50 Years Later – Over 100 RPCVs to Return to Ethiopia
By Guest Contributor on Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Written by Leo Cecchini, VP Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs
At last year´s 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Washington I announced to an assembly of 250 Ethiopia and Eritrea Returned Peace Crops Volunteers (E&E RPCVs) that our group was organizing a “Return to Ethiopia” trip for this year to commemorate the arrival in Ethiopia of the first Peace Corps group 50 years ago and celebrate 50 years of Peace Corps service to the country. I had been warned by several people that other attempts to arrange return trips for RPCVs had yielded limited results, so set a modest minimum of 20 to go and hoped for maybe twice that number. On September 23 of this year 89 RPCVs will board an Ethiopian Airlines plane in Washington DC to fly directly to Addis Ababa arriving the next day where they will be joined by a dozen more who will make their way to Addis separately. All told we will be over 100!
This promises to be a memorable event in which we will recreate the arrival in Addis of 280 Peace Corps Volunteers in September 1962. The Ethiopian government and people are very excited about this visit as are, needless to say, the RPCVs who will be participating. The first few days will be spent in Addis for a round of meetings and receptions with our Ethiopian hosts and the current Peace Corps group. From there our members will be traveling to their communities of service and to historic sites. All in all it is shaping up to be a real tribute to the strong bonds of friendship between RPCVs and their host country friends and contacts and to the impact of the Peace Corps on Ethiopia.
Some things will be new and some will be old. I was a member of the first group I remember boarding what was then the latest in commercial airline service, a Boeing 707, for an overnight flight to Rome for a short stay and then on to Athens for another short break. From there we boarded Ethiopian Airline propeller driven planes for another overnight flight, essentially along the Nile River, to Addis. We arrived definitely in need of a bath and rest. But instead of the much needed cleaning and rest, we were greeted by a host of our hosts and the new Peace Corps staff at an airport ceremony. This time we will board an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing Dreamliner that will take us directly to Addis in 12 and a half hours, where we will be greeted by a host of our hosts and the present Peace Corps contingent in Ethiopia.
Our first group was, I am told, the largest single group of PC Volunteers ever trained at one place, at one time. We started out with about 320 and in the end about 280 arrived in country. I personally know that the final number was one short since during the large, chaotic training at Georgetown University another recruit, Jim McCartney, and I created a phantom member who we named Charles E. Breslow. Jim and I took turn signing in for “Charlie” at various training sessions and responding here when his name was called. We were amused when we found the Peace Corp staff actually looking for “Charlie” when we arrived in Addis.
For some of us this will be a melancholy trip. Several of us, including myself, served in Eritrea which was then part of Ethiopia and now an independent nation. Unfortunately the border between the two countries is completely closed and has been since the war between the two countries in 1998-2000. We are using all our contacts and resources to try to get permission to travel by land from Addis to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. But it looks doubtful. As an alternative to visiting our communities of service, some of those who served in Eritrea will use this visit to see parts of Ethiopia they missed while we were stationed there. Myself, I am planning a motorcycle tour to see the land of “Lucy,” the reputedly oldest humanoid found so far.
No question about it, this is shaping up to be a truly historic demonstration of the lasting contribution of the Peace Corps to a host country and America, as well as a fantastic trip down “memory lane.” We will be reporting more as we move along in this project.