January 11, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Journal Sierra Leone, Jan.1976 to Aug.1978 by Don Axtell

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, January 12, 2003 - 2:49 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Journal Sierra Leone, Jan.1976 to Aug.1978 by Don Axtell

Read and comment on this Personal Web Site by Sierra Leone RPCV Don Axtell. The journal chronicles his service in the Peace Corps from January 1976 to August 1978 and is a fascinating look at Volunteer life during that period. It also reads as a very interesting novel as we follow Mr. Axtell's relationship with Diana which eventually culminates in marriage. This journal should be published as a book. Read an excerpt from the journal at:

Saturday, May 20, 1978, 12:00 noon, Day 844*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Saturday, May 20, 1978, 12:00 noon, Day 844

About an hour or so ago I finished writing up a progress report on Kamiendor. It is the first one that I have written in quite awhile, and this one covered what has been happening as far back as November. I've had progress reports since that time, but this one was different. In the 7 pages or so of writing, I managed to put down calmly and clearly and to the point, without beating around the bush, just what I have gone through and had to put up with in trying to get MEP to send materials up here. I told the whole story. That is why I started back in November, because that is when I first asked for them. It was a long story, covering 6 months or so, but I got it all down, capping it off by mentioning that I had no reason to believe that materials would ever come to Kamiendor.

I've found also that I now no longer have any enthusiasm for the Kamiendor construction work. For these past three weeks or so, I haven't even bothered to go out and see how the communal labor were coming along. The work has still been continuing all of this time, but I have left it entirely in the hands of Mr.Lansana the village co0worker, and Moiba my MEP co-worker. When they come to see me, I ask them how the work is going, but it is only as a courtesy to them, as I don't really care if the work is going well or not. I have kept busy doing system design work, and have accomplished great things along those lines, but as far as Kamiendor construction goes, I just don't want to bother anymore.

That is the way I've felt, although I never actually wanted to admit it, like I have done now. I think that this has also been my reasoning behind my wanting to move to Freetown and take over Fred's old job. I felt that if I take Fred's job, I would be accomplishing something, but if I stay in the village to supervise construction, then I would just be wasting my time.

Doing all of this design work, and actually doing it right this time, I've seen just what I am capable of as a civil engineer. I see that by spending my time at construction, I would be wasting my talents. I never had this viewpoint before. Getting out and doing pick and shovel work has always been high on my list of prioities, but now I am saying that I would just be wasting my time by doing that. Before, I was always of the opinion that I was even actually accomplishing more by picking up a shovel. This was because, in Kamiendor here, I was originally doing maybe one third of all the actual work with my own hands.

Now I see myself as being in a position to accomplish alot more by just doing design work. That is why I wanted to move out of Kamiendor and into Freetown.

I am also able to really see now, for the first time, why possibly Don Middleton terminated. He was an actual civil engineer and so he came into this country expecting to do civil engineering work. Instead, when he had finished his system's design and was ready for construction, he was told that "No, he would have to wait awhile." At this point, he thought it over and finally decided that no, he couldn't see himself wasting his time like that. If they couldn't keep him busy doing civil engineering work, or at least actual construction work, then he could not afford to let his talent go to waste. So he left.

I'm about at that point now, myself. I can't see myself waiting around, waiting for construction to finally get moving, while all the while it is just one delay after another. I can't see myself doing it. I have no plans to terminate, though. I feel that there is a need for me in Fred's old job. And I feel that for sure, they will give it to me. I do feel though, that now that all of these systems are already designed, that Peace Corps would do best not to ask for civil engineers to do the actual construction. I feel that a civil engineer is not needed, and that if one was found he might, like Don Middleton and now myself, find that he is wasting his time and his talent by staying here. I'll have to discuss this all with Craig Hafner in Freetown.
Thursday, May 25, 1978, 2:00 pm, Day 849
I arrived in Freetown last Sunday. On Monday I talked to Craig Hafner and showed him the progress report that I had written. He had it typed up, and then set up an appointment for us at the Ministry. That afternoon, we went in, and to my surprise, it turned out that things seemed to be getting done. Yesterday, I saw two big truck lorries, each with 150 bags of cement, being loaded with a few other supplies, and scheduled to leave that day for Kamiendor. This time, it was arranged that the lorry would take a full load as far as Sefadu, and then from there to Kamiendor, it would make two trips of a half load each. Yesterday, I also obtained a check for 190 leones out of petty cash, to use for buying tools and some supplies that weren't available here.

On Monday, I told Craig my idea about my moving to Freetown and taking Fred's job. He went along with the idea, and yesterday he had a meeting at the Ministry, and the Ministry seemed to like that idea also. Then, with the 4 new people that Peace Corps is trying to find, it has been agreed that they wouldn't have to all be engineers. They still want one or two engineers, but the rest could just be people with some construction experience. I told Craig about my ideas of holding the training in Yarya, and of putting two volunteers in the Kono district, but nothing has been decided on this yet. I don't think that they have any alternative plans, though.

Mine and Diana's situation is still holding up. I met her Monday at the City Hotel. We arranged for her to stop by the house that evening so that we could go out to the movie. The movie was James Bond in "The Spy That Loved Me", and wasn't too bad.

The next evening she again stopped by the house. Jim Olsen, her old boyfriend, just came in to town that afternoon, so he was at the house also. I wasn't sure who Diana would go with, but I found that I had nothing to worry about. She was mine all the way.

That evening we stayed at home and played Risk. There were 5 of us - me, Diana, Jim, Bob Stein, and one other volunteer named Lee. Lee had Australia early, and so was always a strong power. Jim had South America but couldn't ever do much with it. Bob was trying for North America. He had it once but couldn't keep it. Diana was trying to occupy Africa, and she did a better job than I thought she would. My only chance was to try to take over Europe. I tried, and failed, and so I was the first to be destroyed. Lee took me out. After that, he wiped out Bob. At this time he was looking too big to beat. Then, he found that he had four cards but no match, so he had to end his turn.

Now it was Diana's turn. She turned in a set and ended up with enough to try to eliminate Jim. She managed it and then, with Jim's cards turned in another set and went after Lee. She chased him all the way back to China, so that all Lee had left was Australia. Then Lee found that he forgot to take a card his last turn, so that he still did not have a match. Then, on Diana's next turn, she had enough to try for him again. Diana finally eliminated Lee, with only one army to spare. Lee had 5 cards, giving him a match, which would have given him enough armies to take over about two thirds of the world, if he had the chance, but Diana didn't give him that chance. This was Diana's third time of playing Risk. She won the last two times and came in second on the first. She does alot better than I do at the game.

Then yesterday evening, we stopped in at Diana's mother's house to say hello. This was my first time of meeting her mother and my second time of going to her house.

That means that the last three nights I have spent with her, and I plan to do the same tonight. So I think our relationship is still going strong. I am planning to go back up country tomorrow, so I've got to ask Diana if she wants to come with me. It would be for about three weeks this time.

Friday, May 26, 1978, 2:00 pm, Day 850

Yesterday afternoon, I asked Diana if she wanted to come back up country with me. She was willing, but wanted to wait another day. We decided to travel up this Sunday, so that we would meet the stores open in Sefadu the next day.

This morning we went out shopping together. We bought two cooking pots, some onions and tomatoes for cooking, and some clothes. Also we bought some presents for a few of the people in Kamiendor.

Saturday, May 27, 1978, 4:00 pm, Day 851

Everything seems to be all ready for going up country tomorrow. All of the shopping is done.

Diana has gotten lucky. Last night she went out and won 16 leones playing Bingo, after putting in 6 leones, for a net profit of 10 leones. Today, she then made about 45 leones profit playing the slot machines. About half of this money she then gave away, but the rest is going towards our mutual expenses.
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By Joe Doherty on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 8:05 pm: Edit Post

Don Axtell, thanks for sharing your writings. Best wishes for the future.

By Carly LaFaille ( on Sunday, September 03, 2006 - 10:00 pm: Edit Post

Where can we find the full journal entries?

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-251-54-81.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - on Monday, September 04, 2006 - 8:40 am: Edit Post

Click on the link at the top of the page where it says "Saturday, May 20, 1978, 12:00 noon, Day 844."

PCOL always provides a link to the original story or story source and the link is always right below the headline, the photo, and the initial commentary or sub-headline.

BTW, we agree that Don Axtell's journal of his service in Sierra Leone is one of the best we have seen and we hope someday he turns it into a book and gets it published.

Best Regards,


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