Posted by: Jessica | January 14, 2012

So… this wasn’t exactly the plan.

When I accepted the invitation to become a Peace Corps volunteer here in El Salvador, I did so with relatively open eyes.  I don’t think anyone takes a job in a third world country thinking their level of security will be equal to what it was in the U.S.  They may even take the job hoping to come back with a few “war stories” of their time in the ‘real world’.  

The thing is, once I got here, I felt nervous and oddly lucky at the same time.  While there is a lot of violence here in El Sal, it’s definitely not the only country like it in Central America, and in recent PC history, no volunteers have been direct targets of violent crime.  We witness it on the roadside; the uncovered bodies: victims of gang violence or brutal car/bus accidents, but so far we’ve been, well, pretty lucky.  Maybe an armed robbery, some sexual harassment, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that those security incidents are the price we pay for sticking out like a light-haired sore thumb in a mostly dark-haired country. 

I, and I assume a lot of other volunteers, have gotten accustomed to pushing the fear and anger we feel as a result of our ‘security incidents’ to the side, and just try to focus more on my projects.  For me, guilt plays huge role.  Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about having to deal with the daily cat-calls and the occasional sexual assault, I remind myself that for me this is just two years out of my life, and there is not a Salvadoran woman I have met that hasn’t been followed down the street, or groped in a bus, or worse.  For them, this is their permanent reality; hence the guilt at feeling affected by the negative experiences I’ve had here.  

But as much as I may try to push all of that aside, it has affected me.  I’ve learned to live in a state of heightened anxiety and anger towards most men I encounter in the street outside of my community.  As more than one male volunteer has said to me here, “the volunteer experience for women here is completely different.” That heightened anxiety has become my ‘normal’, but i know it is changing me.  I don’t think anyone WANTS to live like that, but its a survival tactic.  And its a tactic that most middle-class Americans such as myself haven’t had to depend on for extended periods of time.  If you ask Salvadoran women about how they feel, they shrug their shoulders and say, “yes, it is very dangerous, but what can we do?”

This all brings me to the current state of affairs of the Peace Corps program not only here, but also in Guatemala and Honduras.  It seems volunteers aren’t always dodging the sometimes proverbial, sometimes literal bullets anymore.  Our relative ‘luck’ seems to be running out as the violence is getting worse.  I’m hearing more reports of fatal shootings on buses that volunteers regularly ride, and more stories of volunteer site changes due to violence and murders in close proximity.  I feel like I’m living in a bit of a bubble… No one has been shot on my bus, or in my community for that matter, in recent history.  I would consider my site safe, and there are many people there who care about me and look out for me.  

However, the bus line I take into San Salvador has been involved in several fatal accidents in the last year, and a volunteer in a close by town has been moved because of multiple gang-related murders in his site.  I’m having a crisis of perspective on the current situation; is the reality that the situation has always been dangerous and we’re making a bigger deal out of it than it is? Or is the reality that volunteers have been very lucky until now and haven’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time (and we shouldn’t push our luck)?  

Whatever reality I chose to believe, Peace Corps Washington seems to think something needs to change.  They’ve just put several new restrictions on how and where and when we may travel, and have banned us from coming to San Salvador.  These are huge changes from how I’ve lived my volunteer life up til now, and the restrictions completely prohibit me from visiting my boyfriend or his family as they live in the greater San Sal area.  I don’t know now I’m going to deal with that.  

This was not in the plan for how my last year was supposed to play out.  Im worried about how many friends are going to leave before finishing, and Im worried that PC Washington is just prolonging the inevitable; that they’ll just end up closing the program before September anyway.  I have a lot to think about in the next month…




  1. so whats the first step.

    • The next step is waiting til our all-volunteer conference on jan 30th, when reps from DC will hopefully be a little more straight-forward with us about the restrictions and the reality of the future of the program here. Either way, Im not leaving anytime soon, and it appears that at least for now, the 2 camps I have in the works for February can go ahead as planned.

      Gio Gio? 🙂

  2. Hi,

    I am currently writing a magazine article about the on-the-ground experiences of PCVs in Central America, especially the countries with high security risks. I was wandering if I could ask you or some of your volunteer colleagues a few questions about your experiences in El Salvador. Please would you get in touch if you could find the time, my personal email address is

    Many thanks for your time.


  3. Jessica,

    I say again, I am very proud of you and am amazed by your strength. I can’t really imagine living in your shoes. I pray for you all the time and will be more diligent in praying for your safety and security. Remember that God tells us “I have a plan for you.” Love you! Aunt Charlene

  4. Dear Jessica:

    I cannot begin to know what you are going through on a daily basis. I work with someone who is from El Salvador and he has told me about things that have happened to his family and the conditions that they live in daily – especially his mother. I “ditto” Charlene’s feelings. I pray the Rosary daily for your safe return. I am sorry that this current situation will keep you from visiting your boyfriend & his family. Be strong and know God is with you along with the prayers of all your family & friends! I will try to post the pics from your cooking lesson soon. XOXOXOXOXOXOXO

  5. Thank for keeping me in your thoughts 🙂

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