A few weeks ago I headed to our regional capital, Trujillo, for my Spanish tutoring class. Given the distance, I normally stay overnight and return the next day, and this weekend was no different. When I returned to my site, there was an eery feel and the plaza was unusually empty. I figured it was because of the recent rain and didn’t think much of it. When I returned to my home, my host family was no where to be found, also a little unusual given that I knew my host brothers had been visiting that weekend. After unpacking my bag, I decided it was getting late(well, late considering I have a 9pm bedtime here in Peace Corps), so I went to bed and planned to catch up with my host mom in the morning.
When I woke up, I went to the kitchen for breakfast and my host mom didn’t really talk much. I wondered if it was something I had done, but couldn’t think of anything that would have upset her. I continued on with my day and went to work, where my coworkers also seemed unusually quiet. I asked one of my friends in the office how her weekend was and that’s when everything began to make sense.
She informed me that past Saturday night, a professor from one of the local schools had been murdered in our town. I couldn’t believe it and asked her to repeat it to make sure that it wasn’t a misunderstanding due to a language barrier. I didn’t know the professor super well, but he was always very friendly & welcoming towards me when we would chat in passing on the street. Given that he was a literature teacher, our work lives never crossed paths, but I couldn’t believe the man I had spoke to just a few days ago was gone.
The following week was filled with several memorial services and concluded with a mass in the main church in my site. It was one of my more emotional days here in Peru; it was so hard to see the professors’ wife and three children say goodbye to their father for the last time. It was heartbreaking to watch hundreds of students mourn the loss of their beloved teacher. There were 1,000+ people in attendance and the majority marched to the cemetery with the casket, where a second ceremony was held for the professor before he was laid to rest. In my town, it is customary to hold a mass for a person immediately after they pass, and another after 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year has passed.
The murder is still under investigation with the local police, but the attackers are believed to be a group of teenagers, all under 18. The motive is still unknown because these kids were allegedly not students of the professor, so the mystery remains. This was such a horrible event for my town to go through, and there are still weekly marches protesting his death and the way the police are handling the situation. Somewhere between finding out the news of the murder, the multiple conversations about the professors life, and the funeral, I realized I am more connected to my community than I knew, and that’s when it hit me, this is home.
So to the man who was a dear friend to my host dad, a beloved teacher to my host brothers and countless others, and a friendly face around town, may you always descansa en paz.