Shortly after noon on April 13, 1966, the Ethiopian Airlines DC 3 from Addis Ababa landed at Gambella in southwest Ethiopia, a village close to the Sudan, a village where the Baro River runs through. The plane had six PCVs on board, two women and four guys, who were on their Easter/spring break from teaching. Most of these PCVs were first year Volunteers. One was Bill Olson.

Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) would write her mother two weeks later, “Barbara and I took the bus from Addis to Jimma on the Monday after Easter. On Wednesday we caught the plane from Jimma to Gambella. Ralph, who we knew quite well, his roommate Jim , and Lyle, a boy stationed in Debre Sina and Bill Olson were already on the plane. They had boarded in Jimma. The first three boys had come together; Bill was traveling alone. I had met Bill at Christmas, but I didn’t know him well. We were the only PCV’s on the plane, and we naturally became a group of six. Barbara and I were glad to have somebody to go with.”

Arriving in Gambella they met nine other PCVs who were leaving the town. They also met a Dutch Catholic priest who had a mission near Dembidolla, a six-hour walk away, and who was staying in Gambella for a vacation. The priest, Father Jack, offered them his house, as the hotel had only 6 beds, 4 of which were already occupied. Walking into town, the Volunteers met another PCV; a woman who was stationed in Gore; she told them that she had just been to the river and it was great.

“It was terribly hot,” Kathy wrote her mother on April 24th. “We left out stuff at Father Jack’s and went to the hotel and had a cold beer (the only available beverage).” They also bought food for a picnic and decided to swim immediately. The two women had shorts with them, and the men went to the market to buy shorts, they changed, and as Kathy wrote, “we all went swimming in the Baro River.”

Unbeknownst to these PCVs, there were two other Ethiopian PCVs in the area, Steve Buff (Ethiopia 1964-66) and Evelyn Ashkenaze (Ethiopia 1964-66). They had arrived in Gambella a few days earlier and by chance met up with a Greek-Ethiopian, George Christodoulos, who was also visiting Gambella, having traveled down from Addis Ababa by Jeep to visit his family. “We quickly became friends,” wrote Steve, “and he invited us to stay with him and all of his relatives across the Baro River. We spent a few days trekking around the area, seeing the sights, and meeting the local people, known to us then as the Anuak and Nuer.”

That afternoon George and Steve were paddling around the river in a dugout canoe and they became aware of a group swimming in the Baro. Steve guessed they were PCVs and was annoyed at first, realizing that he and Evelyn would no longer have this “remote, wondrous place virtually to ourselves.”

 Also, in Gambella was a Swiss professional hunter, Karl Luthy, who would later write a report of what happened: “through the village runs a slow, muddy river, the Baro,” Luthy wrote, “on the sandy banks of which I was working that day, building a pontoon on which to ferry my equipment across the river so that my client, an American named Dow, and I could resume our safari to the south.” Dow was an army colonel with our MAG mission to the Empire at the time.

In Luthy’s account, reprinted in Eyelids of Morning, he would also report: “Hot and eager for a swim the Peace Corps came down to the river and I heard them discussing the prospect not far away. But their enquiries of the villagers elicited only a strong warning to stay out of the water on account of a large croc, which it was asserted, had only recently killed and eaten a native child, and later a woman, in the brazenness manner imaginable–by which I mean right in the middle of town, in plain view of a crowd! I, too, strongly warned them against swimming, and for a while they thought better of it.”

In her letter home, Kathy Coskran would make no mention of any “strong  warnings” given to her or the other PCVs by the villagers or the big game hunter. She would, in fact, not mention the big game hunter, the American military colonel, or the other Volunteers.

End of Part Three.