“Did you hear that a Peace Corps volunteer was killed last week?” one of my friends asked me when we were at a restaurant with a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers. I hadn’t heard, and she didn’t have any information, only that the incident happened in some country in Africa and that the victim was a woman. The news was startling, particularly since I hadn’t heard or read anything about it.
After a bit of sleuthing, I’ve gathered some details. The information about what happened is sketchy, and the death is under investigation.
The volunteer, Kate Puzey was a 24-year-old living in Benin, West Africa. Last week on Thursday morning, friends found her dead outside of her house in the village of Badjoude where she was posted as an English teacher. It is believed that she was murdered, although, I haven’t found more details than what’s in this article at Finding Dulcinea. The official news is that she died sometime the night before she was found.
This story is one that resonates with me for a few reasons. One is because Puzey was the age I was when I was in the Peace Corps. It’s a time that I can recall as if it happened last week. There are certain sounds, sights and smells in a West African country that one doesn’t forget. There was also a coziness to being in a village with people who welcome you into their families and culture without reservation and an amazing amount of generosity. That the coziness could be dangerous is alarming. It doesn’t make sense.
From what I read, Puzey was one of those vibrant, loving volunteers who dove into her time in Benin with open arms and a giving heart. The fact that someone could have done such harm to her is hard to imagine. In general, a person who is an outsider but is welcomed into a village as a guest–and then brought into the fabric of village life, is given a high amount of respect and regard. The villagers would have seen ensuring Puzey’s happiness and safety as something to take seriously.
I can’t imagine what the 100 volunteers posted in Benin are feeling. This is not a death caused by not wearing a motorcycle helmet and having an accident–or becoming ill. This is maliciousness at work. People who may think their villages are safe may be thinking again. Families of volunteers who have heard the news most probably have the jitters.
For an occurrence that is so rare to have not made more of a news story is a bit stunning to me, particularly since both McCain and Obama praised Peace Corps as an important part of world development and volunteerism. Particularly when someone so engaging as Kate Puzey was killed in a place where such things virtually never happen.
My thoughts are with her family and the volunteers who have lost their friend, and possibly feel that the world is less safe than they thought before.
Here is another post I came across about Kate’s tragic death.