Review —ONLY BEES DIE by Robert Keller (Albania)

only-bees-140Only Bees Die: Peace Corps Eastern Europe
by Robert Keller (Albania 200809)
$10.95 (paperback)
212 pages

Reviewed by Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67)

Albania is an exotic and enchanting place, home to a Peace Corps program since 1992.  Robert Keller served there as a teacher and consultant from the Spring of 2008 to the Fall of 2009. Only Bees Die provides a lovely afternoon of reading about his experience. The author clearly relished Albania and his book provides a welcome glimpse of life there for the foreigner.

Written as a diary and a sort of practical guide, emails sent while in service are scattered throughout, providing an interesting context for insights. The work provides numerous practical tips and suggestions, revealing anecdotes  and examples of do’s and don’ts that most PCV’s would agree on. Likely of limited interest outside a Peace Corps or similar context, it should prove useful for those applying to Peace Corps or about to enter Peace Corps service, regardless of the ultimate assignment.

Mr. Keller resigned his service early to pursue other interests. Commitment being an important aspect of service, I felt this point deserved more treatment as it might have proven insightful. Its omission, however, doesn’t detract from the book’s overall value nor the reader’s enjoyment.

A few years ago I visited Albania to observe their elections as one of the U.S. contingent of an OSCE mission. I found a strikingly unique and beautiful country with a long and luxurious Adriatic coastline and an eastern mountain border with Macedonia. Albania is an ancient culture with a unique language and fascinating history. It proved a surprising and delightful experience, unlike anywhere else I had experienced in my years in the Balkans!

Only Bees Die is its own trip, sharing much about Albania as well as the personal and institutional aspects of Peace Corps service. Indeed, by the third or fourth chapter I was relating the authors experience to my own as a PCV in Turkey nearly fifty years earlier. The book is self-published, permitting it to be periodically revised. The version I reviewed was available in January of this year.

Mr. Keller is a talented writer. I look forward to enjoying his future works.

Meanwhile, of course, “. . . only bees dves!” (you’ll have to read the book).

Sometime after Ken Hill’s service  in Turkey he joined Peace Corps/Washington staff. Beginning in the ’90s, he was Country Director in the Russian Far East, Bulgaria and Macedonia, then Chief of Operations in DC for Europe and Asia and finally Chief of Staff of Peace Corps in 2001. Between Peace Corps roles, he owned and operated a marina in Solomons, Maryland. Ken has been Chairman of the Board of the National Peace Corps Association for three years and was an adviser to the Obama Peace Corps Transition Team. He was a principal of the MorePeaceCorps and Push4PeaceCorps campaigns and organized the PC 50th Anniversary Staff Reunion at the National Building Museum in Washington, bringing together 1,300 PC staff alums and all 13 of the living Peace Corps Directors. Currently, Ken is on the Boards of the Bulgarian-American Society and Friends of Turkey (Arkadaşlar). He observes elections for the OSCE in the Balkans, Caucuses and Central Asia. He and his wife Winnie (Nepal 1966-68) reside in Alexandria, Virginia, where he is active in political and civic affairs.

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