Michael’s Contact Information
To contact Michael, use the "contact me" page on this website to send a message to
him. Michael tries to reply quickly to any messages.
Michael’s Speaking Topics
- Peace Corps
- African Economic Development
- Careers with the U.S. State Department
- Life as a Diplomat
- Writing short stories, plays, books…and more
Peace Corps and other photos at:
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Michael’s Personal Story
Michael Varga wouldn’t settle for one dream. He had two: writing and traveling.
The writing bug bit this Philadelphia Catholic boy back in elementary school when he
stood before his class and read a story he had written, watching his classmates wait in
anticipation for how the story would end.
The desire to travel came from listening to his father escape to the basement of their
house, and tune his shortwave radio to the strange sounds of other languages,
broadcast from unknown corners of the world. Michael’s family was poor, so there was
no money for traveling physically. But listening to that shortwave radio, they could
escape to Europe, the South Pacific, and other exotic locales with hard-to-pronounce
Michael would go on to achieve his dreams and, ironically, find a way to combine the two.
Graduating from Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Michael continued his
education at Rider College (now Rider University). Graduating in 1977 and earning his
K-through 12 teaching certificate, the pull of Michael’s dreams intensified. Michael felt
the Peace Corps was his ticket to travel while also providing him a chance to do good for
Three weeks after graduating from Rider, Michael’s family said an anxious goodbye to
their son as he left for his two year Peace Corps stint in the middle of Africa. There,
Michael fell in love with his new home, Chad, and its people. All went well with his Peace
Corps duties until civil war broke out and all Americans were evacuated from the
turbulent nation. There are no Peace Corps Volunteers in Chad today because of the
continued threats to security.
After a variety of jobs upon returning to the States, Michael landed at the University Of
Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) where he earned his master’s in development economics
While living in South Bend, The Acting Ensemble of South Bend premiered one of
Michael’s plays, “Payable Upon Return”. The play had been published by the Juniper
Press at the University Of Notre Dame in 1983, (ISBN# 0-911187-01-4). The play
centers on a group of friends, one of whom returns from the Peace Corps. Payable
Upon Return won first prize in The Acting Ensemble New Play competition in 1985.
Longing for more travel, Michael passed the Foreign Service Exam and became an
American diplomat. He served as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State
Department in the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Morocco, and Canada. He also served
in Washington, D.C. in the Economic Bureau and as the desk officer for Lebanon when
the last American hostages were released in the 1990s. He was also a Pearson Fellow at
the World Trade Center, Miami.
During his time as a diplomat, Michael wrote a short story, “Collapsing Into Zimbabwe”
which won the Toronto Star’s annual contest in 1995. His honors were not limited to his
writing, however, and Michael earned a Meritorious Honor award for individual
accomplishment in Casablanca, Morocco and another one in Toronto, Canada. As part
of a team, he shared in another group Meritorious Honor award for Foreign Service
Officers who worked behind the scenes at the G-7 (now the G-8) Summit in Halifax,
Canada in 1995.
In 1989, Michael made his movie debut, appearing in the movie “Casablanca Express.”
The movie stars Glenn Ford, Jason Connery, and Donald Pleasence. Shooting was
done on location in Morocco. Michael plays a GI medic with some lines at the very end of
Since his retirement from the Foreign Service, Michael is committed to various
volunteering projects, his writing and enjoying his family. He stays in touch with some of
the other volunteers who served with him in Chad.
Funny thing about dreams, though. They never really end. And so, as Michael sees his
first book, “Under Chad’s Spell” go to print, he is currently working on his next novel
about the Foreign Service.
He lives in Georgia where he often—even to this day—has Chad on his mind.
Michael Varga dreamed about joining the Peace Corps, and soon after he graduated
college from Rider University (Lawrenceville, NJ) he realized that dream at age 21,
serving as a volunteer in Chad, Africa. Then war broke out, and Michael was evacuated,
leaving a big part of his heart behind when he left. This love for Chad is reflected in his
Later, Michael became a diplomat serving primarily in hotspots in the Middle East. He
served as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department in the United Arab
Emirates, Syria, Morocco, and Canada. He served in Washington, D.C. in the Economic
bureau and as the desk officer for Lebanon when the last American hostages were
released in the 1990s. He was also a Pearson Fellow at the World Trade Center Miami.
He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from the University Of Notre Dame, a Bachelor’
s degree in English from Rider University, and is a certified teacher.
In 2014, Glimmer Train announced that Michael’s short story, “Chad Erupts in Strife,”
won first prize in the Fiction Open competition. The prize earned him $2500. The story
is included in Issue #95 of Glimmer Train, published in November 2015. You can order a
copy of that issue by visiting: http://www.glimmertrain.com/pages/gts_single_issues.php
Michael is a playwright and actor, as well as a writer of fiction. Three of his plays have
been produced and one published. “Collapsing Into Zimbabwe,” a short story, earned
him first prize in the annual competition sponsored by the Toronto Star. In 1988, the
BBC broadcast “There Are No Kangaroos in Egypt.” His columns have appeared in
various newspapers and journals. Michael appears in the Glenn Ford movie,
Casablanca Express, where he plays a GI medic. Even now, he can still repeat his
lines. To learn more about Michael, visit his website, www.michaelvarga.com. He is
currently working on a novel about the Foreign Service. He lives in Georgia where he
often—even to this day—has Chad on his mind.
Michael’s Writings, Productions and Honors
- Chad Erupts In Strife – Glimmer Train (November 2015)
- Addicted to Chad - Literal Latté (Spring 2011)
- Throwing in the Towel in Casablanca - Foreign Service Journal (October 2009)
- A Random Act of Destiny - Notre Dame Magazine (Autumn 2005)
- Waiter! - Commonweal Magazine (August 16, 1996)
- Collapsing into Zimbabwe - Toronto Star (1995)
- Epiphany in the Spud Room – New Works Theatre of Arlington, VA (1991)
- After Birth Stems the Urge – Hassan II University (1989) Casablanca, Morocco
- There Are No Kangaroos in Egypt - BBC (1988) - adapted for the stage in 1991
and given a staged reading at the Source Theatre (Washington DC) for its
summer play festival.
Michael’s Acting Roles
- The Odd Couple - (Murray, the cop) - Lionheart Theatre, Norcross, GA - (2013)
- Casablanca Express – (GI Doctor) – Movie starring Glenn Ford, Morocco - (1989)
- On Golden Pond - (Charlie, the Mailman) - The South Bend Civic Theatre, South
Bend, IN - (1983)
- The Good Doctor - (Chekhov, the writer) - The South Bend Civic Theatre, South
Bend, IN - (1982)
- Loose Ends - (Russell) - The South Bend Civic Theatre, South Bend, IN - (1982)
- You Can't Take It With You - (Tony Kirby) - in a Streetlight Theatre Production in
South Bend, IN - (1982)
“Under Chad’s Spell” Reviews:
John Kennedy wrote of Under Chad's Spell:
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 Corp 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 web site that has
this to say about traveling in Chad:
"Wave goodbye to your comfort zone and say hello to Chad. Put simply, Chad is a
place and an experience that 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 the
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
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 US, 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 US
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
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 US 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 served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ghana from 1965-1968. He
is the author of Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building. He lives in
Easton, PA, and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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, author
Sunshine State’s LIVE Mystery series
Other books on http://www.fitzgeraldwrites.com