On Loss, Fear, and Scraps of Joy


I cannot share 3 Smiles with you this week.

Nor could I write the scrumptious donut recipe that I promised you. Or the ‘Reflections after 6 Months in Moz’ post that I had planned.

It all feels completely  wrong.

But, if for no other reason than my own ability to process, I feel that I need to say something.

If you are in any way connected to the Peace Corps world, you probably know why it has been an extraordinarily difficult week for Peace Corps Mozambique. Last Friday a member of our Moz 25 group passed away in a car accident, and another was injured. Whether we were on the road travelling to Peace Corps stuff or at home last weekend, we were all- are all- extremely shaken and saddened and shocked. Our minds and hearts are with these two smiling, lively, easy-to-talk-to boys, and their families and friends back home.

I don’t know what to say and I certainly don’t know what to do with myself from moment to moment this week. Our Peace Corps Family- staff and PCV’s alike- has emerged as an unbelievable support system this week, at a time when it feels like we are crumbling. We have been offered counseling, and have been provided the opportunity to gather in the capital next week to honor Drew. Not to mention the phone calls, emails, and messages of friends checking in.

Estamos Juntos, Peace Corps family.

As I am sure many PCV’s did last weekend, I got on a chapa (minibus) at some point. It was afternoon and we were the first to arrive at the bus, meaning that we had to wait for it to fill up before leaving. Hours passed and dusk was getting close. There was the anxiety of travel, the thought of not being able to go home that night (refusal to travel in the dark), the events of the weekend rolling around in my head, and texts flooding our Whats App. And then I cried. With a handful of Mozambicans around, in a bus, in a bus station, in a small town, in Mozambique. Across the world from everything that makes sense, and most of the people I love.

“Can we ask him when we are leaving?” I asked Alex through the tears.

The engine was started. We were back on the transportation ‘horse.’ We made it home safely and I slept for 12 hours. The next day, Alex  got on a bus to travel south about 6 hours for a Peace Corps training. I was full of anxiety.

Car accidents were my  number one worst fear of coming to Mozambique.

And now, the fear has been somewhat realized in an event that hit so close to home for us here in Moz, and probably for PCV’s all over the world that take all sorts of sketchy transportation to get anywhere they need to go.

My only consolation: accidents happen everywhere.

My constant doubt in that consolation: drinking and driving is not socially accepted everywhere; people wear seatbelts, follow speed limits, put their kids in car seats, and perform regular maintenance on their vehicles that involves more than banging on parts with a wrench. And if all of these things fail, an ambulance will come and it will take you to a real hospital.

Still, accidents happen. It is the truth.

But my fear is fighting my rationality hard.

Needless to say, this week has been the worst of my service, a grand challenge, a slog, and generally surrounded by a cloud of fear, doubt, sadness, grief, confusion, and frustration.

As I said, there are not 3 Smiles to be had. Nothing big and great has happened this week. Nothing. I have been fairly miserable, questioning my service, and crying at the drop of a pin. I have been frustrated beyond my wildest imagination at things that are normal here, things I have experienced already. I have blamed Mozambique a million and one times for each negative emotion that has entered my mind.

But, there are scraps of joy. Tiny, fleeting glimmers of something that seems good:

The saving grace of the many Sarah’s in my life: the one who is nearby and will talk with me about normal life and reminisce about the best childhood vacations in the face of something that feels like it needs to be a part of every conversation. The one that is second closest and assures me that I need not feel guilt for any  negativity or craziness right now. The one that is a province away and can have a phone conversation with me that begins to sound like an echo because of how many similar experiences and emotions are bouncing around our lives. And the one far far away  that is a ray of positivity (“Well if Trump gets elected you’re safer on Mozambican buses than you are in America…”) and impressive empathy, and provided me with care package chocolate and playlists for the darkest days.

The wisdom of my family, and their not begging us to come home out of a fear of their own.

The perspective of my husband, who reminds me that it will pass.

A few comments on the blog, one of which led me to a beautiful quote that could not have been more fitting right now.

The smiles of kids after they read a word in a book correctly.

A student that actually tells me they do not understand what I am asking of them.

Students who, after weeks of me coming to school early to greet them as they enter in the morning, greet me first, in English, with a big smile.

A grasshopper in my shirt that makes students laugh.

Becoming semi-famous among 8th graders by saying “Waaaheemmbbaa” (‘lllliiieee, ‘in local language), to a student that tried to give me a lame excuse for not doing her work.

Alexi Murdoch, Trevor Hall, Gregory Alan Isakov, Peter Bradley Adams, Caroline Smith. And some new song by  The Avalanche.

And brownies. With frosting. And sprinkles, both the flat kind and the rolly kind because one kind just would not do.

There is no conclusion to make as I finish up here. The days are hard, the hope is hiding, and the scraps of joy get thrown our way once in awhile.

But the only way to go is forward, however weakly it may  be, in the direction of strength, love, remembrance for those lost, gratitude for those we have, and patience with the process.

Thoughts, love, and hopes for happiness to all affected by these events. We are together.


7 responses »

  1. I am so sorry for all you have lost; a friend, a sense of security, understanding, etc. You are not alone. You are doing the right thing. You are making a difference. You will get through this. Sending love and light your way. Cindy

    It is the capacity to feel consuming grief and pain and despair that also allows me to embrace love and joy and beauty with my whole heart. I must let it all in.
    —Anna White

  2. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m sure it’s so hard to be so far away from your mom, dad and others in your family. My heart goes out to you and Alex and the families of these two young men. I hope the injured man will be ok.

    I’ve been thinking of you a lot the last week or so. I spent spring break in Granby with Katie and family. We didn’t ski but we did a lot of sledding and tubing. Love the area, as I know you do. One day you’ll be back and you’ll enjoy it even more when you return.

    God bless.

  3. The entire Peace Corps community grieves with you, Cece. Having lost 2 members of our cohort, Moz 17, in a car accident as well, I understand the pain you all are going through. And you will get through it. Estamos Juntos

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