There were so many parties last week in Washington to commemorate Peace Corps’ 50th, I’m sure I missed many of them. I did get to one of the best, Youssou N’Dour’s free performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts onimg_0030 Wednesday evening.  Millennium Stage was the place to be when the Sengalese music singer and songwriter and his band appeared. The wait img_0009for free tickets in The Hall of Flags wasn’t a bad place either on that rainy afternoon. I did pay $9.50 for a glass of wine at the rooftop cafeteria, but I had that free ticket and a second one to give a woman in line with a West African national friend who was still at work.

My friends and I had a seat in the front with the hard core fans, RPCVs Senegal and Washingtonians from West Africa. There were about 1300 people in the theater behind us, but it was those in front of us and beside us who made it a party. These volunteers, Black and White, and those with family back in Senegal knew all the words, all the moves, and were dancing at their seats and in the aisles.img_0028 Youssou’s music makes it impossible to sit still, and who’d want to.  A couple who looked a lot like us were seated beside us initially. Initially, until the music began, and they stood up shaking and clapping with every song. When we asked them when they had served, we learned they were just standing in for their daughter who’d served in Senegal some years back. That’s enthusiasm.

Midway into it, Youssou asked if there were someone who could speak with him in his native language. A white woman made her way through the pack at the edge of the stage to do so. Then he moved to the other side and asked again, perhaps this time for a different dialect. A short, blonde woman seemed to have a great time chatting with him. That more than any fine words said about Peace Corps last week at the 50th made me proud to be a part of it.

Youssou N’Dour’s music was originally a fusion of traditional Senegalese music and western sounds from the 70’s. He is part of Paul Simon’s album Graceland. Youssou’s music has evolved as he’s toured the world incorporating dozens of African-based and other traditions into his repertoire. This giant in the international music scene is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN. His introduction spoke of his work collaborating with Peace Corps Senegal on a not-for-profit Malaria No More, but to us he spoke more of “New Africa.” This movement strives to unite Africa as one and to hold each other, Africa’s leaders, and the international community accountable for inaction. There was a great sense of unity from the magic that music and dancing can create and from our shared humanitarian values.

Exhilarated by the rhythm of the drums, the singing and the clapping of the crowd and my awe of the place, I turned to the training director for Group XV Afghanistan to ask how is it that these volunteers apparently were dancing and singing with their new friends while serving as Peace Corps volunteers and we, as females in Afghanistan, were sequestered in our rental house or hotel rooms playing cribbage on Saturday night. She shrugged her shoulders making the very good point that she had had nothing to do with selection of trainees. No regrets on my part, just a whole lot of joy that I didn’t miss this dance party.