Never Forgotten: Teaching in Rebellious Eritrea 1965–1967 & Returning After 35 Years
by Paul E. Huntsberger (Ethiopia 1965–67)
Reviewed by Martin Ganzglass (Somalia 1966–68)
Paul Huntsberger’s Never Forgotten- Teaching in Rebellious Eritrea 1965-1967 & Returning After 35 Years is a Peace Corps memoir written from a unique perspective. Not many Volunteers served in a province of their host country that later became an independent nation. Huntsberger was a middle school teacher from 1965 to 1967, in the small village of Saganeiti, about 40 miles south of Asmara, the capital of the province of Eritrea, then part of Ethiopia.
The armed Eritrean struggle for independence began in 1962, the year Emperor Haile Selassie nullified the federal arrangement established by a United Nations Resolution, disbanded the Eritrean parliament and fully annexed Eritrea. The war went on for thirty years, ending in a military victory by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front in 1991; and following a referendum, the establishment of the independent nation of Eritrea in 1993.
Huntsberger’s account follows the usual Peace Corps experience up to a point — the bonding during training, the dreaded meeting with the psychologist and the execrable deselection process, first impressions of his village, getting to know the host country school headmaster, teachers and students, settling in and making friends and doing what Peace Corps Volunteers did best, improvising, teaching innovatively, engaging students in after-class studies, and promoting special projects such as revitalizing the library and building basketball and volley ball courts.
However, by the time he left in 1967, Ethiopian troops were stationed in Saganeiti and a curfew had been imposed. Like many Peace Corps Volunteers, after he left Ethiopia, Huntsberger corresponded with his former students and the many friends he had made. However, unlike the experiences of most returned Volunteers, after 1974 as the Eritrean struggle for independence intensified, the letters ceased and there was no possibility of visiting the town and region where he had taught.
In 1999, he fortuitously made contact with one of his former students, now an official in the Government of Eritrea. In 2002, Huntsberger was finally able, like so many other Peace Corps Volunteers, to visit the country where he served as a young man and renew friendships. He describes his anguish upon learning of the deaths of some of his students and friends during the war, and the joy of reuniting with Berekti, his “Eritrean mother” and cook, now 86 and witnessing her pleasure in seeing “Ato [Mr.] Paul” again. For 35 years, he never forgot her, his students and his friends, and they never forgot him.
The memoir is based on Huntsberger’s Peace Corps diaries and letters he wrote to and received from his students. It also contains many grainy photos of his village and students as well as some of the author, looking youthful, carefree and adventurous, as he traveled in Ethiopia and East Africa.
For many of us who served in the 1960s, staring back through the window of time, we are forced to recognize decades have passed since what Huntsberger refers to as his initial decision to take a road less traveled, join the Peace Corps and teach in Eritrea, Ethiopia. As for many of us, he writes that choice “made all the difference.”
As a PCV in Somalia, reviewer Martin R. Ganzglass served as legal advisor to the Somali National Police Force. Upon entering private practice he represented the EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front) and the Embassy of Eritrea in Washington; and, in 1998–1999 helped to draft the Eritrean Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. He has written Cannons for the Cause and Tories and Patriots, two historical novels about the American Revolution, and Somalia: Short Fiction, all published by Peace Corps Writers.