I quickly learned that there are roughly 20 others also in the Inn waiting on surgery, or receiving some sort of psychological treatment. Each from a Peace Corps country: the Gambia, Kazakstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Zambia, Nepal, Dominician Republic, St. Lucia, Jamaica, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere. There stories were striking and honest. Despite the thousands of miles between us, the devils of poverty were similar: alcoholism, a culture of leave it to tomorrow, and machismo. It was also amazing to hear the different languages and their work.
The roughness of others lifestyles made me appreciate the merits of Guatemala. My roommate from Kyrgystan talked about 30 degree days and nights, living without heat and electricity, no bed, and eating meals of bread and pigs fat. Beans and tortillas became real appealing. Peace Corps/Guatemala is about hardship, but it's not the life of an ascetic monk. Many volunteers live in better apartments than they had in the states. A few have refrigerators, TVs and phones. The hardship is more in the adjustment to a foreign society.
With a look of concern the manager came up and asked "Can I help you?" Without breaking my gaze at the shampoos I answered "Just looking" "OK well you let me know if I can help" he offered, scuffling along and continuing to stare at me.
However, my advice to anyone is to get as much information from as many sources as you can and then sort it out for yourself. The Central America desk, staffed by returned volunteers Kirsten and Jay really understand the Peace Corps experience. They are hardwired into the D.C and country desk loop and have invaluable information about preparation for training and the status of volunteers in country. Paul Teeple is also really on the ball - of course that's self-explanatory because he was a PC/Guatemala volunteer next door in Jutiapa !Puro Oriente!
The Central American desk is also the hardest in the Peace Corps desk world. Just add these wonderful countries of tranquillity together: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica (OK pretty low key but PC is pulling out) and (I think) Panama. Then add slightly goofy, relatively young PCVs traveling around for work and play. Stir and you've got one big headache of a job. The desk somehow manages thousands of letters bound for the diplomatic pouch, calls from future volunteers, every single serious and less serious crisis, calls from parents of volunteers, PC/Guatemala office, and bored medivacs.
I took him up on his offer two weeks later, after my surgery. I figured that I would stop by and be told he was too busy to see me. After a moments pause and a suggestion that he only had a few minutes, I was shown in. I found myself being interviewed by a precise calculating mind that was not without empathy for my own PC experience. The comment that struck me most was about this very website. I mentioned how I believe this was important for relating my experience to my family, friends and maybe others such as future Guatemala volunteers. He agreed and emphasized that it was important that people be given full information to make their own decision about volunteering in Guatemala. I agree and remain impressed.
March 19 six PCVs and I listened to the testimony of Senator Dodd, Senator Coverdale, and five congressman, Secy. of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, all former PVC's. All could still speak in the language of the country they served from Spanish to Farsi and did. Most said it was a seminal experience in their life. Senator Dodd said if he wasn't serving in Congress he said Peace Corps had an appeal. Our heads were swimming. Yet each of these very powerful people came up to and talked to us, curious as to where we were serving and what were our projects.
When it came to our turn, we each stood up saying our country of service, state of residence and thank you in the language of our country. (Realizing that all would recognize muchas gracias as Spanish, I substituted B'ahn't'osh - a Quechi thanks) Then our "spokesman" told the representative that we were delivering a message of thanks to Congress for their support in the past and a hope for the same in the future. -- See overheard in Congress