The Moz 17ers had only just finished their training in Namaacha, where for ten weeks they lived, trained and tried to adjust to life in Mozambique together. After this, they dispersed to their new sites around the country. As December is the summer holiday, some arrived at schools without electricity, water or with hardly any people. Adapting to life alone at that point is difficult enough.
And then the accident happened, December 20. So while many PCVs were in the states celebrating with their families for the first time in over a year or more, two families were told they would never have another Christmas with their daughters.
The PCVs were returning from Bilene beach - a road I traveled regularly from Chokwe - in a private car. The driver was speeding and even after they asked refused to slow down and refused to let them out. They took a turn too fast and the car overturned. One PCV broke both of his arms. Another suffered a neck injury. Lena and Alden didn't make it through the night. The driver fled. The police are still searching for him.
The incredible staff of PC Moz gave up their holidays to see that Lena and Alden had a proper memorial in Mozambique and that their friends and family on both sides of the ocean were supported. Three candlelight memorial services were held in country, and all the Moz 17-ers were flown to Maputo to have a memorial together. Several Moz 17-ers went home. A few have since returned, but, understandably, some will probably never step foot in Mozambique again. It's cliche to call the PCV group a family. But really, the others are the only family - and at the beginning, the only friends - you have in a very different and often very rough world. They're going through an experience with you that people stateside can never fully understand, even with blogs or Skype or visits.
Moz 17 – and any PCVs who knew Lena or Alden – will always be marked by the tragedy. But from what I’ve seen of the group in the five months since the accident, they’ve done an incredible job of honoring the memories of the two and still thriving in their new sites. PCVs as a whole are really an impressive group of people and I’m continually amazed at their resiliency. It’s pretty inspiring and humbling all at once.
I never met Alden, but Clancy and I had the fortune of hosting Lena in our home in Chokwe for a week during training. As soon as the site visit list went out, another PCV texted me to exclaim “You’ll love Lena, she’s my favorite!” After a short time with her, I understood why. She’s one of those people who have the will and ability to make the best of any situation. Even when tensions ran high – as they often do when traveling around Moz – she was the one to crack a joke or keep the conversation going in order to try and keep everyone sane. I knew she wouldn’t have any problems adapting to site. She texted me when she found out she would be teaching just down the road. I spoke to her the day I got on the plane to return home for Christmas. And then I got an email with her picture a few days later. I can’t do justice to Alden or Lena’s memory, but there is more information at the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteer site (http://fpcv.org/fallen-pcvs/).
Being a PCV isn’t dangerous by nature – honestly, life in the middle of nowhere can be downright dull and no one really wants to mess with the American government (everyone thinks we’re really specially trained FBI agents, anyway). The risks come with the lack of development in the countries where we serve, especially regarding transportation. Most cars come from a time before airbags and haven’t been serviced in all that time, anyway; roads look like games of Whack-A-Mole more often than not;any sort of dangerous driving infraction (speeding, drunk driving, not having headlights, etc) is ignored for the right amount of mets. Add to that the fact that when something does go wrong, there is no 911, no ambulances, and even arriving at a hospital doesn’t guarantee proper equipment or competent staff. We’re not soldiers, we’re here just to work and live – but the risks, for all that the US government and our local staff tries to mitigate them – are still there. But, we feel it’s worth it, or we wouldn’t be here.
Both families have set up memorial funds through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, with the proceeds going to support fellow PCVs' projects. Alden's family is working on a project to increase road safety for both PCVs and Mozambicans, and Alden's mom and I exchanged several emails as she tried to get more information about transportation in country. The plan is to include more training on selecting safe chapas and boleias during the training next year.
My thoughts and prayers will remain with Lena and Alden’s friends and families.