Be Steadfast: A Peace Corps Volunteer Journey in Sierra Leone
By Bryan J. Meeker (Sierra Leone 2011-13)
Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)
Where to begin? Bryan Meeker has written a wonderful memoir of his Peace Corps service in Sierra Leone. I’ll start with a synopsis from the back cover:
“Be Steadfast” is a deeply personal memoir of a Peace Corps volunteer’s service in Sierra Leone. Absent during the decade-long devastating conflict, the Peace Corps returned in 2010 as a symbol of unity and progress. While the Peace Corps had worked in Sierra Leone for decades before the war, many of the traditions and cultural norms changed, leaving these new volunteers to forge brave new paths. Being a volunteer is a transformative experience, expressed in this work with honesty and with an immense amount of love.
Not only did the author begin his service as one of the first group of PCVs after the civil war (1991–2002), his first planned trip back to Sierra Leone after his service had to be canceled due to the horrific Ebola outbreak. Also, he endured a nasty post service bout with malaria. Despite all this, the book is very upbeat and positive in its tone.
The book consists of 43 numbered chapters, each generally describing a single event or incident. In addition, there is a map of the country, a glossary of terms, an introduction (Overture) and an epilog (Finale). The writing is very conversational; I could easily imagine myself sitting by a campfire listening to the stories represented by each chapter. I especially enjoyed the mood words and phrases that give the reader insight into how the author is feeling about the action he is describing. For example, after describing a happy time with friends he may add, Paradise on a line by itself. Or after describing a particularly difficult or sad situation, It’s always something.
Some things have changed from when I served in the 1970s. Meeker could talk with his folks and other Volunteers daily on his cell phone, while I waited weeks for news from home. Still I was struck by how much Meeker’s experience resembled my own. Not in the details, the country and languages were different. But the relationships formed with host country folks and the essential goodness of the local people, willing to help out a stranger in their midst, is the same.
Thank you to Bryan Meeker for telling his story in so much detail and with so much love. I enjoyed it immensely, and it took me back to my own transformative experience as a PCV.
D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in El Salvador (1974-76) and Costa Rica (1976-77). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at dwjefferson.blogspot.com He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.