. The family wasn’t home, just Marie, the live-in cook/housekeeper, and though she was happy to see me, she had things to do. I needed a cigarette, a beer, and a friend, and luckily all three of those happened to be around, in the form of the most catracha gringa I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my short time here. Pulling out my phone, I called Natalie.

What I mean by “catratcha gringa” is that Natalie had adapted far better to living in Honduras then most of the people I’d met. She’s the one who taught me Honduran card games, how to swear, knew all the local dances, and talked, walked, and acted like a local. She also happens to be the poolhall-frequenting, hard drinking, hard smoking, subversive type, which is exactly what I needed at this point. I knew she was in town teaching the WatSanners something today, and so when I called her to find where she was, it turned out she was done teaching, so we met in the hotel to drink a few beers.

We sat around for a few hours, nursed Port Royals (local Pilsner, one of the better local beers) and talked about the craziness I’d just pulled off. I guess the news had spread already, because she greeted me with “holy fuck you ran away at the airport?! I bet Trudy flipped!” Nic has her own issues with Peace Corps which aren’t important right now, but she definitely isn’t harboring an overabundance of love for the T-dog. We sat, she smoked, we drank, and we talked about what in the hell I was going to do next, having burnt all my bridges and taken the aforementioned dive into the unknown. After a while the other WatSanners showed up and we had a round. It was a good time, but I noticed pretty straight off that I was already being treated differently. Like I was damaged goods, like I was something that could potentially hurt them. Found out that they’d all been warned that I wasn’t allowed to be around Peace Corps functions, and that administration was gunning for me. It was my first taste of the unpleasant parts of being ex-Peace Corps.

Luckily Nicole made up for it and then some with her relentless cheerfulness, jokes, and general happiness at the havoc I’d caused. We talked some more about my getting a job and a visa while the rest of the group joked and chatted among themselves, and I was painfully aware of the fact that they’d formed their little circle of chairs excluding Nic and myself. Still, I was happy – I’d pulled off a great escape, was free, and had at least one great friend who was happy with me. A few beers later we parted ways, and I headed over to Carlito’s house to play soccer with the other half of the team.

I got a great greeting here, not entirely because one of the teams was down a man and they needed a 5th. I stepped in on the teacher/local team, and we ended up winning 3-2 with a great off-the-wall one-touch around Jesus into the back of the net, after a wild game in our little dirt and weed field. It felt good, the running, the playful ribbing, and I was in a fantastic high state, except for a little nagging pain in the back of my head. We parted ways, I stepped out to walk home, and as I made my way back I first realized that the little pain was spreading. Migraine. Well, there goes my evening. It was Katerina’s birthday party that night, but when I get one of these, I’m down hard for at least 12 hours. Quickening my pace I raced to make it home before the storm hit.

I barely made it home, vision streaking, brain aching, sweating heavily and with full body aches appearing with wild rapidity. I stumbled into the house, caught my second wind as the family approached me with hugs, smiles, and tears. Everyone was so amazingly happy to see me that I couldn’t help but to be glad as well. As it turned out they were all going to San Pedro Sula (biggest city in Honduras, to the Northwest) for some business dealings, and I was to have the house to myself for a few days. Then they left, quite suddenly, and I was alone again in the big house.

Well, not quite. The two girls were there, and it proved impossible to convince them that I had a nauseating headache and couldn’t see, so after 15 minutes of trying I gave up and said goodnight, and they followed me as I stumbled to my room, asking repeatedly why I wasn’t going to the dinner table. I couldn’t make them understand, not by telling them I had a massive head pain, not by saying I felt like I was going to vomit, not by any means that my jumbled brain could manage to put together. I barely made it into my room, remembered how filthy I was, dragged myself to the shower without most of my vision, took a pathetic attempt at washing off the sweat, dust, and mud, and more or less crawled back to my room to collapse naked and sweating on my bed. Marie spent the next half hour knocking on the door, and when I stopped answering the same question over and over, stuck her head in through the window and asked a few more times. I pretty much couldn’t speak after this, and I think that sticking her head through the window to see me nude and in the fetal position finally got through to her in a way my words never could. She pulled her head back through the window and I lay there spinning for an eternity before falling asleep.

Citizen K, Illegal Immigrant:

Here they have an expression, which might actually be part of the slang of all Latin America, “mojada” which means “wet” as in our own hateful “wetback” as in just crossed the border. For those of you that like knowing the roots of the words they use (probably just me) it comes from the fact that you have to cross the Rio Grande to get from Mexico into Texas. Hence, when you got into the US, you were mojada, and just happened to be an illegal immigrant. I had my own mojada moment right after leaving the Peace Corps, and it went a little bit like this:

Because I’d fled from the airport so suddenly, and so unexpectedly, I did happen to screw one thing up in my flight, and that was that I had left a small yellow sheet of paper, the immigrations and naturalization page from my passport, on the airport baggage counter. This came back to haunt me, as I was in the country on the Peace Corps’ passport, which 3 phone calls the previous day from Trudy, L, and others at the main office had made abundantly clear that I had to return NOW. So after a half-day in bed, I got up, ate, tried and failed once more to explain that I had not come to have dinner because I had a terrible head pain, and took the bus back to Teguc, back into the belly of the beast, back to Peace Corps headquarters.

It felt a lot different heading back in, because I knew that they had no hold over me this time. I smiled at the guard as I signed in at the gate with my now-useless PC ID card, and walked straight up to Trudy’s office. Nobody stopped me because nobody was there – it was lunchtime in Honduras, and that means everyone goes and eats a communal lunch, which is a pretty cool way of going about things. They definitely work to live, not live to work. Anyway, if Trudy was surprised to see me in her office again, she didn’t show it. We sat down and talked, and I asked her if she’d given any thought into reversing her decision to let me go. Thus began an hour of mental chess, a polite, calm, occasionally cheerful verbal battle to the death. I sweetly gave her business advice that really was a nice way of telling her nobody trusted her decisions. She told me that she was so very sorry, but the Peace Corps would have to charge me for the plane flight I hadn’t taken, because that just was how things went. I apologized for how I’d assumed Peace Corps would prioritize helping people over following rules simply for the sake of rules, and Trudy smoldered. I eventually got her to agree to have someone help me transfer my visa from my PC passport to my personal one, so I thanked her and left. Fighting a passive aggressive war is the stupidest thing in the world, but I had the concession I needed, so that’s something.

After that we parted ways, I met up with one of the women from the Peace Corps office, and she and a driver took me and my 2 passports to the immigration office. Here’s where things got a bit complicated. Turns out that that yellow page I’d left in the airport wasn’t necessary to change my visa from one passport to the other except if one’s passport stamp was smeared. Mine was. Also, a search of the computer for my records revealed that I had left yesterday on a plane to Miami, and my visa had been thus terminated. I was, the woman on the other side of the counter told me, an illegal alien, subject to a $125.00 fine I couldn’t afford, and required to leave the country immediately. It was just like the Peace Corps’ proclamation, except real and enforceable. All of this was final, I was told, unless I could find that yellow sheet of paper that proved I existed. Thus we headed to the airport, and I pondered a second wild escape in 2 days.

Arriving there, we found the United terminal completely deserted, since apparently there aren’t flights every day, and eventually flagged down a passing custodian to ask directions to the immigration bureau. Here we explained the situation, and proceeded to search through the yellow immigration sheets for every person who had left the airport the day before, which is how I know that 297 people left Honduras on United flights on the 22nd April. Went through every page, one by one, and nothing. I got really down at this point, and we did it again. Nothing. I contemplated saying that I needed to use the bathroom, and pulling off another escape at that point. As I was waiting for the right moment, one of the men from the office held up a sheet triumphantly, and sure enough it was mine. A quick visa transfer and I was good to go for another month, after which time I have to leave the country to receive another 90 day visa. Why couldn’t I have been kicked out a week later, after I received my residency card?

After a trip back to the PC office, said my goodbyes again, asked JC for directions to the nearest safe bus station, since he’s the best person to ask about that sort of thing hands down, and walked a half block to the bank to change some money. I gave the woman $50, got 940 Lempiras in return, and realized for the first time that I might be able to live quite a while off of my $250 all-I-have-in-the-world savings. Heading back outside, caught a cab, and traded life stories with a 34 year old cabbie named Dominic (this is a real name, value it accordingly) After he dropped me off at the station, I rode the bus home sitting in down the aisle, packed in front of a gassy old man doing the same, and next to a woman who didn’t seem to notice she was elbowing me in the head, because she did it quite often. Maybe someone told her gringos like that sort of thing.

I got home, second time in as many days, but this time was different. People greeted me in the streets, kids yelled my name to me, I ran into at least 5 people I knew on the way home. It was great. I felt a lot more stable, more at home, like I could actually make it out here on my own. I know not what the future may hold for me, but with friends, a supportive family (both here and at home) and adventures to be had, I’ll give it my best shot. After all, worst case I’ll run off and have myself a grand Central American vacation, and that is in itself pretty appealing.

My New Family:

So I feel a bit guilty realizing now that my host family hasn’t come up as often in my emails as they ought to have, but it isn’t because they’re bad – on the contrary, they’ve totally included me in their lives, to the point of calling me their oldest son and inviting me on family vacations – but because they’re busy as sin, working their faces off to keep up with the competing needs of managing a hotel, a chain of stores, and businesses stretching between Pespire and Teguc. I’m often working different hours then they, and in the evenings I’ve been spending much time with X, as we try to cope with the fact that each of us is going to be a 2-day bus ride from our best new friend for the foreseeable future. (Actually, we don’t KNOW this yet, but it’s fairly certain.) Anyway, I just thought I would toss in this little profile of the family members so you get a feel for the people I live with.

The first thing you ought to know about this family is that they’re patrons of the town. They have their thumbs in every pie, their tentacles spread to every corner of small Pespire, and they know pretty much all of what goes on, and control a fair bit of it. This isn’t a bad thing, just a relevant bit of knowledge that gives an idea of the what the family is and does. They’re busy people, and often we see each other only in the mornings and after 6-7 pm. They run their businesses, hotel, and spend their free time exercising or visiting family. They might be the wealthiest family in town (definitely the most visibly wealthy) but they’re not the idle rich – in the time I’ve been here, they’ve taken one 2-day vacation, and the other members of the family make up for it by dropping by to visit often. Yeah, busy, well-connected, respectable family.

The kids live in Teguc, where their attend school, university, or work. Like most Hondurans, they’ve had to go into the city to keep advancing in life, so the oldest son is manager of the family store in Teguc, the oldest daughter is married and living with her husband, the 23 year old daughter is at university, and the youngest son (who I see most often) is attending a private school there. The rest of the extended family lives in and around Teguc, mostly in the neighborhood I talked about visiting last email. Every weekend some of the kids, or occasionally large groups of family members, will come home, swim in the pool, play PS3, and complain about how boring Pespire is. I’d say something snarky about that, but I used to have much the same reaction to San Diego, so I’ve no room to talk. We all think we grew up in somewhere boring, because that’s our baseline.

What this means is that every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the morning, there is a flurry of activity, noise, and buoyant family members floating around the house. (Oh yeah, that’s a pun.) However, it also means that during the week I pretty much have to keep myself busy, because nobody is around. The majority of my days are spent either working, exercising, or doing what I am now, sitting in a hammock typing page after page or surfing the Internet in slow motion. Not at all bad, some days you just need to unwind alone, but I wonder how well it’ll suit me once all the other PC kids leave. At least some of the host families, X’s especially, have told me I ought to come visit. Time to integrate into my community to the fullest. Anyway, this is sidetracking to the extreme, but what I meant to write is that I really have been fortunate to meet this family, to have been put up in this living situation, to have been offered the kindness and love of a gigantic (20 sets of aunts and uncles!) Honduran family. We get along great so far, as the next part shows, and I can tell this is one of those life-long friendships they warned us we might get into early on in Peace Corps training.

Heart to Hearts with a Whiskey Chaser:

My host dad and I have developed a really healthy spiritual exercise that we follow at least once a week and it isn’t going to church, though we do that as well. We never consciously decide to do this, it just follows naturally from one of our conversations, and once the ball starts rolling, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. I’m talking about guy talks, the serious heart to hearts, where you, in a very manly way of course, tell each other just how grateful you are to have the other around, and then spend the next 5 hours talking about various subjects.

The key ingredient to this just happens to be alcohol, that glorious social lubricant that keeps the world turning and ugly people getting laid by people far prettier and far more desperate then themselves. We had another of these just last night, when I took a break from writing and walked down into the backyard to do some pullups. My dad was sitting under a tree with a Corona, and he offered me one as well. I took the last one out of the cooler, and while I was drinking it he disappeared upstairs and brought back a 1/5 of whiskey and a shotglass. My thought: oh shit, I’m not getting this email done tonight. What I should have thought: Well, here’s to spending tomorrow nursing heartburn and a hangover, and tonight blitzed out of my mind.

We then proceeded to take 6 shots of whiskey apiece, which I haven’t done since I was in those curious prime college years where your friends dare you to do stupid things. The difference being, I guess, that this wasn’t a dare, just a war against my stomach lining for purposes unknown. He almost poured me a 7th, but I told him that I needed to grab my swim trunks, and hurried upstairs to change. Got into my bootyhuggers and came back down to swim a few laps, when the whiskey decided it was time to say hi. We’d taken them quickly enough that the 6th was in the door before I’d finished properly introducing myself to the 1st, and so I swam a dozen laps (like 4 strokes apiece) to get my head clear. Then another dozen. I didn’t want to be this messed up, I remember thinking. I had plenty of things I needed to do. Still, pride is a powerful force, and social pressure to heed the wishes of the guy who is making your entire life possible is even moreso. With a bit of reluctance, and the general countenance of a man facing a firing squad, I swam back to the side, hopped out, and got down to the business of drinking.

The secret, incidentally, to drinking a lot of booze has a lot less to do with body size or average consumption as it does mindset. If you come into the drinking war secure in the knowledge that you have spent nights hugging the toilet, or passed out on a couch in some slummy house only to wake up covered in crudely drawn penises and “HOMO” written across your forehead in sharpee, or worse, thrown up in a girls’ mouth when the two of you were making out (way to go, other Devon!) then there’s a pretty good chance you will come out of it just fine. If you have experienced the terrible effects of a night of binge drinking, it gets seared into your brain, and every hard-fought night of keeping too much down, holding it together when you’re well past done, becomes your weapon the next time you’re swimming in booze. I’ve had enough rough experiences with alcohol to last a lifetime at 22, (sorry M&D, it’s not something I’m proud of) and so I can generally hold my own against most anyone.

Take my host dad. He outweighs me by an easy 50 pounds, and his age and experience ought to give him an advantage on me in this sort of contest. Still, every time we sit down to drink, its him who gets wasted, and me who drags him off to bed at 2 am. This night was no exception, and after a few more whiskey shots he got real open, and started telling me the most heartbreakingly kind things. For one, my dad uses “vos” to refer to me now, which is a verb form used only among close friends and family. To be “vos-ed” by a Honduran is a compliment of the highest order. He also told me repeatedly how much he cared about me, referred to me as his oldest son, and repeated his earlier story about how I was the one who made him trust white people again. Actually, I don’t think I’ve written that down so here it is:

Basically, the Peace Corps hounded my host family for 8 months to get them to accept a volunteer, because the family had had a terrible experience with their last one. She was impolite, didn’t like their food, insulted the mother, and generally spent as little time with the family as possible. After her, the family decided, and my host dad swore, that they would never host another Peace Corps volunteer. As my dad put it “I would never have another gringo living in my house. Never.” Anyway, they were worn down by 8 months of phone calls, visits, pleading, to take another volunteer. My host mom consented eventually only a few weeks before I arrived, but my host dad did not. He remained adamantly opposed to my living there even after I arrived. (This explains why I didn’t see him more then once in the first week.) However, he said that my humbleness and kindness made him reconsider a ban on all white people. As he puts it, God sent me to the house as a message to him not to be so hasty with his judgments. Really, the story is so much more vivid in Spanish; I do it no justice here, but it choked me up a bit, and still does, to know that he thought so highly of me. I’ve a lot to uphold here.

Back to last night. We drank well over half a 1/5th of whiskey, which is just a retarded amount, and hung out in the pool, with him telling me over and over how much faith and love he has in me, and me trying to say something even half as meaningful. Later we talked about his business, swine flu (sorry, that name is offensive apparently) and how I really need to get paid by the NGO if I work there. Finally, around 1:45, we staggered up the stairs to bed, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of wine to help us sleep, he said, and to knock me the hell out, as I thought to myself. I made it to my room, dropped my suit and towel, drank a lot of water, flossed but didn’t brush because I wasn’t up to move, and passed out mostly on my bed.

Diving Into Development Work Feet First:

The Friday after I left the Peace Corps, I had an interview with the meru meru, el jefe, the boss of a local NGO funded by the European Union. I don’t know a whole lot about them, except that they have very slow wifi that I spend a good deal of time stealing, and they seem to be involved in or in charge of all the community aid, organizing, and development work that goes on around Pespire. X and my host dad both put in a good word for me, and after my reassurance that I hadn’t been removed from the Peace Corps for anything seriously bad, J, the boss, offered to let me try the work for a week and if I could prove I was up to it, he would consider letting me stay on. It all sounded a bit vague for my tastes, but then, my whole life is vagary, unfocused adventuring, and flying along by the seat of my pants, so really who am I to complain?

I started Monday, 7am on the dot, at the NGO campus where the Peace Corps has been using their salon for its air conditioning and internet. We’ve (ack, its weird to talk about Peace Corps and not use we) I mean they’ve gotten a ton of help from these guys, and so I was pretty familiar with the place, just not what it was they actually did. I helped out with a wide range of activities, starting with a run down to the town of Langue (lahn-gay) to pickup up Leah, a Peace Corps engineer from the class before ours, and one of the most gorgeous girls I’ve met down here. Roddy, one of the NGO drivers, and I took the 45 minute drive down toward El Salvador, past beautiful rolling hills, to remote Langue. There I gave Leah a shock, walking into her local counterpart’s office where she was on the computer and asking in my best SoCal bro accent “is uh like Leah here?” (Her response: What are you doing here?! Didn’t they kick you out?”)

We drove back to Pespire, got our assignment from J, (sounds so James Bond) and set out on the worst roads I’ve yet encountered to San Juan Bosco, a remote community 20km and 1 ½ hours from Pespire. They’ve been trying to put in a water system for at least 3 years, but a lack of funding and a comedy of errors cut the last attempt short. We’ve been pulled in to update the project, and hopefully oversee its construction. First, we had to meet community leaders to get an updated list of who lived there, what buildings had been added, and what changes the community wanted added. It was the sort of thing that might only take a phone call in the states, but here we had to drive to town, find someone who knew the boss of the junta de agua (water board, water commission) then drive around looking for him, eventually finding him painting a house on the outskirts of town. He was a wizened old man of perhaps 60, strong in the hands and arms, in dirty jeans and a bloody shirt, the corner of which he was using to dab a large cut under his right eye. I gave him the emergency toilet paper I keep in my bag, and with that firmly pressed against his face, he set about telling us the details we needed. That 20 minute talk completed, we drove back to town to celebrate with pineapple juice, coke, or peach soda, depending on who you were. We thanked our guide and took the 1 ½ hour ride home, with me snapping pictures all the way. Lesson: simple tasks take all day, be patient.

On Tuesday I was supposed to head out early with Sam to visit local junta de agua members and drum up support for a training session on Wednesday, but he had other things to do in the morning, so mostly I dozed under a tree and updated my phone on their wifi network. After a good 2 ½ hours of this, and a lot of questioning my reasons for having come at such an early hour, and sweating profusely, Sam came back out from whatever he was doing and and we took a motorcycle into the back country. Or rather, he took a little 70s Yamaha and I hung on for dear life as we rode down the highway at 30 miles an hour and 18 wheelers flew by and slammed us with gale-force winds. Fortunately (I thought at the time) we turned off the main road fairly quickly, onto a dirt one that seems to be the turnoff for most of the communities to the South and East of Pespire. However, we took a new turn this time, and in short order we were bouncing, bumping, rocking, and dodging cows on our way down one of the worst roads I have ever had the displeasure of traveling.

For miles we worked our way down this rocky path, and I had the distinct impression that my brains were turning to jelly from the constant battering we took. It wasn’t nausea I felt, it was more a difficulty thinking, a sense of vision blurred by the vibration of the road, and a constant sense that I was one gravel patch away from falling off the bike in my loose-fitting helmet and short sleeves. At one point we stopped in a small town and drank cokes to get the grit out of our teeth, and I played with kittens so skinny they looked half dead. Overheard a great conversation between schoolkids too, part in broken English, about how it sucked to speak a foreign language because you never understood what the native speakers meant only what they said. I looked at them at that point and deadpanned “I know exactly what you mean.” Sam and I laughed, then resumed beating ourselves up after that.

The point of all this was to get people to meet up the next day for a training session on water systems, hygiene, maintenance, and administration. Really what this meant is that someone had to go around door to door to talk to people, make sure they were coming, and give them some advice on what to bring. It also meant that we drank a lot of offered drinks, sat around on a lot of porches, and spent far too much time on the short roads between small communities. At one point we got stuck in a tight spot on an uphill grade with a couple trucks coming the other direction, and had to stop to let them pass. This meant that after the trucks went by and the dust cleared a bit, we had to try and build up momentum again and climb the hill. Sam gave it his best, keeping the gear low, climbing steadily, but the hill was small boulders, and we were pitching and yawing all over the place. It got so bad that I was getting rocked slowly off the back of the bike, until I was just barely on the mudguard. I yelled at Sam, but just then he gunned it to climb another steep section, and I let go of him and tumbled off the bike. Nothing bad, a 2mph fall can’t do too much damage, but we had a good laugh and I spent the rest of day covered in dirt and looking like a guy who couldn’t ride a motorcycle. Lesson: Sometimes bailing out early beats hanging on tenaciously until it is far too late.

Wednesday and Thursday were almost identical; Sam, Ricardo, a SANAA (gov’t water agency) guy, and myself took a truck out to Espinal, one of the communities close to Pespire, to teach the class we’d been recruiting for the day before. Along the way we picked up half our students, and followed other trucks down the dusty dirt road. This meant that we, and especially the people riding in the bed, were completely covered in dust and grime by the time we started. I looked like a raccoon whenever I had my sunglasses off, and the site we went to lacked running water. We sat around spitting grit and sipping small cups of water from the 5 gallons we’d brought, and then set up the projector and my laptop while the audience trickled in.

Ricardo, the SANAA guy, started us off, and after a brief intro, turned to me and told the crowd “And here is K, an expert on water system design and maintenance.” Really?! I’d been put on the spot before, but water systems expert? I clean them, can probably replace most of the parts, understand how they work, and have minimal MINIMAL experience in the rest. It’d be like calling me an expert in economics because I devour a lot of books on the subject and read some very good blogs and periodicals. Anyway, it turned out alright because Ricardo had a whole USB drive full of presentations, slide shows, and videos, and so we really just kept switching between these, elaborating, doing group activities, and expanding upon the points already made. I ended up impressing myself by running the group through how to maintain a water system entirely in Spanish without looking or feeling like an idiot. It actually was pretty cool to be in the teacher position for once, and it helped that the people who came really wanted to learn. Lesson: sometimes you just have to throw yourself out there and see what sticks.

Thursday, since we were continuing the same lectures, was very much the same in most regards, except we switched the focus to admin work, which I know a lot less about. I mainly worked the projector and computer, and little eeepy (that’s a cross between my eee pc and eevee, from Wall-E) really got through her paces. Still, between discovering and reading all the hidden files (read, pornography) on Ricardo’s USB stick, working automatically with the projector, and reading every file type and random drive we plugged into her, she played a great village bicycle and never complained once. Way to go $400 computer. You kick ass. Lesson: Ubuntu makes Windows look bad, per the usual.

Friday was a holiday, Mayday, which the US doesn’t celebrate much because we’re scared of commies, but here it meant we didn’t have work. Instead I had a lot of fun with Sam rebuilding his semester-long project that had somehow gotten totally destroyed when his hard drive crashed. 6 ½ hours of Excel, Powerpoint, and recovering corrupted data, all the while trying to explain it in Spanish. Can I just say that I love how you can trick Windows into working with corrupted and recovered data just by manually changing the file extensions? Brilliant. No work though. Afterward I went to visit friends, play Settlers of Cataan, and home. That I guess counts as a work week, right? Lesson learned: as soon as people learn that you have some skill with computers, they suddenly begin to have problems. These problems will gradually escalate in intensity until you’re their network administrator. Gah.

A Night of Culture, Fine Storytelling, and Bindhi:

Just to prove my life isn’t all work and no play, I went with X the other night to meet some of the other friends she had made while I was writing overly long emails and playing UNO and getting hammered. These two had always sounded like an interesting pair, both development workers from Europe, one Italian, the other Belgian, and both a bit older and loads more experienced then I in the ways of the world. So I was happy just to tag along and see what would come of it all, and maybe even find a couple local friends out of the deal. Networking, you know, that whole “its who you know” schtick that you think is a load of crap until you realize that twit Tim Geithner (or however you spell it) is Treasury Secretary, and you cry a lot as the dollar loses value like I will lose weight the second I get Dengue Fever. So anyway…

Turns out that Marley, the Belgian world traveler-turned-NGO-worker, had 2 friends visiting from Europe, and Jake, the hilarious Italian guy with an affinity for going shirtless, was going to be cooking dinner. I was introduced to everyone, rapidly forgot names, and we carried a table outside to try and beat the heat, which kinda worked in the sense that occasionally a breeze would ripple through and dry a layer of sweat on us so we could build up a nice base coat. X had brought henna to tattoo each other, but instead we drank some delicious mix of guaro, pineapple, OJ, and ginger ale that was pretty much rubbing alcohol, but actually tasted great. If you can find some Guaro, which might not exist outside of Honduras, I recommend it highly. After that the girls (really X) had the bright idea of trying to make a “three-headed-monster” which is about 99.6% less sexual then it sounds. (The 0.4% is because someone got a foot to the boob.) Basically the girls tried to make stack of themselves that if it had worked would have looked kind of like 3 girls stacked on top of each other, or if you’re drunk enough and/or crosseyed, a monster of the three-headed variety. It worked great, as far as I’m concerned, because nobody took a header into the concrete.

Actually, before that all went down, we met the pet iguana, who was less a pet and more an iguana sleeping above the pila in the bathroom. He didn’t move much, but he was the life of the party. Then after the woman-pile, we got into deep conversations that the French girls (oh yeah, the girls visiting were French, worked for Kraft, and one of them was starting a 9 month tour of the world) kind of were able to follow, and at some point we all started wearing Bindhi, the little sparkly line down your forehead that you may recognize as being a Hindi princess thing, or if you’re me, you’ll still be unclear as to what exactly it means. I’m sure there are pictures on the Facebook. Anyway, it was a great time, and I discovered that spaghetti and tuna is actually awesome if you have a real Italian cooking for you, but if you cut it up he’ll act as if you cut a part of his heart out, ate that too, and claimed it needed more salt and/or garlic.

After dinner we got into a fantastic conversation about traveling, and it turned out that Marley had spent 18 months living out of her backpack, traveling the world, and sightseeing. She had a thousand stories, and with the rest of us chipping in, the girls breaking into Flemmish and French, Spanish and English mixing freely, it was one of the most enlightening and beautiful conversations I’ve been a part of. It was just so free, so open, so full of life and love that I didn’t want to leave, and we sat up talking until well past midnight. If only this sort of experience wasn’t so fleetingly rare, beautiful like a moment you’re nostalgic for as it is happening, this life would be so much the richer. Sadly, all good things must end, and so when the girls left the next morning for a few week vacation, and I headed to work groggy and disoriented from lack of sleep, it felt all the more surreal to have run into this group in the middle of Pespire, Honduras. I hope we’ll be fortunate enough to do it again sometime.

Crippling Bouts of Depression and Doubts:

Ok, so they’re not crippling, but I really like the way that title rolls off the tongue, even if it is misleading. Say it a couple times. That said, having thrown my entire life into limbo and run off seeking adventure and what-have-you has given me an ample amount of time to doubt myself. In addition, following my usual peaks of highs and lows, I’ve moved into one of the lows, so I’ve been extra vulnerable to just getting down, cratering into my own psyche. It’s been a struggle to keep myself moving, happy, and motivated these past couple weeks, especially as all of my friends here are moving into the site assignment phase of training, and getting ready to become full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.

For me, the hardest part is that I can feel the gap between my teammates, my close friends, my comrades and I gaping wider every day, as the tidal wave of Peace Corps carries them on to the next stage of their journey, and I struggle with the mundane details of everyday life. They get to do the projects, build things, take field trips and play in the river, and I go out to the aldeas and teach community leaders how to repair their water systems. Sure, I’m doing good, and its great that I’m able to do the work I am, but that doesn’t replace the feeling of being part of something, of coming together with other motivated young people to work and grow and hopefully accomplish something big enough to matter. I just can’t help it – every time I’m around my friends, with their talk of site assignments, projects, where they’re going, what they’ll be doing – I just want to scream at the utter unfairness of it all. This was my life dream, the voice inside rages, and I’m watching from the sidelines, a bit character clinging to the edges of a story that once was his own. Maybe I’ll feel better when they’re all gone.

Most days, I don’t really interact with my old friends anymore. Our paths move in different directions, I’m busy with my work, them with their training, and so unless someone makes an effort we’re not going to run into each other. To complicate matters, my good friend Ms. Jaycox has made it abundantly clear to the staff here that my presence around them, around Peace Corps activities, around my friends will be at the price of their future service with the Peace Corps. In short, if I’m involved with them, and she finds out, heads will roll. I found out as much from the Program Training Director one day after we were playing soccer. It baffles me how someone can make this sort of a threat and not realize that all it can hope to accomplish is further damage to the program, to the Peace Corps, to Honduras. All because I wrote naughty words on the Internets, and then stayed around to work harder then anyone else will have to to try and help without Peace Corps assistance. Man, if people like me are the enemy of Peace Corps, then I would be fortunate if I had the same sort of enemies.

The net effect of all this is that my friends are afraid to be around me. They don’t say it, and if I show up where they are they won’t kick me out, but nobody aside from X has contacted me since I came back. It’s disillusioning to carry on a one-sided relationship with people, and after I realized I wasn’t going to get invited to anything anymore, I’ve pretty much given up being part of this same team. I feel bad about it, because I know friendships are never lost because of just one party, but I think that it says a lot about how our relationships actually were; I thought we were all friends because we were the same sort of people, but really we were friends of opportunity, like the friends you work with and then never see again after one of you quits. That’s the part that gets me down, that makes it hard to be around everyone, to force a smile. I’m not one of them anymore, and I never will be. They’ll go on, have their Peace Corps experience to live, to treasure, to tell stories about their entire lives, and I won’t have any part in that, except as a small footnote in the introduction, a face in a few photographs, and a little tangent about the people stupid or unlucky enough to get kicked out.

And Yet, Life Goes On:

I’m sitting outside today writing, and my host father keeps coming out to give me some company and another alcoholic beverage. So far we’ve had 2 beers apiece, a half bottle of wine, (in pint mugs, to keep it classy) and he just gave me a slug of whiskey that would knock me down a few pegs even if I hadn’t skipped lunch today to sit and write and get over my hangover from last night. (Yeah, and Peace Corps made a big point of telling us how much drinking is looked down upon here.) So I’m sitting here, munching on a carrot, drinking whiskey, thinking, writing. It’s a life I’m quite ok with, especially after the booze sets in. I’m starting to come to terms with not being a member of the Peace Corps any longer, and while I’m far from happy about it, I’m not going to let it take me down.

Everything has its yin and yang, and there is an upside to not being in the Peace Corps – I’m not held to the same rules, I can travel, I’ll definitely make more money. I don’t have to obey a capricious old woman who long ago forgot the purpose of the Peace Corps. I can stay out past 9pm. Maybe I’ll buy a pickup truck, if I can scrape the cash together. (turns out US drivers’ licenses work down here too.) I’ve been given my freedom back, and what I do with my life is no longer clear or straightforward. I’ll have an adventure, that much I’m sure of. The trick will be in finding out just which type. I’ll find out soon, I imagine, and that too will be part of the fun. I’ll keep writing it if you’ll all keep reading. And actually, since I’m not Peace Corps any longer, you can spread this one to your friends. I’d love to actually do something with writing, and this is one way to start. Anyone know a newspaper I can start writing for?

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7 Responses to “Peace Corps Diary #6”

  1. Eric Says:

    You should not require a password to read this story. More people will read it that way. You’re no longer in the P.C. You need to contact your local home-town newspaper and have them print your story.

  2. Evan Says:

    Citizen K,

    I was arrested with your lucid writing. Although most of my anxiety revolves around a silly packing list at this point, I would love to be in touch about life in Honduras and dealing with PC bureaucracy. What you did took balls, and those balls will keep you rolling. Keep your head held high.

    Evan

  3. gamal Says:

    I read most of what you wrote and you are a very good writer, but honestly I would have removed you, too. I served in Ecuador in the late 90’s for three years and currently live there now. I am writing a book about my experiences. Training was dull and I was written up during training for not following the rules. However realizing that I really wanted to be here, I did what they said, knowing that the end was in sight. You were aware of the rules that you ultimately broke, and you dealt with the consequences. That article you wrote attached a big target to you. One thing I tried not to do was draw additional attention to myself; hell, I got enough just walking down the street–a big black man was a rare thing in my city. Perhaps your articles could have waited until you finished the Peace Corps, when you wouldn’t have had to worry about being monitored. My stay in Ecuador was far from easy. I changed sites halfway through due to some violence in my town. I extended and am quite glad to have served. I later became a recruiter for the Peace Corps.

    Nonetheless I enjoyed what you wrote and wish you the best!

    Gamal

  4. Joe Says:

    Very interesting read..kept me up a lot longer into the night then I planned.

  5. Murphy Says:

    I really sympathize with you.

    Also, you should know that Much Much worse things have happened under such an incompetent administration as that of Ms. Trudy Jaycox. The Peace Corps has fallen WAY behind in the digital age……internal communication has always been abysmally poor and there is still no effort to improve it. However, in the face of major institutional shortcomings, Ms. Jaycox has chosen to focus intently on the amount of times a PVC says “the s-word” online

    Absolutely no effort is made to create long-term partnerships with Honduran communities. The real, lasting acheivements of PCV’s are readily discarded as soon as we leave the country, so that each new training class is totally in the dark. The administration has ZERO interst in volunteer feedback or input regarding the needs or isssues affecting the communities that we are supposed to be serving.. Whenever a concern is raised, extra pressure and demands are placed on the volunteer, so as to avoid any responsibility on the part of the administration.

    Volunteers are constantly reminded that they are not employees, and “just volunteers” with absolutely no rights, and they are further disparaged by being targeted by unreasonable suspicions and blame. It’s all so the administration can cover their own ass, and claim to their superiors that they are “cleaning things up”. A few of us little guys always have to be sacrificed in order for the Peace Corps to appear more “professional”. It’s just DISPICABLE!

  6. Alienkaps Says:

    I’m a current PCT going through my own difficulties, doubts and frustrations somewhere in PC Europe; I stayed up all night reading your story, it touched me deeply. You clearly have an enormous talent regarding writing and should continue pursuing it.

    I was moved by your dedication and passion to serve, I feel the same way but have been restricted by personal/medical/psychological issues hindering my capabilities here, drawing the criticism of my peers, extra unwanted scrutiny from staff, and living in the constant fear of my future here in the PC.

    Your short story cheered me up immensely and I’m very impressed with your chutzpah, candor and intellect, as well as your impeccable comical timing and inherent wit.

  7. Aubrey Says:

    I was a volunteer under Trudy for two years and I adored her. She was the most amazing, supportive country director. Then again, I was a major rule follower. At the same time, I am very sorry for you, I can imagine how hard being admin-sep’d during training must have been.


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