Peace Corps Writers

To alert you to fine books and fine writing from RPCVs, I will include in each issue a book that I’ve come across that perhaps you have not read.
— John
African Visas
A Novella and Stories
by Maria Thomas (Ethiopia 1971–73)
Soho Press
1991
291 pages
 

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Maria Thomas first went to Ethiopia in 1971 with her husband and four-year-old son. It remained her favorite place on the continent. African Visas, a novella and stories, is the last of three books that Maria wrote about East Africa and Ethiopia. Her only novel is called Antonia Saw the Oryx First, and another collection of stories is entitled Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage, both published in 1987.
     African Visas was published by Soho Press in 1991, though several of the pieces in this collection had been published earlier in magazines, including The New Yorker and Harper’s.
     In this collection is an essay entitled simply, “Ethiopia.” There is one paragraph in the essay that rings tragically true to all of us who knew Maria Thomas:

If you ask people who have ever lived in Ethiopia, they tell you that you never put it behind you. During Peace Corps training there in 1971, the word was that Ethiopia had the highest dropout rate among trainees, but it also had the highest extension rate of any country in the world. Which meant that if you stayed, you never wanted to leave. And after you left, all you wanted to do was go back, and when you couldn’t get there, you found Ethiopians on the outside, or they found you, or you found each other across the world like this, as if it were magic.”

After some seventeen years of living and working in Africa, she and her husband, who was then with USAID, returned to Ethiopia. There, in the summer of 1989, Maria was accompany her husband on a mission headed by Congressman Mickey Leland to refugee camps on the Sudanese border. The plane carrying this party crashed in the mountains; there were no survivors.

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