Return from Peru

March 23, 2020 12:55 p.m.

You’ve likely heard the story about how the Peace Corps has not only withdrawn its more than 7,300 volunteers from countries around the world but also fired them. All of them. Immediately. Evacuation was probably inevitable and wise – though it seems reasonable to ask whether some volunteers may have been safer remaining in country than returning to the US. The decision to fire them all summarily was callous, gratuitous and inane.

But I wanted to TPM Reader MA’s story of his son’s rushed evacuation from Peru.

So I am a long time reader and member at TPM, and I thought I would share my son’s crazy story of getting out of Peru as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

As you know Peru went on total lock down this week. Before that my son and other PCV personnel had traveled to Lima from their home sites to hold their Completion of Service (CoS) ceremonies. My son’s last day in the Peace Corp was slated to be May 22nd. So, they had their ceremony and then last Saturday night before they were to head back to their sites, they got an email from their local director that they should stand pat; no one was going to travel until further notice. Inadvertently my son also got an email of a screenshot between some higher ups that that an evacuation order was coming worldwide.

This was going to be extremely problematic for all of the volunteers on a number of levels. There were 193 volunteers in the country, and not all of them had made the trip into Lima for the CoS ceremonies. The PCV members that were already in Lima had brought only an overnight bag and minimal clothes. My son had a small backpack of clothes that he had brought to the ceremony and toiletries. Everything else was back at his home site. Worst of all he was not going to be able to say goodbye to his host mom who really was like his mom there. This was a heartbreaking thing for him.

Logistically this was a nightmare. The furthest volunteer away from Lima was some along the lines of 20 hours by car. In my son’s case it is 9 hours back to his home site in the Ancash region. At the time, the total lockdown of Peru still had not happened, but apparently the Embassy knew what was coming. So they took all of the volunteers that were in Lima for the ceremonies and quarantined them in a nice hotel in Miraflores; they then began the process of recalling all of the rest of the volunteers from around the country and housing them at that hotel. Of course this takes time, and events were escalating pretty quickly. On Monday of this week American Airlines suspended service to Peru, and then on Wednesday of this week President Vizcarra announced an immediate restriction on all overnight movement across the country. So now the only way that it was possible to have freedom of movement in the country had to be in cars with Diplomatic license plates. The US Embassy sent cars out to all of the different regions, and began bringing the PCV personnel back to Miraflores in these vehicles. Simultaneously, the American Embassy chartered a United Airlines jet to bring all of the volunteers and a few embassy and staff members back to Washington, DC.

My son said that getting the all of the volunteers out was rife with problems. Most of all that they were moving in large groups, and were easily identifiable as they were the only people being allowed to move on the streets. Apparently there were lots of FaceBook video posts of their movements with words like “Irresponsable!” as they were being put into these diplomatic vans and moved out of their home sites to Lima. My son actually found out about one such post, communicated with the poster of the message, and asked him to take the message down because it was a complete distortion of what was going on. And believe it or not the guy took the post down.

Finally yesterday at about 4:30 Eastern all 193 members of the Peace Corp that were in Peru, some diplomats, and staff, were loaded on to chartered buses in Miraflores and given a Peruvian military escort to Jorge Chavez airport to catch the charter flight back to the USA. At the airport there were hundreds of Peruvians stuck outside the fence who were stranded in Lima trying to get back to other parts of Peru. My son said this was the most surreal part: 193 Americans were whisked off the buses and into the airport (they were literally the only travelers in the entire airport) while Peruvians were stuck where they were. He said it was the odd sense of privilege and power that was on full display and everyone was aware of it. He found it all very troubling and disconcerting. He really wanted to stay, and he thought the whole thing was sending a terrible message to the Peruvians stuck there.

They made it to DC about 1:30 AM this morning, he arrived in Dallas this morning at 9:30. Glad to have him home, and it is something that he will remember for the rest of his life. I saw in the Texas Tribune this morning that a number of Texan tourists were still stuck in Peru with no word of when they would be allowed out.

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