Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Memorial Service--08/01/12

The memorial service for Alden Landis and Lena Jenison was today at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Maputo. It was a beautiful service that commemorated and celebrated both Alden and Lena’s tragically short time in Mozambique and the commitment and spirit of all Peace Corps Volunteers. All of Moz 17 (Lena and Alden’s training group which arrived in September 2011) had been brought down to Maputo to be together in some grief and counseling sessions and for the service. There were also a handful of PCVs from other groups who happened to be returning from holiday travel abroad and were in Maputo, or lived close enough to Maputo to come in specifically for the service. And then a huge presence from the American community in Maputo. The American community in Maputo came together during this tragic time, from putting up all of the PCVs in their houses—allowing this unplanned and unbudgeted conference for 49 people to happen—to helping feed them and give them family and community in the way of evening cook outs. Many of the Foreign Service members in Maputo are RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) and many others came to show their support. Fellow PCVs who were close to Alden and Lena shared poignant anecdotes, favorite quotes, and blog posts in memory of their friends. Our Peace Corps Country Director shared a letter from the Director of Peace Corps worldwide and spoke briefly, as did the U.S. Ambassador. The Ambassador’s husband is an RPCV from the Philippines (1967-1969) and spoke movingly about his experience and the great impact that a PCV has. A picture slideshow of Lena and Alden played before and after the service, and there were books for people to write their condolences to both families. There were also large cards for people to write words of encouragement to the other three PCVs who had been in the accident—two who have been released from the hospital and are back in D.C. and one who remains in the hospital with spinal injuries.
After the service current Peace Corps staff and volunteers went to the American School for a lunch with their homestay families from Namaacha. A few of the host parents gave speeches and we all ate and caught up with each other.
A tiring day. No matter how often you try to remind yourself that today was meant to be a celebration of their lives and experiences, it’s difficult to not get sad when you think about how full of enthusiasm and passion they were and how little time they got both on this earth and here in Mozambique. The Moz 17ers are in pretty rough shape. I think they are having difficulty differentiating between the grief they are feeling for their two friends and the general horribleness that your first few months of service generally are. Think about it—during training you have a set schedule, classes and session everyday that give you a sense of purpose. You are surrounded by 50 other Americans who share your passions and aspirations and with whom you can relate your experiences, from struggling to learn Portuguese, to frustrations with sessions or in the homestay, to things you miss from America. Then one day you are dropped off at your site where you know no one, you don’t know where to buy your vegetables, your house has rats and/or a variety of other surprises, you have no job to get up for in the morning (classes don’t begin until January 16th), and suddenly you might not have anyone to commiserate with over a beer in the evening. This time is difficult for everyone and it is meant to be a learning journey—this was the time when my Portuguese improved exponentially because suddenly I was around no other English speakers and I gained confidence as I began to master functioning as a member of my community. But merely ten days into this difficult time (and only five days before Christmas, generally a big get-together time even for those who don’t celebrate it) two of their colleagues died and three others were in the ICU. A few of the Moz 17 Volunteers will return to the states tomorrow for emergency medical leave of up to 45 days to try to deal with their grief and decide how to move on with their lives. Please keep them all in your prayers during this time. And please pray for my friend Mark from Moz 15 who is still in the hospital.

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