Now that I have lived at home for 5 months, and all my belongings from Peru have been delivered to my house, I finally feel like it is time to close the chapter that was my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
March 21, 2017 was one of the hardest days of my life, and that’s not me just being my typical, overly dramatic self. It was the day we were informed we would be evacuated, and for myself and other volunteers from Peru 25, we were ending our service several months early. It wasn’t traumatic in the sense that I was scared for my life, but that I felt like I was being taken from my home, leaving loved ones behind in a terrible situation.
There’s this climate change thing called El Niño (pls google for a more scientific explanation) and it was wrecking havoc on Peru. Basically, it brought a lot more rain to the country than normal and the infrastructure was not equipped to handle it. In 2016, the government and local officials urged for people to take the proper precautions for El Niño, as it was anticipated to happen that year. However, El Niño never really came, or if he did he was pretty tranquilo, and everyone just assumed that meant we weren’t getting an El Niño this decade. WRONG. The rains started in February and continued into March with una fuerza, and so it was decided that volunteers from Piura, Lambayeque and La Libertad would be evacuated. Those volunteers with only a few months left of service (me) would be forced to end their service early, and those with more time left in country would be asked to return in a month if the conditions got better.
I left my home in Zaña on March 14th with the intention of going to Lima for a medical appointment, then to Huanchaco to facilitate an In-Service Training, and then back home. Unfortunately, I never even made it to Lima, but sat on a bus one night for 8 hours because there had been a number of landslides. In Huanchaco, there was talk about how we would all get home, as many roads and bridges had collapsed or were flooded, and eventually we were all moved from Huanchaco to the consolidation point in Trujillo. There were rumors flying around about what would happen to the volunteers, but our country director emailed us to squash those, saying that we were far from an evacuation. Then 24 hours later, he called to say the exact opposite.
We spent about a week at the consolidation point and every single day there was a mudslide that washed through the city, but we weren’t in the most devastated part. The mudslides usually came in the afternoon, but because it was so hot and sunny during the mornings, the mud would dry, filling the air with dust. People were also starting to panic as bottled water wasn’t available in stores anymore, and running water had cut out, and food supplies were running low. Most volunteers weren’t worried about themselves though, and we were constantly in contact with host families to check in on their situations.
So on the morning of March 21st, myself and a few other volunteers decided to go get water for all of us staying together. The city was a shit show. Mud covered the streets, making many roads impassable and cars were literally stuck in the mud. People wore medical masks as to not inhale all the dusty air. It was taking us hours just to purchase water, and we were missing the morning meeting. Someone called one of the girls in the taxi to break the news, that we would be evacuated, and then shortly after the official email came through.
After that, for several hours, I pretty much just cried. I called my parents sobbing to tell them what was happening, I sat in my room in tears, I hugged other crying volunteers, I couldn’t get ahold of my emotions. I was asked to call my host mom to break the news, which was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done. The sound of her bursting into tears on the other end of the phone is something I will never be able to forget. It was, honestly, one of the saddest days of my life.
A few days later, we boarded a chartered plane to Lima and three days after that I left the country. Peace Corps staff did everything in their power to make the transition easy, they even put together a small, last minute Close of Service conference for those of us who had to end our time in Peru.
I didn’t want to end my service when I did, and especially not how I did. It felt weird to be in the US, and I couldn’t help but think I was supposed to be in Peru. It felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time for a really, really long time. And I felt so so so guilty for leaving people I loved behind when the country needed our help the most. People would say things like, “I’m so glad you’re back in your country,” or “You must be so happy to be home and away from that,” or any other version of that and I would awkwardly smile and reply, “Yeah.” But pretty much every time the only thought that ran through my head was, “Fuck you.” Rude, I know, as anyone only ever meant well, but it just seemed so insensitive to assume that life in Peru was so terrible it was a blessing to come back early.
I was fortunate enough to return to Peru in June and see my host family! It was really, really nice to be able to see that Peru is OK, and the country was/is recovering. It was even better to be able to hug my host mom and the rest of the family, and say a proper goodbye when I left. I couldn’t have asked for a better family in Peru, and I am so appreciative of all that they did for me throughout my service. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served as a volunteer, as I learned so much. Peace Corps really taught me, above all else, that I’m incredibly privileged and lucky to live the life I live, and that I am pretty ignorant to not only other cultures and histories around the world, but also to those that exist in the US. I’m hopeful that being a volunteer has made me a better, more open and understanding person (because reading older blog posts of mine kinda makes me cringe at myself). The more I think I know about the world, the more I realize I actually know very little.
Looking back on it all, Peace Corps was hands down the best decision I have ever made. I made life long friends and I was able to do a job that felt like it had some very small, positive impact on the world. It wasn’t all wonderful, but it was worth it in the end.
It was the toughest job that I have ever loved.