Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Memory of Tom Maresco

By now many of you have heard of the tragic events which occurred here the night of Friday, September 3rd. Tom Maresco, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer here in Lesotho, was shot and killed in an apparent robbery attempt, one block from our training center in the capital city, Maseru.

At this time we have been asked not to discuss details of the case, as the investigation is ongoing. But you can read Peace Corps' press release here, and you can find other related stories via Google. But, while I can't get into specifics of what transpired on Friday night, I can try to shed some light on what an outstanding person Tom was.

Tom and I came into Lesotho together 10 months ago - he was one of the 29 members of the "ED10" class of PCVs, as we're called. On the night we met in Philadelphia, he rallied as many of us as possible to stay out late into the night, enjoying our last taste of quality beer. And so it was immediately obvious that Tom was a natural leader, with the charisma to become the focal point of any social situation (this was only proven truer over time). Quick tangent: the bar had darts, and as I bragged about my darts prowess and convinced everyone to come play, Tom beat me with ease and with a laugh.

But while my new friends and I recognized his charm and energy from the get-go, it was not until later that we came to learn what a truly impressive guy Tom was. As it turned out, he was exceedingly bright. He was a great cook (we never got the chance to compete in the Iron Chef match we talked about, but had it happened, I'd have put my money on him). His ingenuity was unmatched, which I learned as he used the random junk around the training center to build a makeshift obstacle course, kiddie pool, slip and slide, fire pit, and more. He was an outstanding guitarist, harmonica player, singer, and he was hilarious as a freestyle rapper. One highlight from back in training is when we sang together as he played one of my favorite songs, La Cienega Just Smiled (Ryan Adams). He was an excellent teacher, and a passionate volunteer, who loved his service and his life as much as anyone.

So, long story short, I'd be lying if I said I never envied Tom. We once had an obstacle course that 8 guys participated in. Out of 8 guys competing, I finished 7th, Tom 8th. I was relieved not to be last; Tom laughed hysterically (sadly I'm pretty sure he wasn't trying).

I've tried, unsuccessfully, to make some sense of why this happened. I think about bullies, who beat up kids who are prettier than them, or who smile too much - internally weak people who are jealous of the better fortune of others, who try to even the slates by bringing someone else down. I wonder, is this the mentality that leads someone to so coldly murder a well-meaning aid worker? Yes, Tom was dealt a sweet hand in life. But one can only admire a man who so fully embraces his innate gifts and runs with them at full speed. Tom was living his dream, and was touching so many lives in the process. Like all of us, he came here to help and to see the world. But unlike most of us, Tom would likely have bought that guy a drink if he only asked nicely.

This last week has been a whirlwind. I learned the news by a phone call from our country director, which woke me up Saturday morning. I spent three days with the rest of the volunteers, leaning heavily on this family we've become, alternately giving and receiving support. We've all spent these days remembering Tom, laughing, crying, and deeply questioning our service here. From here on out I'll be having a pretty quiet weekend with just a few close friends. I've taken the week off school - many in my village suspect that I'll leave Lesotho after this. But I will stay.

I have also heard Basotho express shame in response to Tom's death. To any Basotho who might read this, please do not feel ashamed, guilt by association does not apply here. To my friends and family, please do not be scared for me. As difficult as it is to say right now, I still love this country, despite its flaws. The actions of one Mosotho man will not change that. Know that I have no intention of traveling at night in the area where this occurred, or really anywhere at all. I feel extremely safe in my village, where I know so many of the people, and where so many look out for me. Most volunteers will say the same.

Most importantly, to friends and family of Tom, I am so sorry for this indescribable loss. I can only say that Tom will live on in our minds. I feel confident speaking for the rest of PC Lesotho when I say that his memory will inspire the rest of our service.

Thank you all for your love and support during this wretched time. We will come through it.

5 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry for the suffering and loss caused by this senseless act of violence. The world has been diminished. As a former volunteer (07-09), I know how much of a family volunteers become in their training and service. I can't imagine what you are all going through. The Peace Corps community all over the world is mourning with you.

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  2. That was beautiful, Eric. It sounds like Tom was an incredible person and that you all were so lucky to have him in your lives. Please let us know if there was any way we can help.

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  3. Eric, Thank you for this post; very well said. You write about Tom and our experience of knowing him as a member of the PC/Lesotho family much better than I can right now. I miss him dearly. Hope to see you soon.

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  4. Thanks for this wonderful personal tribute to Tom, Eric. It is much more satisfying to read than the press releases and newspaper articles. My thoughts are with the entire PC Lesotho community as I know this event is felt by everyone deeply. I am very grateful for the service that all of you are performing.

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  5. I only met Tom on one occasion, but I can vouch for the fact that he would, in fact, buy a complete stranger a drink if they asked nicely - he did so for me when he'd known me only a few short hours. This person who gunned him down knew nothing of the amazing person they were so selfishly robbing the world of. My heart goes out to his loved ones, his colleagues, and his students. He left an impression on me after only one evening - I can only imagine the impression he left on those who had the chance to know him for longer.

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