Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fields of Gray

As many of you may have seen on Facebook, our Peace Corps Mozambique family suffered a tragic loss on December 20th when five volunteers were involved in a road accident. Four brand new PCVs from the Moz17 group and one from my group were traveling to the coast for a day on the beach when the driver of the car lost control. Lena Jenison and Elizabeth Alden Landis died from their injuries and Mark Goldfarb, Derek Roberts and Mary Lager were evacuated to Pretoria, South Africa for treatment. As PCVs from the newest group, Lena and Alden had been sworn in on December 8th and had been at site for less than two weeks. I had met them when I went to their PST week 1 and again at swear in and they were both just full of life and so excited to be in Moz. They were confident, beautiful girls and their energy and positive attitude was evident to everyone. I didn’t know either Lena or Alden that well but they were part of the family and we are all feeling their loss. My heart breaks for their families and for their fellow Moz17ers as they have to deal with all this so soon after arriving and during their first holiday season away. Knowing I saw them just a few weeks ago makes it that much more difficult to comprehend. Derek and Mary have both been released from the hospital and will be flying back to the U.S. sometime this week. My friend Mark suffered the worst injuries of the three and may not be released for a couple more weeks. He will also go back to the states to continue his recovery but isn’t stable enough to travel. I just saw him at our Gorongosa Thanksgiving and we spoke about how excited he was for the new year as he was taking on a new position to better connect PCVs and our science fair project with the government. The chances of him being able to return to service are almost zero so I’m glad I have those recent memories to hold on to.

Elizabeth Alden Landis
Lena Jenison

Over the past week or so, memorials for Lena and Alden were held in each region so we all had a chance to remember and reflect together. I attended the southern memorial in Macia (Mark and Derek’s site) on my way north. It was a small group as many PCVs are traveling but it was a nice opportunity to be together and work through our emotions. Only one Moz17er was present but he shared his memories of Lena and Alden and hopefully he felt supported by our presence. I think we’re all experiencing conflicting feelings of sadness, confusion, fear, relief and guilt.  Can we be relieved it wasn’t us without disrespecting the young women we lost? Will we be able to control these new fears and apprehensions about traveling and move forward with our service?  

As volunteers we take risks almost every day and have been since we made the decision to apply to the Peace Corps in the first place. We prevent malaria with prophylaxis and mosquito nets and intestinal issues by filtering and treating our water. We learn about cultural norms so we can make good decisions regarding how and when we interact with the community. But there are some risks nearly impossible to avoid. As we aren’t allowed to drive during our service, we take a chance every time we get into a vehicle to travel. Chapas are old, often in poor condition and always overcrowded. Motoristas (drivers) are can be erratic, hurried and not always the best of drivers. They have set routes and sometimes are the only option to get from one place to another but are constantly stopping and can be incredibly frustrating. A boleia (getting a ride in a private car) is essentially hitchhiking and usually very safe. Personal vehicles are typically in better condition, won’t be making so many stops, go faster and if you’re real lucky include air conditioning. You can be far more discerning when it comes to selecting a boleia but it has its risks too. A driver could have been recently drinking or might have crazy road rage issues. You may not realize these things until your under way and then be forced to decide to take the risk or ask to get out.  But if you ever plan on leaving your site you must face these decisions and weigh the risks. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d say a vast majority of us have gotten into a chapa or accepted a ride that we weren’t completely sure about. Somewhere in our brain a little alarm went off but for whatever reason (we’re in a hurry, sick of standing on the side of the road in the sun, or racing against the setting sun) we got in anyway. 99% of the time everything goes smoothly and we make it to our destination but we also start getting complacent and ignore those gut instincts.  The events of December 20th were tragic and something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives but maybe it will help us remember to listen to that voice, alarm or gut feeling and make the safer decision.

Fields of Gray - Bruce Hornsby

1 comment:

  1. I sat awhile with this posting, Em: it was hard to read even though we have talked a couple of times about the accident - and the feelings...

    ...you know I have every Bruce H song on iTunes...so I cued up "Fields of Gray." Nice choice.

    Then, as I often do, I went looking among my music for more...information. So here's what I found: "No Surrender"...Bruce S. The slow or upbeat version is about friends, and strength, and memories, and gettin' on along.

    Love, Dad