Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 19 September 2008

The view from the shore…

My body is tired. My brain is in overdrive. My heart is heavy.

Just over a week ago, I was in my site, preparing for a big party to celebrate the arrival of a group of teachers from the town of Tarvita. My biggest worry was whether or not we had made enough refresco for the 100+ thirsty revelers…

Today, I am sitting in a conference room near the PC/Peru training center being asked to make a decision about what to do next. Peru? Ecuador? Jamaica? Burkina Faso? Ukraine? Close my service?

The days in between these events are a blur.

We were told last Saturday evening at our hotel in Cochabamba that we needed to have our bags packed by 8am the following morning because we were going to be transfered to another hotel in Coch so we could join the other group of volunteers that was consolidated there.

The next morning, our country director showed up just after breakfast to inform us that we would not be moving to another hotel, but that we were being driven to the airport to catch a direct flight to Lima, Peru.

Heads dropped, hearts sank, eyes watered and silence fell heavy.

We were met at the Coch airport by the third group of volunteers that had flown from Bermejo, on the Argentinian border that morning. There were about 30 volunteers from the Tarija department that could not get to us in Coch because of gas shortages and roadblocks. They boarded the plane in Bermejo not knowing that they were headed later that day to Lima.

The military C-130 cargo plane that was built in 1959 and was donated to the Bolivian Air Force by the US Government that flew us to Peru was only able to take about 2/3 of us at once, so the group at the other hotel in Coch had to wait until Monday to leave Bolivia.

We arrived exhausted in Lima. The US Ambassador to Peru, the PC/Peru country director and various representatives from the US Embassy met us on the tarmac. When the Ambassador shook my hand as I deplaned and said “Welcome to Peru”, my eyes welled up with tears and, despite the typically cloudy Lima weather, I put my sunglasses on…

We were informed on Monday that PC/Washington had decided to officially suspend the program in Bolivia, in the hopes of reopening sometime. However, considering the political climate in Bolivia right now, no one can say when that may be. It is likely to be months, and could potentially be years before the Bolivia post can reopen

So our options are these:

1. Close our Service with Peace Corps in good standing, regardless of the length of time we have served (kind of like getting an honorable discharge from the military)

2. Transfer directly to another PC country to finish our service.

3. Close our service and sign up to reinstate our service later on in Bolivia if the post re-opens within a year.

4. Close our service now and decide later on to re-up for another full 27 months in another post, only we would be expedited through the application process and given priority for placements.

I have no answers right now. I have a million questions. Slowly, but surely, we are sifting through the paperwork, through the heartache and trying to come to terms with the way things were left, the way things went down. We are all grateful to have each other right now, but as the sun sets each day we get closer and closer to another set of goodbyes…

People are in pretty good spirits, considering all we have been through in such a short period of time. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again now: This is an incredible community, and it has been an honor to be a part of it.

I will try to stay in touch over the next few days as I try to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to process all this…

And please, keep Bolivia in your hearts.




  1. Hang in there, Helen, as I know you always do! It seems at time like this that you feel so helpless and have so little control over what’s happening, but regardless, we are so happy that you are safe and that you have options. Now you will decide the next step in your great adventure. Take good care. Love Rita

  2. Helen, I know how much you have given of yourself to Bolivia and how hard it has to be for you to be told you have to leave. But I also know that everyone you touched there won’t forget you or what you have done. You are absolutely and absurdly amazing, and even though this feels like a kick in the teeth, I know you will continue on doing amazing, wonderful things. I mean come on Helen, you frigging rock 🙂

    So anyway I love you tons and am thinking of you!

    Love you, Kim

  3. H,

    Thank you for sharing the narrative of your extrication. My heart goes out to you and the communities you’ve touched. Your dedication and heart make me proud to know you.


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