Early on we had an incident that foreshadowed events to come. During the first week we were in town, the Regional Security Officer dropped by to inspect our house. The house, Villa Ophelia, is to this day perhaps the nicest we have ever lived in. It was in the upscale community of Ivandry. We knew from others that we were incredibly lucky to get a house there. Many of the more elite Foreign Service officers at the Embassy had to wait their turn in line. “But, I know why you got this house,” the Regional Security Officer told me in hushed tones. “Why don’t you get the kids off to school before we talk? I do not want them to overhear.”
Once I’d gotten the kids squared away, the RSO said, “So no one mentioned that the previous tenant was murdered in this house?” No, I told him, no one had bothered to mention that. “And how do you feel about that?” he wanted to know. I swallowed my concern and gave him a stoic shrug. “It doesn’t seem like a big deal.”
Then I asked him what he knew about the murder. “It happened very recently and made quite a stir. It was a rich Asian guy, is what I heard. People say he wasn’t nice to the people who worked for him at the house. They say the night guard had enough of him. He beat him to death and dumped his body in the yard. Hard to protect yourself from your own protection.”
My business partner Amy had a crazy idea before I left. She suggested that I make a reappearance at the office after I’d been away a few weeks. Her thinking was that I’d be able to convince our clients that I was both still reachable and engaged. I’d initially protested but eventually agreed. A couple of weeks after I arrived in Madagascar, I started packing for a trip back home. I took a phone call just before walking out the door, headed for the airport. It was Nancy, who was Acting Peace Corps Director at the time.
“I got some terrible news,” she said in a subdued tone. “One of the Peace Corps volunteer is dead. I know you are leaving soon, but I expect I’ll be in the office for long hours over the next few days. I was hoping you’d find someone who could help look after the kids before you go.”
While I didn’t know the people I’d hired to help around the house all that well, they seemed like a terrific group. I spoke with them and they agreed to do whatever they could to help us out. Then I took off for the airport to start my journey home.
A quick aside. Early in our marriage, my assistant broke into a meeting to whisper that the hospital had called. They said they had Nancy in the emergency room. She was suffering from life threatening anaphylactic shock. The hospital had managed to stabilize her but they asked that I make my way down as soon as I could.
I heard two things: life-threatening and stabilized. I took a deep breath and continued with my meeting. Three hours later my assistant asked how my wife was doing. It was only then that I remembered I had forgotten to follow up. I left for the hospital immediately and arrived four hours after I had been notified. It was a four hour gap that neither Nancy nor I will forgive or forget.
I remembered the emergency room debacle as soon as I got to the airport. I quickly reconsidered and returned home to look after the kids. Later that day, Nancy called to tell me that the volunteer was found outside her village on the side of a dirt road. She had been raped and murdered. Her horrible and tragic end was only the beginning of what was to be a continuing ordeal.