In my days in Ethiopia I was a bystander to the tragic deaths of two young PCVs, deaths that have stayed in my memory and at odd times, and in odd ways, the deaths have come back to me in full details and are just as riveting and sad now as they were forty plus years ago when we were all a lot younger and our lives were yet to be lived and anyone’s passing was still on the far horizon.

Of the two deaths, both of them when I was an APCD, one happened in 1966 over an Easter Week at the far western edge of Ethiopia. The other happened a year later in Addis Ababa, at the end of the long Rainy Season.

What is fascinating is how lives change and how we all must keep living after such tragedies. From time to time I will meet up with RPCVs from those years in Ethiopia and we’ll talk and reminisce and over a beer or two, and at some point, we’ll get around to the deaths of Bill Olsen in the Baro River, and Susan Traub on a side street in Addis Ababa, and we’ll talk about it, and think back, and we’ll be stunned silent and inarticulate, for really we have nothing to say that might explain it so long ago, and secretly we are thinking: you know, it might have been us.

Now, as we celebrate the 50thyear of the Peace Corps, let me remember one more time two PCVs who didn’t make it home, who didn’t have the opportunity to live out their long and happy lives in America, who died in the Peace Corps far from here because they took it into their heads when they were very young that they wanted to do some good in the world.

Let me begin these sad stories with the death of Susan Traub who was killed less than twenty-four hours after she arrived in-country. It was the most senseless and innocent of deaths, through absolutely no fault of her own, and just because she turned out way and not another when she stepped out of a small blue and white Fiat taxi on a rainy night in Addis Ababa.

This story is about Susan, and it is also about her husband, Charles, who was also injured that night, but who went onto have an amazing life in all the years since, living through the death of his new wife, and then being drafted into the army at the time of the Vietnam War, and at the end of the day, emerging a successful human being, and a famous artist.

It was my last months in Addis Ababa in September of 1967. I would leave Africa within weeks, my tour was up. I was done with the Peace Corps. I was headed for the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean where I would write my Peace Corps novel that has never seen the light of day.

I wasn’t responsible for much in those final days of September. The torch had been passed, so to speak, to the new Peace Corps staff. I was hanging around, filling out papers, closing up, saying my goodbyes.

New PCVs were arriving. They arrived at dawn, flying down from Europe on charted flights, landing at the break of day. We would stand out on the chilly runway of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I International Airport and wait for their arrival, watch the plane come over the tops of the blue glaze mountain range and catch the sun, then shine like falling stars as they gracefully slid onto the tarmac.  

One of the flights that arrived that morning in September when the bright daisy-like Maskal flowers were blooming yellow on all the hill sides of Addis Ababa came from a training program held at the University of Utah. These were the early days in the Peace Corps when all PCVs were trained on college campuses. It was alleged that the training program for Ethiopia VIII Volunteers at the University of Utah in the summer of 1967 (the last of such Training Programs) was the poorest run in the history of the Peace Corps. It is alleged, too, that the Director of the Peace Corps, then Jack Hood Vaughn, came out from Washington D.C., to the graduation of these Volunteers and personally apologized to all the Trainees for what they had endured.

Trainees saw their Training as not only inept but also cruel. They saw the ‘de-selecting’ of good Trainees as something out of a totalitarian state, and when they boarded the airplane in New York, after days of toil to learn Amharic, a whole new group of Kenyan-trained Volunteers, set for Kenya, had been ‘reassigned’ to Ethiopia. That was the most unkindly cut of all. 

Two of the Utah trained Volunteers who arrived in Addis Ababa that morning were a married couple, Susan and Charles Traub. They had met in college, married in April of their senior year prior to Peace Corps Training, and joined the Peace Corps. Ironically, in their senior year, they would both take an elective photography class, that would in time make all the difference in the world to Charles Traub.

Part One