Winds of Change
During the spring of 2012, many things seemed to be churning. The winds of change included my colleague in the GRRT was leaving the team. He had accepted a new role as a Regional Security Director. This meant an upcoming hiring process to replace him. I was also put on stand-by for a possible deployment to South Sudan.
A competition for the Regional Security Director for LACRO was also run and Perry announced he was being promoted. Doug was relocating from Costa Rica to the US and within a year, he would also be gone from World Vision. The LACRO RSD position went to a well deserving Sean D. Sean was the Global Security Analyst at the time. I had also competed for this position, but when my turn came for the board interview, half the board absconded.
With so much going on, after Honduras I did not know where I would end up next. For months there was discussion of me going to Mexico. The plan was very much the same as my Colombia assessments a year earlier. The problem though, was national offices were weary of paying the $500/day daily rate for services. The only solution was to waive this fee, which the GRRT was in no rush to do.
So, Zaza was heading out and was deployed into Mali. As I was boarding my flight home from Tegucigalpa, I received a call from Mali. This was a distress call to assist with an evacuation of international staff caught up in the middle of the 2012 coup. Many lessons learned! South Sudan was in flux and no one knew if there was a security requirement.
That put more focus on Mexico and the assessments. My new boss, Killen finally approved the Mexico assessments:
March 8, 2012 – Your earlier request for Laurence’s time in Mexico is kindly approved. Based on Perry’s guidance, we will drop the daily rates with an understanding that your office will cover all his travels and accommodation costs relating to this assignment. It is also my understanding that Laurence will be available to you for a duration of about week (7 days) excluding travel days, with flexibility for reasonable extension to facilitate any report writing if situation allows.
Because of current response / declaration alert in Sudan, I kindly wish to advise that we may have to pull Laurence out of Mexico anytime if that becomes necessary, especially if the situation changes to a full response mode. I trust you will understand.
Challenges of the GRRT
One of our biggest challenges being on the GRRT was managing time between deployments. The Mexico tasking came at a time with two global emergencies developing, Sudan and the Sahel. During Honduras, there was a lot of tension between the security training team and GRRT security. Both of us accusing each other of not doing enough during our down time. This naturally went on for a few years.
Since the training team only did 4-6 events a year (4-6 weeks), what did they do the other 46 weeks? Whereas the GRRT security team was expected to deploy 50% of the year and support other offices the remaining time. Yet, the accusations streamed, such as an email received on March 16, 2012 by one of the trainers:
“…I am frustrated because I know you have been “sleeping and resting” and going on extended lunches; meantime there is work to be done. I release that you are GRRT and will find out what that means, but as a steward of donor dollars I do not like the face value of what I have seen…” – Doug
Oddly, the training team spends more “donor dollars” than any other unit in the organization and have more free time!
After some back and forth negotiations on budgeting and duration on the ground in Mexico, I was off. I departed Costa Rica for Mexico on April 16, 2012 for a planned 3 week assignment.
The agenda was to visit the higher risk ADP’s (Areas of Development Programs). I would be working with the national HEA manager, José Manuel Méndez. Our plan was to drive North and work our way South over time I would be on the ground.
San Luis Potosi
After a day of meeting the national staff in the Mexico office, we hit the road for San Luis Potosi. The drive from Distro Federal to SLP would take somewhere around six hours.
Some of the roads as we approached San Luis Potosi were a bit dodgy. Driving through the Rocky mountains at times was precarious. At some places, the road was only a little wider than the truck with no barrier and a sheer drop.
While in San Luis Potosi, we visited 4 ADP areas and the communities that they served. We spent a total of 4 days here before heading back to DF. The drive back was amazing, we took a different route through the mountains. I think that Mexico is the only place that has every style of terrain one can imagine.
Following a day off in DF, we started the five hour journey to Veracruz. Not the tourist resort, but to the Mexican state. Here would visit a couple of ADP’s around Cordoba.
The highlight of this drive was as we departed DF and headed South between Mount Tlaloc and the Volcán Iztaccihuatl. This was the time when the Volcán Popocatépetl was very active and we were given quite a show. She erupted on April 16, only a week earlier.
When we arrived at Cordoba, we stayed two nights at the hotel Mansur. The hotel was on the corner of the central park, which is typical of Latin America.
After our assessments of the Veracruz state ADP’s, it was time to make a three hour journey further south to Santa Ursula, Oaxaca.
By this time, I was getting tired of being a passenger in a car. In the previous two weeks we had logged over 2,000km, half of which was pretty rough terrain.
But this was definitely worth the trip, both for work and some tourism. I truly love Mexico for all she has to offer, but I had not seen this part. Oaxaca was special and a delightful place to visit. Some of the ADP’s we visited only had water access.
From the office we headed to lake Miguel Alemán, a manmade lake in Northern Oaxaca state. Being a lover of water travel, this was a dream for me. We found our World Vision boat, yes WV owns boats, by the beach.
After we had geared up, we headed off to visit two of the ADP’s along the lake. On the way back, we stopped at one ADP where you had to climb the side of a hill to gain access. This is where I learned of true Mexican hospitality. One member of the community, who could barely keep for his family, offered us to join him for lunch. His wife had prepared the most delicious tamale that I have ever had.
When we had concluded this visit, we returned to Santa Ursula and prepared for our journey back to DF.
Return to DF
During the trip back to DF, I received a deployment notice. As mentioned above, South Sudan was boiling, but surprisingly, this was not my task. Killen had called me and told me to deploy immediately for Mali. Zaza was required to leave his deployment to take on his new role in the Middle East.
I was now the only GRRT Field Security Officer on the team, but that would only last a couple of months. On April 27, 2012 I departed Mexico for Costa Rica to re-kit and deploy to Mali.