Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peace Corps Mali swears-in volunteers at presidential palace chez ATT

With other volunteers from my swear-in group, September 2008, also
extending to do third-years
(Zac, me, Amber and Dan - Missing are Audrey and Beatrice)

Less than 48 hours after traveling to Libya to engage in (failed) cease-fire talks with Muammar Gaddafi, alongside two other African Union representatives, Amadou Toumani Toure, president of the Republic of Mali, sits calmly on a tan, leather upholstered chair placed squarely in the center of a burgundy rug in his presidential banquet hall. Sitting in front of him, dressed in crisp bazin, embroidered wax prints and business wear are over 400 Peace Corps staff, volunteers, trainees, RPCVs, embassy employees, USAID staff and Peace Corps partner representatives. Peace in the Middle East or no – the swearing in of 61 Peace Corps Volunteers in Mali is not an event to be missed!

Amadou Toumani Toure claps for one of the volunteers who just delivered
a speech in a Malian language
(speeches were given by 5 volunteers in Peul, Malinke, Kassonke, Dogon and Bambara)
2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps in Mali. Close to 3,000 volunteers have worked, lived, loved and laughed in this country spanning nearly 500,000 square miles and with a current population of about 13 million. This is the first swear-in ceremony I have attended since my own in September 2008 and I was not disappointed. The current ambassador to Mali, Gillian A. Milovanovic, worked to facilitate the grand honor of having the swear-in ceremony on the presidential grounds – way to go Madame Milovanovic!

When Peace Corps Trainees come to Mali they spend two months in intensive training learning Malian languages (depending on where their site will be), taking part in cross-cultural sessions as well as technical training. At the close of training, one volunteer is selected from each of the language groups to deliver a speech at the swear-in ceremony in the language they learned. This year, five languages were studied and therefore five speeches delivered altogether in Peul, Malinke, Kassonke, Dogon and Bambara. All the speeches were beautifully executed and I sat in amazement as the foreign words flowed so easily from the newly sworn-in volunteers' lips after only two-months of (immersed) language training. It made me so proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and know that folks are going to be scattered throughout the country already able to form sentences or at least greet in local languages!

At the end ATT was presented with a cake.  And a very large candle.
Somehow seems like this wouldn't fly in the US.
'Here Mr. President!  A cake for you!  And a fire cracker!'
After the speeches by the volunteers, the American ambassador to Mali and the director of Peace Corps Mali, President Amadou Toumani Toure took his turn behind the lectern. He praised Peace Corps and our efforts in integration and language learning. He told a story of going to the States and how his jaw dropped when an American started a conversation with him in his native language, Peul. ATT said, but how do you speak Peul so well? The man said he had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali and then married a Malian woman. “I see,” said ATT. “You didn't travel that far for nothing!” In his speech ATT also stated that the United States has done a lot of good things in the world but, in his opinion, the most important thing they have done for their foreign relations is the Peace Corps. Gave me chills!

He also praised our courage for leaving our homes and the comforts of America to come and live in the harshest conditions even Mali has to offer. “There are Malians who wouldn't go where you go! Coulibaly-kaw b'a la!” In light of the recent world affairs and turmoil in the countries surrounding Mali, with corrupt leaders and dictatorships suppressing the voices of the people, something ATT said struck me. He said, “When you undertake a task, you come to serve others or you come to serve yourself. As Peace Corps Volunteers, you all have come to serve others and I admire and respect you for that.” He went on to say that when he retires from office next year he's going to look into doing the Peace Corps, too.  Peace Corps is looking to increase their 'older' volunteers.  Maybe Aaron Williams, the current director of Peace Corps, could bend the citizenship rule?
Read an article about the swear-in ceremony in French here.
The Kennedys - they're young, handsome and their group has their fair share of intrigue (or so I hear).
It's also the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps begun by John F. Kennedy in 1961
and Peace Corps's 40th anniversary in Mali.  Cute!


Anna said...

What an amazing experience and affirmation of all your hard work in Mali! the new blog set up with your beautiful!

Ashley said...

I laughed really hard on your caption about the cake and fire cracker. Thanks for the comic relief, I needed it today!!!!!

I miss you darling!


Drew said...

This is cool. Here in Germany I met some soldiers from Mali in the Dining Facility. The guy was a Sergeant, and was really nice. It was totally cool. He saluted me, and I was like "No, no, I'm not an officer! Plus you outrank me!" The interpreter translated it and we both started laughing.

Jennifer said...

:) thanks ladies and gent! yeah, ash- Mike and I laughed about the cake afterwards because, as you can maybe tell from the picture - that was no ordinary candle and it just kept flaming! also, it was a very tiny cake..

Linda B said...

My son, Jeff was one of thoes new volunteers being sworn in. It was great to read your post and see some pictures. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

Linda, how wonderful! Thanks for reading and many congratulations to you and your son - he's about to embark on a journey he - and his whole family!- will never forget!

Marija said...

Jennifer - is that a fancy bazin outfit I see? You look stunning!

Manzo said...

The President is truly right in saying that:"There are Malians who wouldn't go where you go!"
God bless and strengthen you richly for your selfless sacrifices.

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