African Visas

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Maria Thomas was the pen name of Roberta Worrick who came by her knowledge of the Dark Continent through painful personal experience, beginning with a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia in 1971, a fateful year that marked the beginning of apocalyptic horrors, including drought, famine, and the violent overthrow of the monarchy. The word “visa” in the title of this collection of seven pieces (one longish story or novella and six short stories), suggests that the reader will be given access or privileged entrance into a world virtually unknown to Americans, with the exception of Peace Corps volunteers and career diplomats.

Maria Thomas relied heavily on her knowledge of Ethiopia and East Africa generally in composing these tales, especially the longest piece, “The Jiru Road,” which follows the career of Peace Corps volunteer Sarah Easterday. This brave woman manages to build a road up the impossibly steep side of a mountain to the wretchedly poor village of Jiru, where, like the natives, she lives on a dirt-floored hut and survives on a meager diet of rice and goat’s milk. In the process of building the road, she watches her only American neighbor die of rabies while her only other American friend becomes an alcoholic. In the end, she is forced to leave Ethiopia, but she has undergone a profound metamorphosis. She is no longer just a skinny American volunteer but a profoundly committed and generous human being.

To some...

(The entire section is 417 words.)