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Russia, December 1, 1997

My Peace Corps Experience

PCV life is a trip down frustration lane

Now you are probably wondering how I felt about my Peace Corps experience, and why I split from the program. Well I'll tell ya.

I really enjoyed the experience. Through the Peace Corps experience, I formed friendships with an interesting group of people I would never have met otherwise. I received a very soft injection into Russian life, including an opportunity to live for three months with a Russian host family who were willing and able to host me. I lived for three months in Moscow on a reasonable per diem without a regular job, an interesting vacation I do not want to repeat, and I had a great support network throughout.

Why did the Peace Corps and I diverge after six months instead of the usual 27? That is a complicated answer. After three months of training, just before we swore in as volunteers, we all went to Riga for new visas. These were to be extra special visas, good for two years and giving us some fun privileges. The extra special visas attracted extra special attention from the Russian government. After ten volunteers received the required registration stamp from the correct Russian ministry, all hell broke loose. Seems the Russians were not happy that we had extra special visas, so they held the rest of the passports and visas until they could find a way to give us un-special visas.

The thirty volunteers without passports and visas dug in for the wait. After one month of high level negotiations, including a visit by Vice President, Al Gore, who shook my hand, the passports and visas were released, sans the registration stamp. Here is where the fun began! In Russia, visas need to be registered within three days of arrival by the correct ministry. We had 30 day old visas without the proper stamp, and no hope of getting it. A plan was hatched, we would go to our sites and try to be registered there, without the proper stamp, using the connections Peace Corps had in the provinces.

The plan worked for all but 15 volunteers. Of the 15, five were not allowed to stay at their sites, and were ordered back to Moscow, yours truly included. The five of us waited in Moscow for a solution, while the 35 other volunteers started their Peace Corps assignments. After a month one of the five went to a new site where she could get registered, but she had to give up her first choice in sites and start at a new, untested location. After a total of three months waiting and six months since we started this adventure, two of us decided to move on.

Ain't that sweet!

Look what I got for all my troubles, a thanks from the Man himself. Aww, I'm so content now!

I left the Peace Corps for private industry, because I love this country, no matter how much it frustrates me, and I knew that I could still have an effect here outside of the Peace Corps. I was also just plain tired of waiting. I am a "doer," and I want to do something, not sit on my ass and stare at the wall as the Peace Corps said I would need to do for another two or three months. The other volunteer who left, went to the Peace Corps program in the Baltic countries. He is a retiree who has no desire to "work" again and he really enjoyed Riga when we were there to get our extra special visas.

The two that remain here waiting for a site have the patience of Job and receive my full respect. May the visa gods smile on them soon, before they go any farther insane.

After all that, the usual governmental bullshit included, I would like to try the Peace Corps again. Not in the near future, mind you, but when they get the program running smoothly, and not in Russia. The days of the business volunteer program here are numbered, especially with me working in private enterprise! Maybe when a Peace Corps France opens up...

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