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 (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
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.
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)
$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.