I continue to ponder the subject of the Peace Corps Volunteer as an American abroad. As I mentioned in my last note, I have had the pleasure of living in some 16 countries. In all cases I have immersed myself in the local culture, absorbed it, and carried away treasured memories.

I guess I learned how to do it as a PCV in Asmara, Eritrea, then Ethiopia, where I became known throughout the whole city of 200,000 for being the best coach of the Ethiopians’ favorite sport. I also remember singing in a mariachi band in Mexico, wandering at will through the cluttered sidewalk markets of downtown Port au Prince, Haiti, singing the role of Caiaphas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” as the only native speaker of English in a cast on stage in Windhoek, Namibia, discussing women with a Turkish auto mechanic in Eastern Turkey, doing a roadside repair of their motorcycle for a very appreciative couple when driving through Honduras on my motorcycle (eat your heart out Che, my cycle made the whole trip), drinking beer and discussing the watershed election of 1994 with friends at a “Shabeen” in Soweto, South Africa, sharing a meal served on a tomb that served as a makeshift dining table with refugees from the war in Saigon, Vietnam, showing a Finnish race track reporter how to make winning bets at a track in Finland.

My wife accuses me of having “gone native” in all these countries. However, in no place did I shed my American skin. Even in Spain, where I have lived and worked and now have a second home, I still speak Spanish with a quaint American accent, akin to the German accented English of California’s “Governator.”

Meanwhile back in the USA I am often asked, “what country do you come from?” I guess my “quaint” American accent sounds foreign at home. I recall a client asking one of my colleagues in my business in my home town, Washington DC, “Who is the new foreigner in the firm?” after having talked to me by telephone, and I was the only native American in the company!

I can take on a foreign culture as easily as one can don a glove. But the American nature still shows through. At least abroad, now how to make people at home see that nature.

Leo Cecchini
May 2009