Good-bye to a friend

I first met Francis maybe the second day of training. Within learning enough to introduce each other to the other members of our environmental management group including astrology signs (a quirk/interest/guiding principle of our trainer), we began a feisty discussion on the merits and risks of eco-tourism. A biologist with a keen eye for fauna, Francis is quick to wit and humor. I didn't get to know her until we got to San Juan Chemelco, but once there she became my closest confidante. Living across the street with families who were best of friends, we talked about everything.

When she got the site in the Quiche, other volunteers including myself were a bit jealous. The Quiche is the home of Rigoberta Menchu Tum, rich indigenous history and central zone of the former civil war. The last reason was also why it remains one of the most dangerous parts of the country. To quote the Guatemala Travel Tips:

In November 1997, there was a pre-dawn attack on a group of buses on the road between Chichicastenango and Santa Cruz del Quiche, El Quiche. Most everyone was robbed and several women were raped.

Volunteers are advised not to travel in the pre-dawn hours. Also there were no volunteers on the bus. But, this was the only route Francis had to get to the Peace Corps Office, Antigua or Guatemala City. And while she felt safe at site, she was scared stiff taking the buses back and forth. This is also a major tourist route, and tour buses are often robbed. From December on Francis regularly complained about this insecurity. Francis was also spooked because she met one of the volunteers who was a rape victim, and unlike her image of a slim thing, she was the same medium body size.

In February, Peace Corps gave a new option to volunteers - an honorable out. Volunteers with less than 8 months till they were scheduled to leave could end their service with full privileges (government job application advantage, etc.). Volunteers with more than 8 months to go could leave and either defer their service till a later time when Guatemala is safer or apply for acceptance to another country. Francis is looking to relocate to Morocco or Paraguay, or possibly return to Guatemala.

The road is harder for women, no doubt. The movies show lusty, sexy, promiscuous American women- making them an object of desire here. In a macho society were women are still referred to as de Silva or de Garcia (of the husband's family), men walk on air.

Some of the PCV's women who have finished their service are critical of the volunteers who are leaving. For two years they have put up with the Tch, Tch and hey baby cat calls, butt pinching, suggestive questions, drunk come-ons, men showing up late on their door, meetings where their opinions are ignored, meetings where they are the only woman in the room, being thought of as only able to work with women- and on and on. They feel they are tougher for it. For me, while we'll stay in touch, I'm sad to have lost a friend.