UNDER CHAD’S SPELL is the
fascinating story about a group of
Peace Corps Volunteers who are
seeking adventure in faraway Chad,
Africa. And they get more than they
bargained for.

Two volunteers, Charlene and
Madison, go completely different
routes in Chad. Charlene is stationed
in the city, where she enjoys at least
some of the creature comforts she’s
used to. There she satisfies herself
with teaching English to the “city
natives.” Madison, however, is
stationed in a remote village. Despite
the hardships, he throws himself into
the Chadian lifestyle, experiencing
native life with the villagers. He
teaches them English, but they teach
him much more.

Then civil war breaks out, and the
volunteers’ lives are in grave danger.

Michael Varga gives us an education
in Chadian life without ever seeming to
teach. He brings alive not just the
characters Madison and Charlene, but
the natives of Chad. This is a book
that will appeal to a broad readership
because there’s something in it for
everyone. I highly recommend this
book to readers.


Lynda Fitzgerald
LIVE Series: LIVE Ringer, LIVE Ammo,
and Now Available, LIVE in Person
Other books on http://www.
fitzgeraldwrites.com
  ____________________________

 
Reviewed by John Kennedy (Ghana
1965-1968) on the www.
peacecorpsworldwide.org/pc-writers
website.  January 6, 2015

Under Chad’s Spell is a fine book.
I enjoyed reading it from start to finish.  
It’s an easy read.  Michael Varga’s
story kept me entertained on many
levels.  I recommend this book to all
over the age of eighteen.  Read this
book and you will know more about
Chad, the people of Chad, and the
experience of being a Peace Corps
Volunteer in Chad.  I also believe that
if you are open to exploring the
possibilities of how your life might have
been different if you had been a PCV
in Chad, you will learn something
about yourself, your past and possible
future by reading this book.  That’s a
heavy burden to place on a book, but
for me, Under Chad’s Spell did provide
all of that.

When looking for a map of Chad
online, I happened on a Lonely Planet
website that has this to say about
traveling in Chad: Wave good-bye to
your comfort zone and say hello to
Chad.  Put simply, Chad is a place and
experience you’ll never forget!  If
Ghana and Gambia are Africa for
beginners, Chad is Africa for the
hardcore.

Maybe the same could be said of
being a Peace Corps Volunteer—
Ghana and Gambia, good for the
“beginner” PCV; Chad suitable only for
the hard core.

But that’s too simplistic.  Every
Volunteer experience is unique in its
difficulties and its rewards, and Mr.
Varga’s protagonists, Madison and
Charlene, are not typical volunteers
even in Chad of the 1970s.

The story begins with in-country Peace
Corps training in Chad, a startling and
sometimes painful experience for the
trainees in different ways.  When
Peace Corps switched from training at
American universities to in-country
training I was in my third year of
service in Ghana and I watched the
trainees come into Ghana fresh from
the colleges and streets of the U.S.,
and wondered if this was a research-
based change for the agency—or at
least one carefully considered.  I
remember how important the
information provided to my training
group by returned Volunteers and
Ghanaian U.S. college students
concerning customs of Ghana was in
preparing us to work in Ghana.  No
one in our group got a scalded hand
because of inappropriate hand
signals.  (Years later I did happen to
talk with someone who knew the
reason for the change to in-country
training—it’s cheaper to train in Chad
or Ghana than it is at an American
university.)

After training, Madison is assigned
alone, to Baibokoum, a remote village
in the south of Chad, to teach English
in a secondary school.  He doesn’t
exactly prosper, but he survives and
immerses himself in Chadian life and
culture.  His experiences are unique to
his location and personality.  His life
improves or goes downhill, depending,
I think, on the reader’s point of view.  (I
really couldn’t decide.)  Then, because
of an insurgency in the capital that has
led to the termination of Peace Corps
programs in Chad, he has to make a
snap decision on whether to leave the
village or stay and continue his work
and life on his own.  The story ends
with Madison ruminating on his
decision.  Many of us have had similar
thoughts when leaving our country of
service even under less difficult
circumstances.

I asked my wife, who was also a Ghana
PCV, if we knew anyone who had been
a Volunteer in Chad.  We did.  He was
one of those well-digger Volunteers
that Madison confides in a letter to
Charlene that he envies.  Our friend
served in the nineties.  (Yes, Peace
Corps returned to Chad in calmer
times.)  The Volunteer we knew stayed
in Chad for three years and has
worked in refugee camps in various
parts of the world, including Chad.  
The last time we heard of him he
couldn’t stand returning to the U.S. for
more than a few weeks at a time.  In
the modified words of a Kingston Trio
song, “Did he ever return, no he never
returned, and his fate is still
unlearned.”  So maybe there is
something about Chad even without an
abrupt exit.

In Ghana we were sometimes called
Peace Corps with the “ps” in Corps
pronounced.  Perhaps some clever
lyrics writer after reading Under Chad’s
Spell will change the words of “Mamas,
Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be
Cowboys” to “Mamas, Don’t Let Your
Babies Grow Up To Be Peace Corps
Volunteers.”  I don’t think the song—or
the book—will become recruiting tools
for the Peace Corps, but I really did
enjoy reading it and thinking about
Michael Varga’s story of Madison and
Charlene.

Reviewer John Kennedy is the author
of Last Lorry to Mbordo:
Misadventures in Nation Building.  He
lives in Easton, Pa. and can be
contacted at calkennedy@yahoo.com