My first job out of college was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. However, my time there was cut extremely short due largely to safety reasons, and partly to medical issues. This is my Peace Corps medevac story.
Content warning: sexual assault discussed
It was the middle of the night. I was tossing and turning in bed, desperate for relief and at least some sleep. Any rest I got was short-lived. Things had been like this for weeks. I felt hands on me. Eyes gazing at me. Every night, I thought, How much longer can I live like this? Maybe I need to tell someone.
The day it all came to a head, I was planning for an American Culture Day at the village school. This event was the most important of my service to date, and it had to be perfect. So many people in the village thought the work our NGO did wasn’t relevant, but we had to do something to engage them. This event had to work.
But, I was crumbling on the inside.
On Friday, January 18, 2019, I did it. I typed an email, the email. Finally, I wrote down everything that had happened to me, from the start of training to that date. I knew the flashbacks and episodes were affecting me too much to move forward at my site. It was time to get help.
I was so good at minimizing everything that happened to me.
In order to cope, I put everything before my own healing process: my community, my host organization, my Peace Corps friends, my Ukrainian friends, everyone and everything that I could think of. I was falling apart, and fast. As a result, I was becoming a person I didn’t recognize, and that I honestly didn’t like very much.
I needed a miracle.
Monday morning, on MLK day of 2019, I stopped holding it back. I opened up my MacBook, read over the email to make sure I didn’t leave anything out, and pressed send. It was terrifying. I was sure that I wouldn’t get a response from the Safety and Security Manager until Tuesday, since it was technically an American holiday. Little did I know, he would get back to me with a message that confirmed my worst fears.
Until that point, I highly doubted anyone would take my concerns seriously. Even I didn’t take them seriously yet. I just knew that my sleeping patterns were not normal, my rapid weight loss was even less normal, and something needed to change.
Within his response, Peace Corps’ Safety and Security Manager at my post told me he would connect me with the Peace Corps Medical Office and the Office of Victim Advocacy. I heard from the Peace Corps Medical Officer on duty that same day.
I will never forget her asking me over the phone, “Are you okay?” and responding with “Honestly, I don’t even know how to answer that,” through sobs I didn’t even know were there.
I was more tears than skin, more girl than woman, more broken than whole.
The next few days were a blur. The agency immediately placed me on medical leave, and asked me to come fill out some paperwork in the Kyiv office on Wednesday. I went through the motions of paying for my marshrutka fare, getting to the stop across the street from the office, and still ignored why I was there. That is, until I saw a form with “Sexual Assault Victim Resources” across the top. It was suddenly real.
Peace Corps removed me from my community that Friday, and sent me back to Nashville on a medical evacuation the following Tuesday. After 24 hours straight of travel, I was back in Music City, in the same airport I had bawled my eyes out just 7 months prior.
I knew I needed to come back home, but it was so odd all at once. I was still an on-paper Peace Corps Volunteer, but I was in my own culture, surrounded by my mother tongue, and enveloped in the arms of family I hadn’t seen in months.
In many ways, reporting and taking a medevac was much more difficult than staying and dealing with my symptoms alone. Was therapy the end of my struggles? No. Was it the right choice? Absolutely.
If you are dealing with the aftermath of trauma, you don’t have to go through it alone. There are resources if you want to stay anonymous, such as 800-656-HOPE (for sexual assault survivors), 800-TRY-NOVA (for survivors of crime), and 800-969-6MHA (for anyone struggling with mental health).
I am not a qualified professional, but I am here for you if you want or need to talk. Feel free to contact me through the contact link on this blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are strong. You deserve better. You are a survivor.