Interview SummaryMichael Varga served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad from 1977 – 1979 working in education. He had heard of the Peace Corps while in high school and while at Rider College in New Jersey during the Viet Nam War. He wanted to avoid the military draft and signed up as a volunteer to be placed in Morocco. One month before his college graduation, Michael learned that he was to be placed in either Chad or Congo, and he had only two days to select a country. He chose Chad because of its high rate of poverty. Michael was an English major in college and had also earned a high school teaching certification, so he thought teaching in Chad was a better fit for him. He had a weekend of orientation in Philadelphia with 25 or 30 other men and women and then went to Washington, D.C. for a day before leaving for Chad. Michael spent two months or so in the capital city of N’Djamena living in a dormitory on a high school campus with electricity and running water most of the time. His training covered teaching strategies, cross-cultural studies, and languages (primarily French, although also some Arabic and local dialects). Michael had a choice of final placement locales while he underwent training. The Peace Corps director told him that since certain posts were considered unsuitable for single females, he needed to send Michael to one of the posts open only to males, an isolated village, (m) Baibokoum, in the rainforest area of southern Chad. The village was accessed by poor roads which often were washed out during the rainy season. He worked in an open-air classroom teaching English at the high school level and his building had no electricity or running water and no windows. There were 80 students (almost all boys) in each class and Michael taught all four levels at the high school. Students sat on stone benches or stood through class, which lasted 55 minutes. The local teachers were government employees and often worked without pay, and therefore there were many faculty strikes throughout his time there. In fact, his principal many times asked Michael to cover math and French classes during the day. School was in session six days a week from 7:00 in the morning until 12:30 every afternoon. Michael took it upon himself to work three days a week in the afternoon in the library at a Catholic mission. His housing arrangements were satisfactory as he did not live in a mud hut as other teachers did but lived in a concrete house with a tin roof but without electricity or water. He was asked to take in as boarders two students from a local tribe; they converted a chicken coop behind Michael’s house for their use. He had to walk three miles to the nearest river to wash and from the river water, he developed Schistosomiasis which was treated. Michael went to his local market often to purchase a three-gallon bucket of water for cooking and bathing. He was fortunate enough to hire a male cook and, later, a female cook for his daily regimen. He procured flour (boule) for bread along with some meat which was always tough. Luckily, he was able to get some vegetable seeds from home and planted a garden. Chad has a local brewery, funded by Belgian investors, that produces beer, branded Gala for the Chadian market. His village was quite rural, and there were no professional people, only farmers. His students worked in the fields most afternoons farming mainly cotton and peanuts. Michael spent most of his non-teaching time carefully planning lessons as there were no textbooks for student use. A blackboard was used extensively unless the school ran out of chalk which occasionally occurred. During the summer months, Michael trained new Peace Corps Volunteers in the capital city. When Michael first arrived in (m) Baibokoum, he was startled when Chadians asked him, “Where is your wife? Where are your slaves?” A history teacher at the high school had taught up to the start of the American Civil War but had not taught about its conclusion. Michael told them he was not married and subsequently updated the history curriculum at the high school. Chad underwent a civil war while Michael was volunteering, and he had to be evacuated to Cameroon as the American ambassador ordered the evacuation of all Americans. Michael refused at first because he had a Chadian girlfriend who said she was pregnant, but she let him leave without her. He was unable to return to service in Chad and went to Washington for medical treatment. He had met some Italian Jesuit priests while in Chad and spent a year with Jesuit novices to discern if he had a vocation. He was offered a graduate school fellowship at the University of Notre Dame which was to lead to a Ph. D. in Economics. However, he left with his Master’s degree and became a foreign service officer and was sent to the Middle East to begin a distinguished career in foreign service. Michael has written a work of fiction based on his experiences in Chad, entitled “Under Chad’s Spell” and has presented numerous videos about his life’s work.