Friends of Liberia celebrate NEVER THE SAME AGAIN

 

Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia

By Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96)
July 26, 2022

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Peace Corps in Liberia, Friends of Liberia (FOL), a non-profit started in 1985 by returned Liberia Volunteers, sponsored   readings from the just-published book, Never the Same Again: Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia. The book is an anthology of 63 stories and poems written by FOL members. Proceeds from its sale are to benefit humanitarian programs in Liberia.

On Sunday afternoon July 24th, FOL members, former Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, and others disregarded the record-setting temperatures outside and packed to capacity the meeting room of midtown D.C.’s Busboys and Poets restaurant for a series of readings by some of the book’s contributing authors.

Susan Greisen (Liberia 1971-73)

Susan Greisen (co-editor along with Susan Corbett and Karen E. Lange) described the two-year process from conceptualization to publication. A published author [In Search of Pink Flamingos] and FOL member, Susan was approached in summer 2020 about leading the project. “I said ‘Sure!” she told us, “and with the stipulation that it be a big book, not just 20 or 40 stories, but more.” That summer, Susan held the first of five writing workshops for POL members interested in contributing stories and poems. The workshops were held virtually, and in fact, everything from conceptualization to publication was done virtually during the pandemic, an achievement in itself.

Of the 99 submissions, 63 were selected. Most contributors were first-time published authors. Their periods of Peace Corps/Liberia service spanned 60 years, their ages ranged from 27 to 96, and they resided in 23 states and three countries. The selected stories and poems, Susan told us, all had qualities of eliciting emotion and providing a learning experience.

Co-editor Susan Corbett, herself a published author [In the Belly of the Elephant], introduced the succession of 11 presenters and musical grand finale. They were (Peace Corps/Liberia service years in parentheses):

Curran Roller (1983-85), “If You Really Want to be of Service”

(Dr.) Karen Hein (1969), “One Health…One World,” during which a hand-written medical card and a photo of a boy being vaccinated were displayed on an adjacent screen.

Jana Bertkau (1973-75), “Into the Rainforest”

Eloise Annette Campbell (1973-75), “Uncommon Meat,” with accompanying photos.

Sally Salisbury Zelonis (1971-72), “Seven-and-a Half Chairs,” referring to the fact that two students shared a single chair in her classroom.

Kathleen Covey (1975-79), “Road to Wilmot’s Village”

Sarah Craddock Morrison (1885-87), “Welcome to Monrovia,” about the political upheaval and the warning to volunteers, “Stay home until further notice.”

Terri Enright (Co-founder ESORM, a Liberian NGO focused on food support for Liberia’s orphans), “Escaping Liberia, Part 1,” during the Civil War.

Pat Reilly (1972-74), “The Bicycle,” traveling in post-Civil War Liberia.

Cathy Ward (1985-87), the poem “It’s All in a Box”

Susan Greisen (1971-73), “Beyond War.” A picture of the “Beyond War Award” plaque that Susan had received, with the inscription “For your efforts through the Peace Corps to build a world without war,” was displayed on the adjacent screen

Eddie Socker (Liberia 2018-19)

The presentations closed with an original song by Eddie Socker (2018-19), sung with the guitar that he had taken with him to Liberia. The song’s title was “Dusty Road,” and Eddie pointed out on the Liberia map that hung throughout the presentations, the complex series of dusty roads that he used to get to his village Tahn.

The power of the Peace Corps experience is that a significant number of returned Volunteers choose careers of service and contribution. Some readers’ examples: Curran Roller, who teaches math in Fairfax County; Karen Hein, an MD; Sally Salisbury Zelonis, a career raising money for non-profits; Kathleen Corey, Peace Corps Country Director and HQ Regional Director and Chief of Operations; Cathy Ward, retired first-grade teacher; Sarah Craddock Morrison, U.S. official with government agencies including the State Department; Pat Reilly, Chair of the NPCA Board; and Susan Greisen and Karen E. Langen, both published authors and editors, to name a few.

RPCVS and friends gather for the readings at Busboy and Poets

S.K. — I was sitting near the door during the presentations and saw no one leave. The attendees were engrossed in the stories and in the memories that the stories doubtless evoked of their own Volunteer experiences. Perhaps the most telling moment came at the end of the formal program. It had been a long session, well past the planned one hour, yet no one was ready to depart. Everyone mingled about, shared congratulations about the book and the readings, made new friends, and renewed (after two pandemic years) heartfelt and lifelong connections.

Never the Same Again: Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia
Editor Susan Greisen (Liberia 1971-73; Tonga 1973-74)
Sidekick Press
May 2022
254 pages
May 2022
$8.99 (Kindle); $20.95 (Paperback)

Steve Kaffen served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia (1994-96) and a decade later at HQ as Assistant Inspector General for Auditing and Senior Auditor (2003-11). He has monitored elections for the UN and performed for UNICEF a review of its vaccination and education programs. Also, he has worked in radio broadcasting.

A long-time member of the Explorers Club, he was nominated by mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary after they met in the Nepal Himalayas. He has written a dozen travel-related books. His books use photography from his travels, along with brief narratives.

Professionally, Steve has held management positions in public accounting (with Deloitte and Ernst & Young), private industry (with Levi’s and Pathe Films), and government (Peace Corps, USAID, and the SEC). He is a member of Washington, D.C. transit’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and Bus Transformation Project.

 

17 Comments

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  • Steve,
    Thank you for attending our Book Launch and writing such a nice summary of our festive event. Many of us had worked together virtually over the past two years and had never met until this launch. It was a celebration of all of our efforts. Laughter happened and tears were shed during the readings. The launch culminated a weekend of PC Liberia’s 60th Anniversary activities (Friday happy hour; Saturday, Liberian Embassy open house; Sunday, picnic; and our Sunday book launch). PC landed in Liberia in 1962 with hopes for volunteers to return within the next year as PC gradually returns to posts around the globe. Friends of Liberia (FOL) continues to support humanitarian programs in Liberia through our fund raising efforts. All proceeds from the purchase of our anthology, Never the Same Again, will benefit these programs.

    I invite any of you reading Steve’s summary to consider purchasing our book. The memories evoked in this anthology often parallel PC work done around the world. This book illustrates the importance of the continuation of a global “human connection.”

    • Thank you, Susan. It was an uplifting evening and a reminder of the enduring power of the Peace Corps experience. Coordinating and editing, along with Susan Corbett and Karen Langen, this anthology of 63 stories and poems is no small achievement. Congratulations again!

      • Thanks for writing Geri for writing. Please go to fol.org/anthology/ and you will find the link. You will also find it anywhere fine books are sold by asking them to order it for you if you want to use your local independent book store. Amazon also sells the book.

        I hope you will enjoy it and let me hear what you think and susangreisen.com

  • Thank you for attending and sharing your review of the book launch. It was a wonderful afternoon full of emotions–tears, laughter, friendship. We all shared so many experiences of our time in Liberia. Bringing us all closer together. The book sales will help Friends of Liberia continue its important work supporting Liberians in their efforts to expand literacy and promote up-to-date health practices.

    • It was my pleasure, Sally. I enjoyed your story “Seven-and-a-Half Chairs,” and as you probably noted, many attendees related to the experience that you described.

  • When you and I begin to travel into old persons’ dreaming, desires jump-start into imagined traveling.

    • I add here this article: Arthur Dobrin D.S.W. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY. March 10, 2012 a little more than 10 years ago.

      “Dreams and desires are twins: yearning for what is not yet In dreams begin responsibility, wrote William Butler Yeats.
      Dreams and desires are twins, for desiring means wanting that which is not yet. Proper desire moves us towards creating better conditions not only for ourselves and our times but for others in a time not yet arrived.

      Dreams and desires are the beginning of better things. But they can also be the illusions of the young, a wishful thinking. When dreams are merely figments of the imagination, they become impediments to the realization of those things that make life full and satisfying.

      There are also dreams that are egocentric. These take us away from the relationships that provide for flourishing. We need to tame our selfish desires so that dreams aren’t cudgels but threads of responsibility, shared in a common quest towards peace and justice and, therefore, happiness.

      But when dreams are true, we assume the responsibilities of camaraderie. These are the dreams that draw others in, the dreams that both uplift and tie.

      The fulfillment of dreams may also be near at-hand, as this Jewish folk story indicates:

      One night a man dreamed that he saw a treasure buried under a bridge in a far off city. When he woke, he rushed off to find the treasure. Now in the strange city he saw the very bridge that had appeared to him in his dream. He was sure that was it and under its arches he would find what he was looking for. He stood on the bridge, not trying to attract attention to himself. But he failed.

      A policeman had seen him and now approached the man. The man decided that the best thing to do was to tell the truth and propose that he and the policeman share the hidden treasure.

      The policeman burst out laughing.

      “This is foolishness,” the policeman said. “I once had a dream that in a house in a far off town there was a treasure buried under the kitchen floor. I didn’t go running off to that town to find this dream-treasure, did I?”

      The man thought about what the policeman had said and rushed back to his own town, the one described by the policeman, and began to dig in the foundation of his own house, the one described by the policeman.

      And there, after many days of digging, he uncovered the treasure he had been dreaming of.”

      Arthur Dobrin, DSW, is Professor Emeritus of University Studies, Hofstra University and Leader Emeritus, Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, author of more than 25 books, including The Lost Art of Happiness and Teaching Right from Wrong.

  • I just finished reading this wonderful anthology. I know the launch would have been wonderful to attend. Thanks to all those who contributed and edited and got this book published. The cover is wonderful and special as I was there when Owen Hartford took the photo from in front of the house where I lived for over 3 years and Susan Greisen lived the next 2 years. Each story evokes some personal memories.

  • Steve — Thanks for the review. Lyn and I were in attendance, and it was an exciting and moving event. Busboy and Poet was a great venue making it comfortable to renew acquaintances with old friends and make new ones. You well captured the occasion. Thanks.
    Jim Gray Sanniquellie, Liberia 1972-1976

    • Thank you, Jim. Moving and exciting are perfect adjectives, and I agree, the venue too was perfect, and it was the perfect way to escape the record-breaking heat.

  • Absolutely wonderful event! Thank you to everyone who made this happen, who shared their stories, and continue to bring their journey to others. Forever changed and forever inspired.

  • A big shout out to all who made book launch (and the book) such a success! The night was full of old memories and more than a few collective tears were shed when we remembered the Liberians whose struggle during years of war cost them such difficulty and even their lives. Once I started reading the anthology, I couldn’t put it down–it summed up 60 years of life in the Peace Corps in one of our earlier countries–our beloved Liberia.

  • So glad and proud to be present for this very special event. Heartiest CONGRATULATIONS to Sue Greisen and all the others who pulled this together. Simply amazing that this could be accomplished in less than two years and almost all of it by remote contact.

    Wonderful to see former colleagues from a half-century ago, and to meet new volunteers and others who continue to do great things for the lovely people of Liberia. May this book continue to make others aware of Liberia and its people, and of the Peace Corps, which changed my life forever.

    Thanks, Steve, for attending last Sunday and for sharing your thoughts on what you witnessed.

    Mark Zelonis – Karnplay, 1971-72

    • Hello Mark, so wonderful seeing you again after 51 years. OMG my head is still reeling from the stories and emotions that flowed that evening. Thanks for coming and participating in the book with you story of Gabriel. I hope to meet him one day.
      Susan/Gowee Sue

    • Thanks, Mark. Yes, the energy at the event was special, including the energy of connecting with old friends from 50 years ago. How the anthology came together virtually…conceptualization, on-line writing classes, 63 stories and poems to author, edit, sync, and publish..is itself a story.

      • Steve, I have misplaced your business card that you so kindly gave me at the Book Launch. Would your reach out to me on the card that I handed to you? I wanted to f/u with your questions. Thanks again for attending our launch in DC and writing such a nice review.

        Susan Greisen, Chief Editor
        Author of “In Search of Pink Flamingos”

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