As I write this, we sit in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean heading towards Chicago. We’ve left Kyrgyzstan along with 15 other volunteers having finished our service early. But before we get to that, let’s back up to the beginning. To live and work in Kyrgyzstan we need two things from the government, a visa and accreditation. People back home are familiar with visas and the process for Kyrgyzstan was pretty straightforward. The accreditation was something new to us but it’s a process most former Soviet Republics have (they still carry over a lot of processes from Soviet days) where you are registered to live and work in a certain area of the country. From the time we first arrived to Kyrgyzstan, the accreditation was difficult to acquire and we were in country for several weeks before the Peace Corps staff was able to acquire our accreditation cards. The following are some details on the challenge for Peace Corps trying to maintain our status in the post over the last 5 months. You can skip to the end if not interested in the back and forth minutia. Sorry for the lack of photos this time but check the end for a video of us surprising our family!
As the initial year’s accreditation was set to expire August 31st, 2015, our staff again tried to get new accreditation cards but they weren’t getting straight answers from the government. With our visas about to expire, the staff had to consolidate all the volunteers from our group in Bishkek and make plans to send us out of the country before the visas expired. Staff from Washington DC came out and we all sat anxiously through meetings trying to find out our fate. Receiving the visas, ‘evacuating’ to Kazakhstan or getting sent back to America on administrative hold were all possibilities. Normally volunteers meeting up in Bishkek is a fun time, but this was not one of those times. Peace Corps ended up buying tickets for all of us home and two days before we were set to fly out, the government granted us the accreditation but only for four months instead of the normal year. The whole ordeal was really disruptive to the morale of the post and many individuals service. Peace Corps gave everyone the option of taking interrupted service (basically stopping your service early due to circumstances beyond your control) and a handful of volunteers opted to take that.
Things went on mostly as normal but we had a new deadline for our visas to expire and it wasn’t that far off. To make things more complicated, our country director had to leave for family reasons so we weren’t going to have a permanent CD in place during the process of trying to get the accreditations. As November ended anxiety amongst the volunteers was at an all-time high. We were told the post and the ambassador (who was now involved but also brand new to Kyrgyzstan) had asked the government to respond by December 1st. This date came and went and still nothing.
On December 4th we were headed into Bishkek for my birthday when PC sent us a pretty shocking email. There was still no word from the government and they were giving all K-22s (our group) the option of taking early COS (Close of Service) or staying on and seeing what happens – the kicker was we had only three days to make our decision. Taylor and I sat for the rest of the ride without talking about it trying to take it all in. In the end, we decided to take the early COS option.
After talking with friends and a lot of deliberation we made the decision to take the early COS. The decision wasn’t easy but as we lived with, we became more positive that it was the right one. It’s hard to encapsulate all the reasons in just a few sentences but I’ll give the three main reasons. First, we felt like we were able to leave at the peak of our service. Our projects at work were ending and we knew coming into the winter very little was going to happen, then the spring would be just planning what came next. We were leaving at the peak of our service and able to go before resentment and boredom set in over winter. Second, Peace Corps offered us early Close of Service as opposed to one of the other designations. This means in their eyes, we completed our contract and we get all the benefits that come with that including a travel stipend home instead of a ticket (a little more money to travel with next) and we have the ability to do Peace Corps Response in the future – this was very important to us. Lastly, so many of our friends were leaving. Peace Corps is primarily about your site and the people you work with but the fact that so many people we liked were leaving would have really made it hard to stay. I had plans to ski and hike with them the next few months and life just wouldn’t have been the same.
So what’s next? There’s a lot to reflect on. I have a lot more to write about Peace Corps and Kyrgyzstan plus a couple stories I couldn’t post while actively serving. We also haven’t even started sharing stories and photos from our last trip to Europe so watch the blog, a lot coming up. We’ll be back in the States for about 2 months visiting friends and family plus trying to put things back together. Then we plan on taking a long trip to Asia, probably taking us all the way to when our service would have otherwise ended. After that… I need to find a job.
An update: As this gets posted, the government issued accreditation to the remaining volunteers and visas should soon follow. We’re now back in the States and managed to keep our departure a secret from almost everyone. I made a video of us surprising all our family.